Ah, hello, there! Sorry about the mess. A local lamp store was going out of business, and I guess I got a little carried away. I was expecting your arrival, however, so I made a narrow path for you. You’ll just want to be careful that you don’t jostle anything with your elbows. I find that walking like a robot is the best way to go – one of those sophisticated ones, mind you, not the wobbly, primitive, limbs-flailing-everywhere kind. Yes, perfect. Just like that. Have a seat right here at this new table. I was pleased to discover they were having a sale at the rickety mysterious table store, so I bought a few more of those, as well. Unfortunately, the demand for seats remains strong so there was no similar offering at the high-backed wooden chair store. I think my old ones will be fine, even though the cushions are starting to wear out a little bit. It didn’t occur to me until just now to visit the musty seat cushion store. Maybe next week. At any rate, let’s get started. Can you see me beneath the fringe on the new lampshade? Good. I have here my cracked crystal ball, which I’ve recently subjected to a thorough polishing. Recent developments in the NCAA Basketball Tournament had me concerned that maybe the thing was just a tad out of focus. I have no such worries now. In fact, I can see the title of this week’s Survivor episode very clearly. It’s
Pearls on Piled Dirt
It’s mid-morning on Day 19. The five remaining members of Jaburu are gathered around the fire pit, munching on fish-and-manioc pancakes. The group is holding a post-Shawna organizational meeting. It’s a somber event; the pancakes are kind of dry. “OK,” Deena begins. “First order of business is to divvy up all of Shawna’s responsibilities among the remaining tribe members. Who wants to start?”
Rob raises a hand. “I’ll handle sleeping late and laying around in the shelter for most of the day.”
Deena nods. “That’s two tasks, really, but OK. One word of advice, though. That hand-raise you did looked a little too energetic. You’ll want to work on reducing the elevation on that move. Or, actually, what you might do is just abandon raising the hand altogether. That really wasn’t on Shawna’s list, anyway. All right. Next?”
Alex clears his throat. “I guess I could take over the running my fingers through people’s hair thing.”
Matthew perks up. “Can you be the pillow guy, too? I know you have some experience there. I really enjoyed laying my head on her while she was laying her head on you.”
Alex sighs. “I guess you caught me there, Matt. It just makes sense. If I’ll be running my fingers through people’s hair, they’ll need to be pretty close to me. Yeah, I’ll be pillow guy.”
“Excellent,” Deena says. “That really doesn’t leave much on the list. What do you think, Jenna?”
“I’ll take care of coming on to Alex and spurning Matt. That shouldn’t be difficult. Oh, and if I have time, I’ll humiliate Rob. Shawna hadn’t done that yet, but I’m sure it was in her plans.”
“Great! And I’ll finish off the list by eating food and drinking water that I didn’t collect. Sorry, Matthew. I couldn’t give you that one; you’re doing such a masterful job with the fishing. Seems like those things fly right out of the water when you’re over there.” Matthew’s eyebrows frown and he stares penetratingly at Deena for a while before relaxing, satisfied that she knows nothing. “Anyway, good job, you guys! That was easier than I thought it would be. Let’s get started on these things right away. I don’t know how much more work she had to do, but I’m assuming we have a long road ahead of us. Let’s go!”
The other four Jaburu team members immediately race off to the shelter, where a brief fistfight breaks out over which person gets to lay flat on the floor. Of course, Matthew wins, and as an unexpected consequence, the others can no longer remember their own birthdays. Matthew settles comfortably on the floor and lays his head in Pillow Guy’s lap so Alex can get busy mining his scalp for grubs and other surprise edibles. Rob curls up nearby but is unable to sprawl out in the tiny hut. “I won’t forget this treatment!” he squeals. “I’m going to vote all of you off! Believe me!” Jenna shakes her head and continues rubbing Alex’s back.
Deena watches the activity at the shelter for a while, then leans back against a tree with a fistful of pancakes and nods in satisfaction. “This is still Deena’s tribe,” she murmurs as she eats. “Deena is very much in charge. Nobody messes with Deena. What Deena says goes. Kneel before Deena. Deena’s the top dog now, the numero uno, the big cheese...” And so on.
Meanwhile, back at Tambaqui Camp, Heidi is busy half-heartedly doing the tribal dishes. She’s wearing her Far Side old lady glasses today, and her hair cascades about her shoulders like a yellow waterfall of dried-out, sun-baked, cheap yarn. “Cute girls do not scrub pots,” she mutters angrily to herself as she proves her point by scrubbing the pots.
Voices are heard nearby, and presently the other four members of the tribe emerge from the trees. They’re laughing uproariously as they dump firewood, water, and fish all over camp. Butch produces a towel and snaps Christy’s butt. She forms an “o” with her mouth and chuckles heartily before wheeling on Butch and putting him in a playful head lock. Roger laughs gaily and slaps everyone’s behind before jogging over to check on Heidi. “Ooooh, fun!” he sighs. “We’re really bonding out there. How about you, Heidi? Did you get that task list done I gave you? By god, I’d better hear you say yes because I’ve got several more assignments in mind for you.”
Heidi pushes a strand of hair out of her face with one grimy hand and adjusts her glasses with the other. “But what are you going to do?” she whines.
“I’m asking the questions!” Roger roars. “If you must know, we thought we’d run through the forest and play Tag. Too bad there’s not a carnival or something nearby so we could give America some slow-motion footage of us growing together in a wholesome and fun environment.”
“Well, I want to come!” Heidi complains. “I’m part of this tribe, too!”
“Not for long,” Roger says before clapping a hand over his mouth and staring at Heidi with wide eyes. “Wow, did I say that out loud? Anyway, get to work. I’m off to go play with Christy and the boys.”
“Not so fast!” Dave says. “I just sprinted over to grab Tree Mail, and I see it’s Reward Challenge time. Let’s go!” The group waits long enough for Heidi to remove her Aunt Bea glasses and slip into an unflattering, Rob-distracting bikini top before they head off to Challenge Beach.
Jeff is standing in front of a tall, thin structure which is covered with a large sheet. “All right, folks. Bring it in. Gather around. Shut up, Rob.”
Rob raises his hands in protest. “Hey! What’d I say?”
With the speed and precision of a cobra, Jeff kicks Rob in the shin. “See? I knew you’d say something!” As Rob yelps and hops around on one foot, Jeff addresses the rest of the group. “As usual, today’s Challenge is related to piranha behavior. You know how they always seem to group together in tight little bunches when they gnaw all the flesh off your bones? Well, maybe you don’t know that yet, but I’m sure you will before you leave this place. Anyway, we’re going to see just how tightly grouped the ten of you can be.” Rob suddenly stops yelling and moaning and hobbles over to stand next to Heidi, more out of habit than anything.
Jeff walks to the large structure behind him and whisks away the sheet, revealing a phone booth with a swinging door on the outside. “OK, here’s the deal. Each of you will climb in here. If one member of your tribe fails to cram themselves completely into the booth, your tribe loses. Once everyone’s inside, I’ll close the door. Then I’ll call you from this Cingular Wireless phone.” He whips out a small telephone and caresses it lovingly while delivering a squinty-eyed, toothy mega-grin into the camera. “The tribe whose member first answers the telephone and tells me their tribe’s name wins the reward. Wanna know what you’re playing for?” Everyone nods. Jeff holds up a bag. “Whatever’s in here. Survivors ready? Go!”
Immediately, Rob spins Heidi around to face him, grabs her under the arms, and races into the booth, slamming her against the far interior wall. The booth rocks precariously but remains upright. Only then do the rest of the Survivors shake out of their daze and start piling into the booth themselves. Everyone fits in pretty nicely at first, but then things start getting a little tight. Eventually, only Matthew is left standing outside the booth. The only possible place he could fit is in the upper quarter of the booth. Roger, whose face is smashed against the glass paneling beside the door, chuckles gleefully. “Sorry, Skullman. I think that does it for your tribe.”
“Wait!” Matthew cries. He closes his eyes and takes several deep cleansing breaths. Then he reaches up to the top of the booth. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like his forearms extend unnaturally to cover the final few inches. Or maybe it’s just a trick of the light. At any rate, he pulls himself effortlessly to the top of the booth and swings his legs into the tiny opening above the other Survivors. Slither-gliding smoothly into place, he executes a graceful three-quarter turn and coils himself comfortably above the rest of the group. “OK, Jeff,” he says. “Close the door.”
Jeff walks over and attempts to close the door, but it won’t seal all the way. It appears that Butch’s backside is blocking the door. Jeff grabs either side of the open doorway and plants his boot on Butch’s back pocket. Throwing his head back and grunting mightily, Jeff manages to exert enough force to jam Butch deeper into the booth. Various Survivors let out muffled cries of discomfort, and the booth itself seems to strain under the pressure. But when Jeff is done, he’s able to swing the door closed and click it shut with just a single finger. He then breaks out a folding chair and sits down with his phone. He dials the number and waits.
A faint ring is heard from somewhere within the booth. Jeff sets the phone down on the arm of his lawn chair and removes a packet of dental floss from his shirt pocket. He proceeds to give his teeth a thorough going-over while the phone continues to ring, unanswered. When he’s finished, he removes a pair of fingernail clippers from a hook on his belt and grooms his hands. The phone continues to ring. Jeff sets up an easel and paints the sunset with oil colors. The phone continues to ring. Finally, as Jeff is preparing a Dagwood-Bumstead-sized meat and cheese sandwich, the phone stops ringing. Jeff licks mayonnaise off his fingers and picks up the phone. He holds it to his ear, but he can hear nothing but grunting and heavy breathing. “Oh, I hope I didn’t call the wrong number out of habit,” he mutters. “Who is this?”
A small voice manages to peep “Jaburu” into the phone. It sounds like Jenna.
“Oh, hi, Jenna!” Jeff says. “Listen carefully, all right? You need to convey these instructions to everyone else in there. Do you understand?” An affirmative-sounding squeak. “OK. Turns out there really was no Reward Challenge. In reality, you have arrived at the merge. What’s in the bag I showed you is ten new buffs for your new tribe. We just made you cram into the phone booth because it seemed like a funny idea to try to merge all of you into one massive ball of flesh. It’s kind of symbolic of the whole merge idea, you know? Oh, and we also wanted to see if you’d do it, even though we knew you would. I swear, you guys would dip your heads into a barrel of ravenous piranha if we asked you to and don’t tell me you wouldn’t because I know better.” He takes a bite of his huge sandwich, then starts talking again with his mouth full. “Anyway, you guys can let yourselves out, grab a new buff, and make your way to either camp. Doesn’t matter which. Congratulations on making it to the merge. Bye.” He hangs up and wanders away with his sandwich.
For a long time, nothing happens. Some muffled conversation can be heard within the phone booth, but there is no movement at all. The sun sets completely. Anacondas cruise up to the booth and evaluate it for edibility, only to glide off in frustration. After an hour or so, a side window explodes and Rob flies out of the booth. Moments later, Heidi’s head pokes out of the side of the booth. She’s nearly cross-eyed with anger. “Don’t...ever...do that...again!” she yells.
Rob holds his head and his side while coughing up blood. “OK, OK. I won’t. Geez. What kind of welcome is that for your new tribemate?” He limps over and opens the booth. Soon, everyone has been extracted. The group decides to make Tambaqui Camp their new base of operations. Everyone grabs a new buff and shuffles off in the direction of the tribe’s new home, where they are not surprised to find all of Jaburu’s personal gear waiting for them.
The group spends the next day recuperating from their ordeal in the phone booth. They lounge around the fire and debate their new tribe’s name. It’s a dead heat between “Jabaqui,” “Tamburu,” and “Who cares?” In the end, Tamburu wins out because there are six men who all want to hear their former tribe’s name at the beginning of the new tribal name. “Plus ‘Tamburu Rules!’ sounds really cool!” Rob summarizes when the voting is completed. “It’s got that whole ‘ru ru’ thing going on. Chicks dig that.”
“Not so fast!” Dave says. “I just sprinted over to grab Tree Mail, and I see it’s Immunity Challenge time. Let’s go!”
“What are you talking about?” Rob asks. “We just finished voting, like, three seconds ago. How could you get there and back? Wait a minute! Are you The Mole?”
Dave’s eyes widen, and he swallows hard. “Hey, have you seen my shirt?” he asks. Today, he’s wearing a plain black T-shirt which reads, “Four out of five hot female dentists prefer rocket scientists.”
With that, the tribe heads off to their first individual Immunity Challenge. Jeff seems surprised to see them. “We-he-he-hell,” he says. “Didn’t expect to see you here! We were readying the Jaws of Life for a pre-Immunity Challenge extraction. You have proven your resourcefulness to me.” He places his hands together before his face and bows at the waist. “OK, first thing’s first. I need the Immunity Idol because Immunity is up for grabs again.” Roger hands over the idol. Jeff hauls a machete out of his belt and chops the head off the Idol before tossing the body into a nearby wood chipper. Somewhere deep in the forest, a bloodcurdling scream is briefly heard, then silence. “Huh,” Jeff says. “Guess that was a real voodoo doll after all. Weird.” He produces a cordless drill and bores a hole through the head of the Idol, ear to ear. Finally, he strings some rawhide through the hole and ties it off in a double granny knot. “Ta-da!” he says, holding the new piece of jewelry over his head. “The Immunity Necklace! This is what you’re playing for!”
The members of Tamburu do not react at all. A cameraman sniffs loudly.
Jeff purses his lips and slowly lowers the Necklace. “Well. Anyway, today’s Challenge is just something we whipped together last minute when Burnett vetoed my Piranha Swirlies idea that I revealed yesterday. Actually, I think this new Challenge is probably going to suck and won’t translate well to television at all.” A rock drops from the clouds and beans Jeff, who immediately claps a hand to his head. “Ow! Geez, I wish he’d quit doing that! OK, pay attention. Behind me are five large piles of dirt. At the top of each pile is a single small pearl. On my go, you’ll have to fight one another to scale these piles and claim a pearl for yourself. Like I said, there are five. The five of you who return to me with a pearl will advance to the next round. There are three pearls available in Round 2. And just one in the final round. Whoever retrieves the final pearl wins Immunity and gets to wear this cool...Necklace!” He holds up the Necklace again but gets the same indifferent response. He sighs. “You guys are no fun. At any rate, anything goes in this Challenge. Just don’t hurt each other too badly. And you!” Jeff points at Matthew. “I’ve got my eye on you, buddy. No funny stuff...or else. All right. Survivors ready? Go!”
Dave immediately throws an elbow into Alex’s face and charges one of the five mounds. Heidi whips off her top and kisses Rob on the lips. He faints. Matthew disappears and re-materializes on top of one of the dirt piles with a pearl in his hand. Jeff swears and pulls a tranquilizer gun out of his back pocket. As Matthew trots back to Jeff to present his pearl, Jeff shoots a feathered dart into his leg. “Hreep!” Matthew says before crashing to the ground like a tree made out of human bones. The pearl rolls out of his hand. Alex, woozy from the blow to the head, scoops up the marble and shows Jeff.
“Alex is in Round 2!” Jeff shouts.
Meanwhile, the others are dueling their way to the top of the sandy piles. Roger is having trouble navigating his way to the top in the soft sand. Deena motors past him and grabs a pearl. At the top of another hill, a re-clothed Heidi tries to push Christy backwards with her foot. Christy turns the tables on her and shoves Heidi’s outstretched leg. Heidi topples backwards and plows headfirst to the bottom of the pile while Christy secures the pearl. Jenna and Butch also grab pearls and make it back to Jeff.
The three piles for Round 2 are even higher. At the start of the round, Deena hangs back and watches as Christy and Jenna race for one pile while Butch and Alex target another. Deena races to the top of the uncontested pile and grabs a pearl. On her way back, though, an alert Butch tackles her around the ankles. He holds her down with his knees and pries the pearl from her hands and runs back to Jeff. Meanwhile, Alex has a pearl and is on his way back. He doesn’t account for Deena, though, who is still laying on the ground. She swings a leg out and trips him. He throws his hands out to break his fall and the pearl skitters away. On her feet in a flash, Deena scoops it up and executes a perfect Hollywood roll in front of Jeff. On top of the third pile, Christy and Jenna are engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat. They’re using every dirty trick in the book: biting, pulling hair, kicking, giving each other wedgies. It’s brutal. Suddenly, Christy loses her balance and tumbles down the hill. But someone stepped on the pearl! It’s buried somewhere in the pile. As Jenna digs frantically, Christy powers up the hill, a snarl fixed on her face. She’s too late, however, as Jenna finally unearths the pearl and dives down the other side of the hill. A graceful sidestep eludes the waiting Alex, and she makes Round 3.
At last, the final mammoth pile of dirt remains. On Jeff’s go, the three competitors immediately attack one another. Fabric tears and blood flies. Everyone’s grunting and screaming. Finally, Jenna breaks free of the pileup and sprints to the dirt mound. She’s tired, though, and she has difficulty scaling the hill. Butch shoves Deena to the side and pursues Jenna. He begins to climb the opposite side of the hill. Just shy of the top, he feels a hand on his feet and looks back to see a grim-faced Deena trying to haul him down. He digs feverishly in the side of the hill and watches excitedly as the top of the mound collapses in his direction. Just as Jenna crests the hill, the pearl rolls down the side into Butch’s outstretched hand. He allows himself to be pulled to the base of the hill by Deena, then uncoils explosively, knocking Deena backwards with a loud “Whuff!” He scrambles to his feet, only to be blasted to the ground by Jenna, who clobbers him from behind as she leaps off the hill. The pearl squirts into the air and bounces away. Jenna steps on Butch’s head, driving his face into the ground, as she climbs over him in pursuit of the pearl. Deena’s on her feet already, though, and she lowers a shoulder into the oncoming Jenna, who jackknifes and rolls to the ground, moaning in pain. Deena scoops up the pearl and turns to run to Jeff. Butch leaps onto her back, piggy-back style, and leans backwards in an attempt to drag her to the ground. Deena roars ferociously and continues her implacable run to Jeff with Butch on her back! He begins pulling on one of her ears, covering her eyes with his forearm in the process. She won’t be stopped, though. In desperation, Butch slides down and encircles her waist with his arms, digging his feet into the ground to get her to stop. It’s no good. Deena drags him to the finish line and claims Immunity. “Deena!” Jeff cries. “Immunity! Well earned. Here’s that Necklace I was showing off earlier.” After putting Voodoohead on her neck, the tribe wearily trudges back to camp, dragging a still unconscious Rob behind them.
At Tribal Council the next night, alliances are revealed as Butch, Roger, Dave, and Christy turn on Heidi and send her packing while the other votes are split between Matthew and Roger. Rob strokes his chin as Heidi’s torch is snuffed. He looks at Matthew, Deena, Jenna, and Alex in turn, nodding at each of them. Under his breath, he vows to exact revenge on the fools who booted his girlfriend. “It’s time to have a little fun,” he growls. His evil, boyish laugh echoes through the trees as the tribe returns to camp.
And the visions are gone. Just in time, perhaps. I suddenly remembered that the beaded curtain store is having a clearance sale. I’ve got to go before they close. See you next week!
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