Hi, there! Come in, come in! So good to see you! I’ve been looking for someone who’d be willing to participate in a little experiment of mine. You see, I watched a poker tournament on television last week after you left. It occurred to me that entering into these big competitions could be a lucrative way to put my unique skills to use. After winning the tournaments, I could maybe give something back to the community. An expensive new car, for example, that would raise the overall prestige of the city just by my driving it around. Anyway, these top poker players, they win by reading their opponents, not necessarily by playing their hands. Well, how much more accurate would you be if you could not only read their minds but also see the future? I’ve got the one-two punch going on. Amazing that I’d never thought of this before now! If you don’t mind, I’d like to play a quick hand of Texas Hold’em with you to demonstrate my formidable talent. OK, I’m getting a vision here. I’m seeing a pair of sixes. Normally, I wouldn’t stay in with my lowly pair of eights, but I know I’m a winner in this case so I can afford to play a little “loosey-goosey,” as they say in the biz. Go ahead and show your cards. Hm. Three kings. That’s...kind of weird. Well, you get the idea. Obviously, I need to work a little bit on my technique, but I’ll get there. Anyway, thanks for your help. Now please get comfortable so we can get a look at this week’s Survivor episode. I’m gazing deeply into the cracked crystal ball, and I see the title of the episode swirling around in its base like the last few Alpha-Bits in the bowl. It’s
The sun has barely come up on Day 25 before Alex is up and out of the shelter. He looks agitated and confused. He gets the fire going, then sits on a log bench beside it, staring grimly into the flames. Presently, Matthew appears next to him. He probably just ambled over from the shelter, but somehow every active camera missed it. “Why do you stare into the flickering orange, Earthman?” Matthew asks.
Alex yelps and falls off the bench. “Whoa, hey, Matt,” he says. “I guess I didn’t see you there.”
He sits down next to Matthew, who grins and sinks his machete to the hilt in the log bench. “My many apologies are yours,” Matthew murmurs with a tiny nod of his head.
Alex stares at Matthew for a while. “OK,” he finally says. “Anyway, since you asked, I was just sitting here thinking about what Heidi said last night.”
Matthew quickly fiddles with an inconspicuous charm on his necklace and clears his throat. “Oh, you mean that part where she talked about how nice it was to get rid of another tubby person after Tribal Council?”
Alex shook his head. “No, not that. What she said about the women all standing at the end of the Immunity Challenge and how the men had given up their two-person advantage. I know she wasn’t there when we all made our plan to make the new Jaburu the final five. But what if that’s all a scam and we’re being played?”
Matthew pulls his machete out of the bench and scrapes it along his forearm, watching the fine hairs there drift gently to the ground. “I suppose that’s a possibility, but if it is true, we’re still even at four apiece. Something would need to happen to give them the advantage.”
“True, true,” Alex says, running his fingers along his not-even-there-anymore scar. “Still, I’d like to see a show of solidarity out of Deena and Jenna. A strong message to everybody else that our group of five is very much in charge.” He strokes his chin thoughtfully. “Yeah, that’s exactly what we need.” He looks excitedly at Matthew, who is staring at his machete while holding it directly in the fire. The blade is glowing red like a Sith lightsaber. Alex eases himself off the bench and slips away.
Later that day, Alex heads over to the shelter to chat with Deena about his proposal. Rob is laying on his side in front of the shelter, throwing pebbles into a pair of Matthew’s sawed-off sneaker-sandals. When he catches sight of Alex, he struggles to his feet and thrusts his chest out importantly. “You seek an audience with Deena?” he demands in a whiny voice no doubt intended to be intimidating.
“Get out of my way, Rob,” Alex says. He delivers a sharp push to Rob’s shoulder, sending Rob skittering sideways until he finally slips and lands on his knees.
“Bully!” Rob squeaks as Alex climbs into the shelter.
Deena is sitting on an elaborate stump in the center of the structure, the “Believe” banner draped across her shoulders in a regal fashion. She is gazing into the forest, her face in profile to Alex as he crouches in the doorway. Slowly, she rotates her head to face Alex without moving any other part of her body. “Speak,” she commands.
“All right,” Alex says. “I’ll make this short since I can see you’re so busy. Next Tribal Council, I want Heidi gone.”
Deena shakes her head. “The Plan calls for Butch to go. Good-bye.”
“Just a second here!” Alex counters. “The plan coming in was to wipe out Tambaqui. Heidi’s a member of that tribe, too. It really doesn’t matter whether we get rid of her before or after Butch. I’m nervous that you’ll go back on your word to Matt, Rob, and myself once Butch is gone. I want a sign of solidarity from you that Jaburu is intact. Heidi needs to go.”
Deena locks eyes with Alex and holds his gaze until he feels uncomfortable and looks away. “I will consider your request,” she says. “Now leave me.” She turns her head again and resumes her contemplation of the outside world.
Alex waits a few seconds, long enough to make him feel comfortable that it was actually his idea to leave, then slides out of the shelter and disappears. Immediately, Rob leans into the shelter from the roof, his head hanging upside-down over the side. “Holy cow, Deena! What do we do?”
“Silence, my minion,” Deena murmurs. “I must consider this new information. Go run into a tree for my amusement.”
“Sure thing,” Rob says, leaping down from the roof and charging full-speed into a nearby tree. Deena throws her head back and laughs merrily, clapping her hands in delight.
Butch pokes his head into the shelter. “Hi, guys. Sorry to interrupt your fun, but it’s time for the Reward Challenge. Hey, nice robe!”
Jeff is waiting for the group when they arrive at Challenge Beach. He’s unshaven, and he looks like he hasn’t slept well recently. “Come on in, everyone. Nice and tight. Tighter. Nicer. Come on. Right on in. Really nice. Really tight. There we go.” The group is now clustered tightly around Jeff in a group hug configuration. Jeff sighs. “Ah, this is good. I was feeling a little lonely last night. It can be pretty hard being the bad cop all the time, you know. Sometimes, I just want to be loved.”
The Survivors look at each other in confusion. Many of them clear their throats or engage in other behaviors designed to smooth over awkward moments. A few offer supportive hugs to Jeff. Suddenly, Jeff bursts out laughing and pushes everyone away. “Oh, please! Get off. You guys didn’t really believe all that, did you? Hey, maybe I should ditch this gig and become a full-time actor. Nah! I love torturing you too much. Well, anyway.” He rolls his head around his shoulders and shakes his arms out. “Everyone ready to get started? Today’s Challenge will be yet another shameless attempt to get you guys to crank up the heat out here. You will be randomly grouped into four pairs of men and women. Once everyone’s been assigned a partner, we will fire up the music, and the Survivor Ballroom Dance Challenge will begin. We’ve brought in a couple of Ballroom Dance Champions to handle the judging. They think they’re here for a big convention, by the way, so I’d appreciate it if you don’t talk to them. If we’re lucky, we can all get out of here when this thing’s done so we don’t have to pay them. Come on out, guys!”
An elegantly-dressed couple steps out of the forest and carefully picks their way through the sand and tree stumps to stand next to Jeff. “Welcome, you two, to the big convention!” He turns and winks at the Survivors. “Our first event is to pick a winner from among these eight world-renowned dance stars. Sound good?” The scared-looking man nods in confusion and his female companion follows his lead, as usual. Jeff nods in approval and hauls out a bag of colored rocks to divvy up the men and women. Once everyone is standing with his or her partner, Jeff speaks again. “Oh, I almost forgot! Want to know what you’re playing for?” One or two people nod while the others look at their fingernails. “The winning couple gets to go to a secluded jungle hideout which we’ve stocked with all sorts of sensual goodies. The idea is that we’re finally going to get you guys to crack and do something steamy on TV. Never mind the fact that it’s never worked before. Never mind the fact that you’re starving and don’t have the energy to think about romance. We’re full speed ahead with this ridiculous dumb Reward. Can you tell this wasn’t my idea?” He ducks and easily avoids the obligatory rock sailing out of the forest, which hits Frightened Tuxedo Dancer Guy in the chest. Terrified Evening Gown Dancer Woman shrieks. “OK. Survivors ready? Go!”
A lively polka tune fills the jungle air. The Survivors pause for a moment to try to figure out where the speakers are located, but they’re completely invisible. “Come on!” Jeff screams. “Dance!”
Immediately, Matthew scoops up his partner Christy and executes a series of perfect turns. Right behind him, Deena gathers in Rob and heads off. Alex and Jenna tentatively clasp one another and attempt a few uncoordinated moves. After a few clumsy attempts, their natural athleticism takes over and they commence a dance that isn’t quite a polka but doesn’t look terrible.
Meanwhile, Butch stares at Heidi in terror. “Well, let’s see,” he says. “I’ve chaperoned a few dances in my day. I think I know how the kids are dancing.” He shuffles up to Heidi and locks his hands behind the small of her back. She reaches up and folds her arms behind his neck. The two then proceed to rock rigidly side to side, completely independent of the music.
Heidi nods in approval. “Yep, I’ve seen this dance, too. Good job.”
The elegant couple looks at Jeff quizzically. “Yeah, and what you guys are supposed to do is go out there and tap people when they’re out. Last one still dancing wins, see? So, yeah, if you could just... Yeah, just go out there and start picking. Scoot!” He gives the man a shove. The woman gasps and holds a dainty hand to her mouth. “Move!” Jeff shouts.
The two scramble out onto the dance floor, which is actually just a patch of ordinary beach sand with a big circle etched into it with a stick. Right away, they tap Butch and Heidi. The man informs them that he’s looking for just a little bit more variety in their repertoire. Jeff offers an appreciative nodding frown. “These guys know their stuff,” he murmurs to himself. The music then shifts to a waltz. Matthew immediately alters his style of dance. He and Christy glide gracefully through the sand. Deena jerks to a halt before beginning her own waltz, dragging Rob along with her. Alex and Jenna have apparently not noticed the new music as their frantic grasshoppers-in-love dance does not change.
The elegant couple tap Alex and Jenna on the shoulder, eliminating them from the competition. “Very athletic,” the man observes.
“But not very artistic,” the woman concludes.
It’s down to the last two couples. The music suddenly shifts to a sped-up version of The Chicken Dance. Then the Macarena. Then a classic big band swing tune. Then a hard rock ballad. The four finalists are sweating mightily now, gasping their exertion as the musical styles shift at a dizzying pace. Christy’s eyes are locked on Matthew for visual cues as to the proper dance style. Rob is similarly zeroed in on Deena. The elegant couple scratch their heads in confusion before finally tapping Deena on the shoulder. “No way!” she protests. “What’d I do wrong? Huh?”
“Oh, you were certainly a very good dancer,” the man says. “But that man is a revelation!” He points to Matthew, who smiles shyly and bows his head.
“Thank you very much,” Matthew murmurs. “I studied under the great Sturvin in Vienna.”
“I thought so!” the woman gushes.
Jeff rushes over. “All righty! Good job, you two! Off to your jungle hideaway. The rest of you...run!” Jeff and the other Survivors scatter into the trees, leaving the elegant couple standing alone in the center of the makeshift dance floor.
Matthew and Christy return to camp the next day, looking refreshed and happy. They coyly offer no details about their experience in the jungle hideaway, which angers their tribemates almost as much as if they’d bragged about the food they ate. You really can’t win when you leave for a Reward. Everyone left behind always hates you. It doesn’t take too much of the silent treatment from the rest of the gang before Matthew’s back in front of the fire, sharpening his machete. “I think I’m going to make everyone a pair of sandals,” he says. “I think our shirts and shorts could stand to be aerated, as well.” The others glare at him unhappily and begin sharpening their own machetes. The camp rings loudly like an army of solid steel crickets.
Presently, Jeff wanders into camp, carrying a piece of parchment. “Hey, you ding-dongs!” he yells. “Were any of you planning to check your Tree Mail today? Huh?” *shink, shink, shink, shink* comes the reply. “Will you quit sharpening those things for just a second? Please?” Everyone pauses briefly, but the tribal stare down continues. “Thank you. Now put your toys away and come with me. You’re actually late for the Immunity Challenge. Let’s go.”
Everyone tags along as Jeff jogs through the jungle. When they arrive at Challenge Beach, everyone is surprised to see a rather large octagonal building standing exactly where the dance floor was the day before. The elegant couple is sitting down by the water’s edge, looking forlorn. Jeff waves sheepishly at them. “Of course, we found them here when we had to put this building together last night,” he says. “I managed to convince them we were playing hide-and-seek. Now they’re waiting for the ‘boat taxi’ to take them to the next event. We should be able to get this Challenge over with and get outta here before they get suspicious.” He grins and delivers the thumbs-up to the couple. “OK, today’s Challenge will test your bravery in the face of abject mental terror, which you might experience if, say, you woke up in the jaws of a caiman or something like that. Actually, that’s a bad example, I guess, because there’s a very real physical component to that terror. What you’ll be experiencing today will be entirely in your mind. Be advised, however, that it will be no less disturbing.”
He looks around at everyone to make sure his comment has had the desired effect. Then he gives each Survivor a pair of goggles. “On my go, each of you will select one of the eight doors in this building, put your goggles on, and then head in. The goggles will be receiving signals from The Brain, which is the nerve center of this little house of horrors we’ve created here. The Brain controls everything that happens inside.” He slaps the wall of the structure. “It will shift walls after you’ve passed them. It will lock doors. It will block off staircases. And, worst of all, it will generate images of the things that scare you the most. In short, it will make your time inside as miserable as possible. Your task is to fight through the maze, battling The Brain’s horrible creations along the way. If you remove your goggles while inside the building, you are eliminated. And, believe me, The Brain will know. The one of you that locates The Brain first will receive Immunity and will be safe from the vote tomorrow night. Everyone understand? All right. Survivors ready? Go!”
Everyone runs to a different door, straps on their goggles, and heads inside. Jeff scales a ladder on the outside of the building and climbs to the roof, where he opens a secret door and disappears. Inside, a good deal of screaming and yelling has already begun. Butch is running up a flight of stairs which disappear even as he’s scaling them. He yells and falls to his knees. Behind him, a panel slides shut, blocking his retreat. Suddenly, a squadron of paper airplanes materializes in front of him and whistles in a tight pattern directly at his face. Butch screams and dives to the floor with his arms over his head. He lands in a pile of moist spit wads. “Oh, no!” he cries in horror. “Help me!”
Meanwhile, Rob is fighting his way up a steep incline, clawing desperately for a ledge seemingly just a few inches out of reach. Abruptly, a figure appears on top of the ledge and leers at Rob. “No! NO!” Rob yells. He loses his grip on the ramp and slides to the bottom, where he cowers in fear. The figure leaps down and lands directly in front of Rob, where it roars, “Look up, worm!” Sobbing and wiping his nose, Rob looks up and sees...himself. “Please!” Rob whines. “Make it go away. I hate it.”
Elsewhere in the structure, Heidi screams. “Oh, it’s horrible!” she cries. She’s pressed against the back wall of her corridor, staring at a giant marshmallow figure with crazy yellow hair and Heidi’s face. “I’ll do anything! Please stop!” She desperately fumbles with her goggles and throws them to the floor. A deep voice rumbles throughout the structure, “Heidi...is eliminated.”
Deena has maneuvered her way through the maze and can see a door at the end of the hallway with a sign that says “The Brain” on it. She begins to run towards it, but a figure steps out of the shadows and blocks her passage. It’s Roger. Deena recoils in horror. “What are you doing here?” she gasps.
“You’re late to the meeting, Deena,” he growls. “I’m going to make note of this in your annual evaluation.”
“You’re...my boss? You’re the DA?!” she shrieks. “Oh, no! Please no! It can’t be!”
“Yes, Deena. Have you prepared my briefs?”
The deep voice makes three more announcements. “Deena...is eliminated. Jenna...is eliminated. Christy...is eliminated.”
Alex is gasping in pain as he fights his way through the rapidly shifting maze. He’s slipped on more than one occasion and has several bruises on his body. Finally, he stands in a long hall with the “Brain” door at the other end. He breaks into a limping trot, but is stopped when someone leaps out of the floor in front of him. It’s Dave. “Hello, there,” Dave purrs. “My old adversary. We meet again.”
“Look out, clown!” Alex barks, shoving Dave to the side. He arrives at the door and opens it. Inside is a small octagonal room with a single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. In the center of the room is a table with a laptop computer on it. Sitting at the table is a solitary figure wearing a large helmet with eight bunches of wires leading out of it and into each of eight doors. Jeff is standing beside the figure, working his teeth with a toothpick. When Alex steps into the room, Jeff raises his hands and shouts, “Alex wins Immunity!” The Brain repeats the announcement so that it can be heard throughout the structure. It then removes the helmet and punches a button on the computer keyboard. All eight doors swing open and the lights come up, revealing eight short hallways barely ten feet long which lead directly to the outside doors. The other Survivors are standing or laying on a sophisticated treadmill which can rotate, as well as pivot up and down.
“So it was all an illusion!” Matthew gasps. “Fantastic!”
Jeff smirks as he puts the Immunity Necklace around Alex’s neck. “Thought you’d appreciate that one,” he says.
“But then...who is The Brain?” Alex asks.
The Brain turns slowly and looks into Alex’s eyes.
“Richard Hatch!” he cries. “Aren’t his fifteen minutes over yet?”
Hatch laughs heartily.
“Wait!” Deena says as she enters the room. “Look at his shirt!”
Hatch glances down at his plain black T-shirt which reads, “Have you hugged a rocket scientist today?” With a grin, he reaches up and peels off his latex mask, revealing...
“Dave!” the others cry.
“Indeed,” Dave says. “I knew your weaknesses better than any of you could have imagined. Well, except for you, Alex. I guess you weren’t as intimidated by my as I thought. Weird.”
The following evening at Tribal Council, tensions are high. Deena hasn’t informed Alex of her decision. It’s completely up in the air as to who will actually go. After Jeff tallies the votes, it’s a 5-3 decision to boot Butch. Alex stands up and whirls on Deena. “But what about our agreement?!” he yells.
“Motion denied!” Deena barks. “I’m in charge here.” Alex looks at Rob, who shrugs helplessly.
As Butch’s flame is extinguished, he looks back at the group. “All right, you guys. Don’t forget to believe in yourselves. And now...I believe I’ll be going.”
And that’s it. I can no longer see the visions. Please come back next week and maybe we can play another few hands of poker.
Your comments are welcome. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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