Ah, hello, there! Come in, come in. Here, let me get that suitcase off your chair. I’m preparing for a trip to the annual Psychics’ Convention. I know it’s this weekend, but I’m still uncertain as to the location. It’s sort of a running joke. The organizers never tell us where it’s going to be. We’re supposed to have a vision of the future and just show up at the right place at the right time. Last year, I wound up misinterpreting the signs and spent a long weekend by myself in Casper, Wyoming. At least it was during the summer. It was only windy three of the four days I was there. I hear the main convention in New Orleans was quite exciting. Obviously, the more you procrastinate in having your vision, the more expensive it becomes to go to the convention. The airlines are going to gouge me this time, I’m sure, but I want to be absolutely certain of my destination before I buy tickets. The convention is a great opportunity to network with other seers and to get a look at the latest advances in psychic technology. Maybe I’ll even find a replacement for this beat-up cracked crystal ball I’ve been using. No, no. Please sit down again. I was only kidding. I would be a fool to discard this little beauty. Its uncanny accuracy over the past few seasons of Survivor has been a revelation to everyone. I couldn’t bear to part with it. And, speaking of Survivor, I sense that you are eager to discover what wonders await in the second episode of the Pearl Islands saga. Let me get these extra socks off my desk so I can focus on the images now taking shape in the cracked crystal ball. Yessss. Do you see the swirling clouds of smoke deep within? No? Well, I can tell you that the clouds are coalescing into the title of the next episode. It’s
Ticket Or No Ticket
It’s late evening of the third day in the Pearl Islands. The remaining members of the Morgan Tribe are quietly paddling their way back to their camp after a draining Tribal Council. As they draw near, they are surprised to see another boat already moored on the beach. The word “Drake” is painted on the back of the vessel. Lill consults her map. “That’s odd,” she says. “We didn’t take a wrong turn. This is definitely our island, not theirs.” The tribe beaches the boat and Ryan O. leaps out to drag it further up onto the sand.
At that moment, a loud “Foomp!” is heard, followed by the heavy clomping of something very large running in their direction. The dark sky inland from the beach begins to flicker in orange and yellow as flames leap up around the tribe’s meager shelter. Back-lighted by the rapidly growing fire is the figure of a huge man sprinting in their direction. Many members of the Morgan tribe hold up their torches to get a better look at the running man. It’s Rupert! With a roar, he shoves the Drake boat into the water and splashes into the water after it. Throwing a hand onto the edge of the boat, he hurdles into the small vessel, his floral skirt billowing boldly. “Arr, there, mateys!” he cries gleefully. “I see you’ve returned a bit early. Just as well, I suppose. You may as well know now who plundered your camp. You’ve been pirated by the Drake tribe!” He laughs manically and rows away at an astonishing rate of speed.
After his boat disappears in the distance, the only sound is the soft, almost soothing crackle of the flaming shelter. The members of the Morgan tribe are all staring silently in the direction of Rupert’s departure. Finally, Ryan S. asks quietly, “Don’t you have to steal something when you plunder?”
“That’s true,” Andrew says, stroking his chin. “And ‘plunder’ is a synonym of ‘pillage,’ right? So he probably didn’t mean that, either.”
“I think you’re right,” says a female voice. “Maybe the word he wanted was ‘raze.’”
The tribe turns as one in the direction of the voice, which belongs to Darrah, as it turns out. Andrew stares at her in confusion for a few seconds, then extends a hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Andrew, the leader of this tribe.” The tribe presses in tightly, and introductions are exchanged with the mysterious, silent woman who has apparently been living on Morgan Beach for the past three days. Then the group moves up the beach to inspect the damage inflicted by Rupert.
The flames have died down considerably, but the wimpy shelter is completely destroyed. The group is too tired and emotionally drained to react to this development, other than to stare blankly at the fire. Osten stretches his hands out to get warm. After a moment or two, Andrew looks around at his team. “All right, people,” he begins in a voice of command. “Let’s take a few minutes to remember how this felt. We need to come together as a unit and grow stronger from this attack. In fact, hug the two people nearest you.” He quickly hauls in Darrah and Tijuana and clutches one in each arm as they windmill their arms and try to pull away. The other members of the tribe glance at each other warily, but no one makes a move to hug anybody else. Finally, Andrew releases the two women and speaks again. “Let’s get to work building our new shelter. This one will be the best one yet! Third time’s the charm, right?”
As the group grudgingly sets about preparing to build the next shelter, Osten glances out to sea. “I will make you pay for your pirating ways, Drake,” he mutters. Then he hitches up his sagging boxers and jogs down the beach to find more bamboo.
The next morning, the members of the Drake tribe wake up early and in good spirits. Rupert, in particular, seems especially gleeful. “What’s got you so fired up, Blackbeard?” Jon asks, then brays explosively. He looks around earnestly at his stoic tribemates. “Don’t you get it? Pirate theme? Blackbeard was a pirate? Rupert has a black beard? I’m funny!” He laughs again, louder this time.
Even Jon’s abrasive behavior is not enough to spoil Rupert’s good mood this morning. He quickly relates his adventure from the previous night to the others. The women of the tribe laugh along with Rupert. Shawn and Burton exchange jealous glances. And Jon leaps up from a seated position and yells, “That sounds like something Jonny Fairplay would do!” He cackles loudly into the ensuing tomb-like silence. “Don’t you see? I’m Jonny Fairplay! I don’t play fair!” He snickers and pans his gaze around quickly to take in all of his tribemates.
“That’s not a good nickname then,” says Sandra. “Maybe we should call you ‘Johnny the Cheat.’” The rest of the tribe laughs appreciatively. A few applaud.
Jon glares at everyone angrily, his slight frame visibly quivering as a pulse of rage works through his body. “That wasn’t funny!” he exclaims. “I know funny. Remember: I am a funny man.” His face flushes as the others chuckle at this outburst. He grabs a little green coat that nobody noticed before. Shrugging into it, he exclaims, “You’re always after me Lucky Charms!” and stomps away.
The rest of the group has a leisurely breakfast, gorging themselves on the dozens of fish that Rupert has accumulated in the past day or two. After everyone has stuffed themselves to capacity, the tribe wanders off for individual nap time. The beach is calm and quiet. In the far distance, Jon can just barely be heard undergoing a temper tantrum of prodigious proportions. Suddenly, a rock sails out of the trees and lands on the stomach of a sleeping Burton. “Huh, wha?” he shouts, scrambling quickly to his feet. Another rock plunks him in the arm. “Ouch!”
He looks in the direction of the rock’s flight and spots a face in the trees, its mouth moving in an exaggerated fashion. Burton’s eyes widen briefly, then he leans closer as he recognizes the face as that of Mark Burnett. He’s leaning out of the trees and trying madly to communicate something to Burton. It must be important because his eyes are wild and his face very red. Burton takes a quick look around and realizes that everyone else is still asleep. He jogs to the tree line and waves at Burnett. “Hi, Mark,” he says meekly.
“Tree! Mail!” Burnett hisses angrily. “Don’t you check your mail? You lazy fools need to be at the Reward Challenge now. You’re already late!” He reaches out and cuffs Burton on the side of the head. “Go!” Then he pulls his head into the dense foliage and disappears quickly from view.
Burton wheels and stumbles down the beach to wake the others. The group yells urgently for Jon to join them, and he comes loping out of the jungle, beaming excitedly at the notion that they missed him. The rest of the tribe is already in the boat, floating several yards out to sea. “Come on!” Shawn yells, and Jon’s smile evaporates. He dives into the water, though, and splashes quickly out to the boat.
By the time Drake makes its way out to Snapping Challenge Duck Beach Bay, everyone else is already there and starting to look bored and tired. The Morgan tribe members scowl at Drake as they amble up to their mat. Jeff is livid. He pulls out a pocket watch and glares at it quickly before slipping it back in his shorts. “Two hours late,” he snaps. “I should award victory in today’s Reward Challenge to Morgan just to teach you a lesson.” Ryan S. cheers. Jeff swings his head around and squints his eyes at the jumping and clapping Survivor. “Or maybe I should just make you run laps, Mr. Excitement. How would you like that?!” Ryan immediately stops celebrating. He shoves his hands in his pockets and puts his head down, sneaking a peek at Jeff through the top half of his glasses. “All right. That’s better. As for you, Drake, you’d better not be late again, or I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
He takes a deep breath and walks over to a table with a giant deck of cards on it. “OK, today’s Reward is something many of you will have an immediate interest in winning. Like Osten, for example.”
Osten perks up. “My booze and music?” he chirps hopefully. In his enthusiasm, he nearly releases the grip he has on his droopy underwear.
Jeff laughs the laugh of a man who knows a secret and follows that up quickly with the laugh of a man who knows another man isn’t even close to guessing it. “Nope. The winner of today’s Reward Challenge gets clothing.” The Survivors murmur excitedly. “Hand-picked garments that will give you some options in your wardrobe and warm you on these chilly Pearl Island nights.” He holds up two packages wrapped tightly in paper and twine, one in each hand. Each large package has the name of one of the tribes on it. “And as a special bonus to the winning tribe,” Jeff adds, “you can have the other tribe’s clothing package, as well, to split up however you choose. No guarantees on the fit, though,” he smiles, glancing significantly at Rupert and Michelle.
Jeff throws the packages to the ground and fans the giant cards on the table. “Now, as for the Challenge itself,” he says, “what better way to distribute clothing than a friendly game of Strip Poker?” He grins wickedly at the Survivors as many of them (like Osten) yelp in protest. “Relax. We’re just calling it Strip Poker. You can leave your filthy shreds of fabric on the whole time. In fact, I’d like to offer my own special request to you strip-happy Morgan folks to keep it on. All right, here’s how it’s going to work. First, I’ll need one person on Drake to sit out.” The tribe chooses Jon, just for the fun of leaving him out and, besides that, he’s still quite wet and looks cranky. Jeff then flips a coin and asks Jon to call it. “OK, Jon wins the toss so Morgan will go first. Then the two tribes will take turns sending up a member to select a card from this deck. When you draw your card, you may either add the card to your tribe’s hand or add it to the opposing tribe’s hand. Your tribe cannot offer advice when you’re deciding what to do. Once both hands have been formed initially, the two people from each tribe who haven’t drawn cards yet take turns selecting cards. The new card can be used to replace a card in either hand. After the last card has been replaced, the tribe with the winning hand wins the Reward. Everyone understand?” The Survivors nod. “All right then. Survivors ready? Go!”
After the standard arm-raise switch, Ryan O. steps up and chooses a 4. Jeff has produced a game board with room for both tribe’s poker hands. Ryan gives the 4 to the Drake tribe. Rupert’s next, and he also draws a 4, which he gives to his own tribe, causing his tribemates to cheer. Darrah then draws a King, which she places on the Morgan row.
The game continues until each tribe has received its first five cards. Drake leads with three 4’s, a 7, and a 3. Morgan has two pair: Kings, tens, and an extraneous 6. Now it’s time for the last two members of each tribe to draw their replacement cards. Lill goes first for Morgan, and she draws a third ten, which she uses to give her tribe a full house by replacing the 6. Her tribemates shout their approval and clap her on the back as she returns to the mat. Sandra is next, and she pulls a Jack out of the pile, which she uses to defuse Morgan’s full house, replacing the ten Lill just placed. On Morgan’s last turn, Tijuana draws a 6 and replaces one of Drake’s fours, breaking up their three of a kind. Drake groans in disappointment as Trish steps up to draw the last card of the contest. “Come on, be a four!” Shawn yells as Trish reveals her card: a 5. Some of the tribe groans initially, but when Trish replaces the other 4 with the 5, giving Drake a straight for the win, Morgan takes over the groaning.
Drake hugs each other excitedly and jumps up and down as Jeff calls out, “Drake is the winner!” He grabs the two packages of clothing and tosses them to Shawn and Burton, who have positioned themselves at the front of the celebrating tribe. Jeff smiles sneakily. “Why don’t you open your package?” he suggests.
The group crowds around Shawn as he unties the package and tears the paper away. He pulls out the first item: a light blue leisure suit with Burton’s name stitched on the breast pocket. Jeff begins to chuckle. The next piece is a lime green velour pullover with Sandra’s name on the back in multi-colored sequins. And so on. By the time all the repulsive garments are passed out to their intended owners, Jeff has his head down on the card table, banging his fist repeatedly as howls of laughter fill the clearing. “Be sure to wear those to the Immunity Challenge tomorrow!” he manages to choke out before the continued laughter completely incapacitates him. He slumps to the ground behind the table and lays on his back, his body racked by his own mirth.
The two tribes look at each other in confusion, not sure if they have to do anything else or not. In the end, they just shrug and head back to their boats so they can return to camp. The rest of the day passes quickly, and before long, the tribes are back in their boats and rowing back to Bay Challenge Duck Snapping Beach for the Immunity Challenge. This time, Jeff himself is late. Very late. There’s a sign up, though, advising the Survivors to stay on their mat until he shows up. “No sitting,” it says at the bottom of the sign. “Severe consequences apply.”
After a good three hours of waiting, during which time the Survivors have become parched and half-delirious, Jeff finally emerges from the jungle. He appears to be in good spirits, and his smile grows even broader when he sees the Drake tribe all sporting their new clothes. “Good afternoon,” he says briskly. “Now you all know how I felt having to wait for you yesterday.”
“But-” Osten begins.
“Sh!” Jeff commands him. “Don’t quibble. This is a lesson you all must learn. In fact, there are three important lessons.” He holds out his hands and counts the fingers on one with the index finger of the other. “Lesson number one: check your Tree Mail. Lesson number two: show up on time. And, most importantly, lesson number three: keep me happy. Break any of those rules,” he says with a shrug, “and I break you. Got it?”
The Survivors nod unhappily.
“All righty then. Let’s talk about today’s Immunity Challenge.” He rotates and indicates two long corridors constructed of chain link. Within the corridors are a series of metal gates which separate the corridor into seven distinct rooms. Each room has a small box with a lever on the side of it hanging on the wall next to the gate. “You’re looking at the course for your next race,” Jeff says. “Looks pretty easy, right?” Nobody says anything, which causes Jeff to look back at the group and grin in appreciation. “I see you’re all learning. Very nice!” He clears his throat and continues.
“In a moment, you will be given two minutes to gather as many tickets as possible from a pile I will show you. You will each manage your own quantity of tickets. As a group, you’ll enter the open end of the corridor and pull the lever on the ticket collector box. The box will indicate on its view screen how many tickets one of you must insert in order for the others to pass. Once you have the correct number of tickets in the box, the gate will open and the rest of the tribe will pass through. You will continue this operation until only one person is left in the final room. That person must have enough tickets to pass through the gate. First person through the last gate wins Immunity for their team. You may not share tickets with tribemates. If your tribe has insufficient tickets to pass through a particular gate, one member may pass back through the other rooms and retrieve from the pile of tickets the exact amount required to increase their own total in order to open the gate. Everyone got it?” The Survivors nod slowly, indicating that they probably don’t quite understand, but Jeff doesn’t care. “Oh, and by the way, pirates used to do something like this, I guess. There’s your tie-in.”
Drake chooses Jon to sit out again, a blatant rules violation which Jeff allows just this once because it’s Jonny Fairplay, who’s got it coming. Jeff takes a deep breath and raises one arm. “Survivors ready?”
“Wait!” yells Andrew. “Where are the tickets?”
“GO!” Jeff yells, switching arms. He pulls a remote control from his pocket and points it over the Survivors’ heads. They look up in time to see the bottom of a giant box suspended above them swing open. An enormous mound of little blue tickets plummets out of the bottom of the box and buries the Survivors instantly. “You have two minutes!” Jeff cries, pulling an enormous egg timer out of the nearby trees and dialing in the time. “Hurry!”
The mountain of blue tickets is shifting slowly. Bumps in the mound begin to move and shimmy until heads start emerging from the pile. First Rupert’s, then Andrew’s, and so on. As they fight their way out of the pile, they help dig other tribe members out. By the time every Survivor is out of the huge pile, Jeff is counting down the final ten seconds of the collection period.
“Three, two, one! Time!” Jeff calls as the immense egg timer dings impressively. “Everybody into the corridors. Now!”
The tribes charge into the corridor, trying desperately to hang onto the tickets they managed to grab. Stray tickets fly off of people’s clothing and out of their hair. In the first room, the ticket collector box demands 70 tickets. “Ticket or no ticket?” the view screen prompts. Christa happens to have at least that many and feeds 70 into the box, which then lights up in green. The first gate swings open, and the other members of Drake run through, leaving Christa behind. Leaving Lill behind, Morgan quickly enters their own second room. The collector box requires 200 tickets to advance into room 3. Each tribe decides quickly to send someone back to collect the exact number of tickets. Osten from Morgan arrives first, but Sandra is right on his heels. Both tribes pass rapidly into the third room.
As the race continues, it becomes obvious that Drake managed to collect far fewer tickets. They are continually forced to send tribe members back to acquire more. By the time Morgan reaches the final room, Drake is a full room behind and gathering tickets from the pile. Andrew pulls the lever in the final room and discovers that 335 tickets are required to pass. “Ticket or no ticket?” the implacable view screen pesters. Morgan has elected to save Andrew till the end since he obviously had the most tickets remaining. The strategy appears to have paid off as he begins rapidly feeding his tickets into the collection box.
Meantime, Burton has finished gathering the required number of tickets to open the gate into the last room. Rupert passes through and pulls the lever. His team screams at him to run back and gather more tickets, but Rupert shakes his head, spraying everyone with sweat from his hair. After feeding about 300 tickets into the box, he opens his mouth wide and disgorges a large blue ball of moist tickets. His teammates cheer as he begins peeling the tickets away from one another and feeding them into the collector box.
Andrew, for his part, has stalled out at 331 and is frenziedly sweeping his hands around, searching for four more tickets sticking to his perspiring body. With the aid of his yelling tribemates, he locates one more between his shoulder blades. Another is stuck to the bottom of his foot. He needs two more.
Rupert is having some difficulty separating the tickets, but he’s already up to 329. His team is cheering wildly as he struggles to dry the tickets off on his white ruffled shirt and red stretch pants. He pushes his sparkly gold “Rupert” beret back on his head and wipes his brow. Two more tickets flake off the central core of wet tickets.
Andrew’s tribe is screaming at him to run back and just pull two tickets from the pile. “No time!” he shouts back. Then inspiration hits him and he reaches for the waistband of his boxers.
“Oh, not again,” Jeff groans.
Andrew slides his underwear down and discovers the mother lode of hidden tickets. He quickly selects two and feeds them into the collection box, which glows green. The gate swings open. His ankles imprisoned by his fallen boxers, Andrew shuffles through the gate and pulls a mortified Jeff in for a big hug as Jeff yells, “Immunity to Morgan!” His voice is muffled by Andrew’s shoulder, but the point is made. Jeff gropes for the Immunity Idol and manages to insinuate it between himself and Andrew, which results in the exultant leader of the Morgan tribe finally letting Jeff go.
The next evening at Tribal Council, Jonny Fairplay pulls out all the stops. He makes jokes, he plays unfairly, and he just generally does whatever he thinks will work to keep him in the game. He is shocked, however, when he is unanimously booted off the island. “You guys wouldn’t know funny if it hit you in the face,” he blubbers as his torch is snuffed. He turns to leave and is inadvertently whacked in the face by Jeff’s torch quencher. The others laugh heartily. “Guess I was wrong about that,” a grinning Jon says, reveling in the laughter even as he rubs his sore and bleeding nose. “You do know funny.”
And now the visions are gone. But, fortunately for me, I had a parallel vision while we were talking. I think I’d better go buy my plane tickets for Fargo, North Dakota. I’m pretty sure that’s where the convention’s going to be. Should be fun! I’ll see you next week.
Your comments are welcome. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.