Oh, hi! Um, listen, just stay right there for a second, all right? I’ll see if I can work my way over to you. As you can see from my crowded lobby, the “Bring a Friend to Paulie” program has been quite successful so far. I must say, though, some of these new patrons are rather demanding. It’s very refreshing to see the familiar face of my favorite customer. All right, people! Step aside, please! Coming through! This person has an appointment! Walk-ins and standbys must wait their turns! And keep your mitts out of the Bin of Goodies, for heaven’s sake! Ah, excellent. I’ve made it. Of course, I just realized that I’ve left the cracked crystal ball on the desk. Good heavens. That means we must both weave our way back through this writhing, sweaty crowd! Of course, the Fates have conspired to ensure maximal discomfort for my clientele on my busiest day of the year. The thermostat control snapped off in my hand this morning when I tried to lower the temperature of the room. And, of course, due to my lease arrangement with the donut shop, I don’t actually have a window in this office that I can open. In addition, because my office is so cramped, I’ve been constrained to ask many of my customers to wait in the donut shop itself. So far, I don’t think this has angered the store owner because a great many of my clients have sampled his sugary fare while they wait. Over time, however, when people come to realize what a foolish travesty of baking these donuts are – and, honestly, who manages to ruin a donut? – they’ll stop buying them. And then we’ll have a problem. Perhaps I’ll need to enter into an intellectual duel with the man, the stakes being the very ownership of the shop itself. I’m sure the meager business he generates selling his limp saucers of grease will be unaffected if I elect to shove him into the supply closet. Ah, and here we are. The inner sanctum itself. And there, glowing radiantly in the center of my desk, like a beacon from another world, is the cracked crystal ball. It’s been extraordinarily accurate this season, I think you’ll agree. Let’s see what it has to say about the finale. Yes, take your seat, as will I. Mm-hm, there they are: the rapid flashes of psychic electricity that broadcast to me the secrets of the Survivor universe. I see the title of this week’s episode as the flashes pulse and coalesce into a series of words. It’s
Fame’s An Indoor Dance
It’s early morning of Day 37 in the Pearl Islands. The Balboa tribe is bustling with activity. The three women have divided up the chores and are heading off to work. Jon sits in the shelter, his chin resting on his knees as he stares out at them dolefully. His Survivor buff encircles his face from his chin to the top of his head, and his face is pinched in despair. He looks like he has a monster toothache. As Darrah heads down to the water’s edge, fishing spear in hand, Jon slides out of the shelter. Weaving his way down the beach, arms extended to either side in a sort of Jonny Airplane pose, he catches up to Darrah right before she enters the water. “Darrah, babe! Hold on a second. I have a proposal for you.” He wrinkles his nose and exposes his teeth in a forced and shockingly unpleasant smile.
Darrah counters his facial expression with the most baleful scowl she’s managed in the contest so far, a phenomenal feat considering her superb offerings to this point. “What do you want, Jon? I need to go get some fish for the ladies and me. You should get busy scrounging up some mussels.”
“Hey, now!” Jon protests. “Just because you could pick me up and throw me to Panama City doesn’t mean you should be critical of my physique! We can’t all have giant arms like you, you know, Miss Universe. Sure, I could be all ripped and packing around some massive guns, but the weight room just isn’t my scene, all right? Besides, all those muscles would distract from the total Fairplay package. You gotta look past the skinny stems and see the real man behind all the scrawn.”
Darrah sighs and shakes her head. “I think we’ve all seen that man,” she says. “Come on, get to the point. What do you want?”
“Final Two, baby.”
Darrah lets out a single, loud bark of laughter. “Right,” she says as she pulls on the diving mask and turns to head back into the water.
“No, seriously!” Jon cries. “I can guarantee you Final Two. Just tell me who to vote for at Tribal Council. I’ll do whatever you say. Then I’ll take a dive in the final Immunity Challenge so you can beat one of the other two. Wouldn’t I be a fantastic opponent to sit next to for the million dollars?” He cocks his head to the side, grins at Darrah, and Fairplays her.
“Get out of here, Jon,” she says. “I don’t need you for Final Two.” And she dives into the water and disappears.
Jon stares at the expanding ripples in the water for a few seconds, then turns and heads off into the trees to find Sandra. When he locates her, she has an armful of firewood and is on her way back to camp. “Sandra!” Jon calls. “Hey, there! Can I give you a hand?”
Sandra sniffs in disgust. “I don’t think so, Jon. I’ve already gathered kindling. I think these logs would be too much for you. Why don’t you go put your head in a noose and wait patiently for the next Tribal Council?”
Jon forces an awkward bray of laughter. “Good one!” he says. “Say, listen, I wanted to offer you Final Two.”
Sandra laughs loudly and bends over, dropping her firewood on the ground. She slaps her knee a couple of times, then leans against a tree for support as waves of mirth wrack her body. After almost a minute of hysterical laughter, she takes a few deep breaths, straightens up, and turns to look at Jon. As soon as she sees him, her shoulders hunch and her mouth explodes open with an uncontrollable snort of laughter. She drops to a knee, then falls backward onto the ground. She holds her stomach as she laughs and kicks her heels on the ground while rolling her body back and forth. Finally, she gains control of herself and pushes up into a sitting position, her hands extended behind her to support her torso as she looks up at Jon. “So how are you offering me Final Two?” she asks, reaching up to wipe a tear from her eye.
“I’ve already got Darrah on board,” he says quickly. “We all vote Lill out of the game. She’s old, she’s cracking up, and she’s an Outcast who doesn’t deserve the million. Then in the last Immunity Challenge, I take out Darrah and bring you with me.”
“Oh, please! I’ve got a better shot of winning Immunity at the end than you do. Besides, I don’t like you at all, and I don’t trust you.”
“Exactly!” Jon exclaims. “What better person to contrast yourself with in the finals than a dirty snake like me?”
Sandra stands and starts piling the firewood into her arms again. “Forget it, Jon. I don’t want you to get even a sniff of the money. Not even a hundred thousand dollars. And I want to be one of the ones who writes your name down and kicks you out of this game. Go pack your things, little man. The clock is ticking.”
Jon trudges back to camp and encounters Lill, who is filling canteens from the big water jug. He touches her gently on the shoulder. “Hey, Lill,” he says, allowing a husky, sensual timbre to creep into his thin voice.
She looks up and yawns. “Hi, Jon,” she says. “You’re not still mad about last night, are you? I sure didn’t want to hurt anyone. This game is awful. Just awful.” She raises an arm and dabs at her eyes with the sleeve of her Scouts shirt.
“No, no, Lill. Nothing like that. I would’ve voted for him myself, but I was afraid of the consequences.” He begins rubbing her neck.
“What do you mean?” she asks. “What consequences?”
“Oh, you know, little things he’s said here and there about killing anyone who betrays him. I don’t think he was serious. Probably not, I mean. But I’d want to play it safe and stay in the game as long as possible just to let him cool off.” He digs his thumbs into Lill’s back muscles as he continues the massage, then he starts gently sobbing.
Lill whirls around. “What is it, Jon? What’s wrong?”
“What? Oh, nothing. Look away. I didn’t want you to see me crying.”
“You tell me what’s the matter, young man. Maybe I can help!”
“It’s just that I worry about Burton thinking it was me that stabbed him in the back. I don’t want to go back to Loser Lodge with him there. What do you say we go for Final Two, you and I?”
“Whaaat?!?” Lill gasps. “I could be Final Two? Oh, golly. I hadn’t even dared to dream it could happen! This crazy game! What would I need to do?”
“Just help me vote out the other two,” Jon says with a shrug. “That’s all. I overheard them saying you were next to go, so I’m just looking out for your best interests.”
“But what about our alliance?!” she wails. “I thought the three women were all going to win or something. Now I’m really confused.”
Jon pats her on the head. “You don’t understand this game very well, do you? Not even now.” She frowns and shakes her head. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything,” he says. “You just do whatever I tell you to do, all right?”
“Tree Mail!” Sandra calls from behind them. “It’s time for the next Immunity Challenge.” Jon glares intently at Lill, who bows her head and hurries to finish filling the canteens before they leave.
The four Survivors pile into the Balboa boat and paddle off to Chop-A-Duck Chick-Fil-A Shark-A-Wocka-Hi-Snappa-Hinie-Hoe Beach. Jeff is leaning on yet another sheet-enshrouded object when the Survivors arrive. He’s staring off into the trees as he works a toothpick around in his mouth. When the Survivors are collected on the mat, he runs his tongue over his teeth and puts the toothpick back into his shirt pocket. “Dental hygiene,” he comments. “Very important. Hope you guys have remembered to floss at night.” He pauses for a couple of seconds, then lets out a whoop of laughter. “Oh, geez!” he laughs. “I kill me! Floss! Whew! That was good. That was good.” He exhales a long, whooshing sigh to help collect himself. “OK! Let’s get started. You four have been here for thirty-seven days. There are only two days left. Well, and the rest of today. So we’re talking about two days and maaaaaybe another half a day, if you want to be technical. And in that short period of time, three of you standing here today will officially become losers. In the context of this game, I mean. You’re all losers in my book.” He nods earnestly, looking at each Survivor in turn.
“OK, today’s Challenge honors the role of ships in the rich history of the pirates. Back in The Pirate Times, a good ship was possibly more important than the pirate who commanded it. A ship that survived assault after assault from enemy forces became legendary. There was Blackbeard’s famous vessel, the, uh...well, I’m positive he had a ship. And I’m sure Morgan and Drake had boats, too, and obviously they had names, as well. Names that doubtless struck fear into the hearts of all the non-pirate seafarers in the world at that time. So...enough exposition. I think I’ve effectively proven my point. Right?” The Survivors are silent. “Hm. Wise guys. I am so glad you clowns are almost out of my hair. Anyway, today you will each be assuming the role of a pirate ship. You will slip into these padded outfits which are meant to simulate sails but will also offer you protection...from this.” He pulls aside the sheet, revealing a giant cannon.
Jon steps back. “Uh-uh. Nooo way! You’re going to shoot us with a cannon?!”
Jeff purses his lips and frowns his eyebrows as he thinks about the question. Then he shrugs and nods. “Yeah. Pretty much.”
Jon steps off the mat. “It’s between the three of them then. I refuse to get involved. I’m just too beat up from all the other Challenges. I’m not going to get myself killed this close to the end.”
Jeff laughs. “Oh, please, Mr. Melodrama! We’re not going to kill you guys! That would really put us in a legal quandary, and we don’t want any part of that. Severe pain, that’s probably the worst risk you face. Possibly a short-term maiming. But that’s a small price to pay for a one-in-three shot at a million bucks, isn’t it? Get back on the mat, Jon. Let’s play.” Jon steps onto the mat uncertainly, his eyebrows furrowed in distrust. “Excellent,” Jeff says. “Now here’s how it’s going to work. You’ll each take turns standing in front of the cannon. I’ll fire off a shot directly into your stomach. The cannon has been specially engineered to randomly eject cannonballs of varying size. Most – nearly all, in fact – are quite small, but there is one rather large ball in there. They’ll all sting at least a little bit. It’s just a matter of how much you really want it. You can quit whenever you want when the pain is too great. But realize that you’ll be vulnerable to the vote if you surrender. Only the last person standing will win Immunity and have a guaranteed 33% shot at one million dollars.” He raises his pinky to the edge of his lips. “Everyone understand? Then get into your sail-suits and wait for my go.”
After everyone changes, Darrah steps up to receive the first cannonball. Jeff lights the fuse. The cannon roars, Darrah flinches, and a small pebble-sized cannonball squirts out the end and pecks harmlessly off the front of her sail-suit.
Jon visibly relaxes. “Oh, that’s not bad at all!” he says.
“See? I told you!” Jeff says heartily. “Now step up there and take your turn.”
Jon bobs into position, Fairplay V’s resting on his hips. “There ain’t room enough in this town for the both of us,” he drawls playfully. “Draw!” He whips out a V and points it at the cannon as it explodes to life again. An enormous cannonball, probably sixteen inches across, erupts from the end of the cannon and smashes into Jon’s stomach. “Vvvoorrfff!!” he grunts as the ball, prevented from tearing through Jon’s torso by the sturdy fabric of the sail-suit, instead carries Jon backward at a terrific rate of speed. In less than a second, Jon’s blurry, V-shaped body is propelled into a large tree, which splinters at its base upon impact. As the ball rolls down Jon’s legs and onto the ground, he falls to his knees and coughs loudly. “Oh, geez,” he croaks. “That really hurt. I quit.”
“Look out!” Lill cries as the splintered tree falls forward in the direction of the blow.
Jon, still gasping for breath, looks up helplessly as the tree dives swiftly towards him. He closes his eyes and tenses for the blow, but the top of the tree hits the cannon itself, which halts its downward progress. Jon receives just a light tap on the skull from an extended branch. He passes out, anyway.
Jeff calls into the trees to his crew. “Let’s get this tree off the cannon!” he yells. “I want to see the big ball!”
Sandra’s eyes widen, and Lill bursts into tears. “No, no, no. That’s all right,” Sandra says. “I’m good. I don’t want to take a shot.”
“Me, neither!” Lill cries. “Nobody said there’d be shooting! Oh, poor Jon!”
Jeff nods in understanding. “Darrah wins Immunity...for the fourth time in a row! That’s unbelievable.” He gazes into her eyes. “So once again, the hottest babe on the beach is the coolest under pressure. I mean, the hottie in the yellow bikini wins again. I mean, um...well, anyway, congratulations or whatever. Way to go.” He leans in and steals a quick hug, then blushes furiously. “See you guys at Tribal Council,” he murmurs gruffly before jamming his hands in his pockets and walking off.
At Tribal Council the following night, the women remain united and vote Jon out 3-1. “You guys just got lucky!” Jon barks at the women as Jeff snuffs his torch. “Nobody beats The Puppetmaster without cheating!” He turns and storms off into the dark. As he rounds the corner on his way to the post-boot confessional area, two spotted wildcats fall in behind him. They pause and give each other a potato with their front paws as Jon enters the confessional booth, then they follow him in.
The next morning, Jeff arrives at Balboa Camp bright and early. The sun hasn’t even come up yet when he arrives. He’s wheeling the cannon from the previous Immunity Challenge. He lights the cannon and plugs his ears as the fuse burns down. A tremendous roar shatters the stillness of the early morning. A gigantic cannonball crunches into the side of the Balboa shelter and explodes out the other side, spraying wood and pieces of tarp in all directions. The three sleeping women scream and pour out of the sides of the shelter just as Jeff fires off another shot which wrecks the other half of the facing wall. The shelter collapses in on itself and settles into a pile of broken sticks. “Good morning!” Jeff calls, waving cheerily at the wide-eyed, gasping women. “It’s time for your last Challenge. Better come with me.”
“But...our shelter!” Sandra exclaims. “Why did you ruin it? Aren’t we going to need it?”
Jeff shakes his head. “It’s Day 39, guys. It’s almost over.”
Darrah frowns. “But there are three of us left. Don’t the Final Two usually spend one last night at camp and burn everything to the ground?”
Jeff laughs loudly. “Ah, sorry to disappoint, Ms. Pyro. That’s why I brought the cannon. I’m destroying the camp myself.” He wheels the cannon, points it at the tribe’s boat, and fires off another shot. A giant hole appears in both sides of the boat as the cannonball rips through it and splashes into the ocean.
Lill scratches her head. “So one more Immunity Challenge and then straight to Tribal Council for two sets of votes?”
“Ah, I didn’t say you were going to an Immunity Challenge, did I?”
Sandra frowns. “No, you didn’t. What kind of Challenge is it?”
“Why don’t I explain on the way? Come with me.” He hops into a speedboat and helps each woman aboard. He then guides the boat out into the ocean and jets off in the direction of Snapping Duck Bay, where it all started.
“Wow, haven’t seen this place in a while,” Sandra says as they climb off the boat. “I barely recognize it.” A long, windowless building has been erected on the beach. The door to the building is closed, and a sign is hanging on it that reads, “Final Challenge.”
Jeff guides the women up to the door, then stops and turns back to look at them. “All right, here’s the situation. Under normal circumstances, I think we can all agree that Darrah would simply win this thing. She’s a heavy favorite to win the standard endurance Challenge we normally have at this point. And of course she brings Lill, who’s an easy mark in the Finals. If it’s Darrah versus Lill, Darrah wins by a touchdown, 7-nil. Totally obvious. And frankly, boring television. Fortunately, we’ve had something else in mind from the beginning. What we came up with is, I think, absolutely brilliant. It ties all the threads of the show together in one final, incredible, super-amazing, oh-my-god twist that nobody will ever believe. So – quick review – what’s the theme of the show?”
“Pirates,” they all say in a monotone.
“Right! And what’s the most famous pirate rhyme you’ve ever heard? Something we’ve, surprisingly, never said even once in this series yet. Not once!”
“The one about the bottle of rum,” Darrah says quietly.
Jeff nods. “ExACTly. ‘Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest.’ Guys, seriously, you should have seen this coming.” He swings open the door of the building. “Welcome to the Victory Challenge.” The women walk into the building and are shocked to see the entire cast of Survivor : Pearl Islands inside. The only exception is Osten, but his extinguished torch is there, leaning against the wall. A large, shiny box in the middle of the room also has his name written on the side. Jon limps up to wave at the women. His head is wrapped in heavy bandages, and his arm’s in a sling. Jeff walks in behind them and closes the door quietly. “I’m sure you recognize all the Outcasts,” he says. “You didn’t think it was fair to allow only a select few to get back into the game, did you?”
Lill’s legs wobble, and she sits down on the floor. Darrah’s lips compress; a frown splits her face like a knife wound. Sandra is visibly angry.
“Now we had a few interesting hurdles to clear when Osten quit the game,” Jeff continues. “But just like everything in Survivor, it really worked out. We needed a dead man’s chest where all of you could dance. For a while, it looked like Jon was our man, especially when he ran into the ocelot and the margay the other night after Tribal Council. But somehow, he survived even that attack. Fortunately, we had a fallback position. When Osten wimpishly gave up, he was dead to us. So we took his foot locker. Sure, we don’t have ‘sixteen men’ to dance on top of it now, but I think we can live with that, don’t you?” The Survivors stare at him blankly. “So here’s the deal. All fifteen of you will climb on top of the dead man’s chest. You’ll dance as long as you can. If you stop dancing, you’re out. If you fall off the chest, you’re done. Last person dancing doesn’t just win Immunity, they win the entire game.” An excited murmur runs through the group of twelve booted Survivors. “That means for the one of you that wins this thing,” he pauses for dramatic effect and turns to grin into the camera, “fame’s an indoor dance.”
“But Jeff!” Sandra complains. “Look at those guys. They’re fit, they’re not hungry, they’re wearing clean clothes. It just isn’t fair!”
“Oh, don’t let their shiny clothing and glowing complexions fool you! These twelve Outcasts have been living in absolute squalor since leaving the game. They’re as exhausted and emotionally spent as you. Now just get up on that chest and dance like nobody’s watching, even though you’ll be shown on more than twenty million television sets around the world.” The fifteen people climb up onto the small chest. There’s barely enough room for all of them. Jeff grabs Osten’s torch and hands it to Nicole. “Just throw that on the ground on my go,” he says. “That’ll give us our sixteen. OK, Survivors ready? Go!”
Osten’s torch clatters to the floor immediately, and the group starts bobbing together on top of the chest. “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest!” Jeff cries. “Osten is out.” Within seconds, Lill and Jon slip off the edge and fall to the floor. “Thirteen men on a dead man’s chest!” Jeff shouts. “Twelve men!” he corrects himself. “Savage isn’t dancing. Get down. Right now.” As Andrew leaps down from the chest, he jostles the Ryans, who bonk heads and stumble to the ground. “Ten men on a dead man’s chest!” Jeff yells. Tijuana and Burton, dancing too close to one another, get their feet entangled and trip. They roll off the chest and fall together to the floor. “Eight men on a dead man’s chest!” Jeff reports, “but Burton and T don’t look too upset about it.”
Rupert dances enthusiastically, slapping his feet and other parts of his body from time to time. His eyes are locked on Darrah’s, who he has obviously identified as his chief competition. On one of his wild foot-slaps, his extended arm sweeps Shawn off the chest to the floor.
“Hey!” Shawn protests. “That’s cheating!”
“No, that’s fine,” Jeff calls. “No rule against it. Seven men on a dead man’s chest!”
The remaining dancers stare at one another as a realization sets in. Almost instantly, a dance-brawl breaks out. Rupert shoulder-checks Nicole off the chest. Darrah extends one of her legs and performs a pirouette, sweeping Trish and Sandra to the floor in the process. “Four men on a dead men’s chest!” Jeff yells. “This is it! Here comes the big finish!” Christa slams into Rupert, but simply bounces off him and slides to the floor. Darrah raises her arms over her head and dances over to Michelle. She bumps a hip into Michelle’s side and knocks her to the floor. “Two men on a dead man’s chest!” Jeff screams excitedly. “One of you will be crowned the sole survivor! The winner of the Pearl Islands saga! Will it be Rupert or Darrah?! Let’s watch!”
Time appears to slow as Rupert and Darrah engage in a Matrix-style dance war. As they dance, their arms and legs collide with ferocious speed. No solid contact is ever made, however. These are two highly-experienced battle dancers. Finally, Rupert rears back for a tremendous leg kick. As he does, Darrah turns and executes a “Running Man” backwards kick directly to the kneecap of his planted leg. Rupert howls in pain and spins off the chest, landing with a loud crash on the floor of the building.
“Darrah wins Survivor : Pearl Islands!” Jeff cries, throwing his hands over his head to signal the end of the Challenge.
“Rrrawwwkk!! I knew you could do it all along!”
The group turns to look in the direction of JP’s voice. The giant Jurassic Parrot is standing in the now-open doorway of the small building, somehow seeming to smile with his beak.
“JP?” Jeff asks. “How did you get out of your cage? What are you doing here?”
“Rrrawwkkk!! Wanted to see Darrah win Survivor!”
“But...how did you know she’d win? What are you talking about?”
“Rrraaawwk!! She’s my half-sister!”
“Rrraaawwkk!! Taught her everything I know!”
“But you’re a parrot!”
“Rrraawwwkkk!! No, I’m not!” JP shakes his head, and dark brown hair sprouts from his feathered head. He cranes his neck and shakes his head vigorously. Feathers spray around the room. He crouches into a tight ball, glows bright orange for a few moments, then explodes into a standing position. The remainder of his feathers blast away from his body in a colorful cloud. When they settle, a tall, lean man is standing in the middle of the room.
“Matthew von Ertfelda!” Jeff shrieks in disbelief.
“The same. Good to see you, my old foe.” He grins toothily at Jeff and pulls Darrah in for a fraternal hug. “Good job, Sis,” he murmurs.
“Noooooooo!!!” Jeff cries, sinking to his knees.
And the visions are gone. And I’ll you what. I’m worn out from all these customers today. Let’s go grab something to drink downtown. I want to thank you for your faithful patronage this season. Hey, while we’re there, we can talk about All-Star Survivor. I’ll dust this cracked crystal ball off again in late January when that show cranks up. See you then!
Your comments are welcome. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.