Well, hello, there! I haven’t seen you in a good long while. I knew I’d see you today, though. The lure of Survivor is a strong one: few can resist the temptation to find out what is going to happen on the program before it actually airs on television. I’m pleased you found your way to my new shop, by the way. Some might say the new location isn’t as favorable as the place I had last year, but I think many people will smell the incense in here while they’re enjoying their donuts and coffee. I’m sure they’ll be curious about what’s behind the bat-wing doors near the restrooms. It’s really a win-win situation for both me and the donut shop. Sure, it’s quite a bit more cramped in my new office, but I’m saving a considerable amount of money. Maybe I’ll buy out the donut shop owner with some of the cash I’ll be tucking away. At a minimum, I expect I’ll be able to convince him to get his cleaning supplies out of my office. I think they detract from the ambience. I’m told it looks like the mop handle is sticking out of the top of my head when I’m talking to clients. I’m hoping most folks find it mysterious for me to have a mop handle erupting out of the peak of my turban. But enough talk of the tedious details of my business. You’re here to find out about the new season of Survivor: Pearl Islands. Please, let’s be seated at the small round table. Yes, right there. Hm, I can see from your amused glance that the mop handle does not make me look inscrutable, after all. I will have to do something about that before next week. For now, gaze with me into my cracked crystal ball. Do you see the crackling pulses of colorful psychic energy deep within? They’re weaving together, shimmering in a pattern that reveals to me the title of the first episode. It’s
Big Cart of Steel
It is a cloudless night in the Gulf of Panama. The full moon overhead is startlingly bright. Its reflection ripples and breaks on the surface of the sea. In the distance, a three-masted schooner with sails unfurled cuts swiftly through the water. A flag with the Survivor logo on it flutters at the top of the highest mast. On the deck of the great ship, eight frightened Americans huddle together, staring disconsolately at the vast, landless sea. Some of them are seasick and periodically dash to the side of the boat to seek comfort by delivering an offering to the ocean. They’ve been sailing for several days and are becoming crazed with their desire to walk on dry land. They’re also bursting with the need to speak. They’ve been instructed not to talk to one another, and out of fear of disqualifying themselves from contention for the million dollar prize, they have obeyed this onerous instruction. No other crewman on the boat has broken the days-long silence, either. All eight Americans are on the verge of insanity, and many are seriously considering killing someone just to break the monotony.
A heavy footstep clunks on the bridge above the eight miserable passengers, followed by a loud throat-clearing. The Survivors look up and see Jeff Probst leaning with one hand against the rail, the other behind his back. He’s dressed in a red waistcoat, white pants and shirt, tall black leather boots, and a black tri-corner hat with gold trim. “Greetings!” he calls down to the assembled Survivors below. “Welcome aboard the HMS Burnett! I trust your journey so far has been a pleasant one.” He tosses his head back and laughs heartily, clapping a hand to his head to prevent the tri-cornered hat from falling off.
Jon pushes his wool cap back on his head. “Where are we going?” he whines.
Jeff’s eyes widen, and his nostrils flare. “You have been warned not to speak!” he booms. “Lieutenant, take this man below decks and clap him in irons.” The edges of Jeff’s mouth curl up in a sinister grin as a burly officer drags the protesting Jon down a nearby staircase into the brig. “Anybody else have any comments or questions?” Jeff inquires. The remaining seven Survivors stare up at him silently. “Good. Then let me continue. We are en route to the Pearl Islands, just southeast of Panama City.” He turns and points to a small dark dot on the horizon, just barely visible in the pale moonlight. “You are the Drake tribe,” Jeff continues. “A drake, as you know, is a male duck. I’d like you all to take a few moments to greet your new tribemates, but I want you to do it in the traditional fashion of male ducks. When you walk, you must waddle with hands at your sides. When you talk, you may only say ‘quack.’ And if any of you, for whatever reason, put on a poor impersonation of a duck, you will be tossed overboard to practice swimming like a duck. Everybody understand?” Several rapid nods. “OK, you may begin.”
The seven Survivors spend the next several minutes quacking and waddling about while Jeff leans his elbows on the railing with his chin in his hands, grinning broadly at the spectacle. When big Rupert bends down to address Michelle and throws in an accompanying wing flap to go along with his frenzied quacking, Jeff erupts into uncontrollable laughter. “OK, stop. Stop! Please stop!” he begs as he wipes his eyes and his mouth with the backs of his hands. “Seriously, you’re killing me. It never ceases to amaze me what you crazies will do just because I said so. Does it ever occur to any of you people that I might be kidding? Honestly, what do you think will happen if you refuse one of my requests?”
“The brig?” Trish asks timidly.
Jeff points at her immediately. “As you wish,” he says quietly. The muscular lieutenant who had escorted Jon away has returned. When Jeff nods in his direction, he grabs Trish by the elbow and guides her to the same staircase at the bottom of which Jon can still be heard howling and cursing.
After Trish disappears down the stairs, Jeff clasps his hands behind his back and paces the bridge, head down. He appears to be deep in thought. The other Survivors say nothing; many, in fact, take extra care to ensure they don’t breathe too loudly, either. Finally, Jeff resumes his address. “Actually, your tribe is named after the famous pirate-turned-explorer, Sir Francis Drake. We’ve decided to go with a pirate theme this season, just to liven things up a bit. Everybody loves pirates, especially the 18-34 demographic.” A rumbling thud from far off the starboard bow briefly interrupts Jeff’s speech. He glances up at the sky and frowns. “Odd,” he says. “Clear skies tonight. Did anyone else hear thunder?”
Suddenly, a tremendous splash to the starboard side of the boat sends a geyser of water over the side of the Burnett and onto the deck. Jeff wheels in the direction of the sound and swings a telescope up to his eye. “We’re under attack!” he shouts as another dull explosion thunders, closer this time. There’s a low cracking sound, and the boat shudders as a cannonball pounds the side of the Burnett, shattering wood beneath it. “Hard about!” Jeff cries as he pushes the navigator out of the way of the large bridge-level steering wheel. He spins the wheel wildly in a clockwise direction, and the boat slowly swings around to starboard. Now clearly visible in the bright moonlight, the others can see another vessel dead ahead and approaching fast. From atop its highest mast flutters the Jolly Roger.
“It’s a pirate ship,” Burton offers lamely.
“What gave it away?” Jeff snarls. He gazes reflectively at the enemy ship. “It’s the Black Squirrel,” he says in a soft, almost awe-filled, voice. Then, turning to address the crew: “Man the cannons! Prepare to return fire!”
The dark pirate ship tacks away from the Burnett briefly, then angles back before the two ships draw even with one another. Separated now by about ten feet, the Burnett and the Black Squirrel prepare to pass each other in opposite directions.
“Wait till her bow is just past the bridge, then rake her broadside with cannon fire!” Jeff commands. Rupert steps away from the cluster of panicked Survivors and helps a crewman ready one of the aft cannons. Jeff nods in appreciation. “All right,” he calls. “Steady. Wait for it.” The Black Squirrel fires a blast. Jeff turns to the cannoneers and yells, “FI-” But his voice is cut off by the sudden arrival of a cannonball, which catches him on the side of the head with a metallic clang and carries his entire body backward, where it slams hard into the port rail. His black boots lay empty where just a moment before Jeff once stood.
The crew and the Survivors stare in open-jawed shock at the crumpled body of Captain Jeff. With a violent jerk, that body lurches forward off the rail and climbs unsteadily to its feet, turning headlessly in the direction of the lower deck. “I said FIRE!” roars a muffled voice from behind Jeff’s body.
The crew immediately returns fire from several of the cannons while the Survivors continue to stare at Jeff’s headless body. Jeff puts both hands up and reaches over his shoulder down to his shoulder blades, where he appears to grab something. Holding his hands high above his neck, he reveals a badly dented head with several sparking wires hanging out the bottom. He jams his head roughly back on his neck, rotating it once or twice until a loud click is heard. Then he removes his waistcoat and tears off his shredded shirt, revealing a standard Probst-style safari shirt with a name badge on it that reads, “Hello! My name is Matt.”
The crashing of cannon fire is deafening, and the air is filled with smoke. Both ships are sustaining heavy damage. One of the masts on the Burnett is splintered at the base and crashes to the deck. Then the roar of the cannons cease. Both ships have come to a stop. All is silent except for the creaking of the remaining sails, the crackle of flames from both boats, the moans of the injured, and the lapping of water against the sides of the ships. In other words, it’s not very quiet at all. Across the narrow ribbon of water separating the two ships, a figure swings up to the railing of the Black Squirrel on a rope. It’s another Jeff Probst, this one with a severely damaged head crudely stitched in place around the neck and an eye patch concealing an empty optical socket. He grins wickedly and yells a greeting to Captain Jeff, who is struggling with his damaged circuitry and twitching his head to the left uncontrollably. “Ahoy there, HelloMyNameIsMatt! Seems your craft is in a bit of peril, my hearty!” His voice is distorted with static and muffled, as if it’s projecting from the robot’s chest and not his mouth.
“No less damaged is your vessel, HelloMyNameIsRob!” Captain Jeff counters. “Both our ships are taking on too much water to remain afloat. It seems we’ll finally meet our end here in the Pacific, my old foe. Perhaps it’s as it should be.” He smiles grimly and without humor.
“Um, excuse me,” Christa pipes up. “We’re actually here for a game.”
Captain Jeff and HelloMyNameIsRob say nothing but maintain constant eye contact with one another. Finally, Captain Jeff speaks. “You’re right. I was commissioned to deliver you to the Pearl Islands for your game, and I must fulfill my duty." He rustles around in his pocket and holds out a large metal key. “Go retrieve your comrades from the brig. Then take a lifeboat and make your way to the island on the map in my coat pocket.” Sandra darts forward and grabs the key while Rupert mounts the stairs to the bridge and searches Captain Jeff’s discarded jacket. Within minutes, the group of eight has lowered the lifeboat and begins rowing toward the islands indicated by Jeff earlier.
Meanwhile, HelloMyNameIsRob has jumped down from the railing of the badly listing Black Squirrel and is addressing a small group of people there. He removes a folded map from his back pocket and hands it to a thin man with glasses, who then leads a group of seven people into a lifeboat, as well. As they row away, HelloMyNameIsRob yells after them, “By the way, you are the Morgan tribe! Good luck!”
Ryan S. turns to acknowledge the greeting, but the eyepatched Jeff-bot has now leaped to the burning deck of the Burnett and has engaged HelloMyNameIsMatt in a sword battle. The Black Squirrel tips lengthwise, its stern completely out of the water and pointing at the bright moon. Then the ship shudders and slips below the surface of the sea. The Burnett, meanwhile, is roaring in flames. Burning segments of the sails fall all around the still-battling Jeff-bots as the remaining masts topple into the ocean. It won’t be long before the entire ship is consumed by the fire.
The Survivors in both lifeboats keep rowing. Eventually, the Burnett is just a glowing flash in the distance. And then even the burning ship is no longer visible. The two tribes row on through the night, always within sight of one another but never communicating to the other tribe. The new tribemates murmur greetings to one another, learning names and bonding over the physical exertion of the journey.
Just before dawn, the two lifeboats head off in opposite directions. The Pearl Islands are quite near. The tribes should be locating their camps at first light. Indeed, the Drake tribe touches land first and quickly finds their flag. A few minutes later, the Morgan tribe also wade to shore, dragging their lifeboat behind them. Everyone is too tired to celebrate, but relief is evident in everyone’s faces. The game is on.
After a brief rest, Andrew assumes the leadership role and begins to assign tasks to the other members of the Morgan tribe. Naturally, the younger members of the tribe take immediate offense. The first seeds of conflict have been planted. Ryan O. and Big Lill pitch in right away, offering their assistance to Andrew in building a shelter and gathering firewood, respectively. At first glance, Lillian’s Boy Scout uniform looks kind of silly, but she has a few surprises up her sleeve...literally. Picking at the thread of one of the troop number patches on her sleeve, she succeeds in removing the patch, revealing a handful of sawed-off waterproof matches. The tribe rejoices as she gets a fire underway in short order. Even the youngsters, who had barely started being surly, found excitement in seeing the fire. Soon everyone is working together to construct the shelter. Darrah leads everyone in singing some merry mortuary tunes. Once the shelter is built, the exhausted Survivors curl up together and nap the rest of the day away.
Back at Drake Beach, things aren’t going quite as well. Nobody smuggled matches into their clothing, and Burton is having no success lighting tinder the old-fashioned “rubbing a stick” way. Honestly, that hardly ever works on Survivor, but it’s always amusing to watch them try. Rupert has taken it upon himself to clear-cut the surrounding area of its trees. As Burton and Jon labor unsuccessfully over the fire, Rupert builds a truly epic pile of firewood. It’s so big, in fact, that everyone finally decides it should be the shelter instead. Shawn and Trish play a high-stakes game of Jenga by pulling interior logs out of the mountainous pile without compromising the overall stability of the structure. Seems to work all right, especially if it never gets windy on Drake Beach. Like their Morgan opponents, the Survivors are spent from a night of rowing. They pile into the makeshift log cabin and immediately fall asleep.
Next day, the Survivors are all up early in search of food. It’s been over a day since they had anything but water. But before they can really find anything worth nibbling on, Tree Mail arrives, announcing the first Immunity Challenge which will take place, as usual, on Challenge Beach. The catch, of course, is that Challenge Beach is on a different island entirely. Not knowing how long it will take to get there, both tribes head off early and arrive well before Jeff himself.
The two tribes are lounging on their respective mats when Jeff wanders out of the trees. He’s got one hand in his pocket and is munching on an apple with the other. The Survivors goggle at him enviously. “Ohf, hife!” he mumbles with his mouth stuffed full of apple meat. He quickly tosses the half-eaten apple into the trees and wipes his hands on his shirt. “Effcusef meef,” he mutters, crunching rapidly on the remains of his apple in an effort to swallow it quickly. Finally, he finishes off the apple with a head-extending super-gulp. Then he sighs deeply. “Ah, well. Hello to each of you. Welcome to the Pearl Islands.” He sweeps a hand around him as if to indicate where you should look to see said islands. “I know you met my robotic counterparts out on the high seas. They were good kids.” His eyes are moist. “They’ll be missed,” he croaks softly.
The Survivors look at one another awkwardly, waiting for Jeff to calm himself and resume his discussion of the Immunity Challenge. Finally, Jeff, who has been gazing out to sea wistfully, shifts his focus back to the sixteen Survivors. He clears his throat. “All right. Anyway, today’s Challenge is for Immunity. And, for a change, it’s actually rather simple. You’ve seen those Challenges where we have the teams drag carts around in a big, stumbling race?” The Survivors nod. “So, yeah, it’s one of those.” He flashes a devious smile at the group. “And what’s more, you only have to move the cart about, oh, three feet.”
The Survivors stare at Jeff in disbelief. “Is it a sprint?” Osten asks. “Do you have to time this thing in hundredths of a second?”
Jeff’s smile bursts forth in full radiance. “Come on,” he says cheerfully. “I’ll show you.” He leads the group through a small cluster of trees. On the other side are two enormous four-wheeled steel carts, buried nearly to the axles in the soft sand of Challenge Beach. Roughly three feet in front of each cart is a long line drawn in the sand. “All you have to do,” Jeff says, “is move your cart so that the front wheels are completely past that line in the sand. It’s only about three feet.” He shoots a hand in the air before anyone knows what’s going on, then blurts out, “Survivorsready?GO!”
About three Survivors actually take off running for the cart. A couple more try to follow but slip in the sand and have to scramble back to their feet to catch up. The rest just stand there, looking confused.
Jon leads the charge to the Drake tribe’s cart. He slams, shirtless, into the back of the cart and tries to lean into it to move it forward. Instantly, he shrieks in pain and backpedals away from the cart, spraying sand in front of himself in his effort to get away. “Oh, my god!” he yells, staring at a red welt on his upper arm. “It’s hot!”
Jeff laughs. “Oh, yes. Didn’t I mention? These big carts of steel have been sitting out here all morning. They might be a little warm.”
Most of the Morgan tribe’s men have no shirts on. Ryan S. has a shirt on, though, and whips it off quickly. He spreads it on the back of the cart, but it’s still sizzling hot through the fabric.
“We need more clothing!” Andrew yells.
Meanwhile, Rupert has removed his shirt, and Christa has thrown hers into the mix, too. Although it’s still painful, Rupert leans into the cart and tries to get it moving, but it still won’t budge. Glancing inside, he sees dozens of anvils. He leaps inside and starts tossing anvils out of the cart, dancing manically as his feet burn on the steel floor. The other Drake tribe members, at Michelle’s suggestion, have started digging in the sand in front of the cart’s wheels.
Andrew and Osten are in the back of the Morgan tribe’s cart now, slinging anvils out as quickly as they can. Tears streak down their face as their feet literally hiss on the hot steel. The women of the tribe have stripped down to their sports bras and are running to the water to douse their shirts. They’re using the wet shirts to cool off the back of the cart.
Sandra and Christa pick up on the wet shirt strategy and follow suit. Rupert, sweating mightily, is down to one last anvil. As he throws it out of the cart, he tumbles out with it and yells at the rest of the team to push the cart. The diggers in front of the cart run to the back and lean into the push with everyone else. The wet clothing slides around and catches, but the cart doesn’t move. Finally, Rupert stands up and joins them behind the card. Placing his hands directly on the broiling hot cart, he roars and adds his own strength to the group’s. Slowly, the cart inches forward. The Morgan tribe members yell at Andrew and Osten to hurry, but they still have two anvils left. Everyone tries to push, but it doesn’t move. Inch by inch, the Drake tribe’s steel cart grinds through the sand until eventually the front wheels are past the finish line.
“Immunity to Drake!” Jeff cries, holding out a goofy-looking treasure chest with a skull on top to the members of the winning tribe. The group jumps and cheers while the Morgan tribe stares silently at the celebration. “I’ll see you guys at Tribal Council tomorrow night,” Jeff says, nodding at Andrew and the others.
Next day, the group decides for no obvious reason at all to boot Darrah. “But why?” she tearfully asks the group as her torch is snuffed.
“Well, you know, Darrah,” replies Tijuana. “Those mortuary songs were actually kind of depressing.”
And now the visions are gone. It looks like this season promises to be a good one. Please come back next week and we’ll see what’s afoot for Episode 2. I’ll try to do something about the mop handle.
Your comments are welcome. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.