For that matter, what are we to think of Penny?
Here was a woman who clearly was despised by most viewers. I was certain that her future would be fine, and what I really wanted to learn was the origins of her evil ways.
Prior to the season beginning, she was the consensus favorite to be anointed the cast sweetheart. Her cheerleading background, overt perky-ness, and girl-next-door looks almost demanded that title. Yet, in only a few short weeks, she was viewed by her fellow tribe mates as a schemer, backstabber, fake, suspected grave robber, and… perhaps most damning… lacking in any knowledge of recipes.
Yes, the name evilPenny seemed to fit.
Was this fully justified based upon her behavior? Or were there more sinister editing motives afoot, specifically Mark Burnett’s desire to create this season’s Jerri?
If so, did that explain the horrible odor that always emanated from the production camp on the island? Or, did a production team entering their fourth week of a diet far too high in banana fiber generate that terrible smell?
Clearly we had questions that needed answers, and that meant that our personal safety had to be put aside for the greater good.
With fear in our hearts, and a first aid kit strapped to our backs; to Paulie’s tent site we journeyed once again. There we were disappointed to find nothing left at the camp, save a few empty Tab cans and a burned circle in the ground. Our hopes were crushed. What would we do now for our answers?
We searched the clearing frantically… There must be something here to give us a clue… There! Starting from the center of the camp, were an unmistakable set of tire tracks. But how would we ever interpret them correctly?
Our thoughts are interrupted by the voice of Gil, who liked to go by the name Stud Muffin, a new member of our traveling band, who joined us out of Las Vegas…
“Well, clearly these are Firestone FR-380 Radials, standard equipment on most Honda passenger cars manufactured in the past five years.”
We watched in amusement as the rather eccentric Gil crouched down, and begin licking the tire track…
“From the taste of this,” the Stud Muffin continued, “it is obvious that the vehicle will need a front end alignment within the next 10,000 miles, and that there was a single driver, of abnormally tall proportions… and he left to the west. Given the particles of crystal now stuck in my tongue, I would say there is evidence of alkali corrosion. Clearly there is a cracked crystal ball in the vehicle as well!”
That was the evidence we needed. We would get our answers yet! Before that though, I needed to learn more of this strange man who knew so much. How could I possibly find the words that would challenge a man of this intellectual stature? I knew that he had solved many crimes in the Las Vegas area utilizing his remarkable wisdom, and I was impressed. I decided to match wits directly with him…
“How do you know ‘dis and ‘dat stuff?” I asked in my most self-important manner.
Gil stood up, and walked to the center of the burned circle where our Oracle… the Great Paulie, once foretold of the future…
“I happen to subscribe to the Corning Glass, Resources on Glass Newsletter.” Gil continued.
“You see, glass is much more resistant to corrosion than most materials, so much so that it is easy to think of it as corrosion-proof. But it is not. Under certain conditions it will corrode, or yes, even dissolve. Hydrofluoric acid, concentrated phosphoric acid contaminated with fluorides, hot concentrated alkali solutions, and even superheated water are all capable of causing cracks and destruction to glass…”
Perhaps it was the crisp night chill, the full moon, or even the scent of two-day-old Tab in the air, but I felt young again! I was anxious to continue on my journey.
However, Gil just kept talking… “When an alkali solution is exposed to a glass material, it will continue to dissolve that glass, and expose fresh material to the atmosphere…”
He just kept rambling on and on… It was excruciating… I couldn’t wait any longer, so I turned to run and follow the tracks.
Gil didn’t let up a bit as I began to move away… “a porous surface is left that consists of the silica network with holes where the alkali has been removed…”
My senses had been dulled by the ceaseless bombardment of information. I failed to see the tree branch looming in my path, and struck it with my bridge of my nose at full sprint. I crumpled to the ground, and as I began to pass out…I could still hear the Stud Muffin’s monotone in the background…
“You should be glad that I didn’t bring along my friends from Miami,” Gil continued, “they are REALLY boring!”
And with that, everything went black…
I awoke to an eerie sight. It was the bedroom of a bungalow, and while it all seemed real enough, somehow I could tell I wasn’t really there. In the bed, asleep, was a young woman…it appeared to be Penny.
I was startled as I felt the cold chill of a hand on my shoulder… I turned to see a hooded figure… no, the ghost of a hooded figure. I tried to get away from the apparition, but I was unable to move. Then, with an Aussie accent that echoed through the room, the ghost spoke…
“I am the Ghost of Survivor Past!”… He then pulled back his hood and revealed his face. I knew that face…
“You’re Mark Burnett!” I exclaimed.
“Silence fool!” The ghost responded… “Interrupt me again, and you’ll be assigned as Jeff Probst’s cabin boy… and believe me, you don’t want that to happen… ask Mike Skupin about that…”
Now I was really scared… so I let the ghost continue…
“I am here to answer your questions as to why evilPenny came to earn her reputation.”
Finally I thought. I needed to get these answers, and besides, we were so darn far into this story without getting to the main plot that I felt like I was a main character in a John Irving novel.
“Lead on Mr. Burn…er…Ghost!” I quickly corrected myself as the Ghost leered at me.
Away we were whisked…it appeared that time travel really did occur as shown in those old movies… I watched as calendar pages peeled off backwards… faster and faster we went… Until finally things slowed down, and the calendar stopped on January of 1964...
“Welcome to Stonewall, Texas, home of Lyndon Johnson’s ranch. Here is where evilPenny first began her sinister ways.”
My mind reeled from the thought… “But, Mr. Ghost?” I asked, “Penny wasn’t even alive in 1964!”
The Ghost turned and looked at me with dark, lifeless eyes and said, “Do not question me young man… I am the arbiter of what is, and isn’t possible. I made Boston Rob seem intelligent for several weeks! I alone am the editing barrier between you and more gratuitous Jan swimsuit shots! Now be quiet and observe.”
Suitably rebuffed, we observe silently as LBJ himself and what undoubtedly was Penny entered the room…
Penny spoke “Now Lyndie, I will do that cheer you want me to do, but first I need you to do me that favor I asked.”
“But Penny,” the man responded, “The war in Vietnam is not winnable. It will be a quagmire, and the government in South Vietnam is corrupt.”
“It needs to happen Lyndon. Marilyn, and I have discussed it! We think it will be fun and good for spirit building! Maybe this will convince you!”
With that, Penny began to perform a cheer… “Gimmie a L!” Amazingly, she was contorting her body into each letter… “Gimmie a Y!” LBJ watched mesmerized… “Give me a N!”…
“Okay, okay!” The President blurted out, “You know I can’t resist the Y. I’ll do it.” and off he trudged, to make some phone calls.
As he walked away, I was struck by the smirk on Penny’s face. It was the same smirk she displayed at tribal council that night they booted off Shii Ann. It was the look of pure evil.
All of this was too much for me, and I was overcome with sadness. “Spirit! Show me no more, I cannot bear to think of this terrible deed!”
“Now do you believe that evilPenny deserves to be edited as such?” the Ghost asked.
“I don’t know what to believe now… How could she even been alive?” I responded.
The Ghost had a disgusted look pass over his face, and he idly tapped the face of his watch, clearly he had expected me to take up no more of his time. “Fine then!” He bellowed. “We shall observe further examples of evilPenny’s actions!”
On to Washington…
And with that, we are whisked away back into our time warp. This time the calendars moved forward rapidly until finally coming to rest at March 1973.
We appear in what is undoubtedly the Oval Office, at the White House. Before I can question the Ghost on why we are there, into the room walk President Nixon and Penny. I stand befuddled as the events unfold…
“…Dick, I need you to do this for me. He is my boyfriend!” Penny says.
“Now Penny…” Nixon responded in his unique gravel bass tone, “You know I love you like a daughter, but I can’t help him here. He never should have ordered the break – in at the Watergate Hotel. For gosh sakes, we were winning the election by 30 points!”
“I know Dick, but if you help out…I’ll do a cheer!” Penny smiled sweetly.
A pleasant smile passed across the President’s face. You know I can’t resist you when you do that X!” He replied. “Fine, I’ll find a way to cover it all up… But I only do this for you.”
As the President got on the phone with someone he called Liddy; Penny herself left.
The meeting had taken all of 18 minutes, and Penny was happy with the outcome. As she left the Oval Office, she stopped by Rosemary Woods' desk, and extracted a cassette tape from the player it had been running in.
With that done, Penny walked away…and she had that same smirking expression on her face that I had now seen twice before… I had to avert my eyes!
“Don’t make me look at that expression any longer oh Spirit…” I begged.
The Ghost laughed out loud at my cry for help. “So now do you believe in the power of evilPenny?” He asked.
With all of my soul I wanted to agree just so this horrible experience could come to an end. However, I still had doubts…there was so much that was implausible in the story.
“I am sorry spirit, but I find it difficult to believe that Penny could be the cause of two of the most unfortunate incidents in the later half of the 20th century.”
“Fool!” The Ghost of Survivor Past shouted in reply. But rather that being angry with me, it appeared that he was more upset that I wasn’t convinced. There was a bit of a nervous twitch forming at his mouth. He continued…
“Fine, if you insist, I will show you yet another example of evilPenny’s crimes against humanity.”
Then to Houston…
Once again, we fell into the time warp, and the calendar pages moved forward once again…further and further back into the future we spiraled. We stopped on July 1989, and we were in what appeared to be a large conference room in Houston, Texas.
“What on earth happened here?” I asked the Ghost. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember anything untold happening in Houston.
“Just observe…” the spirit replied, with a knowing wink.
Business people filed into the room, and shortly so did Penny, who sat near the head of the table, with the meeting leader. Just then, a slide show began, and the logo of a now infamous energy trading company appeared on the screen.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to boost profits, and as such we have brought in a special consultant. Penny Ramsey. It is her report that you have in front of you. I ask you all to comment now on her proposals.”
With that, the room erupted into a shouting match. All the executives present seemed to be opposed to young Penny’s ideas. It was hard to hear any coherent argument, but the comments were flying:
“It’s illegal to resell energy that doesn’t exist!”
“We’d be artificially boosting prices!”
“It will destroy the retirement plans of millions of Americans…”
And so it went. There appeared to be no chance of regaining order in the room, until almost as if by magic, Penny stood up and just smiled that sweet smile…
Everyone stopped arguing, and somewhere in the distance, I swear that I hear birds chirping…
Penny addressed the formerly hostile audience. “If you do this for me, I will do a cheer for you!”
Penny then got up on the large mahogany conference table and began to do her cheer. “Give me an E!”, she again was contorting her body to make the letters, as only a highly trained professional cheerleader could.
“Give me a N!”, and out came the pom poms..
“Give me an R!” and the crowd was transfixed on this vision of spirit and beauty.
Penny continued her cheer through two more letters, and as she finished, she stepped down from the table, took a quick swig of water from her handy water bottle and towled off with the hand towel she kept nearby. She was thankful that she could use a hand towel for this task, versus requiring the use of a full bath sheet like Erin.
The CEO then said, as the song Secret Garden began playing in the background… “Penny, you had us at R…you had us at R…we’ll do it!”
As Penny left the room, I saw once again that horrible smirk. The smirk of unleashed evil.
“Shield me from that face Mr. Bur…um…oh Great and Powerful Spirit!” I again begged of him.
The Ghost looked down on me, trembling from the sight of the smirk, and asked, “Do you now finally believe that evilPenny is deserving of our hatred!” He bellowed. “Please do, as I have a new comedy show to start preparing… much to do in so little time”
I wanted so badly to say YES! Penny is EVIL incarnate. But I couldn’t… it just didn’t add up.
“Spirit”, I meekly replied. “I know that Penny’s degree is in Kinesiology. There is no way she would know how to manipulate global energy markets.”
The Ghost was truly frustrated now. “Do you even know what Kinesiology is?” He asked.
“Well, no, but I am sure it has something to do with cheerleading.” I responded much more confidant than I felt.”
The Ghost obviously had no clue either, as he simply shrugged and said, “Fine! I will show you something so horrible, so heart breaking, so demonic, that even you Mr. Skepticalpants, will finally believe!” The Ghost was shouting now.
“Uhm, my name is Bill…” I interrupted.
“Silence!” the Ghost was angry now. “Follow me!”
Then on to Hollywood
So one final time we entered the time warp. This was a short trip, and at first it appeared that we had returned to present day, however, while it was indeed 2002, it appeared to be 10 weeks earlier than I expected.
We were standing in the lobby of a large mansion, somewhere in California. Into the ornately decorated room walks someone vaguely familiar, and yes, Penny.
“Who is that Ghost?” I ask.
“It’s Aaron, the Bachelor.” The Ghost replied with a wry smile.
To address my confused look, the Ghost simply encouraged me to watch the events unfold…
“But Penny…” Aaron began, “I really think I am in love with Gwen. It just feels so good when I am with her… she could be the ONE!”
“Aaron,” Penny replied, “we have been over this before. You need to pick Helene. I’ve got money riding on her, and I already set up a fake Brooke sighting to boost my odds!”
Aaron was near tears now… he clearly still didn’t understand why he couldn’t keep all three ladies for himself. He had to agree with his best friend Robb… “Rules suck!” he shouted.
“Look Aaron, you know that Helene loves you. Look at that monogrammed money clip she gave you. Nothing says I love you, and not just your money, like giving someone a money clip.”
Aaron held his head in his hands and just listened. Penny moved closer to him…
“Honey, you can’t pick Gwen…my gosh, her forehead is bigger than mine even, and many scientists thought that wasn’t possible…”
Aaron was nodding in agreement now…
“…And besides sweetie…” Penny was moving in for the kill, “if you do this for me, I will give you a cheer!”
With that, Aaron perked up. “Can we have the cheer in the hot tub?” He asked.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew all of this was a lie, and I confronted this so called spirit.
“This is a farce!” I screamed, “Sure, Vietnam, Watergate, Enron, all of that I can buy into. Penny’s smirk alone could be blamed for all those things…”
“But… But…” I was near rage now as I continued, “There is no way that she could blamed for Aaron’s choice. No way! You’ve overplayed your hand Burnett!”
With that, the Ghost slumped down in a chair and began to sob. Penny and Aaron disappeared and it was only the two of us.
“You have to understand…” MB began to confess, “The cast was all set. I had my evilJerri ready to go, but then wouldn’t you know it…the woman I had cast for the part…she was perfect…”
The crying continued, and it was difficult to understand what he was saying between sniffs and sobs.
“The only problem was…” MB continued, “She had worked with Brian in the past, and that was going to foil the whole plot… We had to find a replacement to edit as evil. You have to have an evil one or the whole show is boring…”
I wanted to point out that this season IS in fact boring. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it though, as MB clearly looked distraught, and frankly, it was pretty pathetic.
“We tossed a coin and it ended up being Penny.” He slobbered on with his attempt at an explanation.
He was rolled into a fetal position on the floor now. “Penny was fine, just a normal woman her age… actually a fun person at heart… but I couldn’t turn back, the decision had been made!”
“I could have used Shii Ann…” He was uncontrollably weeping at this point, “I should have used Shii Ann!”
“Penny is a wonderful person; she eventually releases a DVD with Jan. It sells a lot of copies and goes gold. Special Cheers to Soothe the Recently Departed Critters in Your Neighborhood ” was the name they went with.”
I was a little surprised with that knowledge, but then again I had seen the power of the perfectly executed cheer… It seemed that for Penny, anything was possible.
With that news, he cast his finger out toward me an exclaimed, “Be gone with you non-believer!”
Everything became dark again, and I wondered what fate had in store for me now…
I opened my eyes a short time later only to look up and see the night sky, and smell that reassuring scent of two-day-old Tab. I was happy to be home.
As I leaned forward to sit up, in the background I could hear the Stud Muffin rambling on still…
“…Many laboratory tests have been devised for testing glass corrosion resistance. Some of them aim at accelerating rate of corrosion by employing high temperatures or by grinding the glass…” He just wouldn’t stop...
Clearly the trauma was too much for me, and later, I was told that my eyes rolled back into my head just like Ted’s did that morning on the beach with Penny.
There would be more work to do next week, but for now, I slept the deep sleep of the exhausted, and had many nightmares in the weeks to come due to that evil smirk.
This article is completed with apologies to Charles Dickens for gross misrepresentation of a classic work of writing, and with thanks to the Corning Museum of Glass. Who knew there was so much to learn about glass?