Ah, hello, there! I see you’re surprised to find me here in my office. I do hope you didn’t pursue Zickerington’s Traveling Freak Show on its recent East Coast swing. As you’ve no doubt discerned by now, I am no longer on their payroll. That’s actually an interesting story. Right after you left last week, old Zickerington himself – that preening peacock – came to visit me in my tent. I don’t know who dresses the old fool, but when he showed up in that Sergeant Pepper meets Funky Winkerbean getup of his, it just set me off right away. So when he wanted me to divine the fortunes of his Freak Show, I couldn’t resist sending a dig his way. In sorting through his tea leaves, I noticed immediately that the future of the Freak Show looks bleak indeed. So I told Zickerington that as long as the show labors under the mole-like vision of its garish-clothed leader, it would hemorrhage money at a dizzying rate until the entire enterprise collapsed in upon itself like a house of damp cards. Well, you may be surprised to hear that the old coot didn’t take this news very well. His face turned so red I was concerned for a moment that he was choking on his own tongue. But when I offered to issue a Heimlich Maneuver on his behalf, he suddenly found his voice. He unloaded the most impressive obscenity concatenations I’ve heard in my lifetime, pairing curse words you wouldn’t think would go together but which sounded almost poetic blasting out of his frothy mouth. When he finally paused to take a breath, I tendered my resignation, thereby denying him the pleasure of firing me on the spot. Then I grabbed my cracked crystal ball and took my leave, maintaining as much dignity as possible while in a dead sprint. I must say I’m pleased to be back in my familiar office. But enough rambling about my unusual foray into the circus. You’re here to discuss the next episode of Survivor so let’s begin. As you see, the cracked crystal ball is crackling to life. The arcs of light within are forming recognizable letters which together spell the title of this week’s episode. It’s
Swap Apart Run
It’s a cool, drizzly night in the Pearl Islands. The Drake tribe is returning to camp after its third consecutive trip to Tribal Council. They are a sullen bunch, rowing robotically to their destination. Nobody has spoken since departing Tribal Council nearly an hour previously. In that entire time, Rupert’s eyes have not shifted away from Jon. His head is bowed, his wet hair hanging down over his forehead, as he stares at Jon through the upper half of his eyeballs. Jon, perhaps sensing the unwanted attention, peers nervously back over his shoulder. He makes eye contact with Rupert and recoils in surprise.
“Rupe!” he says with strained joviality. “What’s up with firin’ the stink-eye at Jonny Fairplay? You’re still in the game, man! And we got rid of that snake, Trish. Most importantly, the merge is upon us. It should be time to celebrate!” He pumps his fist meekly in the air.
The light wind sprays a few drops of rain in Jon’s face. Rupert pulls his oars out of the water and lays them across his lap. “You are a traitorous snake,” he says, “and I can’t tolerate having you in my crew any longer. Get up.” The boat creaks loudly as a wave passes underneath.
“Excuse me?” Jon asks, one eyebrow raised.
“You heard me. On your feet. Now.” The last word is spoken no louder than the rest, but the intensity of Rupert’s voice suggests consequences for failing to comply. The other members of the Drake tribe, who up to this point had been feigning ignorance of the exchange, look sharply at Rupert. Christa begins to gnaw on her pinkie fingernail.
Jon clears his throat and looks at the other Drakes, none of whom are returning his gaze. He pulls his one oar into the boat and lays it on the floor, then rises and rotates to face Rupert. His dull eyes locked on Rupert’s, he slowly raises his hands, folding them across his chest and extending the twin V’s in an unmistakable Fairplay challenge. A hidden creature rattles on the distant shore.
Rupert stands, as well, his oars sliding unnoticed off his skirt and onto the bottom of the boat. The two men glare silently at each other for several seconds. Finally, Rupert speaks. “All right, partner. This is where you get off.” He extends a hand and points to a tiny island not far away. At least one hidden rattling creature apparently lives there.
Jon lets out a nervous yet explosive blast of laughter. “You’re kidding, right? Dude. I helped you get rid of Trish!”
It’s Rupert’s turn to laugh. “How exactly did your casting a vote for me help get rid of Trish?”
Jon’s eyes squint in intense concentration. Then his features relax, and a wild grin creeps across his face. “You don’t need to know that. It worked, didn’t it? I’m the freakin’ Puppetmaster!” He stretches his hands out in front of him and wiggles his fingers as if playing the piano.
Rupert takes a step in Jon’s direction, his lips clenched shut, his jaw working in anger. “You are a ridiculous little man. Where did they find you?” Jon dances away from Rupert, causing the boat to rock dramatically. The seated members of the Drake tribe grab the railing and murmur nervously. “You just keep dancing,” Rupert says. “Right over the bow of the boat and over to your new home. We’ll pick you up on our way to the merge.”
Jon forms a V with his right hand and scratches his head thoughtfully with the two extended fingers. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” he asks. Rupert nods slowly. “Aren’t you concerned I might defect to the Morgans after the merge and help them to eliminate you all one by one?” He cocks his head and throws a quick “Fairplay” into place to emphasize the deviousness of his proposal.
Rupert throws his head back and laughs, water flying off his hair as he does. “They hate you more than we do, if that’s even possible,” he says. “Besides that, I’ve made good friends over there while I was part of their tribe. You won’t be on the jury, Jon, no matter what you do.”
Jon’s face begins to look taut and confused. His cheeks twitch as he works through everything Rupert just told him. Finally, he puts a foot on the edge of the boat. “Bring me some food tomorrow?” he asks hopefully.
“Maybe.” Rupert shrugs. “If I think about it. Now get out of here.”
Jon dives over the edge and swims to the island. When he crawls ashore, he turns and waves two V’s in the air. Rupert finds his seat, and the Drake tribe resumes paddling home.
The next day, over at Morgan camp, the tribe is discussing strategy for the pending merge, which they expect to take place that day. “All right, guys, listen up,” Andrew says from his one-knee-up, one-knee-down kneeling position in front of the group. “We’re making good progress, but we still have quite a bit of work to do. The Drakes still have the numeric advantage over us 5-4. We must be careful to - ”
“Hiay!” a female voice exclaims. “Wuhbout miay?”
Andrew squints and scans the faces of his tribemates. His eyes light on Darrah, seated directly in front of him about a yard away and scowling intently. “Oh! Darrah! That’s right! Well, this is very, very good news! I guess we are at even numbers with them, after all. Hmm... That changes things.” Andrew opens his mouth in an elongated O and scratches his whiskery cheek thoughtfully with his right hand. “So...just to make sure I understand...didn’t we vote you out once before, Darrah?”
“Nayo, a coarse noht. Ya caint come bayack innuh the gayum.”
“Riiight. Right.” Andrew nods in deep reflection. “I guess that’s correct.” He takes a deep breath. “Well, anyway, it’s still going to be an effort to take control of the game. We don’t know what the tiebreaker strategy will be, and we certainly don’t want to place our fate in the hands of the dreaded random purple rock.” The other Morgans shudder in revulsion at the mention of the purple stone. Osten adds an additional shudder to account for his distaste for the environment and one more to communicate his extreme coldness. “So here’s what I was thinking,” Andrew says. “We can maximize our probability of team success by recruiting Rupert and asking him to help us identify the weak links in the other tribe. You know, the people they still want out.” The volume of his voice begins to rise, and his words are spilling out faster and faster. “Once we have the upper hand, we destroy the Drakes and then I pick you guys off until I stand alone in the winner’s circle, the million-dollar check in my hand and the title of Sole Survivor draped about me like a Miss America sash. Oh, it will be sweet! I can see it now! The word ‘Savage’ written on seven pieces of parchment. Glorious victory to me!” He pauses in his speech, his chest heaving in breathless excitement, and his eyes slowly drift back into focus as he surveys his wide-eyed, silent tribemates. He purses his lips and sniffs. “Anyway, that’s the plan. What do you guys think?”
Back at Drake Beach, spirits are high. The group is packing up the camp, arranging the supplies for easy gathering when the word comes down to merge. Everyone’s chatting amiably and feeling the pleasure of working together toward a common goal. “I can’t believe how easily you convinced Jon to go live on that island by himself,” Shawn laughs. “And somehow it seems like you’ve secured his vote after the merge, too. It always amuses me how the big, drooling, bearded guys with wild eyes can get people to do what they want. Oh, and also the food in the beard thing. That’s still pretty funny.”
The chatter among the other Survivors stops as Shawn continues to offer other insights into Rupert’s appearance and behavior. Presently, Shawn recognizes that everyone else has grown silent. He glances over at Rupert, who is glaring at Shawn in much the same way he glared at Jon the previous day. “Yeah, that’s it!” Shawn exclaims. “I mean, exactly! That sort of narrow-eyed, you’re-gonna-pay look you’ve got going on right now. That’s the one that makes me laugh. The only way it would be better is if you had some fish scales or something caught up in your beard. It’s really funny how people wind up doing what you say when you look at them that way, don’t you think? Heh.”
Rupert opens his mouth to speak when Christa suddenly pipes up. “Tree Mail!” she says. “Anyone want to go with me to check on it?”
“Sure, I’ll go,” Shawn says genially. The two wander off.
Rupert watches Shawn go and sits down beside Sandra. “How did it come to this?” he asks sadly.
“What do you mean?” Sandra asks, rolling the kitchen up into the borrowed Morgan tarp. Pots, pans, spices, spatulas, glasses, blenders, toasters, and other appliances clink around inside as she ties off the top of the makeshift bag.
“Our tribe,” Rupert says. “Reduced to a 5-4 lead over Morgan, and we have to rely on the likes of that guy and Jon to advance in the game.”
“Well, maybe we don’t have to rely on them,” Sandra says quietly as she moves to the living room and begins packing the furniture and other conveniences they picked up at the fishing village that first day.
Rupert raises an eyebrow. “Go on,” he says.
“Well, you said you built a relationship with Savage and Rhino. Let’s talk to them after the merge. If they join me, you, and Christa, we can knock out the other four.”
“Hmmm,” Rupert says. He lays a finger across his lips and rubs his nose with the tip. “I feel like we’re forgetting someone, but I just can’t imagine who. Anyway, I like your plan. You think like a pirate. Arrr!” Sandra smiles wickedly.
At that moment, Christa and Shawn return with a note. “It’s weird,” Christa says as she hands it to Rupert. “I’m not sure what’s going on.”
Rupert reads the clue aloud:
“Don’t get excited; today’s not the day.
You thought merge, but we didn’t say.
And if you were hoping for Reward,
Ha! Go back to the drawing board.”
“Well, that’s a truly horrible rhyme, isn’t it?” Sandra asks.
“Boy, you got that right!” Christa says. “Do ‘Reward’ and ‘board’ really rhyme?”
“Don’t think so,” Shawn says pensively.
“What does it mean, though?” Rupert asks. “We just sit around and wait for more instructions?”
“You notice that ‘day’ and ‘say’ rhyme perfectly, though,” Shawn says, stroking his chin. “Amazing.”
Rupert rolls his eyes and begins unpacking the supplies for another evening at Drake Beach. That night drags on for the confused Survivors, who find it’s even more difficult to sleep than usual due to the mournful wail drifting across the sea from Jon’s island.
The next day passes in similar fashion for both the Morgans and the Drakes. Uncertainty about the game is making everyone tense. Over at Morgan Beach, Osten feigns death in order to be removed from the game. His act is pitiful, however, and nobody buys it. After about fifteen minutes, he gives up and struggles into a sitting position so he can resume scowling out to sea.
“We need to get rid of him soon,” Tijuana whispers to Andrew, indicating Osten with a nod of her head.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Andrew says, his voice stern. “Think about what you’re saying. There’s a big difference between laying on the beach pretending to be dead and actually pulling the trigger and being dead. We need Osten. You know, for the Challenges or whatever.”
Tijuana turns her head slightly away from Andrew and peers at him out of the corners of her eyes. “You’re just keeping him around because he’s an easy mark and you control his vote. Aren’t you?”
Andrew holds up his hands to protest, then grins and shrugs. “Yeah, pretty much.”
Tijuana laughs and claps Andrew on the back. “Me, too.”
The morning of Day 21 in the Pearl Islands dawns in exciting fashion. Starting with Morgan, Jeff appears off the coast of both tribes’ beaches. He’s in a speedboat, yelling into a bullhorn. “Merge, merge, merge, merge! It’s time to merge! Pack your things! And get over to Chapduck Sharkage Nutbeach Bay now! Anyone not there in the next ten minutes will be eliminated from the game!”
The Survivors race around in a panic, gathering what small quantity of supplies they can manage while still making it to the beach in question in the requisite time limit. Drake retrieves a good many supplies because some things were still packed from earlier in the week. Morgan recovers the spoon they stole from Drake.
Shortly, the tribes jog breathlessly onto their mats. Jeff and Jon are already waiting for them. “Hey!” Rupert says. “What are you doing here, Jon?”
Jon smiles weakly and raises his hands in slow motion. “Puppetmaster,” he says by way of explanation.
Rupert closes his eyes and takes a deep shuddering breath to calm himself.
“OK,” Jeff says. “Welcome to today’s very special Twist Challenge!” He rubs his hands together. “Part Reward, part Immunity. Entirely diabolical!” He laughs through his nose while grinning evilly at the Survivors. “First thing’s first,” he says. “Hand me the Immunity Idol.”
The Morgans look at one another in confusion. “Did any of you grab it?” Andrew challenges his tribemates.
“I thought you had it!” Ryan says.
“I didn’t think we needed it,” Tijuana mumbles.
“Didn’t think you’d need it?!” Jeff explodes. “What always happens every third day? Or haven’t you been paying attention?”
“Immunity Challenge,” Tijuana squeaks.
“Correct! And how am I supposed to award Immunity without the Idol? Hmmmm?” He walks up to Tijuana and leans in close, his eyeballs practically on fire with righteousness.
“Isn’t it time for Individual Immunity?” Osten asks.
“Ahhh-HA!” Jeff says, releasing Tijuana from the emotional prison of his relentless stare. “Well, that is the question, isn’t it? And I think I’ll put off answering it for a while, if you don’t mind.” He chuckles softly. “All right. We’ll start...without the Immunity Idol. Wanna know what you’re playing for?” The Survivors shuffle around in mingled confusion and fear, knowing that a wrong answer could lead to an unpleasant outburst from Jeff. “Wellll?” he prompts.
“Immunity?” Jon offers.
“Fool!” Jeff cries, spittle flying from his lips. “I said it was also partly a Reward Challenge. And so it shall be. You will be playing for the final third of the fabulous big-screen plasma television.” He draws a blanket aside, revealing the remaining battered portion of the TV. “OK, here’s how it’s going to work. The first part of the Twist Challenge is a Reward Challenge, but it will also be critical in determining what happens in the second phase, which is the Immunity Challenge. Because Drake has five Survivors to Morgan’s four, we’ll - ”
“Hiay!” Darrah yells.
“Oh,” Jeff says, raising a finger as if remembering something important. “That’s right. You’re all even. So this will work great. What do you think of when it’s time to play five-on-five?”
“Basketball,” Ryan says.
“Correct. So today we’re going to have a little Survivor showdown.” He points into the trees behind him at two basketball hoops that, as usual, nobody had noticed before. Beside each hoop is a rack of five basketball balls, each with the name of a Survivor on it. “First, I’m going to need a designated free throw shooter for each tribe.” Drake selects Shawn; Morgan chooses Osten. “OK, you two, step to the foul line and prepare to shoot free throws for your team. You’ll each take turns shooting. Whoever is the first to make one basket with each of the five balls in the rack wins Reward for their tribe. In addition, the order in which the balls are sunk will have a bearing on how the second part of the Challenge proceeds. Everyone got it? All right then. Survivors ready? Go!”
Osten goes first and swishes the Andrew ball. Shawn misses with Christa.
“OK, Ssssssavage is #1,” Jeff says, retrieving the Andrew ball and writing a big number one it with a marker. “Keep going.”
The contest continues. As each ball goes through the basket, Jeff writes a number on it. Osten makes four shots to Shawn’s one and needs just one more made basket to win Reward for his tribe. He takes a deep breath with the final ball (the Osten one, coincidentally) and fires an airball. Shawn scores with the Sandra ball. Osten misses three more attempts while Shawn knocks down another. It’s 4-3. Ten Osten misses later, Shawn scores again. It’s a tie. Osten closes his eyes, wipes his hands on his boxers, and takes a few quick breaths. Then he opens his eyes and grabs the ball and takes another shot. The ball rockets off the front of the rim and bounces away for his fifteenth miss in a row. Shawn concentrates and swishes the Jon ball.
“Reward to Drake!” Jeff shouts, his arms upraised. “You can claim your TV segment after the Immunity half of the Challenge. For now, I need all of your buffs.” The Survivors pause in their celebrating and moping to stare at Jeff. “Give ‘em. Now.” He holds out his hand and accepts the many buffs from the Survivors. Christa and Tijuana tear pieces of their skirt and tie them around their torsos to replace the now-missing buffs.
“All right,” Jeff says. “Here’s where the order of those shots really comes into play.” He unfolds a giant map of the Pearl Islands and holds it up for all to see. The numbers 1 through 10 are printed on it in various locations. “Find your number on this map. That’s where you’ll start the final Immunity race. Later baskets will be farther out from the finish line.” He points at the big “FINISH” scrawled in the middle of their current location, Chapduck Sharkage Nutbeach Bay. “It is possible to catch people with lower numbers than you if you’re fast. On my go - which you’ll definitely notice no matter where you’re starting the race, by the way - you’ll make your way back to this point as quickly as possible. When you return, you’ll see two rows of buffs hanging on wires strung behind the finish line. If there are identical numbers for each tribe hanging up, you may choose either color. If one set of buffs has one more than the other, you must take that color. You may not reveal your new tribe color to the other Survivors when you finish. We will reveal them at the same time at the end. The last person to arrive loses Immunity for his or her tribe, but we won’t know until the buffs are revealed who that tribe is. So you can see that we’re going to be swapping players and taking tribes apart. It’s a Swap Apart Run.” Jeff turns and grins widely into the camera. “Everybody understand? All right. Go to your starting locations and wait for my go.”
Survivor security people emerge from the forest and guide the Survivors to their positions for the start of the Swap Apart Run. As soon as Jeff receives the signal that everyone’s in position, he yells, “Survivors ready?” When he yells, “Go!” he touches a lighted torch to a nearby rocket. It swooshes into the air and explodes with an impressive, tree-rippling roar. The race is on.
Andrew and Tijuana begin the race closest to the finish line and arrive within minutes. Rupert clocks in next. Twenty minutes later, Christa shows up. In quick succession, Ryan, Darrah, and Shawn appear. And then Sandra. And then the tribes wait. Only Jon and Osten are still out on the course, but looking at the big map, which is still open, it’s evident that they were both located on distant islands to begin so it could be a while.
An hour passes. The other Survivors begin to fidget. Finally, a steady thumping sound can be heard in the trees. And then another. They’re close! In a second, Osten bursts out of the trees, loping steadily and powerfully in the direction of the finish line. Jon emerges from the trees behind him and stumbles along, gasping for breath.
About two yards from the finish, Osten trips and lands awkwardly on his face and shoulder. Jon lurches past him and grabs a Drake buff, holding it over his head in triumph.
“Drake wins Immunity!” Jeff calls. “Let’s see who’s going to Tribal Council.”
The other Survivors gather around, and buffs are revealed. The new Drake tribe is Tijuana, Christa, Darrah, Shawn, and Jon. Andrew, Rupert, Ryan, Sandra, and Osten are headed to Tribal Council. As the tribes begin to climb into their boats to head back to camp, Andrew turns and asks Jeff if there will be a merge.
“That’s the Twist!” Jeff crows. “There will be no merge! None! Ever! You will go until one tribe grinds the other into dust! And then you will turn on yourselves!” He laughs uproariously, his voice echoing through the trees and carrying out across the ocean, audible to everyone even as the tribes dip their oars and recede into the distance.
At Tribal Council that night, the new Morgan tribe decides by a 4-1 vote to send Osten on his way. “But Andrew!” Osten cries. “What about my strength in the Challenges? You need me, man!”
Andrew snorts. “Go drink some Nyquil, Osten. I think I hear a sniffle coming on.”
And the visions are gone. Wow, what a strange episode. I can’t imagine anything being more unpredictable than that. Can you? See you next week.
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