Hello, there! Up here! On the roof of my shop! Hold on! I’ll be right down! Ah, how are you, my friend? So good to see you. Yes, I’m just following a city decree to remove my big new sign from atop the building. Something about zoning ordinances and too much neon. Just between you and me, I think I’m being unfairly singled out by certain individuals on the City Council who are dubious of my special ability. Apparently, too, some passers-by have suffered first-degree burns and scorched retinas from staring at the sign. I have a difficult time comprehending how their inexplicable dallying is my responsibility. Well, thank you, my friend. I’m glad you like it. I’m rather pleased with it myself. “Paulie’s Amazing Prediction Emporium” has a snappy sound to it, don’t you think? I’ve heard the sign is visible from the freeway. Good for business, of course, but bad for traffic accidents, I’m told. Ah, well. A decree is a decree. And you are here for other reasons entirely. Come, let us repair to the antechamber. Your time is valuable. Yes. As I stare into my cracked crystal ball, I can see the letters of the one-word title for this week’s episode engaging in their mystic dance. It’s
As the sun rises on the 10th day, a tall figure emerges from the Tambaqui shelter and drifts, ghost-like, into the forest. The skeletal shape moves swiftly and purposefully, its head rotating rapidly to ensure that nobody is in pursuit. Presently, the scarecrow-like man arrives at the base of a large tree whose gnarled roots rise above the ground, forming a natural grotto. The figure crouches and removes its wide-brimmed hat, revealing himself to be Matthew. He removes a blanket-covered bundle from under his arm and scrambles down into the root cave. Gently unwrapping the blanket, he withdraws the crocodile skull from Tribal Council. Matthew holds the skull in his left hand and addresses it.
“Wilson, je suis desolee it had to come to this, mi amigo, but I simply had to speak with you. Da, it’s true. The truth of the matter is I’m currently up the eek-cray with no addle-pay. I aligned myself with two physically powerful young bucks, and now they’re both gone. So I’m completely unprotected, staring in from the outside of any possible alliance in my tribe. Maybe I should just qui – what? You have an idea? Please tell me! I’ll listen to anything at this point. Mm-hm. Uh-huh. Wilson, you’re a genius! I should have thought of that myself. I’ll go back right now and enact your brilliant plan! And Wilson? I’m sorry for what I said about quitting. That was just a heat-of-the-moment thing. I still think this is going to be a cake walk!” Matthew nestles the crocodile skull between two convenient roots and heads back to camp with his familiar animated skeleton gait and grinning death’s-head smile.
When he returns to Tambaqui Camp, Matthew is delighted to see that Dave is sitting by himself next to the fire. He scoops up a couple pieces of firewood and approaches Dave in a calculatedly jovial manner. Dave looks up and nods hello when Matthew drops the firewood at his feet. “Thanks, man,” he says. “Where you been?”
Matthew laughs for a measured three beats, then raises an eyebrow and spreads his hands above the pile of firewood.
“Oh, right,” Dave says. “I mean, I knew that. It’s kind of early.” He yawns and rubs the side of his face. Today, he’s wearing a plain black T-shirt that reads, “Yes, but is your honor student a rocket scientist?” He looks up at Matthew, who is staring at him with unblinking frog eyes. “Something on your mind today?” he asks casually as he scans the area for makeshift weapons he could use if Matthew tries to eat him.
Matthew pulls up a log and takes a seat across the fire from Dave. “Listen to me,” he begins. “I trust you, Dave, and I need you to know that I haven’t been, well, 100% honest with you in terms of my value to this tribe.”
Dave furrows his brow and runs his hand through his hair. “What are you talking about?” he finally asks.
With intense eyes that pin Dave’s gaze in place like a butterfly to a display board, Matthew begins, “What you do not know about me is that I have traveled extensively all over the world. On these trips, I have kept my eyes and ears open and my mouth closed. And I’ve learned some amazing things.” He pauses to allow Dave’s interest to crescendo.
Dave yawns again and looks where his watch would be. “Like what?”
Suddenly, a nearby rock floats a foot or two above the ground and begins to speak in Matthew’s voice. “Just as a sample, I have the limited ability to move small objects with the power of my mind.” Dave glances at Matthew, whose mouth has not moved since the rock left the ground. “I’m also a world-class ventriloquist,” the rock adds before settling gently to the ground. “You are like me, Dave,” Matthew continues. “You are on the fringe of the alliances taking shape in this camp. But you do have Roger’s ear on certain matters. And he has Butch. If you and I were to form an alliance, perhaps you could persuade Roger and Butch to act in our best interests. We could eliminate the goofy kid and Mr. Goody Two-Shoes, who will undoubtedly be a thorn in everyone’s side the longer he stays in the game.” Matthew leans closer to Dave. The heat from the fire seems to make his face shimmer and distort. “I haven’t even shown half of my abilities to you, Dave. I can be a very powerful ally in this game. What do you say?” He extends his hand across the fire.
Dave’s mouth has remained open since the rock floated into the air. He finally closes it and licks his lips nervously. He nods, slowly at first, then more enthusiastically. “I’m in,” he growls, grasping Matthew’s hand firmly. Matthew’s facial skin draws back tightly, baring his perfect teeth in what he would call a smile.
Meanwhile, at Jaburu Camp, another pair of schemers is murmuring in hushed tones while the rest of the tribe sleeps after a debauched hour-long fish feast the night before. There are no chores that require immediate attention, so the two women are simply lounging near the fire. “It didn’t work, Joanna,” Jeanne says bitterly. “Somehow, Deena emerged as the big winner in our plan to nominate her as the leader of the camp. I mean, look at this place! We’ve got firewood stacked over there, the fire’s roaring, we’ve got water for days. Heck, even the shelter looks like it’s...sheltering! This is unacceptable. We’ve got to do something.”
Joanna is humming devotional music softly so as not to wake up the rest of the tribe. Occasionally, even when she’s being careful like this, a word or two of praise will burst uncontrollably from her mouth. But on this morning, she shares her partner’s concern about their position in the game, and the words just aren’t flowing as they normally would. She nods in agreement. “I think my Jesus is waiting for the perfect moment to act,” she says. “If we continue to find ways to put Deena’s status at risk, He will ultimately cause her to stumble spectacularly. It’s up to us to provide those opportunities for failure.” She finishes her thought by singing, “Oh, magnificence and exaltation!”
Jeanne rubs her chin thoughtfully. “You know, Joanna, I think you’re right. Sure, she dodged this particular bullet. But not even Wonder Woman can dodge every bullet without those special bracelets. The more shots we fire at Deena, the higher the likelihood she’ll make some huge blunder that will alienate her from everyone else. I think I’ve got a plan.”
Later that day, Deena begins to assign tasks. “Jeanne and Joanna, you two did a terrific job catching fish yesterday. I want you to go do it again.”
“Actually, Deena,” Jeanne says with a pseudo-sweet smile and a quick glance at Joanna, “I was thinking we’d like to gather firewood today. We’re physically spent from hauling those huge fish out of the water yesterday.”
Deena shrugs. “All right. You do that. I’ll take care of the fishing myself.”
As Deena assigns other tasks to the remaining women, Joanna and Jeanne exchange smirks. “We’ll see how she fares with no bait and some sabotaged fishing line,” Jeanne chuckles under her breath.
The women head off to their respective tasks. Deena asks everyone if they’ve seen the bait, but of course, nobody admits to having seen it. In reality, it’s buried in the wood pile, along with the Immunity Idol. Deena shrugs and ties some grass to her hook. Before long, she gets a bite, but the line immediately snaps. Confused, she selects another pole and examines the line. “Hm,” she comments to herself. “There’s a small nick in the line right here.” She quickly ties a knot in the line to reinforce it, then threads the remains of a dead tarantula onto the hook. In seconds, the rod is bent almost to the water. Deena plops to the ground and digs her heels into the dirt as she tries to yank the fish out of the water.
Suddenly, Christy arrives and informs Deena it’s time to go to the Reward Challenge. Deena compresses her lips and delivers one final colossal heave. A giant five-foot-long prehistoric-looking fish sails out of the water and whumps loudly at Christy’s feet. It is the world’s largest freshwater fish, the pirarucu. These monsters can reach up to ten feet and can weigh as many as 650 pounds! This one’s probably just under 200 pounds. Christy and Deena immediately set upon it with rocks and sticks, and its wild thrashing quickly ceases. The two women wrestle the giant fish into camp, where they quickly cover it with leaves and head off to the Reward Challenge. Jeanne and Joanna bring up the rear, staring at each other with wide, fearful eyes.
Jeff and the members of Tambaqui are already waiting at Challenge Beach when the women arrive. “Ladies,” Jeff greets them when they arrive. “I understand you just landed a rather large Arapaima gigas.” He looks into the camera. “That’s the scientific name.” Back to the women. “Congratulations!”
Rob scoffs. “That’s nothing,” he says. “We caught a killer whale. We’ll probably have to throw most of it away.”
Dave slaps Rob in the back of the head. “Honor!” he barks.
“All right,” Jeff says. “Let’s get started. Today’s Challenge is a two-parter. First part: three-legged race. Second part: gunny sack race.”
“What?” Rob cries. “Last week, the egg toss. This week, more Company Picnic activities. What’s next? Passing oranges back and forth under our chins?”
Jeff’s eyes widen. “No. No orange-passing. Heh, heh.” He whips a small notebook out of his shirt pocket and scribbles wildly for a second. “Anyway, this is another mixer-type activity. Your partner in the three-legged race segment will be a member of the other tribe. After the overall three-legged winner has been decided, that team will split up and the two former teammates will have a winner-take-all gunny sack race to determine who gets the Reward. Did you hear that, Tambaqui? A gunny sack race. With bouncing.” Lots of barking, howling, and drooling from the guys. “Wanna know what you’re playing for?” Everyone nods excitedly. “Nothing! Sometimes, the greatest prize is in the journey itself. OK, let’s pick teams. Jaburu, who’s sitting out this time?”
Christy steps off to the side. Jeff tells everyone to count off when he points to them.
As the remaining two women sound off, Rob shoves three teammates out of the way and stands in the fourth position, rocking back and forth excitedly on the balls of his feet.
Jeff turns and grins slyly at the new configuration. He points at Rob.
“Four,” Rob says, his voice quivering.
“I don’t think so,” Jeff says. “You’re a one.” Deena smiles and waves at Rob, who looks like he just guzzled a glass of sour milk.
After the teams have been created, the first heat is run. Joanna and Roger easily defeat Rob and Deena. Rob slumps to the ground and sulks. In heat two, Heidi and Butch edge Shawna and Matthew. Finally, Jeanne and Alex stomp Jenna and Dave. The final round will feature Joanna/Roger, Heidi/Butch, and Jeanne/Alex. Roger and Alex wink at one another before the start of the race and point their thumbs down. On Jeff’s go, the two take a few steps before stumbling to the ground and grabbing their ankles. Joanna and Jeanne try to help get their teammates up, but it’s no use. Heidi and Butch win the match easily. A grin slowly forms on Rob’s face as he comes to understand the perverted genius of Alex and Roger’s plan.
Now it’s time for the gunny sack race. Alex, Rob, and Roger high-five each other and whip together some homemade lawn chairs so they can sit at the finish line and watch the race. Heidi’s sheer athleticism carries her easily to victory over Butch. Even so, she is shown in super slow-motion at every opportunity, including at the end of the race as she tosses her hair from side to side. Rob falls backwards out of his chair and loses consciousness.
“Jaburu wins Reward!” Jeff cries. “Here you go, ladies.” He hands them an enormous platter of deli meats and cheeses. “Enjoy!”
“Hey, wait a minute!” Dave yells. “You said there was no Reward!”
Jeff laughs evilly. “You knotheads! When are you ever going to wake up and start playing the actual game? There’s always a Reward. Sheesh, how dumb can you horndogs get?” Jeff continues to chuckle as he wanders off into the woods.
The men gather up their unconscious tribemate and slink back to camp as the Jaburu women devour the cheese and meat combo plate.
Next day, it’s Immunity Challenge time. The guys have dedicated themselves to ignoring the women and focusing instead on winning Immunity. The new resolution manages to survive all the way to the Challenge, at which point they spot the members of the HCA in two-piece bikinis and miss half of the instructions provided by Jeff.
“All right,” Jeff says. “First order of business. Let’s have the Idol back.”
Sheepishly, Deena holds out a charred hunk of wood that’s about half the size of the original Immunity Idol.
“Holy crow!” Jeff exclaims, clapping the sides of his head with his hands. “What happened to it?!”
Deena swallows hard before speaking. “Well, we hid it in the pile of firewood so Joanna wouldn’t see it, and it wound up actually in the fire. We think it was an accident.” She glances at Joanna, who quickly looks away and starts whistling Handel’s Messiah.
“Well,” Jeff says, wiping a tear out of the corner of his eye. “Here’s what you’re playing for.” He places the remains of the Idol on a stump, where it cracks and falls into two halves. “Immunity.” Jeff fights off another wave of emotion, then continues. “Today’s Challenge acknowledges the traditional Brazilian practice of wrapping things up. You know, to give as presents and so forth. First, I need to know which of the women is sitting out.” Jenna raises her hand and moves over to stand next to Jeff.
“OK, here’s the deal. Each tribe has been provided with all sorts of packaging supplies. Your tribe will spend an hour wrapping an enormous wooden box as tightly as possible. You may use any of the supplies provided: baling twine, strapping tape, caulking, nails, whatever. At the end, however, you must gift-wrap the box nicely because you’re giving it as a present to the other tribe. You want to know what’s inside?” He grins slightly as the Survivors nod; it seems he’s getting his second wind after the shocking demise of the Immunity Idol. “A member of the other tribe!” he cackles. “Once the boxes are all wrapped, you’ll exchange gifts. The winner of the Challenge is the tribe that retrieves their Survivor from the box and re-assembles the entire tribe on this mat in front of me. Jaburu, pick a Tambaqui to wrap in the box.”
The women point to Matthew, who climbs into their box and appears to enter a trance. Tambaqui selects Joanna. She begins singing hymns at the top of her lungs as she settles into the box. “Survivors ready? Go!”
Typical team chaos ensues as members of both tribes scream their ideas at each other. Hammers pound, tape tears, liquid adhesive smears. Throughout the entire process, no sound at all is heard from Matthew, but periodic cries of “Mmmffffooorry!” and “Haammffelufffahh!” emanate from Joanna’s crate. At the end of the hour to prepare the gifts, the women’s box with Matthew inside looks beautiful. The other box could pass for a gift in a pinch, but it’s certainly not going to win any present-wrapping awards. The two teams switch positions and tear into the gifts on Jeff’s go.
Once the wrapping paper is removed, Joanna’s fist suddenly smashes through the top of the box from the inside. Then the other one. She’s battering her way to freedom! The men see this and begin yelling at Matthew to try to do the same thing. They are not hopeful, however. It’s much more likely that his thin frame won’t shatter upon impact with the lid of the wooden box. As the men continue to scream and claw at the box, Matthew walks out of the trees and stands behind them. “Gentlemen,” he announces calmly. “I am free!” He raises his hands above his head dramatically, then bows deeply, his hair scraping the ground.
Jeff is stunned. “But...but...the box. It’s still sealed.”
Matthew issues a toothy skull grin. “I studied under Professor Mystique in Belgium one summer,” he offers by way of explanation. Nobody understands, but it’s clear that Matthew has escaped.
The men pile onto the mat, and Jeff half-heartedly says, “Tambaqui.” He’s obviously too confused to provide his usual enthusiasm. The men collect the blackened halves of the Immunity Idol and rub charcoal all over themselves in celebration as the confused women of Jaburu help Joanna out of the shattered lid of her box.
At the next Tribal Council, the women, bloated from over-eating, decide to flip coins to see who goes. Christy loses and is invited to leave the game. She turns and waves at her teammates as she departs. “So long,” she says, “and thanks for all the fish.”
And now the vision is lost. Please come back next week to hear about the next episode. I hope to have another less offensive sign in place at that time. Good-bye!
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