Hello, there! Welcome back to my new ultra-modern fortune-telling facility. I know we were in a bit of a rush last week and didn’t get a good opportunity to look at some of the new future-divining goodies I’ve picked up over the past few months so I thought I’d give you the grand tour of the new place right now. Now as you pass through the big, glass double doors out front, the overhead camera sends your digital image to our central computer where it is processed by a sophisticated face-matching program. By the time you arrive at the front desk, my receptionist already knows your name, age, social security number, and whether you got a speeding ticket in the past 24 hours. Just adds a bit of a personal touch to your visit, and I have to admit it really impresses some of the folks. Scares a good many of them, too. We’ve had to replace the main doors a couple of times already from people running out of here at full speed. They’ll be back, I’m sure, and we’ll just weave the cost of our door repairs into their bill. Over here in our waiting area, you’ll find the top offerings in divination literature to flip through while you wait. Magazines like Future Hunter and Crystal Ball Monthly. I even bought Fortune Telling for Dummies as sort of a joke, but I tore out all the parts that were true. Job security, you understand. In addition, we now have these virtual reality helmets which run on a coin-operated basis. I think it’s a dollar for five minutes or something like that. At any rate, the central computer comes into play again, splicing your image into any of hundreds of randomly-selected future scenarios. There’s a warning up front that the future portrayed is for entertainment purposes only and doesn’t guarantee the reality you witness will actually occur. Nevertheless, I’ve had to turn back irate customers who have blown entire paychecks sitting in those chairs, only to find out their lives are no less miserable than they were before. Heh, heh. Some people! Well, let’s go back to my office. I’ve got a number of other new and exciting toys I’d like to share, but I see we’re running out of time. Remind me, and I’ll show you some more things next time. For now, we’d better get started with the next episode of Survivor:Vanuatu. What’s that? No, no, no. I certainly did not replace the fabled cracked crystal ball. Even if I could find one of these babies on eBay, I’d be very skeptical indeed. So much of a seer’s abilities are tied to their rapport with their primary divining tool. The cracked crystal ball and I have a unique connection which affords me one-of-a-kind views into the future. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even one of those fancy new jet-powered crystal balls, which are admittedly rather cool. Anyway, let’s begin. I think the cracked crystal ball doesn’t like this discussion. It’s already showing the title of this week’s show in its smoky interior. Wow, long title. It’s
Whirlybirds, Go Ahead! Stun Guns, Land The Hole Punch!
It’s a scorching hot and sunny day in the Islands of Fire. The men of the Lopevi tribe are lounging about their camp. The night before, Brook was voted off at Tribal Council. Unfortunately for the remaining eight members of the tribe, Jeff did not allow them to depart with fire. As a result, the group passed another cold, sleepless night, and they’re now weak from thirst.
J.P. is laying on his back in the sand, arms folded behind his head. “We have to do something today, fellas,” he says. “If we don’t, all us really strong, muscular types are going to slip into a coma. No offense to all you little, puny guys or anything. You can’t all be me, or this show would be very boring.”
Chris is sitting near the group’s unimpressive shelter. He leans forward and grabs the spiritual stone retrieved from the ceremony on their first night on the island. “What’s the point of this dumb thing, anyway?” he growls. “Why did we even bother to climb the greased pole? We’ve had the worst luck in the world ever since we got this crazy rock.” He stands and rears back to throw it into the ocean.
“Freeze, soldier!” Lea roars. Chris lets out a yelp of fear and collapses to the ground, hands covering his head. Lea walks over and stands before him, arms crossed. “Let me see that,” he says. Chris extends his shaking hand, the stone flat on his palm. Lea takes it and pushes his glasses up on his nose to help him better inspect the artifact. After a few seconds, he looks excitedly around at the other men. “Hey, there’s writing on this rock!” he cries.
A couple of the men rush over to stand behind Lea. “What kind of language is that?” Rory wonders.
Lea shrugs. “Vanuatu, I guess,” he says. Then, with an ironic chuckle: “Any of you guys take Vanuatu in high school?”
“I can read it,” a quiet voice says from behind the shelter. Brady steps forward from the shadows on the far side of the shelter. “Let me see the stone,” he says. Lea flips it to him. After a moment of scrutinizing the object, Brady looks up. “It says, ‘‘To receive good fortune, pull string.’”
Chris has shifted around to a seated position in the sand. “What string?” he says. “I inspected that thing thoroughly and saw nothing. There was definitely nothing that looked like a string!”
“How about this?” Brady says, pointing at a plastic ring hanging off the side of the rock.
“Oh,” Chris says, rubbing his chin. He takes a sudden interest in a pebble near his knee and rolls it around in his fingers. “Yeah, maybe,” he mumbles.
Brady hooks his finger through the ring and pulls it away from the rock. It’s connected to a string, which ratchets out to its full length then clicks back when Brady releases the ring. As the string recedes into the rock, a deep male voice rumbles from within. The unfamiliar symbols resonate in the still air of the beach, imparting a faint feeling of electricity to the air itself. The men gasp as one, feeling the power of the strange words as it infuses them with a previously-unknown joy. When the plastic ring clicks back into place, the powerful and mysterious voice fades into silence. With the cessation of the voice, the world itself seems to take a deep breath of recovery. All is silent for a few moments, then the customary sounds of the jungle and the beach return, almost deafening in their variety and volume. The men shake their heads as if waking from a hypnotic slumber.
“What did it say?” Chad asks.
Brady looks at him with mingled confusion and wonder in his eyes. “The sentence structure was exceedingly primitive,” he says thoughtfully. “The Vanuatu language has evolved considerably since this message was first spoken. My best guess at the translation is, ‘Behold the serpent in my footwear’.”
“‘There’s a snake in my boot’?” Chad suggests, one eyebrow raised.
Brady nods. “Yeah, that’s another way to say it, I guess.”
“You don’t watch many movies, do you?” Chad asks.
Brady’s brow furrows. “How did you know that?” he snaps. “Are you some sort of detective?”
Before Chad can answer, Lea speaks up. “Maybe you should tell us what you do for a living,” he says to Brady. “I think we’d all like to know.”
Brady clears his throat and jams his hands in the pockets of his shorts. “I told you,” he says while looking at the ground. “I’m a milkman. I can sketch out my route if you’d like.”
Lea shakes his head. “No, you’re not a milkman. I know that. You know too many things. You’re obviously highly trained, some sort of operative for somebody. Maybe I should just hold you down until you tell me.” He uncrosses his arms and spreads his feet for better balance.
“Listen, my friend,” Brady says quietly, his eyes narrowed to mere slits. “If I say I’m a milkman, then that’s exactly what I am. I can also guarantee you that you want no part of trying to hold me in place. I know more ways to kill you than you know how to die.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Lea says smoothly, removing his glasses and rubbing the lenses with his shirt. “I can think of an extraordinary number of ways to kill a guy. And I’ve either seen or performed every one of them.”
“Name three,” Brady says. “Quickly.”
Lea responds with no pause at all. “Strangle a guy, run him over with a car, make him swallow a lit M-80. Don’t waste my time.” He smiles coldly. “I’ve got my eye on you, Milkman,” he says. “You’d better keep your nose clean around here, or you will get your mysterious, milk-delivering butt voted out.”
A tense silence ensues for several seconds before John K. pipes up. “Does an M-80 really kill you if you swallow it?” he asks. “Or does it just blow a hole in your throat?”
“Hey!” Chris says, scrambling up and out of the dirt. “Look what I was sitting on this whole time.” He holds up a Bic lighter, still nearly full with fuel. “We can start a fire now! Huh. What are the odds?”
“Wow, that’s great!” Rory exclaims. “Now we can boil water and be warm and, heck, we could even cook food if we had anything to eat!”
At that moment, a wild jungle pig trots into camp and skids to a stop in the center of the semi-circle of men. Wild-eyed and frantic, the pig scrambles to turn itself around and escape, but its terror is too great. It lurches sideways to the ground and is still, the victim of a panic-induced heart attack.
J.P. raises his eyebrows and frowns thoughtfully. “Well. That was weird,” he says.
Lea is gazing thoughtfully at the high, fluffy clouds, his arms still crossed in front of his chest. “Pitchfork to the ribs is another awfully unusual way to die,” he muses out loud. “And painful, too, from the looks of it.”
The rest of the tribe is staring with wide-eyed trepidation at the innocent-looking stone in Brady’s hands. “OK, that thing is freaking me out,” Bubba says, backing slowly away from the rest of the group.
“Guys, listen!” Chad says, his voice low and conspiratorial. “That little stone might just be the most valuable item ever won in the history of Survivor. We may never lose another Challenge again!” He walks over and plucks it reverently out of Brady’s hands. “This is our ticket,” he says in an awe-filled whisper. “We must not lose this stone.”
Lea’s eyes drift into focus and settle on Chad. “Stone,” he says. “Yeah, I’ve seen a guy get stoned to death. Pretty gruesome. I’ve also seen a fella get eaten by an alligator.” He looks at Brady. “That’s six ways already, Milkman, and I haven’t even broken a sweat. Hey. Where’d that pig come from?”
Later the next day, the men troop down to Challenge Beach, Sergeant Lea calling out a merry cadence which over half of the men ignore. The women of Yasur are already there waiting for them, as is Jeff, sitting on a flat rock and drumming the fingers of his left hand on his knee as he watches the men assemble on their mat. “Glad you boys could make it,” he says once everyone is settled. “Seriously, just feel free to ignore the instructions in the Tree Mail the rest of the time you’re here. Come as late as you want. The production crew obviously has nothing better to do than sit here in the blazing sun while you fruit loops come staggering down to the beach on your own schedule. By all means, just take your time.”
Bubba beams brightly. “That’s mighty kind of you, Jeff,” he says. “Thanks!”
Jeff squints at Bubba and shakes his head slowly. “You pinhead,” he says. “Just for that moronic outburst, you had better be the first Survivor to touch the mat every time we have a Challenge from now on, or I will personally see to it that you are removed from the game via some painful medical emergency. And believe me, my friend, it will appear to be an accident, Mike Skupin style. I will be completely untouchable. Do you read me?” Bubba nods silently, his face pale and drawn. Jeff grins. “All right then. Let’s get the first Reward Challenge underway. Wanna know what you’re playing for?” The Survivors mumble their marginal interest in the prize. “Well, that’s too bad,” Jeff says with a chuckle, “’cause around here, we always describe the Challenge itself first. You’ll just have to wait to see what you’re playing for.”
“It’s not beans, is it?” Eliza asks suddenly. “I mean, I’ve seen you give out tons of beans to Challenge winners over the years, and I just think that’s really weak. I will puke if you award so much as a single bean when this is all over.”
Jeff’s face reddens. “No, of course we aren’t going to award beans,” he says. He reaches into his back pocket and extracts a small plastic bag, which he tosses onto the sand at the Survivors’ feet. “These are frozen peas. There’s a huge difference.”
“Huge,” Bubba confirms with an accompanying nod.
“Darn new Survivors,” Jeff says. “Always thinking you know everything. You’re lucky I don’t just call off the entire Challenge as a penalty for your insolence. If I didn’t know we’d have to fill those missing minutes in the episode with footage of you guys laboring to strategize, I would cancel it, just as a valuable lesson. But I won’t. Not this time, anyway. Consider yourselves lucky.” He takes a deep breath. “Today’s Reward Challenge pays tribute to the Vanuatu love of the sea, as well as their enjoyment of fine same-species cuisine. Each tribe will select one member to be the victim. This person will be zipped into a meat suit and tethered about twenty yards out into the ocean.”
“Excuse me,” Ami says. “Did you say a meat suit?!”
“I did,” Jeff said. “See, we debated for quite a while and decided we didn’t actually want to show you guys eating one another as part of a Challenge. Instead, we collected a variety of raw and lightly-cooked meats and loosely stitched them together into a comfortable and stylish jumpsuit that zips in front. Using the meat suit, we can simulate tearing hunks of flesh off a fellow human being. It’s quite ingenious, really.” He nods excitedly. “Anyway, the victim will be out there in the surf, bobbing around in their meat suit. Oh, and you’ll want to pick an expendable person to be your victim, by the way. There are sharks in these waters. They might take a shine to the meat suit, as well. You never know. At any rate, once the victim is secured, the rest of your tribe will take turns diving off these floating platforms, swimming out to the victim, and ripping off a piece of the meat suit with your teeth. Swim back with the chunk of meat in your mouth and drop it on the scale. As soon as the meat’s on the pan, the next tribe member can jump in and go. As soon as one tribe has had all its members complete the swim, the Challenge ends, and the team with the most meat – as determined by the weight of their meat pile – wins Reward.”
“Sounds a lot like Amazon,” Leann observes.
“No!” Jeff says. “No, no, no, no, no. Very, very different. In Amazon, it was a big chunk of meat hanging from a chain. This is a meat suit. And you have to swim. So it’s obviously nothing at all like Amazon.”
“Not at all,” Bubba agrees, shaking his head for emphasis.
“Wanna know what you’re playing for?” Jeff asks eagerly.
“Bag of peas, right?” Rory asks.
“Well, yes,” Jeff says. “But that’s not all. The winning tribe also receives both meat suits to munch on at their convenience back in camp. You know, whatever’s left of them, that is. Big reward at stake. I’m sure everyone would love to have some extra meat around camp and some fresh vegetables. Let’s see everyone compete hard on this one, all right? Yasur, you’re up one so you’ll need to sit somebody. Both tribes will need to pick their victims. Once the victims are tethered, you can climb up on your platform and wait for my go.”
Yasur elects to sit out Mia, and they choose Scout as their victim. The men select Chris to wear the meat suit. Once the remaining tribe members have climbed onto the platform, Jeff - standing on his own platform in the middle of all the action - raises his arm. “Survivors ready? Go!”
Dolly, leading off, immediately stumbles on the edge of the platform and plunges into the water backwards while J.P. executes a perfect dive and churns powerfully out to Chris. “Of all the bad luck!” Twila exclaims as Dolly struggles to re-orient herself in the water. The guys shuffle around nervously on their platform, whistling and examining their fingernails.
J.P. swims rapidly up to Chris and yanks a huge strip of meat off with his teeth, then swims back with his prize. About a minute later, Dolly arrives at Scout’s side and retrieves her own portion. On her return, a dolphin arches out of the water beside her and dives back in, its wide tail slapping Dolly in the back as it descends. She yells out in surprise, dropping the section of meat from her mouth. It sinks quickly out of sight into the clear water below.
“Dolly!” Jeff cries. “Continue back to the platform. You lost your piece of meat. You cannot retrieve another.”
Dejected, Dolly returns to the platform and touches the side. Ami takes one step forward to dive and slips on the wet wood, causing her to belly flop into the water gracelessly. Jeff winces in sympathy.
The rest of the competition continues in a similar fashion. In the end, Lopevi finishes their relay segment in what would be world record time if records were kept for such events. The women, meanwhile, manage to get only three of their number to complete the circuit, and – thanks to the interference of an aggressive sea gull and a feisty jellyfish – none of the meat makes it back to their scale. The men, therefore, win the Challenge in a decisive rout. “Lopevi wins Reward!” Jeff shouts, throwing his hands into the air to indicate victory.
As the men gather the remains of the two meat suits, Rory shakes his head. “What are we going to do with all this meat?” he exclaims. “We haven’t even carved up our pig yet.”
“You guys caught a pig?” Jeff asks, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
“Well, I wouldn’t say we actually caught it,” Brady says. “We were there when it died, though.”
“Huh,” Jeff says. “Lucky.”
“Yep!” Chad exclaims nervously. “Weird! Well, gotta go! Thanks for the food and stuff.”
Back at Yasur Camp, the women discover that a freak windstorm has destroyed the roof of their shelter, quenched their fire, and blown their flint away. Their pots of fresh water have also been blown over, their contents spilled into the sand of the beach. “OK,” Leann says. “Something is definitely going on here. We are having a round of unprecedented bad luck today. I’m going to suggest to each of you that you don’t take any unnecessary risks, and for the love of humanity, do NOT touch the machete under any circumstances. We don’t need to lose someone here due to a stroke of misfortune.”
“Good idea,” Twila says. She folds her arms and leans against the side of the shelter that’s still standing. The supporting planks give way, and with a tiny cry she crashes sideways onto the fragile floor of the structure, smashing through the substructure and into the sand below. The shelter wall collapses inward, and the floor settles loudly to the ground, causing a large plume of dust to explode outward from the fallen shelter, coating the other women.
Scout sighs and rubs her forehead. “It’s going to be a long day,” she says.
The following afternoon, the two tribes convene again at Challenge Beach to compete for Immunity. Bubba, having headed out on his own previously, arrives half an hour early to ensure his status as first to the mats. His effort is wasted, however, as Jeff himself arrives several minutes late. “Sorry for the delay,” he says. “I set a new high score on the pinball machine down at camp. I’m sure you understand I couldn’t leave in the middle of a multi-ball frenzy. I didn’t feel too badly about it. I mean, where else did you have to be? The mall? I knew you’d still be here. I got thirty-nine million points, by the way.” He draws himself up to his full height and puffs his chest out, nodding as he makes eye contact with each Survivor in turn. “That’s an incredible score. That record will stand the whole rest of the time we’re here. I guarantee it.” He clenches his lower lip between his teeth and pumps his fist once in celebration.
“All right, let’s get on with the business at hand. For today’s Immunity Challenge, we explore the tension between the old and the new in Vanuatu culture. Legend has it that tens of years ago, a mysterious airplane flew over these islands and began dumping an entire office into the sea. A desk, a swivel chair, and several office supplies that would be mundane to us but which were perceived as nothing less than pure magic by the Vanuatu people. Several Vanuatu divers braved enormous peril to retrieve every item dumped into the sea. Many men died in this effort. In the end, the desk and chair were recovered and now sit in Chief More-More’s hut. But only one of the smaller items that fell from the plane was ever found. And here it is.” Jeff raises a gleaming metal object so that everyone can see it.
“A hole punch?” J.P. asks in disbelief.
“Not just any hole punch,” Jeff corrects him. “This is as perfect an example of a three-hole-making device as you can find anywhere. Note the exquisite craftsmanship, the attractive contours. You are looking at one of the most prized cultural artifacts of the tribe that inhabits this island. This is The Hole Punch.”
“What does it do?” Twila asks.
Jeff shrugs and tosses it aside into the dirt. “Nothing. It’s just an important icon of theirs, and we’ll be using it as part of our next Challenge. Once again, Yasur, you’ll sit out one member. The remaining eight members of each tribe will pair off so that each tribe is comprised of four subteams. One member of each subteam will be a Whirlybird. You’ll wear a helmet-mounted propeller blade and soar around in the sky like a whirlybird. The other member will be a Stun Gun. You’ll have the remote control for your Whirlybird, and you’ll also have a stun gun to protect yourself from others and to take your opponents on the ground out of commission. The object of the Challenge is to retrieve The Hole Punch. It, too, will be mounted in a Whirlybird helmet of its own, but I’ll be the one controlling its flight via the remote control.”
“Can we stun you?” Lea asks.
“Oh, I’d love to let you try,” Jeff says with a grim smile. “But Burnett foresaw that question, and he’s declared that I’m off-limits. Somebody needs to keep an eye on The Hole Punch to ensure it makes it back to Chief More-More and his people. I’d sure enjoy seeing you make the effort, though, G.I. Joe. I think you might learn a little something.” He and Lea engage in a brief stare-down which Jeff ultimately wins. “All right, so does everybody understand? You fly around and try to capture The Hole Punch while the folks controlling your flight are trying to avoid being stunned. It’s very simple. The tribe whose subteam captures The Hole Punch and brings it back to me first wins Immunity. The other tribe will see me at Tribal Council tomorrow night.”
“You know,” Lisa says. “It sounds a lot like Quidditch. Is that where you got the idea?”
“No!” Jeff shouts reflexively. “I’ve never even read Harry Potter,” he says. “Nobody here has. Not one of us. We’ve got sort of a boycott thing going. But, hey, if you think The Hole Punch is kind of like the Snitch and the Whirlybirds are like kids on brooms and the Stun Guns are like Beaters, then there’s nothing I can do to convince you otherwise. You believe what you want to believe.”
Lisa holds out her hands in a placating gesture. “Hey, it’s all right. I believe you. It’s not like Quidditch at all.”
“Not at all,” Bubba says.
“All right,” Jeff says briskly. “Let’s get your subteams arranged, and let’s get those helmets on.”
Scout sits this one out for Yasur. The Whirlybirds are Mia, Dolly, Eliza, and Julie. For the men, John K., Rory, Brady, and Chad don the helmets. The remaining four tribe members on each team grab a remote control and a stun gun.
“In a moment,” Jeff calls, “I’ll ask the Whirlybirds to start their propeller engines. On my go, the Stun Guns can start taking them up into the sky. OK, here we go! Whirlybirds, go ahead! Stun guns, land The Hole Punch!” He turns and grins into the camera. “Survivors ready? Go!”
The Whirlybirds, their blades already slicing through the air, slowly rise into the sky as their Stun Guns guide them upward with the joystick on the remote control. Surprisingly, no accidents befall the women as they initially take off. In fact, they stay right with their Lopevi counterparts as the eight Survivors swoosh around in the sky in pursuit of The Hole Punch. “Hey!” Chad calls out to Brady. “How long does that thing last?”
Brady shakes his head. “It didn’t say. But from the looks of things, I would guess a day.” He points at John K., buzzing wildly out of control through the air in broad concentric circles. His Stun Gun, Chris, is laying on the ground, unconscious, as Twila steps over his body and stalks off in pursuit of Lea. John screams as his whirlybird helmet guides him into the surf and then propels him directly up the beach and into a tree, where his propeller blades finally halt their spinning when they bite into the trunk.
“Oo, looks like Little John is out of the competition!” Jeff yells. “And he went down hard!”
Julie is being guided by Lisa down on the ground. Lisa is doing a fabulous job of keeping her right with The Hole Punch. As Jeff guides the Punch up and down, back, forth, and around, Lisa ignores the possibility of airsickness by her partner and simply mirrors every move made by The Hole Punch. Finally, Julie is in perfect position to make the grab. She leans forward in her helmet, arms outstretched to retrieve the Punch, when suddenly she veers sharply to the right and heads rapidly off to another small island. Below her, Lisa is slumped over in the sand, the victim of a surprise stun gun attack.
The action continues hot and furious, with both teams losing a couple more players in the ocean and on the beach. Finally, however, Mia grabs The Hole Punch and yanks it out of its whirlybird helmet. She holds it over her head triumphantly and signals to Twila to bring her in. The remaining two men signal to their Stun Guns to pilot them towards Mia. Converging from opposite sides, they sandwich her with their bodies, causing her to lose her grip on The Hole Punch. It soars straight up into the air where Brady snags it. He waves at Bubba, who immediately drops Brady into a steep dive towards the ground. At that exact moment, Leann steps up behind Bubba and stuns him right between the shoulder blades. He squeaks like a mouse in a trap, then pitches forward into the sand. Brady hits the ground hard as the speed of his Whirlybird propels him straight to earth. He strikes land with both feet, then tucks and rolls, unbuckling his helmet and tossing it to the side in a single, fluid motion. He continues his head-first roll for a another second or two, then he jerks to a halt right in front of Jeff. “Here’s your artifact,” he says.
Jeff accepts it with a nod. “Immunity for Lopevi!” he cries, once again flipping his hands into the air. As he does so, a low-flying and out-of-control Eliza flies by. Her propeller blade catches the edge of The Hole Punch and knocks it out of Jeff’s raised arms. “Wha-oh,” Jeff says. “Not good.” The Punch is kicked into the air where the Whirlybird blade catches it another time, shearing it in half and powering the two pieces out across the beach and into the ocean with a loud double balook. “Oh, boy,” Jeff says nervously. “That’s incredibly bad. I’d better find a new one somehow, or Chief More-More will melt my head.”
Next night at Tribal Council, the ladies decide they’ve had enough of Twila’s hard working and let her go. As she leaves, Eliza starts to cry.
“Don’t be sad,” Julie says reassuringly, patting Eliza on the back. “We’ll see her again soon.”
“Yeah,” Eliza sniffles through her tears. “But I was really hoping she’d finish that shelter before she left.”
And the visions are gone. Come back next week, and I’ll show you some more fun toys in my new office. See you then!
Your comments are welcome. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.