Paulie's Precaps - Episode 9: Disparate Treasures
Hello, there! Yes, I’m over here. Behind you. Sorry for the confusion. That charred patch of ground in front of you is my old parlor. I guess I must’ve fallen asleep and let my candles and incense get a little out of control. I knew that would happen, of course, but I fell asleep, anyway. Barely had time to retrieve my favorite turban, my curly-toed shoes, and obviously my cracked crystal ball before the whole place puffed out of existence. Anyway, I’ve made room for you here in my little Honda. Just sweep those Tarot cards onto the floor and hop in. They’re old, anyway. I don’t think they work very well anymore. Doesn’t matter, though. I’ve noticed that everything’s OK if I push the seat all the way back and balance the crystal ball on my lap. Indeed, I am already seeing whirlpools of truth swirling around the edges of the glass. A title is taking shape. Silence! I have to concentrate! What does it say? Oh, yes.
It’s late. The moon is out, and it illuminates three shadowy figures stumbling back to camp after the most emotionally taxing Tribal Council yet. For the three members of Sook Jai, there are no more tears left to cry. They’re emotionally void. At this point, the only thing that’s keeping them going is the thought that there will be boiled chicken flesh waiting for them. And if they’re lucky, Helen might describe half a dozen preferable methods of preparing chicken while they eat the bland, chewy strands. In a strange way, her recipe regurgitation actually winds up providing “mental seasoning” to the boring dishes they eat every night. Yes, perhaps they’ll ask her to crank up The Recipe Machine tonight. Maybe that’ll make the pain go away.
When they arrive in camp, all is quiet except, of course, for the rolling thunder symphony of Clay’s snoring, which is just background noise for his tribemates by now. The fire is out, and all the bowls are clean. No sign of the chicken meat. Ken’s lips wriggle around like electrocuted night crawlers before pulling back in a feral snarl. His head quivers for a few seconds, then he bellows four words very slowly and distinctly: “Where. Is. Our. Chicken?”
The sounds of grumbling and rustling can be heard from within the cave. Shortly, Ted shows up at the cave entrance, rubbing his face and yawning. He’s shirtless, but he’s wearing a sling of some sort around his torso, draped over one shoulder like a “Miss America” sash. “Hey, guys,” he rumbles. “How was Tribal Council?”
Ken walks slowly over to Ted, like a panther creeping up on its prey. “Give us our chicken,” he says, “and nobody gets hurt.”
Clay’s tiny head pops up out of the sling around Ted’s chest. “Y’all’s chicken is gone now, y’hear?” he peeps. “Jan took it over to her animal graveyard. Said something about reuniting Lucky with his meat. Really had Brian’s attention there for a while.”
The last two sentences are delivered to the colored streaks left behind when the Sook Jais race off to the pet cemetery. Francois the Expatriate Monkey is waiting for them when they arrive, but he appears to be focusing on Lucky’s feet and head as his primary snack. Jake, Ken, and Penny dig around in the sand, shoving aside dead snakes and other corpses, until they find the stash of chicken meat. They spend the rest of the evening in silent ecstasy, wiping the dirt off their meal as best they can and popping the pieces into their mouths. Finally, they all curl up together and sleep the blissful sleep of the chronically malnourished.
Next morning, there’s Tree Mail waiting right away, which is pretty odd. Brian and Ted wrap vines around Jan so she can’t retrieve the clue and taunt them with it. She still manages to shriek out some nursery songs while the guys attempt to read the clue to the rest of the group. Clay finally gets her to be still by climbing all the way up to her shoulders and sticking a golf ball in her mouth. Brian then reads the clue to everyone, including the Sook Jai tribe members, who came on the run after hearing Jan’s blood-curdling children’s songs.
All these days, you’ve remained in the game,
Your sworn enemies always the same.
But to win the best Reward yet seen,
You’ll need to work well with your new team.
“The Merge,” Brian whispers reverently. Everyone looks nervously around, in hopes that just saying the words doesn’t somehow revive the awesome Merge Monster from its shredded slumber. Seeing no immediate reprisals, the group heads off for the Reward Challenge.
Jeff is sitting on top of a giant wheel of fortune when they arrive. The wheel is covered with words, but they’re difficult to discern. “Come in and sit down, everyone,” Jeff says, his face split by that trademark maniacal smile. He looks like Hannibal Lecter on laughing gas. “Today, we have something really special planned. First, let me congratulate all of you for making it to the Merge. You are now one team. Take a few minutes to celebrate the birth of your new tribe.”
Everyone cheers and begins hugging everyone else. Even the men engage in some awkward, back-thumping male-to-male embraces. Clay is thrown in the air over and over again. He chitters gleefully like a squirrel at its own birthday party. When the celebration subsides, Jeff’s grin completely takes over his face, obscuring his eyes and nose. He looks like a fleshy football with hair and teeth. “OK,” he finally says. “now if you want to stay in the game as one happy tribe, you’re going to need to win this next Reward Challenge. That’s right. There are no beans at stake this time. The Reward is your very survival in the game itself.” The tribe stares at him dumbly. “Let me show you what I’m talking about,” he says. He turns to the jungle behind him and yells out, “All right, you guys! Come on in!”
Eight people file out of the forest and line up on a mat on the other side of the wheel of fortune. The current tribe members are stunned to see John, Tanya, Jed, Ghandia, Stephanie, Robb, Shii Ann, and Erin staring back at them. They look horrible, all of them. They’re wearing the same clothes they wore when they left, and they look hungry and unhappy, as if they’d never left. Tanya even finds time to vomit, indicating that she has received no medical attention at all since being booted. “So once again,” Jeff begins, “you’ve fallen victim to assumptions. Gee whiz, you guys, how dumb do you have to be?! The assumption here is that all outbound players go directly to ‘Loser Lodge’ and live the life of luxury. In reality, they’re whisked to the other side of the island, where they’ve been forced to continue playing the game in this new location until we were ready for this awesome Challenge. Here’s how it’s going to work. Each tribe will select a member of the opposite tribe to compete in a head-to-head Challenge. After the competitors have been chosen, I’ll spin the wheel. The two must compete in the event shown on the wheel. Your team must win five of the eight events to stay in the game. If the Booted Losers Tribe wins even four of the events, they will all come back into the game, and the eight of you will actually get to see the real Loser’s Lodge. Everyone understand? Good. Survivors ready? Go!”
The Survivors huddle together and decide to leave Robb till the very end. If they win five events quickly, they reason, they will never have to pick him and risk having his physical strength carry the day. They settle on Shii Ann. The Losers pick Ted, perhaps expecting their opponents to select Robb first. Jeff spins the wheel, and the featured event is chosen: “Tug-of-War.” The Survivors cheer in excitement as Ted and Shii Ann are led to a rope laying on the ground. “Don’t worry,” Shii Ann consoles her tribe. “There is a mental component to this game, and I’m confident I will prevail.” Once both competitors are positioned, Shii Ann closes her eyes and enters a deep, transcendental state. Her breathing slows to near-death rhythms. Finally, she opens her eyes placidly and utters the word “Ready” in an other-worldly tone that doesn’t even sound like her. Her small body appears to be possessed by the God of Tug-of-War. The whistle is blown to begin the match, and she is immediately yanked off her feet and dragged face first through the sand, finally coming to rest at Ted’s feet with her head at the bottom of a foot-deep trough. She splutters and coughs, her head bowed in humiliation, as Ted celebrates with his tribe. 1-0 Survivors.
Next up are John and Helen in the “Stand-up Comedy” competition. This is going to be close. John fires off a few stupid jokes in a vain attempt to mask his feelings of isolation and inferiority. His face burns red as he realizes he’s never successfully told a joke in his life. Francois throws a coconut at him from high in the trees. Helen is really no better. She does elicit a slight chuckle, though, when she provides some humorous recipes. In a final desperate bid for laughs, she eats the bark off a tree. The crowd roars. 2-0 Survivors.
Round three features Jan and Tanya squaring off in the “Swimsuit” category. Of course, it’s a complete blowout. Tanya even throws up on herself at one point and manages to score perfect 10’s from the distinguished panel of monkey judges, who already threw up on themselves during Jan’s segment. 2-1 Survivors.
The Losers grab a 3-2 lead after Stephanie sends Clay to the jungle hospital in the “Kickboxing” competition and Erin humbles Jake in the “Blindfolded Chainsaw Juggling While Riding a Unicycle and Singing the National Anthem” round. Now the Survivors have no room for error. They must win out to stay in the game.
Tensions are high as Penny and Ghandia (who is, of course, naked) step up to the wheel of fortune. The category is “Brainteasers.” Ghandia throws up her hands and stomps back to her tribe. “I quit!” she cries. “Ghandia is not all up on brainteasers. This game is rigged. Good-bye!” Robb nods in understanding and waves his middle fingers in the air in a vague indictment of everyone within his range of vision. Penny looks at Jeff, who shrugs in confusion and awards the point to the Survivors. Penny whoops and cartwheels back to her tribe. It’s all tied up at 3.
Next to compete are Brian and Jed. In a stunning disaster for the Survivors, the category is “Dental Trivia.” An ethereal chuckle that sounds eerily like Mark Burnett drifts through the air. Brian’s team tries to pump him up and prepare him for what should be a total whitewashing at the hands of Jed the dental student. Jed’s teeth gleam like a row of street lights as he awaits the questions. It turns out to be a written test, which really doesn’t translate well to television, no matter how much tense background music is employed. Amazingly, when the exams are graded by Jeff, Brian wins 24-2. Jed is crestfallen. “I don’t understand,” he whines. “I looked at all the pictures. I guess I just didn’t think reading the text was important. I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with my prioritization of important tasks, do you?”
It’s 4-3 in favor of the Survivors, and the last two competitors are Robb and his “older brother” Ken. The wheel spins several times before slowing and finally coming to rest on the final competition: “Duel to the Death.” Jeff lopes off into the jungle as the other fourteen players gasp and murmur nervously to one another. “Bro,” Robb whispers. The two men look at each other icily. They remove their hats and shirts. Ken reaches down into his underwear and hauls out his shield, then begins binding it to his palm with his buff as the competitors circle each other, seeking a weakness. Suddenly, they spring at one another. They collide in mid-air and fall to the sand, writhing around fiercely. Punches are thrown, eyes are poked, skin is scratched open.
Jeff returns from the jungle with a pet carrier in each hand. He stares in shock at the battle in the sand. “Hold it!” he shouts. “Stop!” The combatants pause in their struggle. Ken has latched onto Robb’s ear with his teeth, and Robb is in the process of giving Ken the biggest wedgie in the recorded history of underwear warfare. “You’re not supposed to fight each other to the death,” Jeff says. “These guys are!” He hands a pet carrier to each player. Inside each cage is a custom-designed Survivor Battlebot. The two men stand up and remove the ‘Bots from their cages. Quite unexpectedly, this physical battle has turned into a bit of a mental one, which means, of course, that Robb is moments away from being routed. He can’t figure out how to make his Battlebot roll away from its cage before Ken’s ‘Bot is on top of it, hammering it to pieces with its attached piece of metal pipe. In a matter of minutes, Robb’s robot is reduced to a random pile of component pieces. The Survivors stave off elimination, 5-3.
Robb is furious. His middle fingers soar through the air uncontrollably. “Tricked by the damn rules again!” he complains. “The suckiness of this sucky situation totally sucks!” He and his seven Loser teammates slink back into the jungle.
The relieved Survivors return to their camp and lay around for a while, laughing hysterically. The experience of fighting together to stay in the game has drawn them close. The bonds are tight and very intense. It’s going to be another festival of tears when one of them has to be voted out later in the week. Great.
Speaking of which, it doesn’t take long before it’s time to reconvene for the Immunity Challenge. The eight members of the newly-christened Chuaybacca tribe arrive at Challenge Beach, which looks as smooth as if it had been recently groomed by a Zamboni. They are met by Jeff, who’s standing in front of a 4x4 array of sixteen shovels sticking out of the sand, each with a unique design on the handle. “Welcome to your first individual Immunity Challenge,” Jeff says. “Today’s Challenge acknowledges the role of piracy in the Thai culture. Buried all over this beach are sixteen treasure chests. Your job is to run into the jungle and find a rolled-up scroll. The scroll is a map to one of the chests on this beach. Each scroll is marked with a distinctive pattern that corresponds to one of the shovels in the sand behind me. That’s your starting point. Take the shovel and follow the map to the treasure location. Let me warn you, however, that these treasures are definitely not equal in quality. In fact, they are very disparate. Only one of the chests contains the Immunity Idol. The others may contain prizes, which you can keep. Or they may contain hidden dangers. You may open as many chests as you possibly can until somebody opens the chest with the Immunity Idol in it. That will end the Challenge. All right, everyone. Survivors ready? Go!”
Everyone races into the jungle in search of a scroll. Ted is first to return. He grabs the matching shovel and begins reading aloud from the map, “Sixteen paces north, turn west, then ten paces...” He wanders off. Helen and Penny emerge next, followed by Clay and Ken. Ted has found the digging location and is rooster-tailing sand all around himself in a frenzied effort to get his chest out of the ground. The chests are not deeply covered so it doesn’t take long for Ted to haul his chest out of a shallow hole in the ground.
“Big Ted has the first chest out of the ground!” Jeff calls out. “Let’s see what’s in there!” Ted creaks open the lid, and a fifteen-foot King Cobra pops out of the chest, its hood spread in a defensive posture. Ted’s eyes bug out and he falls backwards as he scrambles away from the chest. “Ho-ho!” Jeff cries. “Looks like Big Ted found the hungry cobra we tortured! Don’t give up, the rest of you! There’s still hope. And Big Ted, get up off your can and go find another scroll!”
Ken opens his chest next and discovers a shiny can of beans. He tears off into the jungle for a new map. Jan opens her chest, and some fake snakes shoot out, horrifying Jan and causing her to fall backward into the sand, unconscious. Other Survivors are coming back with more maps. Folks are digging all over the place, and the sand is really flying. Jake wins a copy of the Survivor home game. Helen discovers a hand grenade whose pin gets pulled when the lid opens, but she gets the pin back in just in time. Finally, a tiny voice cries out in excitement, “I got it!” It’s little Clay, barely bigger than the chest he just finished tugging out of the ground. Sure enough, the Immunity Idol awaits inside his chest. The little fella wins Immunity! His happy tribemates pull some eucalyptus leaves off the trees and serve them to their koala-like friend in celebration.
At Tribal Council later that night, Jake and Ken successfully imply their allegiance to the former Chuay Gahns. The tribe unanimously boots Penny, who is so distraught she can’t even choreograph a proper departure skit. And she left some great moves on the table, too. Oh, well. Maybe the folks back at Loser Lodge will get a kick out of seeing Penny the Cheerleader work her magic.
And there it goes. The visions have left. I can see no more about this episode. Please come back again, though. I’d love to discuss Episode 10 with you.