Hello, there! So nice to see you again after a week-long break from Survivor. Hope you enjoyed last week’s recap show. I considered detailing its outcome for you in advance, but I never want you to become bored with the precision of my predictions. Better to remain silent for a week and dazzle you the next. Besides, the week off afforded me an opportunity to work on my speech. Oh, I hadn’t told you? Yes, it seems I’ve been invited to deliver the keynote address at the local Renaissance Faire. I guess they wanted someone with a unique insight into that time period to get the ball rolling this year. And, after several of their initial ideas didn’t pan out, they approached me. This stack of index cards represents my entire speech. Ironically, even though I can see the future so clearly, my memory for details is rather suspect. You might think I’d be able to simply envision my speech before it happens and “remember” what I would wind up saying. That never seems to work, though. I found that out the hard way during Finals Week back in college. Turns out I did have to study, after all. Anyway, if you’re interested in dressing up in fancy clothes and hanging out with twenty or thirty like-minded zealots, you might want to show up and hear my presentation. I’ve been given the five-minute time slot before the marquee attraction of horseless jousting gets underway. Hope to see you there! For now, make yourself comfortable as I wave my hands over the cracked crystal ball to see what the future holds in store for the remaining seven contestants in Survivor:The Amazon. Yes, I see the title for this week’s episode now. It’s
It’s mid-morning of Day 28 in the Amazon. The new power players in camp – Alex, Jenna, Heidi, and Rob – are still fast asleep in the shelter. Matthew has disappeared. Literally. And Butch and Christy are preparing the camp for the day ahead. Having already stoked the fire, they’re boiling a fresh batch of water and patting together some manioc flapjacks for breakfast. They’re also discussing strategies for remaining in the game in the post-Deena environment. “So here’s how it works,” Butch whispers, keeping a close eye on the shack to ensure nobody inside emerges unexpectedly. “I call it The Chain. And what it really is, see, is a way of organizing the dissemination of information about the game. Right now, I report to a particular person whose name I can’t reveal because, well, it’s sort of a secret Chain. You can’t know who all the links are exactly or it won’t work. I really am not sure why that is, but that’s what I’ve kind of implied from what my informer link told me. Now what I’m offering you is a chance to be my informee link. You see what I’m saying?”
“Is that a word?” Christy asks. “I’ve never heard of ‘informee’ before. Have you?”
Butch purses his lips in frustration. “OK, I don’t know. Maybe it’s not a word. I’m a principal, not an English teacher, for Pete’s sake! All it means is I tell you stuff and you do what I say. That way, we’re protected by The Chain. I mean, if you think about it, a chain isn’t worth much if it doesn’t have lots and lots of links. Otherwise, why call it The Chain? You’d probably call it The Link, which I think you’ll agree would be pretty stupid.”
Christy stares at Butch for a while in silence as she shapes a manioc cake. Finally, she speaks. “OK, can you tell me how this chain - ”
“It’s a Chain, actually. With a capital ‘c’. You need to say it more reverently.”
“Fine. Can you tell me how this Chain is actually a strategy at all? How does being part of The Chain keep us in the game? Does that make any sense to you right now?”
Butch lifts his shaded glasses above his eyebrows and takes a quick look around the camp to see if anyone’s listening. “What The Chain actually does for you is a secret. Need-to-know basis only, OK? It’s so absolutely 100% secret that even I haven’t learned all of The Chain’s powerful secrets. My contact won’t tell me yet. I just know I didn’t want to get left behind. After Roger and Dave left, I began to realize that I should probably start playing this game, and I can’t tell you what a relief it was to be offered a link in The Chain. Now I can continue not playing the game and just let The Chain carry me to victory. It’s really a great feeling. For me, right now, in this game, I’d have to say joining The Chain has really been a defining moment.” He lowers his glasses back into place and nods enthusiastically.
Christy shrugs. “Well, let me think about it, all right? This is a big opportunity, and I don’t want to mess it up.”
“Sure. I understand,” Butch says. “You let me know just as soon as you’re ready. Once you’ve had a chance to think through all its benefits, I’m sure you’ll be as excited as I was.” He turns to go retrieve some firewood, and Christy rolls her eyes and shakes her head.
There’s some rustling in the shelter, and soon the others emerge wearily from within. Alex leads the way to the fire. “Oh, great! Manioc pancakes,” he says, taking one from the pan and munching on it. “Thanks.” He wanders off.
Heidi and Jenna approach the fire and stare down at the pan full of sizzling manioc. “Oh, gosh!” Heidi exclaims. “Seems like I just ate yesterday! I’m really not sure I need a whole pancake. That would be just so fat-pig-like, you know what I mean? How would you like to split one, Jenna?”
“Oh, brilliant idea!” Jenna gushes. “Let’s do it. Then let’s go find Alex.” Heidi titters while Jenna selects the smallest cake from the pan and breaks it in half. The two munch their minuscule portions gleefully as they head off in pursuit of Alex.
Rob saunters up and reaches into the pot for a flapjack. Christy quickly slaps his hand. “Hey!” Rob whines. “I want one!”
“They’re not ready yet,” Christy says.
“But those guys all got one!”
“That’s because I knew they wouldn’t listen to me if I told them to stop. They don’t even know I’m here. You should know better. You’re not one of them.”
Rob sniffles. “Yes, I am! I’m really, really cool and also desirable. Plus I’m in charge.”
Christy laughs. “Right. Listen, Rob, you seem like a bright enough guy. You need to get rid of those three if you have any hope of winning. Forget about getting with Heidi and Jenna. You’re out of your league there, and they’ll dump you at #4 if you pick the rest of us off. Join us instead.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Rob yells, plugging his ears with his fingers. “I’m not listening! You’re insane. Heidi? Jenna? Where are you guys? Wait for me! Let’s talk about naughty adult things some more. Please?” He runs off.
Matthew steps out from behind a tree that’s clearly too narrow to have shielded him completely. “Not so fast!” he says, clothes-lining Rob with his extended left arm. “It’s time for the Reward Challenge!” He waves the clue around in the air briefly, then crumples it in his hands. When he opens them again a moment later, the clue has been replaced by a white dove, which flutters off into the trees.
Jeff awaits them on Challenge Beach. He’s munching on a banana and drinking a glass of ice water. As the Survivors approach, he quickly swallows the last bite of his banana and chugs the water. Turning to address the Survivors, he wipes the corners of his mouth with his index finger. “Oh, shoot, guys, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t expect you so soon. You know I wouldn’t intentionally flaunt food like that. I hope you can forgive me.” He pauses, then laughs evilly as he unwraps a piece of chewing gum and pops it in his mouth. “OK, today’s Reward Challenge is something we came up with on the fly a couple of days ago. We’ve completely dispensed with the whole Amazon River tie-ins for our Challenges at this point. And if you want to know why, ask him.” He points at Matthew. “He’s just too good at all the traditional Amazon activities we’ve come up with. We figure he must’ve studied up on obscure Amazon traditions and practiced like crazy before he came out here. Right, Matthew? Right?!” Matthew takes a special interest in a monkey on the branch of a nearby tree and scrutinizes it without replying. “I thought so,” Jeff snorts. “Well, at any rate, we’re shifting gears on the fly in an attempt to level the playing field a little bit. Today’s Challenge is going to be a simple little game of Horseshoes. I strongly doubt that Mr. Pretty-Boy World Traveler has spent a great deal of time in a horseshoe pit.” He snickers derisively.
Jeff walks over to a metal stake in the ground and retrieves four horseshoes laying on the ground nearby. “We’re going to play this a little bit differently than your normal game of Horseshoes,” he announces. “Each of you will get four tosses. Three points for a ringer, one point for a leaner. That’s it. Whoever has the highest point total wins. In the event of a tie, we’ll just have as many sudden-death tosses as necessary until somebody wins. Want to know what you’re playing for?” The Survivors look at each other and mutually agree to hear about the prize by simultaneously frowning, shrugging, and nodding their heads. “An afternoon of horseshoe fun with nine-time World Champion Walter Ray Williams, Jr.! And we’ll probably give you some sandwiches or something, too. Maybe something to drink. What do you think?” The group murmurs noncommittally. Jeff glares at the group, angered by their reaction. “Whatever, you boneheads!” he growls. “You’ll enjoy this. Trust me. Mr. Williams, why don’t you come out, please?”
A tall man emerges from the trees behind Jeff. He has thinning brown hair and a graying beard/mustache combo. He waves amiably at the assembled Survivors. “Hello, everyone!” he says. “Hey, Matt.”
Matthew smiles. “How are you, Walter Ray?”
Jeff tips his head back and throws his hands into the air. “Unbelievable!” he cries. “All right, fine. Let’s just get this over with, what do you say? Matthew, you go first.”
Matthew takes the four shoes from Jeff and stands in the far pit. He lines up his first shot. CLANK! “Ringer,” Jeff snaps. CLANK! “That’s two.” CLANK! Jeff yawns. CLANK! “Yeah, big surprise. Twelve points. Get out of there.”
Walter Ray claps appreciatively as Matthew rejoins the other Survivors. “Perfect form!” he enthuses. “I always said you could compete on the Tour!”
Jeff looks at the other six. “Do the rest of you concede? You’ll need four ringers just to tie, then you’ll have to hope he misses one before you do in sudden death. On the other hand, he might get struck by lightning mid-throw. So there’s always a chance you could win. Oh, forget it. The rest of you just go home. Now, I said! Matthew, enjoy your Reward. Good-bye.” Jeff shoves his hand in his pockets and shuffles off into the trees, kicking a rock in front of him.
After Jeff is gone, Alex half-heartedly says, “Hey, I wanted to try!” But the rest of the tribe manages to coax him away and back to camp. Matthew and Walter Ray spend the rest of the afternoon eating cheese sandwiches on white bread, drinking generic beer, and tossing horseshoes, all while sharing stories of their latest adventures.
At dusk, Jeff arrives and takes Matthew back to camp. Right on the outskirts of camp, Jeff stops and looks Matthew in the eye. “I’ve got my eye on you, Mister,” he snarls. “I won’t have you making a mockery of this game. Do you read me?”
“Better than you know,” Matthew replies quietly, his eyes seeming to rotate like pinwheels in the light of his torch. Jeff’s eyes widen, and he backs away quickly. Then he turns and flees into the jungle. Matthew rolls his lips back into a wide toothy grin before stalking silently into camp.
Very early the next morning, before the sun has even risen, Jeff sneaks into Jacare Camp. He’s carrying a hand-held Air-Blast Horn. Creeping to the outer edge of the shelter, Jeff holds the horn next to Rob’s ear and turns it on. “FEE-YOWW!!” says the Blast Horn.
Rob leaps straight into the air, seemingly without the benefit of his arms and legs, which are extended away from his body, quivering uncontrollably. The other Survivors are equally as startled. They thrash about frantically, trying to scramble to their feet. In a flash, however, Matthew is out of the shelter, his forearm pinning Jeff to a tree by his throat. Behind him, Rob finally lands on the floor of the shelter and rolls out onto the grass with a “Whuff!”
“Rise and shine,” Jeff squeaks. “It’s time for your Immunity Challenge.” Matthew releases Jeff and stands back, scowling as Jeff coughs violently. “Geez, can’t you guys take a joke?” Jeff finally asks. “Bunch of psychotic sourpusses. I hope you all lose!”
Presently, all of the Survivors are assembled and ready to head out for the Challenge. Jeff leads them through the trees, which are just starting to filter the rays of the rising sun. He’s still rubbing his throat and wheezing a little bit. Before long, the group emerges in a wide clearing with a single door standing on the far edge, right up against the trees. In front of the door is a network of posts and red velvet ropes designed to keep large crowds of people in an orderly single-file line. Jeff leans on one of these posts and announces, “Today is Queuin’ Day. You are going to spend nearly the entire day standing in line. Here’s how it’s going to work. The door behind me has an attached doorbell. One by one, you will approach the door and ring the bell. After a predetermined but random number of rings, the door will open. If you’re standing in front of the door when it opens, you must go in. Once you pass through the door, you are out of the competition. There will be five rounds. In each round, one person can earn a mini-Immunity by winning a mini-Challenge. That person will rest in the shade while the others take turns ringing the bell and getting back in line. As soon as one person from that group is out, the mini-Immunity winner joins the remaining group in another mini-Challenge. Once we’re down to just two, the last two will take turns ringing the bell until one person is out. Last person standing wins Immunity. Does everyone understand?” They all nod.
“OK, good,” Jeff says. He waves at the group to join him at a table with a large bowl in the middle. “As before, we’ve tried to pick activities in which Matthew won’t automatically be an expert. We’ll, uh, have to see how that goes. First mini-Challenge is...Tiddly Winks!” Jeff passes out a pile of uniquely-colored chips to each Survivor, as well as a larger disc. “You’ll use the big disc to push down on the little ones,” Jeff says. “This causes the little ones to fly through the air. Whoever gets the most of their colored chips in the bowl in the next five minutes wins mini-Immunity. Survivors ready? Go!”
Immediately, several chips shoot off in random directions. One chip, though, flies directly into the bowl. Pa-tink! It’s Matthew’s light blue wink. Pa-tink! Pa-tink! Pa-tink! A few oddball winks from the other players land in the bowl, but they look like odd little discolorations amidst the sea of light blue chips. “Matthew wins mini-Immunity!” Jeff announces. While Matthew settles in the sand under a large tree, the others queue up and begin pressing the doorbell one at a time. Nearly an hour later, the door finally swings open in front of a tired and sweaty Heidi. She hangs her head and walks through the door. The others notice it’s impossible to see through the doorway. When the door closes, however, they hear Heidi scream from the other side.
Jeff smiles. “Maybe I didn’t mention there are other reasons you don’t want to pass through that door. It really wouldn’t be advisable to throw one of these mini-Challenges. Anyway, on to the next activity. You must all take three of these small flaming torches and juggle them for as long as you can. If you drop one, you’re out. Last one still juggling wins mini-Immunity. Survivors ready? Go!” Several Survivors are completely unable to juggle and drop out of the competition immediately. But Matthew, Alex, and Christy are still juggling. After several minutes, Alex loses concentration and bobbles a torch, which falls to the sand and goes out. “Hope that’s not an omen!” Jeff pronounces gravely. Almost twenty minutes later, Christy sneezes and drops one of her torches. “Darn it!” Jeff shouts. “Matthew wins again!” In rage, he picks up a chainsaw, cranks it to life, and hurls it at Matthew, who effortlessly catches its handle and includes the roaring chainsaw as part of his now four-element juggling performance. The other Survivors clap politely.
Again, Matthew rests while everyone else spends an hour ringing the doorbell and returning to the end of the line to wait their next turn. Ultimately, the door opens in front of Butch, who wordlessly passes through. Once more, his screaming is heard from the other side after the door closes.
“Third mini-Challenge,” Jeff says gruffly. “Unicycle race. You have to navigate this glade three times to win. It’s OK if you fall. Just get back up and keep pedaling. And will somebody please take out Matthew on this one? Survivors ready? Go!” As one or two of the remaining Survivors struggle even to stand up on their unicycle, Jenna, Alex, and – yes – Matthew are up right away and pedaling unsteadily on the sandy surface of the clearing. Matthew has his hands on his hips and is having good success staying up. Eventually, he passes the other two, who each got out of the gates more quickly than he did. He completes his three circuits before many even finish their first. Jeff sighs in exasperation. “We know who won. I don’t have to say it. The rest of you line up.”
This time, it takes nearly two hours before Christy is eliminated from the competition. She screams even before passing through the doorway, but she’s even worse on the other side. “OK, fourth mini-Challenge is a traditional Highland Games activity from Scotland. But it’s not the usual Caber Toss you might identify with those games. Hotshot over there is probably a regional Caber Toss Champion or something like that. No, this is the Sheaf Toss. I’ll give each of you a 16-pound burlap bag with straw inside. The contest is just like a high jump competition in track, only it uses pitchforks. You take the pitchfork and try to throw the sheaf over a bar. If you fail three times at one height, you’re out. After everyone’s either made it or failed, the bar is raised. Once all but one person is out, the contest is over. Survivors ready? Go!”
Rob is physically spent from his hours in the sun. He is unable to clear the first bar with his sheaf. Jenna drops out one bar later. Alex hangs with Matthew for a while, but ultimately, even he fades. Matthew is once again the winner. After another hour, the door swings open to admit Rob, who sobs in despair before passing inside. His screams are brief but horrible.
“OK,” Jeff says. “The final mini-Challenge. No way Matthew is an expert at this. We searched far and wide and finally came up with an Eskimo event featured in the Arctic Winter Games. It’s called the Knuckle Hop. All you have to do is assume a standard pushup position, except you support yourself on your fists instead of your open hands. Once you’re in that position, you simply see how far you can hop on just your knuckles and toes. As soon as some other part of your body touches the ground, you’re out. The world record in this event, by the way, is 191 feet, 10 inches. And that record was not set by Matthew, by the way. We checked. Survivors ready? Go!”
All three remaining Survivors get into position and begin hopping. Jenna doesn’t last long before she stops and stares in disbelief at her bleeding knuckles. Alex and Matthew are hopping side-by-side. Matthew looks completely placid. He keeps an eye on Alex to see if he might soon fade. Alex is grunting in exertion, and he’s sweating in torrents. Finally, his right hand lands on a stray rock and he cries out in pain while slumping to one side. Matthew hops a few more feet, just to be safe, then stands up. Jeff shakes his head and throws his Survivor hat on the ground. “Matthew,” he comments tersely.
After a nerve-wracking two hours, an exhausted Jenna finally stares blankly into the void of the opened doorway. She passes in quietly and appears to slump to the ground as the door swings shut. “OK, Matthew, get over here,” Jeff says. “Time for you to see what it feels like to press that button. Get in front.” Matthew steps in front of Alex and waits for a moment before stepping forward to ring the doorbell. The door swings open with incredible force. Matthew glances suspiciously over at Jeff, who appears to be slipping a roll of fishing line into his pocket. “Well, go on!” Jeff says. “Go!”
Matthew enters the hidden room, but there is no scream.
“Immunity to Alex!” Jeff yells. “Everyone else come on out!” The door opens and five white-faced Survivors and Matthew return.
“What was so scary in there?” Alex asks.
Matthew frowns. “I’m not sure. There was a life-size mannequin of me when I went in. It had a strange snarling look on its face, and it was wielding a really sharp machete, too. Maybe everyone else had a mannequin of themselves set up when they went in? I don’t see why that would be scary, though. How odd.”
The next evening at Tribal Council, the Survivors watch as Dave and Deena enter the jury box. Dave is wearing a plain black T-shirt that reads, “Would you like to donate your body to rocket science?” Jeff leads a brief discussion of the events of the last three days. The other six Survivors are sitting as far apart from Matthew as possible, yet when asked, he claims to be at ease with his position in the game. In the end, though, Matthew is eliminated unanimously by the other terrified Survivors. After the fourth vote is read, he ambles over to Jeff as if in a dream. Rob has his head covered with his hands, just in case Matthew really goes berserk. Instead, Matthew has a far-off look on his face. “I have had what you call fun, and I have learned much,” he says. “Thank you for that.” He turns sideways and vanishes.
And the visions are gone. Just as well, I suppose. I need a little more time to brush up on that speech. Watch for me at the Faire, if you go. I’ll be the one in the long blue robe with stars and planets on it. See you next week!
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