All-Star Survivor: Alaska
Tuktu Tribe (black): Gina Crews, Elisabeth Filarski, Helen Glover, Kelly Goldsmith, Jerri Manthey, Kelly Wiglesworth
Amarok Tribe (blue): Tom Buchanan, Greg Buis, Paschal English, Silas Gaither, Brian Heidik, Clay Jordan, Tammy Leitner, Jeff Varner
"That sun's driving me -nuts-, man!"
Jeff Varner rested back on his elbows, his ice blue Amarok buff around his neck, the beginnings of a scruffy beard on his chin. He was trying to block out the sun, that damn sun, that was always glowing brightly in the sky. To make matters worse, it seemed to glimmer down through the piney canopy solely for the sake of catching the corner of his eye at all times. He tried to ignore it as he gazed off at the distant image of Mount McKinley, a looming spectacle which kept a constant watch on the fourteen players left in the game. There was no hiding from nature here, not with the ever-present light of the sun. Not with the mountain on the horizon. Not with the miles of green forest surrounding them in every direction. Nature was all around them, and Jeff tried to meditate to that thought, tried to use it to relax his body and mind.
The other seven members of Amarok were all asleep, as far as Jeff knew. Gradually, most had managed to adjust to the concept of a midnight sun, but not Jeff Varner. Sleeping in broad daylight never felt like more than a catnap to him, and after the first few nights, he had discovered that it was nearly impossible for him to sustain sleep for more than two hours at a time. Trying to retain at least some optimism, Jeff had decided to make his brief periods of nightly insomnia into meditation periods, times where he could relax and just chill with the forest while everybody else was asleep. He breathed deep breaths, inhaling the deep invigorating smell of the taiga. By Jeff's estimate it was probably somewhere around 3:00 AM, although with the ceaseless sunlight it was quite possible to become hours off.
Jeff tried his best to clear his mind, and could -almost- allow himself to zone out completely, except for one small thought, as persistent and perpetual as the Alaska sun. Someone had voted for him instead of Rudy last night. Someone wanted Jeff Varner out of this game. It could have been Brian, Jeff told himself, or maybe that was just what he was -supposed- to believe. Brian had been on Jeff's mind constantly for a few days now, as he found the used car salesman threatening, yet interesting. If Greg was hard to figure out because of what he said and did, then Brian was the opposite - hard to figure out because of what he -didn't- say and -didn't- do. You expected him to be in control, and yet he wasn't. Or was he? You could never quite tell with Brian Heidik. The guy was a millionaire, lauded by some as the best to ever play the game, but it was driving Jeff nuts to figure out what Brian was up to.
"Brian is a master of letting you see what he wants to see," said Jeff, "He's got this... -thing-... about him, incredibly hard to figure out. He's charismatic as hell, but at the same time you know you shouldn't be trusting him. He's like a siren, he'll pull you in with his song, but you're dead if you get too close."
Brian would make for a formidable ally, Jeff told himself. Or a formidable foe. It would have to be one or the other, there was no middle ground in this tribe. Jeff sighed and shuffled back to the shelter, curling back into his spot next to Clay. With a near-silent groan, Jeff closed his eyes and began the sleep process again, noting that the little southerner's snoring didn't help his sleep situation one bit.
The Tuktu tribe - minus Kelly Wiglesworth, who had waken early to try her hand at fishing - huddled close to the small gas stove as they ate their breakfast. It wasn't cold enough to feel a chill, not if you kept long sleeves on, but the warmth from the little heater was pleasant nonetheless. They were just sitting around, making idle chitchat, speculating on who had been voted off Amarok last night. Most guessed it had been Clay.
"Dump the little guy," joked Kelly Goldsmith, "Right back to Loompaland."
"I don't think anyone would miss him," added Helen. It was clear she wasn't joking.
Elisabeth later brought up the issue of who they would bring over from Amarok if they won today's reward challenge. The initial discussion of who would make the most strategic choice quickly turned to giggles as Jerri and Gina began discussing who was the more appealing male, who would be more fun to have around Tuktu. It was a pretty easy selection, and the group consensus boiled down to Silas or Greg.
"All the rest of them are elderly," said Kelly Goldsmith, "Doesn't leave us much of a choice."
"I don't know," grinned Helen, "I'd kind of like to get a crack at a certain used car salesman again..."
Jerri was adamant in her selection, maintaining that Silas was as cute and strong as they came. Gina quickly acknowledged his good looks and strapping, often shirtless, body, making Jerri laugh out loud. Kelly Goldsmith and Elisabeth were on the other side, however, protesting that Greg's rugged demeanor and quirky personality made him the more promising choice.
"Greg's nice and all," started Jerri, "But have you -looked- at Silas? I mean, the guy is huge! He's the best athlete they have, and he's the one I think we need. Besides," she grinned, like a shark, "My God, that body. I could just eat the guy alive."
"Silas is cute," Kelly Goldsmith piped up, "but he's a doofus. Have you ever talked with him? He's only cute until he opens his mouth."
The rest of the team started snickering at that comment, that was classic Kelly. She was always coming up with stuff like that.
"Who said we want him to talk," cracked Jerri. "We can just have him bring us stuff." She jerked her thumb in the direction of the forest. "Or we'll vote his ass out."
"Hey Helen, what do you say?" Elisabeth chirped through the rest of the tribe's laughter, "We have a tie here - we need your wisdom in the ways of men."
The girls laughed and prodded Helen, who couldn't resist giving a smile. After a brief pause, she responded, "Well you do realize I've been married almost as long as some of you have been alive, but I think I'd have to go with Tom." She paused. "I like 'em meaty." It took a moment before the rest of them realized she was kidding, her deadpan humor often caught them off guard. And then, when pressed, Helen finally admitted that Greg was awfully cute too.
"I knew it," laughed Gina, "Helen is a Greg fan!"
As the rest of Tuktu casually finished their oatmeal amid the tittering, Kelly Wiglesworth lay dormant and relaxed, sitting alone atop the water. Both tribes had been allowed to keep their -umiaks-, the Aleutian canoes from the first challenge, and Kelly had grown fond of taking morning fishing trips. She slowly and stealthily rowed her way around a lake which sat not far from Tuktu, appreciating the calm relaxation of the Alaska morning. She had woken up before anyone else, and lacking any real hunger for breakfast, decided to set out earlier than usual. She had been out for nearly an hour now, and had already caught two decent-sized trout, which was pretty impressive. Due to the high amount of silt and mountain runoff in the waters here, fishing was not great, so she was pretty happy with her day's catch so far. For Kelly, the never-ending sunlight was a productivity incentive - if someone wanted to wake up at 4:00 in the morning and go work, there really wasn't anything stopping them. You could do whatever you wanted out here.
Kelly still was a bit of a loner, but she was nowhere as antisocial as some of the others thought. The only thing you could really say about her was that she was adamant about being herself. Upon arriving in Denali, she had resolved that she would play this game as Kelly Wiglesworth, and only accept victory as Kelly Wiglesworth. She wasn't going to change who she was to win this game- such actions were now deplorable to her, for pretty obvious reasons. No, Alaska would get Kelly Wiglesworth, take her or leave her. But at the same time, Kelly was no saint. She was not here simply for the experience, to prove something to herself. Kelly was here to win, and that was what it was all about. She wanted to win with every ounce of internal strength she possessed, and she was beginning to realize that winning meant allies. There would have to be an alliance at some point if she was to win - there was no way around it. You couldn't win this game on your own. So there would probably be an alliance at some point. But it would be an alliance on her terms only.
Paschal and Greg found Amarok's tree mail on the morning of Day seven. Greg read the rhyme aloud and immediately questioned the poem's validity, asking Paschal if he thought CBS had hired chimpanzees as the creative consultants. Paschal got a good chuckle out of it and patted Greg on the back. Even if he didn't always understand the guy, the old judge had definitely developed a soft spot for Greg. Maybe it was because he had never had a son, but Paschal always found himself appreciating young intellectuals, like Gabe in Marquesas and now Greg. Paschal enjoyed the whole tribe, they were a great group of guys, but Greg was clearly his favorite. Since day one, Paschal had been in constant danger of being voted off; he lived with that reality every day. But it was easier to just sit back and enjoy your surroundings when you had someone to talk to during those off moments. Paschal was under no impression that he would win this game, his only wish at the current moment was that his time with Greg would at least last a little longer than it had with Gabe.
As Amarok huddled around their eldest member, Paschal read the mail out loud.
"At the bottom of the lake
A treasure waits; a lot's at stake
Find it first and don't be slow
Or else you might just have to go."
Greg brought up the rear of the Amarok tribe as they marched to the reward challenge. In the front, Tammy, still the tribe's center of attention, was talking with Tom, Brian, and Jeff about who they should take over if they won. Tammy was trying to sell them on Kelly Goldsmith, which Tom thought was a clever idea. Kelly was probably their brains, that would be a devastating blow to Tuktu. Not to mention he always kind of had a soft spot for "Li'l Kelly," as he called her. Tom still felt a good deal of remorse for the way they had treated her in Africa, and, a man of honor, felt that he owed her one someday. Maybe pulling her over to the stronger team was a way to repay that debt.
As they walked, Greg's observant gaze shifted over to Silas, who had begun to let himself sidle back through the pack, to march in the rear with Greg. Everyone had been trying to build alliances and friendships within Amarok, but Silas was the only one who had been rebuffed in every one of his attempts. People just didn't seem to take him seriously, and you could see in his eyes that he was starting to get frustrated. Patience was never one of Silas Gaither's virtues, and now here he was, coming to again talk with Greg, the only one he had found some kinship with so far. Despite their personality differences, they were nearly the same age, and that had helped a bit. Silas was here to feel out Greg's strategy for the next few votes. And as usual, he was not stealthy about it. Silas approached Greg, leaned in close, and whispered.
"Hey, gotta second?"
Greg jumped, placing a hand over his chest.
"Jesus!" He shouted out, placing a hand on his chest and mock-trembling, "Don't sneak up on me like that!"
Everyone marching ahead of the pair turned back to see what was going on, and Silas clammed up, awkwardly. He looked over their faces uncomfortably. Greg maintained a blank expression, but behind his innocent, serious mask, he was cracking up. That was exactly the reaction he had hoped for. This game provided constant chances for hilarity. He wouldn't admit this to anyone, but to Greg Buis, humor elevated him above Survivor, and above his tribemates. As long as they don't understand you, they assume you're at a higher place than they are. Obscurity is power.
"Err, sorry," Silas said awkwardly. "Look, I wanted to talk to you about something." Greg gave no response until Silas began to speak again, at which point, Greg immediately interrupted, trying to throw off his rhythm.
"Yeah." Silas answered, immediately lowering his tone to a stern whisper, "I've been watching people, and I think the older members of our tribe are uniting. I've seen Clay and Tom together, and I think they are trying to pull in Paschal." Greg simply nodded, just listening. "You and me, we're the two most visible athletes here, we're the ones they'll probably get rid of right after the merge. We need to protect each other." Greg looked up at Tom and Clay, who were walking together and cracking jokes about something or other. It was actually a scenario he had pictured in his head, so whether Silas was making it up or if he had actually heard something, at least it was a plausible issue to discuss. "Look," added Silas, "We need to get some votes on our side. I can get Brian. I can get Jeff. I can get Tammy. That's five of us, working together for the next vote. If we put our heads together, -NOW-, before it's a problem, then one of us can win this damn thing, man." Silas had gone for the hard sell, and as much as he dismissed the guy, Greg had to admit, he was pretty persuasive. Greg rubbed his chin dramatically, and then nodded at Silas.
"Tell you what," Greg began, "Let's win this challenge, bring over a girl in our best interests, and see what happens."
"Yeah. All right, kickass." Silas said excitedly, trying not to let his voice get too loud, oblivious to the fact that Tammy and Brian were still watching him, "Now we're talking."
-And now the game is afoot,- Greg thought to himself, happily. It had only been a matter of time. And no one was surprised that Silas had fired the first shot.
Big Tom Buchanan led the Amarok tribe as they marched into the Horseshoe Lake challenge site. He carefully eyed Tuktu as they came into view, and then called back to his troops, loud enough for the other team to hear.
"Time to git yer game faces on, boys! Got us another girlie t'kidnap!"
Three floating platforms stood out, in the middle of the lake. Jeff Probst stood on the one in the middle, and beckoned each tribe to swim out to their respective platform. Wearing his signature khaki outfit, complete with his Survivor ballcap, Jeff greeted them as they climbed out of the water and stood on either side of him.
"Welcome to today's reward challenge," Jeff began. "Today, you're going to be doing a little bit of diving. Somewhere in this marked off area of the lake - roughly ten feet deep - is a rock, just like this one." Jeff held up a smooth, round rock, painted with blue, black, and red designs.
Jeff Varner leaned in close to Brian and snickered, "What is that, a croquet ball?" Brian smiled, but gave no response.
Jeff Probst continued, "Both tribes will all dive at once, searching for the rock. No physical contact underwater, please, I'm looking at you, Varner." Jeff Varner gave a shocked look, in mock innocence. Probst continued, "First tribe to find the rock and bring it back to me gets to sit two of their own members out for the next round. We'll randomly replace the rock and go again with all who are left. First tribe to find the rock three times and get everybody out of the water wins reward. And once again, you are playing to steal a member from the other tribe."
Big Tom playfully demanded, "When're we gonna git a food reward, Jeff, we're hungry." Jeff grinned, replying, "You guys are All-Stars. You don't need handouts. Find your own food. Now Tuktu, which two from Amarok do you want to sit out for this challenge? And remember, you can't sit people out in back to back challenges." The six ladies conferred for a brief moment before Gina answered, "Paschal and Greg."
Jeff waited until both teams were ready, six divers for Tuktu, six divers for Amarok. He raised his right hand.
"Survivors ready," Jeff shouted, "GO!"
Immediately, the dozen castaways splashed into the water, diving down in search of the rock. Paschal and Greg sat on the edge of the platform, legs dangling in the water, discussing who they wanted to take if they won, oblivious of the earlier discussions to take Kelly Goldsmith.
"I see Tuktu as an anatomical body," Greg explained to an amused Paschal, "Tammy was their muscle, and we've already gotten that, so what's left? Brains and heart. I see Kelly Goldsmith as their probable brains, and Elisabeth as their heart. We definitely want one of those two."
"Well how about Helen? What part of the body is she?" Paschal asked.
"Spleen. We don't need one of those." Greg replied, offering no other explanation. Paschal looked blankly at the ongoing competition and shrugged, confused as ever by the young man.
The challenge continued, with the Survivors having little luck finding the rock. "Let's go guys!" Jeff shouted, "Don't give up!" Clay, splashing around as he treaded water, shouted back, "Dive ten feet? You kiddin' me, Jeff? I can barely touch mah goddamn toes!"
Elisabeth popped up out of the water with a holler of triumph, holding the rock up in the air. "Tuktu!" Jeff yelled, "Nice job. You win round one. I need two of you out of the water." The ladies conferred, and Jerri and Kelly Goldsmith decided to climb out. Now with six Amaroks and four Tuktus, the next round resumed. In nearly no time at all, Kelly Wiglesworth was up with the rock in her fist.
"Tuktu!" Jeff yelled, "That's two! I need two more of you out!" Gina and Helen decided to sit out, leaving Kelly Wiglesworth, Elisabeth, and the six Amaroks. "Amarok, let's get in the game!" yelled the host.
The next round began, with the players on the platform watching as the action took place a few feet underneath them. The ladies started a chant for "Wigs" and Elisabeth, hoping it would be their heads that broke the surface first. But after a minute or so, Kelly Wiglesworth splashed up, coughing, empty handed. Brian, right next to her, dove down under her and came back up with the rock.
"Brian, nice find," shouted Probst, "That's one for Amarok! Who's out?" Tom and Clay splashed their way out of the water, with Tom offering no regrets about leaving the underwater world. He had remained above surface the entire time, never even getting his hair wet. Tammy, Brian, Jeff, and Silas were the remaining Amarok divers.
"I was so close," Kelly moaned in frustration, "but I gagged and had to come up!"
The challenge moved on, with Amarok struggling to catch up to Tuktu. But luck simply wasn't on the men's side today. After a few dives, Kelly Wiglesworth came up with the rock, breaking the surface with a triumphant yell. Tuktu won the challenge, and erupted into cheers. All six of them jumped into the water to congratulate Kelly.
"Tuktu! Reward is yours!" Jeff proclaimed, as he had to wait for Tuktu to climb back onto their platform. "Nice job, ladies. And now," he smiled, "I need a decision. Who's coming to live at Tuktu? Please remember that you cannot take Tammy back, you must take one of the guys." The Tuktu ladies halted the victory ceremony to pull together into a last-minute huddle.
Brian tried not to make eye contact with anyone at Tuktu. In fact, most of the men were trying hard to find something else to look at during this particular moment. Brian kept his head down, looking at the water. He knew he could probably make it over at Tuktu, but he wanted to stay with Amarok for now. No use switching sides when you had a plan. And he definitely had an ace up his sleeve.
-They're going to take me-, Silas suddenly realized. He was Amarok's strongest. All his planning with Greg was suddenly going to be pointless. They would take him for sure, and unless he could pull something over with them, they'd vote him out. Silas' jaw began to tremble, the way it did whenever he felt nervous. This was Africa all over again. -Damn- the twists.
The ladies had finally broken the huddle. Their choice had been made, and Gina delivered the news, sparing Silas for now.
"We're going to take Greg."
Most of the Amaroks were surprised, although this particular line was like another little dagger to Paschal's heart. First Neleh, now Greg. -And it's only day seven!- How much worse could this get? Brian rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. Tammy slightly nodded to Kelly Goldsmith, seeming to say "nice choice." Silas wasn't sure how to feel, he was alternately relieved and insulted, stunned and thrilled. How could they not pick him?
"Greg," announced the host, "I'm going to need your buff. You are now a member of Tuktu." Greg put on a showy display of removing his blue Amarok buff, folding it into a neat pattern, and placing it in Jeff's breast pocket.
"Cute," chuckled the host. He pulled out a black buff and handed it to Greg. -Take that, asshole,- he thought, but was careful not to say out loud. Greg walked over and joined his new team, as the ladies cheered his arrival. He smiled, embracing them in a big group hug.
This is going to be too easy, he thought, They're in love with me already.
Greg Buis was the ruler of his own little kingdom.
At least that's the way he felt today. He walked slowly, carrying two large jugs of water from a nearby stream, as he reflected on his sudden change in standing in this game. Stolen away by Tuktu last night, Greg had come back to the type of camp that he had always wanted. It was his dream, his wish, and, as he would come straight out and say, his fantasy. A tribe full of all women, most of them young.
"I'm looking forward to it," he had admitted, "A whole team of new people to play with, a whole new dynamic. Who knows what will happen?"
The women had immediately fallen all over their handsome new member last night, Jerri Manthey in particular going out of her way to show him the campsite and surrounding area. But she was just one of many, as Gina, Elisabeth and his old pal Kelly Wiglesworth all took time to meet up with him and have a chat about strategy. Helen was perfectly cordial, but was the only one who he got a different vibe from. She liked him, but was the only one who wasn't charmed by his little boy persona, by his goofiness. She was one who could immediately see through his act and to the inherent nature of Greg Buis. But it was only natural, for Helen Glover had a built in bullshit detector. It generally did not fail her, either, although she was still smarting over the fact that Brian Heidik had managed to elude it. But for the most part, she could see through people like Greg, and he smiled when he figured this out. If nothing else, Greg liked a challenge. The younger females, that was nothing, but if he was going to charm Helen, he would have to work for it.
Greg spotted Elisabeth as he rounded a bend coming back to camp. She was retying some twine on the side of the shelter, just below Neleh's "Tuktu Girls" sign.
"Hey, girlfriend," he called over, "Tuktu Girls forever!"
She looked up, smiling, letting loose one of her megawatt grins. Greg came over and the two of them discussed various things, among them the dynamic of the new camp. Greg thought he had it figured out, but still needed to hear some backstory, needed to know what had transpired.
"Gina, she's pretty much our leader," admitted Elisabeth. "She's a sweetheart, and knows what she is doing too. She had problems with Tammy and Kelly Goldsmith earlier, but all that has been resolved. We're pretty close now, everyone seems to get along for the most part."
"And what about Jerri," asked Greg, casually slipping in the name of the one he was most curious about, "How has she been?"
"Jerri has been a little angel," said Elisabeth, her voice raising in exclamation, "I know, I can't believe it either! But she's done a complete 180 since last time. I really think she's seen the error of her past ways. She seems like a whole different person to me." And it was true too, Elisabeth had been genuinely touched by Jerri's efforts to fit in. Elisabeth was prepared to tell everyone that they were wrong about Jerri, that she was a nice person. They had all been wrong about her, Elisabeth in particular.
"Yeah, she's a real go-getter," said Greg, cryptically. In his few hours here, he had already had quite a bit of experience with the now "passive" actress. Within ten minutes of arriving in camp, she was already spilling her guts about who needed to go among the Tuktu Girls. Jerri wanted guys, she needed guys, and she was determined to get to know the only guy in their camp. In Greg, she now had a sympathetic ear, someone who would let her rant for a while, while he just sat and nodded appropriately. And one of the focuses of her rants was Elisabeth Filarski. Jerri greatly resented the fact that Elisabeth had been trying to badmouth her before they even set up camp. Jerri had marked Elisabeth for dismissal from the moment they got out here. Elisabeth, of course, was a bit naive, and truly thought that the nastiness was gone from Tuktu when Tammy had left. But Jerri had a few traits in common with Tammy, one of which that she had hid very will up to now.
Jerri also did not forget a grudge.
As he sat and watched a bored Silas try and carve a fishing spear out of a branch, Brian Heidik sat and thought about the cocksure young athlete's fate. Silas had been brushed off by just about everyone else so far, and his one potential friend, in Greg, was now gone. Cursing his luck, Silas had decided to give up for the day. He felt that today would be better spent trying to whittle this branch. Brian saw this, Brian knew this, and it was now time to move in. Indeed, Brian had a plan. And Silas Gaither was at the center of it.
"I've been playing this game like a snake," Brian gladly explained in an interview. "I've been laying low, acting like I'm just flying under the radar, and giving people every reason to forget me. As soon as they do, that's when I strike."
And except for Jeff Varner, people were starting to forget about Brian Heidik.
With Tammy now the center of the alliance spotlight, Jeff serving as the frontrunner for Amarok scheming, and a resilient Silas trying, unsuccessfully, to schmooze his way into power, most of them were not really worried about Brian... exactly according to plan. They all figured he couldn't do much, being a former winner and all, and that was what he wanted them to think. Brian had been watching things, sizing up where the power was, and was focused solely on Tammy and Jeff. So far, it seemed like free-agent Tammy had bonded most with Jeff, and that was enough to make Brian edgy. Brian had made his sales pitch to Tammy, and she seemed to have turned him down in favor of the snarky project manager. That was bad. But even worse was the pairing of Tammy and Jeff itself. The two, if they grew into a tight, formal alliance, would make a powerful duo, and Brian was all too eager to break that up if possible. Jeff was his biggest competition. He knew this just as much as Jeff knew this. Something had to be done about this new partnership, and soon, BEFORE it could grow in size. Even now, Tammy and Jeff were off together foraging, and probably talking out some sort of strategy. Probably even trying to figure out who had voted for Jeff. Brian grinned - the stage was set. All he had to do was deliver the right pitch to the right person and he would be controlling this game, as it should be.
Brian's thinking was right on the ball this time- Jeff and Tammy -were- talking about the mystery vote for Jeff. Jeff suspected Brian, but Tammy thought otherwise.
"I don't know," she said with a sigh, "I've only been here a few days. Brian's a dick, but he seems like he's trying to fly under the radar - I don't think he'd make a direct move against you unless he had some sort of alliance set up. I just can't see him casting a lone vote at you, even if you -do- threaten him."
"But who else would have voted for me?" Jeff asked, mentally acknowledging Tammy's point. She was probably right. Maybe right.
"Who knows," she shrugged, "Maybe it was Greg - you can't ever predict him. Could be Clay. Tom. Any of them. Like I said, I've only been here a few days. You know these guys better than I do."
Jeff nodded. She was right. Then he grinned. "Maybe it was you."
Tammy matched his grin. "Varner, if I voted for you, you'd know about it." She placed an arm around his shoulder. "Cause you'd be gone."
"Well one thing's for sure," he said, spitting into the brush, "there's a snake in this tribe, and I'm gonna chop its head off first chance I get."
As Amarok slowly started to divide apart, Paschal, Clay, and Tom were casually working on improving the shelter, trying to expand the walls slightly and just make things generally more comfortable. As they worked, they started up a light discussion regarding the rest of the tribe, Paschal mentioning how Greg had reminded him of Gabe, only with a slight insane streak. Clay got a chuckle out of the comment, and Tom gave an entirely unintelligible remark. Even Clay, wise in the way of Tom-speak, failed to catch what Tom said, and wasn't about to let this one go by without comment.
"The hell you jest say?" He shot Tom a confused look. "Paschal, did you catch a single word of what Fatty o'er there jest said??" Paschal could only grin and shrug, defensively.
"Aw, come on now Stubby," Tom demanded good-naturedly, "I was tellin' ol' judge there how we should put you out in front of the camp, like one of them li'l lawn gnomes."
"The hell you did," Clay insisted, a grin across his face matching Paschal's chuckles. "Jest what exactly did you say?"
"Ferget about it," Tom said, shooing Clay with a playful wave of the hand, "You've done'n broken poor'ld Tommy's heart!"
It was time for the immunity challenge. Both teams had received their mail, gathered the troops, and trekked together into the deep forest. Tuktu had arrived a bit late, as they had stopped to admire a family of marmots they passed, walking through the forest. But now, they were here, as Elisabeth led the way for Tuktu, wearing Greg's old "A" headband. Greg had assured her it no longer meant "Amarok." It now stood for "Ass-whupping time."
"Welcome to today's immunity challenge," Jeff said as the two tribes were settled, "First things first - I'm going to need that immunity idol back, Jerri." Jerri begrudgingly handed it over, "Immunity back up for grabs," the host announced.
"We have a fun game for you today, but before we get started, I'm going to need both tribes to pick three members from the opposite side. You have a minute starting now."
Both Amarok and Tuktu, wary of a possible twist, immediately huddled together, discussing the strategy behind their picks. Tom wanted to take out Tuktu's strength, but Paschal argued that since no one knew what type of challenge this would be, or what the selections would signify, they should just pick the first three Tuktus alphabetically. The tribe deferred to Paschal, as usual, and decided to go with Elisabeth, Gina, and Greg.
"Tuktu, how about you?"
"We're going to pick Brian, Paschal, and Tom." Helen announced. The tribe had decided to spread the skill out and play it safe.
"OK," Jeff said. "The six of you get to see. The rest of you who weren't picked are going to do this blind."
"Do what?" Clay asked.
"We're going to have you guys run a little footrace through an obstacle course. The catch is, you'll be running tied together as a tribe, with four of you being blindfolded. Only the three you selected for each team will be able to see."
Several of the castaways laughed at this. There was always something up Jeff Probst's sleeve.
Jeff began to explain the course. "First, you're going to have to jog through a patch of trees behind us." He pointed to a semi-thick cluster of forest behind them, tall enough to partially block out the sun. "Secondly, you'll come to a clearing, where a beam obstacle is set up. You'll have to navigate through it without getting tangled." He drew a diagram on the dirt, showing them what they would have to do. "Thirdly, you'll come to a series of hurdles. You'll have to go over the first, and then under the second, and so on, alternating through the last hurdle. And then," he paused, smiling, "It's a 50-yard sprint to the finish line."
The tribes nodded, digesting this. The members who were not selected had reached down to pick up their blindfolds.
"All in all," continued Jeff, "You're looking at about a mile of running. The rule is that you have to have someone who can see running in the front. The rest of the lineup is up to you, but I'll tell you right now, with the odd number, you're going to have to have at least two blindfolded tribemembers running next to each other - the blind leading the blind."
Both teams lined up, tied together by a single chain. Greg had been selected to lead Tuktu, while Paschal was in front for Amarok. The two old friends greeted each other as they lined up at the starting line. Jeff Probst raised his right arm.
"This is for immunity! Survivors ready," he paused, before dropping his arm, "GO!"
Tuktu immediately took the lead as Tammy stumbled into Clay with her first step. They tangled, and Amarok had to stop and let them get up.
"Run together!" Paschal yelled, "Keep it steady and consistent!"
Paschal began hollering out marching orders to the tribe, to keep the feet moving in sync together. The result was a slower pace, but a much smoother ride. It seemed to be working as Amarok pulled ahead of Tuktu at the beginning of the forest run, as Tuktu didn't seem to be working together at all. Kelly Wiglesworth tripped completely at the edge of the forest, taking the whole team down with her.
"Get up! Get up," yelled Helen.
Navigating through the trees wasn't as hard as some might have worried - Brian called for everyone to just run in a straight line and listen to Paschal's leadership. It worked well, and soon, they had made it through the trees without a problem, and were on to the beam obstacle.
Tuktu, on the other hand, ran into its fair share of problems in the forest. Despite Greg's best efforts at leadership, they had too many people yelling too many things, as Elisabeth and Gina kept talking over one another, and people didn't seem to be listening. Elisabeth accidentally tried to go around a tree to the left instead of the right, snagging the tribe for a few valuable moments. Greg could see Amarok working on the beam up ahead, and tried to get them to hurry through the trees. But it was proving to be difficult, as Helen and Jerri collided at the end of the forest section, pulling them all down again in a heap.
Amarok made its way through the beam obstacle - a large weave of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal beams, requiring each tribe to weave their way through - with no problem. But Tuktu made it through a bit faster, with its smaller members able to dodge into the tight spaces a little better. Tuktu was back to within a few seconds behind Amarok as they headed to the hurdle section. It was almost neck and neck.
Tom Buchanan proved to be a bigger hurdle to Amarok than the actual hurdles, as he cost his team precious time with every hurdle they had to cross. He grunted in frustration, and Tuktu finally passed Amarok on the fifth hurdle, as Gina announced this to her team.
"We got 'em now," she cried, "We're in the lead!"
Tuktu cheered as they finished the hurdles, just moments before Amarok, and started the final mad sprint to the finish line. Amarok was nipping at their heels, Paschal yelling at them to "hurry, hurry" as both teams began the 100-yard dash to the end.
"We're almost there," yelled Elisabeth, "Work together!"
Tuktu maintained a razor thin lead, until Gina and Kelly G. got their legs tangled, crashing Tuktu to the ground. But Amarok's cheer was followed by them also crashing to the ground, as Varner and Silas had knocked knees together.
"Get up," Probst hollered, "Either team can win this!"
The two teams got up and raced for the end. Elisabeth was cheering, but her cries softly died in her throat as the stronger, more powerful Amarok team finally passed them, just moments before the finish. Tuktu plowed methodically to the end, but lost by just seconds. Paschal raised his hands in victory as Amarok crossed the finish line, with Silas letting out a "Yeah, baby!"
"Amarok!" Jeff Probst yelled out, "Immunity is yours! Great race!" He came over to help get the blindfolds off of the now-exhausted Amarok tribe. "You've won yourselves three more days in the game, nice job." He handed the immunity idol to Clay, who held it up proudly with a shout.
The dejected Tuktu tribe stood off to the side, Gina bent over at the waist in fatigue, Jerri sitting on the ground with her chin resting on her hand. They all looked dejected, with Kelly Wiglesworth tossing her blindfold into the forest in disgust. Probst approached them.
"I'm sorry, Tuktu, but you know what that means. We've got another date tomorrow night." They all looked miserable, even Greg. He was so dejected at such a close loss that he forgot to make a snide comment. Jeff grinned at him. "I'll see you guys at Tribal Council."
It was time for business.
Brian Heidik was a salesman, and he was good at what he did. He knew how to tone a salespitch to what the buyer needed to hear and, more importantly, what they -wanted- to hear. He knew when to speak honestly and when to hold information back. He knew how to flaunt his charisma and when to be cautious. He could sell anything. Even himself.
It started with Silas. Brian had been watching Silas for days now, and knew how badly Silas wanted the comfort of a powerful alliance. Silas was practically begging for some sort of grand scheme, you could see it in his eyes. Brian could see the growing desperation, which got worse as Silas' presence within Amarok grew more and more aloof. Brian knew Silas would take the bait. He would be a fool not to.
"We're both strong and we're both smart," Brian had told the young wanna-be actor, "We can be enemies, or we can work together. I say we work together, and at least carry each to the merge. Maybe even further if we play it smart." Brian didn't even have to think - the words just came out and hit Silas with the perfect mix of strategy, opportunity, and power.
"I'm listening," Silas said, pretending to be less enthusiastic than he really was, "What do you have in mind?"
"Jeff is the threat." Brian said. "Now I think you're the one who voted for him at the last Tribal Council, and I think it was smart. Nice move. You've got him worried and looking over his shoulder, and now he's bound to trip up. I think we've all wanted him gone for days now - we can't let him stick around much longer. I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. I can get Clay with us, and he can get Tom. That's all we need, four votes." Silas had meant to correct Brian's assumption, to say that he -hadn't- been the one to vote for Jeff. But he didn't say a word. He just nodded, trying to weigh Brian's offer in his head, trying to see what was in it for whom, and if it was in his best interest.
"Listen," said Brian, fraternally, like a big brother, "I have to go talk with Clay. We'll talk more later. Keep this in mind, and keep an eye on Varner."
Silas nodded, clapping him on the shoulder. "You got it, m'man." Silas was ecstatic, finally he had broken the ice, and with the player he most wanted to emulate. Silas was now in the game. -Finally,- he grinned, -Let's kick a little ass.-
And with that, Brian left Silas and headed back towards the shelter. He made a beeline directly to a solitary figure, standing off in the forest, meditating. Brian needed to have a little talk with Jeff Varner.
Kelly Goldsmith had Jerri completely fooled. The two of them had been one of the closest pairs out here, often heading off on walks together, buddying up to discuss strategy, bemoaning the loss of Tammy, their leader. They had been even tighter since teaming up on Neleh, and the loss of Tammy had forced them to draw even closer. Now they had to work together, the two of them against the world. Jerri didn't trust many people, but she fully professed to trust Kelly, and vice versa. They were two kindred spirits, the sneak and the diva, working together for one goal: To win this game.
But Kelly Goldsmith did have a plan tonight, one that Jerri wasn't aware of. It was time for Kelly to cut loose the actress and vote her out. Jerri was going to go at tonight's Tribal Council.
"I like her," Kelly said, speaking quickly, "She's been a great worker, and a nice person to have on your side, but there's a fine line in this game. Just because I like you, doesn't mean we're best friends. Jerri thinks I'm on her side completely... but Jerri is wrong." She went on to explain. "Look, Tuktu is set up is like a high school. You have the popular girls running the show. Tammy left, Greg showed up, and now all of a sudden you have a huge shift in power. I can't call the shots anymore. If it was up to -me-, I'd take out Elisabeth tonight, but it's not gonna happen. The votes aren't there. Aligning with Tammy set me apart from the popular girls, and now I'm left pretty much alone. So that leaves me with a big old target on my head, and voting Jerri out is the only way to save my ass."
Kelly was absolutely right in her assessment, as Jerri found out when she discussed with Helen the prospect of voting out Elisabeth.
"Sorry, but no can do," said Helen, pouring water from a jug into their water pot as she watched Gina and Greg out of the corner of her eye. "The votes aren't there."
"Look," spelled out Jerri, "You, me, Goldie, that's three votes. One of us can get Wigs on board and we take her out." Jerri had been trying to lay low, but Elisabeth's mere presence had lately just started to inflame her. It was turning into her life's mission. Jerri Manthey could only lay low for so long.
"Number one," said Helen, sternly, "I have no clue what Wigs is doing, and number two I'm not gonna go along with some half-cocked coup d'etat if I'm not sure it will work. If I vote for Elisabeth and we don't get her out, you think they won't figure out who cast that vote? I'll have the whole tribe coming after me, and I don't want to stick my head out right now." She cast Jerri with a definitive stare, "It's too risky."
"We can do it," insisted Jerri.
Helen ended the subject for good, holding up her hand.
"Let it go, Jerri."
Rather than listen to the Jerri-crusade one more time, Helen suggested an alternate plan. One that Gina had mentioned to her just a few hours ago.
"You go with us this time," added Helen, "You can get Elisabeth later. Think of it as payment deferred."
Jerri nodded, listened, and considered it. She then retreated right back to her friend Kelly Goldsmith.
"Elisabeth is staying," bemoaned Jerri, laying down on her back. "Helen won't go for it."
"We take out Helen, then," said Kelly. "Can't rely on her. You don't go with the plan, you're done." It was the answer Jerri expected to hear.
"Absolutely," grinned Jerri. But she wasn't grinning at the thought of Helen leaving. She was grinning at the backup plan, the one that Helen had suggested. And that would be to vote out Kelly Goldsmith. Helen was sure that Gina and Elisabeth would be voting for Kelly tonight, since Elisabeth seemed to genuinely have fallen for Jerri's nice girl act. Jerri should be safe, because Goldie was the one marked for execution instead.
"Just piggyback off their votes," suggested Helen, "Vote for Kelly with the rest of them, buy yourself some more time. Strike later."
Jerri shrugged, vowing to at least consider it. It was a cruel fact, but sometimes you didn't have many options in this game. Sometimes you just had to go with the flow.
-Besides-, she thought to herself, -It's just a game. Just because I like her, doesn't mean I'm her best friend.-
The final preparations were being made before the second Tuktu Tribal Council. Greg, Gina and Elisabeth had agreed to vote as one tonight. The choice had not been hard, there was only one member who they thought wasn't pulling her own weight right now. And coincidentally, she was the smallest and weakest in the challenges. Her name was Kelly Goldsmith.
"Besides," joked Gina, "It will be nice to just be able to say 'Kelly' and mean one person from now on."
Kelly Wiglesworth had come to the same conclusion tonight, for different reasons. And the reason was that the other Kelly was sneaky. You could see it in her eyes. In the way she always stood off to the side, watching people. Elisabeth and Gina had discussed this with Kelly W., and although it was still hard to get to know her, Kelly disclosed that she was voting the same way as them. It was not an alliance, just a...
"Just a similar way of thinking," alluded Kelly Wiglesworth.
The only one who could throw a wrench into the plan was the soon-to-be-deceased. Kelly Goldsmith approached Elisabeth and Gina as they packed their bags. This was her big pitch, and she had to make it good.
"She knows you were badmouthing her early on, and she holds it against you," added Kelly, finishing her tale of Jerri and her hidden agenda. "And tonight she wants you out. And if it's not tonight, it's soon. Take me along, get rid of Jerri while you have a chance."
Gina and Elisabeth exchanged a glance, Gina knowing this was true, Elisabeth knowing this was a lie. When dealing with Kelly and Jerri, it was hard to know where the truth ended and the scheming began.
"Helen says she is in too," added Kelly. "We all take out Jerri tonight. She's a snake, you should hear her talk behind your back." Kelly didn't have much time, she didn't have the option of letting them think about this too long.
Gina slowly moved off to one side, behind Kelly. She caught Elisabeth's eye and gave a small shrug. Elisabeth didn't react.
"Look, I'm not gonna hate you if you vote me out," said Kelly, finishing up, "But you're being a fool if you keep Jerri around, and you know that. I can help us get to the end." She was actually nearing tears now, trying to plead for her own survival. She knew it was unbecoming of a mastermind, but she just didn't want to go home. And more than that, Kelly just hated being powerless. She hated having others decide her fate. "Don't vote me out just for being small. That's no worse than voting off someone for being old." She looked at Elisabeth, then at Gina. "Do the right thing."
Kelly left, leaving the two of them alone with a very difficult decision. Greg had instantly bonded with Elisabeth and Gina on Tuktu, so between the three of them, they pretty much controlled right now who went and who stayed. Kelly was right, it -was- like a high school, and without Helen or Kelly Wiglesworth's agreement to gang up, Jerri or Kelly Goldsmith were finished. How quick things change, from the powerful to the powerless in a few days.
"Helen is the worst," complained Kelly Goldsmith, "She only goes along with a plan if she thinks it will work. The chick won't take a stand and now we're stuck hanging in the wind."
So it was likely down to two people in tonight's vote. The choice hadn't been difficult for Greg, he didn't particularly like either Kelly OR Jerri. But one of them made him more nervous, one was a lot less obvious in her scheming. Gina was fine with their decision, but Elisabeth was the one who was having a harder time with it all. As expected, she had been moved by Kelly's last plea. Kelly knew that, of course, as did Gina. Elisabeth was moved by a lot of things.
"Remember," said Gina, patting Elisabeth on the shoulder, "Who you're dealing with. They're both a couple of snakes. It's a win-win, either way. You dump either one of 'em, and we -all- benefit." Elisabeth smiled, sympathetically, but it didn't make it any less difficult.
As Tuktu packed off and headed to Tribal Council, Jerri and Kelly Goldsmith took the time to give each other one last hug. They both spoke of their vote for Helen tonight, and both wished each other well.
And both expected the other one would be voted out.
Tuktu made its way into the Tribal Council hut, noting the ghostly images of Neleh and Rudy carved into the entrance post. For some it was eerie, but for Elisabeth, she was reminded of her friend. It would have been easier tonight if only Jerri or Kelly had been behind Neleh's dismissal. But they had -both- been behind it, so it would be payback either way.
Jeff stood tall and all-powerful as they found their seats. The host welcomed them, sat down, and got right to business.
First, he asked Kelly Wiglesworth how she felt about losing immunity, to which she answered pretty much as expected.
"It sucked. We had the lead for the last stretch and they just outran us," She smirked and shook her head, reiterating, "It sucked. It's not as if we did something wrong or screwed up, they just beat us."
"Greg," the host asked, without really wanting to, "How's it been with the new tribe?"
"Oh it's super," he grinned, eagerly, "These black buffs are definitely my color." A few of the others snickered.
"So you feel at home here?" Jeff continued. "Is it odd straddling the tribes, with old ties in Amarok and new ones here with Tuktu?"
"Wait," said Greg, "Can I change my answer to the last question? Can we just stop the tape and film that part again?"
Jeff glared at him and shook his head, very faintly. It was a warning. Greg decided not to push his luck tonight.
"I like Tuktu," Greg said, adding "We have a great team here. Lots of camaraderie. A much better environment over here, more of a team feeling. In fact, this is what I think of Amarok." Greg pulled his "A" buff from his back pocket and casually tossed it into the flames, and assured the tribe, "Don't worry guys, I know it's our "Ass-whupping time" buff, but it failed us today. It has to die."
There was a brief, awkward silence, and internally, Greg patted himself on the back. This was what he lived for, awkward silences. Jeff made a mental note not to ever ask Greg a question again. He would be sure to bring this up with Burnett. Something would have to be done.
Jeff moved on, gamely, asking Kelly Goldsmith if it was possible to really unite as a team when people were being added to and stolen from tribes every three days.
"It is - it just adds a different element to things. You have to be able to adapt to someone new, or adapt to losing a friend. You have to be ready for change." Jeff nodded, as if her words held some deeper meaning. Slapping his hands in his lap, with his trademark grin back, Jeff announced, "Okay, Tuktu, it's time to vote. Helen, you're first."
Helen stood up and walked to the podium in her camouflage pants and usual fast stride. She picked up the black pen and cast her vote.
Kelly Goldsmith was next, and held her vote up close to the camera. As expected, it was a vote for her "best friend," Jerri.
"I'm sorry, but I intend to be here tomorrow, and that means you have to go. It's been fun though, you're a kick to be around."
Greg voted next, chuckling as he placed his vote in the receptacle.
"Girls, girls, girls," he scolded, only half-joking, "Play nice."
Next up was Kelly Wiglesworth, who held up a vote for Kelly Goldsmith.
"Goldilocks," it read.
Gina and Elisabeth voted next, each casting a vote for the same person. Elisabeth, as usual, apologized for her vote.
The final vote was Jerri Manthey. She strode up the podium, gave a sad smile, and wrote down the name of her partner, "Kelly G." She spoke, with just a hint of defiance.
"Goldie," she said, "I'm sorry it came to this but it was me or you." She couldn't resist adding, "And believe me, you aren't as smart as you think you are."
Jerri returned to the bench, and sat down by Kelly. They didn't look at each other. Jeff walked over to tally the votes, coming back with the ballot box in his hands.
"Once the decision is read," he said, "The person voted out will be asked to leave the Tribal Council area immediately. I'll read the votes."
He opened the first piece of paper, and held it up.
Kelly recognized her own vote. She hoped there were more. She glanced at Elisabeth, but the shoe designer just sat with her head down, not looking at anyone.
Kelly knew a few votes were coming her way, but still clenched her fists in anticipation. Nothing hit you harder than seeing your name on paper.
The vote read "Goldilocks," that was Wiglesworth's vote. That was expected, no big surprise there. But the fun was just about to end for Kelly Goldsmith.
Jeff pulled the final vote out of the box. It was the one that sealed her fate.
"And the third person voted out of Alaska," he revealed it, "Kelly Goldsmith. We don't need to read the final two votes, we'll leave those a mystery."
Kelly dropped her head, before a sudden realization hit her. She looked up, and over at Jerri next to her. Jerri was not looking back, she just stared straight ahead. A unanimous vote? Not a single vote for Helen? -Jerri had been behind this!- Kelly's mind boggled, it was the one scenario she hadn't even imagined. She gave a small chuckle, an ironic little laugh. Fooled at her own game.
Kelly stood up, gave some perfunctory hugs, and quietly brought Jeff her torch. Feeling a bit pissy, she placed her torch in the holder a little -too- hard, and it hit the ground with an audible "clink." Without expression, she watched as her torch was snuffed out... again."Kelly, the tribe has spoken."
She turned and shook her head slightly at Elisabeth before leaving. It was supposed to be a message. -Wrong choice,- it meant to say, -You screwed up.- Then she walked off into the darkness.
"Tuktu," said Probst, "This has been a long day, and you have a long hike ahead of you. Good luck, and I'll see you guys soon. Good night."
Down to six, the Tuktu "Girls" started their hike back to camp. Jerri was elated that she had been spared, but hoped it wasn't just a stay of execution. She was aware that Kelly had probably spilled her guts to Elisabeth, and her cover may have been blown. Kelly was a little sneak, and Jerri was probably now next on the hit list. It had made tonight's choice much easier.
But for Jerri, it was just a waiting game now. Openings sometimes showed up in the most unlikely of places. Her best option now was to see if one would show up.
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