All-Star Survivor: Alaska
Tuktu Tribe (black): Greg Buis, Gina Crews, Elisabeth Filarski, Helen Glover, Jerri Manthey, Kelly Wiglesworth
Amarok Tribe (blue): Tom Buchanan, Paschal English, Silas Gaither, Brian Heidik, Clay Jordan, Tammy Leitner, Jeff Varner
Elisabeth Filarski was tired. Tired of Tuktu. Tired of Alaska. Tired of Survivor.
"This has been -exhausting-," she said, with a defeated look on her face, "The ups and down I've had in the past ten days, goes way beyond what I ever had to experience before. I mean, every few days, it's like I'm living in a whole new tribe, with new people. You never get used to anything, you are constantly on your toes, every minute of every day. It's impossible to plan for anything, long-term." The worst had been last night's vote. As much as she had mentally prepared herself to vote out Kelly, the actual dynamics of the vote had been unexpected. It had been ugly, and more than a little mean-spirited. And to make it worse, Kelly had focused on Elisabeth afterwards, with one last warning, one last comment that Jerri was after her. Kelly told Elisabeth that she had made the wrong choice.
"Why me," Elisabeth complained, "Why not Gina, or Greg? Why did she have to give -me- the guilt trip about it?"
Elisabeth had not slept last night. Her head had been filled with what-ifs, and dread, and anger. Was Jerri really after her? Would Kelly just make something like that up? She had lain awake throughout the night, staring at the bright Alaskan sky, barely blinking. This morning, as the rest of the tribe was now awake, things around camp were miserable, as there was entirely too much drama all of a sudden. Some people didn't really want to be here right now, and Elisabeth was one of them.
"I mean, I know I'm in a good position right now," she said, "From a strategy standpoint. Greg is a great guy. Gina is a good friend. Helen is a strong worker, and Kelly would kill for us. The five of us probably won't vote for each other, so we're all on pretty solid ground. But all the Jerri nonsense, and Kelly Goldsmith, and who's lying to whom, and did we make the right choice." She set her jaw, looking up at a family of Dall sheep who was checking out their camp, "It's not really the game we expected to play this time." She sighed. "It would have been different had we kept Neleh."
It had been just ten days, but Tuktu already felt like they had been through the wringer. They were lucky to have Greg, Gina had pointed out the day before, because he did his best to keep things lively around here. Even though he was new, there had never been any mention of voting him out, he was just too much fun to have around. But he was not the only fun one around Tuktu. Elisabeth tried to put on a happy face, day after day, and Helen could be a lot of fun when she was in the right mood. But there was something missing, some spark. They had lost some pretty significant members in the past ten days, from the fire of Tammy, to the heart of Neleh, to the pep of Kelly Goldsmith. Of course, there had been a -reason- why all three left, but in a small group like this, you take the good with the bad. As they trimmed down the tribe of its excess, they also happened to lose a lot of their initial spunk. Today, Tuktu was in mourning. They were a sad tribe.
"And it's bound to get worse," Kelly Wiglesworth had pointed out. "Elisabeth and Gina, they're so close right now that you worry that the later stages of this game are gonna hit them hard. Believe me, I've BEEN there. This game tears people apart, you're better off playing for yourself in the end, -not- trying to make friends. Because friends will drag you down out here."
Kelly went off to find a quiet rock somewhere, her sewing bag in her hand. It was her way of escaping from the drama around camp. Whereas some viewed her as a strange loner, some were beginning to see the wisdom in Kelly's isolationist behavior.
"She's not as pouty as she'd have you believe," noted Greg, "I mean, that's the image she wants to give off, and maybe there's some genuine hurt there somewhere, but she's playing her own game, in her own way. It's just another strategy, and one that I think very few people have noticed."
Greg, as usual, was correct. People sometimes forgot that Kelly was even around. And, for many reasons, she wouldn't have had it any other way.
Clay Jordan and Brian Heidik were in a meadow near Amarok, pushing through yards and yards of wild blackberry bushes, trying to find some big plump berries for lunch. Brian couldn't see Clay from where he was, but could follow his progress from the shaking of the leaves and the occasional curses, whenever Clay would brush up against a thorny stalk.
"Jeff," called Clay, his words echoing across the empty air, "Get rid of Jeff first. I don't trust him one bit."
"I hear ya," said Brian. "I hear ya." He spoke to the camera as he finished picking berries, "Jeff's in trouble right now, and I don't think he knows it. We've assembled a pretty good voting block against him, plus I've added some backdoor plans if it comes to that. Silas, for one." He grinned, eager to explain his brilliance, "The plan right now is to take out Jeff at the next vote. But if I don't feel it's going to work, I can go the alternate route and get rid of Silas instead. Jeff knows Silas is after him, because I told him that. And Silas knows that Jeff is the biggest competition, so he's eager to help get rid of him. It's been set up exactly as I hoped. All I have to do is wave my hand," he demonstrated with a wizardly wave, "And the two of them will go after each other. In the business, it's what we call a smokescreen." He looked over at Clay, as he heard more cursing at the spiny blackberry thorns. "Silas is so eager to get something going, that he doesn't realize he has nothing going at all. He's just a fall guy." Brian grinned, very proud of his plan. "Silas is the ultimate patsy. He's my own Lee Harvey Oswald."
Brian was feeling pretty confident today. His plan now hatched, he was just ready to sit back and watch. Clay was in, he was in since day one. Despite the restaurateur's loss in Thailand, Clay still felt that an alliance with Brian was a good idea, and he had been up for it again. Brian was where the game would begin and end, and Clay knew that.
"They'll all think the little guy is stupid," smiled Clay, "Thinkin' oh what's that ol' Clay up to this time. But, y'see, I don't trust Brian any more than anyone. I know him, and the devil you know is always better than the devil you don't. I can ride his coattails just as far as last time, and no one'll expect it. But this time," he nodded, "We'll make sure to write a different ending."
So Brian and Clay were together, without question. Brian felt that, with Clay along for the ride and Silas strung along like a little puppy, it was just a matter of taking care of Paschal and Tom. Clay claimed he could get Tom to go along with anything, and Paschal shouldn't be too much of a threat.
"Lookin' good, my friend," said Clay, always eager to be a part of a scheme, "Lookin' good." It was now his job to go get Tom along for the ride, and that shouldn't be so hard. The two of them were like peas and carrots, they always went together. Where you found Clay, you usually found Tom.
"And besides," Clay grinned, his glasses perched across his nose, "That ol' boy will go along with jus' about anything. He's just as cutthroat as the rest of 'em, only he hides it better. He would -love- to get rid of Jeff Varner, he can't stand the guy."
The afternoon at Tuktu passed pretty much without notice, unless your name happened to be Jerri Manthey. It was Jerri's goal today to fit back into the tribe, as smoothly as possible. Her only real allies, Kelly Goldsmith and Tammy, were now gone. Elisabeth's mood had soured, Gina hadn't trusted her for some time now, and her manipulation of Greg had gone nowhere.
"He's insane," she griped, "You can't do anything with a guy who isn't all there, it's like talking to a brick wall."
It would have been the highlight of Greg's day to hear this comment. Greg had a very odd relationship with Jerri, one that was much different than the one he normally had with females. Most women, plain and simple, adored him. It was almost boring to him, to just talk to females in a normal manner. So what he did instead was play mind games. He would tailor his conversations and persona to each individual person he talked to, almost like having multiple personalities. And it wasn't just a Survivor strategy either, this is what he did in everyday life. With Elisabeth, he had been the nice, caring older brother. With Gina, he was the dependable, responsible teammate. With Kelly he had been fun goofball Greg from Pulau Tiga. With Helen, he had been basically himself, as she knew right away when he was feeding her crap, and would call him on it. But with Jerri, he liked to alternate between a flirt, a schemer, and an innocent schoolboy. Greg was smart, and had a short attention span, and was more than a little bit immature. But he loved to have fun, and playing mind games with Jerri was one of his favorite new sports.
"I mean, sometimes he acts like he'll go along with an alliance," she was complaining, "And sometimes he acts like he doesn't remember your name. I've never really met someone so... so...," she was searching for the right word, "So psychotic. That's all I can say. He's a schizo." Jerri had first viewed Greg as a possible ally, then someone to flirt with, and later as someone just to say she had conquered, but eventually she had just given up. It wasn't worth the trouble. Flirting with him certainly didn't work, maybe he was gay, she had once asked Gina. But regardless of the details, Jerri didn't have a clue how to deal with Greg Buis. Besides, he was firmly entrenched in the Elisabeth-Gina camp, so it was like fraternizing with the enemy.
"My only hope," she added, "Is that they find him as frustrating as I do."
Jerri spent the majority of the day trying to seamlessly blend back in with Tuktu. She hauled wood, went fishing, braided Gina's hair, cooked oatmeal, picked berries, and capped it off by trying to go hunting with a carved spear. She was determined to do -something- to get them to notice her today. Let them vote off that sourpuss Wiglesworth next, Jerri was still a team player, and still was going to bust her ass doing chores. They would just have to face it, Jerri was going to be here for the long haul and wasn't going away anytime soon.
"Today's reward challenge," announced Jeff Probst, "Is called 'Treasure Hunt.'" The two teams stood on either side of him, Jerri in front for Tuktu and Tammy for Amarok. They were standing high up the side of one of the green hills, just at the point where the forest begins to recede and the tundra begins to grow. "This one will require a lot of teamwork, a lot of skill, and a lot of strategy, and you will have to work together." He went on to explain the rules.
"One person will start here, and sprint up this hill all the way to the top." He pointed up towards acres of red and green tundra. "It's going to be a long and difficult run. Once you get to the top, a second teammate will search through the tundra and shrubs, looking for a map. The map will then be given to teammate number three, who will run back down the hill, here, to the forest." He pointed to a cluster of trees directly behind them. "Teammate number four will climb the tree that the map leads you to, and find a hand shovel tied to one of the top branches. Get down, and teammates five and six will dig, at the base of the tree, to find a treasure chest." Both teams looked over this course, it was going to take a lot of physical effort. Clay whistled, appreciatively.
"First team to dig up their treasure chest," added Probst, "Wins reward, and gets to steal a player from the other team." He smiled. "Are you guys ready?"
Both teams selected their members to run each leg, and Tuktu selected the massive Silas to sit this one out for Amarok. He sat down under a tree, resting his arms on his knees, looking dejected. Everyone else took their place, as Brian was selected to do the hill run for Amarok, and Greg for Tuktu. They greeted each other, and prepared for Jeff to start the race.
"Survivors ready," Jeff raised his arm, pausing just a little longer than usual, "GO!"
Brian and Greg took off on a dead sprint, each trying to race each other up the barren Alaskan hillside. It started as a relatively easy course, but progressively got more steep and more steep, until they could do no running at all. Greg's youth had allowed him the early lead, but Brian was no slouch, and was right on his heels. Greg climbed and climbed the steep hillside, as Kelly cheered him on from atop. Finally, after about 10 minutes of painful climbing, Greg reached the top, and Kelly began her mad search through the tundra. Dropping to her hands and knees, she roamed her hands and body through the knee-high shrubs, grasses, and a whole lot of mud, looking for the elusive map.
"Go! Go!," panted Brian, exhausted, as he reached the top and tagged off to Clay. Clay turned and began his search through the reddish tundra, dropping to his hands and knees just like Kelly. They roamed all over the massive field until Kelly was the first to give an excited cry.
"Got it!," she yelled. Covered in mud, she held a map, encased in a plastic bag, over her head. Standing up, she sprinted over to Elisabeth, who had been chosen to run back down the hill. Elisabeth opened the bag, looked over the map, and then looked down the hill. It was a long, dangerous run at a steep angle. She crossed her fingers, and stepped over the edge.
With Elisabeth already running, Clay was starting to panic. He hadn't found the map yet, and stood up, frustrated. He looked around, just yards and yards of knee-high grass and shrubs blanketing the ground. His hands and knees were caked with mud, and the mosquitoes here were brutal.
"Keep looking," said Brian, "They're down the hill already."
Elisabeth was slowly working her way down the hill, stepping very carefully to avoid falling and tumbling. Her hands held to either side, she gritted her teeth as she slowly started to gain speed and momentum. Jerri, Helen and Gina cheered her on as she made her way down the steep hillside, watching as she carefully watched her footing.
"I got it!" yelled Clay. He stood up and scrambled over to Tammy, who would be running down the hillside for Amarok. She grabbed it from his hand and took off down the hill, chasing Elisabeth.
"Tammy's behind you," yelled Gina to Elisabeth, "Hurry!" Elisabeth looked back and saw Tammy racing down the hill, with no regard for caution. Elisabeth stumbled as she turned and twisted her ankle slightly, yelping in pain.
"She's hurt," yelled Varner from the base of the hill, "Go Tammy, go!"
Tammy saw Elisabeth's struggles and neared her younger challenger, like a shark pursuing a wounded fish. She passed Elisabeth and raced down to the bottom, letting out a cry of victory as she handed off the map to Jeff. He said "Way to go," and opened the map. Looking up at the grove of trees, he spotted the correct one, dropped the map, and raced over to it. At that moment, Elisabeth was handing off her map to Jerri. Jerri took one look at it, turned around, and raced for the trees behind Jeff.
"Sorry, guys," said Elisabeth, as she rubbed her sore ankle.
Jeff and Jerri were both climbing now, racing up their trees with the help of any branches and limbs available. Jeff grunted with the effort, as he finally reached the shovel near the top.
"Got it," he cried, "I'm comin' down!"
Jeff slid down the tree just as Jerri, who had made great time, was retrieving Tuktu's shovel. She started to slide down, and reached the bottom just after Jeff. Paschal and Tom had already started to dig at the base of Amarok's tree.
"Amarok is digging," announced Jeff, "Tuktu is right behind!"
Both teams crowded around the clearing as Tom and Paschal dug for Amarok, Gina and Helen for Tuktu. Cheers and cries of "Dig! Dig" were heard through the forest, as Gina and Helen were the first to break through the dirt and hit the layer of permafrost. Permafrost is a layer of soil, common in Alaska, which remains frozen most of the year. The only time you can get through it is in the summer, when it starts to melt. And when it melts, it becomes...
"Mud," complained Gina, "Oh my God, disgusting." Gina and Helen had plunged into the deep pockets of mud now, and were piling it out with hands and the shovel. Both of them were now covered with brownish-black slop. Tom and Paschal were faring no better, as Tom scooped out great handfuls of the mess with both hands, grunting with exertion. Both teams had a hole that was quite deep now, when Helen's shovel was the first to strike something solid.
"Get it out!" Helen screamed. "Get it out!" The ladies dug furiously, digging around the small brass chest, and Gina finally yanked it out with both hands, screaming victoriously. Tuktu cheered, and the rest of them swarmed around their mud-soaked heroes.
"Tuktu," announced Jeff, "Nice job!" Helen walked over and gave him a big mud-soaked hug, covering the host. "Thanks, Helen," he grinned. "And now," he looked over at the dejected Amarok tribe, Tom in particular looking disgusted with himself. "Tuktu, you guys get to steal someone. Talk about it for a minute, make your decision."
The Tuktu tribe walked over near a rock to talk about it. Jerri came right out and suggested Silas.
"We need to take their athletes. We can beat them if they have a bunch of old guys."
Helen nodded, adding her own nomination for Brian. She still had a score to settle with him, and looked over at the wily car salesman, trying to make eye contact. He simply looked at the ground, not wanting to go anywhere. Brian had plans, and they didn't involve Tuktu, and -definitely- didn't involve Helen at this point.
"Take that prick Varner," said Kelly, with a smile, "Then we can just vote his ass off." Jerri laughed at that, saying, "Yeaaahhhh." Greg grinned too, loving the random unfairness of the choice. In fact, Varner seemed to be the way the tribe was heading, until Elisabeth brought up a new name. She was tired of the drama around here. Why not take someone they wanted to spend time with, and leave the schemers to tear themselves apart?
"What about Paschal?"
It was an interesting option, one that few had considered before now. Sure, Paschal was old, but he posed no threat. He wouldn't add much to the tribe, but then again he wouldn't cause any trouble. Elisabeth and Gina, in particular, were wary of bringing someone over who could team up with Jerri. Silas was trouble with a capital T. Varner was suave, but would hook up with Jerri in a second, that went without question. And Brian, let's just say none of the girls wanted to hang around him more than necessary. Paschal was a nice person, and was stable, which was something they desperately needed around camp Tuktu right now.
"I vote Paschal," said Gina, raising her muddy hand.
"So do I," added Elisabeth.
"But that's stupid," pleaded Jerri, "You're just making them stronger."
"Look," said Elisabeth, her position in the tribe enabling her to tell Jerri off, "It's not like they're walking all over us. We've got as strong a team as they do. If you haven't noticed, we're -winning-."
Jerri said nothing, but it was clear she had no say in the matter. Jerri just didn't make the decisions anymore, and would have to get used to it.
"Paschal," voted Greg, eager to get his old friend back. Helen and Kelly also voted for the judge, always eager to go along with the majority.
"Hey Tuktu," called Probst, "You guys ready, or what?"
A mud-stained Gina smiled, and stepped to the front. Silas looked at her, eagerly. Varner looked nervous. Brian looked away.
"Hey Amarok," called the tall Floridian, "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Pappy right over!"
Tom Buchanan was not happy.
"I lost the gal'durn reward challenge yesterday," he griped, "Because I screwed up our diggin'." You see, it had been Tom's fault that they dug on the wrong side of the tree. When they got the map from Jeff, Tom had grabbed it and turned it upside down, and thus he and Paschal had been on the wrong side. Tom spat on the ground. "'T'was mah own damn fault."
But that had not been the most demoralizing event of last night. Sure, they had lost the most physical challenge to date. Sure, they had been stripped of their respected eldest member. Sure, they were now outnumbered, seven to six. No, the worst had been when they came back to Amarok, and discovered the state of their camp.
It was destroyed.
"Holy crap," Silas had said, as the Amaroks were trekking back across the Alaskan countryside. "What happened to camp, dude? It's thrashed."
What happened, as they soon figured out, was that someone had left their stash of berries out, uncovered. During the reward challenge, a rogue grizzly bear had decided to stumble into camp, searching for a bite to eat. Attracted by the scent of the berries, it had proceeded to destroy the shelter and most of their personal items, searching for hidden treasures.
"And not only that," added Tom, "It took the damn anti-bear container." He looked dumbfounded, "What kind of dumb-ass creature takes a damn box made'a metal?"
So today their main goal was to rebuild camp. With Paschal gone, Tom and Silas took the reigns to help get things back in order. Tammy felt some urges to step forward, but wisely stood back and let the men call the shots.
"They're a bunch of guys," she explained. "A bunch of backwoods, redneck guys. I'm not going anywhere -near- that. They'll vote my ass off in a heartbeat." Yes, Tammy had been laying very low for some time now, her early days of power in Tuktu were long gone. It sucked, but it was a reality. She was basically just a spectator now.
Following Silas's suggestion, they had moved their new camp about 200 yards down into a meadow. Most of the bigger portions of the shelter were still intact, so it was just a matter of hauling wood, which the mostly male tribe had no problems with. No, the real problem was in the finger pointing. Who had been the one that left the food out? It had been beaten into their heads since day one, -use the anti-bear containers-. Made of metal, the lockboxes were intended to hide the scent of food from any wandering creatures. Now it was gone. Now they would be forced to hang their food from trees at night and while away from camp.
Amarok soon had their shelter rebuilt, and to their specifications. The six members of the tribe sat around their gas stove, eating their oatmeal, lucky that its canister had been sealed and odorless. Yes, they were beginning to splinter, but they were still a team. They still had to work together, despite all the extraneous crap. And losing another member hadn't made them any less cocky. They all still harbored a notion that they would win this game. Brian Heidik, the ultimate politician; Clay Jordan, the stealthy schemer; Tammy Leitner, the fiery competitor; Jeff Varner, the intense jokester; Tom Buchanan, the life of the party; And Silas Gaither, the cocky young athlete. They were still here, and they were still the stronger team. They had weakened Tuktu before, by taking Tammy, and needed to strike again.
"We're not done with them yet, we just gotta keep taking their leaders" promised Jeff, grinning. "This is more than a game, this is gonna be a friggin' war."
"Paschal is the nicest man," explained Gina, "We've always been good friends, and it was an honor to be on his team again." Gina pretty much summed up the mood in Tuktu this morning, as the whole tribe had gone out of their way to welcome their newest member. Elisabeth had given him a big hug, Helen had given him a tour of Polychrome Pass, and Kelly had come over to discuss what life was like over in Amarok. Paschal was eager to share all his info.
"I mean, it's not like I'm going back to Amarok anytime soon," he said. "Due to the rules, Greg and I can't ever go back to Amarok. We're here until we merge, or until we're voted off, and I have to tell ya, the old man couldn't be any happier to be here."
Even Greg seemed delighted to have his friend back, and it was rare for Greg to show any real emotion. All of his actions normally seemed so calculated and deliberate. It was nice to see him with a genuine smile on his face.
"Well, sure I like Paschal," he explained, "Not as much as I like oxygen, but he's definitely up there. He's good people."
With their latest win, Tuktu seemed like a pretty happy family once again. Sure, the names and faces sometimes changed, but the core of Tuktu had been together for some time now. Elisabeth and Gina were at the center of most of the Tuktu events since day one, and Greg had definitely been one of them since his arrival. Helen was perfectly happy to be a part of camp, and Kelly had opened up and tentatively inched her way in with the key players within the past few days. With Paschal, they had the start of a nice little happy family. Sure, they probably wouldn't all be together for too long, but the spirit of Tuktu would remain, even if one or two people left. To put it in simpler terms, the nicer people left in the game had all found each other.
The only problem was that it left one person on the outside, looking in. And she was not looking in passively.
"This... game... SUCKS!!" Jerri mock-shouted, laying back on the grass on a hillside. She had been exasperated by many actions of her teammates in recent days, and taking Paschal over Silas or Brian was the final straw. It wasn't that he was weak, although she claimed it was. It wasn't that they wanted to hurt Amarok, although she said it was. No, it was because Paschal was just so darn...
"Predictable," she bemoaned. "And passive. And boring. He's just like the rest of them." Jerri was hoping upon all hope that -someone- fun would come over, someone who would be up for some sort of plan. Paschal English was certainly not what she had in mind. "Please, someone just kidnap me to Amarok," she yelled, in an exaggerated fashion. Jerri's options were starting to run low, something she was all too aware of. In fact, she hadn't had an option for about a week now.
"The next time we go to Tribal, I'm done," she added, "Everyone knows it. Elisabeth won't keep me around, Gina wants me gone. Paschal sure as hell won't help me out, and Helen won't do anything to cause a stir. It's all gonna be up to me, and that's a pretty crappy place to be." She looked directly at the camera. "And I hope they don't think I'm going down without a fight." She paused before yelling again, letting out a shriek of frustration that no one else heard.
"This game SUCKS!!!!!!!!"
Barring a last minute miracle, Jerri was doomed. But she was not one to let fate control her destiny. She still had one choice. Go out like a sheep or go out like a tiger. And Jerri Manthey didn't go out like a sheep.
If she was going out, she was going to take someone down with her.
Tammy Leitner was the first one to notice the snow.
She was walking with Jeff, on the way to check their daily treemail, when the first light flakes started coming down. One second, she was talking about Silas, the next minute, she had stopped, to look straight up.
"Hey," she said, "Check it out."
Jeff looked up as well, seeing the wide blue Alaskan sky, and the soft white flakes that were beginning to fall.
"I thought it didn't snow here in July," he asked. "What the hell."
Tammy just stood, watching the peaceful and silent white flakes fall down. She smiled, like a little kid. To a girl who had spent most of her life in the Southwest, this was something to see.
"So," said Jeff, wanting to get her back to the topic at hand, "We definitely need Silas for the next vote."
"Yeah," she agreed, "You, me and Silas. We all vote together, take out either Brian or Clay."
Jeff nodded. That's certainly the way it was appearing. The Brian-Jeff cold war had been brewing for some time now, and was nearing its conclusion. With the tribe down to six members, it was clear that lines would have to be drawn. Someone would have to step into the majority here. And it was not a matter of working together.
"Jeff and Brian can't possibly co-exist," explained Tammy in a confessional, "There's no way. Jeff is too brash, Brian is too mellow. They want the exact same thing, but won't do it with the other one around."
Tammy had been approached by both Jeff and Brian in her first few days here at Amarok. Of course, EVERYBODY had approached her, but it was clear that Jeff and Brian had the most to offer. Silas had tried so incredibly hard, but she just wasn't interested. Any alliance with Silas Gaither at the helm would be a sinking ship. She knew it, everyone knew it. So it came down to Jeff or Brian. They had put her in an awful position right off the bat, having to choose.
"I felt like Olive Oyl," she joked, "Having to choose between Popeye or Bluto." She didn't elaborate who was Jeff and who was Brian.
But Tammy had made her choice, and was quite secure with it at the time. Jeff Varner was where the game was at. He wanted to win the most, he had the same competitive fire, and was just plain fun to hang around with. The Amarok frat mentality had lessened since Tammy had arrived, but she knew of the sexist jokes and comments that had been made before the tribes started to blend. Brian and Jeff were two of the worst culprits, but Tammy knew there was a difference. Jeff did it to fit in, to blend in with the rednecks of the tribe. But Brian meant it. In her mind, Brian Heidik was a player, but was also an emotionless, sexist creep. Tammy simply wasn't interested in helping him win another million dollars, especially if it meant going against Jeff. Tammy and Jeff were going to take it all the way. But, like all great plans, there were drawbacks. For one, Brian didn't give up. She had hoped that he would just fall in place with the two of them. She hoped that Brian would see through his fear of Jeff, and just fall in line. Brian, Tammy and Jeff. They would have been damn near unstoppable.
"Like hell," answered Jeff at the time, "Tom, maybe. Paschal, sure. Clay, go for it. But not Brian. No way."
In fact, their early plan had been to draw in Paschal, and with him, maybe Greg. But of course, the Red Rover swaps had derailed that strategy. They figured Greg might be taken by Tuktu eventually, but Jeff had been particularly excited with the choice of Paschal, because they felt he would never be stolen away. Paschal was supposed to be here on Amarok until the end. But now, nothing. Paschal was gone. Jeff was stunned by the events of the last day.
"Crap," he had muttered to Tammy upon getting back to camp, "No more Pappy." Now the plans would have to change. The goal was still the same, take out Brian. But now the players involved would have to switch. One thing was clear, though, and had been clear for a while. Brian and Jeff could not exist on the same team for much longer. So it had been settled. The lines had been drawn early, and now, with Amarok down to six members, things were ready to begin.
But they still needed a third member. Someone who could at least force a tie vote.
"Silas," understood Tammy. "Silas is the key. We need him for this." Jeff nodded. If they didn't get Silas, then Brian would. Brian had Clay in his hip pocket, some things never changed. And Tom and Clay were best buddies, that was easy enough to see. That left Silas. The big, strapping young athlete with visions of glory in his head, always ready to offer a grin, a handshake, and a deal. Silas would have to help them take down Brian Heidik.
"I can get him," she promised. "Silas is not a problem."
Jeff grinned, catching a few flakes of snow on his tongue. It was time to find out who ruled the Amarok tribe.
The snow had stopped for now, but there was still a chill in the air. Both teams were on their hikes to the immunity challenge, which had been described as a test of will. All thirteen players were wrapped up in several layers of clothing, Elisabeth, in particular, bundled up like a little kid. But they walked together in a large group, both Tuktu and Amarok fraternizing on the long walk. In the past, Mark Burnett had frowned heavily on cross-team interaction, but he had made an exception this time around. They were welcome to talk to anyone they wanted. The Red Rover twist having effectively defeated any long-term alliances, he was more than happy to let them cross-pollinate. -Let them have friends on the other team,- he had explained to the other producers, -It will make the merge that much more stressful.- If nothing else, Burnett loved to mess with their heads. And he would be doing some fine messing with today's challenge.
It was one of his all-time favorites.
The Alaskan game had been stressful so far for everyone. Some of them were already mentally drained. They had felt joy, sadness, loss, and pain. But it had been emotional, not physical, pain up to this point. Today, that would change. Today's challenge was about pain, and a whole lot of will. Jeff Probst stood before them now, holding up a large piece of green plant. It was thick and fat, like a beanstalk, or a cactus. It was also covered with enough large jagged spikes and spines to impale a small animal. Luckily, Jeff was wearing gloves, but he explained that the rest of them would not be.
"This is Devil's Club," he explained. "One of the more nasty plants that is native to this area. I'm sure you have run across it searching for berries." Greg nodded, he had already had a nasty run-in with the plant, Helen had spent a good hour helping him pull the spines out of his thigh. "The actual plant is actually quite medicinal, and is related to ginseng. It has many uses, and can be made into tea, cream, or lotion. The indigenous people of Alaska have used it for years. But," he added with a sadistic smile, "You have to watch out for its spines. That's the catch. They can accumulate silicon at the tips, and I have been told that a devil's club wound is like being cut with a sliver of glass. They are like nettles, only worse."
He explained the rules. A member of each team would come up, and would each get a stalk of Devil's Club. They would wrap their hand around it, and begin. This was to test willpower, the person who could hold the plant the longest would win the round for their team. First team to win four rounds would win immunity.
"Amarok, since you have six members, one of you will go twice," the host explained. "This is best of seven, first one to four wins."
The two teams lined up, with Tom agreeing to go first for Amarok. Jerri was first for Tuktu. A cold wind breeze suddenly whipped through the air. The wind chill and resulting numb fingertips were not going to make this easier.
"Tom and Jerri," Probst announced, "You're up!"
"Man, I love that cartoon," cracked Greg. Only a few people got the joke. Jeff Probst was not among them. He glared at Greg.
Tom Buchanan and Jerri Manthey each stepped forward and held out their palm. Jeff placed a large jagged piece of Devil's Club on their hand and told them to begin. They both closed their hands and closed their eyes.
"Mah God, Jeff," Tom groaned, "You sadist!"
Jerri gritted her teeth, trying to block out the spines digging into her hand. But she could only last a few seconds, and then it was over. She dropped the plant to the ground, yelping in pain.
"Amarok," announced the host, "You win round one. Next two!"
Helen and Brian were next, coolly wishing each other luck as they stepped up to the host. In her mind though, Helen badly wanted to kick his ass. They wrapped their hand around the plant and closed their eyes. No one said a word, although their teams were behind them, cheering them on. Helen started breathing fast through an "O" in her mouth, almost like a Lamaze technique. Brian radiated a sense of serene calm, his eyes closed. They stood, and stood, as a minute passed. Their tribes cheered, and then the second minute passed. Neither wanted to give in. But finally, at about 2:30, Helen's determination paid off, as Brian winced and dropped his piece. Helen pumped her fist to herself in celebration. The tribes were now tied.
Gina and Jeff Varner faced off for the third round. Jeff's cocky facade was gone as he started biting his upper lip in pain, closing his eyes and trying to meditate, while gripping the spines as lightly as possible. Gina wasn't doing much better but Tuktu cheered as Jeff dropped his piece just before she did.
"Tuktu," announced Probst, "You're up two to one."
Greg and Clay were the fourth pair, and Greg easily outlasted the Southerner, as Clay dropped the piece rather quickly with his trademark expression of "Aw, hell!" Greg cracked that he had built up an immunity already, having already been stung by the plant.
"Tuktu, you are up three to one! One more and you win immunity!"
Paschal stepped up from Tuktu. Silas stepped up for Amarok. This could be the final matchup. Silas reached over to clap the judge on the shoulder, wishing him luck. They both grabbed their piece and closed their hands.
"Go Paschal," screamed Kelly. Tuktu started chanting his name as he tried to fight off the pain. He saw stars from the feeling of glass digging into his palm and fingertips. Neither he nor Silas saw each other, though. They both had their eyes closed. Finally, after a tense minute and a half, Paschal cried out and dropped his piece. Silas had won.
"Yeah, baby," shouted Silas, excited, ever the competitive one. He reached over and gave Tammy a hard high-five with his other hand. "Let's go, Amarok!" Amarok was starting to get into this, the volume of their cheers had matched the Tuktus now. There was electricity in the air.
"Three to two," announced the host, "Tammy and Elisabeth, you are up."
Tammy Leitner and Elisabeth Filarski were the sixth pair. They both stepped up, slightly nodding at one another. There was no love lost between them. Both accepted their piece, closed their hand, and closed their eyes.
"Let's go Tammy," screamed Varner from behind her. Clay and Silas joined in, shouting their encouragement. She tried to block them out, trying only to think of the peaceful snow from earlier.
"Elisabeth! Elisabeth! Elisabeth!" Tuktu was cheering. Helen and Gina led the chant, as Kelly stood off to the side, nervously. Kelly was supposed to be next and didn't want to have the pressure of facing Big Tom in the finals.
A minute passed. Both ladies seemed unaffected, neither one showing any discomfort on their faces. Both of them had an iron will to win this one and not let their team down.
Two minutes passed. The cheers had gotten louder now.
"Tammy! Tammy! Tammy!"
"Elisabeth! Elisabeth! Elisabeth!"
At two and a half minutes, Elisabeth started to grimace. Her fingers were turning numb. Her eyes closed, her brow began to furrow. Tammy's eyes were unreadable, she had her wraparound shades on, as always.
"Three minutes," announced Jeff Probst, amazed. He didn't think anyone would have lasted this long.
Elisabeth started moaning.
Tammy started shaking. The pain was getting unbearable.
Elisabeth started clenching and unclenching her other fist.
"Ahhh," cried Tammy, shaking her hand and trying to shake the plant loose. She had been gripping so tight at the end, that it stuck to her palm. She winced in pain, as Brian had to help her remove it.
"Tuktu," announced Probst, as the excited Tuktu clan swarmed to congratulate their new hero. "Wins immunity! Three minutes and eight seconds, nice job, ladies."
Elisabeth shrieked as she tossed the Devil's Club off into the grass. She had a huge grin as Kelly and Paschal were the first to give her a hug. Even Jerri seemed genuinely happy for her for a change. Tuktu celebrated as the Amarok tribe comforted a devastated Tammy Leitner.
Jeff handed the immunity idol to Elisabeth, who held it up proudly, shrieking with joy. After her problems with Jerri, with sadness, and her ankle in yesterday's challenge, she had redeemed herself. This was her day. Elisabeth was having fun again.
"Elisabeth kicks butt in the challenges," grinned Kelly Wiglesworth.
She couldn't believe they pulled off a win yesterday. Against all odds, they had defeated the bigger, meaner, tougher Amarok tribe, in a contest that was all about iron will. Simply put, they had it, and Amarok did not.
"Women are better with pain," she explained. "Guys are just big pussies." Of course, Kelly was lucky enough to be the only one not to have gone, as she was lined up last. But she could have beaten Tom Buchanan in the finals, she explained.
"Guys are wimps, I could have stood out there all day. Pain is nothing, You just have to want it more."
And Kelly was probably telling the truth. She had begun to come out of her shell more and more, and was now usually found hanging out with Elisabeth and Gina and Helen, instead of off by her own. She really genuinely -liked- these people, she had said. Helen was a crack-up, Elisabeth was as sweet as could be, and Gina was everyone's best friend. This was a hell of a lot different than Pulau Tiga. People cared about each other on this team. Kelly had even gone out of her way to befriend Jerri lately.
"She's not so bad," said Kelly, "She's next, and she probably knows it. I mean, what can you do when you have no options? Bitch and moan about it, or just enjoy the experience. And she seems to be fine with it. Jerri's as much a Tuktu Girl as any of them, although they still treat her like crap. I just don't think she ever had a chance, but it wasn't -even- her fault."
Jerri would have loved to have heard this speech. It would have warmed her heart. But not because of its sincerity.
It was because Kelly Wiglesworth was Jerri's last option. Her downfall was the only way Jerri could stick around. Kelly was blissfully unaware, but the wheels were already in motion.
Silas Gaither was suddenly the most popular man in Amarok.
"Hey, I'm likin' it," he smiled. "Nice to be the big man for a change."
Silas' experience in Alaska had been unique so far, something he had been entirely unprepared for. He came here ready to scheme, ready to plot. Silas wanted to take the bull by the horns, stir up some trouble, make enemies, get that million dollar check. He started trying to make contacts on day one. Jeff Varner. Brian Heidik. Greg Buis. Paschal English. Even Tammy Leitner, when she got here. He worked on all of them, and kept hearing the same words in reply.
"Sorry, not interested."
They all professed to be here to play, but no one wanted to take part in any of his schemes.
"C'mon man," he had explained to Jeff Varner, "You gotta pay if ya wanna play. Gotta ante up here and go for some glory."
But Jeff hadn't wanted any part of it. Sure, he would discuss who to vote out, but it was too early to team up, he had said. And Silas had just one word for that.
Everyone knew who Jeff Varner was, and the way he played this game. There wasn't a bigger schemer alive. For him to say that it was too early to make plans was insulting and incredibly condescending. Silas may be younger than the rest, but he wasn't stupid. People often confused his directness and eagerness for a lack of wisdom. But Silas knew what he was doing, or thought he did anyway. He wasn't stupid, he was just eager. He wanted to make stuff happen.
Finally, Silas got his break a few days ago. Brian Heidik had come to him with a plan. The four of them take out Jeff Varner. It would be Brian, Silas, Clay and Tom. An easy foursome, no strings attached. They would stay together as long as the tribal swap would allow, and would rejoin back later if they all made the merge. Silas had been ecstatic. He was in with the right people. Not to mention that Jeff and Tammy had been two of the ruder members in their dismissals of him, so it was a no-brainer.
"Poetic justice, man," he smiled.
But Silas's partnership with Brian went a lot deeper than that, even if he didn't see the big picture. Silas liked Brian, a lot. Silas may or may not have realized it, but the truth was that Silas envied Brian. Silas wanted to be Brian. He didn't realize that they were almost -exactly alike.- Both had an acting background, both enjoyed talking with people and making contacts. Both would probably make pretty decent politicians. But Silas was the struggling young actor that no one took seriously. Brian was the respected athlete and strategist that people seemed to worship. Brian had the nice job, the big house, the money, the new cars, the hot wife. Brian had everything.
And, most importantly, Brian had a million dollar check in his name.
Simply put, Brian was what Silas wanted to be. Both in life and in this game. Brian was like an older brother, a mentor. Silas would do anything he said. Silas wanted his own million dollar check.
Brian, for his part, knew this instinctively. Cold and mechanical, almost like a robot, Brian was able to sense the slightest bit of weakness or naivete in his fellow human beings. The ultimate salesman, he had delivered the perfect sales pitch to Silas, and considered the young athlete to be in his hip pocket. But then again, everyone was in Brian's hip pocket. After all, he was Brian Heidik.
No, what made Silas so popular today was that people were now coming to -him- for a change. He didn't have to beg for attention anymore, like a damn puppy. Clay had stopped by just that morning, wanting to confirm that Silas was on board. Silas nodded, of course he was. Tammy had popped into the shelter, asking to talk to him later about strategy. Even Jeff had wanted to talk about tonight's vote, feeling Silas out. Of course Jeff wanted Brian out of Amarok, that was the worst kept secret around camp. Silas had simply nodded, the omnipresent grin on his face. Sure, we can talk about it, no problem buddy.
It was nice to be in demand again.
"The hell do you want, Stubby?" asked Tom. He was rubbing some lotion from the first aid kit on his right hand. The Devil's Club wounds didn't go away right away, they still smarted 24 hours later.
Clay approached him, looking around to make sure no one was watching. Normally their talks were fun and light, but today, this was business. They needed privacy.
"What'd, you bite your hand tryin' t'eat a cheeseburger?" Clay loved to taunt the big man.
After a few moments of banter, Clay decided to get right to it. He asked Tom if he wanted to go in with Brian and himself. Lowering his voice, he made the pitch.
"Look, you, me, Brian. The three of us take out Jeff tonight."
Tom looked over at him. He scrunched up his face, in deep thought. He looked off into the distance, towards the mountains.
"We need four, or we got a tie."
Clay explained that Silas was the fourth, Brian promised that Silas was in on the vote.
"Silas'll do anything he says," added Clay. "He's practically havin' wet dreams thinkin' that Brian wants to be his friend."
"Well," Tom drawled, "You know my feelings on Brian. I don't trust the guy as far as ah could throw him. You sure you know what yer gettin' intah?"
"Look," said Clay, "I don't like him any more'n you do. But we need to build up his confidence, get him cocky, and then later we can take out his knees. Whack the ol' kneecaps right out from under him."
"Look," grinned Clay, "I've dealt with the sumbitch before. This time, he's mine. He's done underestimatin' this ol' Southern boy."
Tom just grinned at Clay, smiling slightly. "Yeah, I reckon," he said.
Clay suddenly dropped his voice to a fierce whisper. He didn't plan on going this route, but Tom wasn't giving him any choice.
"Look, farmboy," he hissed, "Just drop the fuckin' hillbilly act and talk to me like a grownup. You forget, I'm smarter than you are."
Tom grinned, a small twinkle in his eye. He paused, and then replied in a voice that was somewhat different from his normal persona.
"Can we trust Silas?" he asked, "I'm'a gonna be mad as hell if he goes with Jeff and we got a tie."
"Alright," Clay smiled, "That's more like it. Silas won't go anywhere. Brian's got him so snowed it's like damn winter out here. You, me, Silas, Brian. We vote against Jeff tonight, and let Brian think he is in control."
"And then," said Tom, "We take care of Brian. The ol' coup d'etat."
Clay looked at him strangely.
"D'the hell you hear that word, Fatty," he teased, "What'd you, see it on an episode of Hee Haw somewhere?"
Tom grinned. He winked.
"Gov'ment studies, East Tennessee State. Almost majored in it."
Clay just stared at him. He whistled in awe.
"Well, hell, you sly dog..."
With just hours to go before Tribal Council, Tammy and Jeff were trying to lobby for their third vote. They knew that Brian would be coming for Jeff, they just didn't know how. In fact, Brian wasn't even aware of the details until just recently. He had waffled between his decision of Jeff and Silas for some time now, and felt that a Jeff vote was going to work, so that was the plan. If he felt it wouldn't work, he would have turned his troops against Silas, remove that variable altogether.
"Silas gone just means one less option for Jeff to use," he explained. He knew that Silas was Jeff's only option. Jeff Varner, as a rule, hated ignorant Southerners, a label he had already attributed to both Tom and Clay. Jeff wouldn't touch the two of them with a ten foot pole, he was just like that. So Brian had to make sure Silas was not going to be a factor in Jeff's plans.
"Silas needs to be on board," he added, "Or he needs to be gone."
Brian was confident in his choice, but not confident in all of his troops. He could trust Clay, and Tom would do whatever he was told. But he was still a little worried about Silas. Silas was impulsive, was known to waffle in his loyalties, and had not yet proven himself. Silas was the key.
"Silas has one chance," he explained, "To show he belongs. I'm not gonna carry him along if I don't feel he is solid. If he is weak, or if he shows the slightest bit of hesitation with this vote, he's done."
Jeff wouldn't really speak with Tom, but Tammy had tried to get the goat farmer on board this morning as a lark, lobbying to get his vote for tonight. She knew what Tom thought of Brian, what he thought of the smooth-talking salesman from California. Tom agreed to vote with Jeff and her, of course. Of course he would vote for Brian. Clay said the same thing. They were good at that sort of thing. Just agree with everyone.
"Jus' nod your head and say yes," Tom would explain to the cameras, "That's all they want from ya."
Tammy said that everyone was on board, but Jeff didn't really buy it, of course. He wasn't stupid, he knew the value of someone's word in this game. But he wasn't gonna get much more from them, and really didn't have the time to try. Besides, Tom and Clay were insignificant in his big plans. Silas was still the one they needed.
And Tammy had to make sure he was in. They both agreed that if they were to sway the cocky young kid, it was best that a female was the one to do it.
"Hey Silas," it was Tammy, with just a few hours to go before Tribal Council. Amarok would soon be down to five members, and everyone wanted to be on the winning side. There was no more time to leave fate to chance. "We need to talk."
She pulled him aside and explained the situation. Brian, Clay and Tom were tight, she said. They were the good ol' boys club.
"They're gonna dump your ass as soon as they dump Jeff," she explained. "You need to break them up. Do you think they have any use for you?"
Silas smiled at her. He had expected this line of questioning. But it wasn't going to work. He was in with the power crowd, and they had a 4-2 advantage. He told her so, too.
"Look, Tammy, you lost your chance earlier. I offered, you said no, end of story. You can try all you want, but the fact is that Jeff is gone tonight, and if you're smart, you'll vote with us."
Tammy digested this info. She hadn't expected Silas to rebuff her offer right away. Maybe they had a tighter hold on him than Jeff expected.
"Come with us," he placed his arm around her shoulder, trying to charm her, "There's still time."
"But I'm gone next then, either way," she said. "The only way to save both of us is if you switch your vote tonight and force a tie. If you don't, you and I are both done. Look at it from my point of view. I have nothing to gain by going with Brian."
Silas was a little intoxicated with his new sense of power. He could afford to be somewhat cocky now. He turned his back on her.
"Fine then," he said, walking away, "It's your funeral. Save your own ass if you want, but Varner is a sinking ship, baby. Come play for the winning team."
She watched him walking away, fuming at herself. That was that, then, and how things had changed. A week ago, she had the Tuktu tribe in the palm of her hand. She called the shots, she could eliminate her enemies, and no one dared to cross her. Now she was the only female on her team, she had chosen the wrong alliance partner, she would have no allies soon, and to make matters worse, Silas Gaither was talking to her like she was five years old.
"Crap," she muttered.
Amarok arrived at Tribal Council as the sun set just along the horizon, signaling Alaskan night. Tammy had not told Jeff about her failed attempt to get Silas, she didn't want this to be any more painful than necessary. They were allies, but they had also been friends. She wanted him to enjoy his last few hours of scheming, it was what he loved best. But he had simply been outplayed. Might as well let him go out thinking he had a chance. She reached over, squeezing his shoulder, giving him a smile. -Maybe he knows-, she thought, -but I hope he doesn't.-
The six of them passed through the entranceway, pausing to admire the artistry of Kelly Goldsmith's image, carved into the third spot on the left totem pole. Tammy gave herself a chuckle, shaking her head sadly. Poor Kelly. How long ago it had been when she and Kelly ruled Tuktu with an iron fist.
-It can all go away in a moment.-
They sat, and listened as Jeff Probst grilled them with questions. No, said Brian, I don't think there's any tension here. We all get along. Tom claimed to vote with his heart, based upon who was contributing. Tammy admitted that the loss of Paschal had been bigger than expected; he really brought a lot to their tribe. And Silas again went over the story of the bear destroying their camp, how much it had taken out of them. Probst stood and announced that it was time to vote.
One by one, the members of Amarok stood up, walked to the podium, and cast a vote for Jeff Varner.
"Getting rid of my biggest threat," said Brian. He couldn't resist adding, with a smile, "It's good to be the king."
"Enjoyed your company, but it's time for this Tarheel to step off the stage," said Clay.
One by one, they walked up to vote. The final person to approach the ballot box was Tammy. She raised the black pen, hesitated, and finally wrote six letters. She wrote "Varner."
"Jeff," she said, holding it up. "Sorry, buddy. I know how much you wanted to win this game. But I would hope... no, I expect... that you would do the same thing if you were in my place. Just here to win, that's what it's all about. I'll probably see you in three days, anyway. Take care."
She returned to her seat, patting Jeff on the shoulder. She thought about it, and thought about it, and finally decided on the humane thing to do. She had to put the bullet through his head.
"It's you," she whispered to him. "I couldn't get Silas." He nodded without looking at her.
"Thanks," he said. He squeezed her knee in friendship.
Probst went to retrieve the ballots and came back to face them.
"One I read the names, the person voted out must leave Tribal Council area immediately." He pulled out the first vote.
Brian simply nodded, not looking the slightest bit nervous. Probst pulled out the second vote.
Jeff nodded, staring intently at the ballot box.
The fourth vote was more of the same.
"Jeff. That's three votes Jeff, one vote Brian." Probst reached in and pulled out the fifth, and fatal, vote.
Jeff simply nodded, recognizing Tammy's vote. -Do what you got to-, he thought with a small smile. He turned around and gave a slight nod to Brian, one schemer saluting another. Brian caught it and nodded back, saluting with two fingers, a symbol of respect. Just too similar, that had been the problem all along. As Jeff reached back to retrieve his torch, Brian gave one last nod to his defeated rival.
Jeff said nothing. He just brought his torch up to the front, where it was extinguished. He wished them all well, adding his trademark shark-like grin.
"Hey Amarok, kick the crap out of 'em for me."
"You got it, buddy," said Clay, reaching to shake his hand.
Jeff pointed at Tammy, who pointed back, with a grin. He then nodded to Silas and walked down the path, into the darkness. In a moment, he was gone. It was now Brian's tribe.
"You guys are down to five," said Jeff, "Starting to dwindle down here, I hope for your sake that you can start winning some challenges. But you've still got a lot of game ahead of you, and anything can change. Have a good hike back, and I'll see you tomorrow."
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