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Author's Commentary
Part 4 of 6

ALL-STAR ALASKA: Behind the Scenes (episodes 6-8)
by Mario Lanza

(Note: These articles give away the whole plot, so don't read this if you don't want to know the winner of Alaska. Read the story first!)


Brian goes down! Brian goes down! The world rejoices.

We knew this would be a popular episode because everyone wanted to see Brian go down. Everyone that is, but Murtz. You see, our webmaster was a big Brian fan and really wanted Mr. Heidik to make the merge. He thought that Brian deserved to get at least that far. But when it came to the point that Brian had to go, I just had to break the news that the car salesman's number was up. Although, come to think of it, I may not have told Murtz at all. I forget.

Murtz and I have already had an interesting dynamic. He runs the site and has, ultimately, control over all material. But one of the lucky things about Survivor-Central is that we don't use editors. There are no checkpoints, no censors, you can post whatever you want (we post things ourselves), provided it isn't vulgar or anything. In my weekly columns this is never a problem, because I try very hard to never slam anyone, I try to be very positive, and very rarely do I have a bad word to say about anyone. But in the All-Star stories, it is a little different. Players often get slammed, although usually it is in a confessional from someone else. When you have players that don't like one another, it was easy to do, and in context as well. It just makes the story juicier.

Murtz has often expressed interest in being a part of the planning for the All-Star stories. They are so well received and so fun to plan out that this is only natural. Lots of people want to contribute. After Hawaii, I had a list of almost twenty people who wanted to be writers for All-Star #2, and I expect I will get more for #3 if it happens. Murtz never really had any input on Hawaii, and I know he wanted it, so I agreed to let him help out with Alaska. He and I don't always think alike on strategy, but it was a good idea for a while, until about this point in the series. Episode six was the one where he really disagreed with the choices I was making. Frankly, he didn't want Gina doing anything strategic. He wanted her to go down, and go down hard, and he really wanted Brian to go further than her in the game. He saw it as a travesty that she would get further than a player like Brian. You see, Murtz loves the villan. Of course, I do too, but in these stories, I try to make it so that we can't show favoritism. I try not to pull for anyone that much, because then it hurts the other players' chances. So while I like Brian more than Gina as a player, the story just didn't work out that way.

I felt that the story dictated that Brian had to go soon, and it would be a great plot, so that was the direction this episode headed. I knew Murtz was going to disagree, so I think I just didn't tell him what was going to happen. I just stopped updating him on the story's happenings. For one thing, the deadlines were very tight now. This episode alone took almost ten days to write. Whereas strategy debates were helpful early in the series, by this point we just had to pick a plot and go with it. There was no time or room for debate or radical changes. And once we decided that Brian was going to go, I knew Murtz wouldn't like the new direction, so I just basically didn't tell him. I said something like "We don't have the luxury right now to be second guessing ourselves," and just stopped giving updates. It wasn't the nicest thing to do, but it did make the story easier, because there were less hands shaping the plot. Sometimes you just have to reduce the variables.

To simplify it further, once we get to crunch time in the story, where we have 5 days between episodes, I become a tyrant. I stop asking opinions, stop consulting, and really just kind of ask people to get out of my way. I'm not particularly proud of this, but it has happened in both series, so it is essentially one of my traits I guess. When the story needs to be written, I'm just gonna sit down and write it the way I feel it needs to be done. It sucks, and makes it unpleasant for all involved, but I try to never be late with anything. I hate missing deadlines, and frankly I don't have as much time now as I once did, so when I have spare time, I'm gonna write stuff. I just politely ask people to get out of my way, and I'll get this sucker written. That's just how I become during crunch time.

Ryan volunteered to write episode six, which I was happy with. He always turns out quality episodes. But he was running into some of the same problems as Kixxy (school and other projects) and when he finished, I don't think either of us were particularly satisfied with his final draft. So I went in and tried to retouch up some of the sections (the blackberry oatmeal part at the beginning for one). This episode is a bit more disjointed than most, because of the piecemeal writing between the two of us. It fades back and forth between styles, which is always a problem.

The reward challenge was the balance beam, and I honestly don't remember whose idea that was. It wasn't mine, but it was a great one. It was either Ryan or CJ, I forget, and it was perfect. I really liked how some of the players came alive during this challenge. Clay, Gina and, especially, Silas I felt all had a chance to shine here.

There's a little inside joke during the challenge where Jeff comes down to sit with Gina and talk with her, since she is one of his favorites. This is based on a story I heard from the Marquesas season. I heard that Jeff had a crush on Gina, and after she was voted off he turned off the cameras and badmouthed some of the Maraamus for treating her poorly. I don't know if it is true or not, but was just a fun detail I wanted to work in somehow.

The scene where Brian is stolen over to Tuktu is, I feel, one of the strong points of the series. I LOVE the dialogue between Helen and Kelly, especially Helen's stacatto way of answering. She is really fun to write dialogue for, because she answers questions almost before you finish asking them. That's just a little thing I picked up from listening to her talk, and we used it in the story:

"Look," said Helen, trying to sway her decision, "I know how Brian works. I spent five weeks with him, there's no way he isn't calling the shots. He decides who goes and who stays. You take him, you cripple that team."

Kelly looked at Helen with suspicion.

"I don't want him here," she said. "He's a dick."

"That he is," grinned Helen.

"You just want to vote him out," accused Kelly.

"You bet."

"This is just your own personal vendetta."

Helen smiled.


"Okay," said Kelly, tossing her hands up in the air, "I vote Brian. Make Helen shut up about it."

"Oh, don't even tease me," said Helen, nearing tears. "Please say you aren't kidding."


Also, here's a place where I screwed up, although I was lucky that no one caught it. This is right after Silas slips from the balance beam:

Frustrated, he slapped his hand against the beam, but it was all over. Tuktu had won.

The error? Well, the problem is that it is almost word-for-word the same description as when Tina fell off the perch at the end of Hawaii:

The shift had been too much, and the seemingly invincible warrior had fallen. She slapped her hand angrily against her platform from in the water.

See? I told you I nitpick too much. I hate repeating myself.

"Watch Greg," he pointed out to a cameraman, "He doesn't care for most of them. Just watch."

He watched as the young mountain man walked from one end of the camp to the other, not saying hi to Elisabeth or Kelly, just walking.

"I knew Greg somewhat at Amarok," said Brian, "He was a loner back then, kind of sad, but he's a lot different over here. He's gotten a little cocky, I think, because he's had it pretty easy." He smiled. "They all talk about him like he's the greatest guy in the world, but you can see he has very little respect for any of them, deep down."

He paused, and pointed out Kelly, who was cleaning out the oatmeal pot.

"Kelly is just your typical pissed-off rebel. She hates the world. But if you were to watch, I bet she feels she doesn't quite fit in with the rest, like she doesn't belong."


The above happened when Brian shows up at Camp Tuktu and gives a nice summary of the camp events. Once again, something I love doing. Exposition described as dialogue. When you bring an outsider to camp, this is easy to do, since he is trying to figure out their dynamic for himself. But once he got there, it was just a matter of time. Brian was done, the only question was whether he could make it to the merge or not. And when Tuktu lost the coin flip, we knew he was gone.

With Brian going, we knew it would be an easy unanimous vote. And of course my viewpoint on that is... how boring! Who wants to see a 5-1 vote? So the key became trying to make it interesting. I wanted to find a way to cast a little doubt on the matter, without doing anything that would be unrealistic. A sharp reader would easily see through an unrealistic smokescreen, so it was a tricky issue. And eventually, I came up with the "Paschal doesn't agree with Helen's tactics" subplot. It seemed realistic to me, and also made the vote at least a little more suspenseful.

Ryan's "second chance" reward challenge (his idea) capped off the action, in what I feel was one of the finest moments of the series: Helen won't eat the muktuk with Brian standing right behind her. Pure cold-hearted revenge, I loved it.

Helen smiled slyly, enjoying the sounds of Brian getting more and more frantic behind her. It felt good to hear him sweat it out, a nice change of pace. And it wasn't going to make a difference, she had no intention of ever eating this thing. She just had to make it look good for the cameras. She yelped in pain as she feigned having her finger impaled, looking back at him to shrug helpelessly. He could do nothing but watch, as he slowly implored her under his breath.

"C'mon H," he said, softly so no one else could hear, "Don't do this to me. Just eat it. Just do it." He was getting a little angry now. "Show some class."


Ryan's original ending to the challenge didn't have this part. Originally we just had Amarok winning, fair and square. I added Helen's actions at the last minute, to get the reader to either feel a little sorry for Brian, or enjoy watching him squirm, whichever one made you more happy. But Helen definitely got her revenge and I thought that was a really good, really dramatic moment. I would love to see that on TV, Brian begging Helen to eat it and her just smiling and pretending to have trouble with it.

The end was rather predictable, but Brian was soon banished. I also added a subplot with Kelly sewing a new banner for the Tuktu team, which I liked, but didn't really lead anywhere in the story. The banner was never mentioned again after this episode. Plus, Kelly was always a hard one to write for, we had her sitting off by herself waaay too much.

In the end, a lot of work went into this episode. It took nearly ten days (yuck) but ended up pretty good. The next episode took equally as long and once that happened, I pretty much took over the project for good. I had to, we were getting too bad with deadlines. If there's one thing about me, I am not a patient person. But for now, Brian was gone and it was an episode that everyone was sure to remember. Helen really came alive too, although I didn't see her as a potential winner yet. I thought it would be Kelly or Silas or Greg at this point.

But Greg was about to wake up and show his true character. Up to this point, people assumed Brian was the villain of Alaska, but they hadn't seen anything yet! Brian was nothing more than a smokescreen...


First off, the title for this episode makes no sense. The story has nothing to do with suspicion. I guess I felt the series needed an Elvis song as a title at some point. Sometimes, when we have no title in mind, I just think of a last minute one as I am posting. And vague, sinister sounding ones (like the one above) are always good choices. When in doubt, let the reader decide what it is supposed to mean. And in this case, it meant nothing.

This episode was Kixxy's writing debut for the series, as she had been swamped with school up to now. She did a great job with Hawaii, so I wasn't concerned. I never have to do much editing with her episodes, they can stand on their own. She is also particularly good with dialogue.

Kixxy's writing is the easiest to identify, in my mind, anyway. She has a whole different style than Ryan, CJ or myself. Read the first few paragraphs of this episode and you can pick her style out pretty easily. For one thing, she is the only Canadian in the group, and uses certain words more than the rest of us. Three words I can always pick out of her writing are "rather" (as in 'It was a rather uncomfortable confessional), "fathom" (as in 'He couldn't fathom why it would happen), and, of course, "eh". It was a running joke in Hawaii that she would always have her characters say "eh," as in "It's a tough decision, eh?" I think I let her get away with a few of them, but when she started doing it for Boston Rob, I had to take those out. Rob would just never say that. Darn you Canadians and your alternate universe...

We had a strange dynamic in this episode with Brian gone. Without Brian there, Silas pretty much had to plot with Clay and Tom himself. Those were always awkward scenes to write. What on earth would those three talk about in real life?

One scene I don't like in this episode is the one with Kelly sitting off by herself. It seems like every episode, Kelly retreats into nature for a pointless scene of her just sitting alone. Reading it now, I see now monotonous those are. This is mostly my fault though, since I wrote part of this scene and let it stay in the final draft. I guess we just didn't know what to do with Kelly. Kudos to Kixxy for remembering that Kelly had a tongue ring though. That was a nice detail that I had forgotten.

There's another good Tammy and Silas scene in this one. I loved every scene between those two. Come to think of it, I like every scene between Tammy and a guy. She is an easy character to write for, especially when she interacts with a male. It always seems to work with her. Note that her scenes with Gina never come off as well. I guess Tammy belongs with guys, not girls. As I said in the story later, I bet Tammy doesn't really have many female friends in real life, that's an assumption I can make just from writing about her in the story. I think she probably relates more to guys.

"If one were so inclined," he added, cryptically, "It would be easy to use Helen's fury for your own gain."

He smiled, casting his fishing pole out towards the water.

"If one were so inclined, of course."


Right before the merge, we have Greg utter this quote. This is the first moment where he starts to turn sinister. The whole Greg story really begins here, and I thought it all worked great. Greg was so fun to write.

Silas has some good moments just before the merge. I was trying very hard to make him come off well, so he get a nice football pep talk speech, and a good leader moment. I still thought he might win at this point.

"We're a team, damnit," said Silas, in his best football coach mode, "And we need to work together on this. Tom, aint no one on Tuktu who is stronger than you. And Tammy," he added, looking at her, "You're going to lead us in all the challenges. This is our game." He finished his pep talk with a rousing, "This is our day, ladies and gentlemen. This is Amarok's day."

The merge itself was a fun thing to write. It actually came to me in a fit of spontaneity. Ryan asked what we should do for the merge, and the first thing that popped into my head was the fake "draw a ball" game. It worked great, all the readers seemed to like this moment. One interesting thing is that we originally wanted the tribes to merge much later. I wanted one team to get down to two people, and then they would HAVE to merge. That was my intent, but it was clear we couldn't do that by this point. You see, when Brian went, it was clear that the next few Red Rovers would be sacrificed, just like he was. The teams were too solidified by this point, the person pulled over would always be voted off next. So we realized that further Red Rovering was pointless. We needed a merge, and so it came here, in the traditional spot, with ten left in the game.

Another interesting thing is that Kixxy wrote the first part of the merge (the icebreaker and pizza intro part) and I wrote the actual merge, so the treemail doesn't exactly match the action. That was our fault, like I said earlier, sometimes the actions of one writer don't match another. We just got our signals crossed.

The name of the merged tribe was a good example of me being a tyrant. I believe the group voted to use "Tiquana" as the tribe name, but that isn't the one I wanted to use. I wanted something that started with Q. I know CJ liked Tiquana because it sounded like "Tequila." One other option we came up with was "Sikko," which is an actual Inuit word, but too weird to use. Anyway, I remember I kind of vetoed Tiquana (sorry, guys!) and came up with Qinaliut, which is a hybrid of about four real Inuit words. It sounds Alaskan, anyway, and that's all that counts. But, really, how many times do you get to use a word that starts with Q? I figured we had to take advantage of it while we could.

"It's an Aleutian word," explained Kelly. "It means... uh... actually, it doesn't mean anything at all." She laughed. "We just kinda made it up." She grinned, sheepishly.

"It basically means 'snow people'," said Greg, "If you use your imagination. Paschal suggested using snow, and Gina wanted to give us a family name. My contribution was to throw a Q on the front, because, of course, it would then be worth more in Scrabble." He grinned, proud of his idea. "It's all about the triple word score."


Both of them are summing up my thoughts on the word. It sounds Alaskan, it kind of means 'snow people,' and it would be worth a lot in Scrabble. But upon further research, I realized that there is a real Indian tribe in Washington state called "Quinault," so maybe I subconsciously stole it from that. If I did, I didn't mean to.

For the reward challenge, Gina won the random immunity selection. I wrote a computer program that picks a random name out of 10 (or 9, or 8, etc..) and her name came up. That means we had to come up with a challenge that Gina crews could theoretically win. Now, this was harder than it sounds, because for everything she is good at, someone else is probably better. I think I came up with the scavenger hunt challenge, which was a bit boring, but worked. And this is another instance where I can take credit for something that was completely unintentional... I used this challenge because it was mostly luck, and I figured she could win as easily as anyone. But I COMPLETELY FORGOT that Gina is a nature guide in real life. The challenge was all about gathering items from nature, and she won. Readers said, wow, perfect challenge, nice touch for Gina to win. I said, "thank you," of course, but in truth that was just a coincidence. I forgot she was a nature guide, and it just happened to be a coincidence that I thought of a nature challenge for her to win. Oops! I guess the cat's out of the bag now. Sometimes we just get lucky. But yeah, I ... uh... meant for it to come off that way.

The Qinaliuts walked single-file out of the lodge, walking through the bright Alaskan night back to camp. It was mostly silent, except for Tammy and Silas, straggling in the back. Silas had something to say to her, something that he had been waiting for. They were just two words, but if it worked, they would have a major impact on this game.

"It's time."

Tammy nodded and smiled.


The end of this episode was a cliffhanger on purpose. I ended it with Silas and Tammy saying "It's time." Now, of course, I had NO IDEA what their big plan was. I just wanted to make it more suspenseful and hide the fact that it looked like we would have a Pagonging. It was a sneaky writing trick, I know, but it worked. Everyone seemed to want to know what the big plan was.

Most of all, me! I was as curious as anyone as to what we would think up for the next episode.


This episode was pivotal in that it marked the first stages of evil Greg Buis. It also marked the halfway point of the series, because everything changed starting in this episode. The early story had been about Brian Heidik, and Jerri Manthey, and Elisabeth and Gina. But starting here, the story really became about three people. And those three would end up being the final three.

Starting here, the story was about Greg, Helen and Paschal.

I wrote most every episode from here on out, so this one was all mine. I started with more snow imagery. I wish we had used more snow in the series, because it is always a good diversion. Snow is so peaceful and so quiet that it changes the mood of the game. If you have ever been outside in a light falling snow, you will know how quiet it is. No birds, no crickets, no cars, it is just silence. I wanted to have that come across at the start of this episode. The calm before the storm, if you will.

This episode also opened up the relationship between Tom and Paschal. It was a relationship I had been planning on using for a while, and it just started to make sense at this point in the series. And I have to point out that we did get receive outrage over this pairing, but I attribute that to the fact that a lot of readers just don't like Tom. He is so crass and crude that some people just can't handle him coming off positive at all. Yet in my mind, I always saw Tom and Paschal as not that different at all. They come from different upbringings, but are in effect both good Southern men with stable and loving families. One of them just happens to have an advanced education, and one doesn't. And one of them brought a raccoon penis as a luxury item, while the other didn't...

"Nice job with Brian," Tammy said, smiling. She had wanted to be the one to end his reign herself, but was perfectly happy that someone else had done it first. That was the same way most of the females had viewed the used car salesman. "I wish I could have seen the look on his face."

Helen chuckled, as she planted her walking stick in the mud, stopping to wipe her brow.

"Yeah," she said, "Well, you know. Had to be done."

"I'm serious," said Tammy, planting her own walking stick in the mud. "You did us all a favor. Brian's an ass."

Helen smiled and reached back to make a ponytail, tying it with her red buff.

"So," so said as she tied, "Was it that bad over in Amarok?"

Tammy rolled her eyes, laughing out loud.

"Clay stared at my ass at least three hours per day. You do the math."


Tammy gets a lot more exposition in this one, including the above scene with Helen. Tammy's character got great scenes time and time again in this story, and I would love it if I found out some day that she read Alaska. I think she would like the story as much as anyone.

The reward challenge in this episode is the famous ice tug-of-war. I chalk this challenge up to CJ, who was our researcher extraordinaire. She tracked down all sorts of fun Alaska games, and this was one of the best. Apparently, tug-of-war was a common test of strength among Inuit warriors. They would do it any number of ways, but two of the most common were with their teeth and with their ears. I can't IMAGINE trying to play tug of war with my ear, so we went with teeth instead. The only catch for our challenge, of course, is that you have big guys like Tom and Silas, and weak people like Elisabeth and Paschal. It is just not fair. So it was my idea to set it on a patch of ice, and make it a little more challenging. If you pull too hard, you can slip, and that levelled the playing field somewhat.

By the way, don't ask how they would create a patch of ice on the grass and maintain it. You aren't supposed to think about stuff like that. Just let it go and move on.

This was an example of a challenge that I thought came out very well. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don't. But the challenge is still fun to read today. I think everyone came off pretty well, and Big Tom even got a feast out of it, so he was in hog heaven.

One thing I left out of this episode was Paschal and Tom's reward feast. I only had Paschal allude to it later, and describe what happened. I did this on purpose. Not only did it keep the episode shorter, but I was also a little uncomfortable trying to describe a sacred Indian ceremony. I have seen a few in my life (Mostly at Tillicum Village near Seattle), but I didn't want to start describing a Native American dance and ritual and have it come off goofy or wrong. I try very hard to shy away from serious things like cultural rituals, just because it has to be right or it is insulting to the people who really live like this. So there really was a reason I kept it vague, and also tried to cover it up with some Tom goofiness. I just didn't want to go there.

One of my personal favorite quotes of this episode is when Helen realizes that Silas is just like Brian.

"My God," she said in a confessional, stunned by the realization, "He's just like Brian. Same stupid smile, same handshake, same way of talking down to you. It's like looking at Brian's little brother."

Here's another one of my favorite exchanges, between Silas and Greg. We had a lot of fun with Greg toying with Silas. And note the foreshadowing in Greg's response. It is playful, but also ominous if you know what comes later on. There is a ton of scheming and plotting in this episode, save for one person. Greg is the only one who is not scheming in this episode, and you start to forget about him:

"A five-four vote," said Greg, finally, "And Amarok is back in the game." He paused, dramatically. "That would sure make for good TV, wouldn't it?"

"Damn right, brother," smiled Silas.

"I love TV," said Greg, "Don't you?"

Silas let loose one of his biggest smiles yet.

"Almost as much as I like million dollar checks."

Greg laughed out loud, one of his few legitimate laughs. Silas amused him.


The immunity challenge for this episode is the bola toss. It's not my favorite, and if I remember right, it was kind of a copout challenge. As in, I couldn't think of anything good, so I asked CJ for an Inuit hunting ritual. She said bola, so I said, fine that's as good as anything. I wrote it up for Tom to win (since he has the excellent hand-eye coordination) but it is a forgettable challenge.

Here is a funny exchange right after the IC. Greg gives Gina some maple syrup he found in the woods:

"He got it from a tree," she joked with a cameraman, "That's all he would say. He said just add it to the food and don't ask questions." She shrugged, smiling. "That's Greg for you."

This little detail prompted a bunch of emails. People asked us what the syrup was. And frankly, I have no idea. It was just a goofy idea I made up for Greg. I wanted to show that he was elusive, mysterious, but could also find things in the woods. He really knows how to live out there. And whatever it was, I'm sure the syrup was delicious.

Silas and Tammy had a lot of great dialogue at the end (dang, Silas is fun to write for, as long as you give him some good scenes. He's not as big a fool as people think!) but the real issue that came up in this episode was the Tammy-Helen alliance to the end. This was the worst screw-up I have ever perpetrated in any of the episodes. What happened is that Helen tentatively agrees to vote with Silas and Tammy, but then changes her mind at the actual vote. Anyway, what happened in the original draft is that I had Helen agree to go along with it:

"I'm in."

But when I edited the article right before posting, I changed that line to something more concrete. It now read:

"Final two. You and me, let's do it."

I tried to make it more dramatic and I got busted for it. Because what that did is it made Helen lie to Tammy about a final two alliance, which is clearly something she would never do. But I only intended to have Helen on board for one vote. It was a matter where a simple word choice can have huge consequences. So I had Murtz change this to "I'm in" after it was posted and I apologized for messing around too much. Helen wasn't trying to screw Tammy, Helen just couldn't go through with backstabbing her friends when it was time to do so. And the readers rightfully busted me on this issue, as they should have. I simply screwed up and tried to get too fancy.

Here's one final note about this episode. A nice inside joke:

"Well, I'tell you," drawled the big man, "Kanaloot has been like a dream come true."

"It's pronounced Kin-ALL-ee-oot, big guy," corrected Paschal. The rest of the tribe started laughing. Jeff asked what was so funny.

"Tom can't pronouce the name," said Gina, smiling, "He hasn't said it right once yet."

"Hey, it ain't my fault," joked Tom, defensively, "I ain't seen many Alaskan words in mah life. I suggested we just call it Moto Maji again."


I wrote this exchange because I kept forgetting how to pronounce Qinaliut. I wrote this passage specifically as a reminder to myself as to how to spell and pronunce it. It is a weird word, without the normal "u" following the "Q." But once I spelled it out phonetically, it was easier for me to remember the name from then on. I also wrote it so that the readers would know how to pronounce it. See, sometimes you can use exposition and disguise it so people don't realize what you are doing. I love little tricks like that.

The end of the episode said goodbye to Silas. And to be honest, I really missed him. The fans hated him, but I really had a soft spot for the guy. It is safe to say at this point that I wanted him to win the most, and now my favorite players was gone.

But in the next episode, a new favorite was about to be born. Greg Buis was about to cross over to the dark side, in the most memorable episode of either series...

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