Back to Alaska
Author's Commentary
Part 5 of 6

ALL-STAR ALASKA: Behind the Scenes (episodes 9-11)
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!)


Ahh, here it is. The episode that everyone was talking about. This is my personal favorite episode of either series, and it was great in that it really changed the game of the Alaska series. By this point, people had written off Alaska as a Pagonging, and figured nothing new or exciting would happen until the end. But Greg decided to step in and change that. It all started here, although if you paid attention, there were some clues leading up to it in previous episodes...

First off, Greg's "chaos theory" idea was something I came up with a few weeks prior to this. We had been building up Greg as a master strategist, somebody who can really mess with the game if he wanted to. But he just hadn't had a chance to do anything cunning yet. I could feel the readers were probably getting annoyed with waiting for Greg to ever come out of his shell. Lord knows we teased you guys with it long enough. So I knew that, when he finally acted, it had to be worth the wait. And I think it was.

As I have discussed before, one of the problems with these stories is the threat of a Pagonging. If a Pagonging is boring to read, it is even WORSE to write. I mean, why write something that is predictable? So as a writer, you are always looking for a way to get yourself out of a corner. If there is some realistic way you can mix the game up, DO IT! And this plot seemed to fit perfectly, not to mention it was the right time. Helen was on the outs with Tuktu. Tammy had no allies left anywhere. Tom was just drifting along, and Greg was their potential fourth. I also had, in the back of my head all along, that Greg could use Paschal's fear of the purple rock against him. It was just a matter of how. And the subplots all dovetailed perfectly in this episode. It all fit, and I didn't even have to fudge it too much. I wasn't going to cheat, and throw in a twist just to have one, but when I saw the story would all work if Greg crossed over, there wasn't a chance in hell I wouldn't use it.

If you write Greg as a person who acts out when he is bored, you can get away with a lot of stuff, and this is a good example. His strategy is kind of iffy if you view it from a strategic sense, but if you look at it as a genius who is bored and wants to make things lively, it is much more palatable. So Greg's short attention span was a great way for us to throw some twists into the game. And since no one really knows the guy, nobody was going to call BS on us. A lot of people just read it and said, "You know, it does sound like something he would do," and they just went along with it.

The other trademark about this episode is the challenges. And frankly, these are two of my favorite challenges of all time, both in the same episode. Between the Iditarod mini sled-dog race and the canoe wars, I knew this episode would be a kickass one. I had been meaning to use an Iditarod challenge all along, I mean you're in Alaska, you need to use the snow to your advantage! And the canoe wars was something I came up with at the last minute, when I found "canoe tipping" listed as a game that Inuit kids like to play. I just expanded it and gave Tammy a license to kill and it all went from there.

The episode starts innocent enough, with Helen letting Greg have it for setting her up. He apologizes innocently, of course, but looking back on it now you can see him setting her up. She never even saw it coming. Never in a million years would she consider the possibility that he was trying to make her look as bad as possible. She still thinks he is a loveable flake.

We also set up in this episode the subplot that Gina spies on Helen, and doesn't trust her. It come back later as a payoff in the jury, but basically it was an excuse to give Gina a character quirk. I don't know if Gina is nosy in real life. But we were still trying to separate her from Elisabeth, and making Gina the suspicious angry one helped give her some fire.

Helen has a chat with Tammy at the start, in which Helen looks at the anger in Tammy's eyes... Except I forgot that Tammy is wearing her ever-present sunglasses. Whoops! Only one reader caught that thankfully. Nice catch!

And here's where Greg's plan finally reveals itself:

"Well, that could have gone better," muttered Helen to a cameraman. Now that she was alone, she dropped her guard and put her hands to her face, shaking her head. The mindgames involved in Survivor were just too much sometimes. This game was too brutal. Yet unaware to Helen, it was about to get a bit more brutal. Two pairs of eyes watched her, hidden behind a thick grove of Devil's Club. Helen was not alone, as two of her teammates had seen the whole exchange.

"See," said Greg, "What did I say? Helen and Tammy."

"I knew it," whispered Elisabeth, "They've been planning something all along!"


Greg was now officially the biggest dick in Alaska. I still had no idea Helen would win at this point, but the theory here was to pile as much abuse on Helen as humanly possible. He really had a perfect accomplice too, since Helen kind of draws attention to herself anyway. Greg couldn't have a picked a better target (unless Jerri was still here.)

For the Reward Challenge, I needed to get them all up to the snow. You can't have a sled dog race without snow. So I helicoptered them up to the side of a mountain. And I was trying to build some foreshadowing here that never really panned out:

"C'mon, Jeff," teased Greg, "Why stop here, let's go to the big one." He pointed to McKinley, which was two mountains over. "This is just the bunny slope."

"Sorry Greg," said the host, "Too dangerous over there. You guys wouldn't make it back alive from the big mountain. This area will be good enough."


I will get more into this later but the idea was to eventually end the Alaska story on Mount McKinley. I wanted to have the final challenge be the Perch, set on McKinley in a snowstorm. I was POSITIVE that would be the last challenge, and I was trying to have Probst set up some ominous fear here by saying they could die up there. Now what happened eventually is that Paschal was set to win the final immunity, and there was no way he could ever win the snow perch. So I had to (sadly) scrap the challenge on McKinley. It never happened. Yet you can see all throughout the story that I was pointing things in that direction. Greg is constantly trying to get there and there are lots and lots of hints pointing towards McKinley, but there was never a payoff. The closest I came was the "Fallen Comrades" torch walk at the end, where they walk to the base of the mountain. But I was always a little sad that I never got to use Snow Perch.

One funny visual in the sled dog challenge is Elisabeth in her giant pink parka. Her face peeks out from this enormous hood. I pictured Kenny from South Park when I wrote it, and a few readers commented that they thought of the same image when they read it. I just thought it was a funny picture. And hey, since this is the episode that Elisabeth leaves, I wonder if there was some foreshadowing there... "You killed Kenny!"

The snow dog challenge itself just came out perfect. It was one of those rare instances where I captured the images in my head perfectly in print. It doesn't happen that often! I'm glad that everyone liked it, because I was very happy with this one. And I love that the dogs were frightened of Tammy and Helen. That was my favorite part.

Tammy was having no luck whatsoever, in fact the dogs seemed to be a little afraid of her.

Also in this episode is the "sleeping in the forest" reward. Everyone but Helen has to sleep in the woods. It also features the wolves repeatedly waking up Kelly as she sleeps. And yeah you better believe that is foreshadowing. Kelly ends up being the swing vote in this episode, at the end. And the funny thing is that it really WASN'T foreshadowing when I wrote it. I just wanted to use wolves in a story, and wanted to give Kelly something to do (ie, get pissed at the wolves). But I did catch the irony and the foreshadowing once it was all written, and I was pleased. Sometimes stuff just works out for you when you don't expect it!

I brought Jeff to camp to have a chat with Helen during her reward. This is a fun tactic I like to use, it is like a mini confessional. Jeff can ask the questions that we want to hear the answers to, and it all sounds natural, as opposed to her just speaking with a cameraman. She can speak her mind and not worry about consequences. It's a nice tactic to use, for any of you interested in writing a story. Use Jeff as much as possible, he is a neutral observer, people can tell him anything!

Here's a paragraph that is particularly chilling, in regards to how much Greg is scamming them all:

"Thanks, Greg," said Elisabeth, grateful. She watched him walk away, off to deliver the bad news. She hadn't wanted to be the one to tell Pappy, this was going to be something he wouldn't want to hear. But she vowed to stay in the game, and not start thinking ill of Helen. It wasn't her fault, this was just a game, right? Thank goodness for Greg Buis, she thought, He always keeps things in perspective.

There's an argument here between Gina and Helen that I don't like that much. It didn't come out quite as I intended, particularly when Pappy shows up:

"Hey ladies," said Paschal, walking closer, tentatively, "Everything okay?"

"Hey Pappy," said Gina, still quite angry. "Nothing's wrong. We're just... discussing... things."

"Girl stuff," said Helen, brusquely.

"Well that's good to hear," he said, placing his arms around both of their shoulders. "I don't want two of my favorite girls to be fighting." He smiled, trying to disarm the situation. "Life's too short to have arguments, that's what I say."

"No, it's cool," said Gina, "We're done." She glared at Helen as she said this, her body language saying that this was indeed far from over.

Helen stared back, matching her glare for glare.

Paschal attempted some humor, trying to keep this civil.

"Oh, come on now," said Paschal, trying to keep things civil, "Why don't we just give some hugs here, Tuktu isn't about fighting, now, is it? What, are you two suddenly in Amarok?" He shot a glance at Helen as he said this, his eyes meeting hers. The statement had definitely been a message, a sign that he knew.


For whatever reason, I just can't picture Paschal saying all these lines, but I had to have him break it up, so it stayed in the story. Hope no one else disliked this part.

This might be the best paragraph in the entire Alaska story, courtesy of Greg. It pretty much sums up the end of the game:

"The greatest game in the world is the game of chicken. It's perfect, really. Two cars drive at each other, at top speed, until one of them chickens out and turns away. It's meant to test toughness, bravery, and who can be the most reckless." He cast his line out again. "What can be more exciting than a game of chicken, when the stakes are for a million dollars? Who will have the mental toughness to win that kind of contest? And I think people watching this would agree with me, if you don't have confidence in yourself, you have no business trying to win this game."

The Immunity Challenge was the aforementioned Canoe War challenge. It is pretty over-the-top, with Tammy trying basically to injure people, but I knew the readers would love it. Tammy is a fun character to root for when she is pissed off. Jeff warns her before the challenge, of course, but it doesn't matter:

"This is a game, not a gladiator sport. Keep it clean out there, I don't want anyone to get hurt." He looked right at Tammy as he said this, and she gave a mock look of innocence. But it didn't matter, she was psyched about this one. This was her type of event, right at the time that she needed immunity most. She knew that if she lost today, she was probably gone. So it would be up to her.

She was going to make this her big moment.


And did you notice that Kelly lost yet ANOTHER rowing challenge? The girl just can not catch a break!

Here's some more foreshadowing between Tom and Greg. Greg never learned of Tom's wisdom until too late (as a bunch of you predicted on the message boards. That was Greg's only real flaw, he didn't see through Tom's hillbilly act.)

"Look," said Greg, speaking down to Tom somewhat. For all his cunning and wisdom, Tom's act was the one thing he hadn't seen through yet. He still considered Tom to be an ignorant, redneck hillbilly. "There's one way you can have a chance to win this thing."

Tom smiled somewhat, his wisdom cleverly hidden behind his heavy beard and sleepy eyes.

"I'm listenin'," he finally said.


And here's a great exchange between Helen and Greg. One of my ideas of what a good player should do in Survivor is this: If you have an idea, you should do your best to make it look like someone else had the idea, and you are just going along with it. I've always wanted to do that in a story, and here it is, a great fit for their two personalities. Greg wants Helen on board, but he wants to make it look like it is her idea and he is just being nice. Notice his use of words:

With Tribal Council approaching, the troops were preparing for the big showdown. Helen had cornered Greg, requesting... no, demanding... that he vote with her this time, for real.

"I can't say I will, or I won't," he said, "Besides, you wouldn't believe me anyway!"

"Look, Buis," she said, pointing an accusatory finger at him, "You screwed me before, and I don't want you to do it again. Do you know how much you pissed me off last time? Do you realize that?"

"Hey," he replied, defensively, "You know I'm not interested in that kind of game. The winner should be the one who survives on merit, on social politics." He chuckled inwardly, loving messing with her head this way. "Alliances are no fun, who wants to play that kind of game? It's so shallow!"

"Look," she said, going into full trainer mode, "Right now. Give me a yes or a no."

He smiled at her, saying nothing.

She growled slightly under her breath, trying her best to stare a hole right through him.

"Greg, you know I don't like to swear," she said, after a moment of silence, "But get off your effing high horse and play the G.D. game."

"But then we'll have a tie," he said, feigning ignorance, "What good is that?"

She glared at him.

"I don't want to look like the bad guy," he protested, "I'm not here for that."

"Greg," she smiled softly, playing down to his level, "Am I going to have to smack you? Is that what it will take?"

"Fine," he said, acting put off, "Just do whatever you want. I don't care."


And then we have our first tie vote! Oh, the drama! Did any of the readers see this coming? I hope not. I hoped to disarm you with the fake tribal jump last episode, and hoped no one would see that Greg was just biding his time for one more episode...

At Tribal Council, we are also introduced to the Warrior Box, my own sadistic version of the purple rock:

"Don't tell me it's the purple rock again," joked Paschal, breaking the nervous tension.

"Of course not," said Jeff, "We wouldn't do that to you again. Not to you, Paschal."

Greg's heart suddenly lurched. Never in his mind did he think they wouldn't use purple rock. That had been the key to his plan. Paschal would switch due to fear of the purple rock. They used it in the All-Stars before, why not now?

"But it is the same principle," smiled Jeff, pulling out a wooden box. "Random selection."

Paschal shook his head, smiling and chuckling.

"You will break this tie, or you will have to reach into this box." He held it up, shaped like a large shoebox, with seven holes cut into the top. "This is called a warrior box. Native warriors would have to reach into this box before they went into their first battle, to prove their manhood. Inside was said to be something that would cause great pain. If they could hold their hand inside, and block out the pain, they would be said to be worthy, and would be ready to become men." He smiled. "We won't go that far, but it is the same idea. Inside one of these holes is a sharp piece of tack. One by one you will reach into a hole, palm down, and place it all the way in. The person whose hand is poked by the tack will be the one eliminated. Let me assure you that it will be total random selection. Everyone here, except Greg, will be vulnerable if you do not break this tie."


Now I have mentioned before that I am a huge fan of horror movies, and this is a direct homage to one of them. The Warrior Box is something I ripped off from the 1970's horror film Phantasm, in which a boy has to reach into a box and ignore the pain that he feels, to test his faith. I just ripped off that idea and turned it into a Survivor gimmick. But there are always a ton of movie references in my stories, including Greg's Hannibal Lecter quote in the next episode.

Now the end of this episode was a bit tricky. I knew that Paschal would not switch votes. I knew that Gina would not. I knew that Greg would not. And I knew that Helen would not. It really came down to Tom or Kelly. Would they switch? The writing team had a nice long debate about this and basically it came down to this: Tom has nothing to lose, he has to stick with the plan. And Kelly... well, let's just say Kelly has known "rat" tendencies and is a bit selfish in her motives sometimes. You could make a case for her either way, and in that case my rule is, go with the action that will make the story better!

Kelly ended up switching, to save her own butt, and Elisabeth took the fall. The game was now on for good... and I think we could practically hear Kixxy (one of our writers) squealing with delight. You see, she is the biggest Greg Buis fan in the world. She was in love with this episode, for good reason. And I bet most people think she was behind the sudden "Greg is the star" subplot, but in truth she didn't have anything to do with it. She was pretty much begging me at the start to have Greg do well, but I don't think even she knew the plotline I kind of had in store for Greg. I think she literally passed out from sheer excitement when she saw her boy turning into the uber-villain. This one was for you, Kixxy!

One last note about the episode's title. I didn't really have a title in mind when I wrote this. I only knew it would involve evil or morality or something about crossing over. But it had to be memorable, because I knew this was the key episode in the series. I brainstormed and brainstormed and finally came up with "Beware the dark side." I don't think the other writers liked it, but I forget what the alternatives were. But if you want to know where I got the title, I will begrudgingly explain. I hate to sound like a dork, but I stole it from a video game. In the 1980's there were two laser disc games that were huge hits. First came Dragon's Lair, which was simply the most innoative and awesome video game ever made. It came out in 1984 (when I was 10) and I learned to master it. Then came the next laser disc game, called "Space Ace." It wasn't as good, but I also spent endless hours trying to master it. Anyway, at one point in the game, "Ace" (the hero) is told by his girlfriend to "Beware your dark side!", right before Ace's evil twin tries to kill him. For whatever reason, that quote always resonated with me and I used it here as an episode title. See, did you really want to know that? I didn't think so. I'm all about random vague quotes that no one else on Earth would ever remember.

In related news, I'm a nerd.


This is part two of Greg's big plan, although another title for this episode could be "Gina's last stand." It is totally her swan song. Since we never really captured her in print as well as some others, I felt we owed it to her that she got her own episode. So here it is, this one is for the Gina fans out there.

"So they all teamed up to vote off Lizard," Gina said, sighing.

There was a girl in my dorm in college named Elizabeth, and some of her friends called her "Lizard." So I had Gina call Elisabeth the same thing here. Just a nickname I liked and wanted to use.

One thing I had to do in this episode is explain why Kelly switched her vote at the last episode. The last episode was so long that I didn't want to do it then, I figured I would wait for this episode and then explain it at the start. And I decided to do it through her inner monologue, which I thought came out pretty well:

"You have to make a break."

"The two of them are going to have a cakewalk victory."

"They haven't done a single strategic thing since being out here!"

"They don't even like you all that much."

"I've heard them discussing you when you aren't there, and it isn't nice."

Some of these comments had been true, some had been made up, but Kelly knew that the basic message was always the same. Kelly wasn't Gina, nor was she Elisabeth. She was the
other one.

But of course, there was just one comment that kept coming back to her. One that Jerri had said, many times, and had later been echoed by Tammy. There was one comment that was guaranteed to make Kelly act:

can't win!"

That was the one that had been the kicker. There was one way to get Kelly Wiglesworth fired up in life, you just had to tell her she couldn't do something. This last thought echoed through her mind, over and over and over, and finally her fiery, rebellious nature had reared up. She picked up that pen and did the first thing she should have done a long time ago.


The Reward Challenge in this episode is the bones puzzle. They are supposed to reconstruct the skeleton of a field rat. This is something I have done before, in a science class in middle school. We rebuilt the skeleton of a mouse from an owl pellet. Fun times. But CJ read somewhere that another Inuit kids game was a bone puzzle, so it was a good choice to use. It is one of those random challenges that anyone can win, so it was a great choice. Here's a little hint to the way I write challenges. We pick the winner first, and then write the challenge around that. Now as a reader, you can probably tell immediately if we picked an unlikely winner, because the challenge is more mental than physical. If the challenge is a bit unorthodox, or a bit wide open, or based on luck, it is generally because we picked someone who would have a hard time winning challenges. Note Gina with the nature scavenger hunt earlier, Helen with the sled dog race, or Paschal with the final two challenges.

If the challenge is a little strange, and very wide open, you can usually infer that you will get a winner who doesn't win many challenges. There's your spoiler hint for the day.

Here is another good Greg moment. He wins the challenge and has to pick who comes with him to the hotel suite. Of course, he KNOWS that Gina will be coming, but wants to make it look random. Man, I'm gonna miss writing for Greg.

Greg had actually thought of this ahead of time. Ever vigilant, he had vowed never to be caught off guard by a twist, or a political landmine. He knew who his pick was going to be, but, in his mind, had to make it look like it was going to be spontaneous.

"Okay, I mean, I'd like all of them to go, but I can only pick one, right? How about this?" He smiled, shrugging, as if he had just thought of the idea. "I'm thinking of a color in my head. The first person to name it gets to go. Everyone has a chance."

Jeff nodded, expecting nothing less. Greg was a wily one all right. He was always finding a way to wiggle out of a sticky situation.

"Blue," said Kelly. Greg shook his head.

"Yellow," said Paschal. Wrong again.

"Black," guessed Tammy. Nope.

"Purple," said Gina.

Greg smiled.

"Well, of course," he said. "Purple it is."

Gina grinned from ear to ear. She couldn't believe it, a chance to get away from camp! A chance for a bed and a hot shower!


You will note that I completely skipped writing about the reward trip itself. I just described it later in the past tense. Once again, when the episodes run long, the reward is the first thing I cut out. Just too much extraneous detail. Plus, I honestly for the life of me can't imagine what Greg and Gina would talk about if left in a room together. So I just skipped it altogether.

Here's a Helen and Tammy conversation that could have gotten me in trouble:

"We can't let Greg waver in his allegiance," Helen said, still completely snowed as to his true intentions. "I say Paschal. I don't see a way around it. He's like Mecca to the other guys."

Tammy laughed, enjoying the reference. Helen was one of the few people who could make her laugh.


Tammy and Helen are discussing who to vote out here and I threw in a reference to Mecca. In follow-up news, my writings are now banned in several Middle Eastern countries. Just kidding!

Here's another Greg = Gabe comparison. Please note that Gabe will likely NOT be written this way in All-Star Greece:

Tammy frowned, not liking the options here. A wishy-washy pretty boy was now part of their plans, not the best scenario in her mind. She made a mental note to get rid of Greg as soon as possible. Spineless guys like him were the type of players who tended to just piss her off the most. Paschal had been right, Greg was exactly like Gabriel Cade.

Here's a minor error that no one really caught. Actually, it is bigger than a minor error, but I think I covered it in later episodes:

The conversation went on for a few more minutes, but Greg felt that he had avoided a huge trap. They still didn't know that it had all been his plan. He was lucky that Paschal hadn't seen through him. The conversation had gone amicably, and they were all still friends.

But Greg was wrong. Kelly and Tom had sold him out. Paschal knew exactly what Greg was up to by now.


I have Paschal figuring Greg out here, in episode 10. But if you read the next two episodes, Paschal is still waffling over his belief in Greg's innocence. I'm lucky no one caught that, but I can explain it by saying that Paschal's brain knew one thing, but his heart believed something else, and he just had a hard time with it. Hope that's good enough! And it helped that I added this paragraph a little later in this episode:

Paschal had seen the true nature of Greg Buis, but was wise enough to hold his tongue for now. He made sure that nothing seemed to have changed. He still liked the kid, but he was watching now. The judge was older, but he was wise, and he knew that inside information could always come in handy. It was just a matter of when, and how.

The immunity challenge was Alaskan jai alai. Paschal ended up winning, sparing him from being voted out. This was the first of three unprecendeted escapes by the judge. He got very, very lucky. And I explained that he won jai alai because he had played so much tennis in his life. For the record, I just made that up. I have no idea if he plays tennis. It didn't say so in his bio, so I just made it up and hoped no one would notice.

Day 30 starts with more "Greg is trying to get to McKinley" foreshadowing:

Greg Buis was going for a nature hike, wanting to get as close to Mount McKinley as possible this morning. He had been close to the mountain before, but never close enough to really view it properly. For all his scheming ways and strategic chess moves, Greg was still just a nature boy at heart, and he wanted to make sure he enjoyed the scenery as much as possible in the last ten days here. After all, he may never get another chance to visit Alaska in his lifetime.

One of the things that had come up since last episode was the idea that Greg was the villain. I knew that technically he was, since he single handedly derailed the good guys. But at the same time I was troubled that good and evil was so clear cut. I never really saw Greg as the bad guy, just as a bored kid with too much time on his hands. And I wanted to make it really, really clear that Greg was not just a one dimensional villain. He was doing all this in as strategic a manner as possible. So I inserted the following section to help explain his motives more:

Since Greg's sudden shift in strategy three days ago, it had been the goal of the camera crew to get some sound bytes out of him. Greg was shaping up to be the villain in the cast, in Mark Burnett's eyes, and they wanted some footage of him saying something nasty. Then it could be edited, as needed, throughout the series, building up the great new Survivor villain. The catch was, of course, that Greg wouldn't play along.

never played along.

"The question of good and evil is an interesting concept," he said, while walking. The camera crew always had to work to keep up with him, Greg tended to walk fast on his hikes. "I mean, it's all based on perception. Good or evil can be the same thing, depending on who you ask. I mean, sure, to Tuktu, it will look like I'm no better than Jerri. But if you asked Helen or Tammy, they would say I am doing the right thing. So I mean, you can do whatever you want with my character, but no, I'm not an evil person." This much was true, as Greg wasn't really doing anything to try and hurt people. He was just trying to win, in as calculating a manner as possible.

"The concept of good and evil is like a light, shining into the water," he finished, pointing off to a nearby lake. "I say it's pointing towards the shore. You say it's pointing towards the middle. I mean, it's all just relative to our perspective. Both of us could be right, for all we know." Greg smiled, knowing this was going to piss the producers off to no end. But he wasn't about to be pigeonholed into a narrow category. That was so boring. Sure, he wanted to be the bad guy. The bad guy was always the star of the show. But he wanted to be his own type of villain, on his own terms.


I want to thank reader Henry Jenkins for the light and reflection analogy. He suggested it to me a few episodes prior, and it happened to fit Greg's mindset perfectly.

Also, this paragraph by Greg was kind of an inside joke between myself and Murtz, since earlier we had an argument whether people were an alliance just because they talked strategy. Greg is basically reiterating my point here. (Of course he is, I wrote it!)

"And I know it sounds like I'm in an alliance," said Greg, "But I'm not. Who is to say that four people voting together is an alliance? Maybe we are. Maybe we aren't. What defines an alliance?" Greg had said repeatedly that he was not in an alliance, and never would be. He hated that word, it meant nothing to him. He considered alliances to be the lowest form of strategy, boring and spineless. To win this game, he felt you needed to play for yourself, and take some chances. Alliances were for the weak.

And here it comes, Gina's last stand. Gina fans, start your sniffles...

Helen looked at Gina, who was off in the distance, walking by herself, taking yet another trip to the forest. She was a lonely figure, all alone, but it was definitely a prophetic sight.

This would likely be Gina's last nature walk.



"Vote for me," Gina said. "Make it unanimous. At least save yourself for a few more days."

Paschal shook his head, walking over to give her a hug. She clung to him, starting to cry again, trying desperately not to lose her composure. Gina Crews was strong, she wasn't the type of person to cry. Not here, and especially not now.

"I won't do that," he said. "You know it and I know it. If they take us out, they have to take us
all out. I'm not gonna help them."

She stepped back, smiling at him, gratefully. She didn't know what answer she had wanted to hear, but she appreciated the sincerity in his response. She kissed him on the cheek.

"Thank you, Pappy."


And of course, Gina got one chance to blast everyone and let them have it at Tribal Council. But I wanted her to take the high road and go out with some dignity. After all, she is a Southern lady, long prided for their grace and dignity:

"Gina," asked Jeff, "What about you? Do you feel vulnerable tonight?"

Gina smiled softly and flipped her hair out of her eyes again, a move she often did when she was upset. This was her chance, her last bit of glory. She wanted to blast the others for the way they had played. She wanted to let them know how she felt. She looked over at Helen, who had her head down, staring at the ground. It was clear from body language that Helen definitely didn't want to have a showdown here. And, Gina finally decided, neither did she.

It wasn't worth it.

"Of course," she smiled. "I'm probably going tonight, Jeff."

"Oh?" he asked, "Why do you say that?"

"Because I got outplayed, Jeff." She smiled, not elaborating. She wasn't going to say any more than that. She had decided to take the high road on this. Besides, she would probably be on the jury now. She would get a chance to speak later. They could all hear her feelings on the subject then.


And they heard from her later, oh yes they did...

Gina fans, this episode was for you. Hope you enjoyed it. Not every character gets a swan song (although three of them did in Alaska: Jerri, Gina and Tammy.) I guess I am a sucker for tough female characters.


Ok, there is a lot to say about this episode, both good and bad. It's not the most thrilling in terms of action or plot, but there was more behind the scenes in this episode than behind any of the other ones. To start off, this is the weakest of the entire series. No question. Trust me, I'm the biggest critic of any of these episodes and I know this one seems kind of thrown together. But there's a reason for that.

It was thrown together.

We were getting down the wire. Amazon was just about on us, so I had set a "5 days" limit for each new episode. I preferred four, but we could get away with five. And we were writing every episode as it was posted, so we didn't have any leeway. Anyway, the first draft of this episode was done three days into the deadline, but the problem was that I just didn't feel it flowed right. It didn't quite fit the rest of the series. Now any sane person would say, okay we'll just extend the deadline and do it over. Or, we'll just make it work with what we have. But I'm not like that. I won't let any episode get posted that I don't endorse 100% (I did that with a few eps in Hawaii and hated myself for it.) So basically this episode was done in a day, start to finish. The entire thing was redone from the earlier draft (although I kept the challenges). So if it seems like it is a little rushed, yeah it is, but damnit I made the five-day deadline. That's what matters, keep the readers happy! But this episode was definitely, without question, the most stressful to write.

A reader by the name of Henry Jenkins helped me out with the challenges, he came up with the airplane building one and the pie baking contest. They were both pretty original, although his idea was a paper airplane challenge and I changed it to a wood plane in the final draft.

"There is not a man out here who works any harder than Big Tom."

That's a Paschal quote at the start. But in the final episode, I have him saying that Helen is the hardest worker out here. Oops! although I suppose Paschal was only talking about men here, so Helen was exempt.

"Hey Tom," asked the judge, "Have you ever tasted a slice of blueberry cobbler hot enough to melt the ice cream on top of it?"

"Ah have," Tom said, licking his lips. "An’ have you ever tasted a bowl of sweet potatah souffleh, brown sugar and pecans melted into a glaze and poured over ‘a top of it?"

"I have. And have you ever had a plate of black eyed peas, boiled overnight with the collarbone of a pig, and topped with salty collared greens the color of a fresh dollar bill?"

Tom smiled. He hadn't, but he wanted some now.


Okay, now the above interchange was something that was supposed to lead to something else. That's why it seems a little weird. In the earlier draft of the episode (the one that was scrapped) the idea for the reward challenge was that one of the contestants would get to fly home. That's right, one hour at home. I was never completely sold on the idea, but it was in the first draft. Paschal was going to end up flying to Georgia (how he got there from Alaska, don't ask me) and take Tom with him on a trip to his home. This interchange was originally setting up that trip, and Paschal could share with Tom some of his favorite foods. The trip home never worked, but there are a few foreshadowing things that still ended up in the episode, like the two of them talking about food.

Hey, here's some other nice foreshadowing for you:

Helen had seen her strategy pay off. From the hard working den mother of Tuktu, to the "ugly duckling" among the power core, to the target of numerous schemes and suspicions, she had finally emerged on top, for the moment. She regretted it had all come to pass the way it had, but she wouldn't change any of her actions for a second. She had just reacted to a bad situation and risen to power. Helen Glover was a winner.

And here's some more stuff left over from the original draft that made it into the final one:

Helen balanced precariously, and almost had the glasses back up before Tammy's water jug slid off her back and onto the ground, landing on top of a rock.

"Oh shit," Tammy said, bending over the large clay pot to make sure it wasn’t leaking. She picked it up and padded down both sides. It was fine. She wiped the sweat off her forehead and lifted the jug back onto her shoulders.


A few readers questioned this part, thinking it was foreshadowing some future events. And of course, it wasn't. But was it supposed to at one time? Maybe, maybe not. For not only was this episode a lot different in its original draft, the original had Tom leaving, not Kelly. So maybe the story would have taken a different direction in that case, and this Helen-Tammy split would have come into play. But if you were wondering why it seemed so out of place here, that's why. It was from an older draft.

It was a running joke among most of the players that Kelly had some powerful demons bottled up in her. Greg went so far to suggest she had depression issues, and it had been irresponsible of the producers to ask her to come back. Helen wasn't sure she agreed, but had always been a bit worried about Kelly Wiglesworth. She just seemed to have a black cloud over her head at all times, it couldn't be healthy.

The above passage is basically a theory some us had about Kelly. After writing about her for so many episodes, some of us felt she probably has some serious depression issues in real life. The way she talks, acts, etc. Just seems to me like she's a sad person. So when I have a theory like that, my general idea is to have a character come up with it instead. And generally, Greg gets the good juicy accusations like this.

Look, Greg's maple syrup comes back! I felt that after a few people questioned it earlier, I had to elaborate a little on what exactly it was he found. So I just guessed:

It wasn't really syrup. Not by Mrs. Butterworth standards, as he helpfully pointed out. It was a yellowish-green sap that he found one morning, oozing out of a tree root. He had no idea what it was, but it was sweet and didn't seem to kill him, so that was really all that counted. He had brought some back to add to the oatmeal a few days ago and had been the man of the hour. And now, the stage was set again. He had more presents to give them.

Here's another fun image we had with Greg:

He talked as he walked, not looking at the camera, as usual. First person confessionals weren't really his style, he liked to treat the cameraman like a secretary. Just follow me around and see what you can get on tape.

I often had him doing this, trying to avoid the cameraman while still talking. It just seemed like something mischievous that he would do.

We get to the reward challenge next, which is the aforementioned model airplane building. Like I said, it was paper airplanes in the first draft, but that didn't seem challenging enough to me. I wanted to see them make wooden airplanes. You will note that the treemail is a paper airplane, and is yet another thing left over from the first draft. And if the challenge seems a little goofy, you are right. It is because Paschal was supposed to win this one, and finding challenges Paschal would win is hard to do. Since he was once in the Air Force, we figured he would know how to construct a plane.

I used to build balsa wood planes when I was a kid, and I'm not kidding when I explain in the story how fragile balsa wood is. Those planes would fall apart if a butterfly farted near them. They lasted two flights, tops. So I made sure at least one of the planes was made out of balsa and shattered, just as a memory of my childhood.

Tom Buchanan was next, and held up his big, heavy bi-plane. It must have weighed ten pounds. People were holding their smiles, trying not to say anything, but finally Jeff Probst had to say something. It was obvious they were all thinking it, and he knew if he didn't say it, nobody would.

"Tom, what is that ridiculous piece of shit?"


The dialogue above is the only time Jeff ever swears in either story. I was told by at least one person that "Jeff would never say that!" But I have heard from other sources that Jeff has the mouth of a sailor, off camera at least. I know for a fact that he has chewed people out at Tribal Council after the cameras stop rolling. Besides, he was joking here. Jeff can swear when he is joking around, that's the rule in our stories.

Greg held up his bizarre circular plane. It kind of looked like a UFO, although it looked more than a little like a donut as well. He claimed he read about this design in some physics book, and was ready to test it out. He turned sideways and flung it with the snap of his wrist, like a frisbee. It sailed up and out into the air.

Greg's plane is circular instead of plane-shaped. Would this fly better? Who knows? I don't have a clue. I just wrote Greg as knowing things that no one else would have a clue about. Maybe this is the best way to build a plane, you would have to ask Greg.

Okay, here's a funny scene. Or blatantly offensive, depending on your point of view:

Greg came up for his second attempt, smiling. He thought he had it figured out now, it was all in the wrist. Turning sideways, he flung the Probst Shuttle like a boomerang. It glided up and up, getting the wind under it, and they all watched it awe. It was destined to go far and beyond Paschal's, until it started to turn, coming back towards them.

"No, stay straight," coaxed Greg, "Wrong way!" But the spinning disk flew directly into a tree, where it shattered. The poor contraption lay on the ground, decimated.

"Noooooo!" cried Greg, in mock anguish, dropping to his knees. The other players laughed, as Helen went over to jokingly console him.

"Greg and the Probst Shuttle, out of the game," announced Jeff.


The odd thing is that I wrote this the same day that the shuttle Columbia fell apart during re-entry. I was told by somebody that it was in extremely bad taste to have something called the Shuttle break apart during flight. But I hadn't even thought of that when I wrote it, it was just a coincidence. So I just said, well if anyone complains about it, I will just tell them to buck up and stop being so sensitive. Luckily, no one complained.

I personally enjoyed the image of Helen trying to bully a model airplane. Kind of like her experience with the sled dogs:

"Oh, don't you even," said Helen, as she taunted the plane in midair, "Don't you even think of going further." She watched, hands on hips, smiling, as the judge's plane floated atop the wind. "You stop it," she said, sharply. "Stop it right now! Crash!"

Onto the reward itself. Like I said, originally Paschal got a trip to Georgia and took Tom with him. But I could not for the life of me picture that realistically happening (the airtime alone would be 8+ hours, each way!) so I dumped it and wrote the cabin in the woods. I always wanted to give someone a piece of property. And so many readers wrote us to say "That cabin should have been Gina's!" But the funny thing is, I didn't even remember that when I wrote it. It never even occurred to me that Gina's goal in life was to own A BED AND BREAKFAST IN THE ALASKAN WILDERNESS. Oops! I thought it was just a cool little reward I made up. Sorry, Gina!

Cape Noortik is not a real place, by the way. I just made up a name that sounded Alaskan. Don't go looking for it on a map.

Here's a little in-joke for those from the South:

After dessert, Beverly pulled out one of the surprises: A box of Paschal's favorite hometown treat, a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts.

Although technically, they have Krispy Kreme just about everywhere now. It is no longer just a Southern thing. Heck, they have them in Seattle now, that's about as far away as you can get.

"What ever happened to nice, old Tuktu?" joked Kelly, as she sat with Helen. "I mean, this was like a summer camp at one time."

"Sure, if you're thinking of Friday the 13th," deadpanned Helen. "I think all that ended when Neleh got a hatchet to the forehead."


The above interchange goes back to my love for horror movies. There was no way I wouldn't make a summer camp/Jason Voorhees reference at some point in this series. It would have been better if I could work in Corey Feldman in some way (Friday the 13th, the Final Chapter), but you take what you can get. Had I known Corey and Jerri were both in the Surreal Life, it would have definitely helped.

And I have no idea if Helen has ever seen the Friday the 13th movies. I'm guessing not, but it sounded best coming out of her mouth.

"Sometimes the wheels fall off," answered Helen.

Kelly digested this, enjoying the swim instructor's analogy. But she had something to add as well.

"Helen, the wheels didn't fall off of Tuktu."


"Nah. The whole fucking car blew up."

Helen snickered. Kelly was a head case, but she was starting to get it. She was definitely starting to see the big picture.


The above interchange is based on something that happened to me once in a high school baseball game. It's kind of a dark story, but still funny. One of the guys on our team had a father who was sick with cancer. Anyway, we dedicated one of our playoff games to his dad, hoping it would rally the team to victory. Our coach gave us this big speech before the game about how a team is like a car, and all the parts need to work together. A great speech, but it didn't help. We lost something like 16-2. We could not have played worse if we tried. Anyway, after the game, the coach pulled us over and was trying to hold back a smile. The only thing he could really say was "Guys, sometimes the wheels fall off..." And my friend Jamey replied, without missing a beat. "Coach, the whole fucking car blew up!" Everyone cracked up because it kind of broke the tension. I always wanted to use that analogy again, so it made it into the Alaska story.

"Ah felt sorry for Tammy," said Tom, laying an arm over her shoulder, "Because if she'n had won, she'd gotten to see her new husband, and maybe get a conjugal visit." Tammy flushed, but the rest of the tribe enjoyed a quick laugh. In fact, all day yesterday, Tom had been particularly fascinated by the idea of the newlyweds having a quickie in the cabin. He was just like that, Tom had a strange sense of humor.

Only Tom would think of Tammy and her new husband having a quickie. It just seemed like something he would say. Plus it was fun to think of Tammy in a different light than tough, mean uber-bitch.

Here's an example of me needing some exposition. I had said earlier that Tom disliked Kelly, but a few readers questioned that. They asked why would he dislike Kelly. So I felt that Tom needed to elaborate. See, I do listen to the comments on the boards, I try to take the good ones and use them to make the story better. Tom didn't like Kelly because she didn't talk, and he didn't trust introverts:

"And I have absolutely no clue what Kelly is up to," said the judge. I have no idea why she voted against Gina, or Elisabeth. I couldn't begin to imagine what her strategy is."

"Her strategy is, she's a damn basket case," joked Tom. "She's s'damn crazy, I think she'd vote herself out if'n she could. She just goes out and sulks on a rock all damn day, and just comes to show up for the challenges." Tom frowned, he was never a Kelly fan. She was too introverted, too sneaky. He was as loud and gregarious as they came, introverts always made him suspicious.

If you didn't talk, it meant you had something to hide.


I don't like the immunity challenge (the pie baking) because I think it's kind of boring. But it works okay. Once again, we needed a challenge that Paschal could win. Man, how many of those do we need to dream up?

"Today's challenge is called 'Hot Pies'," said Jeff. "The goal is to create one of these delicious pastries. The Natives call this dish Shuswap Bannock, although it's close to what you know as blueberry pie."

This is a real pie, by the way. It is an Indian dessert. The actual Inuit name is Epangishimog Pakwejigan, but we used the translated name instead. The other one is just too long to say out loud.

Here's a passage that I got a lot of compliments on. People (writers, especially) liked this one a lot:

They finally arrived at the Spirit Lodge. Tammy Leitner could always hear the wild drumming and shrieking of the Survivor theme song in her head when she entered this building. She could feel the cameras overhead, and the editors and producers crowded around. But you had to block all that out, although you always felt a bit "on stage" here. That was just the nature of the place. This was where sound bytes were born, where history was made, where dreams were fulfilled or crushed.

This was Tribal Council.


Okay, the episode ends with Kelly being voted off. This kind of came out of the blue, because we didn't know who would be voted off when we started writing it. Like I said, the first draft had Tom, but we came back to Kelly eventually. Now, I had a reason why Kelly got voted off, but it didn't come through in the story. Since I was a little rushed, I missed some key exposition. The reason in the story is because Greg wanted her gone. He needed her on the jury. And she got screwed because she refused to play along with Helen and Tammy's alliance. If you read it that way, she just looks like an idiot.

But the reason I had in mind is that she had no idea she was a target. She was playing like Vecepia, waffling between two alliances as much as she could. She thought she would never make enemies if she wavered between either side. So she thought she was safe until the end, so long as she never stuck to an alliance. And she got nailed here because Greg was targeting her. So if you read it THAT way she actually had a strategy, but was just outplayed (by Greg). If you look at it that way, she was a pretty good player who just got targeted withough knowing it.

So if you are wondering why she got voted out, that's why. I just forgot to explain it as much as I should. Hey, the whole episode was written in a day, cut me some slack :)

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