Four years after the resounding success(?) of Total Drama: Superstar Showdown, Chris McLean is out of work and none of the former contestants from the Toad-al Drama franchise want anything to do with him. Craving more drama, he decides to rent out an absurdly expensive lakeside club 45 minutes north of the big city, round up 16 new young adults from every corner of North America, and make them partake in yet another competition for $1,000,000. Between the grueling challenges, the strong personalities, and Chris being more burnt out than ever, Total Drama Lakeside is sure to be an eventful coda to the Toad-al Drama series. 



















Chapter 1 - Lake Meet Arrive

The evening skyline of an expansive, familiar-looking city resting beside a lake comes into view. As the camera zooms through the south side, the bustling downtown, and then the northern suburbs, the city eventually fades out and the tall urban setting is replaced with greenery, suburban mansions, European-style architecture, and beaches. It finally settles on a group of large, mostly residential buildings by the lake, surrounded by rows of houses, small shops, and the city plaza.

“We’re coming at you live, 20 miles north of the city!” shouts a graying, mildly wrinkly Chris McLean, popping into view in a grassy field with the lake right behind it. “After an… extended and not-quite-voluntary hiatus, the drama has returned, and we’re about to follow 16 new hopefuls on one final chance to win a million-dollar prize! One of the thousands of colleges around here, don’t care which one, has rented a few buildings out for us to use this summer… including their country club! Yeah, this is gonna be awesome.”

Chef Hatchet walks up in a tightly-fitting Speedo and water wings. “I was born ready,” he grunts.

“These 16 contestants are currently taking the metro up from downtown, and upon arrival they’ll be thrust immediately into the drama. Trust me, we’ve got a pretty intense cast this time around, and I don’t know if all of these guys passed the psych evaluation,” continues Chris.

“What psych evaluation?” asks a confused Chef.

“Yeah, uh, we’ll edit this intro later,” says Chris. “Anyway, they’ll be staying in dorms revamped entirely for Total Drama purposes, meaning they’re in peak physical condition, and competing in challenges around here, on the beach, and everywhere in between! Chef’s a certified bus driver, so if we’re feeling especially dramatic, we may even go into the city! I feel like we didn’t use that place to its full potential last time, so I’m tempted to make up for that.” He grins evilly. “After the usual routine, only one will remain to claim the million-dollar prize, and in this day and age, that’s gotta be looking extra pretty. When we come back, we’ll get our first taste of the contestants! Gear up for more action, more drama, and more gratuitous beach shots, right here on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

[theme song]

After the theme song is over, Chris’s voice is heard over shots of the metro traveling through the city. “It looks like our first four are officially in transit! Let’s get to know them, shall we?”

A massive red-headed man with a fedora, a graphic tee depicting a cartoon pony, and a thick neckbeard stares out into space while chomping loudly on a bag of chips. Sitting right next to him, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else, is a tall, tan blonde boy with a prominent jaw and preppy clothing who’s listening to loud rap music.

“Yo, uh…” says the prep, taking off his headphones.

“No, you CANNOT have a chip! I spent over a dollar on these, and they will all be going into my mouth!” snarls the fedora-clad redhead.

The prep stares at him, wide-eyed. “No, I was just saying, bro, could you scoot like four inches to the left? You’re getting all up in my stuff.”

“Hmph,” he snorts. “Well, I suppose.” He begrudgingly moves to the side.

“Ugh!” shouts the neckbeard, named Boris, in the confessional. “I cannot believe that those filthy Chads are following me to the ends of the earth! All I wanted was to join this series, woo some fine damsels, and showcase to the world what a nice guy I truly am, but of course I have to be showed up by some Neanderthal within mere seconds. No worries, though, he will see… They will all see.”

“Man, I dunno what that guy’s problem is,” says the preppy boy, Christian, who’s next in the confessional. “I mean, I get it if he’s jealous of my glistening bronze tan, or my fluffy blonde locks, or my outfit which I got all by myself without dad’s cash. But the thing is, most people are. He’s just gotta tone it down a notch.”

Up further a few seats, a short blonde is seen giggling to herself, then taking various photos of herself and the landscape with her phone. Sitting in the seat across from her is a curly-haired brunette with a jean jacket, who’s listening to classical music and typing something up rapidly on her laptop.

The blonde pauses from her photo shoot. “I love your jacket!” she says across the aisle. “Where’d you get it? You’re really slaying that look.”

“Huh?” asks the other girl, in a surprisingly deep voice. “Hang on, sorry, trying to concentrate on this.” She resumes typing rapidly.

“Oh no, girl, I totally understand. I had to go through my sorority’s applicant list last semester, and it was like 20,000 pages long,” says the blonde.

“Whoa, my condolences,” says the brunette. “This is a grad school application. Third one of the afternoon.” She laughs uncomfortably.

“No way! I’d love to go to grad school!” responds the blonde. “I just think it’s so cool that you’re so passionate about academics.” The other girl says nothing. “Hey, want to be in this photo?” She nudges her way in and takes a selfie with the brunette, beaming wide.

“Can we retake that? Ohhhh boy, I look rough, I guess I’ve been sweating,” asks the brunette after a long pause.

“No, you look totally fine! I mean, skin’s a little moist, but this pic’ll be popping in an hour,” says the blonde.

The brunette smiles at her as her left eye slightly twitches, then goes back to her laptop.

“I guess I probably shouldn’t have signed up for this show with so much on my plate,” says Kelsey, the brunette. “But it’s time for a change. Last summer I interned in DC, the summer before that I was in China, and the summer before that I was at national debate team championships. This is gonna be a great decompressor, and if everyone else is as easy to deal with as that girl, it’ll be a breeze! I think!” She pauses. “I hope?”

“This is going to be awesome,” squeals Isabella, the blonde. “That girl reminds me of so many of my sisters, just total ride-or-die types. This place’s whole city-lake vibe is so exotic too! I’ve never seen anything like it. All I can compare it to is the pool in my backyard, and that has nowhere near the ‘gram potential.”

The metro pulls up to the station, where Chris McLean is now lying in wait. All four contestants exit the doors at varying speeds and walk down to Chris and Chef.

“And here come our first four contestants - Boris, Christian, Isabella, and Kelsey!” announces Chris.

“Hey man, hold this for a sec,” says Christian, walking up with a giant suitcase and throwing it directly at Chris.

Chef grabs the suitcase out of the way at the last minute, and grunts, “Nice cast, Chris.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” says Chris, walking up to the blonde. “You’re Christian, eh? When did I ever approve your casting? This already happened once before! My personal brand is going to take so many blows!”

“Uh, you can call me ‘Bleach Blaze’ instead, that’s my rap name,” says Christian, flexing unsubtly.

“...On second thought, Christian is totally fine,” shudders Chris.

“Your name is not Chad?!” Boris bellows. “Color me shocked! Truly!”

“Hey fedora bro, I’m sorry, I have legit zero idea what you’re talking about,” says Christian. Boris starts breathing heavily.

“I dated a guy named Chad once,” says Isabella to Kelsey. “He was pretty cute. Not really my type, though, he was waaaay too clingy. I ghosted him real quick.”

“Of course,” mutters Boris. “I should’ve expected Stacys of your caliber to reside here. Chris, this is rigged!”

“What? Rigged? I don’t want to ruin the game or anything,” says Isabella.

“Relaaaax, you’re fine,” says Chris. “If anything, I’ll be the one doing the rigging.”

Kelsey, still with her laptop out, clears her throat. “Hey guys, I hate to interrupt, but does anyone want to help me out here? I’m doing a philanthropy thing that goes toward a children’s hospital for cancer treatments, and if I raise the most funds I’ll be considered as the next president of our club next year.”

“Sorry, fresh outta money,” says Chris, and he and Chef giggle sinisterly.

“Cancer? The only cancer I recognize is modern feminism,” says Boris. “Women like you wielding power? Flabbergasting! Chad, are you not appalled she isn’t bowing down to you?”

“Uhhhh, actually I think it’s pretty hot,” says Christian.

Kelsey inches away from the two men. “Okay, thanks. I guess I’ll ask the next guys.”

Meanwhile, the next batch of four is en route, getting ready to arrive at the station. Sitting next to each other near the back are a small, paranoid-looking boy of Indian descent, who is wearing a fleece zip-up sweater yet visibly shivering, and a tall, lanky African-American man dressed in a fluffy hat and vibrant clothing.

“Dude, I’m telling you, you gotta move! You’re too close! So many life-threatening substances can be transmitted just by sitting next to each other!” stammers the shorter boy.

“Hm?” asks the taller one, flipping through a tabloid magazine. “Oh Kylie, hun, what are you doing? Not a good look…”

“All right, that’s it, I gotta go take a walk,” says the shorter boy, standing up.

The taller man looks up from his tabloid, seemingly noticing his seatmate for the first time. “Oh, hey sis, who’re you?”

“I don’t think I can disclose that info… It could go anywhere! Like, to the government! I don’t mess with that kind of stuff, man!” says the other guy.

“Are you competing on Total Drama?” asks the tall man. “Because you do know that you’re being broadcasted to the world right now, honey? Anyway, I’m Kingsley. You’ve probably heard of me.”

“Kingsley? Okay, that doesn’t sound TOO suspicious… I’m Suvir,” he responds. “Gotta keep your allies close in case of an emergency!”

“Yeah, um, sure?” says Kingsley. “You’re reeeeal funny.”

“That guy seems fine, a lot better than I was expecting, but I can’t let my guard down just yet!” says Suvir in the confessional. “Maybe ‘Kingsley’ is just an alias. I’ve heard too many stories about guys who’ll go around saying their name is ‘Joe’ or something but it’s actually, like, ‘Thaddeus Skullcrusher XIV.’ Scary stuff, man. If I’m gonna win this thing, I gotta stay cool, calm, and collected!” He takes a deep breath, then starts coughing.

“Hey fans, welcome baaaack!” says Kingsley in a singsong voice. “Let me tell you something dramatic that just happened to me. I was HARASSED on public transportation. This, like, totally weird guy came up to me and started rambling on about stuff I did NOT care about, and I was like ‘girl, this is NOT worth my time at all,’ but he just kept going! He needs to take, like, 5,000 chill pills.” For some reason, a studio audience is heard laughing.

Two girls are sitting a few rows ahead of Kingsley and Suvir, one of them a slender Latina girl wearing a bright red jacket and holding a notepad and newspaper, and the other a petite Chinese girl, who is staring out the window, listening to music, and looking relatively hostile.

“She’s not very approachable,” the Latina mutters, jotting down notes rapidly. “Hiding something, maybe? Hopefully something juicy.”

The other girl takes one earbud out. “Did you say something?”

“Oh no, I didn’t mean any harm at all,” says the journalist. “I’m sorry! I was writing about science or something.”

“Huh? Do I look angry? I’m not, trust me,” the shorter girl smiles. “Sometimes it comes off that way.”

“Ha, yeah…” says the journalist, and the other girl puts her earbuds back in. “Nice save, Frances. Okay, she’s obviously suppressing certain parts of her personality. Hmm…”

“Five minutes in, and I can already tell this place is going to be rife with potential stories,” says Frances in the confessional. “Sometimes I scare people off pretty quickly when I get too excited about journalism, so it’s all about making myself look as chill and detached as possible. After all, the best stories come from sneaky and astute observation.”

“My whole life has been a struggle with resting bitch face,” says Erica. “I mean, when I was younger, it matched my personality pretty well, but now I’m looking to grow up a bit, you know? I don’t like that girl who sat next to me, but I feel like maybe I should. If I just go in not wanting to be friends with anyone and complaining the whole time, I’ll be gone immediately.” She pauses. “But I don’t LIKE her.”

“Here’s our next four!” says Chris, as the train car pulls up to the station and the four walk out. “Erica, Frances, Kingsley, and Suvir. How’s THAT for a ‘diversity quota,’ TVS?”

“Uhhh, Chris,” mutters Chef.

“Chiiiill, I said we were going to edit this later,” snaps Chris.

“Hello, everyone,” says Frances, with her notepad out. “Good to see a solid group forming, if I could get a quote from someone about being here that’d be great…”

“Well, hey,” says Kelsey, walking up to her. “I’ve been on the front page of my college newspaper 14 times. So basically, I think it—”

“You have?! No way,” interjects Isabella. “Did you get to do a photoshoot? I did one of those last week with my friends up at my cottage.”

“No, uh, I was most recently quoted discussing the lack of practicality apparent in the school’s new funding for some gym building nobody’s going to use,” Kelsey says. “And the time before that, I was talking about my experiences abroad—”

“Abroad? Did you go to Spain? I’d love to go to Spain,” gushes Isabella.

“Good material, guys, keep it coming,” says Frances, frantically jotting down notes.

Suvir tiptoes over to Christian, who is juuling. “Dude, what’re you doing?!”

“You talking to me? What’s up?” asks Christian, and he holds out his fist. “You tryna bump it?”

Upon seeing Christian’s extended fist, Suvir jumps back and yowls in fear. “No, man, I ain’t touching you! I bet you didn’t know dihydroxyacetone contains the same chemicals they use in toxic glue, and if your skin comes in contact with enough fake tanner, you’ll drop dead!”

“Huh?” says Christian. “This is all real tan. We can play some ultimate on the beach tomorrow morning so you can catch up to me.”

“Don’t listen to him,” says Boris, materializing out of nowhere. “Trust me. All he wants to do is get you out in a public location where your pale, doughy body will be visible to hordes of beachgoers, and then you will be humiliated for eternity!”

“Bruh, are you on crack or something?" asks Christian.

“Talk to me when you are interested in more sophisticated activities, like Luncheons & Laggins,” snorts Boris.

Suvir begins to sweat, then utters a small yelp and runs away from the two, hiding behind Kingsley.

“Wow, gorgeous top,” says Kingsley, excitedly chatting with Erica. “You’d totally fit in on my weekly style vlog.”

Erica laughs cheerfully. “Thanks! I got it on sale a few weeks back, I’m in love with it.”

“That guy’s fashion sense scares me,” says Erica. “And he thinks my top is nice?! Shame, I’m going to have to burn it tomorrow morning. Did I even pack extra clothes?”

“What do you mean they were on the same train, just one car back?” Chris says, talking into a headset. “You’re telling me they already got off? Then why didn’t we pan in and do the whole dramatic intro thing?! Ruined everything! Yeesh!”

“Ahem,” says a female voice.

Chris looks behind him to see four more contestants - a rustic-looking Southern gent with poofy hair, a squat, grinning boy with a strong resemblance to a past contestant, a scowling woman with dyed grey hair and fashionable clothing, and a tall, awkward-looking blonde who resembles a giant avian - waiting at the train stop.

“We’ve been here for like 15 minutes,” says the grey-haired woman.

Chris glares at Chef, who says, “Don’t look at me, I was responsible for none of this.”

“Okay, well,” continues Chris, after a long pause. “Looks like we’re going back to how we used to do it, one-by-one! Ladies and gentlemen, this is, uh…” he fumbles with a few notecards, “Rhett!”

The Southern boy comes down from the station and smiles a toothy grin at Chris. “Yer Chris, huh? Wowie! Ah’m in the presence of a real-life celebrity!”

“Okay, now we’re talking. More contestants like you, please,” says a flattered Chris.

“Yeah, I saw you in that one show on cable, y’know? Th’ one where you were naked, servin’ waffles, righ’?” Rhett guffaws. “Funniest thing I ever seen!”

Chris looks horrified. “I take back my previous statement. Go talk to the others.”

“His career has taken such a downturn that he has to resort to cameo appearances in mediocre prime-time comedies? Good content, but yikes,” says Frances with her notepad out.

“Yeah, maybe he’ll realize reality TV hosting isn’t a sustainable career and will leave you broke and depressed, you know?” adds Kelsey.

“Only way I’d ever watch that show is if I was 20 beers in,” says Christian.

“20 beers?!” exclaims Rhett, popping up out of nowhere. “Didja say 20 beers? Haw, that’s nothin’!”

“You’re funny!” says Isabella. “Do you, like, get really drunk and ride horses and stuff?”

“Naw, man, I ride horses ev’ry time o’ the day,” says Rhett. “Ain’t gotta be liquored up.”

“All these big ‘n tall buildings are freakin’ me out, man!” says Rhett in the confessional. “And th’ lake? It’s so clear an’ blue! Alls we got down south is th’ bayou. It’s all slimy an’ gross, an’ there’s gators down there, I don’t mess with that kinda stuff! This is a breath o’ fresh air!”

The squat, penguin-shaped guy and the tall, gray-haired woman walk down towards the emerging group, seemingly in the midst of some sort of intense argument.

“And here’s our next two,” says Chris. “Now I strictly said one-by-one, but I don’t care enough to dispute it. Anyway, Roald and Whitney!”

“Perfect timing!” exclaims Roald. “Yo, guys, settle this. Whitney here says I don’t have any athletic skills! Insanity, right?”

“Look, dude, you’re misquoting me,” says Whitney flatly. “I just said your body spray was overpowering, I could smell it from seven seats away.”

Roald’s scowl twists into a giant, goofy grin. “Haha! That’s what I like to hear! My ‘Pineapple Breeze’ gives me a natural yet exotic musk!”

“I wish I was born without a sense of smell, then,” says Whitney, rolling her eyes.

“Um, sis,” says Kingsley, touching Roald’s shoulder. “Is it just me, or do you look… flabby?”

“Rookie mistake, king man!” says Roald. “My body is fine-tuned with the most solid, rippling muscles on the planet!”

“Not even gonna ask how you know my name, buuuuut I don’t buy it,” purrs Kingsley.

“Don’t buy it, huh? Right now I’m doing squat thrusts at such a speedy pace they’re invisible to the naked eye,” says Roald. “Jealous? I bet!”

Whitney walks over to the collective of girls starting to form. “I’m going to pretend the last 20 minutes didn’t happen and start fresh. Hi, I’m Whitney.” She takes out a fashion magazine and starts reading.

“That shirt is soooo stylish!” says Isabella. “Get it at Suburban Dressers?”

“Oh, save it,” says Whitney, not looking up from her magazine.

Isabella gasps slightly and turns to Erica and Kelsey. “That was beyond rude, I’m going to tweet about it. Give it a like once I post it, okay?”

“There’s only one reason I came on this show, and it’s to win,” says Whitney. “My brother was on like 5,000 years ago and did really well, and his life has improved a ton since then. Plus I’m older, prettier, and more sophisticated than him, so really, what’s stopping me from achieving the same success?”

“Man, I can’t wait to see how I look on TV! I hope they showcase all the spots where my muscles bulge out the most,” gushes Roald. “I was gonna try and lay low for the first few days, but that Whitney really brought out the fire within! Only reason I was bantering with her so much? She’s a cutie! Boo-yah!”

“Is it my turn now?” asks the tall blonde woman, standing uncomfortably close to Chris.

“Yes, Kaitlin, it’s your turn. Thanks for reminding me for the fifth time,” says Chris. “Everyone, this is… Kaitlin.”

She faces the camera. “Hmm, not loving this angle. Can you turn maybe three inches to the right?” The camera inches to the right. “Wait, now that’s just unflattering. Left a little?” It moves to the left. “Okay, there we go.” She turns to the other contestants and greets them. “Sup, boners?”

“Hello!” says Erica, forcing a wide smile.

“Something off about her for sure. She’s a narc. Calling it now!” says Suvir under his breath.

“Hmmm, you think so? Keep the observations coming, maybe I could get somewhere with that,” says Frances.

“Wow, warm reception,” says Kaitlin, facing everyone. “Maybe I wasn’t ‘upfront’ enough. Yeah, okay, I know what the deal is. Take two.”

“What is she…” begins Whitney.

Kaitlin clears her throat. “Sup, boners?” she repeats. Then, after a slight delay, she falls flat on her face out of nowhere. She stays lying face down on the ground for a few seconds, then gets back up like it was nothing. “Oh, there I go again, clumsy old me, huh? Gosh diddly darn!”

“I’m real uncomfortable,” says Christian quietly. “Maybe if she kept her mouth shut, and wore a bikini or something, I’d be more on board.”

“What was that, you bleached asshole?” Kaitlin snaps. “Don’t think I didn’t hear you. I’m ready to go whenever you are.” She takes a beer bottle out from her purse and takes a swig of it.

Boris’s eyes well up to the size of an anime character’s. “M’lady! You look like a level 43 Stymphalian Warrior Goddess,” he says, rushing up to Kaitlin.

“Warrior goddess, hmm? Okay, I like that, keep talking,” she says, flipping her hair back.

“Yes! 50% female deity, 50% large predatory bird, 100% pure cuteness,” says Boris. Kaitlin’s eye twitches.

“I was totally willing to lap up that dork’s compliments, right up until that last part,” she grunts. “I came here to AVOID being compared to a bird for once in my life. Whatever, I get it. I’m tall, I’m bony, most ladies out there would kill for my body. And I’ll have the last laugh when my hilarious and charming personality makes it huge and I become the biggest star this goddamn show has ever seen.”

“Uh, Chris,” says Chef. “She went like three minutes over her intro time. We’re runnin’ late.”

“Oh, come ON!” shouts Chris. “Have I really lost that much mojo? Let me guess, we can’t do any more train scenes?”

“Well, I mean…” says Chef, pointing up to the station, where the remaining four contestants are standing and looking rather impatient.

Chris groans loudly. “Fine! Here’s our 13th contestant, I think… Miles.”

A tall, gangly, odd-looking young man with pink hair, a beanie, and overalls walks up to the group, trying to make himself look small. He is carrying multiple duffel bags and what looks like an electric guitar case.

“Uh, hi,” he says in a soft voice, taking out an e-cigarette from his pocket.

“Broooooooo,” says Christian, his eyes wide. “What model is that? It looks sick! Mind letting your boy take a drag?”

“No, I need it,” says Miles. “It’s the only thing that takes the edge off.”

“Well, fine,” scoffs Christian. “Be that way, but it’s your loss. Christian out.” He walks to the edge of the group and puts his headphones back on, and the sound of explicit hip-hop is heard.

“Miles, right?” Frances says, walking over to him. “You look… different. Tell me—I mean us—about yourself.”

“I play music… sometimes,” he sighs. “I used to do it a lot more.”

“You got a banjo in that case? My uncle Gus is a pro at banjo-pickin’!” says Rhett, attempting to make conversation.

“No, it’s just a guitar…” says Miles. “My mind is in too much turmoil for banjo…”

“What, are banjoists less stressed out on average? Someone want to help me find a banjo, then?” asks Kelsey, giggling awkwardly. “It was a joke. Hey, help me out and sign this?”

Miles looks at Kelsey’s politely smiling face and then her laptop, which is opened to her fundraiser, and a single tear runs down his cheek. “Oh…”

“Something wrong?” asks an alarmed Kelsey. “Did my computer switch tabs? Oh god, I hope not. Sorry about that.” She closes her laptop and walks away.

“My friends told me I needed to do this show to get my mind off of Jacqueline,” Miles sighs deeply. “My ex. She liked it when I called her Jackie… but I guess that’s beside the point. We’ve been done for two years, but everything reminds me of her… That Kelsey girl’s smile just brought me back to those deep summer nights we’d spend together by the river… God, my life is a pit of despair.” He lets out a deep, mournful sigh.

“Chin up, brozinsky!” says Roald, patting Miles on the back forcefully. “Let’s do some crunches to lighten the mood!”

He immediately drops down onto the ground and starts to do crunches while sweating profusely.

“One! Two! Th-th-three!” gasps Roald, as Miles backs away.

“Here’s our next one, speaking of lightening the mood…” says Chris. “Say hello to Rachel!”

“Hello!” says the newly arrived girl, who has auburn hair, a septum piercing, and an intricately designed skirt. “That’s me, obviously.”

“Are those tiny elephants?!” Isabella says, rushing up to Rachel and examining her skirt. “This is gorgeous and I need to know where you got it.”

“I wish I could say I wove it myself, but I got it online forever ago,” says Rachel, walking past Isabella and stopping at Miles. “Do you play music?”

“Kinda,” says Miles, his pale face turning pink.

“Wonderful,” says Rachel, twirling her hair. “The plant life here is beautiful, you guys. Chris, what is this?” She holds up what looks like tall grass of some sort.

“Ask Chef, he’s the exp—” begins Chris.

“Are you on another form of ‘plant life?’” asks Whitney.

Rachel pauses, then laughs. “I like you! Isn’t this lake gorgeous too… I live by the ocean, which is nice, but this is nicer, for sure. Feels a lot more au naturale. Fewer tourists. Fewer guys like that.”

She glances at Christian, who is on the ground, shirtless, and sunbathing for some reason while continuing to listen to his loud rap music.

“You can join in any time you want, mama,” he says, patting the ground next to him.

“The lakeside is gorgeous,” says Rachel. “But I prefer rivers. Hey, guys, you can call me River if you’d like. Sometimes I get upset about how common my name is… I feel like rivers match my intensity, sometimes bubbling softly, sometimes rushing rapidly.” She sighs in happiness.

“I don’t really know how to address any of this, so I’ll just keep going, okay?” asks an antsy Chris.

“Smell this flower! Natural beauty makes me so thrilled,” says Rachel, waving a black-eyed susan around in Kaitlin’s face.

“I will jam that flower right up your nostril,” retorts Kaitlin.

“I haven’t found anyone yet who I feel a deep, spiritual connection with, but then again, I’ve only been here for like five seconds,” says Rachel. “I can already tell this place is special. It’s just got that magical energy that only the most sacred places on the planet can claim… I need to make the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“Salutations, Chris,” says a peculiar-looking young man. He has a bushy mustache and a bright blue hat on, and is dressed in a formal manner similar to a detective. He is only carrying one piece of luggage, a small brown trunk.

“Our fifteenth contestant, who really should’ve waited until I called his name…” says Chris. “Graham!”

“Hey!” yells Suvir, running up to him. “Are you a detective investigating recent alien abductions? Wait, no, are you a government plant? Wait, don’t answer that!” He immediately runs away.

“Oh no, I just like this style, I suppose?” says Graham. “Pleasure to meet you all.”

Chris side-eyes the conversation. “Why’re they talking about clothes so much? This is like the most boring episode ever. No drama, no intrigue!” he says to Chef.

“What’s with the face fluff? You look 80,” says Whitney to the newly arrived contestant.

Graham’s eyes turn wide. “I mean, I can shave it off if you’d like?”

“Huh? I didn’t—I mean—” says Whitney. “Did you think I was insulting you? I guess I wasn’t not insulting you, but…”

“I understand,” says Graham somewhat smugly. “I… guess I’ll keep walking.”

“He’s weird,” mumbles Isabella.

Graham continues to make his way through the crowd, but is stopped by a woman who seems to have just arrived. She’s very short, has thick dark brown hair and heavy makeup, and is wearing some sort of avant-garde cowboy outfit.

“Excuse me, who are you? I didn’t notice you... well, 30 seconds ago,” says Graham.

“Who am I?” she responds in a deep, sultry voice. “I’m just a small-town girl, who moved to the big city with big dreams…”

“Big city? Haha, I hate to burst your bubble, but we’re in the suburbs right now!” says Graham.

“Just to find out,” she continues, seemingly ‘in the zone.’ “The only way to make it in the big city… is to shake it. It’s what I do. I shake it.” She inches closer to Graham. “You wanna see me shake it?”

“I mean, maybe later?” stammers Graham. “I did just get here and all, you know?”

The woman laughs heartily. “‘Course you do. They all do. They all want to see me shake it.” Graham’s face starts to turn redder and redder.

“This is… bizarre,” comments Erica.

“Yeah, who does she think she is?” Kaitlin says. “Trying to steal my thunder, ha, loser. Method acting is so two centuries ago.”

“Well, I see you’ve all met our final contestant!” says Chris. “This is our performance artist, Arte—”

Chris is interrupted by a loud shriek, and everyone turns to see Artemis licking Christian’s face.

“I don’t know WHAT just happened, but I’m not about it!” he yells. “I just got my facial hair waxed yesterday!”

“Whatever,” says Artemis. “You’ll be ready soon enough.”

“Hey, I’m glad she deflected the attention off of me, I guess,” says Graham in the confessional. “She’s very pretty, I suppose, but something about that interaction was… weird. I feel drastically different from everyone else here, and I don’t just mean the mustache. My dream is to bond with my team so deeply that we can stay up all night talking and laughing, but I’m feeling scared already!”

“Chris told me I couldn’t do my intro naked,” says Artemis. “Yes, I’m bitter. However, if he thinks I’m going to go this entire show without incorporating any nudity into my performance, he’s mistaken. Too many beefcakes here to pass up an opportunity like that.”

“Okay, everyone, we’re almost done here,” says Chris. “Just have to do a few ‘housekeeping’ things beforehand.”

“Man, I’d love t’ keep a house!” says Rhett. “Farm life ain’t cuttin’ it lately.”

“In this economy? Same here,” says Chris. “Anyway, as I was saying, each team will get a run-down—I mean, newly renovated—dormitory to sleep in, one room for the guys, one room for the ladies! They’re right by the lake, so if you’re dying for a gorgeous view of the water, you’re in luck. Your first challenge will be, uh… tomorrow!”

“Chris, this is riveting and all, but what are our teams?” pipes up Whitney.

“Jeez, I can already tell you’re going to be a fun one,” grumbles Chris, as he unfurls the first team’s flag. “Here goes. Team #1 will consist of Artemis, Boris, Frances, Kaitlin, Rhett, Roald, Suvir, and Whitney, and your name is… the Artisanal Cheeses!”

Everyone stares blankly at the maroon-colored flag, decorated with a giant logo consisting of three large wheels of cheese.

“Listen, Chef and I did all the planning when we were out to dinner last night, cut us some slack,” says Chris.

Suddenly, Roald breaks the silence. “Whoooooooooo! Go Cheeses! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” He rips both his coat and shirt off, swings them around in the air, then drops to the ground and starts doing clap push-ups.

“Aw, come on, I’m vegan!” protests Suvir. “You guys have no idea what sorts of chemicals they put in cheeses, I swear, they can control your mind.”

“If you have not enjoyed a fine bag of Doritos, you are not a true gentleman!” says Boris.

“No, Chris, it’s fine,” says Frances. “We like artisanal cheese… right, guys?” Nobody says anything, and the Artisanal Cheeses all start to make their way to their dorm.

“Sure, whatever, we’re almost done anyway,” says Chris, now unfurling a deep purple flag. “Now, Team #2 will consist of Christian, Erica, Graham, Isabella, Kelsey, Kingsley, Miles, and Rachel, and you guys will be known as… the Killer Wildcats!”

Kingsley’s eyes begin to water. “That shade of purple… GLAM. My wig is in orbit.”

“Are you kidding me?” snaps Kaitlin, walking back towards Chris. “They get a cool name, and we’re dairy-based?!”

“Kaitlin, get out of the frame, okay?” says Chris through his teeth. Kaitlin stares into the camera one more time, smiles wide, then leaves.

“I mean, the name’s not that cool,” says Kelsey. “Wildcats don’t even live in North America.”

“Yeah, what does any of this have to do with lakes?” adds Erica.

“And if those guys are the Cheeses, shouldn’t we be like the ‘Wacky Wines?’” Graham says. “That’d be so classy, too!”

“All valid complaints,” shrugs Chris. “However, I don’t care! We picked the name because it sounded cool.”

“Can’t argue with that, I LOVE cats!” says Isabella. “But I’m such a dog person!”

Chris hands Kelsey the flag, which has an aggressive-looking feline as its logo. Before she can say anything, Christian grabs it out of her hands.

“Man, this goes so well with my tan,” he says. “You guys think you can, like, drape it over me after we win challenges?”

“Let’s, uh, move in first,” says Kelsey, walking to the dorm with the others. “Go ‘cats!” The Wildcats exit the frame, with Miles lagging slightly behind the rest of them.

“So there you have it!” says Chris, getting back into the center with Chef. “Our 16 teens have arrived, and if you ask me, things really started picking up by the end! It wasn’t nearly as boring as I had expected. Anyway, there’s going to be conflict, and drama, and romance, and really all the things you could ask from a show that’s been going on for over a decade. So tune in next time, where we’ll get to our first challenge and see which unlucky schmuck is voted off first, right here on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Chapter 2 - You Snooze, You Lose... Literally

“Last time on Total Drama Lakeside!” begins Chris, who hasn’t moved at all since the previous episode ended. “We met our 16 contestants, watched them argue with each other for about 20 minutes, then did some pretty exciting introductory stuff. They were divided into two teams, the Artisanal Cheeses and the Killer Wildcats! Despite loads of complaints about my team names—I don’t get it, I think they’re both awesome—the two teams set off to their new dorms, where we’re gonna watch them get settled right now! Dear god, I just hope this time they talk about more interesting things than fundraisers and clothes and pineapple-scented body spray. I guess there’s only one way to find out whether they will, though, huh? You got it, that’s by tuning in right here, right now, on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

[theme song]

The Killer Wildcats open up the door to their dorm, which looks shockingly well-kept - two distinct rooms with an old-fashioned college aesthetic, featuring giant windows with the curtains down in either room.

“I can’t wait to see that lovely view Chris told us about,” swoons Rachel, as she opens the curtains in the girls’ room to see… a giant dumpster completely blocking the lake.

“Oh, gorgeous,” says Erica, setting her stuff down. “Really showcases the lake well.”

Isabella takes a selfie with the dumpster in the background. “Haha, I’m such trash!”

“Yeah, I’m not gonna say I didn’t expect that,” says Kelsey. “Okay, I’m in the bottom bunk here. If you guys don’t want to see my computer screen at three in the morning, I’d suggest moving to those other beds.”

“Are you going to be binging Webflicks?” asks Isabella. “Because I’ve got to join in.”

“Uhhhh, that sounds a lot more fun than ‘writing a thesis,’ I’ll go with yes,” says Kelsey.

Rachel somehow jumps from the floor all the way to her top bunk and lands on her back. “This bed! So soft,” she says. “Soooo soft.”

“Okay, so I think we’re like the cutest girl gang,” says Isabella. “Like, did you see those girls on the Cheeses? Weird, right? We’re so much more adorable! Let’s take a group photo. Ooh, can we get Kingsley to take it?”

Kingsley, on cue, pokes his head through the door. “Excuse me?”

“Take this photo of us! You can be in the next one if you want,” offers Isabella.

“Ummm, I’m good, but I’ll take the pic,” says Kingsley dryly. “Let’s just get this over with, I guess.”

The four girls get into a pose with their arms around each other, all smiling to some degree with Erica’s exaggerated smile being the biggest of all. Kingsley takes the photo, then hands Isabella’s phone back to her as she giggles happily.

“Okay, they better not be turning me into their ‘honorary fifth girl’ or whatever,” grumbles Kingsley in the confessional. “I mean, that’d be less of an issue if they all slayed as much as Erica, but truth is, she’s the only one I can vibe with. Sis is, like, me-level funny and stylish. The rest just don’t have what it takes.”

“The Killer Wildcats aren’t too bad so far,” says Kelsey optimistically. “The name reminds me of that one musical about basketball or whatever. Maybe Chris is a fan? I don’t blame him. Either way, I can be all chill and friendly with the others no problem, but when I get stressed out I sleepwalk, so that better not happen for everyone’s sake.”

The boys of the Wildcats are unpacking their belongings as well. Christian unzips his giant suitcase to reveal many polo shirts and neon-colored shorts, all matching perfectly.

“Okay, boys, we’re gonna have to do some male-on-male bonding if we want to dominate,” he announces. “Let’s start with some icebreakers!” He walks up to Kingsley. “Rachel, smash or pass?”

All three pause for a while. “Are you kidding me?” asks Kingsley.

“Oh! Right!” says Christian. “Not your thing! How ‘bout this? Me, smash or pass?”

He stares at Christian, then walks over to Graham and Miles on the other side of the room. “Hey ladies, let’s get to know each other.”

“No homo, but that Kingsley dude is pretty hot,” says Christian. “I mean, I’m not saying I’d spoon with him in the middle of the night or anything, but I’m also not saying I wouldn’t.”

Miles unzips his small, trendy-looking backpack and takes out a Polaroid photo. It depicts a grinning brunette boy, who would be completely unrecognizable if not for his glasses, with his arm around a girl with wavy, dyed pink hair and winged eyeliner. He looks at it, sighs, then tapes it next to his bunk.

“So that’s the girl, huh? She’s beautiful!” says Graham.

Miles jumps up. “Uhhh, you weren’t supposed to see that.”

“You’re hanging it on the wall,” says Graham. “It’s going to be broadcasted to the entire Total Drama viewing audience very soon.”

“Fine, yeah, that’s Jackie,” mutters Miles. “We ended things two years ago, and ever since then my mind has been a swirling miasma of tears and suffering… I still see her in the face of every girl I talk to…”

“Young love is so heartwarming, yet heartbreaking,” says Graham with his hand on his chest. “My condolences, but I think the best thing to do would be—”

He looks over at Miles, who suddenly has his headphones on and is vaping, then shakes his head.

Meanwhile, the Artisanal Cheeses are also moving into their dorm and having just as eventful of a time.

“Gorgeous view, y’all. That dumpster’s really tyin’ it all together,” says Rhett, looking out his window. “Y’all ever been dumpster divin’?”

“Are you kidding me, man?! You could get ebola from that!” says Suvir.

“Aw shucks, I don’t want no ebola! S’actually my greatest fear,” says Rhett, looking frightened.

“That’s what I like to hear,” says Suvir. “Your third eye will soon be opened! Dude, want to bunk together?”

“I don’t see why not,” chirps Rhett, as he climbs onto the top bunk.

“Rhett could totally be an alien or something, and if he is I just became the stupidest schmuck in the universe, but I’m going with my gut on this one,” says Suvir. “He’s super non-threatening! Now, those two other guys… I’m scared already.”

“So that means I have to be with you, Mr. Muscles?” complains Boris.

Roald grins and slaps Boris on the back. “Get pumped, Bro-ris! We’re gonna be going through a workout regime so rigorous you’ll be sweating BLOOD!”

“Oh, please. I do not concern myself with trivial activities such as gym-going,” says Boris smugly.

“Then what do you wanna do? Play croquet? I’m a pro-quet at croquet!” says Roald, as he laughs hysterically at his own pun. Whitney winces from the other room.

“I do not wish to socialize with you, or any of you other Cro-Magnons,” says Boris. “I will be competing in this game as a solitary figure!”

“Huh? I didn’t mean to insult ya, b-b-buddy,” says Roald. “Just extendin’ an olive branch!”

“Well then, I scoff at your puny olive branch,” says Boris. He takes out what looks like a giant manga compilation and starts rifling through it.

“What’d I do to grind that guy’s gears so quickly?” asks Roald. “I was just tryin' to do some gym-induced bonding! Aw, barbells, I’m so awkward sometimes...”

“I know he’s just trying to make fun of me, I was not born yesterday!” says Boris angrily. “Maybe if he shared some of my more esoteric yet sophisticated interests, such as Japanese catgirl anime, I would be more likely to socialize. But that is obviously not the case.”

Kaitlin, who is chugging her fifth beer of the afternoon, slumps onto a bed in the other room. “Okay, this is my bed, if anyone tries to steal my bed they’re going to regret it.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone’s begging to sleep with you,” says Whitney with an eyebrow raised.

“You know what? I didn’t come here to be victimized,” snaps Kaitlin.

“Look, I’d rather sleep with Artemis,” says Whitney. “Which is saying a lot.”

Artemis walks up to Whitney and pinches her cheeks. “Who wouldn’t rather sleep with Artemis?” she purrs. “You’ll have a front-row seat to exciting and sensual late-night performances, some involving that dumpster outside.”

Whitney blinks. “Never mind.” She walks over to Frances and sets her belongings down right by her bunk.

“Hi, don’t worry, I’ll be the perfect bedmate,” assures Frances. “I probably won’t even be in here much. Gotta get out and about and do as much reporting as possible.”

“That does sound promising, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” says Whitney.

Artemis walks over to Kaitlin. “Hello,” she says. “You and I? We’re going to have all sorts of fun. I can teach you about interpretive—”

“Yeah, okay, fine,” says Kaitlin. “You do like acting. I think I can work with that, huh?”

“Sweet, sweet Kaitlin, I don’t just like acting,” says Artemis. “I THRIVE in the world of the theatre.” She inches closer to Kaitlin, who looks at her skeptically. “Wanna smoke some hash?”

“Not… really,” says Kaitlin.

“Whatever,” says Artemis. “I’ll be outside. I'mma go house some beef.”

“That Artemis is making me deeply uncomfortable, but I think that’s her goal here,” says Frances in the confessional. “The whole licking people’s faces thing was weird enough, but now I hear she’s brought illicit substances to the competition? I think it’s hilarious, but she better not get us disqualified…” She gasps. “That is, unless Chris TOLD her to do it to increase ratings. Now that’s a story!”.

“My team is a bunch of goddamn lunatics,” whines Kaitlin. “Seriously, with these bozos as my competition, how am I supposed to get any camera time?!”

Later that night, as the sun is beginning to set by the lake, the teams exit their cabins and head over to Chris and Chef.

“Greetings, lakemates!” Chris says, and everyone stares at him in bewilderment. “Oh, come on. I thought that’d be a fun, quirky name for you guys. You’re a quirky bunch, and…” Crickets chirp. “Okay, fine, do you want me to just explain the challenge?”

“Yeah, Chris, just… do that,” whispers Chef.

Chris rolls his eyes. “Well then! You may notice that we’re standing on a paved path that snakes around the lakeside for a mile or two, maybe five. Your first goal as teams is to run to the end of that path, loop around, then run back to me and Chef! The first team to get all their members back will win something crucial! Capisce?”

“Caposh!” says Roald.

“I’ll give you guys five minutes to do a team huddle or whatever, and then we’ll get started,” says Chris.

Immediately, the Killer Wildcats huddle up and attempt to strategize.

“Okay, everyone,” says Kelsey. “Do we want to run in one big block so nobody can pass us? Or do we want to just spread out and rely on our obviously superior athleticism to do the trick?”

“I’m so ready to just start running right now,” says Rachel. “I can’t wait to breathe in the lake’s crisp air.”

“Sure, that’s great and all, but we need a strategy, don’t we?” asks Kelsey.

“I dunno, let’s just wing it,” says Christian. “We’re hunks. We can run fast. Simple.”

“Yeah, I like what he’s saying!” says Erica. “I’ve done dance for ten years, this is nothing.”

“I’ve never ‘winged’ anything in my life!” says a visibly stressed Kelsey in the confessional. “This team and I definitely have some… creative differences, so maybe I’ll step back from the leader role? I’m not about to put that level of pressure on myself.”

Meanwhile, the Artisanal Cheeses are also attempting to strategize for the upcoming race, but their definition of strategizing seems to differ quite a bit.

“I don’t feel fit to run, guys,” says Kaitlin. “Like, I’m already woozy.”

“C’mon, Kaity-bo-baity!” says Roald. “If you believe, you can achieve!”

“Okay listen, penguin boy, I had a heart attack three years ago,” retorts Kaitlin. “I’ll walk at a leisurely pace, but that’s IT.”

“I will not run either!” says Boris. “If the Warrior Goddess can’t do it, then I certainly cannot! I will stay here and not get involved with this so-called ‘challenge.’”

“Aw, c’mon, y’all,” says Rhett. “It’s as easy as one-three-two!”

“Yo, big bro, I got this,” assures Roald, and he takes Boris aside. “So you know that big orange guy on the other team? How he’s all muscly and hot and stuff? The best way to just stick it to him is to go BEAST MODE in this race! You gotta beat him!”

“Hmm…” contemplates Boris. “A very enticing offer indeed.” He pauses and thinks for a second. “Okay, I suppose, but only so I can assert my masculine dominance!”

“AWESOME!” cheers Roald. “Yo, Chris, we’re ready!”

A few minutes later, the contestants are all lined up at the beginning of the sidewalk, while Chris is on the sidelines with Chef, holding a supposedly fake gun.

“Total Drama Lakeside’s first challenge will be underway in five… four… three… two…” he says. He then fires the gun, which is definitely not fake, and yells, “GO!”

Most of the contestants take off sprinting, and in the front of the pack is Suvir, running at a breakneck speed. The other contestants stare at him in awe, some even pausing completely.

“Hey, when you know the world’s out to get you, you gotta keep your mind and body sharp!” says Suvir. “I know organized sports are just a front so the government can get kids all buffed up and send ‘em to sweatshops, but did I run track five years to hone my skills? You BET!”

Chris takes out a lawn chair and some sort of alcoholic beverage, puts on a pair of sunglasses, and sits down. “Chef, this really is the life.”

Chef is reading a dense mystery novel written by a “Helga Schreiber.” He side-eyes Chris and asks, “Hm?”

“Yeah, now that those teens are gone for hopefully like an hour, we can just sit and relax and—” Chris looks up, and Suvir is already back, breathing heavily. “HOW?!”

“Bro, I got the reflexes of a speeding tiger!” he says.

Before Chris can say anything else, Rhett, Roald, Erica, Christian, Isabella, and Kelsey arrive in one giant pack.

“Whoooo, that was nothin’!” says Roald, who is wheezing and looks on the verge of fainting.

“That was really fun, and I’m not even a big runner,” grins Isabella, looking up at Christian, who smirks.

“It only just hit me when we were running together, but Christian is totally cute,” squeals Isabella. “He’s exactly my type. I know I didn’t come on here to find love, but now I almost feel like I gotta!”

Rachel arrives next with a fistful of cattails. “I’m going to weave a dress from these. I love crafting wirh organic materials birthed from our Earth mother!”

Graham shows up soon after, panting. “Hey guys, just a PSA: Miles is back there walking!”

“Walking? Are you kidding me?” Erica says. “We’ll lose!”

“Yeah, I kept trying to socialize with him,” reasons Graham. “He’s a kind-hearted soul deep down, but he doesn’t really seem to care about… anything!”

Whitney and Artemis then show up, carrying an unconscious Kaitlin with one of her arms around each of their shoulders.

“She passed out about a mile back,” says Artemis matter-of-factly. “Think she’s drunk. Blackout, maybe.”

“This wasn’t something I agreed to do, by the way,” adds Whitney. The two let go and Kaitlin falls to the ground.

“Hmm, maybe she wasn’t kidding when she said she'd had a heart attack…” says Chris. “I probably should’ve examined those med forms a bit more carefully.”

Kingsley and Frances walk up to the group, deep in conversation. “Wait, so you wrote an exposé and showed it to the whole school just because she pissed you off?” he gasps.

“Well, it was technically an ‘editorial piece,’” responds Frances. “But… yes.”

“Bless,” says Kingsley, clasping his hands together. “We love a vengeful queen.”

“Hmm, isn’t that girl on the other team?” asks Kelsey quietly, and Erica nods.

“Okay, so that leaves two contestants left still running,” says Chris. “Miles and Boris! I think?”

Christian points to the slight turn up ahead, where Miles is sluggishly walking around the bend. “Ayo, there he is! LET’S GOOOO MILES!”

“You can do it!” cheers Kelsey. “Think of something happy to motivate you, like cupcakes or something!”

Miles sighs and takes off his headphones. “There’s no purpose in running…” he says. “Just makes me feel sad and tired, and I’m always sad and tired anyway.”

“Where th’ heck is that tub o’ lard?” asks Rhett.

“Oh, he’s coming,” says Whitney dryly, and she points to something.

Sure enough, Boris is right behind Miles, trying to run but wheezing and drenched in sweat. Miles walks up to the finish line, shrugs weakly, then sits down next to the rest of his team. Boris finally arrives seconds later, then collapses onto the ground and starts moaning.

“That was… disappointing to watch,” says Chris. “Anyway, the Wildcats win the first portion of the challenge! Here’s your reward!” He tosses them a single cup of coffee, which Erica catches.

“Wait, that’s not the whole challenge?” she asks. “I don’t even like coffee!”

Chris and Chef look at each other, then giggle mischievously. “Everybody, come with us to the director’s pad, we’ve got a special surprise for you,” says Chris.

“Ugh, I already don’t like Chris at all,” says Erica. “I came here for the competition, and the manipulation, and the social politics! Not to watch some washed-up 45-year-old man screw with us all day.”

The contestants are gathered around Chris in the “director’s pad” - a small but nicely furnished house that looks inhabited by college students thanks to the giant couch, the TV, the liquor bottles strewn about everywhere, the empty pizza box on the countertop, and the various questionable posters hung up on the walls.

“Here’s the deal. I know everyone just got here earlier today, and you’re not ready to actually compete in a challenge or vote someone off, blah blah blah, whatever. So, I’m gonna take pity on you guys,” says Chris. “I’m throwing you a party!”

“You ain’t lyin’?!” Rhett exclaims.

“Not at all, my friend,” says Chris. “For one night only, Chef and I are letting you into our exclusive living space to party it up, get to know each other, all the works. There’s food, drinks, and karaoke… somewhere, and Chef will be bringing a surprise up in just a sec!”

Chef trudges in, pushing a giant keg. “Ain’t that the truth.”

“Whoooo boy, I don’t even wanna know what’s in there,” says Suvir.

“Fun and fancy, huh? This went over our budget by quite a bit, so don’t expect anything else like it,” says Chris. “Just putting that out there. Anyway, Chef and I will be upstairs if you need us, but I assume you won’t. And we won’t need you! Ha-ha! Happy partying!”

He and Chef walk away, giggling to each other once again once out of earshot.

Once the two get upstairs, Chris stops. “Let me just make some things clear,” he says in a hushed tone. “The Total Drama executive team is not responsible for any injuries, illnesses, or decapitations that may occur as a result of tonight. And besides, that keg is filled to the brim with non-alcoholic beer, so these kids don’t know what’s about to hit ‘em. Placebo effect, man!”

“Okay, there’s something reeeeally off about this,” says Frances back downstairs. “But I guess—”

A loud shriek is heard, and she glances over at Rhett and Roald who are already shirtless.

“My buddy Rhett’s about to do a KEG STAND!” yells Roald. “Aight Cheeses, let’s cheer him on!”

“I actually think I might’ve died during that race and gone to purgatory,” says Whitney.

“I’m a pro at chuggin’ down fluids,” boasts Rhett. “Once I even drank gasoline! Didn’t taste too great, but it went down nice n’ smooth, and how many dudes can say they done that?”

“Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!” cheers Roald, holding up Rhett’s legs as he guzzles down the non-alcoholic beer. “C’mon, pals, cheer with me! Chug! Chug! Chug!”

Rhett utters a primal roar as he continues to chug the beer. Suvir looks at him with wide eyes, but Roald grins and keeps cheering. Suvir then slowly tries to back away towards the door and bumps into Frances.

“Whoa! Sorry!” he yelps.

“Oh, hey,” says Frances, who has her notepad out. “All good. You trying to escape too?”

“Yeah, there’s bad juju in there!” says Suvir. “Gotta go outside and take a breather, you wanna come?”

Frances nods, and the two walk out the door and onto the porch, where they take a seat on the doorstep.

“Okay, I’m trying to formulate a piece right now, specifically one about our teammates,” says Frances. “They’re really something else. It’s a journalist’s paradise in there.”

“Yeah, it’s intense!” says Suvir, his eyes widening. “Here’s what I think so far: everyone else is a paid actor and they’re observing me from afar and trying to trap me in their world, like that one movie I saw! Also, there’s no way everyone else is fully human. Short guy on our team? I bet he’s a genetically modified penguin. And those other two girls are definitely a wolf and an ostrich, right?!”

Frances’s mouth is hanging slightly ajar like a fish. “I…” she begins. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this much juicy material in one sitting before.”

“Whooo boy, there’s plenty more where that came from!” says Suvir. “Like, I’m pretty sure Chris McLean is a lizard person. Have you seen his weirdly smooth face and that evil grin? He totally got Slowtoxed up to hide his scales!”

“We’re really getting somewhere here,” says Frances, who's now beaming. “Okay, here’s my plan. I’m trying to lay low for these first few days and gather intel. Whitney and those two messy actress chicks were arguing earlier, right? Kept my lips super zipped.”

“That’s what you gotta do!” gasps Suvir. “Otherwise they’ll rope you into their weird cult!”

“Exaaaactly. Dude, you have some great ideas,” says Frances. “Want to be my associate editor?”

“Heck yeah, I do! You’re the only one with any common sense around here,” says Suvir, and the two high-five.

“This is exactly what I had hoped for!” says Frances in the confessional. “All afternoon, I was pretty nervous about having to do this alone, but Suvir is a perfect partner in crime. Sure, his methods of thinking are… unorthodox, but journalism in the modern era thrives on exaggeration. Just look at BumbleFeed.”

Back in the living room, Rhett is in the midst of yet another (or potentially still the first) keg stand, while Roald continues to cheer and Whitney looks on in horror.

“Chug! Chug! Chug!” whoops Roald, and Rhett grunts again.

The others glance at him as his legs start to wobble until he suddenly collapses onto the ground, unconscious. A loud dinging sound is heard, and the two team logos appear on the top of the screen with a “7” next to the Cheeses and an “8” next to the Wildcats.

Nobody says anything for a bit until a door swings open upstairs. Sure enough, only seconds later, Chris walks down with a cup of coffee.

“The hell is he doing here?” grumbles Kaitlin, who’s apparently conscious again.

“I see we’ve had our first victim!” laughs Chris. “You guys didn’t really think I’d let you off the hook that easy, did you? Nope, this is our first challenge!”

“So you’re telling us that five-mile ass haul was for nothing, dude?” asks Christian. “...Sick.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re familiar with Total Drama’s iconic first season, then you’re familiar with the Awake-A-Thon,” says Chris, and most of the contestants groan. “The goal is simple, stay awake as long as you can, and whoever can dodge sleeping for the longest wins the challenge for their team! We figured the running, the partying, and the beer would just loosen you guys up a bit, and it sure has! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an episode of Catching Up With the Carcrashians to finish, so I’ll be upstairs. Nighty-night!” He smiles smugly, then leaves.

Artemis attempts to drag Rhett’s unconscious body onto the couch. “There, there,” she says. “You’ll be back and ruggedly handsome as ever in just a few.”

“Whoa, guys, Rhett went down swingin’!” says Roald. “I gotta break his record, someone hold me up!”

“Wait, no, that’s the worst idea you could possibly—” shouts Whitney.

Kingsley rushes over, grabs his legs, and Roald starts to chug. After not even five seconds, he falls backwards onto Kingsley and is knocked out cold.

“Had to snatch that opportunity,” says Kingsley, crawling out from under the fainted Roald. “Sorry not sorry!”

Over by the kitchen, the three non-Frances female members of the Artisanal Cheeses are standing awkwardly by each other and all seemingly avoiding a conversation.

“Okay, I don’t really want to engage with you two again, but we do have to stick together,” says Whitney, who’s reading a fashion magazine.

“Yeah, half our guys are down for the count, huh?” a once-again-drunk Kaitlin says. “Pfft. Pathetic. You’d think they could hold their beer better.”

“I’m not drinking tonight,” shrugs Artemis. “Gotta keep the mind and body fresh.”

“This party’s pretty lame anyway,” says Kaitlin. “Nothing interesting! No studs, nothing illegal going on, so I don’t care.”

“Mm, it certainly needs some spicing up,” says Artemis. “Guess I’ll take off my bra, blast my nips—”

“Okay, let’s hold off on that,” says Kaitlin. “Let’s just try to look cool, let the people come to us, you know?”

“I suppose,” responds Artemis, then she jerks her head violently and gasps. “Ooooh, hottie alert at 11 o’clock.”

Graham, holding the Wildcats’ cup of coffee, awkwardly walks up to Whitney as Kaitlin tries to avert her eyes and Artemis stares him down.

“Hey,” he says to Whitney. “I needed to get away from it all, you know?”

“Yeah, I do know,” she responds, and starts to walk in the opposite direction.

Graham starts to follow her as she keeps walking. “I’m sorry, I really just wanted to chat!” he calls out. “Shoot the breeze, you know?”

“Listen, dude, have we even talked before? Aren’t you on the other team?” Whitney asks skeptically.

“You do know me… kinda,” he says, blushing. “Earlier you asked me what was wrong with my mustache, then said I looked like an octogenarian. I wouldn’t forget that.”

“That’s an issue, because I already did forget it,” says Whitney. “I’m sorry, I’m not really gaining anything from this conversation.”

“Oh, I-I-I understand!” stutters Graham. “I guess I’ll go talk with… my teammates.” He winces. “See you around, I suppose?”

Whitney grunts slightly, then walks towards the bathroom. Suddenly, the bathroom door bursts open and a curtain of smoke comes billowing out. Boris, fully nude except for a towel wrapped around his waist, steps out and breathes a satisfied sigh.

“Ah, that was refreshing!” he proclaims. “My body has been given a 1up!”

As Whitney takes one look at the near-nude Boris, her eyes widen and she collapses onto the ground. A nearby Graham facepalms and walks away.

“Do I have a crush on Whitney?” he asks himself in the confessional. “Well, it’d be silly to say yes since I’ve known her for less than 12 hours and have traded maybe five sentences with her, but she’s wonderful! I know I come off as some sort of weirdo when I talk to her, so maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut and write some poetry. She’s so beautiful in the abstract…”

The four female Killer Wildcats are visiting on the couch, each holding a red cup filled to the brim with beer.

“So guys, tell me about yourselves,” says Isabella. “Any boys here you think are cute?”

“Um, I actually have a boyfriend,” says Erica.

“Do you?!” exclaims Isabella, touching Erica’s shoulder. “That’s soooo romantic! Have you guys been dating for like five years? Did he get you a promise ring?”

Erica looks at Isabella, confused. “We’ve been dating for a year and a half. Ugh, he’s such a sweetie. I never really thought I was into guys like him, but I guess… I am.”

“Wow, a year and a half?” gasps Rachel. “That’s intense! I’m more of a one-to-two-month type of gal.”

“Oh, I totally get it,” says Erica. “I know tons of girls like that. Nothing but respect.”

“Mmmm, good,” nods Rachel. “I just… don’t like to be tied down, you know? I prefer to drift along with the wind. And usually I date angsty musicians, like that Miles guy.”

“Ew, you’re into Miles?” says Isabella. “He’s… weird.”

“Noooo, I never said I was INTO him, I just have experience with a lot of boys like that,” says Rachel. “They’re sweet. Misguided, but sweet.”

“Okay, I think that Christian guy is suuuuper cute,” chirps Isabella.

“Christian, really? He’s one of those classic athletic boys,” says Erica. “See, that’s the type of guy I used to like, but… not anymore.”

“So you guys all have experience, I take it?” Kelsey pipes in. “Ha, I don’t. Sometimes I wish I could go out there and date, but I do so much with my free time already. It’d be the straw that broke the camel’s back for sure.”

“You poor soul,” says Rachel. “Having someone to take in the regal majesty of the world with is always worth it.”

“Okay, like, no need to feel sorry for me,” laughs Kelsey. “It's a conscious choice. I’ll go to club formals with guys, but otherwise I wouldn’t want to put anyone through… me.”

“Yeah, drinking isn’t my favorite because it makes my emotions just spill out,” says Kelsey. “But I guess there are worse ways I could be spending my time. Like, I could be having a full-on sobbing breakdown in the library at 3:30 in the afternoon again.” She blinks. “Did I say again? I didn’t mean again. I meant… wow, that’d be a lot worse than getting drunk, wouldn’t it?”

“Kelsey, uh…” says Isabella. “I just wanted to know if you thought any boys here were cute. Didn’t want to talk about all those emotions and stuff.”

Kelsey looks at Isabella with an eyebrow raised, then Rachel pipes up. “Who wants to see my tattoos?” Rachel rolls up her jacket sleeve and shows off a tattoo of a giant purple feather on her shoulder. “I got this one last year. I just think feathers and I have so many similarities… floating around aimlessly, but carrying this serene beauty as well.”

“Love it,” says Kelsey dryly. “I’m sorry, uh… yeah, those are some cool tattoos, Rach.”

“Great! I just want us all to be as happy as possible,” says Isabella. “Don’t worry about boys, they’re not worth you. You’re so gorgeous.”

“...You two want to go for a walk or something?” Erica asks, unsubtly eyeing Rachel and Kelsey. The two nod, and begin to stand up.

“Wait! Guys!” says Isabella, rushing over to the TV. “Check out this karaoke! Want to do a round?”

Rachel is about to say something until Isabella turns on the machine, a ‘70s Europop number starts playing, and she begins to belt. “OHHHHHHH, YOOOOOOU CAN DAAAAAANCE—”

The other three leave quickly, and Isabella continues to sing. A wasted Christian carrying three empty red cups staggers up to her, and she turns around and gasps.

“Christian! Oh no, did you hear my singing?!” she yelps.

“Yeahhhhh baby, I did,” he says. “Yo, you and me, let’s leave this room. C’mon baby, let’s go get to know each other upstairs.”

Isabella’s face turns red and she nods excitedly. “Okay!”

“Hahahahaha,” says Christian in the confessional. “She’s hot, man.”

He puts his arm around her, and the two dart upstairs and open up a random door. To their shock, the room is already occupied… by Chris McLean, wearing a red velvet bathrobe and watching TV, and Chef, who’s in nothing but boxers and reading his mystery novel.

“HEY!” yells Chris, jumping up. “This is a contestant-free zone!”

Christian rapidly closes the door and the two start hyperventilating. “Uhhh, let’s relocate,” he says.

“I’m so glad to see you! I love my girl gang and all, but they’re kinda… downers,” says Isabella. “They gotta learn to appreciate la dolce vita, you know? That’s my motto!”

“Yeah, life, it’s sweet…” slurs Christian. “Super sweet. Hey, y’know what else is sweet? You.” She blushes again. “Wanna make out or something?”

“Hahaha, of course I do!” purrs Isabella.

The two open up another door, this one to an empty room, and instantly shut it. Seconds later, Miles trudges up the stairs with his guitar and opens up the same door. He sees the two canoodling on the bed, turns around with a look of terror, then slams the door shut.

“Of course there’s already love connections forming on my team…” says Miles. “I just don’t understand why it happens to everyone except me. The worst thing is, walking in on that reminded me of the time my brother walked in on me and Jackie three years ago in the back seat of my dad’s Prius… I’ll never have memories that precious again.”

Miles starts to walk back down the stairs, and runs into the other three girls from his team opening the door up from outside and walking in.

“Oh, it’s Miles,” says Rachel, smiling slightly. “Hi! Do you want to see my tattoo? I think if my whole team sees it, we’ll become harmonized.”

She lifts up her jacket sleeve again and shows Miles her feather tattoo. He stares at it, his eyes begin to water, then he gulps.

“I’m, uh, gonna go to sleep,” he says. “It’s fine if we lose… Just vote me out or something.” He walks away and slumps onto the ground.

Erica looks like she’s about to say something, but Kelsey interrupts. “You know, it’s cool. We still have seven… right?”

“Two of them are upstairs, exploring each other,” says Rachel cheerfully.

Kingsley then walks up to the three in a velvet purple robe that’s not too different from Chris’s and a pair of bunny slippers.

“Hey babes, I need my beauty sleep,” he yawns. “Nothing personal! Y’all are strong, you got this. Oh, and Graham’s out cold over there.” He points in a vague direction.

“This is totally fine,” says Erica, who doesn’t look fine. “If they’re… doing it, they’ll be up for a while.”

Rachel walks up to the snoring Graham, waves her hand in his face, and gets no response. She shrugs and lies down on the couch right next to him.

“I’ve heard that if you, like, sleep next to someone, there’s a chance you’ll have the same dreams!” she says, before yawning and closing her eyes.

“Are they seriously just letting us lose?” Kelsey asks. “I can’t belie… wait, I guess I’m a little tired too.”

“Sadly, I didn’t share any dreams with Graham, but he was snoring suuuper loud,” states Rachel. “I got a hint of his breath, and it smelled like those hard candies the elderly keep in decorative tins. I think his whole look is so beautifully postmodern.”

Right outside, Suvir and Frances are watching the drama unfold from the front porch window.

“Whoa, this is waaaay too suspicious!” Suvir says. “They’ve gotta be making some sort of nefarious plot to throw the challenge!”

“Yeah, you’re right,” gasps Frances. “Astute observation. I mean, I’m fine with winning, but this kinda cheapens it, huh?”

“It’s all good, I’m gonna win fair and square! I ain’t trying to sleep at ALL tonight!” says Suvir. “My average is three hours, but lately I’ve been pulling two and a half.”

Frances nods. “Hmm, I see. I assume it’s because you’re too wary of potential threats to be unconscious during the most crucial moments of the night?”

“You got it!” says Suvir. “I mean, I used to sleep like a dang baby. That was back when I was younger and more optimistic, and my mind hadn’t been expanded. It was only recently when I—” He turns over to look at Frances, and she’s asleep sitting up. “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Many hours later, it’s sunrise. An undead-looking Chris, still in his velvet robe, walks downstairs with a steaming cup of coffee to see most contestants asleep in various corners of the room.

“You’re still up?!” asks Chris, looking at Artemis who’s sitting perfectly still right next to a passed-out Kaitlin.

“Sure I am,” she shrugs. “A true actress never succumbs to the pressure of the elements.”

“Okay, well…” he continues, walking to the door. “All the Wildcats are down, I think? I don’t want to venture into that room upstairs, I think everyone knows what I’m talking about.” He opens the door to see Suvir, who’s shivering in fear and right next to the still-asleep Frances. “Whoa! Dude! You’re awake too?”

“Yeah, man, how could I not be?!” he answers. “Franny’s incapacitated! The pod people got her!”

Chris nudges Frances with his foot, and she stirs a little bit. “Nah, she’s fine,” he says, and he takes out a megaphone from his back pocket. “Prepare your ears!”

Minutes later, everyone is back in the common room of the director’s pad, looking very tired and grumpy and some even rubbing their ears in pain.

“Well, I don’t know how you guys did it, but Cheeses,” announces Chris. “You win our very first challenge!” The Artisanal Cheeses erupt into cheers. “Head back to your dorm, you’re safe tonight.”

As the Cheeses walk away, Roald approaches Boris. “Hey, buddy! I see you did pretty well last night,” he says.

“Why yes, I did,” says Boris. “I was in the midst of a very important anime! It was only my 17th time watching it, I had no time for sleep!”

“Haha, anime, cool and stuff!” says Roald. “Hey, listen. Y’wanna go to the gym with me tomorrow?” Boris looks at him, stone-faced. “C’mon! It’ll be a great time!” Boris continues to say nothing. “Uhhhh, maybe you’ll be able to beat up that preppy guy!”

“Fine! I am in,” says Boris. “But only this once. If I suffer any physical mishaps, I will never utter a word to you again.”

“Heh, that’s totally fine with me, bro!” says Roald. “Lezzdothis!”

“On the other hand…” continues Chris, standing by the losing team. “Wildcats, you’re not looking too killer tonight. Vote someone out relatively soon, then meet me at the bandshell by the water!”

Most of the Killer Wildcats gulp. “I mean, we tried… kinda,” shrugs Kelsey.

“I’m not surprised we won the challenge,” says Artemis frankly. “I may or may not have been on stimulants all night. What? It’s method acting.”

The atmosphere is tense in the Wildcats’ cabin, as everyone seems to be dodging the elephant in the room. Miles is sitting on his bed, tuning his guitar and repeatedly sighing.

“Hey man, stop playing. I’m trying to concentrate,” says Christian.

“I would if someone else asked me to, but as it stands, no,” retorts Miles. “Go hang out with your new girlfriend if it bothers you so much…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, how’d you know about that?!” Christian exclaims. “I mean, it’s good that you do. It was some quality puss. But that was confidential!”

“It was written in the stars from the start,” says Graham. “Your personalities melded so naturally, and so…”

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Christian raises an eyebrow. “You wanna go, Abe Lincoln?”

“I wasn’t trying to insult you at all!” Graham says, shaking his head. “Plus, Abe Lincoln didn’t have a mustache, right?”

“Man, I’m outta here, you guys are the worst,” says Christian, taking out his vape and walking to the girls’ room.

“You know, I’d vote him out, but he’s nice to look at,” says Kingsley from the bed, taking out an earbud. “Plus, like—”

Kingsley is interrupted by Christian coming back into the room, this time with his arms around Isabella.

“Hello!” says Isabella happily. “Oh wow, Kingsley, you’re really working that pose.” She pulls out her phone and snaps a photo of him lying near-motionless on his bed. “Wait, where’s my sisterhood?”

Right on cue, the three remaining girls walk into the room. “We’re strategizing!” says Rachel, flashing a peace sign.

“Rachel, don’t SAY that,” hisses Erica.

“I mean, it’s true, is it not?” says Kelsey. “We’re going to have to vote out somebody. I’m personally undecided, but if you guys have any compelling arguments, hit me.”

Isabella frowns. “Can’t we just vote for Chris or something? That’d be funny! I don’t like drama.”

“Kelsey, I’ve got an argument,” says Erica. “It requires some privacy, of course.” The three girls leave the room.

An awkward silence ensues, and after a few seconds Miles starts tuning his guitar again. Christian shouts several bleeped profanities.

“I can’t in good conscience vote for anyone else except that turd Christian…” mutters Miles. “He reminds me deeply of the man my ex cheated on me with… Just some blonde slimeball who thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

“I don’t want to vote for anyone,” says Isabella. “They’re all so sweet. I mean, most of them are… Graham and Miles kinda make me uncomfortable. They’re always talking about their feelings and stuff, and I thought guys were a lot more chill than that?”

“Hey fans, welcome back to another installment of ‘What Is She Wearing?,’” says Kingsley in the confessional. “Today’s victim? Isabella. What is she wearing? A plain black long-sleeved crop top, isn’t that a little impractical? And those grimy blue jeans? Horrendous. Ugh, she’s like the worst local I’ve ever met. Soooo yeah, I’m voting for her.”

Rachel is intensely eyeing the voting ballot. “Wow, this is so cool,” she says. “I wonder what it’s made out of? Recycled paper? If so, Chris, you have my respect.”

Night falls, and Chris meets the Killer Wildcats at the elimination ceremony, this season taking place at a large bandshell on a rocky outcropping overlooking the lake.

“Well, here we are,” he says. “Now, I’m not going to critique your skills just yet, but… come on, guys, that was pathetic. I mean, seriously?! You lost to the team that had two guys pass out within seconds? Anyway, let’s get right to it, huh? This time around we’re back to marshmallows, and that’s not because our budget wouldn’t allow for anything else. Trust me, I just like the nostalgia. But the rules are pretty simple: the person who does not receive a marshmallow has to walk down the Beach Trail of Shame, catch the Yacht of Losers, and fade back into irrelevancy. Oh, and you can’t come back, EVER.”

“With all due respect, Chris, can we hurry this up?” asks Kelsey. “I’ve got a Skype interview with my advisor in…” She checks her phone. “15.”

“Gosh! Fine!” says Chris. “You know, Kelsey, I’d eject you just for that, but unfortunately you didn’t get any votes. Marshmallows for you, Erica, Kingsley, and Graham!”

The four catch their tossed marshmallows, and Kingsley swallows his whole.

“Rachel and Christian, don’t ask me how, but you’re safe as well,” says Chris.

As the two grab their respective marshmallows, Miles and Isabella share a glance. Miles weakly sighs, while Isabella looks slightly terrified but is still grinning wide.

“Lady and gentleman,” says Chris. “There’s one marshmallow left on this plate. Miles, I think your fashion sense alone is grounds for an elimination, and Isabella… maybe you were too happy? Heck if I know. The final marshmallow goes to…”


Isabella stands up. “Wait, what? Me?” she says in shock. “Aw, you guys… I’m sorry if I did anything wrong.”

“Yeah, c’mon, this is BS!” says Christian. “Psst, babe, I know you gotta bounce and all, but one more kiss?”

“Uhhhhh,” she says, sweating. “Sorry, that was just a casual affair. It was really fun though!”

“I’m dreadfully confused as to why any of that happened, but regardless, I hope your life is fruitful!” says Graham, extending his arm for her to shake.

Isabella looks at Graham and shivers, then walks over to her female teammates. “I’ll never forget my girl squad,” she says.

“Bye,” says Erica curtly.

“Um…” continues Isabella. “One last selfie with everyone before I go? You guys can all get in… I guess! Even Chris, if you want!”

“Nah, I’d rather n—” begins Chris, but Isabella rushes up right next to him with her phone out. The majority of the other Killer Wildcats crowd in behind Chris, and Isabella takes about 10 selfies, then stuffs her phone back in her pocket while smiling wide.

“That was so presh,” she says, admiring her photo as she walks to the Yacht of Losers and begins to board. “See you later, everyone!”

The boat sails away as the Killer Wildcats walk back to their dorm room, most of them with relatively indifferent facial expressions.

“I know Isabella seemed all nice and sweet and everything,” says Erica. “But I didn’t buy that for one second. She’s just like the girls I used to be best friends with in high school, all goody-goody to your face but vapid and superficial and obsessed with the dumbest things. I’ve moved past that point in my life, and she was dragging me down. She had to go. One more thing? Christian was waaaaay too good for her.” She swoons. “Don’t tell my boyfriend!”

“Wow, uh…” says Chris, closing out the episode with Chef by the lake. “Chick’s got some baggage, huh? How will the Killer Wildcats deal with the wrath of a frat boy? Will they manage to pull it together for the next challenge? Will the Artisanal Cheeses recover from their non-alcoholic beer-induced hangover? Find out next time on—”

“Uhh…” says Chef, looking down at the ground.

“What now?!” snaps Chris. “Ruined my outro!”

“You, um, never specifically told me to get non-alcoholic beer,” says Chef. Chris looks at him in horror. "I'm sorry, I was jus' all engrossed in that mystery book, and..."

Chris stares at Chef, a gigantic fake smile plastered on his face. “Let’s talk about this later tonight, shall we?” he says through gritted teeth. “Tune in next time on Total Drama Lakeside, and just so you all know, all 16 of our contestants are well over 21! See ya later!”

Chapter 3 - Chris and Chef's Eggscellent Adventure

“Last time on Total Drama Lakeside!” begins Chris. “The contestants were thrust into their first challenge and had a pretty awesome time. I made them run a couple miles for no reason at all, then Chef and I got a keg of what I THOUGHT was non-alcoholic beer and let the kids run wild in the directors’ pad! I’m pleasantly surprised too, since they didn’t end up trashing any of my valuables. Maybe older, more mature casts are the way to go. Anyway, the Cheeses had a pretty embarrassing showing when Rhett and Roald passed out almost immediately, then the others kept falling down one-by-one… except for unexpected challenge beast Suvir. Thanks to his refusal to fall asleep, and the Wildcats throwing in the towel for some reason, the Cheeses won the first challenge! The Wildcats seemed to have some emotional baggage, or at least Erica did, as shown by her brutal booting of fan-favorite Isabella. These guys are showing no mercy, and I can’t imagine certain teammates of hers will be too happy. So what’s going to happen this time? There’s only one way to find out. Tune in right now on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Over in the Killer Wildcats’ dorm, the team members attempt to get out of bed as the sun rises.

“Man, that was lame,” says Christian, yawning and putting on his polo shirt. “Your boy got zero sleep. I miss Isabella already.”

“Yeah, um, I don’t,” murmurs Kingsley. “Her voice was really taxing on my eardrums.”

“Her voice? You kidding me?” says Christian. “It was like angels singing sweet nothings into my ear. Really hot angels.”

“I do hope you’ll appreciate the move in a strategic sense,” says Graham, who is applying mustache oil. “You and Isabella were a power couple, it was clear as day.”

“Power couple? Nah, I voted for her because she was annoying,” says Kingsley. Christian rolls his eyes.

“Did I have any part in voting Isabella? Hell no,” says Christian. “I voted for that emo loser. And now Mustachio is saying we were a ‘power couple’ and that it was strategy or whatever, but I don’t really care about strategy. I just thought she was hot.”

“The mood seems strangely light this morning,” says Graham. “That’s it! Where’s Miles?”

“Maybe off getting therapy, like she desperately needs?” suggests Kingsley.

Right outside the Wildcats’ dorm room, the female teammates are sitting in a circle in the grass and doing yoga, with Rachel leading the others.

“Thank you all for joining me on my morning routine,” says Rachel lightly. “I feel like last night was filled with negative energy, and this’ll quench that!”

She looks at Miles, who is lying face-down in the grass a few feet away and softly moaning.

“He’s been doing that for 20 minutes,” says Kelsey. “I feel like we should stage an intervention.”

“Yeah, it’s really messing with my positive energy,” adds Erica. “But also, Isabella’s gone! That’s positive!”

Kelsey nods apprehensively. “I actually think she brought more positive energy than the rest of us combined. But then again, talking to her was like talking to a cardboard box, so I mean...”

“Whatever, you guys know that was all fake,” says Erica. “Nobody’s actually that nice. Let’s focus on the yoga.”

Miles suddenly stirs a bit, then slowly gets up and sits down criss-cross applesauce next to Rachel.

“You’re alive!” says Rachel gleefully. “I knew the energy would strike your inner sanctum!”

“Yeah, barely,” mumbles Miles. “Thanks for sparing me last night, you guys… I really do appreciate it.”

“I mean, Isabella was far worse than you, so you got lucky, I guess!” says Erica, smiling.

“Don’t listen to her, Miles, you’re just as integral to the team as the rest of us,” says Kelsey. She does a stretch and her back cracks very loudly. “Jeez, okay, maybe the rest of us minus me.” She laughs nervously.

“Yesterday’s challenge… was rough,” says an exhausted-looking Kelsey. “The yoga isn’t helping, but I mean, I’ve certainly gone through worse. Last year, my friends and I did a fundraiser where we had to dance for 34 hours straight. Things got pretty ugly towards the end… Emma, I’m sorry I fell on you and ruptured your spleen.”

Erica begins to walk towards the door to the dorm and is quickly intercepted by Kingsley, who greets her with a cheerful wave.

“Hey, mom!” he says.

“Oh my god, you scared me!” Erica gasps. “What do you want?”

“I’m, like, beyond happy you got rid of Isabella last night,” says Kingsley. “She was the wooooorst. So listen here. I think you’re by far the fiercest bish in the competish. You and I could make a real hot power duo. What do you think?”

“Hmmm…” says Erica. “That sounds really good!”

“Really? Love it!” squeals Kingsley. “Like, you can still spend time with your ladies and all, but just know I’m gonna be super loyal. You deserve it, kween.”

“Okay, cool, now I gotta go use the bathr—” says Erica.

“And guess what? I’ve got some real good plans on who we should target first,” winks Kingsley. “But I’ll keep that on the DL for now.”

“Sounds great!” says Erica, wearing her signature wide grin. “Now I really gotta go use the bathroom.”

“I don’t like that Kingsley guy,” grumbles Erica. “He’s totally fake. I mean, who just goes up to someone and asks them to be in an alliance? There’s nothing subtle about that. But if it advances me in the game, then I guess he’s my newest ally!”

“Storytime!” chirps Kingsley. “My dream sidekick, Erica, is sooooo pumped to be in an alliance with me! I just can’t believe it, today is going amazingly. She and I are going to slay these Beckys.”

Meanwhile, the Artisanal Cheeses are (mostly) sound asleep. After a prolonged period of silence, the front door swings open and an extremely sweaty Roald and Boris slump onto the ground on top of each other.

“Darg blargit!!!” yells Roald. “That was a WORKOUT! My quads just grew quads!”

“That… was intensely awful!” bellows Boris in between heavy panting. “Why must you take me there for the second time in 12 hours?!!”

Roald laughs nervously, then stands up. “C’mon, big guy, we had so much fun!” he says. “Can’t you just feel the power approachin’ your loins?”

“You dunce, my loins are unchanged!” yells Boris. “Ah, wait, but not for long! I need to catch up on the past 24 episodes of Ness Genesis Seraphine!” He sprints over to his bed and frantically opens his laptop.

“I still cannot understand why Roald is dragging me to the home of the Chads!” says Boris. “I do not feel any better. I feel like an elephant sat on me! All these advertisements saying you will become ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ upon going to the gym are filthy lies, I say. Lies!”

Roald shrugs and walks over to his own bed, where he’s greeted by Rhett.

“Hey man, there y’ are!” Rhett says. “I been all alone all morn, I think Suvir’s out with that reporter chick! They’re probably doin’ stuff they shouldn’t be doin’!”

“Heh-heh, them? A couple? Man, I dunno!” says Roald. “But hey, Rhett-o, wanna come to the gym with us tonight?”

“Yeeeeeeee, course I do,” chuckles Rhett. “We can make it into some manly man bondin’!”

“What’s this about manly men and bonding?” says Artemis, who has suddenly appeared right next to the boys.

Rhett and Roald both jump slightly. “Where’d y’ come from?!” gasps Rhett.

Artemis shrugs. “I needed some entertainment. I want in on this bonding.”

“Hey, I see no problemo with that!” says Roald. “If our whole team gets swole, then we’ll be totally unstoppable! Catch my ice drift?”

“The gym? Well, you didn’t mention that,” says Artemis. “But I’ll come. I’m sure there will be an Adonis or two over there.”

“Nice try, bozos, but I’m not coming,” says Kaitlin, walking in. “I have more respectable things to do with my time.”

“Like try to gulp down your 13th beer of the morning?” says an all-too-familiar voice from the other room.

“Who said that?!” snaps Kaitlin. “I swear to god, Whitney, I’ll eat your babies for breakfast!”

“Right,” says Whitney, walking in. “This team bonding is working well.” Kaitlin grimaces at her.

“That Whitney thinks she’s so funny,” says Kaitlin angrily. “But I’ll show her, oh yes I will. Chris, can we have an acting challenge or something? Really feel like I’m gonna have to one-up this chick sooner than later.”

Outside, Chris’s voice blares on the loudspeaker. “Everyone, meet in the parking lot in five for our next challenge! Get ready for a thrilling, slightly bumpy bus ride!”

“Ohhhhh no,” whispers Suvir, who’s hiding in the bushes outside the Cheeses’ window with Frances. “Bus ride? Man, I don’t screw with public transportation! We could fall off a cliff, then we’d be sent plummeting into the earth’s nether-regions!”

“Calm down!” says Frances. “We’re gonna be fine. We just spent two hours sitting out here observing, let’s focus on that. Got any good data?”

“Yeah, I sure did!” says Suvir. “Didja see how Kaitlin was putting on that lipstick earlier? And how it was all sloppy and grossly applied?”

Frances shudders. “Unfortunately.”

“She was totally trying to hide her beak! She’s a bird-woman, I swear!” says Suvir.

“Hmmmm, I see where you’re coming from!” says Frances. “Now, I personally think she’s 100% human, but maybe she was raised by birds? How about that.”

“Oooooh, yeah, and maybe they fed her worms and junk and raised her as one of their own! That’d be spooky!” says Suvir.

“That would be spooky,” says Frances. “But it’d be thrilling! Would you pick up a newspaper with the headline ‘Controversial Reality Star Revealed To Be Bird-Woman?’ I know I would.”

“Hecks yeah, I would!” cheers Suvir. “The paper is the only wholesome news outlet left! It hasn’t been taken over by the Russians just yet!”

Frances grins wide. “Amazing,” she says. “Now, let’s… get to the challenge.”

“Chris said something about a bus ride, so I’ve narrowed it down to a few strong possibilities,” says Frances. “The bus ride IS the challenge, and he’s pulling another Awake-a-Thon on us. Or, knowing Chef’s driving skills, more like a Stay-Alive-a-Thon. The other possibility is that he’s taking us somewhere grotesque, like a gym or something. Let’s hope it’s the former.”

A giant, poorly-kept green bus with Chris McLean’s grinning face painted on the side haphazardly pulls out of the parking lot, rear-ending another car in the process, and jerks onto the road. Chef gulps from the driver’s seat.

“Hello, friends,” says Chris to the contestants, all sitting in seats in front of him. Nobody says anything. “Hmm, tough crowd this morning. Okay, I get it. Who wants to know where we’re going for today’s challenge?!” Still, nobody says anything. “Fiiiiiine. I’ll tell you anyway. We’re headed ten minutes northwest to the McLean Memorial Botanic Garden! Named after myself, of course.”

Chef snorts loudly from the driver’s seat. “Chris, don’t pull that sh—”

“Fine! It wasn’t named after me! How’d you know?!” pouts Chris. “It was this philanthropist guy, Brian McLean. No relation. He kicked the bucket a couple years back. The guy did all sorts of charity work, planting trees and feeding starving children and whatever, I think he ran for mayor or something and might’ve won. Pffft, lame if you ask me.”

“Wow, I’d take Brian over Chris any day,” whispers Kelsey. Rachel nods in agreement.

“I HEARD that!” scolds Chris. “Kelsey, you’re really pushing it lately. One more comment and you’re out of the challenge. Yeesh, you’re almost as bad as that British guy!”

Kelsey opens her mouth again, but then closes it and smiles politely.

“Yeah, maybe just shut up for now,” Erica says.

“Anyway, before that series of rude interjections, I was explaining the challenge,” continues Chris. “These gardens are… pretty big. Perfect size for a super duper scavenger hunt!”

“Scavenger hunt? I’ve always wanted to relive my preschool days,” says Whitney.

“WHOOOOOO! Let’s hunt those scavengers!” yells Roald, jumping up and down in his seat. Whitney takes an aspirin out from her pocket and swallows it.

Chris clears his throat. “I see we’ve got some… mixed reactions. But in any case, I figured I’d let you all acclimate to the lakeside surroundings by letting you wander around and search for magical rainbow eggs! There’s about 50 of ‘em hidden around the garden, and whichever team comes back with the most eggs in two hours wins the challenge.”

Frances raises her hand. “This challenge seems simple, deceptively so. Are there any obstacles, Chris? Any death traps we’ll have to navigate?”

“Come on, why would there be? It’s the second challenge,” says Chris. “Your true obstacles are… each other! Okay, we’re here, happy hunting or whatever.”

The bus pulls up to the parking lot, and as the doors swing open the contestants sprint out and into the massive garden.

“I finally realized why Roald is so infuriating,” says Whitney. “The pudgy body, the constant over-enthusiasm, the onslaught of puns… He’s related to my brother’s worst nightmare, Puck. They’re probably cousins or something. Good god, McLean, why would you do this to me?”

The Artisanal Cheeses are in a very reluctant team huddle right by the garden’s welcome center.

“Okay, Cheeses, I’m thinking we should split up for maximum efficiency,” says Frances. “Suvir and I will scan the outer areas of the garden.” She winks at Suvir.

“Why the hell are you always with that guy anyway?” asks Kaitlin. “You two banging or something?”

“Bangi—” begins Frances. “Huh? Yes, Kaitlin, we are. No, our strengths just complement each other well.”

“Whatever, I’ve got my gal pals who complement ME well,” says Kaitlin. “Come on, ladies. I heard the cafe has an open bar.” She walks away with Artemis and Whitney.

“Wait, the cafe?!” gasps Suvir. “Hey Franny, I’m heading there too. There’s mosquitoes all over the garden and I’m not trying to get malaria!”

“But my partn—” protests Frances. “Fine, I’ll get a sandwich.” She and Suvir follow the three.

“Aight, fellas,” says Rhett, once the majority of the team has left. “Manly man bondin’ time?!”

“Oh boy, you know it!” says Roald. “Wait! Let’s go to the gym! I bet they totally have eggs there!”

“The gym?!” grunts Boris. “You dullard, this is a botanical garden, there are no gyms anywhere near us! I am going to the Japanese garden, thank you very much.” He struts away.

“Looks like it’s jus’ you and me then, buddy,” says Rhett. “Don’ worry, we’ll find that gym!”

“Roald an’ I really know how to live it up!” whoops Rhett in the confessional. “It almost don’t even feel like Total Drama when I’m around him an’ the boys! Feels like one of my cousin’s barn parties!”

The Killer Wildcats are walking around the garden, some periodically stopping every few seconds to glare at each other.

Christian sighs loudly. “Man, this ain’t cutting it,” he says. “I’m out. Gonna go do some hunting by myself, y’know? Catch me later with all 50 eggs.” He makes a clicking noise, then leaves.

“Mmmmm, well, good riddance?” drawls Kingsley. “Erica, wanna go to the Japanese garden? There’s gotta be gold there.”

“I’m… Chinese,” says Erica flatly.

Kingsley gasps. “I did NOT mean it like that! Wig. No, I just thought it’d be a good place to hunt.”

Erica shrugs half-heartedly, then looks at Kingsley and beams wide as the two walk off.

“Well, I suppose it’s just us four, huh?” says Graham. “Great! If we put our minds together, we’ll be unstoppable!”

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up,” mutters Miles. “We lost last time.”

“Man, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today,” says Miles. “No matter how long I continue on in life without her, it doesn’t get any easier… Graham wants to be my friend or whatever, but look, I’ve seen this kind of thing before… He’s just pitying me. Everyone is.” He pulls out his vape and takes a drag.

“Okay, we did lose last time,” says Kelsey. “But let’s move on, huh? Failure is inevitable every once in a while, but when it becomes a pattern… yikes.”

Rachel gasps, and the three turn to her. “Oooooh, I found an egg already!” she coos, cradling a small blue egg in her hands.

Kelsey grabs it and examines it. “Uh, Rachel? I think this egg belongs to a bird.”

“Does it really?!” gasps Rachel. She takes it back and holds it closer to her ear. “Wait, now that you mention it I can hear tiny chirping! Awwww!”

“I didn’t think bird fetuses could chirp, but then again, I’m not a bio major,” says Kelsey.

“Ahhhh. Maybe the chirping was just in my soul,” says Rachel.

Miles looks at Graham and sighs his usual sigh. “The way she’s so aligned with nature reminds me of Jackie… She had three betta fish once and they all died within a week…” he whispers.

“Ah, yes,” says Graham. “It’s wonderful, huh? There’s so much natural beauty to be found around us.” He looks to the side and at a fairly average tree. “Like that tree… who knows what secrets it holds?” He steps closer to it and pulls something from a branch. “Apparently an egg!”

“Whoa, nice job Graham!” smiles Kelsey. “Let’s keep trucking, guys. These eggs won’t find themselves.” The four walk off.

“I’m growing to love my teammates!” says Graham in the confessional. “Well, most of them at least. I think we’ve made a splendid egg-gathering team, I already feel a lot more comfortable around them. Only one thing…” He blushes. “When should I tell them about my big crush on Whitney? I feel like they should know. Maybe they can help me out!”

“This egg and I are going to blossom together,” says Rachel, who has fashioned a pouch out of grass for her egg. “She’ll be our new mascot, representing our team’s rebirth! Last night we lost Isabella, so I’ll call her… Eggsabella! It’s perfect.”

The Artisanal Cheeses, or most of them, are pacing around the visitor center. Frances, Suvir, and Whitney are in what looks like the garden’s gift shop, rifling through the items for sale.

“Euch,” grunts Whitney, holding up a sweater with the garden’s logo emblazoned on it. “How could anyone purchase this? Horrendous.”

“Found one,” says Frances, holding up an egg. “Psst. Suvir. I’m going to try and do my first interview of the season. Want to be my cameraman?”

“Interview? With who?! We gotta keep searching, though!” pants Suvir.

“It’s fine,” says Frances, giving him her phone. “Artemis and Kaitlin have it covered.” She glances over to the cafe, where Artemis and Kaitlin look in the midst of a argument.

“Frances is GREAT, don’t get me wrong,” says Suvir. “She’s a totally cool alliance-mate! That is, if she’s not secretly conspiring against me. But anyway, she has to realize we’re in a competition, because if we lose, I’m 100% going home, and I’m NOT about to risk that! We don’t have time for interviews, man!”

Suvir reluctantly begins filming as Frances walks right up to Whitney, who looks at her dismissively.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” she says. “Frances Valdez here with the Total Drama Lakeside News. I know you’re all out there looking for hard-hitting journalism, and don’t worry, we’ve got that covered! Our first interviewee is… Whitney, my teammate! So Whitney, I was just wondering, how do you feel about this challenge?”

“No,” says Whitney.

A long silence ensues. “Uhhhh, okay, cool,” says Frances. “How did you feel about the last challenge? The one we won?”

“Glad we won,” says Whitney.

“Hmm, not getting much,” mutters Frances to herself. “Oh, I know. Different angle. Do you have a ‘special someone’ in this competition? The viewers want to know!”

Whitney takes one more look at Frances and walks out the door and into the gardens.

“...So, are you hungry? Kinda want to get that sandwich now,” says Frances, but she turns around and Suvir is already gone. She sighs.

“Well, that didn’t turn out as great as I had imagined,” says Frances. “Maybe that was a little much? Did I come on too strong? Should I ease them into my whole interview process? Hmmm, that’s a plan.”

In the cafe, Kaitlin and Artemis are still sitting at the bar, looking rather antsy.

“Do you see that egg? There is an egg RIGHT there,” says Artemis, pointing to an egg resting on the top of a large bottle of gin.

“Of course I see the goddamn egg, Artemis, do you think I magically lost my sight?” snaps Kaitlin. “Let’s just get a drink and get the egg.”

“Oh, I’m not getting a drink,” says Artemis. “I’ve already had three. Now I can’t remember the past 20 minutes.”

“You…” begins Kaitlin. “Jesus Christ. We’ve been sitting here arguing for the past hour.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound very productive,” says Artemis. “Why have we been arguing?”

“Just—just move past it, all right?” snarls Kaitlin. “I’m done with this. BARTENDER!”

A disgruntled-looking man with a bandana around his head, a beard, and voluminous blonde hair walks up from behind the kitchen.

“Ugh, what do you want? I was on break,” he says. “Understaffed piece of…”

“Listen, you see that gin over there? I’m not ordering it, in fact I hate gin. It’s disgusting. That’s beside the point. There’s an egg on that gin. Give it to us,” demands Kaitlin.

“Wait, who even are you?” says Smoothie Guy. “Not a fan of your attitude.”

“I’m not a fan of YOUR attitude,” says Kaitlin. “But I’ll let it slide for now."

"Listen, I’ll take a shot as well," adds Artemis. 

“A shot? Oh, come on, we have to focus!” says Kaitlin.

Smoothie Guy shrugs. “Sure, I’ll get you one. Free of charge. But only because you’re a fox,” he says. Artemis bats her eyelashes seductively.

“Her? A fox?! Wait, why don’t I get one?!” complains Kaitlin.

“Ew, you? You’re not a fox,” says Smoothie Guy. “You’re like… one of those giant prehistoric man-eating birds.”

“Okay, screw it, I’m out of here,” says Kaitlin. “Artemis, you can have your goddamn gin if you want.” She gets up and walks away.

Once she is gone, Artemis whispers, “Hmmm, looks like someone’s a little jealous.”

Smoothie Guy comes back with the shot, and Artemis downs it and immediately walks away as well, leaving the egg there. Once Smoothie Guy walks back into the kitchen muttering obscenities, Erica and Kingsley show up out of nowhere, sneak behind the bar, grab the egg, and run off.

“I don’t like Kaitlin,” says Artemis. “She’s a talentless hack, and she wishes she had the natural charisma and sensual charm that I do. We make a perfect pair.”

Erica and Kingsley, now with their grand total of one egg, are back to patrolling the outskirts of the garden.

“Mmmmm, girl, that was sneaky,” says Kingsley. “I cannot believe you spotted that egg. We’re on a roll!”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” says Erica. “We have one egg so far.”

“Psssh, whatever,” snorts Kingsley. “I bet the other team has zero. Hey, so wanna talk strategy?”

“When do I not want to talk strategy?” asks Erica excitedly.

“Hahahahaha!” chirps Kingsley. “Good one. So listen. How would you feel about making a huge power move tonight and targeting… Christian? Yeah, he and I seem like we’re buds, but he’s such a threat.”

Erica gasps. “Christian?!” she says. “Well, you’re not wrong… Plus, I can already sense he’s charming those other girls. I’m on board.”

“That’s what I like to hear!” says Kingsley. “You’re goooood.”

“I can already see it,” says Kingsley. “Erica and Kingsley, slaying the screen in the final two. The Total Drama franchise’s most adorable, charismatic, and plain fab final two in history! Wait, actually, Layla and Roz were pretty cute too… But they’ve got nothing on us. Christian, you’re going down.”

“Am I really targeting Christian?” asks Erica to herself. “Oh, no way. Kingsley thinks he and I are running things together, but really, what I’m trying to do is turn it around on HIM. The guy’s way too trusting, and at this point I’m starting to think he’s kinda stupid.”

In the outer limits of the Japanese garden, Christian is walking around with his headphones on, holding zero eggs.

“C’mon, man,” he says to himself. “Don’t get yourself down. Isabella was hot, sure, but plenty of other girls here are hot too. Erica’s pretty slammin, of course, even if she has a boyfriend already. Rachel’s probably great in the sack. Kelsey’s… fine, I guess. Those chicks on the other team are pretty hit-or-miss, though. Shit, the ratio’s off now.”

He walks up to a rock, lifts it up, and sees nothing but a worm crawling around underneath. He sighs and puts the rock back, then sifts around in some bushes and finds nothing.

“This is hard!” he sighs, as he takes out his e-cigarette and shakes it around. “Dammit, I’m outta juice too!”

“Serves you right…” says a familiar voice. “Nothing personnel, kid.”

Christian glances behind him, looking slightly scared. “Huh? What’s going on?”

“You fool…” says the voice. Boris then jumps out from behind a tree, shrieking loudly, and Christian just stands there and rolls his eyes.

“Bruh, really? You again?” says Christian. “I got no time for this. Wait actually, you got any eggs? I’ll trade up.”

Boris’s face turns extremely red. “I am NOT trading with you, you knave!” he booms. “I am challenging you to a duel, right here, right now. We are in the Japanese garden—thus, we will brawl like the days of feudal Japan!”

“Dude, I need what you’re smoking and I need it now,” says Christian. “Damn, I knew I should’ve gotten a new dealer.”

“Smoking?!” yells Boris. “No, a samurai’s mind and body must be in tip-top shape! No unlawful substances shall be involved in this duel! Just man versus man, to determine the ultimate Chad!”

“Ohhhhh,” says Christian. “So that’s what this is about. I still don’t know what all this Chad stuff is, bro.”

“Of course you do not!” says Boris. “Typical Chad, so self-centered he does not even realize the greater societal implications of his wrongdoings!”

Christian yawns and takes out his headphones again. “Listen, can we make this quick? I was right in the middle of a good verse.”

Boris stares intensely into Christian’s eyes, breathes in deeply, and begins charging forward. Christian steps out of the way, only inches to the right, and Boris trips over a root and falls face-first into the sand. Christian shrugs, then puts on his headphones and walks away.

“Yo, I’m actually kinda glad I got out of that situation,” says Christian. “Boris is a dork, sure, but I think all those gym trips have been paying off. Guy’s looking kinda swole. Scary stuff.”

“Blech!” says Boris, whose face is covered in sand. “What a coward he is. I would rather spend the rest of my days on a treadmill with Roald shouting motivational phrases at me than say a single word to that clod again!”

The majority of the Killer Wildcats are in an area of the garden featuring picnic tables and rose bushes, sitting down for a break.

“Okay, I get the challenges are going to be hard, but really, this hard?” asks Kelsey. “We have one egg and time’s almost up.”

“Hey, look on the bright side!” says Graham. “One egg has indeed been found.”

“Yeah, that’s great, but I’m sure the other team has like twenty…” grumbles Miles.

“Guys?” says Rachel. “I hate to correct you, but we’ve gotten two eggs! Eggsabella is just as valid as the other one.”

“That’s right, how could we forget,” says Kelsey dryly. “What’s she saying?”

Rachel holds the bird’s egg up to her ear and thinks for a moment. “She’s saying… Oh, that’s rude! Wow, I didn’t realize she had a tongue like that…”

“Jackie had a tongue like that,” whispers Miles to Graham. “And I mean literally. Like, you should’ve seen her go d—”

“...Miles, that is MORE than enough,” says Kelsey, cutting him off.

Graham stands up and clears his throat. “Okay, well, Kelsey and I are going to go search elsewhere. Divide and conquer, huh? I wish you two luck in your endeavors!”

The two of them walk away, Kelsey giving Graham a discreet thumbs-up after they’re gone.

“Kelsey is the perfect first person to talk to about multiple issues that’ve been bugging me lately,” says Graham. “She reminds me so much of my college friends! Just a great, compassionate person. I’m sure she’s had past loves just like Whitney… or Jackie.”

“Okay, listen,” says Graham. “I hold Miles near and dear to my heart, but this is getting ridiculous. Should we set him and Rachel up?”

“Him and Rachel?!” gasps Kelsey. “I mean, might be nice in theory, but she’s definitely not interested. Plus, I feel like Miles is waaaay too preoccupied.”

“Are you sure?” says Graham. “I suppose it’s just the hopeless romantic side of me.”

“Awww,” says Kelsey. “I mean, I don’t know. Weirder things have happened.”

Graham starts to blush and fumble with his hands. “Speaking of, uh, romance,” he says. “What do you think about Whitney?”

“Whitney?” asks Kelsey. “On the other team? Don’t you think she’s kind of… off-putting?”

“Off-putting? Not at all!” protests Graham. “What makes you say that?”

“I mean, she just seems like she’s got a stick up her butt 24/7,” says Kelsey. “And if I’m saying that, you know it’s bad.” She laughs.

“Oh,” says Graham. “Okay, it’s fine. Forget I ever said anything.”

Kelsey looks at him, confused. “Uh, let’s keep searching?” she offers.

The two walk off into the distance, looking in the bushes for eggs on the way.

“Poor Graham,” laughs Kelsey. “Guy’s hilarious. He’s obviously into Whitney, now that I think about it, and unfortunately I can relate. I’ve had plenty of crushes from afar on really disgusting dudes. Like Dylan from Zeta Beta Tau, who I thought was cute because he cared about international politics, but then I went to formal with him and he—jeez, no, I’ve already said too much.”

“Can’t believe they left…” mutters Miles, now sitting at the table with only Rachel.

“Yeah, bummer, huh?” says Rachel. “But it’s fine with me. This spot is gorgeous, no? Just feel that light breeze against your cheeks.”

Miles’s mouth widens slightly as he takes a notepad out of his overall pocket and starts jotting things down. “Keep saying stuff like that,” he says.

“Huh?” Rachel asks. “About the breeze against my cheeks?”

“No, just,” says Miles. “All that pretty nature stuff. You seem like the perfect muse…”

Rachel frowns slightly. “That might be an issue, since I also needed a muse but you’re a little too gloomy for me,” she says. “But okay. The flowers over there are just so…”

Miles starts to grin as he starts frantically writing down Rachel’s thoughts.

Elsewhere in the garden, Christian is continuing to wander around aimlessly until he bumps into Erica and Kingsley, seemingly in the midst of scheming.

“Yo! Teamies!” says Christian, waving. “What’s up? Found any eggs?”

“Um, yeah, we’ve found one,” says Kingsley flatly. “I assume you haven’t?”

“Nah bro, I’m not doing too hot today,” says Christian. “Don’t be salty about it, though. I’m putting in that work the best I can.”

“Yeah, it’s totally fine!” smiles Erica. “This challenge is stupid anyway, right? We’re probably done soon.” She and Kingsley start to walk in the other direction. “See ya!”

“Yaaaah, it’s tooootally fine,” says Kingsley in a mocking voice. “Ugh, come on, he’s just lazy. Don’t validate him. Focus!”

Christian looks at the two as they walk away. “Huh,” he murmurs. “That was… weird.”

Suddenly, Chris’s voice crackles on a loudspeaker over the gardens. “Time’s UP!” he shouts. “All contestants, head back to the entrance by the parking lot to be judged!”

Back at the entrance to the gardens, all seven Killer Wildcats are huddled up in front of Chris and Chef, but the only Artisanal Cheeses in sight are Suvir and Whitney.

“Okay, come on,” says Chris. “Where’s the rest of your team?!”

Whitney shrugs. “Don’t really care.”

“They must’ve been eaten by giant bugs,” says Suvir. “I knew this place was nuts! I stayed inside the whole time, and I’d still be inside right now if you didn’t drag me out!”

“Well, I guess we can’t tally the results until everyone’s here,” grumbles Chris. “How many eggs did you guys find, anyway?”

“Three!” says Rachel, holding up the Wildcats’ two eggs, plus Eggsabella.

“Zero,” says Whitney.

“Come ON!” says Chris. “Okay, that does it. Nobody cares about the challenges anymore, eh? Everyone just wants to wander around doing nothing until I say it’s over? Well, fine. Tomorrow’s challenge, I’m going to force you all to participate! We’re going physical!”

The contestants shrug and talk quietly amongst themselves, nobody really seeming to care.

“Damn millennials,” grunts Chef.

“Where even are the other Cheeses, anyway?” asks Chris impatiently.

The scene quickly changes to a nearly empty gym down the street, where music is blaring and the three other male Artisanal Cheeses are in the middle of some intense workouts.

“Whoooo dog! Keep that blood pumpin’!” says Rhett, who’s on an exercise bike.

“Big Boris, my man! I’m so glad you could make it!” says Roald, nearly out of breath on an elliptical.

“Do not get your hopes up,” says Boris, who’s lifting weights. “I only came because I was being harassed by that pleb Christian, and I needed to escape!”

Roald takes one more breath and collapses onto the ground. “Uuuuuugh,” he says, picking himself back up. “Hey, broskis. You think we should head back?”

“Naw, I’m jus’ getting started!” says Rhett. “But I am pretty tired, I could use a big ol’ nap.”

“Okay, I’m ready to roll,” says Roald, as the three head towards the exit. “But man, we didn’t get any eggs!”

“Wait a sec…” says Rhett. He stops, and points to a closet that has some sort of fabric peeking out from underneath the door.

“That looks dubious indeed,” says Boris. He grabs the doorknob and swings it open to find a bag filled to the brim with approximately 40 plastic eggs.

“WHOA!” all three boys yell.

“These are the real deal!” says Roald, grabbing the bag. “C’mon! Let’s head on back! For all Chris knows, we got these in the woods and stuff! Harharharhar!”

About a half hour later, the three boys make it back to the parking lot of the gardens, where Chris is looking more impatient than ever and almost every other contestant is on their phone.

“Jeez, it’s about time,” says Chris. “And what do you know, we’re still missing a few Cheeses, but at this point they can just stay here forever if they want.”

“Yo, Chris-o! Check it!” Roald says, triumphantly holding up the bag and then dumping all 40 eggs onto the ground.

Chris leans into Chef’s ear. “Why were all those eggs still in the bag? Did someone not complete his job for today?”

“Uh…” says Chef, beginning to sweat.

“We found ‘em in the gym!” says Rhett, beaming wide.

Boris elbows Rhett. “You imbecile, do not leak that information!”

“The gym, huh?” says Chris, growing irate.

“C’mon, man!” yells Chef. “Don’t get mad at me! Today was leg day! I wasn’t gon’ skip leg day! Jus’ forgot the eggs once I left!”

“Okay, fine. At least someone found them,” sighs Chris. “Anyway, for the second time in a row, the Artisanal Cheeses win today’s challenge!”

The Cheeses erupt into a cheer, while the Wildcats start to grumble under their breath.

“Now, can everyone get on the bus? We’ve been here for far too long, and I need lunch,” says Chris. The bus pulls up and everyone files in.

“Whooooo! I can’t believe we won that challenge!” says Roald. “Haha, Boris and I are really becoming buds, I think! The more we put our muscles to the test, the more challenges we’ll win! I’m so proud of the dude!”

“I’m telling you, Artemis, there’s no way there are any eggs left,” says Kaitlin, who is still in the cafe/gift shop area, with Frances jotting down notes only feet away.

“Or is that what Chris wants you to believe?” asks Artemis.

“Seriously, we gotta GO, I’m getting real tired of this,” says Kaitlin.

“Fine, then,” says Artemis. “Nobody’s stopping you. But I won’t rest until I buy out all the merchandise in this gift shop, sell it online and scam the crap out of some losers, and find at least three more eggs. Peace.”

“This… is fascinating,” says Frances.

Kaitlin turns around and gasps. “Wait, you’re still here too?! Goddamnit, I was hoping this would be a solo scene!” she whines.

“Maybe I’ll just kill all my teammates in their sleep tonight. Then I’ll finally get the attention I deserve,” says Kaitlin. “Wait, was that too dark? I feel like it was. Ugh, back to square one.”

Back at the Killer Wildcats’ dorm, the contestants are getting restless right before the elimination ceremony.

“Okay, listen,” whispers Kingsley. “We’re still going through with the plan, right? I want you to do the networking with our teammates. They’ll trust you more.”

“Wow, that was a lot at once,” says Erica. “But yeah, that’s the plan. I… guess I’ll go talk to them.”

“Yas,” says Kingsley. “We stan a social legend. This is gonna be sooooo good.”

In the other room, the entire rest of the team is sitting on a bed and attempting to strategize except Christian, who is on the floor juuling.

“Dude, why are you even in here? I thought you didn’t care about us,” says Miles to Christian.

“Yeah man, I don’t really,” says Christian. “But listen, we gotta vote someone out. I’m thinking Kingsley. Sound good? He’s a snake, right?”

“Sure,” shrugs Kelsey. “I mean, I haven’t really talked to him. Has anyone?”

“Nah,” says Christian. “Guy’s a weirdo. Anyway, I’m out.” He gets up and walks out of the room, right as Erica walks in.

“Hi, guys!” she says, as everyone shares glances with each other. “So that’s… his idea of strategizing?”

“The funny thing is, I was planning on voting for him,” says Graham quietly. “But I’m pretty undecided now…”

“You should be,” says Erica. “Things are intense tonight. Kingsley’s on a crusade to get Christian out, and I think vice versa.”

“Ugh, strategy is exhausting…” says Miles as he pulls his blanket up.

“Do this instead!” suggests Rachel. “I’m making a little bed for our new eggy friend.” She holds up a structure made out of leaves, fabric, and popsicle sticks, with Eggsabella resting comfortably on top. “I’m going to gather more materials!”

“Sweet, I’ll come,” says Miles, throwing his blanket off and following Rachel outside.

“Well, now we’re down two strategic minds,” drawls Kelsey. “Strategy session over? I need to get two more paragraphs done for my thesis.”

“Yeah, I didn’t realize how emotionally taxing this would be!” says Graham. “I really do appreciate everyone here, so it hurts.”

Erica gets up. “I gotta go meet Kingsley,” she says. “And by ‘meet,’ I mean decide whether or not to vote him out. Bye!”

Once she leaves, Graham shudders. “She… slightly terrifies me.”

Christian is outside on the porch, doing the exact same activities he was while on the floor of the dorm. The front door opens and Erica peeks out, eventually sitting down right next to him.

“Listen,” she whispers seductively. “What’re you thinking for tonight?”

“Another day, another high-stress situation,” says Kelsey. “We seriously have to stop losing. I know I’m coming across as all calm and stuff right now, but my insides feel like a mush. I’m probably going to throw up at the elimination ceremony, maybe on Chris. Anyway, I’m voting Kingsley.”

“Aaaaah, I feel so good,” says Kingsley. “Christian? Say bye.”

“Rach and I collected so many flowers, and I felt like my soul had been revitalized…” gushes Miles. “I feel so good around her, but like… not in the way I did around Jackie. It’s different. It’s fresh.”

“Hahaha, is it bad that I haven’t even thought about who to vote out?” Rachel wonders. “Miles is sweet. Now, I don’t like him romantically… like, at all. But I think if I’m able to get that boy to finally move past the heartbreak that’s been bothering him for years, it’d be wonderful.”

Chris meets the seven remaining Wildcats at the bandshell for the campfire ceremony, where the sun is setting peacefully on the lake.

“Welcome back, two-time losers,” says Chris. “Since I already went through the whole spiel last time, let’s just get to it, eh? Marshmallows go to Graham, Kelsey, Miles, and Rachel.”

He passes the four marshmallows, and they each catch one.

“Erica, have you been scheming? I think so,” says Chris. “But you’re safe.”

Erica catches her marshmallow. “Scheming? Uh, okay?”

“Christian, Kingsley,” says Chris, eyeing the two young men. “Lots of votes coming your way. In fact, every vote went to one of you two! Crazy how that works. Only one will be safe from the lakeside’s wrath today, however. The final marshmallow goes to…”


“Ayyyy! All riiiiiight,” says Christian, as he gulps down his marshmallow.

“WHAT?!” shrieks Kingsley. “Oh, no no no no no.” He pulls out his phone and instantly begins vlogging. “Hey fans, I am OUTRAGED. No time to explain. I want you ALL to get on your phones right now and tweet like crazy at that old, washed-up loser Chris McLean, and tell him—”

“Hey!” shouts Chris. “I’m not old!”

“And Erica, you?! You’re faker than faux fur,” says Kingsley. “I cannot believe I even trusted you for a second. Ladies, steer clear from this bitch, she knows EXACTLY what she’s doing and I can tell you it’s not pretty.”

Erica looks genuinely upset. “I’m sorry, I guess the strategy just didn’t work out! Love you though!”

“Yeah, sure,” huffs Kingsley. “Feeling not mutual. Anyway, uh, Christian, hit me up if you want. Everyone else, byeeeee.”

He storms away from the campfire ceremony and heads to the Yacht of Losers, where its horn drowns out the stream of expletives coming out of his mouth. The Wildcats all stare at each other, shrug, and walk back to camp.

“Well, that was… a lot of colorful language,” says Chris. “The censors are going to have a field day with that one! Anyway, tune in next time for even more drama, even more action, and hopefully much fewer Chef Hatchet screw-ups! Otherwise our staff will be one man short! We’ll see you then, on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

“That was a breeze,” says Erica. “Once Kingsley started plotting, I knew he had to go. Poor guy lapped up all the positive attention I gave him, even though I kinda hated him from the start. And now Christian and I are tight as tight can be!” She pauses. “Wait, was that too mean? Is high school Erica coming out again? Oh no. I have to work on my social game! Girl gang, I’m coming back to you!”

Chapter 4 - Canoe Pornographers

“Last time on Total Drama Lakeside!” announces Chris, who’s wearing a tacky Hawaiian shirt, beach shorts, sunglasses, and a straw hat. “I sent the contestants out to the McLean Memorial Botanic Garden, which was most definitely named after me, Chef knows nothing. There, they competed in a grueling game of ‘find the eggs,’ and things got real intense real quick. Actually, they didn’t, it was one of the most boring challenges I’ve ever seen. EVER. And I had to watch that whale-watching garbage in Tokyo. So somehow, thanks to Chef being as incompetent as usual, the Artisanal Cheeses won their second challenge in a row after gym rats Rhett and Roald, and I guess Boris, stumbled upon a secret stash of unhidden eggs! The Wildcats had to claw their way to the campfire ceremony, where Kingsley was booted after his secret alliance with Erica and plan to take out fan-favorite Christian was revealed. Or maybe Erica was just being manipulative? It’s hard to know with that one. Now, if you couldn’t tell by my gorgeous outfit, today’s our first beach challenge! How wet will these lake-goers get? Will I ruin my perm? Wait, I don’t want to know the answer to that. Anyway, find out right here, right now on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Immediately after the elimination ceremony, the Killer Wildcats silently pile back into their dorm and get into their pajamas.

“So does anyone actually want to talk about that?” asks Christian after a long silence. “Because I don’t.”

“Yeah, me either,” says Kelsey. “Repress, repress, repress. Night, everyone.”

Graham begins to put on his nightgown while Miles’s head swings down from the bunk above him. “Psst,” he whispers.

“Whoa!” gasps Graham. “Miles, it’s awful late.”

“Listen,” he continues. “I can’t stop thinking about collecting all that nature with Rachel... Can you try to ask her about me tomorrow? Put in a good word for me, maybe?”

Graham starts to look slightly uncomfortable. “Tomorrow?! I mean...” he stammers. “Yeah, of course I can. Yes. Definitely.”

“Thanks, dude,” says Miles. “I’m going to bed now. Can’t wait to dream about her…”

“My buddies tried to find me a rebound after things ended with Jackie…” says Miles. “But it was just failure after failure. Jenny got up and left after five minutes of our first date, Cecilia didn’t even show up to our first date, and Maggie banged my former bandmate Sam… Fuck you, Sam. But Rachel… she’s a new dawn.”

“This is not good,” says Graham nervously. “I can’t even imagine the look on Miles’s face when he finds out Rachel is only interested in him platonically! I know it’s all an issue of his maturity, or maybe lack thereof, but if his soul is tortured over both her AND Jackie… that’d be bad.”

Rachel is brushing her teeth in the bathroom. The door swings open and in comes Erica, smiling wide and clutching her toiletries.

“Hey, girl!” she says.

Rachel looks at her, then spits out her toothpaste into the sink and takes a big swig of water. “Hello, Erica,” she says. “A little late for a chat, huh?”

“Well, you’re still awake,” says Erica. “Wait, you brush your teeth? Don’t types like you not do that, for the natural scent or whatever?”

“Oh, you see, this toothpaste is organic,” states Rachel. “It’s made of chamomile flower, coconut oil, and hemp.”

“Coconut oil?!” gasps Erica. “Coconut oil saved my life. I mean it. Like, my boyfriend and I used to not be able to… do it, but then I started using it as lube and it loosened things u—”

“Uh, that’s great and all, but…” says Rachel. “Is this the first time we’ve ever talked?”

“Maybe? Whatever, I don’t know,” says Erica. “Deep late-night chats! Aren’t they great?”

“Yeah?” smiles Rachel apprehensively. “I’m gonna go to bed now. Sleep tight.”

She walks out of the room, and Erica grumbles to herself, “So much for sisterly bonding.”

“Oh, come on, I was totally nice to that girl,” complains Erica. “I started out by asking her personal questions—you know, the toothpaste thing—and then I contributed a shockingly intimate story that revealed hidden depths about myself! What more does she need to be my friend?!”

The morning arrives, and Chris’s voice emanates from the loudspeakers. “Contestants! Head to the lake in thirty minutes with your finest beachwear for your very first water challenge!”

“WHOOOOOOOOO!” yells a voice from the Cheeses’ dorm.

“Those voices!” shrieks a sleeping mask-clad Suvir. “Are the aliens finally here?! Pack it up, this is the end!”

“Naw, bruther!” says Rhett, rolling out of bed completely naked. “It’s jus’ Roald! He’s excited, an’ I don’t blame th’ guy! We’re swimmin’!”

“Do you know how to swim?” asks Whitney, walking in unannounced.

“I mean…” falters Rhett. “I’ve been down to th’ bayou with m’ dad. We wade around in th’ mud.”

“More importantly, why are you naked?” adds a confused Frances.

“Why ain’t you?!” laughs Rhett. “I didn’t have th’ time to pack swimmin’ clothes. I’m swimmin’ in my birthday suit!”

“Well, that’s enough for today,” says Whitney, as she walks right out.

Roald bounces up to Boris, who is sitting in his bed watching anime on his laptop with a pair of gigantic headphones shaped like cats.

“Yo! Buddy! Listen up!” he says, tapping Boris on the shoulder.

Boris doesn’t budge at all, his eyes focused completely on the screen, and Roald continues tapping him, until after around ten seconds he finally snaps and throws off his headphones.

“What is it?!” roars Boris. “I was just in the middle of a very steamy scene! One does not simply achieve that entertainment level every day!”

“We’re doing a swimming challenge today, man! I’m an expert swimmer and I’m sure you are too!” says Roald. “C’mon, let’s pack in some nutrients!”

“Hmm,” thinks Boris. “Ah, yes!”

He runs over to his suitcase and unpacks what looks like a giant bottle filled to the brim with chocolate milk.

“Whenever I am not in the mood for Mountain Fizz, this does the trick,” says Boris. “I am chocolate milk obsessed!”

“Choccy milk? I mean, I like that stuff, but…” says Roald. “I was thinkin’ something a little more energizing that’ll give you the pep you need?”

“I do not need any pep, you squire!” hisses Boris. “But I suppose I could drink coffee. They call me the Coffee Prosecutor for a reason!”

“Nah, not coffee either,” says Roald, as he takes out a giant jar of white powder. “This!”

“What’s that? Are you trying to poison me?!” yells Boris.

Rhett’s eyes widen as he walks over. “Wait, ain’t that crack?”

“Crack?!” shrieks another voice. Kaitlin comes out of her room and rushes over to the boys.

“Sure thing, I know it when I see it,” says Rhett. “M’ second cousin was big into that kinda stuff. Think he’s in prison now.”

“Chillax, b-b-buddy, that’s no crack!” assures Roald. “This, my friends, is creatine. Brochacho, if you take this stuff you’ll turn into a demigod! You might get watery poops, but man, is it worth it!”

Boris grabs the jar of creatine from Roald’s hands. “I see. I shall consider it.”

“Goddamnit, those guys totally fooled me,” grumbles Kaitlin. “I heard crack and I came running. I mean, not that I’ve had any sort of history with crack. Definitely not. They do drug tests and shit before the show, right?”

“When I awoke this morning, I noticed my body appeared to be slightly more toned,” says Boris. “For all his infuriating personality traits, that Roald is helping me out quite a bit. All those roasties on the other team will flock to me once I showcase my chiseled beach physique!”

In their respective bathroom, the female Cheeses are attempting to get ready for the challenge.

“Okay, girlfriends, so here’s what I’m thinking,” says Kaitlin in an oddly cheerful manner. “We gotta look as TV-friendly as possible today.”

“I always look TV-friendly,” says Artemis, who is wearing heavy makeup and an incredibly revealing cow-print bikini.

“Artemis?” says Kaitlin. “What the hell is that?”

Whitney exits from a bathroom stall in a lavender one-piece and glances at Artemis’ suit. “For the first time in my life, I second Kaitlin.”

“Pssssh, come on,” protests Artemis. “If you want to look TV-friendly, you have to make a statement, and that’s what this is.”

“It certainly is,” says Frances, appearing out of thin air with Suvir trailing behind her. “At this rate, we’ll be in the tabloids within seconds.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re not supposed to be in here!” snaps Kaitlin.

“Listen,” explains Frances. “He’s not too thrilled about the men’s room. Said he was trying to avoid the ‘bathroom gremlins,’ so he’s… here, with us.”

“They’re a very real concern!” shouts Suvir. “And I ain’t just talking about Boris!”

“Fine, whatever,” says Kaitlin. “You guys can have your fun with tabloids and bathroom gremlins and disgusting cow bikinis. I, on the other hand, am a classy woman with classy tastes, and THAT’S what the cameras want.”

She storms out of the bathroom, leaving the rest of the Cheeses staring at each other in befuddlement.

“She’s in a great mood today,” murmurs Whitney.

“Oh, Kaitlin,” says Artemis. “I’m growing rather sick of her. Maybe today I’ll try to branch out, talk to the hunks on our team instead. Less drama, more sex appeal. That’s what mama likes.”

Meanwhile, the Killer Wildcats are also getting ready for the challenge, with varying levels of success.

“That swimsuit is so cute,” says Erica to Rachel, who is cradling Eggsabella in her arms. “Like, it’s simple but stylish. Love it!”

Before Rachel can respond, Christian walks out of the bathroom looking tanner than usual and wearing a swimsuit designed after the American flag.

“What up?” he says coolly.

“Dude, that suit is ridiculous,” says Miles. “Nobody cares about how much you love the USA or whatever… It’ll just screw you over.”

“You’re right, the government is killing our Mother Earth,” says Rachel. Miles grins. “But Christian, that suit IS pretty striking…” He stops grinning.

“Yeah, I know,” says Christian. “Picked it up for 20 bucks cheaper than usual. You can keep admiring it if you want.”

“There’s nothing about you that I’m admiring…” grumbles Miles.

“Bro, what gives? Are you jealous of my beach bod? Your skin’s basically see-through, so I get it, but c’mon,” says Christian.

Miles is about to say something else, but Kelsey walks out and everyone gasps. She is wearing a nice enough bikini, but has massive bags under her bloodshot eyes and looks paler than usual.

“Kelsey?” squeaks Rachel. “Is… everything okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine,” says Kelsey. “Why wouldn’t I be? Everyone ready for the challenge?”

“Did you get a good night’s sleep?” asks Erica.

“Of course I did,” laughs Kelsey uncomfortably as she starts walking. “Seriously, you guys, we’re gonna be late.”

“It’s not that I didn’t get a good night’s sleep per se,” says Kelsey. “I didn’t get ANY sleep. Not a second. I was up all night thinking about how we’ve lost twice in a row, and how nobody else on the team even cares about our success in this game. I’m absolutely freaking out, but I cannot let my teammates know that. I just have to relax, do some calm assertive leadership, and we’ll finally win. Deep breaths, Kelsey.” She takes half a deep breath, then starts sobbing.

The 14 remaining contestants, all wearing their swimsuits except for Suvir, convene on the beach right in front of a small boathouse to meet Chris.

“Sorry I’m a little late,” says Graham, walking up to his teammates.

“Uh, what are you wearing?” asks Erica, staring at his unique two-piece striped bathing suit.

“Vintage swimwear!” says Graham. “It’s comfy, stylish, and practical. I’m very excited to debut it for this challenge.” He looks over at the Cheeses and shoots Whitney a grin.

“You look like an escaped convict,” says Whitney.

Graham quickly looks away. “That’s a compliment, right?” he whispers to his teammates, who don’t say anything in response.

Out of nowhere, Chris finally shows up, still in his cheesy Hawaiian outfit and drinking a pina colada.

“What’s chillin’?” he asks, flashing a peace sign. After nobody says anything, he mutters something explicit to himself then keeps talking. “Fine, whatever, I guess I won’t try to make the challenges fun or anything. It’s your guys’ loss.”

“Uh, Chris, whut’s th’ challenge? We really swimmin’?” asks a still-naked Rhett.

“And you’re not wearing clothes why?” asks Chris. “Jeez, the censors are going to be rolling in the dough after tonight. But to answer your question, no, you’re not swimming! This is a little challenge I like to call ‘Capture the Flag: Canoe Style.’” Everyone groans. “You’ll all be divided up into pairs of two, and each team will occupy half of the playing field in the lake. There will be a flag with your team color on top of a buoy at the edge of the boundaries, and your goal is to snatch that flag from the other team’s buoy and paddle back alive! To spice things up a bit, we’ve added ammo to the canoes in the form of water balloons. If you throw a balloon at someone from the opposing team who’s on your side, they’ll have to paddle all the way back to their side, but you can only throw one balloon at a time. Got it? Oh, and of course, this challenge will test your teamwork and whatever, but I don’t really care about that part.”

“Chris?” asks Suvir. “Is this challenge mandatory? Large bodies of water freak me out!”

“Ugh, I knew that’d come up,” says Chris. “Well, I guess since the Cheeses are up two members, you can sit out on that bench over there. You and one ot—”

Before he even finishes his sentence, both Whitney and Kaitlin begin walking to the bench.

“Watch it, what do you think you’re doing?!” snaps Kaitlin.

“Not this challenge, that’s for sure,” says Whitney.

“Okay, well, neither am I,” says Kaitlin. “I bet there’s all sorts of gross shit in the lake. I could get AIDS.”

Roald gives Whitney a wave. “C’mon, Whitty-bo-bitty! You and I can canoe together! It’ll be all sorts of wild ‘n’ wacky!”

“That’s actually more of a reason for me to sit out,” says Whitney.

Chris gasps. “Wait, the ratings would love that! You two together would be comedy GOLD. I’m giggling just thinking about it. So that means Kaitlin, you get to sit out with Suvir, and Whitney, you’ll be competing!”

Whitney gives both Chris and Roald a fiery glare while Kaitlin smugly waves at her and walks over to the sit-out bench.

“Excuse me?” asks Rachel, following Kaitlin to the sit-out bench. “Would you be generous enough to look over my egg friend? I think she’s close to hatching, and I would hate for her to not make it there.”

“What the hell?” Kaitlin eyes the egg-pouch. “Yeah, sure, I guess.” She snatches the egg from Rachel’s arms and sits down on the bench.

Miles cautiously raises his hand. “Uh, can we pick our partners…” he asks meekly.

“Nope!” says Chris. “I know you guys too well, and I’m confident you’d just go to your usual favorites if I let you choose. There’s nothing fun about it. We’re gonna mix things up!” Everyone begins cursing under their breath. “So for the Cheeses, we have…” He clears his throat. “Roald and Whitney, as I said.”

“Shoosh yeah!” yells Roald, throwing his meaty arm around Whitney’s shoulder. “You’re gonna see the most extremest canoe-paddling this side of Antarctica!”

“Frances, you’ll be with Rhett, and that leaves Artemis and Boris,” says Chris.

“Balderdash!” says Boris. “I doubt our canoe will even stay above water for one minute!”

“Oh, please,” retorts Artemis. “If you’re implying I’m the big one here, my body is more voluptuous than yours will ever be. You look like a pack of lunchmeat.”

“Rhett and I haven’t spoken once, as far as I know,” says Frances. “And I’m not too thrilled about the fact he’ll be naked for the entire challenge. However, he does seem relatively harmless, and if the cameras avoid him like I predict, then we’ll be able to sneak through the shadows and win.”

Frances tries to inch away from Rhett and towards the canoes, but he quickly intercepts her.

“Howdy!” says Rhett. “You an’ I are gon’ have all sorts o’ fun! Like, more fun than Roald an’ Whitney times twenty billion!”

“Meh, fine with me,” says Frances, taking out her notepad and putting a waterproof bag around it.

“Now for the Wildcats!” Chris announces. “Heh-heh, this is gonna be awesome. Graham and Rachel will be in the first canoe!”

Miles looks at Graham in deep envy, and whispers, “Dude, I’m counting on you…”

Graham gulps. “Of course! I w-w-wouldn’t let you down, friend.” He walks up to Rachel, who smiles at him and the two walk to their canoe.

“Miles and Erica will be our second pair,” says Chris. “Which leaves Kelsey and Christian!”

“Okay, Christian,” says Kelsey. “This is gonna be… fine. We totally got this. Let’s just get in there and kick some butt, okay?” Her right eye twitches.

Christian says nothing for a second, then leans in and whispers, “Hey, uh… are you on coke? If you are, mind letting your boy do a line before the challenge? I need an extra kick.”

“What?” asks Kelsey. “No. Just, uh, motivated and ready to win.”

Christian shrugs. “Fine with that. All I do is win.” The two head over to their canoe.

A few feet to the right, Erica tries to pick up the massive canoe by herself but then drops it. She eyes Miles, who is slumped over on the ground and writing something in the sand with a stick.

“Uh, a little help here?” she asks passive-aggressively. “We’re gonna have to cooperate if we want to win, you know.”

“Yeah, whatever…” says Miles. “I can’t believe I wasn’t paired with Rachel…”

Erica rolls her eyes. “Come on. I’m just as upset as you are, but whining about it is gonna do nothing. So let’s do this?” She flashes her classic grin.

“Yeah, whatever…” repeats Miles.

“I swear, the day I finally decide to branch out and work my social game on the other girls, Chris pairs me with HIM?!” says a disgusted Erica. “It’s my worst-case scenario. At least Graham is slightly more normal, and Christian is my little crush, but Miles is just a whiny sadboy. I guess I should try to ‘bond’ with him or something, but what do we have in common? Nothing.”

Everyone is now paired up in their canoes, scattered about on opposite sides of the lake. A row of buoys marks the boundaries, with one golden buoy holding a flag at the edge of each side, and a thin rope divides the two teams in the middle. Chris is relaxing in a lawn chair with a speedo-clad Chef sitting next to him, reading another mystery novel.

“Okay!” yells Chris through a megaphone. “Challenge starts in 5… 4… 3… 2...”

“Ay, Chris, shouldn’t we give ‘em some time to strategize?” suggests Chef, looking up from his book.

“Nah,” says Chris. “They’re fiiiine.” He raises his voice once again, then blows his horn. “GO!”

As the contestants attempt to awkwardly paddle around the lake, Suvir and Kaitlin watch on from the sit-out bench—or rather, Suvir watches while Kaitlin concentrates on peeling her toenails.

“Scary, huh?” he says. “I’ll bet you at least ten bucks someone’s gonna dragged underneath by a lake kraken!”

“Okay, I’m really trying to focus here, so mind shutting up for like two hours?” asks Kaitlin, reluctantly holding Eggsabella in her lap.

“Focus on what?!” says Suvir. “These are important truths I’m leaking! You should feel lucky to even hear ‘em!”

“Focus on not killing myself. I’ll feel lucky if I get through this afternoon without blowing my goddamn brains out, okay?” snaps Kaitlin.

“Man, it’s a good thing I barely tried to talk to Kaitlin until now, she’s the worst!” says Suvir. “It’s probably her bird genes! They make her all squawky and cranky and stuff, I bet. That’s what happens when you’re genetically modified! Wake up, Lakeside!”

“Wildcats!” says Kelsey, as she violently paddles from the front of her canoe. “No time for strategy, but Christian and I are going to attack! Everyone else, stay here or whatever!”

A relaxed-looking Christian sits up. “Attack? Whuh? Aw, c’mon, I was hoping we’d be defense—”

“ATTACK!” says Kelsey harshly. Christian winces and starts paddling faster.

Graham glances at Erica and Miles, who are floating lifelessly on the other side of the flag. “So we’re guarding then, huh?” he says to Rachel.

“Seems so,” says Rachel. “I have no complaints! What a perfect day to just take in the lake’s beauty.”

“Right,” nods Graham. He glances at Miles again, who’s limply paddling with one arm while Erica shoots daggers at him. “So, er, what do you think about Miles?”

“What do I think?” laughs Rachel. “He’s friendly, and his heart’s in the right place. I guess he’s pretty fun to talk to.”

“Ah,” says Graham. “Well, I agree.” He pauses for an awkward amount of time. “Is that it?”

“Are you asking if I like him in that way?” asks Rachel. “No, sadly. He’s great, but there’s no way he’s gotten over Jackie, and I’d feel awful toying with him like that.”

Graham’s face turns bright red and he starts to sweat. “Oh, okay, I… understand. Let’s focus on the challenge now, I guess?” Rachel nods slightly, confused.

On the opposite side of the arena, the Cheeses are scattered about with no discernible strategy. Artemis and Boris are paddling in circles around the buoy, while the other two pairs are attempting to divide and conquer.

“I wish I had my laptop with me! I could be playing immense amounts of Poki Poki Math Club right now!” whines Boris.

Artemis looks at their canoe, which is sinking slightly into the water on Boris’s side. “Remind me again what you said about me sinking the canoe?”

Boris looks down and gasps. “Behold! My newfound muscle mass has finally set in!”

“Muscles?! That’s absurd,” says Artemis, rolling her eyes. “Boris, you will NEVER be a beefcake.”

“That is fine!” he retorts. “I no longer need your silly validation. I have ascended from virgin-tier and am now a Brad! One step closer to Chad-dom!”

“Awright, Franny,” says Rhett, in the front of his canoe and making a beeline to the Wildcats’ side. “Now what ya gotta do here is similar to herdin’ cows!”

“Tell me more,” says Frances, looking at her notepad through the plastic bag cover.

“Yeeehaw, now we’re talkin’,” says Rhett. “If yer tryin’ to get cows’ attention, ya can’t sneak up on ‘em too much. Just gotta barrel in like a big ol’ bullet and scare ‘em into the corner!”

“This may be good content,” mutters Frances to herself. “Okay, keep talking!”

“I could keep talkin’ all day, now don’t you worry!” says Rhett jubilantly.

“Sure, she’s kinda quiet, but Franny an’ I are havin’ so much fun! It’s been a heckuva time!” whoops Rhett. “Who needs the gym when you got that, man?”

On the other side of Rhett and Frances, seemingly stationary in their canoe, Whitney is wearing a completely defeated expression in the back while Roald is making low grunting noises.

Whitney finally breaks the silence. “Okay, Roald, you smell awful.”

“Do I?! Aw man, I must’ve gotten so hyped up that I forgot to put on my deodorant,” says Roald. “Sorry, Whitto! Wanna go sneak attack the Wildcats?”

“Not particularly,” says Whitney.

Roald cheers loudly. “That’s the enthusiasm I LOVE to see!”

He starts paddling so ferociously that the whole canoe is dragged along with him, despite Whitney not paddling at all.

Kelsey watches on as the Cheeses attempt to go on the offense. “Okay, Christian,” she says. “They’re coming. Look, they’re almost here. We have to go. Come on. Let’s do this.”

“Yo, we tried to attack five minutes ago and you freaked out and turned around right away,” says Christian.

“Yeah? So?” says Kelsey. “I wasn’t ready, physically or emotionally. But now I am. Let’s go!”

“We gonna just do a straight shot to the flag?” asks Christian.

“Of course we’re going to do a straight shot, Christian, what else do you expect me to come up with?! This is a high-stress environment!” says Kelsey, raising her voice and beginning to paddle.

“Yeah, tell me about it,” mutters Christian.

Kelsey’s paddling starts to pick up speed and Christian eventually joins in. “You know, I heard that,” she says. “And I don’t think that’s a very productive thing to say, especially when the person you’re saying it to isn’t feeling great in the first place and so you end up just salting the wound, you know?” The canoe crosses the boundary onto the other side, causing Artemis and Boris to notice the onslaught. “So when you want to make a snarky comment, maybe instead stop and think about how it might affect me, or our chances of winning? I really don’t want to sound like a bitch or anything but it’s been a rough day and I’m desperately trying to hold it in, and it’s HARD.” Artemis and Boris start paddling towards the canoe, but she continues to talk. “And I really want to win this challenge, and I’m trying my best, and I do respect you as a person which is why I’m so concerned, but I just—”

Christian, who has been juuling the entire time, suddenly pipes up. “Yo! Kelsey! Sharp turn left!”

“Huh?!” retorts Kelsey. “You gotta say these things ahead of time, or else—”

A massive wave comes out of nowhere and swamps Kelsey, partially hitting Christian as well, flipping the canoe over, and dumping them both into the water.

Kelsey resurfaces and spits out a mouthful of water. “That was a mistake.”

A visibly teary Christian comes up as well. “Jesus, my hair is ruined,” he blubbers. “I spent three hours on it this morning. Three, man!”

Boris and Artemis suddenly arrive in their canoe, and an evilly grinning Boris holds up two water balloons and gestures towards Christian.

“At least we’re already wet, I guess…” says Kelsey.

Boris flings the water balloon at Christian and it smacks him right in the face and explodes, causing him to gag.

“Th-th-that’s NOT water!” he yells.

“I’m done,” says a shivering, towel-wrapped Christian. “Just vote me out. Take me back to Isabella. This is too fuckin’ much.”

Over by the Killer Wildcats’ flag, Miles and Erica are still floating lifelessly in their canoe while their teammates paddle elsewhere.

“So the second we met, I thought he was just the sweetest boy,” says Erica, in the middle of an extensive story. “And you know, that scared me since I usually don’t go for sweet guys at ALL. I like jocks, guys like Christian, because they’re the sexiest. I wouldn’t call Jacob sexy, but he has this adorable charm like he’s a little teddy bear or puppy or something, and he just drew me right in!”

“Mm,” grunts Miles.

“And I have this other guy friend who I kinda had a thing for, and once when we were shopping at Victor’s Secret I told him I could see us dating in the future which made him suuuuper uncomfortable, and you know, it made ME uncomfortable too but I said it anyway, and it got even weirder when Jacob and I started dating three weeks later,” continues Erica. “Then Jacob went to go study abroad in Ecuador, which was heartbreaking since I missed him so much, but then one night at a party I got really drunk and things got pretty touchy-feely with that OTHER guy friend, and one thing led to another, and…”

“I think I’ve heard enough…” says Miles.

“Oh, was that weird? I’m sorry, I just thought it would be some good intimate bonding, you know? Set aside our differences and get to know each other?” says Erica rather sweetly.

Out of nowhere, Miles utters a primal roar several decibels louder than his normal speaking voice, picks up one of the canoe’s water balloons, and chucks it at Erica. The balloon splashes onto the back of Erica’s head and explodes.

“TAKE THAT, JACKIE!” he screams.

“What was that for? Who’s Jackie?!” yells Erica. “Ugh, I knew this was a bad idea! I’m done talking to you!” She turns away from Miles and starts frustratedly paddling.

“I don’t know what got into me, but I’m seeing her everywhere…” says a shell-shocked Miles in the confessional. “I recognize the pain of being cheated on, and to see that Erica is just as much of a heartless succubus is sad but not surprising… She needs to go.”

“Okay, Whitters, here’s the game plan,” strategizes Roald, guiding the canoe through a shortcut. “I’m ready to roll, and I think the creatine is finally workin’ its magic! So we sneak up behind those two over there, because they’re totes distracted,” he beckons to Graham and Rachel, “and zip zap zoom, we grab the flag!”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” says Whitney.

Roald giggles as his canoe approaches the Wildcats’ buoy. “C’mon, you know you lucked out being paired with a challenge beast like me!”

Whitney stares at him, then laughs loudly and mockingly. “Good god, that’s your best one yet,” she says.

As the two approach the flag, Graham watches from a distance as Roald says something and Whitney laughs loudly in response. He stares blankly towards the canoe with his mouth hanging slightly open.

“Uh, Rachel, I think we’ve got some visitors,” he says.

“Oh!” says a sunbathing Rachel, who abruptly sits up and grabs her paddle. “Good eye, Graham, I won’t let us lose.” She starts gently paddling, then glimpses Graham paddling much more urgently.

“I’m sorry, I’m just very invested in this challenge!” says Graham sheepishly. “Let’s go!”

The two paddle over to the enemy canoe, and while the duo of Cheeses attempts to slip past them and get to the flag, Graham picks up two water balloons and lobs them both at Roald’s face at once, hitting him from both sides.

Chris blows his whistle loudly from the beach. “HEY! One balloon at a time, Wildcats! You do that again, you’re disqualified!”

“Aw, so close!” says a sopping wet Roald. “Well played, Mr. Mustachio Man!”

“Remind me again what you said about being a challenge beast,” says Whitney as the two paddle back to their side.

“Chin up, bruther!” greets Rhett to his defeated teammates. “Ain’t nobody lost just yet!”

“Hey, Rhett, mind continuing your story from earlier? That was some super interesting stuff,” says Frances without a hint of sarcasm.

“‘Course!” says Rhett. “Okay, where was I, somethin’ about Uncle Cousin Lester gettin’ trampled last summer…”

Once the Cheeses are gone, Rachel looks at Graham. “Are you okay? That was pretty aggressive, especially for you. I can take over paddling duties if you’d like to meditate?”

“N-n-no, I’m fine,” stutters a red-faced Graham. Rachel looks at him skeptically. “Okay, I’m not fine at all! Today has been very high-stress. Miles asked me earlier to put in a good word for him, since he’s essentially in love with you, and I think you’re completely justified in not feeling the same way, but he’s going to be heartbroken and seeing that is going to pain me, and then seeing Whitney, who I’M essentially in love with, chumming it up with Roald also pained me. That’s where the double balloons came in.” He sighs. “Sorry about that.”

“Oh no, it’s completely fine!” says Rachel. “That’s must be awfully overwhelming. You can tell Miles whatever you want in the meantime, I’ll talk to him one-on-one. He deserves that. As for the Whitney thing, don’t worry, I think she hates Roald. Actually, I think she hates all of us.”

“Ugh, that’s what Kelsey said too,” says Graham. “But I don’t know, I can’t help but feel that there’s more to her hidden underneath.”

“Oh, isn’t that the case with everyone?” says Rachel. “I’m sure her soul is lovely. Now we’ve got a flag to guard.”

“Truthfully, I doubt her soul is lovely, but in that moment I just needed to comfort Graham,” says Rachel. “I’m not surprised at all that he’s into Whitney, but I truly hope it’s just a casual crush. Otherwise, it could reach Jackie levels, and I don’t think the Wildcats have room for two emotionally distraught romantics.”

Meanwhile, on the sit-out bench, Kaitlin seems to be desperately trying to hold in rage, while Suvir is chatting it up in a one-sided conversation.

“I dunno what’s in that egg, but I’m telling you, it ain’t gonna be pretty,” says Suvir. “It’s probably a GMO! Like a three-headed duck or something!”

“Okay, that’s great,” says Kaitlin. “That’s really great. Thanks for sharing.”

“Yeah, of course!” says Suvir. “See, I’m just trying to spread awareness. That’s why I even came on this hell pit of a show in the first place! Seeing all these cameras everywhere is freaking me out, but I gotta focus on the bigger picture!”

“Wait. Cameras?” says Kaitlin, then she gasps. “Christ, I look awful. Do I look awful today? How’s my makeup?”

“I’m not a makeup guru, how am I supposed to answer that?” says Suvir.

“By looking at my goddamn face, you bozo, how else?!” screeches Kaitlin. “I need to look presentable at all times! Otherwise they’ll say I’m some gangly whore!”

Suvir looks down at Kaitlin’s lap while she continues screaming into his face. Eggsabella is visibly starting to shake and crack, and small noises are emanating from it.

“Uh…” says Suvir, recoiling in fear. “Egg…”

“What about the egg?!” yells Kaitlin.

Sure enough, she looks down onto her lap to see that the egg is starting to hatch. The top of the egg bursts open and out pops a tiny, hairy, pink bird hatchling.

“Ohhhh man, what is that thing?” shudders Suvir.

The baby bird hops out of the egg and crawls onto Kaitlin’s arm, then steadily makes its way up to her shoulder. It looks her straight in the eye and chirps, “Mama?”

“Great, I’m a mom now,” says Kaitlin, as the bird climbs all over her. “At least I didn’t have to get pregnant this time. Been there, done that. It’s not fun.”

Back in the water, the three Cheese canoes are all lined up near their buoy while the Wildcats’ canoes are scattered about and all seem to be in the middle of conversation.

“Okay, Cheeses,” says Artemis forcefully. “It’s time to STRIKE. Boris, honey, it’s now or never. That goes for the lovers as well.” She gestures to Roald and Whitney.

“Why don’t I just drown myself in this lake instead,” says Whitney.

“No more squabbling!” bellows Boris. “It is time for us to win! With my newfound bulging muscles, I am even more of an asset!”

“Oh, don’t get ahead of yourself,” says Artemis, rolling her eyes. “You’ve only been going to the gym for two days. Still not a beefcake.”

“But it’s given him the confidence he needs!” says a grinning Roald. “I gotta respect that! You GOT this, B-Man!”

“Yeah, let’s just go,” says Whitney.

Intense music starts playing, seemingly on cue, as Boris and Artemis drift one way in their canoe while Roald and Whitney go the other. They both cross over to the Wildcats’ boundaries, which sends Graham and Rachel on high alert and the two start paddling over.

In her canoe, Erica flashes a grin at a half-asleep Miles. “I think we should be participating!” she says, and they reluctantly paddle the way of the Cheeses as well.

“This is good,” says Kelsey, looking on at the bloodbath from the outskirts of the arena. “This is really, really good. We can do it, huh?”

“I mean, I dunno, I guess?” responds an apathetic Christian. “Are you gonna yell at me to paddle now or something?”

“No, I won’t yell,” says Kelsey. “Yet.” She laughs stiffly as the two begin to slowly inch their way to the Cheeses’ side.

“Make no mistake, I’d still take like any girl back at home over her, but all her screaming at me today made me realize Kelsey’s kinda hot,” says Christian. “Now I don’t like getting bossed around anywhere except the bedroom, but man, I could see us making love like gorillas.”

After a heavy amount of frantic paddling that won’t be discussed in detail, Boris and Artemis’s canoe is face-to-face with Miles and Erica. Miles grabs one of the water balloons and chucks it at the Cheeses.

“SHORYUKEN!” screams Boris.

He somehow rises up from the canoe in slow-motion, jumps into the air like a whale diving out of the ocean, and sticks out his massive stomach. The balloon ricochets off of it without exploding, then flies back and hits Erica in the face.

“This is fine!” says a smiling, drenched Erica. “Wait, is this even water?!”

“Ha! You knaves, I have bested you!” says Boris. “Artemis, it is time for our final stri—”

Before he can finish, a balloon comes from behind and hits his back. Rachel smiles sympathetically from afar.

“It’s the thought that counts,” deadpans Artemis as the two start paddling back.

“Man, I’m too proud of Boris, it brings a tear to my eye,” says Roald. “I know he’s probably bluffin’ about being that strong, but I’m just happy he’s having fun! The guy was all salty about everything just yesterday, and I just knew the gym would lift his spirits!”

“So then Ma was like, ‘I don’t wanna clean it up!’ and Peepaw was like, ‘It’s in the middle of the kitchen, Kelly Sue, you gotta!’ and I just started hollerin’!” says Rhett. “Boy, my horse is too funny!”

“This is… fascinating,” says Frances. “Wait. Rhett, you mind keeping an eye out on the Wildcats? I almost want to take notes.”

“Notes! Yee, ‘course! I’d love to get my stories recorded,” says Rhett. “I gotcha covered, Franny!”

Frances eyes the zipped plastic bag on her lap that’s covering her notepad, then cautiously unzips the bag and pulls out her notes. She takes a pen from her pocket and starts frantically jotting things down.

“Uhhhh, we best get to steppin’ cuz Chris and Kels are a-comin’!” says Rhett.

Sure enough, the two are on their way to the flag, with the other two Cheese canoes still making their way back from Wildcat territory.

While paddling with one hand, Kelsey quickly checks her pulse. “This is HAPPENING, Christian! We’re about to finally win!”

“Like I said, all I do is win!” says Christian, attempting to sneakily pull out his juul again.

“Not yet!” says Kelsey, and he instantly puts it back.

“Sorry, could you repeat that?” asks Frances, still writing down notes with her paddle in her lap as Rhett speeds faster. “And jeez, why are we going so fast?” Rhett jerks the canoe to the right, causing the paddle in her lap to fall into the lake. “Wait, where’s my paddle?!”

“You lost it?! D’aw!” says Rhett. “That ain’t good! Hold on tight, I’m kickin’ it into high gear!”

Rhett clenches his fists and starts to concentrate, and the canoe begins to shake then starts roaring towards the Wildcat duo, who now have the flag and are paddling back.

“HOL’ ON! I’M TURNIN’ RIGHT!” warns Rhett.

“Wait, hold on, I’m almost—” says Frances, still with her notepad out. Rhett jerks the canoe to the right and she falls backwards, causing both her pen and notepad to plummet into the water and instantly sink. Frances looks at the water and utters a bloodcurdling scream.

“He’ll pay for that,” she says in a scarily quiet tone.

Christian and Kelsey make it to the middle of the arena and back to the Wildcats’ side with the flag in tow, and their other four teammates erupt in cheers.

“THE WILDCATS FINALLY WIN!” screams Chris into his megaphone. “Took you long enough!”

“Aw, Franny, you lost your book?!” says a disappointed Rhett. “Ah’m sorry, I didn’t know they could sink like that!”

“It’s fine,” says Frances calmly. “I have plenty more empty notebooks in my backpack.”

Back on the shore, Chris gathers the two teams. “Wildcats! Congrats,” he says. “You’ve narrowly managed to escape complete suckitude for the first time, so you should be proud of that. As for the Cheeses? Tough luck. Meet me at the bandshell tonight to dispose of your first team member.”

“I swear to God, I am completely done with you,” says Kaitlin, as she and Suvir approach the rest of the team from the sit-out bench. “Everyone, I’m voting this guy out. Who’s with me?”

“Huh-wha?” says Suvir. “Aw, come on! I was totally silent for the past 45 seconds!”

“Great strategy, Kaitlin,” says Artemis. “You’re truly showing your mastermind status. I’m just dumbstruck.”

“Can it, Artemis, or I’ll vote you out too,” snaps Kaitlin, as the rest of the Cheeses walk away.

“Maybe I will vote for her tonight,” says Artemis, shrugging. “It’d certainly be funny, and then I’d get to spend more time with the men. But on the less funny side, I’d no longer have anyone to make me look more charming, talented, and Rubenesque in comparison. Hard decision indeed.”

The Wildcats are gathered outside their dorm, celebrating their win with what looks like Chris’s leftover beer from the Awake-a-Thon.

“Hey, everyone?” says Kelsey. “Christian especially. Uh, I’m really sorry if I was acting… irrational earlier. I guess I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something?” She laughs nervously.

“Nah, we cool,” says Christian. “Bump it?” He holds out his fist for Kelsey to bump, and she does.

“I think we all put in wonderful amounts of effort today,” says Rachel. “The sun truly shined down on us!”

“Yeah, I’m fine with… getting a little wet,” says Erica, shuddering. “We did it! Yay us! Now we can have less stress, more bonding!”

“Mhm,” says Miles, looking at Erica with fire in his eyes.

“I’m gonna take a celebratory nap,” says Kelsey. “Who’s with me?” Graham, Miles, and Rachel stand up and follow her inside, leaving Christian and Erica outside.

“You did tremendously today,” says Graham to Kelsey as they head inside. “I’m really glad we’re teammates. Don’t worry about feeling down, it happens to us all from time to time. I’ll listen if you ever need to talk!”

“Really?” she responds. “That’s… super nice of you, Graham. You’re a cool dude.” She looks at her other teammates. “Actually, we’re all cool dudes here. Go ‘Cats!”

“That went a lot better than I expected it to,” Kelsey says in the confessional. “Hopefully all that ugly stuff will be swept under the rug by tomorrow. Usually those breakdowns only happen at 3 AM in the campus library while FaceTiming with my mom, so today was a mild catastrophe. But things are good! …as long as we keep winning.”

“I really felt some sort of harmony with my teammates today,” says Graham. “But there’s just one thing. This is going to sound so stupid, but I need to get it out. When I was talking to Rachel about Miles earlier, or what I said to Kelsey just now, I was always thinking in the back of my mind, ‘what if Whitney was there to watch?’. Like seeing me supporting my friends like that would instantly make her realize how great and caring of a guy I truly am…” He slaps his face. “This is pathetic. I need to write some poetry.”

In the Artisanal Cheeses’ cabin, some are attempting to discuss strategy before their first elimination ceremony while some are doing the complete opposite.

“Okay, b-b-buddies, who’s ready to gym it up tonight?” asks Roald. “I know I am!”

“Aw man, I am too!” says Rhett. “Perfect way t’ unwind after all that stress!”

“You simpletons, we must focus on the impending elimination!” whines Boris. “We cannot let our guards down like that, otherwise the women will descend upon us like a pack of hungry Stacies and devour us!”

“Hmmmmm,” says Roald. “Boris may be right.” He whistles loudly. “HEY! Anyone wanna strategize?!” Nobody says anything. “Mkay, maybe in like 20 minutes? Cool!”

Kaitlin is on her bunk bed, having gone back to peeling her toenails but now with the baby bird crawling all over her. “Like I said, I’m voting Suvir tonight,” she says to nobody in particular. “End of discussion.”

“Fair enough,” says Whitney, reading a fashion magazine. “I’m probably voting for you.”

“Okay, I don’t care, so—” says Kaitlin, then she pauses. “What? ME?!”

“What? Meeeeeee?” says Whitney in a fluttery, mocking tone.

Kaitlin looks at Whitney, gets up, storms out of the room, and slams the door.

“We’re voting for her, right?” announces Artemis to everyone, getting many nods in response.

Over on the other corner of the room, Suvir and Frances are having a pow-wow. “Man,” says Suvir. “I know they say they’re all voting Kaitlin, but I’m freaked out! They’ve gotta have a secret plot to blindside me!”

“I cannot believe my notes are gone,” says Frances in a hushed tone. “All the way in the bottom of the lake. I’ve spent this whole competition writing in that notepad.”

“Yeah, I get it, but I’m about to go home, I just know it! This is serious too!” says Suvir.

“What if I told you…” says Frances. “That there’s a way for us to both get what we desire tonight?”

“Huh? Tell me more!” says Suvir, perking up.

“Well, this hinges on whether or not we have a computer lab in the vicinity,” says Frances. “There’s going to be some heavy printing tonight.”

“Yeah, there is!” says Suvir. “I was hiding out in there last night at 3 am because I thought I saw Mothman outside the dorm window. Ready to roll?”

“Yes,” says Frances, smiling. “More ready than I’ll ever be.” The two walk out the door.

“Hmm, Franny an’ Suvir goin’ on one of their weird li’l walks again?” observes Rhett from the other corner of the room. “Seems suspicious this time!”

“Yeah, could be,” says Roald. “But hey, if they’re leaving, we should too! Gym?”

“‘Course!” cheers Rhett, and the two walk out as well with Boris in tow.

“There’s going to be some hard-hitting journalism hitting the Total Drama Lakeside public tonight,” says Frances. “The whole game so far has been leading up to this. I’m ready.”

“It’s truly sad that being in a canoe with Roald for two hours made me want to gouge my eyes out, yet he’d only be my fifth or sixth choice to vote out,” says Whitney. “This team has really been testing my patience lately.”

“That was th’ best gym trip yet!” says a very sweaty Rhett. “Maybe it’s th’ pressure of eliminanation gettin’ to me? And I still feel pretty bad about ruinin’ Franny’s notes, but if she said she’s fine, I’m sure she’s fine! Just helped me lift even more!”

“Ooooh, I’m all pumped up!” says Roald. “Man, this is some exciting stuff! I didn’t think I’d be so—” He is interrupted by a knock on the door, and then the sound of something sliding underneath through the crack. He bends down and picks it up. “Huh? The Lakeside News? What’s thi—” He shrieks. “OH MY WHAAAAAAAAAA?!”

Chris meets the eight Artisanal Cheeses at the bandshell for the elimination ceremony, where the sun is setting as usual. Seven of the eight contestants have a copy of the Lakeside News and are wearing a variety of very diverse facial expressions.

“Nice to finally see you here, Cheeses,” he says. “I’ll keep things simple and cut down on the usual routine. If you don’t get a marshmallow, you’re out, and that’s about all there is to it. And you can’t come back EVER, of course. The first marshmallow goes to Artemis.”

“Delightful,” says Artemis, catching her marshmallow.

“This may come as a shock to some, but Boris, Frances, Suvir, and Whitney are all safe as well,” says Chris, tossing marshmallows to the three. “I guess being a social pariah has its perks?”

“Didn’t go home!” cheers Suvir under his breath, and Frances eyes him.

“Rhett, Roald, Kaitlin. Three strong presences,” says Chris. “Two will make it out alive. Roald… you’re one of them.”

He throws a marshmallow to a distraught-looking Roald, who sniffles and then blows his nose loudly in a tissue after eating the marshmallow. Rhett stares at him in confusion.

“And here we are,” says Chris. “Rhett, I’m not sure what happened. Kaitlin, I feel like this one’s pretty self-explanatory. The final marshmallow goes to…”


“A-huh?!” says Rhett, shooting up. “Ah’m confused! What gives, y’all? What’s on all those papers?”

Roald walks up to him and shows him the headline of the Lakeside News: BACKSTABBING BUMPKIN? - RHETT’S SECRET PLANS TO BLINDSIDE #1 ALLY ROALD REVEALED.

“How could you DO that, duder?!” he sobs. “We were GYM BROS! Gym bros until the… end!” He starts crying even louder, and Whitney emotionlessly pats him on the back.

“Blindside ya?! What the crap? I’d never do that, buddy! Yer my number-one!” Rhett says. “Ain’t this fake news?”

Frances steps up. “Maybe,” she says. “But a good headline requires exaggeration. If you look closer, you’ll notice that the article itself is actually about why Kaitlin should go home, but I knew none of you would read anything but the title. Losing my notes was the breaking point here, but it turns out I could still write a hard-hitting piece without them.” She shrugs. “Who knew?”

“Wow,” says Kaitlin. “That’s dark. Like… real dark.” The baby bird nods in agreement. 

“Good golly,” says Rhett. “Yer real smart! Ain’t happy about it at all, so screw you, but well played!”

“So that was all a lie?!” says Roald. He turns back to Rhett and his distraught expression immediately turns into a smile. “Aw, why did I ever distrust you?! You’re the man! Let’s hang out when the game’s done, mkay?”

“Yes, I second that,” says Artemis. “Rhett? Now YOU’RE a beefcake.”

“‘Course,” says Rhett. “I had a great tahm, y’all. Canoein’ was a boatload o’ fun! Even if I spent th’ whole time yappin’ away to some rattlesnake!”

Frances looks to the side as Rhett hugs Roald, then heads to the Yacht of Losers as it chugs into the night.

“Well, it was another drama-filled evening and I can’t wait to see what happens next!” says Chris, closing out the chapter. “Will the Cheeses recover from their first loss? Will the Killer Wildcats turn into a full-on soap opera? Seriously, that angst on the canoes was insane! Find out the answers to all these questions and more next time on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Chapter 5 - Volley of the Balls

“Last time on Total Drama Lakeside!” announces Chris. “After a disappointing first couple of challenges, I made the 14 remaining contestants go out on the water and partake in an extreme canoe showdown! It turned out pretty well, at least for the ratings, and that’s all I care about at this point. The Wildcats may have won their first challenge but they were still a trainwreck through and through, between Kelsey freaking out about losing, Christian freaking out about his hair, and Miles freaking out about classic Miles stuff. And then there’s Graham, who I don’t think realizes he’s on Total Drama and not a rom-com. His struggles might be the weirdest of all, and they came to light when he gave Roald a double-balloon smackdown! In the end, the Artisanal Cheeses finally lost, and it seemed like half the team had a chance of being voted off. Kaitlin was in danger due to her crankiness, but in the end we had to say goodbye to Rhett, thanks to a very unlucky accident that set off the wrath of Frances. How will the Cheeses deal with the fallout of their first elimination? Will the Wildcats continue to self-destruct even when they’re winning challenges? Will I get more than 30 seconds of screen time today? Find out right here, right now, on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

The next morning, the sun rises over the lake as birds begin to chirp. This pleasant scene is interrupted by loud, phlegmy sobs coming from the Artisanal Cheeses’ dorm.

“I just…” sputters Roald in between tears. “Can’t believe… my best b-b-buddy… is g-g-GONE!”

Over in the girls’ room, Frances wakes up. “That really hit him hard, huh?”

“What did you expect?” asks Whitney, who has a face mask on and is covered in blankets. “I’m more surprised that his tear ducts still work. This has gone on for the past six hours.”

“I feel… kind of bad,” says Frances quietly. She then adjusts herself. “I shouldn’t, though. No need to let my personal emotions into it. Rhett deserved that.”

“Yeah, now Roald will spend all his time with me instead,” says Whitney. “Thanks for that.”

“So my top priority for the first couple of days was to have the most fun I could,” sniffles Roald. “Hang out with my gym buds, say funny stuff to Whitney, all the works! But now, I have to avenge my best buddy Rhett. So you know what that means? Franny’s going DOWN!”

“Roald’s sobs kind of got to me, but they shouldn’t have,” says Frances. “I was justified in my actions. It’s incredibly frustrating to have all your hard work just sink to the bottom of a lake in seconds. I had to do that… but now I realize that the whole team likely thinks I’m a snake, so that’s not great. At least I still have Suvir... I think?”

“Okay, Boris, it’s just you and me now,” says Roald, dabbing his eyes with a tissue. “You ready for the chillest workout yet?”

“Hmph, I suppose,” says Boris, attempting to get out of bed. He stands up but his back makes a loud, painful-sounding crack. “ARRRRGH! My physical state is deteriorating once more!”

“Nah, man! It’s just your sore muscles! That means it’s time to stretchy-stretch!” says Roald.

“I knew this was a scam!” yells Boris. “I will now spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, I just know it! That will surely make me even less appealing to women!”

“Aw, buddy!” Roald says. “Don’t be sad and stuff! Listen, you’re my #1 now that Rhett’s gone, so we’re in this together, k?”

“Thank you for letting me know I am only your second priority,” grumbles Boris. “But after Rhett’s untimely demise, I too have become distrustful of our teammates. Very well!”

While this loud conversation is going on, Suvir quietly gets out of bed, puts on his sweater, and shuffles over to the girls’ room.

“Hey,” he says to Frances. “Thanks for saving my butt last night.”

“Of course,” she replies. “Now, it was unlikely there was any chance of you going home at all, since Kaitlin was the only one targeting you.” She glances at a snoring Kaitlin. “But I’m glad I could help.”

“Normally I’d be kinda scared of that power move Frances pulled, since I didn’t know she was capable of all that,” says Suvir. “But that’s someone I TOTALLY want on my side! If she can destroy someone as chill and friendly as Rhett, I can’t imagine what she’d do to the lizard people!”

Kaitlin and Artemis both wake up, seemingly on cue. “Aw, goddamnit, he’s in here again?!” shouts Kaitlin.

“Yeah, I am,” says Suvir. “Try and get me out of here, bird-lady!”

“Bird-lady?!” yells Kaitlin. “Ugh! Were you the one tapping my forehead all night? I tried to sleep through that shit, but it was impossible. I—” She looks up at her forehead to see the baby bird perched on her and pecking her.

“Like mother, like daughter,” drawls Artemis.

“Artemis, I will gouge your eyes out in your sleep,” snaps Kaitlin. “Can someone get this thing out of here?”

“Hmm, well, I kind of like it,” says Artemis. “It brings the cuteness factor that you sorely lack.”

“Ain’t that the truth!” says Suvir.

“We should give it a name then, no?” asks Frances. “You know, if it’s here to stay?”

“Ahem,” says Artemis. “How about ‘Artemis Jr.’? An alluring and zaftig woman such as myself deserves to be recognized in multiple mediums.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” says Kaitlin. “Artemis Jr.?! I mean, come on. I’d rather name it after Suvir, and I hate him.”

“Well, I’m calling her Artemis Jr.,” says Artemis. “It seems you’ve been outvoted, Kaity.”

“I like that bird,” says Artemis. “And no, I’m not referring to Kaitlin. Maybe the two of us can debut this new, fascinating dumpster performance that I’ve been writing as of late. I could name it ‘The Bird and the Belle’...” She moans in satisfaction. “Purrrrrfect.”

Whitney heads over to Roald, now alone in the boys’ room with Boris, who has tuned out of the conversation and is watching anime on his laptop.

“Whitto!” he says happily. “What’re you doing in here?!”

“I’m… sorry about Rhett,” she says flatly. “I’m a little confused because you only knew him for five days, but I hope you’re okay.”

“D'awwwwww!” gushes Roald. “I KNEW you cared!” He walks in and prepares to give her a bear-hug.

Whitney steps back. “Look, I just wanted to make sure you’d stop crying all night,” she says. “It disrupted my circadian rhythms.”

“Yeah, suuuure!” says Roald. “Thanks for checkin’ in, I think I’ll be fine! Actually, now I KNOW I’ll be fine! You’re a cool cube, Whits.”

“I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into,” says Whitney. “But I just thought that if he stopped the sobbing, there’d be more team unity… or something. That’s all I have to say.”

A few hours later, the majority of the Killer Wildcats are hanging out outside, with one notable exception. Rachel is lying down in the grass, while Graham, Kelsey, Erica, and a snoozing Miles are sitting at a picnic table by her side.

“Oh, it’s no surprise that you’re an Aries,” says Rachel. “Your drive, your enthusiasm, your passion, your independence… it’s all so wonderfully fitting.”

“Really? Huh,” says Kelsey. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“Graham, you’re a Libra,” says Rachel. “That also fits you soooo well. I can tell how much you dislike conflict.”

Graham blushes. “Y-yes, that’s accurate.”

“Hey, wait,” says Kelsey. “I could’ve sworn there was a sleeping Miles next to me a few seconds ago.”

“Well…” says Graham. “While we were learning about our signs just now, he muttered something then fled. All I heard was ‘Jackie’ and ‘astrology hoe.’”

“Okay, whatever, tell me about my sign!” smiles Erica. “June 18th is my birthday!”

Rachel gulps. “You’re… a Gemini.”

“Well, what does that mean?” asks Erica. “I love hearing about all this chart stuff. Tell me!”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have reacted like that,” says Rachel. “Gemini can be just as lovable as any other sign! They just have… a certain reputation, that’s all.”

“A certain reputation, huh?” says Erica through a gritted smile. “Well… I hope it’s a good one!” She stands up. “I’m going inside.”

Erica walks into the dorm and sees Christian sitting on his bunk bed with a portable mirror, meticulously combing his hair. Christian looks up at her and smirks.

“Okay, listen up,” he says. “Yesterday was straight-up wack. I dunno what came over me on that canoe ride, but falling in the water and messing up my look and whining about Isabella on live TV didn’t do me any favors. It’s time to start hittin’ it hard, and I know just the way to maximize my appeal from here on out. Christian 2.0 starts now.”

“Ayo,” he says, getting up and walking over to Erica. “Wanna, like, make out?”

“Ugh, I can’t believe she threw shade at me in front of all her brainless sheep,” grumbles Erica to herself. “What a classic mean girl.” She looks up. “Sorry, repeat that?”

“Oh sorry, uhhhhh…” says Christian. “Do you wanna make out?”

Erica gasps. “You know I have a boyfriend, right?!” she shouts. “Sure, you’re my little crush and all, but I have some dignity!”

She turns around and storms out of the dorm, but not before looking back at him and mouthing “Later tonight?” unsubtly.

“Little crush, hmm?” Christian says to himself. “I like that. Issa vibe. But that ain’t enough. Time to work on Prospect #2.”

“Especially since my other team members are so rude, I’d LOVE to go to the end with Christian,” says Erica. “In a completely platonic way, of course. Love you, Jacob! But I need one more ally. Hmmm, let’s see. I do have a couple weird guy friends at college…”

“There’s something magical about today, no?” asks Graham, still sitting at the picnic bench with Kelsey. “It feels like the perfect time for—” he yawns loudly, “a midday walk.”

“Graham, everything good? You seem tired,” says Kelsey. “Maybe not at the level of me yesterday, but still.” She laughs.

“Well, I spent most of the night writing poetry,” sighs Graham. “My mind was ablaze!”

“Poetry?” asks Kelsey. “Nice. It kind of intimidates me personally, but I do love engaging with others’ works. Maybe you can show me some of yours and I’ll peer review it?”

“Hmm, it’s still a rough draft,” says Graham, now sweating. “It’s about Whitney, of course. I can’t get her off my mind!”

“Oh, that’s right!” says Kelsey. “You told me all about that. Hey, you two would be cute.”

“You think? But you called her off-putting the other day,” says Graham.

Kelsey laughs. “Yikes, I guess I did. I mean, I don’t know her at all, I’m sure she’s great. If anything, you two would be the best-dressed couple here.”

“Really?!” bursts Graham, standing up and starting to get teary. “Oh man, I will cherish that compliment! Thank you, Kelsey, for giving me hope!”

He walks inside, leaving Kelsey with a bemused expression.

“Well, here’s the poem,” says Graham. He clears his throat. “‘I watch you walk by, your gray locks shimmering in the breeze. While you may look aloof, closed off to the outside world, I just know your smile could light up inky-black trenches. The truest joy on this earth would be to watch your barriers peel away to reveal the blossom that is your personality.’” He pauses, looking bewildered. “Ugh, that was horrible, wasn’t it? Am I turning into Miles?”

While Kelsey is alone at the picnic table, she turns to see the door swing open and Christian, clad in nothing but an extremely tight-fitting pair of boxer briefs, walk over to join her.

“Hey, mama,” he says, flexing his arm muscles behind his neck. “Enjoying the view?”

“I’m extremely confused,” she responds.

“Look, I feel bad ‘bout yesterday,” says Christian. “I was being a dick and ignoring you and stuff. I mean, we actually won so that’s cool, but I figured I could…” He flexes again, then leans in towards her face. “Make it up to you?”

“Are you asking me if I want to have sex with you, Christian?” asks Kelsey.

“Huh?!” exclaims Christian. “I mean… I wasn’t not, but c’mon, you just ruined the buildup!”

“Ooookay, I’m going to go inside and work on my thesis,” says Kelsey hurriedly, and she leaves.

“Man, that didn’t work either!” huffs Christian once she’s gone. He looks down at his boxer briefs. “Whatever, I’m wearing these for the challenge. Chris can’t stop me.”

“Maybe us finally winning came at a price,” says Kelsey. “Every Wildcat has been acting extremely weird today, and I’m not here for it. But I can’t control them, so I just have to focus on my own success… and right now, that does not involve hooking up with Christian.”

Rachel is sitting under a tree and meditating. Miles approaches her, looking rather gloomy about something as usual.

“Hey, Rach…” he says softly. “Want to go for a walk on the beach or something? It’s nice out…”

Rachel looks up and smiles invitingly at him. “Yes, definitely!” She gets up and the two begin walking. “Oh, by the way, can I talk to you about something?”

“Uhhh, sure...” says Miles, starting to look nervous. “Hit me.”

“Wonderful,” says Rachel. “So yesterday, when I was with Graham in the canoe—”

The conversation is interrupted by Chris’s voice booming on the loudspeaker. “CONTESTANTS! Report to the beach immediately for today’s challenge! Bring your best sportswear, it’s time for a volleybrawl!” He laughs at his own pun.

“Oh, I’m excited for this one,” says Rachel. “I could use some more physical exercise.”

“Wait, what happened in the…” demands Miles, but Rachel has already walked off.

“That was definitely not on purpose!” says Rachel, who looks a little more nervous than usual. “I just don’t want to be late for the challenge. It’s nothing to do with avoiding a potentially awkward conversation… I’ve had plenty of those before. I swear.”

Elsewhere, right by the water, Roald and Boris are already playing a game of beach volleyball after Chris has made his loudspeaker announcement.

Roald hits the ball back to the other side, and Boris jumps up and juts out his stomach as the ball flies towards it, knocking it back. “BELLY BALL BASH!” he proclaims.

“Whoa! Your skills are just getting madder, man!” says an impressed Roald.

“Mm, yes,” says Boris. “Do you think I should continue announcing my moves prior to performing them? I feel as if it draws more attention to my awe-inspiring physical prowess, in the vein of a Pocket Monster.”

“Uhhhh…” says Roald. “Do what you gotta do, man. I’m super nervous for the chall, so maybe it’ll send out good vibrations!”

“Nervous? You? With all your so-called muscles and stamina?” taunts Boris.

“Yeah, man,” says Roald quietly. “Rhett being gone has got me all paranoid that I’m next. When I get stressed I clench my anus, and that’s happenin’ right now!”

“Ah, that is never a pleasant ailment to have,” says Boris. “But fret not. We will win - I have spoken it into existence!”

The camera pans around two feet to the right to reveal Chris, Chef, and all eleven other contestants standing there and looking rather impatient, with over half of them completely tuned out, listening to music, or scrolling through their phones.

“You guys gonna be done anytime soon, or…” asks Chris.

“Haha, whoops! Yeah, man! You go on ahead!” cheers Roald.

“That’s more like it,” says Chris, walking up in front of everyone as the two rejoin the crowd. “Anyway, today’s challenge is a classic beach volleyball tournament, and I’m wondering how many of you actually heard my loudspeaker message since only one of you dressed properly for the occasion.” He glances at Christian, still in his boxer briefs, who smirks. “I’m sure you all know how to play, so I’ll spare you the details. Two v. two, I’ll be choosing the matchups. When you’re not playing, you can spectate in those nice bleachers over there. Each match will be best two out of three, we’ll do five matches total, sound good? I thought so.” The contestants pile onto the bleachers. “The first matchup is, uh…” He pauses for an uncomfortably long time.

During the pause, Graham walks up to the top row and prepares to sit down next to Kelsey and Miles.

“Hey, Graham!” says Erica. “Wanna sit next to me?” Confused, he hesitantly leaves his friends and sits down right next to her. “Awesome,” she continues. “We can watch the game together! Are you excited to play?”

“Kind of,” says Graham. “It’s been a long time since I partook in a sport.”

Erica grins wide. “Don’t worry, you’ve totally got this!”

“Okay, fine, here goes,” resumes Chris. “Our first matchup is Rachel and Miles versus Suvir and Kaitlin.”

“Aw, come on, why you gotta pair me up with Kongamato?!” complains Suvir.

“Relax, butt-brain,” says Kaitlin. “We got this in the bag. I played on my high school volleyball team for twenty minutes.”

“And I would’ve played a lot longer than that if it weren’t for that stupid back brace I had to wear,” whines Kaitlin. “The coach said I was ‘unfit to be on the team’ and kicked me off immediately. But ohhhh, I’ll show him. I’ll show them ALL.”

Chris blows the whistle and the match starts. Kaitlin serves the ball rather forcefully and it hits Miles in the groin, sending him keeling over, which she cackles at.

“Oh no! Miles, are you okay?!” shrieks Rachel.

“Yeah…” says Miles, getting up. “When Jackie did that to me metaphorically, it was far worse…”

The second rally starts and Kaitlin serves the ball once again. This time, Rachel manages to hit it back and it comes flying towards Suvir, who shrieks loudly and swats the ball towards Kaitlin, who then hits it again and it lands out of either Wildcat’s reach.

“HA! Eat that, kitties!” taunts Kaitlin.

“Wow, who knew those inflatable tube man limbs were worth something,” says Whitney from the sidelines.

“The Cheeses score again and win the first match!” announces Chris. “Next up is, uh… Frances and Whitney versus Christian and Kelsey.”

“Ayyyy,” says Christian. “Putting me with three chicks? I see you, McLean.” He turns to Kelsey. “Dream team back in action. You ready?”

“As long as we pretend that conversation from earlier didn’t happen,” says Kelsey.

Christian scratches his forehead. “What conv—” he asks. “Ohhhhh. Yeah, uh, sorry ‘bout that. At least you can still admire the scenery?” He does ‘the wave’ with his pecs.

“I’m… going to focus on the challenge,” says Kelsey, laughing hesitantly. The two head onto the court.

“Anyone want to take my spot?” offers Whitney to her teammates. “Not feeling it today.” She pulls out a fashion magazine.

“I’ll do it,” says Artemis, who has Artemis Jr. perched on her shoulder.

“Thanks, you’re a doll,” says Whitney emotionlessly as she sits back down.

“Don’t be fooled,” clarifies Artemis. “This is only because I want to one-up Kaitlin. She put on quite the showing, but I know I can do better.”

“Are you kidding me?!” interjects Kaitlin. “Artemis, you’re like three feet tall. You come up to like my titties. No way are you gonna hit that ball.”

“Now we’ll see about that, won’t we?” asks Artemis, waggling a finger in front of Kaitlin’s nose. The bird flies back onto Kaitlin as Artemis heads towards the court, and Kaitlin groans loudly.

“Great showing,” says Frances to Suvir. “Hopefully I’ll be able to match it.”

“Of course, you got this! You’re all skinny and agile and stuff, at least I think,” says Suvir. “You ever do anything besides reporting?”

“Not really,” shrugs Frances. “I prefer to observe from the sidelines, but this seems manageable.”

Suvir fist-bumps her as she heads down. “You got this!”

As the four contestants prepare to start the second match, Rachel and Miles head back to the bleachers. “Uhhh, Rach…” he says. “Can we finish that conversation from earlier? Y’know, about the canoes or whatever?”

“Oh, of course!” says Rachel. “I felt horrible that we were interrupted like that. Let’s go for a walk.” Miles nods.

Erica watches the duo walk away. “Oooh, what do you think is going on there, Graham?” she asks. “Could be some drama.”

Graham starts to turn pink and looks to the side. “I think they’re j-j-just going to take a walk in the woods or something. You know how much Rachel loves nature…”

“Hmm,” says Erica. “So you’re getting pretty close to her then, huh?”

“Yes, she’s amazing,” says Graham. “Of course, I mean that in a platonic sense. I couldn’t do that to Whi—I mean, Miles.”

“Well, there’s sooo much I’m in the dark on right now,” says Erica. “I’m all ears. Spill!”

She rests her hands on her chin and leans in toward him. Graham gulps.

Back on the court, Chris blows his whistle. “Kelsey and Christian score the first point, somehow!”

“Somehow? Y’all know how,” boasts Christian. “Pure talent.”

“Okay, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” says Kelsey.

While the four prepare for the second round, Graham has fully begun word-vomiting to Erica on the bleachers. “So Miles has been going on about his lost love Jackie every day now, but then he fell in love with Rachel… or at least the idea of Rachel, and so he asked me to set him up with her and I said yes even though I knew she wasn’t interested in any way other than platonically, so that was intensely awkward and I told her all about that and it freaked her out and then I told her that I was in love with Whitney.” He blinks. “And I suppose I just told YOU that, too.”

Erica says nothing for a few seconds. “Wow, that’s… a lot of gossip,” she finally says. “But thanks for telling me all that! I feel like I know you so much better now!”

“Any time,” says Graham. “I hope you’ll be wise with who you share all that info with... “

“Oh, of course,” says Erica. “Friends don’t just spill their friends’ secrets like that!”

“I really wasn’t expecting to get that out of him,” says a floored Erica. “Wow. I wonder if he actually likes me as a person, or if he’s just like that with everyone? Even if I kinda want to manipulate him now, just having someone trust you enough to tell you deep things like that feels… nice?”

“Well, my loose lips strike again,” laments Graham. “I’m sure the whole cast will know my entire life story by tomorrow. I know I should not have told her all that, but it always feels so comforting when others listen to you profess your deepest inner monologues… Making friends is such a glorious thing!” He swoons. “But is she really my friend?”

Frances hits a high ball that Artemis isn’t able to reach, sending it hurtling right in between the two Wildcats and hitting the ground.

“Mm, thank you for covering me while I conserve my energy,” says Artemis.

“The Cheeses score! This match is tied 1-1, who’s gonna take it? It’s anyone’s game,” says Chris. “Okay, is that enough sports commentary?” He blows his whistle. “Go.”

Frances serves the ball. Kelsey hits it to Christian, who seems like he’ll miss until he sticks out his head and the ball bounces powerfully off of it. It lands in the sand on the Cheeses’ side, about half an inch from the boundaries.

“Esketit!” says Christian.

“The Wildcats win the round! Whoa, crazy!” says Chris lifelessly. “It’s 1-1. The next match will be Roald and Whitney versus Graham and Erica.” In the audience, Graham’s face turns completely white. “I have to go refill my coffee mug, so take five.” Chris walks away, and everyone starts to grumble.

“You provided some solid competition,” says Frances, approaching the Wildcats. “Good game.” She sticks out her hand for Kelsey to shake.

“Likewise,” says Kelsey. “Maybe my 4th grade volleyball league did teach me something.”

From the audience, Suvir stares down in fear at the two girls as they shake hands. “Yo, uh,” he whispers to Boris. “Notice anything similar about those two?”

“Hm? Not particularly,” says Boris. “Besides, all females look the same to me!”

“Ohohoho, this is bad! REAL bad!” shouts Suvir. “When I saw Frances and that chick from the other team next to each other, all smiley and crap, I noticed how they have the same jacket, and the same body frame, and hairstyle, and EVERYTHING! Yo, they’re totally evil clones of one another designed by Chris to wreak havoc on the rest of us, and they look just different enough where nobody would be suspicious… except for me. Man, that explains why Franny has been all buddy-buddy with me, but I take back what I said earlier, I ain’t trusting her any longer! This alliance ends now, before I get my brains sucked out with a straw while I’m sleeping!”

Frances sits back on the bench with Artemis and the rest of her teammates, and upon seeing her Suvir squeals and hides behind Boris.

“So I botched that one, but it’s fine,” she says, approaching Suvir. “Now I can start writing stories again. Did you see I have a backup notepad?” She holds up a slightly smaller notepad.

“Back off!” quavers Suvir.

“Hm,” says Frances. “Okay?” She scoots away, then starts writing furiously.

“Oh no, he’s not mad at me about the whole Rhett thing too, is he?” says Frances worriedly. “I can’t believe it. My closest—or I guess my only—ally, and now he’s acting all weird. I might’ve screwed things up, which is problematic since it’s so early in the game. This may not end well.”

“Hey,” she says, awkwardly moving in between Kaitlin, Artemis Jr., and Artemis and sitting down. “Who’s, um, excited to watch the next round?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” asks Kaitlin.

“Yes, we’re in the middle of a very important conversation,” says Artemis. “It’s about hallucinogens. Kaitlin hasn’t experienced them, I say it’s her loss.” The bird squawks in agreement.

“For the record, this might be the worst conversation I’ve ever had,” says Kaitlin. “And now reporter girl just HAD to join to make things even more fun! Awesome.”

“I’ll be quiet now,” says Frances.

Meanwhile, many blocks away, Miles and Rachel are roaming around what looks like a remote part of the beach. Rachel dives into some sand, picks up a small piece of sea glass, and sniffs it.

“Don’t you think these are so pretty?” she asks. “Just look at that translucent green color.”

“Uh, yeah, they’re fine…” says Miles. “Can I just ask what’s going on? You started, then you got sidetracked by sea glass…”

“Oh, yes,” says Rachel, her face dropping. “Okay. Can we sit down?” Miles nods, and they both sit on a nearby log. “So Miles, I think you’re a truly amazing human. We’ve clicked quicker than I have with almost anyone else, and that’s such a rare occasion for me. I knew instantly that you were someone I could fully be myself around. But…” She gulps. “Graham told me in the canoe yesterday that you were, and I quote, ‘essentially in love’ with me. I’m so sorry, Miles, but I don’t think of you in that way.”

Miles opens up his mouth to speak, but all he can say is, “B-b-b-bubba-bobba-hob-hobba-hobba-wah-wah.”

“Oh, I really hope it’s okay,” says Rachel, genuinely upset. “I still want to spend time with you! You’re one of the closest friends I’ve made here. I just…”

“Whatever,” sniffles Miles. “I… I need to go. I can’t believe it h-h-happened again…” He sprints towards the dorms, sobbing loudly.

“Well, that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen him move,” Rachel says to herself.

“I can’t believe it…” moans Miles. “All I want to do is lock myself in this bathroom and listen to Truck Seat Backrest for 36 hours straight… Will Cincinnati is the only one who understands me…”

Rachel joins the rest of her team back on the bleachers. “Hi, everyone,” she says shakily.

“Everything cool? You look paler and less peppy than usual,” says Kelsey. “A lot less peppy.”

“Well, Miles fled the premises and I believe he’s in the dorm sobbing to himself, so…” says Rachel.

“Man, what a puss,” says Christian, which Erica giggles at.

Just then, Chris returns with a large cup of coffee. “Break time’s over!” he announces. “The four unlucky schmucks competing in this match, get on down to the court.”

“All right!” says Roald. “Hey Whitney, the fact I’m competing with you has unclenched my anus all the way!”

“Please never say that combination of words again,” says Whitney.

Erica smiles at Graham as they make their way down to the court. “Your crush!” she whispers.

“Oh, I’m not ready,” he responds. “Her and Roald? This’ll destroy me.”

The four arrive onto the court and Chris gets ready to start the round. “Wildcats will serve first for winning the last round,” he says, giving Erica the ball. “Ready? Start!”

Erica serves the ball and it bounces over the net. Roald jumps up, grunts loudly, then hits it back, and it’s deflected by Graham—who accidentally spikes it right into Whitney’s face.

“...ouch,” says Whitney.

“Oh my goodness!” panics Graham. “Is your face all right?! I’m s-s-so sorry!”

“It’s fine. Nothing a few thousand dollars of plastic surgery won’t fix,” says Whitney bitterly.

“The Wildcats score! HA, that was classic!” says Chris. “Time for the next round.”

Right as Erica is about to serve again, Graham slides over to Whitney. “I truly didn’t mean to do that, I’m just so uncoordinated! Seriously, I—”

“Look, I don’t want to hear it,” says Whitney.

“Haha, don’t worry, man! She’s just grouchy like that, trust!” says Roald. “Ain’t that right, Whitford? You don’t mean any harm!”

“Yikes,” says Erica. She serves the ball and Roald hits it back again, but this time it lands on her side right onto the ground.

“Yikes,” repeats Whitney mockingly.

“Now this is juicy!” says Chris. “Physical comedy AND a suspenseful challenge? Why’d it take five episodes for this?! Final round of the match starts now.”

“Ohhh, that wasn’t good, I’m off my game!” says Erica. “Graham, cover for me.”

Before either of them can move, however, Roald serves the ball and it lands right on the edge of the boundaries, scoring the Cheeses one more point.

“Boo-yah!” says Roald. “Eat that cheese!”

“You really need to work on your comeback skills,” says Whitney.

Chris blows his whistle. “Well, the Cheeses pull off another victory!” he announces. “Now they’re up 2-1, so if they win this next round, they win it all! Teams, you can pick your players this time. I’ll give you a minute to figure all that out.”

“I… cannot believe that happened,” says Graham, sulking back to the bleachers. “I’ve ruined it all, haven’t I?” He sits down and sighs.

“Hey, no time for that just yet,” says Kelsey. “We haven’t ruined anything. So I’m thinking me and Christian for this round? Get us back in the lead?”

“Yuuuuh, now we’re talkin’,” says Christian. “I knew you couldn’t resist.”

“Friends, I think I have to sit this one out,” says Rachel. “I still don’t feel completely normal. I’m sorry.”

“Okay, then I want to go again!” says Erica. “We might’ve screwed that last one up, but that wasn’t all my fault, you know? My head’s in the game now.”

“Yo, that’s gucci too,” agrees Christian. “As long as I get to play.”

“Hmm,” says Kelsey. “Okay. I’m starting to feel… tense,” she chuckles nervously, “so maybe that’s the best call?”

“That IS the best call. Plus, once we win, you two can join me in the dorm for a celebratory surprise,” says Christian, winking.

Meanwhile, the Cheeses are discussing their own strategy. “Well, Roald certainly came through this last round,” says Frances. “Him again?”

“Whatever, just put me in too!” says Kaitlin. “I destroyed the first round, and you all know it.”

“Pssh, that was a fluke,” says Artemis. “I think it should be myself and Boris.”

“YES!” bursts out Boris. “I have not played a single round yet, and I will be apoplectic if my glorious skills are put to waste! You shall put me in or die… from adorableness!”

“Me and Boris?” suggests Roald. “Good compromise, huh? Whatcha say?”

“Excuse me? I don’t know where you got that, but—” says Artemis.

“Mmm, yes,” says Boris. “My athleticism has undergone a full metamorphosis! You will all gasp in awe of my newfound moveset!”

“I dunno what he’s talkin’ about, but it sounds freaky!” says Suvir. “So I say yes too!”

Whitney nods as she rubs an ice pack around her nose. “As long as I get to sit out.”

“Oooh, that ice pack’s quite the ‘cool’ look!” swoons Roald. “Aight, I’m ready!”

“I gotta make sure I don’t flub this round!” says Roald. “I totally noticed Frances volunteering me to play, and I know she’s hoping I’ll screw it up so she can vote me out. But that’s not happening, nopity-nope! I’m going all out, not just for me, but for Whitney, for Boris, for my mom, my cousin Puck, my 3rd grade teacher, my orthodontist—” The tape turns to static.

Roald and Boris stand on one side of the court with the ball, with Christian and Erica lined up on the other side.

“Ready?” asks Chris, as they prepare to serve. “First round of match four starts NOW!”

Roald spikes the ball and it shoots towards Erica, who panics and swats it towards Christian. He shrugs coolly and hits the ball back.

Boris notices the oncoming ball and quickly takes off his hat. “TRILBY TRAMPOLINE!” he announces, then sticks his hat out so the ball somehow bounces off of it and back onto the Cheeses’ side onto the ground.

“Boris scores one point!” says Chris. “Wildcats have to pick up the pace!”

“That was bad, wasn’t it?” asks Erica. “At least I hit it!”

“Nahhh, chillax,” says Christian. “Watch this.”

The second round starts and Roald spikes the ball once again. Christian jumps to hit it back, and while in the air he flips his hair. The bleach-blonde glow emanating from his hair creates a giant white sparkly cloud that blinds everyone in the premises, and the ball falls down right in between the Cheeses.

“What in the heavens was that?” asks Boris. “Two can play at this game, you vapid slime!” He angrily takes off his hat again and flips around his giant mane of red hair, sending dandruff flying everywhere.

“I’m not quite sure what that was either, but point is, Wildcats score!” says Chris. “It’s 1-1, and this could decide it all.”

Boris bends down to whisper to Roald. “My friend, it is time for our combined power move that we practiced earlier, yes?”

“Heck yes!” says Roald. “It’s def time! My glutes are as loose as they’re gonna get!”

“Let’s just do that routine again, mkay?” asks Christian to Erica. “Because look, I know you liked it. Everyone did.”

“I sure did!” coos Erica. “And I’ll do the best I can to help you out!”

“Everyone ready?” asks Chris. “Final round starts…” he blows his whistle again, “now!”

Christian serves the ball, and the two quickly look at each other. Roald jumps up and bops it back onto Erica’s end. She once again panics and swats it towards Christian, who makes a grunt and swats it back to her end, all the while Roald and Boris nod covertly to one another. The ball finally starts to swerve back to the Cheeses’ side.

“Ready to activate your full power, my bro?!” says Roald hurriedly.

“Why yes, am I ever!” responds Boris.

The two glance at the oncoming ball, stand with their legs far apart, and link arms. “CHEESES' CALAMITY!!!” they yell. Roald jumps on top of Boris and starts to spin his whole body rapidly, and the ball bounces off of the spinning blur that is Roald and launches back onto the Wildcats’ side and into the sand. Everyone is completely silent for at least 10 seconds.

“Well, uh, the Cheeses win the challenge…?” pipes up Chris. “Congrats, I guess.”

The Cheeses’ entire bleacher erupts into cheers as Roald and Boris head back to their teammates. Frances tries to give Suvir a high-five but he once again darts away.

“Wait! Don’t leave just yet, guys!” says Chris. “Cheeses, I need exactly two volunteers from your team to come sit in at the elimination ceremony tonight. Don’t say anything just yet! All will be revealed then. As for the Wildcats, good luck slaughtering another kitten of yours! Ha!”

“Ugh, I cannot believe you didn’t let me compete in that last round,” says Kaitlin as her team walks away.

“Silence! We won, and that is cause for celebration! I say everyone joins me in a Two Pieces marathon!” announces Boris, but nobody says anything.

“I cannot believe our secret technique actually worked!” says a flabbergasted Boris. “My sturdy, virile build was the perfect support for Roald’s small, bullet-esque frame! This win in particular feels special, for reasons I cannot quite comprehend. All I must say is… for once, I actually felt like I did something worthwhile.”

The Wildcats enter their dorm to find that the entire building smells strongly of vape juice.

“God!” coughs Kelsey. “What is—” She traces the smoke to Miles’s bed, where he is curled up in the fetal position. “Oh, it’s that.”

“D-d-did we win…” croaks Miles from the corner.

“No, unfortunately,” says Rachel. “I wish you had stayed for the rest of it! I’m sure you would’ve scored at least one point.”

“Begone, you demon woman, I won’t hear any more of your lies…” says Miles. He pulls his blanket over his entire body and resumes vaping.

“Ooookay, why don’t we get away from that negative energy,” says Kelsey, steering Rachel into the girls’ room. “Let’s strategize here?”

Rachel pouts. “I’m not sure if I can strategize right now,” she says. “My mind is a dark cloud.”

“Fair enough,” says Kelsey. “I feel that real hard, you know, after our third loss and all.”

“That was bad,” says Kelsey. “I can’t even pretend it wasn’t, but I CAN take comfort in the fact that I didn’t do anything wrong today. I won my only match! Everyone else was… slightly more dysfunctional, but hey, as long as I’m not breaking down and sobbing, we’re good. Now I just need to make sure the others don’t kill each other.”

Graham joins the two. “So, I should probably talk to Miles,” he says. “However, I just wanted to see where you two were at.”

“I’m thinking Erica by default?” says Kelsey. “No big issues with her, but… yeah.”

“Oh, I like Erica,” says Rachel. “But her sneaky Gemini nature does freak me out a little.”

“O-o-oh, okay,” stutters Graham. “Why don’t I go talk to Miles then, hm?” He flees the room, and the two girls shrug at each other.

Graham heads over to Miles and kneels down by his bed. “Dude, I don’t have the time right now…” rasps Miles.

“Listen, I truly think you should talk to Rachel,” says Graham. “Things went catastrophically today between me and Whitney, and I’d hate for both of us to be miserable tonight. Can you do it?”

“Ugh, man, I don’t know,” says Miles. “She didn’t have to do that to me…”

Seemingly out of nowhere, Erica appears. “Hey, guys! Whatcha talking about?” she greets.

Graham jumps. “Whoa! Erica! We’re talking about private matters!”

“They’re not thaaaat private, remember? You told me everything,” whispers Erica, and Graham turns beet-red. She then raises her voice. “Okay, boys, I’m voting Rachel if you want to join me!”

“Good, let me join in…” says Miles.

“What? Miles?!” shouts Graham. “That’s the worst possible way to solve this situation!”

“Screw it, man, I’m going to go vote right now…” he says, finally getting out of bed and weakly shuffling to the confessional.

“That didn’t go how I planned,” says Graham. “Erica, I don’t know if I can do this! Rachel is a dear friend and a great asset to this team. I don’t know who else to—”

There’s a knock, and Christian enters the room. “Yo, Erica, who should I vote for? Not really feeling strategy tonight.”

“Hey, bab—I mean, Christian!” says Erica. “Yeah, let me fill you in. Sit down.”

“Okay, I tuned out of legit everything she just said,” says Christian. “All that volleyballing really took a lot out of me. I’m telling you, it’s hard being hot and athletic. Just being one of those things is bad enough, but when you’re BOTH? Shit, man.”

“Erica, I may be weirded out by your usage of coconut oil, and the fact you are a Gemini makes me uncomfortable, but just know that I support you in every other way,” says Rachel happily. “I wish you the best of luck.”

“If Rachel doesn’t want to be my friend, then I might as well get rid of her,” says Erica. “It’s sad, but I have no time for women who don’t support other women.”

“On any other day I’d vote for Erica, who’s a total Jackie, but I can’t do that tonight…” says Miles. “It really hurts my heart to do this, but I just have to think of those lyrics Will Cincinnati wrote… ‘You build yourself up against others' feelings, and it left you feeling empty as a car coasting downhill…’ I’ve never related to anything more…” He takes a humongous drag from his vape.

While the sun begins to set and the other four Wildcats are packing up to get ready for elimination, Rachel approaches Miles, who’s back in bed.

“Hi,” says Rachel. “Can I speak to you for just a second before we leave?”

“Make it quick…” says Miles.

“Quick, got it,” says Rachel. “So as I was saying earlier before you… uh, ran away weeping, I really do think you’re wonderful, and you have no idea how much I’d hate to lose our friendship just because of this. From the second we first spoke, I knew you weren’t over your last love, and so I just didn’t think it would be fair for me to pursue you in that way. It hurts me so much to see you pine over Jackie! I want you to be happy, and I think the best way of doing that is to just be your friend.”

“Wait, so it’s all Jackie’s fault that we’re not…” begins Miles. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry, I should’ve never blamed you… She’s the root of all evil.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s her fault, but I just want to see you blossom in life,” says Rachel. “Is that fair?”

“So you’ll reconsider dating me once I’m over Jackie?!” says Miles excitedly.

“I didn’t quite say that, but…” says Rachel. “Let’s just head to elimination, okay?” She starts to head to the door.

“Of course,” says Miles. “Ugh, what was I thinking when I voted you out 20 minutes ago…”

“Wait.” Rachel jerks her entire body back around. “What?!”

The six Killer Wildcats make it to the elimination ceremony at the bandshell once the sun has finally set.

“Hello, perma-losers!” says Chris. Kelsey furrows her brow. “I’ve got five marshmallows this time, but let’s say hi to our visitors first, huh?” He points behind the Wildcats, and they all see Roald and Whitney sitting in seats a few rows back. “Interesting choice of volunteers, I’d say.”

“Kaitlin and Artemis started arguing again,” says Whitney. “Then Suvir got into it too. I didn’t want to deal with that tonight.’

“And I came ‘cuz she did!” says Roald. “Plus I love the cool night breeze!”

“Okay, we’ll get to that later,” says Chris. “First, we’ve got an elimination to attend to. Graham, Kelsey, Miles? You’re all safe. Didn’t see that coming.” He throws the three marshmallows. “Other three, you each got votes!”

“Wait, what?!” yells Christian. “Me and my abs got a vote? Jank!”

“Well, yes, but only one vote,” says Chris, and he tosses Christian a marshmallow. “You’re safe. Thank god, because I feel like those shirtless scenes will draw in some new audiences. Anyway, bottom two. Who’s it gonna be?”

“This is interesting,” says Rachel, and Erica just glowers at her.

“Erica, Rachel, the final marshmallow goes to..." 


Rachel stands up. “Well, that’s not too surprising, I guess,” she says. “After what Miles just told me a few minutes ago. I’m sorry that I wasn’t enough of an asset to stay.”

“If I could take back my vote, I totally would…” says Miles. “I’m sorry, Rach…”

“Wait, huh? If you voted her, why didn’t it tie?” asks a confused Kelsey.

“I… voted Christian,” says Graham meekly. “I was very indecisive tonight!”

“YOU?!” roars an incensed Christian. “Let’s square up! Right here, right now!” He puffs out his chest.

“Don’t worry, everyone! I understand,” says Rachel, smiling slightly. “I accomplished everything I wanted from this experience anyway. The nature was so beautiful… I’ll never forget the smell of the lake breeze. I loved my Wildcats too, every one of you.”

“God, I wish I was that positive,” says Kelsey. “Bye, Rach, you were lovely. I mean, you're still lovely. You’re not dead, are you…” She clears her throat. “Okay, bye.”

Rachel gives Graham, Kelsey, Miles, and even Christian a group hug. “Goodbye!” she says as she heads to the Yacht of Losers.

“Bye, girl!” says Erica. “Good luck in life, I guess."

“Well, that was juicy,” says Chris after the yacht has departed. “But I’m telling you, I’m sick of all these good sports. I want more sore losers! More Kingsleys! Whatever, maybe we’ll see one of those next time on Total—”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” asks a small voice.

Chris turns around and sees Whitney. “Oh, heh-heh, yeah!” he says. “How could I forget the biggest draw of tonight? First off, I need one volunteer from the Wildcats.”

Christian’s hand immediately shoots up. “Put me in, coach!”

“Mkay. That was easy,” says Chris. “I hereby announce… Christian, tonight you’ll be heading to the Cheeses. Roald and Whitney, you’re on the Wildcats!”

“AWESOME!” cheers Roald. “What’s new pussycats, it’s bonding time!” He runs up to the team and individually bear-hugs them all, while Graham looks absolutely horrified.

“Fine, I’m sick and tired of half of you anyway,” says Christian. “Erica? Kelsey? Hit me up later. Peace.” He winks, then walks away in the direction of the Cheeses’ cabin.

“Things are about to get a heck of a lot spicier now!” says Chris, doing the real outro this time. “Only twelve remain, and the teams are now even! How will the teams acclimate to their new teammates? Will their skills be put to the test in the ultimate cash-collecting challenge? Find out the answers you’re all dying to know next time on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Chapter 6 - Shack It Up!

“Last time on Total Drama Lakeside!” begins Chris, sitting at a bench on the beach at nighttime. “I forced our remaining 13 contestants to take part in a beach volleyball tournament, and a lot of wacky shenanigans happened! They were so wacky that I couldn’t handle the excitement!” As he says this, clips from the challenge of Chris with a completely blank expression show up on the screen. “The Wildcats had some fun interpersonal drama when Erica decided to befriend Graham and learned all her teammates’ secrets thanks to his loose lips! Meanwhile, Suvir decided his closest ally Frances was a clone or something, I’m not really sure where that came from, and Roald and Boris did some sort of weird power move thing that won the Cheeses their third challenge! Which means, alas, the Wildcats had to vote out their third member. The always devious Erica rallied her troops to vote out Rachel, who had recently rejected an even more emo than usual Miles... and got his vote as payback! She was nice. Maybe a little too nice for Total Drama? The most fun part was after the elimination, though, when I pulled out a REAL wacky twist that sent Christian onto the Cheeses and the lovers Roald and Whitney to the Wildcats! What’s gonna happen next? We’re gonna check in on both teams right here, right now on Total… Drama Lakeside!”

Right after the elimination ceremony, the Artisanal Cheeses are getting ready for bed in their dorm… or at least, most of them are.

“Where is that penguin-bodied man,” grumbles Boris to himself as he sits in bed and takes off his cat headphones. “We were supposed to work out posthaste upon his return!”

“I dunno, but he better come back soon,” says a small voice from under Boris’s blanket. “I’m getting antsy!”

“Yes, I am as well,” says Boris. “Perhaps I shall watch one more episode of Oran College Host Group?”

The blanket moves a bit, and out pops Suvir's head. “I don’t care what you do as long as you keep me hidden! She can’t probe me while I’m in here!”

“I suppose, but I still do not understand—” begins Boris.

The door swings open loudly, and the whole team glances toward the entrance not to see their two former teammates, but instead a smirking Christian with his hands on his hips. Boris’s face turns green and he faints.

“Whaddup, Cheeses?” he says. “Bow down to your new teammate.”

Kaitlin stomps over towards him. “Are you KIDDING me?” she yells. “I swear to God, we get someone WORSE than Whitney?!”

“Hmm, I didn’t even know there was a team swap occurring,” says Artemis. “But this is a lucky surprise, I’d say.” She inches close to Christian and purrs.

“Uh, you were the one that licked me, right?” he asks. “I was freaked out back then, but I’m up for it now.”

“Sounds perfect,” says Artemis. “Meet me outside by the dumpster in 20.”

“This is the best-case scenario for ya boy,” says Christian. “I was getting tired of the Cats anyway, and I haven’t gotten laid in a WEEK. It’s the longest dry spell I’ve had since 5th grade. So it’s gonna be lit to work my magic on a new group of babes. They’re kinda weird, but hey, I’ll take anything at this point. I’d probably even bang Chef… if he asked, of course.”

“I refuse to even look that evil being in the eye!” splutters Boris. “My only friend on the team, the man who has given me all the confidence I need to become Super Saiyan, has left me for dead and been replaced with a Chad! Nay, a Thad! I suppose my wise sensei Roald HAS taught me enough battle strategies to prosper… so today, we finally brawl!”

Christian hauls his suitcase into the girls’ room, where Frances is quietly sitting on her bed and writing.

“Ay, mind if I room in here?” he asks smugly. “‘Course you don’t mind. What’s good?”

“Hello,” says Frances. “It’s nice to formally meet you. I’ve always thought you were interesting.”

“Huh?” asks Christian. “I mean, I AM interesting, but where’s that coming from?”

“Oh, I don’t know. You seem very layered,” says Frances. “Also, I could use a friend. I don’t really have any, now that Suvir’s avoiding me.”

“Ha, yeah, that guy’s kinda freaky,” says Christian. “You’re better than him. Waaaay better.” He flashes her a pearly-white smile.

“Thank you,” says a slightly blushing Frances. “So, let's stick together?”

“Yeah, sure, I guess,” shrugs Christian. The two fist-bump.

“Hmm, based on Christian’s behavior in the challenges I was expecting him to be a lot more off-putting,” says Frances. “But he actually seems… nice? Of course, maybe he just wants to get in my pants, so I shouldn’t trust him, but I will anyway. It’s not fun being friendless.”

The Killer Wildcats, with one less original member but now with their two new members in tow, walk into their dorm building. Miles immediately walks over to his bed and collapses onto it.

“Welcome, you two!” says Kelsey. “Fair warning, you’re going to hear the name ‘Jackie’ a lot. Tune it out and you’ll be fine. Also, don’t get on Erica’s bad side. Think that’s it?”

“Mkay,” says Whitney, as she takes out a new fashion magazine and walks away.

“Heh-heh! Classic Walt Whitman!” says Roald. “She’s kinda shy, but don’t worry, I’m not!”

“Shy? I can handle that,” says Kelsey. “You seem friendly enough.”

“Haha, I totes am! Sometimes friendly to a fault, y’know?” says Roald. “But I’m also a challenge beast, so I hope that helps y'all out!”

“Ooooh, amazing. That’s exactly what I—I mean, we need to win,” beams Kelsey.

In the girls’ room, Whitney places her suitcase right on a bed, yawns, and sits down. Seconds later, Erica walks in.

“Excuse me? That’s my bed,” she says.

“Oh?” asks Whitney. She looks down and sees Erica’s things already on it. “Hm.” She shrugs.

“That’s kind of rude, you know,” says Erica. “You at least could’ve asked before you laid down on it.”

“You’re right, I could’ve,” says Whitney.

“I already don’t like that girl,” says Erica, then she giggles loudly. “Oh my god, is that bad? I was hoping we’d be friends because I love her style, but then she sassed me, so it isn’t happening. So the next step is to reunite with Kelsey. I feel like she’s into all that girl power stuff, so maybe I’ll use intersectional feminism as a bonding point.”

Roald runs into the boys’ room hollering at the top of his lungs, where both Miles and Graham are silently sitting on their beds and moping.

“HEYOOOOO!” he yells, but neither says anything. “Aw, you guys in a funk? Losing that Rachel chick musta been hard, huh?”

“I don’t want to talk about it…” says Miles, blowing a giant vape cloud.

“Aw man, I’ve been there,” says Roald, approaching him and patting him on the back. “Hey, I know what’ll make you feel better! Let’s go to the gym! Whenever my buddy Boris is in a bad mood, that cheers him right up!”

“I’m not exactly the gym type,” says Graham curtly.

“Yeah, me either…” says Miles. “Let me stew in my sadness…”

“Hm, fine by me!” says Roald. “That means it’s time to snoozity-snooze. Night, brotendos!”

He flings off his clothes and bounces into his new bed with a thud, then falls asleep and starts snoring within seconds.

“I don’t get why humans have such blind optimism…” says Miles. “Nothing matters in this world, and losing Rachel just proved that even further… Yeah, I know I voted for her but I guarantee she would’ve left regardless. The universe just hates me…”

The sun rises and morning comes. In the bathroom of the Wildcats’ dorm, Kelsey blow-dries her hair while listening to what sounds like ‘80s Europop. Erica suddenly walks in, clutching her toiletry bag.

“Good morning!” greets Erica. “Do you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you about something!”

Kelsey turns off the blow-dryer. “I’m sorry, this blow-dryer is insanely loud. Drowns out everything. Repeat that?” She laughs slightly.

“Yeah, of course!” says Erica. “So, I was just wondering, how do you feel about our new teammates?”

“Oh, they’re okay,” says Kelsey. “I like Roald enough! Whitney, not so much, but it’s in like an admirable way. She just gives zero shits.”

“Okay, good,” says Erica. “Because I hate them already, especially Whitney. She’s weird, right?”

“I’d say yes, but we have a zombie and an 1800s Englishman on our team, so,” says Kelsey.

“But those guys are fun-weird!” says Erica. “Well, I don’t like Miles, but whatever. How would you feel about voting the two Cheeses out?”

“God, Erica, it’s too early for this,” says Kelsey. “Talk to me again if we lose tonight, assuming I’m conscious and/or alive.”

“Okay! That’s totally fine!” says Erica. “I just wanted to put that out there as a possibility.”

“Sweet,” says Kelsey. She prepares to turn the blow-dryer back on.

“Oh!” shouts Erica. “One more thing! I just think us ladies should stick together. You go to a good school, right? You’re woke. You know how oppressive this whole game is. It’d be so cool if we just destroyed these men.”

“Wait, how does voting out another woman destroy the men?” asks Kelsey.

“No, I meant like—” says a frustrated Erica. “You know, whatever. Just think about it, okay?” She grins, waves, then leaves.

“I’m not really sure what her goal is at this point,” says Kelsey. “When I said that Whitney gives zero shits? Erica gives negative one shits. It’s impressive but scary. Also, Graham’s been hanging around her lately and I feel like that’s gonna get ugly. She better not taint him, he’s too wholesome for that.”

“Man! What a great sleep!” says Roald, throwing off his covers. “Hey duders, did you sleep well too?”

“Flnrf,” grunts Miles from under about five blankets.

“I’m going to go brush my teeth,” says Graham. “My mouth always tastes dry in the morning.”

“Huh, weird,” says Roald. He walks out of bed, still with his pajamas on, and into the girls’ room which is completely empty except for Whitney, lying motionless in bed with her face mask on. “Heyo!”

“Good morning to you too,” says Whitney.

“Man, what’s going on with our teammates?” asks Roald. “They’re all acting über-weird! Maybe they’re just not people people?”

“Maybe. I don’t mind,” says Whitney. “I have no desire to engage. Maybe you should try that.”

“Aw, I don’t wanna switch the charm-o-meter off,” says Roald. “Maybe I’ll think of something else!”

“It’s super chill that Whitney is on my team, otherwise I’d be feeling really lonely!” says Roald. “But I understand those guys, sometimes I get awkward around new people too. Maybe I’ll pull out some of my best ice-breakers during the challenge today? That’ll totally get ‘em to decompress!”

“He’s so… positive,” says Whitney lightly. “How does he do it? It disturbs me, but it’s all I have right now. I can already tell I won’t agree with the two other girls, so looks like it’s more Roald time for me.” She stares into space. “Great.”

Meanwhile, in the Artisanal Cheeses’ dorm, the whole team is sitting together on the ground. A giant diorama is spread across the floor with various cards and dice strewn about, and Boris is wearing an embroidered purple cape with “Luncheon Master” written on it in gaudy lettering.

“Teammates!” he says. “Before we are faced with our next battle against the dastardly Wildcats, we must sharpen both our mind and body! Gym workouts are great, yes, but this is the next step towards becoming supreme overlords of the lakeside! It is… a game of Luncheons & Laggins!”

“Ugh, you brought us all here for this?” asks Kaitlin. “What is this nerd shit?”

“Shhhh, I’m very intrigued,” whispers Artemis.

“I am the Luncheon Master,” announces Boris. “Before I begin you on your quest, each of you must create a character! In front of you is a pithy pamphlet detailing each character class. Study it rigorously, then we shall begin!” He leans in towards Suvir. “I am trying to lower the evil man’s guard, so he is unaware when I finally strike.”

“Awesome strategy, man," says Suvir.

Christian raises his hand after reading the brochure for five seconds. “Yo, I got my character. His name is C-Money and he’s a barbarian, but one of those really hot ones with a waxed chest and a 12-pack and flowing blonde hair, like mine but three times as long.”

“Hmph, I struggle to see how that will assist you in slaying dastardly demons, but very well,” says Boris.

“I’ll be a mystic,” says Artemis. “Named Artemis, obviously. My name is already suited for a fantasy world.”

“Wait, okay, is this game based on real events by any chance?” stutters Suvir.

“What? No!” says Boris. “It is completely fictitious! However, I wish it wasn’t… I would love to wed a catfolk woman.”

“Right, if you say so,” says Suvir. “All I’m saying is that there’s a picture of Nessie right here,” he holds up his pamphlet, “and I guarantee she’s real!”

“Suvir, we’ve already been over this. Nessie was a hoax,” says Frances.

“Don’t talk to me!” shouts Suvir. “ESPECIALLY about Nessie! Touchy subject!”

“Can I just create my goddamn character already?” interjects Kaitlin.

“GAH!” yells Boris. “We are getting very off-track! I should’ve known my teammates’ minds were too underdeveloped for a refined game such as this! Yes, create your character.”

“Fine, well, my character is a bard, and her name is Shontrelle,” says Kaitlin. “And she’s like a wacky bard who’s always quick with a sassy comeback, and she’s always getting up into people’s faces and shit, and also she can’t sing.”

Nobody says anything for a bit. “Okay, erm…” says Frances.

“Aw, come on, every team needs some comic relief,” insists Kaitlin. “I’ve been waiting to debut this character for such a long time. She’s gonna be perfect.”

“That’s an awful character,” says Artemis. “However, I should’ve expected as much from a talentless emu like you.”

“Ohhhh, them’s fighting words, bitch!” yells Kaitlin.

“Okay, let’s change the subject. My character is a rogue and her name is Fred,” says Frances.

“A rogue?! Named Fred?! Jesus, she’s so transparent!” says Suvir. “She’s obviously trying to come off as all soft and fun and stuff so people won’t know her true evil motives, but I’m too smart for that!”

“F-f-fine, then,” says Suvir. “My guy’s a paladin named Randy Van Vunderhoovenvanvooven. Destroyer of evil EVERYWHERE!” He narrows his eyes at Frances.

“It seems as if there are deeper issues at play here, but I digress,” says Boris. “We shall now get started! Your party of five is exploring the—”

A shrill feedback noise starts blasting out of nowhere, coming from the loudspeaker. “Greetings, kiddos!” says Chris’s voice. “Challenge time! And if you haven’t gone outside yet, it’s 95 degrees today, so uh… dress lightly!”

“BLAST!” yells Boris. “Ah, we shall resume the round as celebration once we have won again!”

Minutes later, the contestants, mostly wearing tank tops and shorts with the exception of Graham and Miles, meet Chris and Chef by the beach in front of what looks like two empty concession shacks.

“Hello, friends,” says Chris. “Today’s challenge will put your consumerism skills to the test!”

“Chris, man, you gotta work on your descriptions,” mutters Chef.

“Ignore everything that just came out of Chef’s mouth,” says Chris. “As I was saying, in this challenge each team will be in charge of one of these two concession stands! As it’s painfully hot today, most of the food in there is ice cream, but there’s a little bit of everything… except alcohol. May or may not have gotten my license taken away after that little mishap in the first challenge… heh-heh. Four team members will have to be in your shack at all times, but you can switch out whenever you need to. The remaining two will be tasked with advertising! Get those locals to your shack! Whichever team makes the most money in,” he checks his watch, “four hours wins the challenge.”

“Ay, is there air conditioning in our shacks?” blurts out Christian.

“Nope!” says Chris. “These things were built 50 years ago. What am I, made of money?”

Christian shrugs, then rips off his shirt. “Fine, let’s do this.”

“He’s really running out of material lately, isn’t he?” murmurs Kelsey, and Graham nods.

Chris clears his throat loudly. “OH! One more thing!” he yells. “I’m going to a dinner party tonight at my buddy Don’s place, and it’s gonna be classy. I have a hair appointment in an hour, and I gotta leave in 20 max. So instead of putting Chef in charge of elimination, since he can’t be trusted…” Chef grumbles something explicit. “I think it’s time to introduce a shocking new twist! So here’s the deal. The winning team tonight will vote out one member of the losing team! They can decide who goes home in any way they want, it just has to be agreed upon by the majority. Got it? Good. Go wild.”

“I feel like that was far too important for Chris to say so casually,” says Frances as the Cheeses walk towards their shack.

“Whatever, we’re still gonna win,” says Kaitlin. “I’ve got a great plan you guys are gonna love.”

“I’ve got so many insane, hilarious characters who haven’t yet seen the light of day,” says Kaitlin. “But that’s about to change, right here, right now. Chris said we could advertise? I’m gonna fuckin’ advertise.”

“Okay, guys! I got an idea!” says Roald as the other five Wildcats pile into their shack. “There’s something I’ve been walkin’ by at the gym every day, and it’ll be PERFECT for drawing in customers. Be back in a jiff!” He sprints away.

“Welp, we’re already down one team member,” says Kelsey. “I say we all focus on selling until he gets back. Sound good?”

“No, I want to advertise,” says Whitney.

“Huh? You?” asks Erica. “No offense, but I’ve only heard you say like five words at a time. I don’t think you’ll pull in many customers.”

“Well, Erica, I think she’d be perfect at it!” says Graham, trying to coyly shoot a smile at Whitney. “She certainly has the charisma.”

“Thanks,” says Whitney. She heads to a nearby bench, puts on a pair of sunglasses, and takes out her usual fashion magazine.

“Yeah, that’s exactly the type of advertisement we need,” complains Erica.

A middle-aged woman with a short blonde bob cut walks up to the Wildcats’ concession stand with a freckled, buck-toothed boy, presumably her son, holding her hand.

“Moooom! I want a popsicle! It’s HOT!” whines the boy.

“Now be patient, Zayden,” says the mom. “Mommy has to talk to the nice lady at the cash register first, okay?”

“Nice lady, huh?” chuckles Kelsey. “I like that. How may we help you today?”

“Well, my son would like a popsicle,” says the mom. “One of those ones in the fun shapes. What kinds do you have? He’s a big fan of race cars, but he also likes dinosaurs, and that one online game where you shoot each other and dance. Forthright? Is that what it’s called? So anything shaped like one of those would be…”

“Got it,” says Kelsey. She eyes Miles, who’s slumped down by a freezer. “Miles? Hand me a race car or a dinosaur or a dancing shooter guy or something.”

“I don’t think the cooler can fit any of those things…” says Miles softly.

“Oh my god, you know what I mean,” says Kelsey. “A popsicle!”

“Whatever…” says Miles. He reaches his hand into the freezer, takes out a random popsicle, then throws it at Kelsey and she narrowly catches it.

“That almost took out my eye, but it’s fine,” says Kelsey. “Here you go, ma’am. $3.50.”

While the mom takes out a wallet from her purse and begins rifling through it, a dark shadow emerges from behind her and Zayden. The shadow reveals itself to belong to someone in a giant mascot costume, resembling an extremely happy cat wearing a purple shirt with “KW” in white lettering, and it taps the kid on the shoulder.

“H-H-HEY, KIDDO!” it says in a familiar voice.

Zayden turns around, then emits a piercing shriek. “AAAAHHHH! MOM!”

The mom turns around as well. “What the hell?” she screams. “Let’s get out of here, Zayden!” She grabs her wallet and purse and the two make a speedy getaway.

“What in the heavens is that?!” asks a terrified Graham. “We almost made our first sale!”

The cat grabs their giant mask and pops it off, revealing Roald. “Hey, teamies!” he says. “Check it out, I’m Willie the Wildcat! He’s our official team mascot!”

“Good god,” says Whitney, walking over to the stand. “That looks like one of those weird costumes my brother wears.”

“Haha, it’s so nasty in here! It smells like sweat and warm milk!” says Roald. “Wanna try it on?”

“There are few things I’d like to do less,” says Whitney. “In fact, let me just head into the shack.”

“Oh no, here she comes,” whispers Graham to Kelsey and Erica. “Wish me luck!”

“I haven’t spent any time engaging Whitney in conversation today,” says Graham. “I won’t lie, the idea is very stress-inducing, so I’ve been putting it off. But now’s the perfect time! I have my friends as buffers, and I have actual talking points now that we’re teammates… Fingers crossed.”

Over at the Cheeses’ snack shack, Kaitlin is standing right outside wearing a strange costume that looks like pirate garb, but with a giant foam block of cheese on top of her hat.

“Yarrrrr, me laddies an’ lassies!” she shouts at two random passersby. “I be Captain Cheesehat! Take a look at me wares, or yer gonna hafta walk the plank!”

“Keep walking, Barbara,” says one of the women.

“Aw, come on, that was totally great,” says Kaitlin, taking off her hat in frustration. “Maybe people just aren’t hungry.”

“I don’t know, he seems to be doing pretty well,” says Frances, gesturing to the side where a still-shirtless Christian is surrounded by many popsicles and a swarm of young, attractive women.

“6588?” says Christian to a brunette right in front of him, punching something into his phone. “Perf.” He hands the girl a popsicle. “There you go. I’ll call you tonight.”

The girl clutches the popsicle and grins. “Thank you soooo much!”

As she happily sprints away, a redhead walks up to him. “Ooooh, me next! Okay, mine is 847—”

“What exactly is going on over here?” asks Frances, walking up to the scene.

“Ay! Wait just a sec! You interrupted miss, uh,” says Christian. “What’s your name again?”

“Victoria,” swoons the girl.

“You interrupted Victoria over here! Rude. Okay, baby, now you can continue,” says Christian flirtatiously.

Frances steps forward. “No, I feel like we need to discuss this,” she says. “Are you giving these girls popsicles for free?”

“For free? Nahhh, you got it twisted. I’m giving ‘em popsicles if they give me their numbers,” explains Christian, winking.

“Oh my goodness,” says Frances. “I… let’s go.” She grabs his hand forcefully and leads him back into the Cheeses’ shack.

“And Christian Thundercock finally shows his wretched face, I see!” barks Boris. “We have not sold a single item yet, may I add!”

“Nobody is even here,” says Artemis. “It’s peculiar.”

“Likely because Christian took all our popsicles and was handing them out to hot chicks while he hit on them,” says Frances. “It’s fine now, though. We’re all back.”

“Hot chicks? Mmm, you’re already neglecting your one true love?” purrs Artemis.

“Yeah, uh, I dunno,” says Christian. “C’mon, lemme just get back out there! That was perfect advertising!”

“No! Between Kaitlin’s abominable acting and your mindless strutting about, we have achieved nothing!” says Boris. “We must stay focused.”

“With Christian as my right-hand man, of course, it is now time to debut an avant-garde street performance I have been conjuring up,” says Artemis. “Fair warning, there may be nudity involved. Christopher, I would suggest you ready your censors.”

“Yarrrr! I see ye be walkin’ by without takin’ a look at me sack o’ goodies!” says Kaitlin to a random middle-aged man. “Git back here!”

Artemis, dressed in an even flashier stage outfit than usual, walks up to her with Christian in tow. She takes off her hat and puts it on the ground upside-down to collect cash. “Step aside, amateur. It’s go time.”

“What?” yells Kaitlin. “Artemis?! You ruined my performance! I was right about to get to the good part!”

“Honey, there is no good part,” says Artemis. “That was a tragedy.” She shoves Kaitlin aside, who walks away grumbling.

“Okay, what do I gotta do?” asks Christian.

“Christian,” says Artemis, sitting him down and leaning in close to his face. “Let me inform you about the penile eye.”

Back at the Wildcats’ shack, Roald—or Willie the Wildcat—is jumping around a healthy distance away while the other five are concentrating on sales.

“Okay, we’ve sold two bags of chips so far,” says Graham. “That’s good, right?”

“I mean, it’s fine, but I don’t get these people,” responds Kelsey. “It’s 100 degrees out, you’re sweating through your shirt, and out of all the cool, refreshing foods out there, you decide you’re craving a bag of chips?”

“Ah, fair point,” says Graham. “People are strange and enigmatic. Chips are as well.”

Whitney chimes in, “I like chips.”

“Oh, me too!” says Graham. “I love them! They are my favorite snack food! I was just remarking that, you know…”

“What do you like more, chips or throwing volleyballs at the faces of unsuspecting women?” asks Whitney.

Graham gasps. “Oh my god! I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was still an issue!” Whitney rolls her eyes.

Just then, another customer comes up to the shack, but this one is a familiar face—a man with long, flowing blonde hair and a characteristically disgruntled expression.

“Get me a smoothie,” he orders.

“Sir, you could’ve phrased that so much nicer,” lectures Erica. “You know, I waitress at a chic little cafe back home, and if you talked like that to me there, you’d be kicked out immediately.”

“Do I look like I give a flying flarglebargle?” says Smoothie Guy. “Get me a smoothie!”

“Erica, pick your battles,” says Kelsey hurriedly. “Graham? Miles? Someone? Make a smoothie?”

Graham heads to the back. “Hey, maybe we can make a smoothie together!” he offers to Whitney. “I do love the scent of freshly pressed juices. Do you?”

“Nah, not really,” says Whitney.

“Well… okay,” sighs Graham. “Miles, looks like it’s you and me then.”

“Muh?” says Miles. He gets up. “Oh, sorry, dude… I’m actually going to go outside and play a song to advertise our shack… I got my guitar and everything…” He walks out.

“This is fine,” says Graham, now all alone. “Completely fine. All the love I could’ve given to Whitney… I suppose I’ll just pour it into this smoothie.” He angrily throws a bunch of fruit into the blender.

“So, you girls from around here or…” asks Smoothie Guy suavely.

“Uh, Graham?” yells Kelsey. “Can you make that smoothie as quickly as possible? Like, chop chop?”

“I don’t know what that guy’s deal is, but it’s getting old,” says Whitney. “I’m sure he’s nice or whatever, but nothing that ever comes out of his mouth interests me. I’m sick of it.”

Sitting on the bench next to the Wildcats’ shack, Miles begins. “OHHHHHHH, YOU BEAUTIFUL LAAAAYDEH,” he wails off-key, while furiously strumming his guitar. “YOU MAKE MY HEART CRYYYYYY…”

“Yeah, so if either of you have any dirty underwear you haven’t been using, send ‘em my…” says Smoothie Guy, in deep conversation with Kelsey and Erica. He glances towards Miles. “Ugh, come on, that guy’s such a weirdo.”

“Here’s your smoothie, sir,” says Erica, barely trying to hold in rage.

“Thanks,” he says, swiping the smoothie. “Later.” He takes a massive slurp, then leaves.

“Ten bucks?” asks Kelsey, looking inside the cash register. “Nice. I mean, the reason he gave us that big a tip was a little suspect, but hey, I’ll take it.”

“God, that guy was so problematic,” says Erica. “Mega-cringe. Remember what we talked about earlier?”

“Uh, yeah,” says a confused Kelsey. “Can we go like five minutes without talking strategy?” Erica nods.

Graham, now having taken Miles’ spot over by the freezer, looks at Whitney, who’s back to reading her magazine. “Miles is a good singer, no?” he says. “The song is very romantic.”

“It makes me want to gouge my ears out with a rusty pliers,” says Whitney.

“Oh,” says Graham. “Okay.”

Right outside the Cheeses’ shack, Artemis has taken off almost all her clothes except a seashell bra and a mermaid-esque skirt and is straddling Christian.

“BEHOLD!” she announces. “The sea goddess… with her catch of the day. Just look at his finely tuned cheekbones! They could cut ivory, they are that sharp… I can’t help but swoon!”

Two preteen boys run up to the performance. “Whoa! What’s happening?!” one asks.

“Get out of here, you’re too young for this,” says Artemis, her tone suddenly shifting to serious.

“Teehee!” says the other boy, dropping a $5 bill in Artemis’s hat.

“As I was saying,” continues Artemis. “The sea goddess rushes through the waves on her trusty mount… Both economical and breathtakingly gorgeous, he is! But not nearly as gorgeous as yours truly… la femme plantureuse!”

“Huh? I don’t speak German,” says Christian.

“Silence,” demands Artemis. “You’re here for eye candy and nothing more. I’m carrying this performance on my back.” She picks up Christian and flings him onto her back. “Both literally AND figuratively!”

“God, that girl thinks she’s all that,” says Erica, watching on from her team’s shack. “I’m so much hotter. Aren’t I?”

“Well, I mean—” begins Kelsey. “Oh hey, new customer.”

A unique-looking man comes up to the stand, seemingly out of nowhere. He has olive-colored skin, a beard, and a massive, unkempt mane of curly black hair, and is wearing dark sunglasses that completely block his eyes, a tan trench coat, and a red button-down shirt that’s only buttoned halfway, exposing a rather hairy chest.

“One beer, please,” says the man in a surprisingly high-pitched voice.

“Oh, um,” says Kelsey. “This is awkward. I’m sorry, but we don’t actually have an alcohol license.” She grins sheepishly. “But hey, want a popsicle? We have lots of those!” She holds up a few.

“Oh, what fun,” says the man. “Oh, what more…” He utters an abysmal and meaningless sigh, then snatches a popsicle and walks away.

“Hey, you have to pay for that!” yells Erica as he leaves.

The man stops in front of Miles, who’s in the middle of a song. “Hey man…” says Miles, pausing for a second. “You like what I’m playing?”

“You may visualize success,” warns the man, inching closer to Miles. “But don’t believe your eyes.” He walks away.

“What was that all about…” says Miles.

“I have no idea who that guy was, but that sort of negative energy is the last thing I need right now…” says Miles. “With Rachel gone, I’m already enough of a sadboy… That pube-haired poser didn’t help matters…”

Kaitlin watches Artemis’s neverending dramatic routine from inside the shack. “This has gone on long enough,” she says. “Time to put a stop to it.”

“No!” insists Boris. “See that woman over there? She glanced in our direction for half a millisecond! Obviously she is considering making a purchase!”

“I’m gonna beat her at her own game,” says Kaitlin. “Be right back, with a loooot of beer.” She leaves.

“Wonderful,” says Frances. “Wait, question. Did this team just get even smaller?”

“Yes! Where is Suvir?!” asks Boris. “He vanished at the very start of the challenge.”

Frances walks over to the storage cabinets in the back. “Knowing Suvir, I’m sure he’s…” she begins. She grabs the handle of the tallest cabinet and swings it open, revealing a shivering Suvir standing completely still. “Ha!”

“EEK!” he yells. “How’d you find my hiding spot?!”

He prepares to make a getaway, but Boris grabs his sweater. “Stay here, you miscreant!”

The customer bell rings, and all three Cheeses turn around to see a gargantuan bearded man, wearing a flannel and a knit cap, who looks extremely similar to Boris. They all gasp.

“Excuse me,” says Hippocrates “Hippo” Smith. “Might you have any limited-edition Innocuous Juice Motel vinyls for sale?”

“I… do not,” says Boris. “BUT I will gladly obtain one. Just for you, sir!”

“Wait, Boris, where are you—” asks Frances, as Boris speeds out of the shack.

“This is incredibly urgent!” says Boris hurriedly. “I shall be back posthaste!”

“Great,” says Frances, now alone except for Suvir. “Uhh… how’s it going?”

Suvir just yelps, then steps back into the storage closet and slams the door shut.

“One look at that strapping, gloriously ginger-bearded man and I knew I had met my doppelgänger!” proclaims Boris. “I thought this was only the stuff of legends, but nay! Instead of fighting, we must join forces to defeat the evil Christian, but first… I must beguile him with material goods.”

“Man! I’m sweating like a suckling pig!” says Roald, taking off the Willie the Wildcat mask and heading back into the shack. “I need a break. One smoothie, please!”

“Um, you better be paying for that,” says Erica.

“‘Course I will!” says Roald, pulling out a $5 bill from his pocket. “I’m no swindler.” He heads over to the smoothie station, stopping by Whitney. “Heyo! Whatcha readin’?”

“It’s the newest issue of Gossip Queen,” says Whitney. “And this article is completely ridiculous. It’s talking about how Kimberly Carcrashian is a ‘style icon,’ when in actuality she hasn’t worn anything remotely iconic in over a decade and she’s starting to get wrinkly. This awful purple dress she’s wearing really isn’t doing her any wonders either, she looks like an eggplant. At this level of absurdity, I just have to laugh.”

“Whoa, that’s wacky!” says Roald. “I’ve never heard you say that much at once!”

“Don’t mention it again,” says Whitney.

Roald places his hands on his chest and sighs happily, then walks over to the smoothie station. “Hey, BroDudeMan! One Mango Breeze, please.”

“Very well,” says Graham.

He aggressively swipes a couple mangos out of the bag, throws them into the blender, then pounds the button, all while looking disgruntled. After only a few seconds, he stops the blender and pours the ‘smoothie’ into a cup, although there are still giant chunks of mango floating around.

“Whoa, this is an interesting approach to smoothie-makin’,” says Roald as he takes a sip. “It’s like 3D! Super cool!” He gulps down the entire thing. “Okey-doke, time to head back out.”

“I have this sinking feeling things are going to go very wrong, very soon,” says Kelsey.

“Don’t think like that, girl!” says Erica. “You’re strong and independent! You can do anything!”

“I’m aware that my recent behavior towards Roald is puny, immature, and ugly,” says Graham. “But ugh, I can’t help it. He’s everything I’m not, and whenever he and Whitney talk… it feels like my heart is broken and will never be fixed again.”

Artemis is now wearing nothing but a thong and a pair of purple pasties. “My, Christian, it has grown rather hot outside,” she says. “Perhaps you can… cool me off?”

“Whuh?” asks Christian. “Do you mean that, like, sexually?”

“By Jove, of course I do,” snaps Artemis, rolling her eyes. “You may be gorgeous, but you’re a disgustingly bad actor. No subtlety at all.”

“Whatever, I’m going back inside,” says Christian, preparing to head back to Frances.

Two massive shadows appear behind Christian. “Ohhhh, no you’re not!” they both shout in intimidating, booming tones.

He turns around to see Boris, dressed in his flowing “Luncheon Master” cape, and Hippo, clutching the Innocuous Juice Motel vinyl and grinning cunningly. “Jesus, are you serious?”

“Of course we are serious!” says Boris. “Gaze your eyes, vile man, upon my new sidekick!”

“I am only doing this because you gifted me that limited-edition record,” says Hippo.

“Irrelevant!” blusters Boris. “There is no need for specificities! Let us begin!”

Christian assumes a power stance. “Well, if y’all really wanna brawl, then…”

The three’s impending brawl is interrupted by a gradually-increasing scream. Right on cue, Kaitlin staggers into view wearing another ridiculous costume—a white blouse with a giant plastic necklace shaped like a shamrock and a giant, frizzy orange wig—and carrying two giant, frothy mugs of beer.

“AYE!” she says in a bad Irish accent. “G’mornin’, Lakeside! I'm Crazy Paddy, an’ I’m comin’ atcha live from the Cheese Shack! We're slashin’ prices so low ye won't need a pot of gold to get sloppy!”

“Mommy, what’s that lady doing?” asks a five-year-old nearby.

“Ignore it, Braxleigh,” says the child’s mom. “I think she’s one of those ‘Jugglers.’”

“Kaitlin! What are you doing?!” hisses Boris. “You have ruined the buildup!”

Kaitlin sways to the right and spills her cup, causing a ton of beer to splash onto Hippo’s vinyl. “Ahhh! I be advertisin’!”

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” screams Hippo. “My record has been DEFILED! I’m leaving!” He rushes away, sobbing.

Boris’s eyes narrow at Kaitlin. “You…” he says.

He charges at her but she drunkenly collapses onto him, spilling the rest of her beer onto his shirt. During this confrontation, Christian discreetly walks back into the shack, whistling.

“Hi,” says Frances, watching the fight. “Just thinking about all the choices I’ve made over the course of my life that have somehow led up to this.”

“Yeah, uh, what you said,” says Christian.

The door swings open and Artemis walks in, still almost completely naked. “I need a drink,” she says.

“Me teammates just ain’t ready for Craaaazy Paddy!” shrieks Kaitlin, still in her costume in the confessional. “This is… my… thisismybestcharacteryet. Yet. I’m such a ge… geeee… genius.” She collapses onto the sink.

“Well,” says Kelsey, counting the Wildcats’ meager amount of cash. “At least we’re not screaming and throwing alcoholic drinks at each other… yet.”

“And the challenge ends in five minutes,” says Graham, then mumbling, “Thank goodness.”

“Hey, kids!” Roald shouts from outside, holding six popsicles in his paws. “Get a nice, cool popsicle right here for only $3.99! Just whatcha need on a day this toasty! I’m so sweaty my shirt is permanently stuck to my stomach!”

A swarm of aggressive-looking prepubescent boys walks up to him. “Hey, cat-dude!” says one. “Gimme a popsicle!”

“Right on, my dude, but you gotta pay first!” says Roald.

“I don’t got money!” says the kid. “Mikey, you got money?!”

“I got no money either!” says a chubby redhead, presumably Mikey.

“LET’S GET HIM!” screams the first kid.

The group closes in around Roald and immediately starts beating him up, throwing punches, kicks, and groin shots as he crumples to the ground. Mikey takes off Roald’s Willie the Wildcat mask and begins bludgeoning him with it, while the other kids each grab popsicles and make a run for it one at a time.

“AAAAAUGH!” shrieks Roald during the onslaught. “My ice cubes!”

The remainder of the Wildcats stare in horror at this bloody scene. “Well, that looks painful,” says Erica.

“Excuse me,” says another voice. The team turns around to see a large group of teenagers outside their shack. “You guys sell popcorn? This is hilarious.”

Kelsey’s eyes light up like stars. “We DO sell popcorn,” she beams. “Five bucks for a big bag!”

The teenagers, with Smoothie Guy having returned as well for some reason, rush up to the Wildcats’ stand and fling $5 bills in the air to get their bags of popcorn and watch the brawl.

“Well, uh…” croaks Roald, with a black eye, a neck brace, and his left arm in a sling, among other injuries. “I’m a firm believer in keeping a positive attitude no matter the circumstance, but man, that was HEINOUS! My bod feels like a bowl of jelly.”

After the shacks have been closed up for the evening, both teams gather with their collected funds in a grassy knoll in front of Chef. Roald is on a stretcher off to the side, while Kaitlin is drunkenly passed out in her Crazy Paddy costume.

“I dunno what happened today, but it didn’t look pretty,” he grunts. “That bein’ said, there’s a clear winner here. Cheeses, y’ made 20 bucks. Wildcats, you got… $145.” The Wildcats erupt into cheers. “So, uh, y’ gotta vote out a Cheese. Do that in like two hours or whatever, I got places to be.”

The teams begin to make their way back to the dorms, until the sound of sirens and a cop car pulling up interrupts them.

“Goddamnit,” says Kaitlin, immediately waking up and throwing off her wig.

“Excuse me,” says one of the officers as he steps out of the car. “We got a report of drunken disorderly conduct and potential underage drinking. Something to do with a lady in a red wig throwing beer at people. You kids know anything about that?”

“No! Not at all!” says Kaitlin. “But she sounds like a bitch, you better check somewhere else.”

“Y-y-yeah, check somewhere else,” says Chef, who looks petrified with fear.

“Hmmm,” says the officer. “Fine.” He nods to the other officer, and they get back into the car and drive away.

“I was completely and utterly humiliated today,” says Boris. “I can no longer go to the gym as my comrade Roald is gone forever, and my attempts to spar with Christian ended in a loss once again. I cannot even find the effort to be angry anymore… I am just displeased. I now have nothing left but Luncheons & Laggins.”

The Artisanal Cheeses are, sure enough, resuming their game of Luncheons & Laggins in a circle on the floor of their dorm.

“Your motley crew of travelers stumbles upon a fetid swamp,” announces Boris. “There is a corpse floating about in the duckweed. It would be possible to search the corpse’s clothes for treasure, but you must proceed with caution.”

“Question,” says Christian. “Is it a boy corpse or a girl corpse?”

“Yeah, I was wondering that too,” says Kaitlin. “Because, like, I’d bang the corpse if things got bad.”

“Things didn’t get bad though,” says Frances. “We just got a ton of treasure from the Crystal Caverns. We don’t need any more.”

“I don’t know, I’m always up for treasure,” argues Artemis. “Artemis the Mystic searches through the corpse for treasure.”

“This ain’t gonna end well!” shivers Suvir.

“Let me do the explaining!” bellows Boris. “But you are correct, my friend. A rabid rat emerges from the corpse’s clothes and bites the hand of Artemis the Mystic! You must work together to cure her!”

“I don’t give a crap about Artemis’s bloody hand,” says Kaitlin. “Shontrelle the Bard keeps searching through the treasure and finds a bunch of it.”

“You cannot decide that!” spits Boris. “That is the Luncheon Master’s job! Shontrelle also gets bitten by a rat as punishment!”

Frances stands up. “Fred the Rogue has to go to the bathroom, so you guys can keep going without me.” She looks at Christian, nods, then leaves.

Once she’s gone, Christian nudges Suvir. “Hey dude, so what’s your beef with Fran lately?”

“Oh jeez,” says Suvir. “I guess it’s time to spread the word. Listen up, teamies, Frances is secretly an evil alien clone! You know Kelsey on the other team? The two are one and the same, just split into two to try and suck out our brains with straws!”

Nobody says anything for a while. “Wait, is this part of the game?” asks Artemis.

“N-n-no, it’s completely real!” insists Suvir. “That’s why I’ve been avoiding her!”

“Suvir, I’m going to say this in the classiest, most polite way possible,” says Kaitlin. “You’re a goddamn moron.”

“Aw, come on, I don’t need you to pile onto me too!” says Suvir.

“This subject matter is far too trivial to be wasting all this precious time on,” interrupts Boris. “We must resume. Artemis the Mystic’s hand is bleeding profusely! How shall you clean it up?”

“Jeez,” says Suvir glumly. “This is a scary thought, but maybe they’re right?! Not about me being a moron, but about Franny not actually being an alien clone… Man, maybe this time I’ve gone too far.”

As the sun goes down and elimination looms, the Killer Wildcats are in their dorm attempting to strategize about which Artisanal Cheese to vote out.

“Okay, girlfriend,” says Erica to Kelsey, sitting in the guys’ room with her, Graham, and Miles. “What’re you thinking?”

“Shouldn’t we wait for the other two?” asks Kelsey. “You know, for a fair and democratic decision and all?”

“Roald is upstairs taking an ice bath,” says Erica. “He said it would ‘soothe the pain.’ God, he’s so weird. Hey boys, wanna vote him out next time?”

“Yes!” says Graham without any hesitation.

“Awesome!” says Erica. “Our fem-lliance only strengthens!” She winks at Kelsey. “I think that’s all we needed to talk about, right?”

“Yeah, for sure,” says Kelsey dryly. “Except for the elimination that’s happening in,” she checks her watch, “15 minutes.”

“Listen, guys, I think we should vote out Christian…” says Miles. “He’s a traitor now…”

Erica gasps. “That’s definitely not happening!”

“Okay, but he has a point,” says Kelsey. “I feel like our move should be to take out the strongest physical threat so we can continue winning, because winning is nice.”

“Not as nice as gathering nature with Rachel…” mutters Miles.

“I agree with the physical threat strategy,” says Graham. “I’ll be right back, friends. I have… matters to attend to.”

“That challenge was disastrous,” laments Graham. “Normally I’d give up hope right about now, but not this time. I’ve spent many late nights stewing over the first thing Whitney ever said to me… that my ‘face fluff’ made me look 80. Well…” He takes a deep breath. “This hasn’t been an easy decision, but it must be done.” He pulls out an electric razor. “Here goes nothing.”

Roald is in the bathtub, completely naked, soaking his body among a giant pile of ice cubes. The door swings open and in walks a mustache-less Graham, who looks 5-10 years younger and is blushing heavily.

“Oh dang!” says Roald. “The stache is gone! I like the new look!”

“I’m just putting away my razor,” huffs Graham, picking up his toiletries bag.

“Mkay,” says Roald. “You do that, my dude. See you at elimination!”

“Yes, see you there,” says Graham as he prepares to leave the room.

Roald jolts up. “Hey, wait a sec!” he says, and Graham turns around. “Can I tell you something really personal? Like, a top-secret bro-to-bro chat?”

Graham hesitates for a second. “Um, well, I suppose. Please make it quick.”

“Sweetness!” says Roald. “So, don’t tell anyone about this. Even Miles, man. Here’s the thing.” He leans in closer to Graham. “You know Whitney? I’ve got this super-mega crush on her. It started the second we got on the train together, and it’s just been getting bigger each day. I try to talk to her all the time but she’s kinda the quiet type, y’know? So I was gonna give up, but then lately she’s been warming up to me, so I got all this renewed energy! Dude, it’s so exciting because I’ve never felt this way about a lady before! Can you be my wingman?”

“Erm…” says Graham, whose face is a deep shade of sickly green. “Yes, I definitely can. Thank you for telling me all that.”

“Of course,” says Roald. “You seem like a romantic type of guy, so I knew you’d understand! And I'll totally return the favor and help you with any chiquitas who've caught your eye!” He giddily gives Graham a very wet bear hug, then jumps out from the tub, revealing tons of pixelation. “Whaddya say, wanna go to elimination?”

“Well… your clothes…” says Graham.

Roald stands there for a moment in confusion. “OH! Haha! Yeah, I should probably put those on!”

“I can safely say tonight’s gonna be weird,” says Kelsey. “We’ve decided to vote for the biggest physical threat, which’ll be fine, but of course now I’m stressing about the future. I’m getting tired of Erica’s meaningless girl-power platitudes, and I wish she’d cool her jets just a little, because she’s starting to remind me of my less fun Greek sisters.” She pauses. “Yes, I’m in a sorority… or a women’s fraternity, technically. We do volunteer work. No regrets, it looks amazing on my resume.”

“My third eye has opened,” says Artemis. “I know for a fact they’re voting for Kaitlin tonight, and honestly, I don’t blame them. The things she did during the challenge today were so horrific that I feel they shaved 15 years off my life. She’s gone.”

"Hey, baby," says Christian, on the phone. "Yeah, 'course I saved your number. Emily, right? Wait, what? Rebecca? Shit, uh, slip of the tongue. I could never forget someone as gorgeous as you. Anyway, how's tonight at 3 am sound? You're only five blocks away? Sick. See you then. Stay sexy." He hangs up and puts his phone back in his pocket. "Aight, I've got pressing matters to attend to later. No way I'll be voted out, right?"

All twelve remaining contestants and Chef sit at the bandshell, preparing for elimination as night begins to fall.

“Whoa,” says Kelsey, taking a good look at Graham’s shaved face. “Bold new look, but I like it. Where’s the stache?”

“It was time for it to go,” says Graham, uncomfortably eyeing Whitney—who’s completely disinterested.

“Good evening, Cheeses!” says Erica diplomatically. “We’re gonna cut to the chase here, since Chris and Chef didn’t give us any marshmallows. This was a truly hard decision, and we know each and every one of you has your own strengths and weaknesses, so please don't take this personally. It was a long and painful process, but the vote was nearly unanimous, 5-1 to be specific—”

“My god, just announce it already," yawns Whitney.

“Um, I’ll take over,” says Kelsey, as Erica scowls. “Sorry about that, guys. Our decision was based on who’s shown the most consistent physical strength and brains in challenges, and who would just destroy us nonstop if we kept them in.” Christian is texting another girl, completely zoned out. “So, tonight we’ve chosen to eliminate…”


“Here comes the yelling…” squeaks Miles, as the Wildcats cover their ears.

Instead, Boris stands up quietly, a misty-eyed look on his face. “Hm?” he says. “I… do not fully understand this.”

“Okay, well,” explains Kelsey. “You’re a challenge beast. Nailing us with water balloons? That huge attack you did with Roald during the volleyball tournament? Going to the gym like 12 times a day? Super impressive, but scary to compete against.”

“Me?” asks Boris. “A challenge beast? Wait, so I am not a lowly manlet?”

“Manlet?” says Christian. “My guy, your girth is outta control. I wish I had triceps like yours.”

“I…” says Boris, starting to softly cry. “I suspect this is due to my newfound confidence. All this time, I wished to defeat Chad, but little did I know… instead I was becoming Chad.”

“Yeah, maybe?” says Christian. “I dunno, man, you do you.”

Boris continues down the path, approaching Roald. “My dearest companion,” he says. “Immediately upon arriving home, I shall purchase a gym membership to further hone my skills!”

Roald wipes away a tear. “I was the only one who didn’t vote for you, b-b-buddy!” he says. “But we had so much fun! I won’t forget it!” The two hug.

“I have no further things to say,” says Boris as he steps onto the Yacht of Losers. “Fare-thee-well, fellow competitors. My time here may have been short, but it was truly stimulating in mind, body, and spirit! Now, remember… you too can become Super Saiyan!”

He utters a battle cry, rips off his shirt, and tries to flex, and almost everyone looks away except Roald as the yacht sails into the night.

“Well, that was… somethin’,” says Chef, closing out the episode. “Who’s gonna get out next? Hell if I know, man. I think th’ next challenge’s gonna be wild. Chris has some tricks up his sleeve, but I don’t. I gotta go to sleep. See y’all next time on Total… Drama… Lakeside.”

The five remaining Cheeses silently walk back to their dorm, with Frances in the front. Suddenly, Suvir catches up to her and taps her on the shoulder.

“Whoa!” she says. “This is a surprise. Not terrified of me anymore?”

“Listen, Frances,” says Suvir. “I’ve had some pretty wacky ideas about you the past few days, but I need to get my head outta my butt. You’re my only friend here. Let’s pretend everything’s all cool again, okay?”

A smile creeps onto Frances’s face. “I thought you’d never ask. Deal.”

“Awesome!” says Suvir. The two high-five. “Hey, did you know there was a Goatman sighting last year, right around here?” he asks as they disappear into the woods.

Chapter 7 - Ballad of a Comeback Skit

Early in the morning, Chris lies in bed wearing nothing but his velvet bathrobe and looking tired, disheveled, and vaguely green. “Last time on Total Drama Lakeside,” he croaks. “I dunno what happened, really. Boris got voted out, right? I wasn’t around for most of it, and Chef wouldn’t catch me up on anything, so you’ll have to fill in the details yourselves. Now, what I WILL talk about is the [redacted] I’ve gone through in the past 15 hours.” A voice off-camera whispers something to him. “I can’t say that on air? Screw you! I’ve had a splitting headache since six o’clock in the morning, I’ll say whatever I want on air! Yeesh. Okay, sorry, that may have been a little uncalled for, but can you blame me? That dinner party lasted until 4 am. Look at me. My hair is more disheveled than it’s ever been. I’m gonna have to make a very long appointment at the salon this afternoon, but first, let’s see what the contestants are doing. I think they’re eating breakfast in the cafeteria, right? God, I need food too. Let’s do that, right here on Total… Drama… Lakeside.” He attempts to get out of bed, but trips on a blanket and faceplants onto the ground.

Over at the dining hall, the five remaining Artisanal Cheeses are eating breakfast: giant bowls of an oatmeal-like substance and hardened lumps of bread.

“I think I’d rather eat actual shit than take one more bite of this,” complains Kaitlin.

Christian takes a massive bite. “I dunno,” he says with his mouth full. “It’s prob got all sorts of nutrients in it.”

“You know, I’m more bothered that we didn’t get to finish our Luncheons & Laggins game,” says Artemis. “Not sure about you all, but I got very invested.”

“Totally agreed,” says Frances. “We had just gotten into the Cave of the Spidyr Queen when it was time for elimination, and now we’ll never know what happens next.”

“What happens next is that I’d bounce immediately!” says Suvir. “Not a spider fan!”

“That’s absurd, spiders are harmless,” protests Artemis. “And slightly cute.”

“Good thing Boris is gone, otherwise he’d pipe in about whackin’ off to Japanese spider porn or something,” says Kaitlin. “What a nerd.” She takes a beer out from her pocket and starts chugging.

“Whoa!” says Christian. “Where’d you get that? Mind sliding one my direction?”

Kaitlin finishes the beer in seconds. “Ummm, no,” she says. “It’s from my secret stash. Gotta be in tip-top shape for today’s challenge.’

“You sweet summer child,” says Artemis. “One single beer? That’s hilarious.” She takes out a teacup and a kettle out of nowhere and starts pouring a frothy white brew.

“Do I even want to ask what that is?!” asks Suvir.

“Ayahuasca,” says Artemis smugly. “Drinking this will be revelatory. I’ll experience emotional and spiritual highs you novices can only dream of.”

“Oh, wipe that look from your face,” grumbles Kaitlin. “You’re just gonna puke and get explosive diarrhea. That’s all that stuff does.”

“Maybe if my colon were as weak as yours,” says Artemis. “But it isn’t. You’ll see soon enough.” She takes a breath, then chugs the entire cup.

Suvir and Frances get up from the table at the exact same time and head to the coffee machine on the other side of the room, where Chef is lurking behind the counter.

“So, now that we’re a team again…” whispers Frances. “What’s the first move?”

“I’m ready to do a deep dive on Kaitlin and Artemis, man!” says Suvir, filling up a cup of rancid-looking coffee. “They’ve been weirder than usual.”

“That’s perfect,” says Frances. “I’d like to vote one of them out soon, so maybe we can slip in and make them feel comfortable while secretly gathering intel?”

“I like the sound of that!” says Suvir. “You take Kaitlin, I’ll take Artemis. It’ll be a breeze.”

“I can barely express how thrilled I am that Suvir and I are back in action,” grins Frances. “I really like hi—working with him. We, uh, make a very efficient partnership.”

“My mind is spinning,” says a blankly-staring, swirly-eyed Artemis. “I sense the side effects are starting to kick in, and I’ve already come to an epiphany. Today, during the challenge, I must awaken… the goddess within!”

The Wildcats pile into the dining hall, all looking varying degrees of unhappy except for Roald who seems as chipper as usual, and get into line for Chef’s oatmeal-and-bread meal.

“Dude,” says Miles to Graham. “I feel awful. Last night I dreamt…”

“Oh, let me guess,” says Graham, stroking his freshly-shaven face. “You dreamt about Jackie? I wouldn’t have expected that.”

“Whoa, what’s with the grumpiness,” says Miles. “That’s my job…”

“I apologize, I have various things plaguing my mind,” says Graham hushedly. “I’ll tell you and our trustworthy teammates in just a few.”

At the front of the line, Chef hands Kelsey a plate, and she picks it up, examines the food, and winces.

“Not to be completely insufferable,” says Kelsey. “But do you serve drinks? I brought a bunch of kombucha from home, but I drank the last of it last night.”

“Yeah, hang on,” grunts Chef. He picks up a cup, hocks a giant loogie into it, then gives it back to her. “Here y’ go.”

“Thanks,” says Kelsey. “Who needs tea, anyway… or coffee… or any digestible liquids.” She takes the cup and heads to a table.

Erica pops over shortly after. “How’d you sleep, girlfriend?”

“Gonna be honest, not too well,” says Kelsey frankly as Graham and Miles sit down. “Whoa. My god, I’m still not over the baby face.”

“Well, it was just getting very itchy,” lies Graham, glancing at Whitney while she gets her food.

“Don’t worry, I love the new look!” says Erica. “You look a lot hunkier.”

“I wasn’t being serious when I said that,” admits Erica. “If I’m being honest, the mustache drew so much positive attention to his face, and now that it’s gone all I notice is how massive his nose is. But I didn’t say that out loud, since we’re friends and I couldn’t hurt his feelings like that! That’s progress, right?”

Finally, Roald and Whitney sit down, with Roald plopping down right next to Graham.

“You guys checkin’ out his new smoothness? Haha, me too!” he says, manhandling Graham’s face. “Soft as a baby’s butt, man!”

“Okay, we’ve been talking about mustaches for too long, anyone have something more interesting?” interjects Erica.

“Yeah, now I can tell you guys about my dream…” says Miles as half the team groans. “So I was in some weird room similar to our dorm, and Jackie was there, but she wasn’t even doing anything except staring at me menacingly… I wanted to tell her how I felt about her, but I couldn’t find the words to get it out… Then she vanished and I woke up and…”

“I tuned out around the third word, anyone want to catch me up?” asks Whitney.

“Yeah! He’s all sad about his ex and stuff, Kelsey told me about it the other night!” says Roald, and Kelsey shrugs.

“Rhetorical question,” says Whitney. She lifts a puny portion of oatmeal into her mouth, then gags. “Blech.”

“Look, all I wanted was an answer about what the dream meant…” says Miles.

“It means the exact same thing as all your other dreams,” says Graham. “Sometimes, those we love do not love us back, and our minds can do nothing but grapple with that harsh reality.” The whole time he’s saying this, he is staring intensely at Whitney, who just looks away.

Roald lifts up his oatmeal bowl and pours the whole contents into his mouth, then belches. “Man! You guys are grouchy this morning!” he says. “Anyone want some of my bread?”

“No thanks. I, uh, prefer my food to come from this century,” laughs Kelsey.

“Then I’ll give it to my big buddy!” says Roald. He tears off a few pieces and gives the broken breads to Graham, who snatches them away.

“Just looking at this food gives me gas,” says Whitney. “Bathroom. Be back soon, maybe.” She gets up and leaves.

“In that case, I’m goin’ in for round two!” whoops Roald, and he grabs his plate and leaves as well.

Erica leans into a huddle with the other three original Wildcats. “Okay, so,” she whispers. “Now that they’re gone, who’s in for some hot gossip?”

“That doesn’t seem like a great idea, Roald’s gonna be back within sec—” protests Kelsey.

“Okay, I can’t hold it in any longer!” cries Graham. “Last night, after I had shaved my mustache and was putting back my razor, Roald was in the bathroom as well and told me that he has this massive crush on Whitney, and then asked me to be his WINGMAN. He has no idea how I feel, and I’m sure she has no idea either. I feel like I’m about to throw up.”

“Something tells me Whitney knows how you feel,” says Erica bluntly.

“Man, I dunno if you stand a chance…” says Miles. “Roald’s all fun and happy, and us sadboys are nothing like that…”

“Sadboy?” asks an alarmed Graham. “I’m not… a sadboy, am I?”

“Nah, you’re more of a ‘tortured-artist-boy,’” clarifies Kelsey. “Definitely a difference. But anyway… yeah, you’re in a pickle. I don’t know what to say.”

“It’s fine,” sighs Graham. “I suppose I’ll just continue loving her from afar… and hating Roald from afar.”

“Oh, come on! Don’t blame it on Roald,” says Kelsey. “He’s not out to get you, I don’t think he’s smart enough for that.”

Roald comes back to the table with three more slices of bread and two bowls of oatmeal. “Hey, teamies!” he announces. “I can fit all three of these into my mouth! Haha, check it!” He shoves all the breads into his mouth, then gives a double thumbs-up.

“I may have just devised an ingenious plan,” says Graham in the confessional. “Miles is right. Against me, Roald would certainly win over Whitney, so I have to divert his attention towards someone else! Out of the remaining women, one’s taken, one’s always with that Suvir guy, and two are just scary. Therefore, that leaves me with just one choice…”

The door of the mess hall violently swings open, and in comes Chris, looking even more disheveled. He staggers towards the Cheeses’ table and slumps down next to Kaitlin.

“Ha, what a degenerate,” she says. “Am I right, ladies?”

“Teams…” Chris says weakly. “It’s time for your challenge. Now, Chef, I want three coffees and a large tub of ‘Chunky Tofu’-flavored ice cream.” He bangs his head on the table.

“Man, I ain’t seen him like this since the TDRev finale afterparty,” says Chef.

A few minutes later, Chris and the contestants have piled onto the giant, dilapidated green bus and are heading to an undisclosed destination. Chef honks loudly from the driver’s seat.

“Okay, so,” says Chris. “For today, I’ve figured out the challenge that involves the least possible effort on my end. God, I feel like turd.”

“It’s interesting how you assume any of us care,” remarks Whitney.

“I’d be angry at that, but I don’t have the physical or emotional capacity right now,” says Chris. “Let’s see here. We’re dropping you guys off at the Lakeside Community Theatre in just a sec. If you’ve seen Total Drama, you’ve seen the ‘Take a Skit’ challenge. You’ve got all afternoon to prepare for the double feature at 8:00 pm tonight. One contestant on each team will be the director, another can help them with the script, and the rest have to act. Sorry, but…” he chugs one of his coffees, “not really. There’s a costume shop next door, I think. You have eight hours, and you’ll be judged on how much emotion you can squeeze out of me, Chef, and a panel of guest judges. Only one rule, and that’s no nudity. I’m not in the mood for lawsuits today. Anyway, go wild..”

The bus skids to a halt right across the street from a shockingly nice-looking theatre, and all eleven contestants pile out of it and into the building.

“Ahahahaha, this is PERFECT,” cackles Kaitlin. “Forget about Artemis’s weird hippie tea or whatever. This challenge was made for me, and I’m about to show the whole viewing world what real talent looks like. You thought my stuff yesterday was funny? Well, I did too, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The Cheeses enter their green room, which is filled with fancy furniture and giant bowls of junk food.

“Okay, everyone,” says Frances. “I’m thinking we should go with a democratic approach for director. I’d prefer no arguments today.”

“Democratic my ass,” snarls Kaitlin. “You guys are gonna love my idea. It’s about a lady who’s got crabs in her vagina, but like actual ones—”

“No,” booms Artemis. “I won’t accept your infantile ramblings. Les Fromages! I must sit down and gather my thoughts. I’ll have our play ready in 45 seconds.” She heads to a couch.

“Yo, as long as I get at least three sex scenes, I’m cool with whatever,” says Christian.

“Great to know,” says Kaitlin as she storms over to the couch. “Excuse me?! Artemis?! You can’t just do that!”

“Well, YOU can’t just do that either,” says Artemis, taking a puff of a joint.

Suvir looks on in horror. “She’s getting stoned while tripping?! God! Her brains are about to ‘splode!”

“Brains? You mean in the plural form?” asks Frances. She quickly takes out her notepad. “Hmm, you might be onto something…”

“AHEM!” yells Artemis. “I have a vision. One man… in a room. He is clothed in nothing but a fig leaf, covering his left nipple.”

“I call that role!” blurts out Christian.

“HOWEVER! This man is no ordinary man,” continues Artemis. “He is a reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl, ancient feathered deity of Aztec folklore. He must conceal his identity… all while having passionate coitus with numerous full-figured women.”

“Numerous? I only see one, and you’re just flabby,” argues Kaitlin. “Come on, this is bullshit!”

“Okay, okay,” says Frances. “I have an idea. Each of you write your plays on your own, then in a couple hours the three of us will vote on which one’s best. Sound good?”

“I see no purpose in voting, the winner has already been determined,” says Artemis.

“Shut up, Artemis,” snaps Kaitlin. “Prepare to be blown away.”

Christian walks towards the door. “Later, dudes. I’m headed to the costume shop. Gotta find me a fig leaf.”

“Acting ain’t really my thing,” says Christian. “Why pretend to be someone else when you’re already the most mind-blowingly attractive dude on the planet? But I don’t know, man, I’m into this whole feather god thing. I’m basically a god already, but I don’t think I have feathers.” He stretches out his waistband and glances downward. “Just had to check.”

“So Graham and I will write the script while you four act?” asks Kelsey to her teammates backstage. “That was weirdly easy.”

“Of course!” says Erica. “I can’t wait to get up there and perform again.”

“I’m going to pour every inch of my heart and soul into this play…” says Miles.

“I hope I get to be the bad guy!” says Roald. “But the good guy’s cool too! No pressure!”

“Can we just go look for costumes already?” asks Whitney.

The four exit the premises, leaving Graham and Kelsey by themselves. Graham takes out a pad of paper and the two sit down on the steps of the stage.

“Okay, well…” says Graham nervously. “I’ve already come up with a rough blueprint. Want to help me through it? It could use some editing.”

“Of course!” says Kelsey. “Love a good edit.” She takes the pad of paper from him and rifles through his notes. “Ooooh boy. This is… definitely something, Graham.”

“You don’t like it?” asks Graham, biting his nails.

“No, it looks great,” says Kelsey. “It’s just, well… let’s look at the characters.” She starts reading off the page. “Sam, the aspiring poet who’s looking for love in all the wrong places. Britney, the ice queen who first rejects his advances but eventually learns the power of love. Elsie, the close friend and confidant of Sam who’s ‘level-headed most of the time.’ Thanks for that. And finally Mold, the ‘big dumb meathead’ who is misguidedly into Britney but realizes he’s not right for her, and ends up with Elsie after… character development.” She closes the pages. “Two questions. Who’d name their kid Mold, and why is Roald’s character into me?”

“He’s not!” bursts out Graham. “At least, er, not yet.” She raises an eyebrow. “But that’s not the point. Should I change the characters’ names?”

“I don’t think that’ll fix much of anything,” admits Kelsey. “Your whole thing here is obviously inspired by intimate personal details, but I actually think it’s nice.”

“Wait, really? It’s not tremendously pathetic?” asks a shocked Graham.

“Not at all,” says Kelsey. “There’s so much great art out there that comes straight from the artist’s heart. I think lived experiences make for the best stories, you know?”

“Yes! They definitely do!” says Graham. “Thank you so much, I’m glad you’ve received it so warmly.”

“Any time,” reassures Kelsey. “I’m an Art History major, I’ve got an eye for this kind of stuff. As long as the acting’s passable, we’re golden.”

“Art History? Hm, I would have pegged you for a business-y type,” says Graham.

“Ohhhh, not at all,” laughs Kelsey. “That stuff’s just for resume-padding and work experience… and to prevent myself from breaking down. I’m way more passionate about art and culture.”

“I am as well,” says Graham. “So we should make sure this is the pinnacle of Lakeside Theatre’s art and culture! Let’s start on the script.”

“Perfect,” says Kelsey. “So, it starts at a cafe? That’s a fittingly organic first setting.” The two start to write down their plans.

“Usually, I do NOT work well under pressure,” says Kelsey. “Tight deadlines usually result in me consuming six espresso shots within two hours and texting my mom eight times in a row for crisis counseling. But writing the play with Graham made me feel… satisfied? Like, the creative juices are just flowing out of control. It’s the most peaceful, warm feeling. I’m not sure what it means, but maybe getting away from academia was the exact thing I needed to relieve my stress. I don’t know, I just hope we win this challenge.”

About an hour later, the two have finished their script. “God, that was quick,” says Kelsey. “I need either a coffee or a nap.”

“It’s definitely still in draft form, but it looks far more polished,” says Graham. He holds his hand out and the two high-five. “Do you have any more critiques?”

“Well…” says Kelsey. “I’m not too keen on the ‘me making out with Roald’ aspect of the play, but that’s no big deal.”

“Oh, you’re not interested in Roald?” pries Graham. “Even, say, hypothetically?”

“Nah,” says Kelsey. “He’s not really my type. Way too short, loud, and rambunctious. But it’s cool! It’s just acting.”

“Yes,” says Graham. “Acting. Wonderful. Well, we should be set with that!”

“Set with what?” asks a high-pitched voice.

The two turn around to see their four teammates back in the theatre, each with giant boxes of props and costumes.

“Hello, everyone!” says Graham. “Thanks for… showing up, I guess. Here’s a script for each of you.” He passes out a packet of paper to each of his teammates.

“So I’m ‘Elsie?’” asks Erica, obviously displeased. “Wait, why am I in Kelsey’s role?”

“See, I helped write the play, so I’m exempt,” explains Kelsey. “I’ve got two throwaway lines as a coffee shop waitress, though.”

Whitney takes one look at her script and throws it onto the ground. “I’m not doing this. Let me be the coffee shop waitress.”

“Oh, you don’t want to kiss Miles? I figured that may be uncomfortable,” says Graham.

“It’s not that,” says Whitney. “I’m just done. I don’t want any part in your weird fantasies.”

“I would’ve appreciated any kind of kiss…” squeaks Miles.

“Fine, if Whitney’s switching, then I want to switch too,” says Erica. “Let me be the lead role! I’ll even suffer through a Miles kiss, I just want to perform.”

“I mean, I suppose that’s—” says an overwhelmed Graham.

“So Erica’s Britney, Whitney’s the barista, and that makes me…” figures out Kelsey. “Elsie. Perfect, just like fate intended.”

“Awesome!” says Roald as he checks out his script. “My guy’s name is MOLD! That’s wicked-cool, it’s like a supervillain! Can I change it to ‘Toxic Mold?’”

“No,” says Graham. “His name is just Mold. There will be no revisions to my script.”

“S’cool! I can roll with Mold,” says Roald. “And I get to kiss Elsie? Oooh, steamy!”

“Y-yes, okay,” says Graham. “Miles, you don’t want to switch too, do you? I can’t do this. I have no acting experience other than my 5th grade production of HMS Pinafore, which ended horribly.”

“Not at all, I wouldn’t let you down like that…” says Miles. “I can’t wait to perform this dramatic monologue for Jac—I mean, Britney…”

“God, I can’t believe this,” complains Whitney. “At this point, I’m one step away from quitting. What is it about me that’s inspiring Graham's disgusting fantasies? Is it because I care about my appearance and pay attention to fashion trends? Ugh. Thank god I got that waitress role, because kissing Miles? That’s the only thing worse than talking to Graham.”

“I don’t know how I feel about performing in front of a whole auditorium…” says Miles. “Playing my songs outside yesterday was fine, but then I got heckled, so this might make me pee my pants… But it’s gonna be good to finally get my feels all out in the open…”

In the Cheeses’ green room, the duo of playwrights are hard at work. Suvir is on the couch with Artemis, furtively glancing at her pad of paper, while Frances sits awkwardly on the floor next to a furiously scrawling Kaitlin.

“Done yet?” whispers Suvir. “I’m getting real impatient!”

“Calm yourself!” orders Artemis, whose scleras are a shade of deep purple. “The effects have finally set in. I’m finishing up my last scene—the ostrich sex scene. I wrote it just for Kaitlin.”

Suvir recoils in disgust. “God, that’s regusting!” he says. “Ostrich sex? Ain’t no way that’s getting past the censors!”

“Do I care about the censors?” asks Artemis. “Not in the slightest. I care about theatrical expression. Plus, the lead role—yours truly—will be nude in every scene.”

“Man, I dunno,” says Suvir. “You think the viewers really want to see that?”

“Excuse me?” asks Artemis. “I have no time for you anymore, child. Go bother Kaitlin instead, she deserves it more!”

Suvir glances over at Frances and Kaitlin, who don’t seem to be getting along much better.

“One minute left, Kaitlin,” says Frances, looking at her watch. “Got any good stuff for us?”

“None of your beeswax,” says Kaitlin. “I’m busy.”

“That makes sense, but don’t you want to beat Artemis?” asks Frances. “Show her who’s the real queen of the theatre?”

“Pffft, of course I do,” snorts Kaitlin. “Artemis is a dumb bitch. She has no idea what’s about to hit—” Frances’s timer suddenly goes off. “Hahaha, perfect! Let’s reconvene!”

Minutes later, four of the five Cheeses are sitting together on the couch, Frances with Kaitlin’s script and Suvir with Artemis’s.

“Read mine first,” demands Kaitlin.

“Okay!” says Frances hurriedly. “I guess we’re not going to wait for Christian? Isn’t he just as integral a part of the team?”

“Nah, not really,” says Kaitlin. “Just read it already!”

Frances flips through the packet and nods a few times while rubbing her chin, but as she keeps turning the pages, her expression turns into a frown. “Well, this is… not horrible,” says Frances. “Besides the spelling errors, of course. My main issue is that there’s only one role, and she’s obviously meant for you.”

“Yeah, and?” says Kaitlin. “It’s a one-woman show about a small-town belle who moves to LA to become a Hollywood starlet and has to learn how to truly make it in showbiz! I can give you guys one-line parts if you want?”

“Wait, what about the vagina crabs?” asks Suvir.

“Oh, those are there too,” says Kaitlin. She snatches the script from Frances. “Fine, I’ll add tiny roles for each of you. Suvir, you can be a vagina crab, and Artemis, you’ll be a janitor, okay?”

“So that all seems pretty dang awful, but I hate to say it, this one might be worse,” says Suvir, holding up Artemis’s script. “Chris ain’t gonna wanna see your nanners flopping around!”

“Many men enjoy seeing my nanners flop around,” says Artemis. “I doubt Chris is an exception.”

The door flies open and in comes Christian, carrying a big plastic bag stuffed with something. “Dudes! I finally got a fig leaf!” he cheers.

“That’s…” says Frances, “amazing, Christian. Now, mind helping us comb through these play drafts?”

“Sure thing,” he says, walking over. “I support whichever one has me naked, though.”

“None of them are going to feature anyone naked!” yells Kaitlin, throwing her script into the air. “I swear to god, you’re all morons.”

“Yeah, well—” Christian’s phone buzzes in his pocket. “Oh, shit!” he says, picking it up and checking who’s calling. “It’s one of the hottest girls from yesterday. Hang on, y’all.” He answers the phone. “Hi, let’s link.”

“Christian, NO,” scolds Frances. “No linking. We have to focus, okay?”

“Sorry bae, gotta blast,” Christian continues. “I’ll call you later? Get those lips lubed up. Hugs n’ kisses. Bye.” He hangs up. “So yeah, my vote’s for the naked one.”

“Okay, that’s it!” says Suvir, standing up. “We’re gonna do neither of those things. Franny and I have big issues with both, and Chris will too. I got a PERFECT idea.”

“But I…” begin both Kaitlin and Artemis.

“Hey, I’m fine with it,” smirks Frances. “After all, majority rules. Right, Christian?”

“I’m gonna say it for the third time, I literally do not care as long as I’m shirtless,” says Christian.

Suvir gives a thumbs-up. “Done deal!”

“Luckily, my idea’s way better than either of theirs,” boasts Suvir. “I’m basing this play on some diary entries I wrote three years ago when I thought I saw Mothman in my backyard. But instead of me, the lead’s gonna be a jacked detective dude and there’s gonna be an all-out brawl and then at the end I’m gonna present a PSA on how everyone needs to educate themselves on cryptids! It’s gonna be awesome AND it’s gonna spread awareness.”

A bit later, the Wildcats have left their green room and are now on the stage attempting to rehearse. The props are set up like a coffee shop, and the two “couples” of the play are each sitting at a circular table while Whitney is reading a magazine behind the “counter.”

“Okay…” says Miles, sneaking a glance at his lines. “I’m ready to order. Would you like me to pay for your coffee?”

“No, I’m fine,” reads Erica. “Hey Graham, it says I should read that line in a ‘steely, aloof tone.’ Was that steely and aloof enough?”

“Yes, it was perfect! But please don’t read the stage directions out loud, okay?” stammers Graham.

Erica nods, as she follows Miles up to the counter. “Excuse me?” she asks Whitney. “I’m going to have a…” She looks at Whitney, who’s still completely focused on her magazine. “Um…”

“Wha?” asks Whitney, looking up. “Oh. Sorry.” She looks back at her magazine.

“This is ridiculous,” says Erica. “Director, can you do something about this?”

“Yeah, just say your line already so we can get on with it…” hisses Miles.

Whitney walks out from the counter and away from the stage. “I give up,” she says. “Can you guys just cut my role?”

“Aw, come on!” says Roald, getting up from his table. “You gotta partake! You’re gonna kill those two lines you got!”

“Yeah, and Chris said everyone has to act,” says Kelsey. “Wait, what if we cut out Whitney’s lines and she just stood there? That’s acting… right?”

Whitney shrugs. “I guess.”

“Okay, sure,” says Graham. He takes off his hat and runs his hands through his sweaty forehead. “God, I may need a coffee myself. Anyway, let’s try another scene… the climax, perhaps?”

“It’s a real bummer that Whitney doesn’t wanna do anything,” laments Roald. “She and I would be a power couple in the play, just like we are in real life! S’cool though, I’m down to kiss Kelsey too, but maybe I should brush my teeth first? That bread from breakfast is stinkin’ up my breath! Über-gross!”

For the climactic scene, Kelsey and Roald are lying on the floor of the stage, which is now set up like some sort of grassy field.

“I’m really glad we could see each other tonight,” says Kelsey. “I feel so completely at ease.”

“Me too!” says Roald. “Wait, maybe that’s ‘cause I’ve been picking my boogers all day!”

Kelsey laughs stiffly. “Oh, Mold,” she says, trying to hide her disgust. “You epitomize adorableness.”

“You do too, Elsie!” says Roald. He leans in close to her face. “Man, I’m so glad I chose you over Britney. She and Sam are just such a perfect couple, y’know?”

“They really are…” whispers Kelsey, and she leans in as well.

The two are about to kiss until Graham interrupts the intimate scene. “Wait!” he blurts out. “Uh… can we take five?”

“Yeah, we can,” says Kelsey. “Let’s discuss my lines. ‘You epitomize adorableness?’ Graham, you're better than this.”

“No, no, not that,” clarifies Graham. “I just… don’t think the Mold and Kel—er, Elsie scene fits very well with the rest of the play’s mood. I don’t know if they should kiss.”

“I thought you didn’t want to change the script?” asks Erica.

“I may have initially said that, but I’m making an executive decision,” says Graham. “I hope neither of the roles mind too much. I’m changing it so now Sam and Mold will fight over Britney, with Sam winning.”

Kelsey breathes a gigantic sigh of relief, but then catches herself. “I don’t mind at all,” she says. “So Elsie’s out of the play?”

“Yes,” says Graham. “You and I can be co-directors! I’m sure Chris will be okay with that.”

“Cool!” says Roald. “Now Kelsey doesn’t have to experience my bread-breath, and I can be even eviler! Grrrr, Sam, back off my girl!” He laughs to himself.

“Okay, great!” says Erica. “But guys? Friendly reminder that we have one hour until showtime.”

Graham gulps. “Oh.”

“That was a purely strategic decision, if it wasn’t obvious,” says Graham. “I need to make sure Roald comes out of the play looking as foolish as possible, so making him even more one-dimensional was crucial. As for the Kelsey thing… I was wrong, they wouldn’t be a good match. Kelsey said she wasn’t interested in him, so I should respect that.”

“Well, thank god for that,” says Kelsey. “Kissing Roald would’ve been bad on many levels. When was the last time I even kissed a guy? Besides questionable events on the dance floors of frat parties, it’s been… two years. This would’ve been a really weird way to get back into the swing of things.”

Over in the Cheeses’ room, Christian stares at the skin-tight Mothman costume in his hands. “Well, this def wasn’t what I was expecting, but I can dig it,” he says.

“Yeah, dude! You’ve got the starring role!” says Suvir, wearing a long detective’s coat. “I just wish that costume wasn’t so creepy, man, it looks like the real thing.”

“I’m a little hesitant about the fact we’re doing improv,” says Frances in a cop’s outfit. “This could quickly and easily devolve into chaos.”

Artemis appears. “Worry not!” she thunders. “I have skyrocketed to even higher heights. You must all follow my lead.”

“Follow her lead? Jesus, I thought we were done with this shit!” yells Kaitlin.

“Suvir!” says Artemis. “Tell me the sequence of events in this play. I shall add my own creative touch.”

“Yeah, and, what even are our roles?” asks Kaitlin. “They better be good, or else I will NOT be happy.”

“Guys, guys, let’s take it one step at a time,” says Suvir. “Okay, so basically I’m out camping with Franny and we hear a rustling in the bushes. Then, Mothman jumps out and makes scary moth noises and stuff but little does he know we’re undercover detectives! Then there’s a scene at the police station the next night, we see Mothman out the window and get into our car and do a big ol’ police chase! That’s the climax! Then there’s a brawl but Mothman disappears into the night, and finally I do my informative presentation! Capisce?”

“That explanation had a suspicious lack of me,” chides Kaitlin.

“Well, I’m staying out of this,” says Frances. “Suvir, explain.”

Suvir looks more nervous than usual. “Soooo… yeah, we thought you two’d chew the scenery too much so we gave you bit parts. Kaitlin, you’re a janitor, and Artemis, you’re some lady on the street we go to for directions.”

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” shrieks Kaitlin, right as Artemis says something bleeped out.

“No, we ain’t kidding!” says Suvir. “Look, we just wanna win, okay? And yesterday you guys ruined our snack shack, so—”

“We ruined it?!” yells Kaitlin. “You were the one hiding in the goddamn freezer the whole time because you were scared of your girlfriend!”

“Uh, we’re just friends,” says Frances, looking like a deer in headlights.

“The point is, I should be the lead role, not Christian! Literally all he’s got is sex appeal!” continues Kaitlin.

“Okay, I’m not gonna dispute that,” says Christian under his breath.

Artemis simply takes a deep breath, then picks up her ayahuasca-filled teacup and takes another swig. “I’m fine with it.”

“Hmmm, suspicious,” says Frances. “It’s probably the drugs.”

“Oh, but it’s not,” says Artemis. “See, I’m a mature and sophisticated actress who can handle not getting a lead role, unlike the hormonally-stunted Kaitlin. I simply have a few pieces of creative advice.”

“Truth is, I’m incensed,” admits Artemis. “But I can’t let that coward Suvir or his slimy snake friend Frances know that. They’ll get suspicious and remove my role entirely. Instead, I’ll be catching them off-guard with the most sensual performance of ALL. Will we win? I think we will.”

“The climax of our performance will consist of a high-thrill chase through a tunnel, rife with symbolism,” says Artemis. “Our heroes will escape the tunnel like sperm exiting the penis, through the third eye. You know… the penile eye.”

“Goddamnit, not this again,” says Kaitlin.

“Yeah, can we ease up on the dong talk?” adds Christian. “It’s making me uncomfortable.”

“Making you uncomfortable? Darling, you talk about penises more than all of us combined,” says Artemis.

Suddenly, Frances’s watch beeps. “Oh, god.” She takes a deep breath. “Guys, it’s time.”

“You guys liked Crazy Paddy, right?” asks Kaitlin in the confessional. “I’m talking to the audience right now. Just wanted to make that clear. Anyway, if you guys liked Crazy Paddy, you have NO IDEA what’s coming. Hahahaha, get ready, nerds.”

The Killer Wildcats look on from behind the curtains as large groups of people begin to swarm into the auditorium and take their seats.

“Jeez, Chris really went all out,” says Kelsey. “I have to say, I’m only a little mortified.”

“Come on girl, you’re not even gonna perform!” reassures Erica. “I should be the one who’s mortified. But I’m not, because I know how talented I am.”

“Guys, what if I accidentally vomit on stage…” says Miles.

“Miles,” says Graham, turning to face him. “Deep breaths, my friend. We’re going to be fine. This is the lowest-stress environment possible, and,” he leans in to whisper, “thank you so much for communicating my feelings for me.”

“Dude, it’s not like I really had a…” says Miles, staring into the crowd, then he quickly stops. “Holy FUCK.” He instantly wets his pants.

“Yo, what’s going on?” asks Roald.

He peeks out into the crowd with the rest of the team. A bored-looking young woman with curly magenta hair, dressed in a black shirt depicting two cobras, makes her way to the front of the theatre and sits down in the second row from the stage.

“J-j-j-j-j-j-j—” stutters Miles.

“I’ll be gobsmacked!” shouts Graham. “That’s her! It’s… it’s Jackie!”

“Huh-whaaaa?!” gasps Roald. “Jackie? Why would she come to something like this?”

“My god, that’s an ugly hair color,” observes Whitney.

“Who knows, no time for questions!” says Miles, now sweating profusely. “You guys, I can’t do this. Someone else has to take my role.”

“Someone else?” Erica says. “Oh, come on. Miles, you’re our starring role!”

“Plus, the dramatic monologue will be so much more heart-wrenching now that your lost love will be watching,” adds Graham.

“No, no, I’m leaving,” says Miles. “Gonna go back to the dorm and drink some water, then never go outside again.”

The Wildcats look back into the crowd, where another figure has walked up to Jackie in the audience: the strange, trench-coat-clad, sunglasses-sporting bearded man from the day before. He says something indecipherable which Jackie giggles at, then she leans in to kiss him as he sits down.

Miles’s face turns completely red. “What the hell?!” he splutters. “That’s that weirdo from the snack shack!”

“Okay, has today just been one giant fever dream?” asks Kelsey.

“I dunno, but you guys are on your own,” says Miles, turning around and attempting to walk out the back.

“Wonderful,” says Whitney.

“Okay, just to be clear, I do hate Miles,” says Erica. “But I’ve had such a great past couple days! I’ve been so empathetic, and it really feels like I need to keep that streak going. So I guess I’m gonna… talk to him and try to pep him up before the show. Ew, this is gonna be bad.”

“Wait up!” says Erica, running after Miles. He swivels back around to face her.

“What do you want, Jackie 2.0…” he says. “I have no time for this…”

“Look,” she says. “Sit down.” She sits down on a stage platform and he reluctantly does as well. “Don’t you wanna get out there and show her how much you’ve been thriving in life?”

“Dude, I haven’t been thriving…” says Miles. “I’ve been nothing but a sadboy. She can’t see me in my current state, it’s just embarrassing…”

“Who cares?” asks Erica. “Let’s be real, she’s seen photos of you from the past two years. She definitely knows. Just show her what she’s missing and flex on that weird beard guy!”

“I… ugh, I guess…” groans Miles. “But I can’t imagine even getting back together with her… I’ve been a sadboy for so long that it’d be hard to adjust…”

“Ugh, no more of that sadboy stuff!” says Erica. “You don’t need those vibes. Look, I’m sure your personality was just as bad back then, but now it’s just like you enjoy being sad. Now man up and go kill it out there.” She smiles wide. “Hug?”

“Whatever…” says Miles. He limply hugs Erica, then heads back to the team.

“That was the worst conversation I’ve had in a while, but she has a point…” says Miles. “I don’t know why Jackie is here, and I don’t know who that indie-wannabe poser with her in the audience is, but the point is, I’m not gonna just sit here and take this. If we’re gonna lose tonight, we’re gonna lose with a bang. Go Wildcats.”

The curtains have drawn shut, and Chris walks out from the sidelines wearing a fancy bright blue suit—with a couple noticeable coffee stains on it. The audience gives him a half-hearted applause.

“Thank you, thank you!” he bows. “Welcome to the 1st annual Lakeside One-Act Festival! We have two great plays coming up for you all tonight, written by some of the most talented playwrights this side of the… uh, lake. My trusty friend Chef Hatchet and I will be rating these losers with three special guest judges! These guys are wacky, seriously. I picked them up at a crappy dive bar at 3 am last night.” A couple people force a laugh. “That wasn’t a joke. Anyway, for our first performance, give it up for the Artisanal Cheeses with their play ‘The Untold Truth of Mothman!’”

The applause gets even less enthusiastic. The back doors swing open and three men with pads of paper surreptitiously walk in and grab seats, eventually finding some in the row next to Jackie and the bearded man.

“Those must be the judges, huh?” whispers Jackie.

The bearded man stares over at the three—a short, mustached, moon-faced man with flowing dark hair, a red-bearded man with a newsboy’s cap and a bullet-shaped head, and a tall, stubbly brunette man with a green scarf, tousled hair, and a science teacher vibe—and gives them a nod, then adjusts his sunglasses and faces forward as the curtains go up.

On stage, Frances and Suvir are sitting on the ground next to a tent and wearing pajamas.

“Yo, Fred, thanks for agreeing to camp out with me!” recites Suvir.

“Any time, Randy,” says Frances. “I’m pretty tired though, I should get to bed.”

“We decided to just use our Luncheons & Laggins characters for the play,” explains Frances. “Saved us a lot of time and energy, you know? I like Fred.”

“Now that sounds like a plan!” says Suvir. “I’m gonna snooze as well. Boy, I sure hope nothing funny happens tonight!”

“Why would anything funny happen?” asks Frances. “We’re just camping out in the middle of the nowhere, surrounded by five miles of nothing but forest. We’re gonna be fine. Plus, we’re secretly licensed detectives, remember?”

“Shhhhh!” hisses Suvir. “Now it’s no longer a secret!” He pauses. “Wait, did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” asks Frances innocently.

“Rustle, rustle, rustle!” yells a voice from off-stage.

“That rustling in the bushes!” says Suvir as Christian continues to yell, “Rustle!”

“It’s probably a squirrel or something,” says Frances, then yawning. “I’m going to bed. Night, Randy!” She takes out a sleeping bag and awkwardly hoists herself in.

A pterodactyl-like shriek emanates from off-stage and in rushes Christian, wearing nearly all of his Mothman costume except for the face mask.

“Blargh!” he yells, rushing up to Suvir and headbutting him in the stomach. He knocks Suvir out cold, then flexes and rips the torso of his costume, exposing his muscular chest.

“Dude!” wheezes Suvir. “You weren’t supposed to do that!” He starts gasping for air.

“Suvir, let’s just keep going,” whispers Frances. “Okay!” she announces to the audience. “We have to get out of here, Randy! Let’s ask that lady over there for directions!”

“Wrong scene, but whatever!” croaks Suvir. “Where’s the lady?!”

Kaitlin rushes out, wearing a janitor costume complete with a fake mustache and wielding a large broom like it’s the sword.

“Har har har!” she yells in a gravelly voice. “It is I, Jerry the Janitor! I’m here to STOP Mothman!”

“Don’t touch me!” says Christian, preparing to make a speedy getaway.

“Get back here, you crook!” yells Kaitlin. She runs up to Christian, tackles him, and starts battering him with her broom as he yowls out in pain.

“PSA,” says an irate Suvir to the audience. “This was NOT supposed to happen!”

“I swear to God, I can call my dad and he’ll sue—” yells Christian, still getting beat up and now with a black eye.

All of a sudden, sensual music begins to play and the stage is bathed in a deep purple light. Entering in from left stage is Artemis, driving one of those plastic cars children have attached to shopping carts, wearing heavy makeup and nothing but a single strategically-placed fig leaf.

In the audience, the bearded man says to Jackie, “Do you think the girls here ever wonder how they got so pretty? Oh, well I do.”

“Oh my god, me too! That’s huge bi energy,” giggles Jackie. “But none are as pretty as you, Daniel.” She snuggles up to his shoulder.

“I know,” says Daniel, and he pulls out a beer and takes a swig.

“The goddess of the moon and the hunt has ARRIVED!” she announces, seemingly frothing at the mouth. “Come, my sweet Mothman.” She drives over to the injured Christian and picks him up. “And now… for the encore!”

Artemis licks her lips and twists her hips, then the two of them start “driving” as she makes suggestive motions with her hands. The red-bearded man in the audience nods in approval.

“Encore? What? Our encore is the slide show!” protests Suvir.

Artemis thrusts her left arm forward and a giant burst of fire appears from either side of the stage. She thrusts her right arm forward and handfuls of confetti appear as well. Finally, she takes a bow and the back of the set rips off to reveal a massive photo of Artemis’s zoomed-in face blowing a kiss.

“THANK YOU, TOTAL DRAMA LAKESIDE!” she moans to complete silence. Then, after a long pause, Daniel finally starts clapping and a few others, including Jackie, reluctantly join in. The curtains fall.

Chris walks back out onto stage. “Well, that was depressing,” he says. “Chef? Judges?”

Chef holds up a piece of paper with “Three” written on it. “Nah,” he mumbles.

“My god, I miss the way theatre used to be,” says the moon-faced man, holding up a four.

“I’m pretty much in agreement,” says the stubbly man, holding up a zero making a smiley face.

“Strange,” says the red-bearded man. “I thought it was a masterwork.” He holds up a 10.

“Okay,” announces Chris. “Things aren’t looking too great for the Cheeses here, but maybe the Wildcats will crash and burn even worse? We’ll be back in five!” He walks off the stage.

Backstage, a frustrated-looking Suvir walks up to Frances. “That was absolute garbage!” he says. “So much for spreading my cryptozoological knowledge.”

“Hey,” says Frances. “Don’t worry. You did as well as you could’ve, you know? Sometimes things just get thrown into disarray. It’s never very fun.”

“Damn right, it’s not,” says Suvir. “At least we won’t be targeted toni—”

Frances interrupts him by leaning in abruptly and kissing him full-on on the lips. He takes a step back and gasps.


“Augh, what was that?!” yells Suvir. “I thought we were just buddies!”

“Buddies?” asks Frances, obviously disappointed. “...oh. Okay, I’m sorry, I thought… no, never mind, I should leave.” She walks away.

“This whole time, I’ve been hanging out with Franny because I thought she and I were just good chums,” says Suvir. “I’ve never had a friend like her, y’know? I turn off most people. But this makes so much sense… I’ve never dated anyone, I don’t really wanna, and I don’t know how to tell her that. Ugh, and we just patched things up yesterday.”

“That was a horrible idea,” says Frances. “I might’ve just ruined my closest friendship here… again. Back to being a social pariah? Well, at least I’m used to it.’

“Welcome back!” says Chris, heading back onto the stage. “What surprises are in store for the second play? Let’s just hope it’s better than that last one, eh? Now presenting the Killer Wildcats with… ‘A Modern Tale of Love and Woe!’”

A few people clap once again as the curtain rises, revealing Miles—dressed in Graham’s exact outfit—and Roald sitting at the coffee shop set, with Whitney completely zoned out behind the counter.

“Wait, what the hell? He’s in this play?” says Jackie in horror from the audience.

“Mm?” grunts Daniel.

“Just my grossest ex,” says Jackie. “Ugh, I should've expected this. I’m gonna go get some water.” She gets up and leaves right as the play begins.

“Dude,” says Miles loudly. “I mean, er, my treasured friend. I have something I need to tell you. You know that girl Britney? You know, the one over there?” He glances at Erica, wearing a wig and looking irritated.

“Yeah, man! I’ve been into that girl for like two days now! I think I’m gonna ask her out,” says Roald.

“No! No, no, no, please don’t do that!” cries Miles. “She’s my one true love! My heart aches for a woman as ravishing as her… I couldn’t bear to see her with anyone else.”

“Whoa, man,” says Roald. “Don’t get too intense!”

“Intense?” asks Miles, repeatedly glancing into the audience to see if Jackie has returned. “Love is intense! The deep, visceral heartbreak I have been experiencing is intense! You do not know intense!” He starts tearing up.

“Aw, Sam,” says Roald. “Don’t cry!” He pats Miles on the back. “Anyway, I’m gonna go talk to her. Be back in a sec!” He woodenly walks towards Erica.

“That meathead will get what’s coming to him…” says Miles dramatically.

Roald walks over to Erica. “Heyo, Britney!” he says. “This seat taken?”

“No, it’s not,” says Erica. “But don’t sit down. I have things on my mind.”

“I do too,” says Roald. “We got so much in common! Hyuk hyuk hyuk! Anyway, want to go out with me? I’m jacked and stuff!”

Erica rolls her eyes. “No, Mold, I don’t. I’m sorry, I just… don’t know if I can be with you right now. My cold, hardened exterior does not melt for just anyone.”

“Awwww, fish tails!” says Roald. “In that case, I’m gonna go itch my butt for five hours. See ya!”

Right then, Jackie walks back into the theatre, hears that exact line, then walks back out.

Kelsey and Graham are watching the action unfold from backstage. “Well, the delivery leaves a little to be desired, but things aren’t looking bad,” she says.

“Yes,” agrees Graham. “I’m wondering if Jackie’s presence will change the intended allegorical meaning.”

The camera flashes to the climactic scene of the play, where Miles and Erica’s characters are sitting at a park bench with the backdrop resembling a sunset.

“I’m so glad we were able to come here for our first real date,” says Miles. “You look radiant.”

“Thanks,” says Erica. “The sun is pretty.”

“Here’s some poetry I wrote about you…” says Miles, pulling out myriad crumpled notes from his coat pocket. “You consume my innermost thoughts, and I needed to express that in literary form.”

“Oh my god!” gasps Erica upon reading the sheets. “I… don’t even know what to say, Sam.”

“I do,” proclaims Miles. “Ja… I mean, Britney. You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved. This poetry can’t even do it justice. I…” He gets up from the bench and heads towards the edge of the stage, in the direction of a certain someone. “Ever since the day you left me, I’ve found it hard to even verbalize the thoughts I’ve had, but all I can say… is that I’ve never let go of those thoughts. The very first day we met in math class, the very first thing you said to me… When you accidentally flipped your hair in my face and said ‘sorry…’ somehow I just knew we had a connection so deep and unbreakable that I just had to win over your heart. And all that time we spent together, I’ve just never…”

Over at the judges’ corner, the moon-faced man winces while the stubbly man makes a nervous tic motion of his head to the left.

As he continues, Kelsey looks on in concern. “Yeah, I should’ve expected this to happen.”

Graham, quietly sobbing, subtly tries to wipe his eyes. “Haha, yeah, isn’t it wacky?”

Miles has now stepped down from the stage and is right in front of Jackie’s row. “And that’s why I haven’t been able to let you go for the past two years, and why more than anything, I need you back.”

“Hey, man,” says Daniel, taking a giant swig of beer. “Hop off.”

Miles pulls out his vape, takes a drag, then buries his face in his hands and runs back up to the stage and behind the curtains. The crowd is dead silent for about 10 seconds until everyone suddenly erupts into raucous applause and stands up.

“A standing ovation for the Killer Wildcats!” yells Chris. “Not sure how since that was some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard, but—”

“My heart is on fire! Burning blue for you all!” says the moon-faced man. “Baby blue!”

“Peak artistry!” yells the red-bearded man. “A marvelous effort! Bravo!”

“That was the Lakeside Theatre’s finest work yet,” chimes in the stubbly man.

The remaining Wildcats run over to Miles on the stage and all give an awkward, impromptu bow, with the exception of Whitney.

“Graham my guy, Miles my man, that was AWESOME!” hoots Roald.

Chef walks up to Graham and Kelsey and gives them a giant bouquet of flowers. “Y’all wrote that?” he asks. “It reminds me o’ the stories my mom used to read me.” He takes out a tissue and loudly blows his nose.

“No surprise here, the Wildcats once again win the challenge!” says Chris as people begin to leave the theatre.

“It’s all thanks to our very own David Lynch,” jokes Kelsey. “And me, I guess. Team hug?”

“Yeah!” cheers Erica. The whole team leans in for a hug except for Whitney, who’s still keeping her distance.

“Aw, come on, Banana Whit!” says Roald. “Not down to spread the love?”

“Nah, that play was a trainwreck,” says Whitney. “You were pretty good, though. I’m gonna go take a shower.” She walks away.

“Cheeses?” says Chris, gazing at the five losers. “Elimination is happening in a half hour, since it’s late. Wildcats, I want you at the bandshell too!”

“Well, uh,” says Miles. “I’m gonna go talk to Jackie.”

“Man, I’m so glad our play worked out!” says Roald. “Graham’s such a cool dude for giving me a funny character like that, but I gotta wonder… was Mold supposed to be me? If he is, man, I resemble that remark! I’ve never itched my butt for more than four hours!”

Jackie and Daniel are in the lobby, both staring at their phones. All five other Wildcats subtly crawl out of the theatre doors and gather in the corner while Miles approaches the couple.

“Ahem,” he says. “H-h-hey…”

Jackie sighs. “Hi, Miles,” she says. “It’s been a while. Why is your hair the same color as mine?”

“Uh, that was a complete coincidence…” insists Miles. “So, uh, what brings you here?”

“Some Chris guy emailed me and promised us tickets and a free plane ride to this thing,” says Jackie. “I should’ve known it was a setup.”

“When they play you like a fool, like a fool you get played with,” says Daniel with a nod.

“Okay, I have to ask, who the hell is this guy…” asks Miles.

Jackie leans in and strokes Daniel’s exposed chest. “This is Daniel,” she says. “He’s my boyfriend. We’ve been dating for a year now.”

“It’s true,” says Daniel. “To love her is all I can do, in a world that’s beaten everything black and blue.”

“Nothing you’re saying even makes SENSE!” yells Miles.

“Whoa,” says Jackie. “Are you jealous? Dude, it’s been so long since we dated. I’ve gone through like four relationships since.”

“Four?!” says Miles. “I mean… yeah, I have as well. Actually five. Six, even. I’ve barely thought about you. I just wanted to catch up…”

“Sure, okay,” scoffs Jackie. “So that whole romantic monologue didn’t mean anything, then?”

“No, I was just getting into my role, all great actors do it…” says Miles.

“Right,” says Jackie. “Well, Dan and I have a late-night dinner reservation. We’ve gotta run. Awww, he treats me so well.”

“I know I do,” says Daniel, and he kisses her forehead.

“Okay, Miles, it was nice to see you, I guess,” says Jackie. “Have a nice life or whatever.” She and Daniel walk out of the building.

Miles walks back over to his teammates. “Was that bad? It looked bad,” says Erica.

“No, it wasn’t bad…” says Miles. “It was… I don’t even know.”

“I’ve been waiting for the chance to do that for two whole years now, and yet I just feel...” says Miles. “The same. Maybe I’m just destined to always be a sadboy, or maybe…”

Right before elimination, the Wildcats are in their dorm celebrating their newest win.

“Why do you guys think Chris wants us to go to elimination, anyway?” asks Erica. “I don’t trust that man.”

“Who cares, honestly?” says Kelsey. “Let’s just decompress, do some yoga or something.”

Roald walks up to Graham, who’s sitting on his bed and scrawling something in his notebook. “Hey, b-b-buddy, you’re the best wingman! Whitney said I did a good job in the play!”

“I noticed that,” says Graham, “and I’m happy for you. I think you two would make a lovely pair.”

“Really?!” asks Roald. “Golly, I hope so too! I’m gonna go take a celebratory ice shower!” He gets up and sprints to the bathroom.

“Was I lying when I said those two would make a lovely pair?” asks Graham. “One would think yes, but actually… I’m not sure. Today was revelatory. In life, I often find myself clinging onto the tiniest shreds of hope even when something’s dead in the water, but that changes now. I need to stop wasting my energy on those who don’t even care that I exist and start thinking realistically. My crush on Whitney is officially over!”

“Listen, guys,” says Miles, right as the Wildcats are about to leave. “Can I shoot something by you real quick?”

“Definitely!” says Erica, flashing a smile. “I’m all for expressing emotions freely!”

“Hey, by the way,” says Kelsey, stopping Graham. “Do you want the flowers Chef gave us? You did most of the heavy lifting today.”

“Of course!” says Graham, taking the bouquet. “Thank you so much. Writing that play today felt great, didn’t it?”

“Sure did,” says Kelsey. “You know what’s gonna feel even better? Going to bed tonight.” She laughs, then the two leave.

Meanwhile, the Artisanal Cheeses are frantically trying to discuss strategy for the first time while walking to the elimination ceremony.

“You all know damn well who I’m voting,” announces Kaitlin. “Got it?”

“You’re hilarious,” says Artemis. “At least my spectacle was interesting. Beating up Christian’s beautiful face with a cleaning item? Laughable.”

“C’mon, that wasn’t funny,” says Christian, rubbing his black eye.

“Suvir, I know things are probably weird between us again, but…” says Frances.

Suvir tries to speed up so he’s not walking alongside her. “Yeah, uh, I need some time alone right now!” he says. “I’m voting Kaitlin!”

“You’re voting Kaitlin?” asks Frances. “Oh, I was going to vote Art—” Suvir has already power-walked away.

“Today will be Kaitlin’s execution day!” cackles Artemis. “Also, producers who are watching this confessional, does anyone have contact information on that gorgeous red-bearded judge from earlier? I want him bad.”

“Artemis can go eat a dick, and so can the rest of my team,” says Kaitlin. “Goddamnit, I need a drink. Why did I waste all my beer this morning?!”

Chris watches as the 11 remaining contestants pile into the seats of the bandshell, with the Cheeses in the front looking as irritated as ever and the Wildcats in the back looking generally confused.

“Hello again, dairy products,” says Chris. “Let’s get to it, shall we? I’ve suffered through at least four of these skit challenges, and this might’ve been the most embarrassing of all. Props for the enthusiasm, though! Marshmallows go to Christian, Frances, and Suvir.” He throws them all marshmallows.

“Pfft, didn’t see that coming,” says Kaitlin angrily.

“Kaitlin. Artemis. Our two actresses being in the bottom two of the play challenge? That’s like ironic or something. Anyway, the final marshmallow goes to…”

“W-w-wait,” says a voice from the back.

“Oh, come on! No interruptions!” says Chris.

Miles stands up, as the rest of the Wildcats look at him with somewhat bittersweet expressions. “Can I take the microphone for a second?”

“Can you take it after I, y’know, announce who’s been voted off?” chastises Chris. “Tick tock!”

Miles walks up to the podium where Chris is. “No need,” he says. “I’m quitting.” A few people gasp, all Cheeses. “Yeah, uh, I’m pretty bad at elaborating on this kind of stuff but here’s the deal.”

“Our baby boy is growing up,” whispers Kelsey, and Graham smiles.

“My buddies signed me up for this show to get my mind off of my ex,” says Miles. “My ex… Jackie. I’m sure you guys know that she was here at the performance tonight. I blame Chris for that, but if we’re being honest, it was a good thing. She’s still the love of my life, but like…” He gulps. “I got what I needed tonight. She told me straight-up that she’s moved on, that she’s dating that weird Daniel guy, then told me to have a nice life… implying she won’t be in it anymore. And I need to realize that that’s okay.”

“You go, Miles!” cheers Erica. “No more sadboy!”

“Yeah, uh, that too,” says Miles. “No more sadboy. I may never be a happy boy, but I have some things to be happy about. Most of you guys are great new friends, I have that. I didn’t get voted out for the first six episodes even though all I did was whine, that’s something to be proud of too. So I’m leaving, I’m gonna go home and find a therapist.”

“Actually, you’re not gonna go home, you’re gonna go to the losers’ lodge,” clarifies Chris.

“Whatever, man,” says Miles, stepping down from the podium and heading back towards his teammates. He leans in and gives Graham, Kelsey, and even Erica hugs. “I love you guys.”

“We love you too, Miles!” says Graham. “Thanks for being your lovely, authentic self.”

“Lovely? Are you serious?” whispers Erica unsubtly.

“See you later, Cats,” says Miles.

He flashes double peace signs, takes one last drag from his vape, then heads towards the Yacht of Losers and gets on as it drives into the inky night.

“Well, uh…” says Chris. “That was anticlimactic, but I’m gonna make my big announcement anyway. As of right now, Kaitlin and Artemis are both safe, and the remaining 10 of you are now MERGED!” Instead of cheers, everyone looks slightly mortified. “Exciting, huh? Thought so. Go move into one dorm.”

“Please let us use the Wildcats' dorm," says Frances. "Ours smells like body spray and musk."

“In that case, everyone will be moving into the Cheeses’ dorm!” cackles Chris, and everyone shouts expletives. “What sorts of excitement will these new developments bring? What’s gonna go down in the challenge tomorrow? It’s gonna be INSANITY! Trust me. Find out next time on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Chapter 8 - Lay All Your Loved Ones On Me

Chris McLean is lying in bed wearing his red bathrobe and sipping from a cup of ambiguous, steaming liquid. “Last time on Total Drama Lakeside,” he says. “Since your dazzlingly handsome and charismatic host wasn’t feeling up to par, the contestants were left on their own and forced to perform one-act plays! Things got ugly on the Cheeses’ side, when Artemis and Kaitlin spent the entire time arguing and the other three found themselves caught in the middle. Even when Suvir tried to save the day with some play about moths or something, the two talentless actresses thwarted him again! And then Frances kissed him, which was ugly in its own right. Dramatic, huh? Meanwhile, on the Wildcats, there was more weird angsty teen drama. I’m pretty much sick of it, but even I can’t deny that Miles’s ex Jackie finally showing up was AWESOME! There was an incredibly awkward conversation and everything, and then Miles got so bummed that he quit, leaving Kaitlin and Artemis to survive another day. The teams are finally merged, and now we get to watch them live under the same roof and try not to kill each other! What’s gonna happen today? Who’s gonna have a mental breakdown next? Find out—”

The door to the bathroom opens behind him, and the strange red-bearded judge from the night before peeks out, completely naked. “Chris! Can I borrow some of your moisturizer?”

“HEY!” yells Chris. “You’re not supposed to be on camera!”

“Oh, okay, I’ll see you soon?” asks the man, before slamming the door shut.

“...find out today on Total Drama Lakeside,” says a seething Chris.

Right after the elimination ceremony, the ten merged contestants arrive back at the dorms and, after some slight hesitation, walk into the Wildcats’ dorm.

“No way in hell are we going back to Cheeseland,” says Kaitlin. “It’s like walking into Christian’s armpit over there.”

“Screw y’all,” says Christian. “Your nostrils aren’t developed enough for my mature and refined man musk. But it’s cool.” He jumps back onto his old bed and sighs. “Good to be home.”

Frances, Artemis, and Kaitlin walk into the girls’ side of the dorm. “Hey, new roomies!” chirps Erica.

“Who does this bitch think she is?” says Kaitlin to Artemis.

“Okay, sometimes meeting new people can be… tough,” says Erica. “But I think this could be a lovely space filled with feminine energy!”

“I have more feminine energy in my left pinkie toe than you do in your whole body, you dowdy frump,” says Artemis pompously.

Frances looks in horror at her former teammates, then walks over to Erica and sets her backpack down on a bed. “Hi, I’m Frances,” she introduces herself. “Sorry about all that.”

“Oh, hi,” says Erica, her smile quickly fading. “We met on the train, didn’t we?”

“Yes! I remember that,” says Frances. “You seem really friendly. I’m excited to acquaint myself.”

“...yeah,” says Erica.

Confused, Frances walks over to Kelsey. “You know, Suvir once thought the two of us were evil alien clones,” she interjects.

Kelsey stifles a cackle. “My god,” she says. “Honestly, I’d take that as a compliment. Your typewriter shirt is an absolute look.” She flashes the “OK” finger sign.

From the corner, Whitney clears her throat. “Is the chit-chat going to die down soon? I need sleep.”

“I see you’re just as fun as I remember,” says Artemis.

“Artemis? Can it,” snaps Kaitlin. “You’re on thin ice. Don’t forget, you were supposed to be voted off like an hour ago.”

“Excuse me? No, honey, you were the intended target,” retorts Artemis. “Right, Frances?”

“You know, guys, I’m really tired,” says Frances. “Goodnight?” She slips into her bed.

“Beyond the fact that I don’t have many friends at all, I don’t have many friends that are girls,” explains Frances. “Plus, now that I made things weird with Suvir again, I need to make some new bonds. I like Erica and I like Kelsey, and Whitney’s… fine, so I’m optimistic. Cautiously so.”

“That Frances girl thought she was being all nice and quirky and social, but I saw right through it,” says Erica. “She was SO rude to me back on the train a couple weeks ago, and I don’t forget things like that. She’s done.”

“Welcome to the MAN CAVE!” yells Roald, rushing into the boys’ room.

Christian sluggishly sits up and takes off his headphones. “Hold up, bro,” he says. “I’m down for some guy-on-guy bonding, but not now. In the middle of a straight banger.”

“Cool beans, broseph!” says Roald. “You do sports? You seem jacked!”

“Yeah man, ‘course I do sports,” says Christian. “Do you? You’re kinda chunky. Wait, do you wrestle or some shit?”

“Chunky?!” shouts Roald. “No, I’m beefy! Every inch of my body is firmly packed with muscle!’

Graham looks up from the book he’s reading. “Roald, don’t engage,” he says.

“Aw, chillax, Abe,” says Christian. “We’re just rough-housing like the boys back home!”

In an effort to avoid this conversation, Graham walks over to Suvir. “Hello,” he says. “I haven’t formally introduced myself, but you’ve always intrigued me from afar. My name is Graham.”

“I know your name, bro,” says Suvir. “I’ve carefully studied every member of the Killer Wildcats to make sure none of you are aliens or lizard people!”

Graham laughs slightly. “Don’t worry, I’m neither. You seem tense, though, what’s ailing you?”

Suvir sighs. “Well, uh… things are weird with me and my friend Franny. Again.”

“Girl problems, eh?” says Graham, his face lighting up. “I’m always prepared to talk about those.”

“I guess you could say that,” says Suvir. “I think she’s, uh, into me, but I just wanna be her friend and I don’t know how to tell her.”

“Ohhhh,” moans Graham, clutching his heart. “Another relationship ravaged by the menace of unrequited love? I’m sorry. I’m sure she’ll understand… everyone does.”

“Yeah, dude, I’ve seen you making googly eyes at Whitney!” says Suvir. “And I don’t get it, she’s scary!”

Graham winces. “She is scary,” he says. “But that was the old Graham. Today is the dawn of a new beginning.”

“Okay, uh, whatever you say,” says Suvir.

“I thought I was weird, but that guy’s a whole new threshold of weird!” exclaims Suvir. “He’s on a completely different wavelength from the modern world! I’d say he’s a Victorian gentleman who somehow stumbled upon a time machine and ended up here of all places, but… actually, maybe he is.”

“Not sure how I feel about that guy Roald,” says Christian. “I mean, that Whitney chick’s into him and she’s basically a brick wall, so he’s obviously capable of getting poon, but does he really know how to turn up? I ain’t sure. Maybe those two can go on a double date with me and Erica… or me and Kelsey… or me and one of those chicks who keep texting me.”

The next day, around noon, all ten contestants are outside the dorm and by the lake, taking in the beautiful-as-usual weather. While Roald is doing jumping jacks with a reluctant Christian and Whitney is sitting under a tree with her sunglasses on, the three other former Wildcats are at a picnic table.

“Okay, teammates!” says Erica. “I’m thinking now that it’s the merge, we should discuss some strategy, huh?”

“Can we not?” asks Kelsey. “Like, I appreciate the sentiment but let’s just take some deep breaths. Yesterday was too much.”

“Yesterday was definitely too much,” agrees Graham. “I still can’t believe Jackie was finally revealed!”

“Right? She wasn’t that cute either,” adds Erica. “But neither is Miles, so it works out.”

“Hey, come on,” says Kelsey. “He’s gone, let’s not speak ill of the dead.”

Erica shrugs. “Okay, then let’s talk about…” she thinks. “Oh! Let’s invite Whitney over! I don’t like her either, but Graham, you do, so—”

“Actually,” clarifies Graham quickly. “I… have something big to tell you guys. As of last night, I’m no longer interested in her.”

“Whoa!” gasps Kelsey. “That’s huge. Were her coffee waitress acting skills just not up to par?”

“No, I just figured it was a fruitless endeavor,” says Graham. “But that’s all I’ll say about it. Let’s change the subject.”

“Fair enough,” says Kelsey. “I’m proud of you, buddy. The merge means growth.”

“Yeah, I’m proud as well!” says Erica. “And now, since you’re not into her anymore, how about we vote Whitney out tonight?”

Kelsey and Graham look at each other and stifle an exasperated laugh.

“Making the merge has made me feel like a real, functioning person again,” says Kelsey. “I mean it. I’m absolutely thriving right now. Now that I don’t have to focus on winning challenges for the whole team, I can step back, take some breaths, and focus on me.” She sighs in relief. “Oh, I don’t mean introspection. I mean, like… winning the individual challenges.”

The ten remaining players gather in front of Chris, who’s sitting on a park bench and looking sly.

“So, lakemates,” he says. “Did you enjoy the few hours of free time I generously gave you? Good, because I did. But now it’s time to kick things into high gear with your first challenge!”

“Hecks yeah! Get ready for me to win all of these things!” whoops Roald.

“Watch it, little man,” says Christian. “Don’t get too cocky. I exist.”

“Boys, settle down,” says Chris. “Today’s challenge won’t test your strength, or your smarts, or really anything like that. Instead, it’ll test how much you trust your family!” Basically everybody gasps, some in elation, some in horror. “Yeah, yeah, I guess Roz had SOME good ideas. The viewers like ‘wacky’ relatives and heartwarming family drama and all that stuffy garbage, so it’s my pleasure to announce that all your loved ones will be appearing for today’s challenge.” Right on cue, the green bus pulls up. “Hey, here they are!”

“You know, I’m kind of terrified,” whispers Frances to those next to her.

“Heard that!” shouts Chris. “Frances, lucky you, you’re up first. Here’s your twin sister Alyssa.”

“She’s not an alien, right?” jokes Kelsey. Suvir begins to sweat buckets.

The first person to step out of the bus does indeed look almost exactly like Frances, only her hair is slightly shorter and less frizzy, she has glasses, and she’s wearing a baggy sweatshirt, shorts, and knee-high socks.

“Hey, sis!” greets Alyssa, walking over to Frances and leaning in for a hug.

Frances doesn’t accept the hug. “Hey,” she says. “Good to see you, Lyss.” She takes a step back. “How’s home?”

“Home’s nice,” says Alyssa. “I would say it’s been quieter without you around, but it really hasn’t. You don’t make too much noise.” She laughs at her own joke.

“Ha,” says Frances, leaning in to whisper. “Nobody here knows I have a twin. I haven’t revealed too much info about myself, like all good journalists do.”

“Classic!” shouts Alyssa. “Hey everyone, you didn’t know Frances has a twin? Well, now you do!” Frances looks horrified.

“Not gonna lie, she’s probably hotter than Frances,” says Christian to Suvir.

“Dude…” stammers Suvir.

“Shit, yeah,” says Christian. “Shouldn’t have said that. No more locker room talk.”

As Alyssa and Frances disappear back into the crowd, Chris continues. “Christian!” he announces. “We’ve got… someone for you. This guy’s name is Blake. I guess he’s your fraternity brother?”

“B-MONEY!” bellows Christian. “The madman! Bring ‘im out!”

A muscle-bound young man in a form-fitting T-shirt, a giant cross necklace, and gym shorts steps out of the bus, takes one look at Christian, and rushes up to him for a bear hug.

“My fuckin’ man!” yells Blake, seemingly sobbing into Christian’s shoulder. “Absolute unit! And that tan, so bronze!”

“Dude, your gains are just getting bigger by the day!” fires back Christian.

“I feel like we’re watching the intro to something R-rated,” says Kelsey.

Christian swivels around to face the other contestants. “These are my teammates! They’re gonna love you, trust.”

Blake nods in approval. “Mmm, I like what I see,” he whispers. “Some dimes here, man. That Asian chick on the right? Fattest ass. Doggy-style with her—”

“Right, she’s the hottest one here but I’m tryna keep that on the DL,” breathes Christian quietly.

The two walk over to the group. “Hi, I’m Erica!” says Erica. Blake extends his hand for her to shake but she goes in for a full hug, and he nods smugly.

“Well, we’re on a time crunch,” says Chris, tapping his watch. “Let’s keep things moving. Graham? Here’s your grandma, Ursula.”

“Nice,” chuckles Kelsey. “Graham’s grandma. Graham-a.”

An imposingly-built elderly woman walks out from the bus, wearing a pink frilly hat and clothes from the same time period as her grandson’s.

“Grandma!” says Graham, giving her a brief hug. “It’s amazing to see you.”

“Amazing to see you too, sweetie,” says Ursula. “But lemme tell ya, that bus ride was awful. My entire left leg is asleep.”

“Oh, I’ve been there,” laughs Graham. “My entire heart has been asleep for the past few weeks.”

“Aw, you’re always sayin’ crap like that,” says Ursula. “It’s charming.” She pulls out an old-styled pipe and lights it up. “Time for a puff, methinks.”

“Mkay,” says Chris. “Let’s keep on trucking. Suvir! Your dad, Rahul, is here. Flying in all the way from… wait, he told me not to reveal his hometown. Here he is.”

Suvir looks anxious as a tall, strapping bald man with glasses, a large mustache, and a striped shirt walks out of the bus with a gigantic backpack and rushes over to him.

“Son!” he shouts. “You’re alive! That is good! But why are you wearing a sweater as flimsy as that? The lake breeze will give you hypothermia!”

“Dad, no, s’cool!” protests Suvir. “My sweater prevents me from skin cancer from UV rays!”

“Does it? Well, that is not enough!” insists Rahul. “Have you eaten any bananas lately? Those can kill you!”

“C’mon, you know I hate bananas!” says Suvir. “Those are cursed fruits, man!”

While this is going on, Frances says as an aside, “You know, this may be the least surprising thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Who calls their dad ‘man,’ anyway?” observes Whitney.

“Kelsey!” announces Chris. “You’re next. I’ve been told your loved one is your mom, Susan. Here she is.”

“Oh my god, you’re kidding,” says a smiling Kelsey.

A grinning woman in business casual wear, who strongly resembles her daughter except she is shorter and wears glasses, runs out from the bus and envelops Kelsey in a hug.

“KELSEY BEAR!” she exclaims. “Oh, you look wonderful! Your eye bags are gone!”

“Yeah, I’ve been doing some self-help,” chuckles Kelsey. “Good to see you, Mom.”

Susan hugs Kelsey tighter. “Oh, I just missed you so much. It’s not the same around the house without our little bug in a rug around. Your dad has taken up quilting…”

“Mom, this is nothing new. I haven’t spent more than a week straight at home since college started,” says Kelsey. “But I missed you too.”

Susan lets go of Kelsey and walks up to Chris. “How’s she doing? Is she making friends? No breakdowns yet, I hope?”

“I guess?” shrugs Chris. “I don’t pay much attention. She’s still in, so that’s something.” He bends over towards Kelsey. “Psst, is your mom single?”

“Far from it,” she says, and Susan smiles apologetically at Chris.

“Well, I’m going to forget I ever said anything,” says Chris. “Now for something a lot juicier. Erica! Your boyfriend of two years, Jacob, is here.”

Christian and Blake look at each other and start cracking up, while Erica looks mortified but quickly covers it up with her trademark grin.

A tall, milquetoast-looking white guy wearing a poorly-fitting flannel over a plain gray tee and khaki shorts walks out of the bus, holding a bouquet of flowers.

“Hi baby!” he says in a loud yet smooth voice. “I surprised you with flowers!”

“Oh my goodness!” says Erica, rushing over to her boyfriend. “Thank you so much, my love! I can’t believe you did that for me!” She takes one quick glance at Christian, then kisses Jacob on the cheek.

“Of course I did! I missed you so much, it was the least I could do!” gushes Jacob, squeezing her tighter.

Christian walks over to the two. “So this is your mans, huh?” he says. “Classic.”

“Thank you, next,” says Erica dismissively. She walks back over to Jacob and kisses him.

“I’ve been this close to having a panic attack ever since Chris announced the challenge,” says Kaitlin. “I don’t even want to know who’s gonna show up. Is it gonna be my brother or one of his dumbass friends? Or even worse, Dad?”

“Kaitlin, you’re up!” says Chris. “This is gonna be a great one. Here’s your brother, Dennis!”

“GODDAMNIT!” yells Kaitlin.

Bubbly ‘80s dance-pop music plays in the background as a tall, clean-cut man wearing a checkered button-down shirt walks out from the bushes. He takes one look at Kaitlin and winces slightly.

“So you’re not dead?” he asks. “I guess I’m glad. The aftereffects of that would get ugly for me.”

“Oh, shut up,” says Kaitlin. “What’re you doing at home? Propositioning 12-year-old girls again?”

“18, mind you,” clarifies Dennis. “But… no, I’m not. Move past it, okay?” He glances behind him. “Where the hell are Mac and Charlie?”

“Wait, you brought them?” yells Kaitlin. “Are you kidding me?!”

“Excuse me?” pipes in Chris. “I strictly said one loved one for each contestant!”

“Yeah, well, I don’t give a shit,” says Dennis. “Mac wanted to come, we didn’t trust Charlie to stay alone at the bar, but Charlie didn’t want to leave Philly so we knocked him out and here we are. The trip was horrible. Got no sleep.”

The distant sound of passionate arguing becomes more and more audible until two more men walk up to the growing group—a hulking, beer-bellied man wearing an oversized Hawaiian shirt and a short, manic, dirty-looking bearded man with a green army jacket.

“You ate the map, Charlie?” yells the fat man. “Why would you EAT it?!”


“But how are we supposed to get home now?!” yells Mac in a panic. He looks around to see every single other person there staring silently at the argument. “Hi,” he says. “I’m Mac.”

“Okay, I can and will call the cops,” says Chris. “Shall we move on?”

“Ladies,” says Dennis. “I mean, uh, everyone. I’m Dennis Reynolds. Ignore my friends here, they’re a little socially inept. I’m generally seen as the most charismatic one in our gang.”

“Dennis, your shirt is the color of vomit,” says Whitney.

“Don’t be so hard on the guy, Whitters!” says Roald. “He seems wacky and fun!”

“Wacky and fun? Ohhhh, he’s not wacky or fun, none of them are—” begins Kaitlin.

“Oh, one more thing,” says Dennis. “I just got a text from Dad, saying he’s ‘on his way.’ Not sure why, but he’s coming.”

“What the hell?” screams Kaitlin. “First I get stuck with all three of you boners, and now DAD?!”

“Aw, come on, Kaitlin. He’s a great guy!” protests Charlie. Mac nods while stuffing his face with some sort of Mexican food from a trash bag he is carrying.

“Okay, we’re ending this now,” says Chris. “The next two… well, uh, they’re kind of a package deal. And to the producers watching, I know I said I wouldn’t bring back any past contestants as a ratings stunt, but it’s not like I had a choice here. So everyone, uh, please welcome Whitney’s brother… Total Drama: Superstar Showdown winner Wolfgang.” Graham’s jaw drops. “Oh, and Puck’s here too.”

“Man, I’m elated!” says Roald. “Can’t believe my old cuzzo Puck’s here! He and I used to get into all sorts of zany hijinks when we were kids! We used to catch fish and stuff ‘em down each other’s pants! It’s so cool that he’s buds with Whitney’s bro too, because I just know they’d love to be brothers-in-law!”

“Well, I should’ve seen this coming,” says Whitney. “My brother and I don’t speak often. He’s been achieving so much success after he won and everything, and it’s not that I don’t achieve success… but his standard of success is much lower than mine. For one, he’s still willingly hanging out with that degenerate Puck. He’s like Roald, but far worse.”

Wolfgang and Puck step out of the bus. Wolfgang looks generally the same, from his signature flashy fashion sense to his lack of shoes, except his hair is noticeably shorter. Puck’s hair is still pistachio green, only now he’s wearing a navy blue letter jacket.

“Haha, I’m so pumped to be back!” says Puck. “And I’m lovin’ this lakeside breeze! So crisp!”

“Yeah, it’s pretty nice,” says Wolfgang. “Chris? It’s been too long.” He walks over to his sister. “Whitney? It’s also been pretty long.”

“Nice shirt,” compliments Whitney. “You’ve upgraded just a tad.”

“Pssh, sure,” says Wolfgang. “But hey, I’m glad you’re keeping the family tradition alive.”

“Family tradition? Didn’t you get voted out third the first time you played?” asks Whitney with an eyebrow raised.

“Ugh, you know we don’t talk about that anymore,” grumbles Wolfgang.

“Wolfie may have gotten 20th in Tokyo, but he got 1st place in my heart!” says Puck. “He and I had such a bodacious time on the bus ride here!”

“I slept the entire time,” says Wolfgang. “It was indeed bodacious.”

“No, dude!” warns Roald. “Sleeping midday can mess up your tempos and stuff, you don’t want that to happen! Gotta keep your sleep schedule sharp!”

“Big R, don’t throw shade at my best pal,” says Puck. “Without him, I’d be a tiny little ice cube!”

Chris awkwardly takes out a microphone and holds it up to the dynamic duo’s mouths. “So, the fans want to know,” he says stiltedly. “What have you been up to since your season ended? And keep it short, like one sentence max.”

Casey and I got an apartment!” says Puck. “I’m in school for business. Haha, it’s business time! And she’s selling essential oils on the internet with Chelsey’s face on ‘em!”

“Wait, did you say essential oils?” asks Kelsey. “Hit me up.” Susan smiles and nods.

“I just graduated a couple months ago,” says Wolfgang. “Helga and I are, uh, still together. She’s doing her book stuff, and I’m… getting by. Kinda living off the remainder of my money. It’s a dull life, but I’m not complaining.”

“Wait, you graduated?” asks Whitney. “Oh. Congrats.”

“Okay, let’s give a hearty thanks to our beloved fan favorites for their super interesting life updates!” says Chris flatly. A few of the parents clap.

“I can’t believe this!” says a dumbstruck Graham. “How did I not put two and two together? Whitney’s brother is my favorite Total Drama contestant of all time?! This is absurd! I… I need to calm myself. My crush on Whitney is still very much over. It would be laughable to pursue her just because of her amazing brother… but now I want to show her what she’s missing.”

“Now, there’s only one loved one left,” says Chris ominously. “Artemis? It’s all you.”

“Oh, Christopher, I can’t even imagine who you’ve brought to see me,” purrs Artemis.

“I think you can imagine,” says Chris. “Please welcome your… um, ‘part-time lover,’ Frank Reynolds.”

Kaitlin’s jaw drops, and Mac and Charlie look similarly mortified. “Common name,” shrugs Dennis.

A truly ridiculous-looking man walks out of the bus. He’s tiny, possibly shorter than five feet, but extremely wide with an egg-shaped torso. His giant head is bald on top, but wild dark hair flies out from the back and sides, and his massive glasses only accentuate his bugged-out eyes.

“Hey, Ahtemis,” he says in a gruff, Jersey-accented voice.

“Franklin!” exclaims Artemis. “Oh, thank you for coming. I figured it’d be my mother… glad we avoided that.” She rushes up to this troll-like man and embraces him.

“So that’s the ‘booty call’ Frank’s been talking about…?” realizes Charlie from the sidelines.

“Okay, what?!” screams Kaitlin. “I can’t believe this. What the hell.” She rushes over to the two. “Dad?!”

“‘Ey!” he says in a jolly tone. “Great t’ see ya! You’re lookin’ skinny as shit, like a big ol’ bird. Maybe an ostrich?”

“See, I was personally thinking an emu,” says Mac.

“Heh-heh! Yeah! Definitely an emu,” cackles Frank.

Kaitlin screeches loudly, and all her associates stare at her again. “So let me get this straight,” she seethes. “Artemis? You’ve been bangin’ my dad?”

“Correct,” says Artemis, flipping her hair. “He and I have engaged in some of the most revolutionary intercourse on the planet. Don’t be jealous.”

“Jealous?” asks Kaitlin. “JEALOUS?! You think I’m attracted to my disgusting father? Okay, this is the last straw. Artemis, you’re going down.”

“Oh, hit me with your best shot, you stupid beeeeyutch,” taunts Artemis.

“I knew all along that Kaitlin was Frank’s daughter,” reveals Artemis. “After all, we’re both from Philly. Chris needs to start casting in more than three cities, doesn’t he? But I’m not complaining. Her outbursts amuse me.”

“Okay, so…” says Kelsey. “I’m not sure how to react to the last two minutes. What’s our challenge?”

Chris smirks. “I was waiting for someone to bring up the challenge! Okay, let’s do this. If you think we’re gonna do that trivia crap Roz forced everyone through last time, you’re sorely mistaken. This is gonna be SO much better.” His smirk turns into an evil grin, as Chef pushes in a giant carnival wheel decorated with gruesome cartoons. “Behold… the return of the Wheel of Misfortune!” Everyone groans. “Each pair will take a turn and spin the wheel. Whatever it lands on will determine the task you do. Both you and your loved one must compete! It’s gonna test your cooperation or whatever. Anyway, if you complete the task? You’re still in! You don’t? You’re out! If you get out, you gotta wear one of these.” He holds up a neon green baseball cap with his smiling face on it.

“Horrifying,” says Whitney. “Absolutely horrifying.”

“More like gorgeous!” corrects Chris. “But either way, we’ll keep doing this until one pair is left! And not only will that pair win invincibility, but they’ll also receive a special prize: a full service dinner at the Cheesecake Warehouse, with one other pair of their choosing! Get excited!”

Puck jumps in the air in glee. “Heck yeah! Wolfie, you know how much I dig the Cheesecake Warehouse!”

“Mm, I do,” grunts Wolfgang. “Let’s hope my sister doesn’t make me want to end it all.”

Christian whispers to Blake, “Damn, last time I went there I had the worst shits ever. Not one second out the door and my ass was up in flames.”

“That’s gross!” says Jacob, completely in earshot. Erica nods in disgust.

“Relax, son, I was kidding,” says Christian.

“I don’t know if it’s the team swap or my adorable boyfriend being here, but I’m so over Christian,” says Erica. “He’s such a typical guy. Not a gentleman at all! I need a boy like Jacob who will treat me like a queen. Now, Jacob might not have fluffy hair or a glistening bronze tan or washboard abs, but he… he’s got… uh, he buys me nice things?”

Shortly after Chris’s explanation, the ten merged contestants and their loved ones have been seated in the set of bleachers that was used for the volleyball challenge, with the Wheel of Misfortune standing right in the middle.

“Okay, let’s get started!” says Chris. “Any volunteers, or will I have to pick—”

“You ready, big guy?” asks Roald, and Puck nods enthusiastically. “Chris! Let us at ‘em!”

Chris looks suspicious as the two excitedly head down from the bleachers and to the wheel. “If you say so,” he says.

Puck makes a “click-click” noise to Wolfgang back in the audience, then spins the wheel. After a while, it lands on a picture of a fish with X-ed out eyes.

“Hmmm…” says Puck. “Something’s ‘fishy’ about that picture!”

“Perfect way to start!” grins Chris. “Dodge the Dead Fish.” Chef walks up to them carrying a large bucket with an awful stench. “Chef will throw these at you for ten seconds, you just have to not get hit. Ready?”

“Oh, am I ever!” says Roald. “I’ve dodged dead fish in my sleep!”

“P.U., man, that smells craptastic!” gags Puck. “It’s worse than Great-Aunt Edna’s banana-Spam casserole!”

“Hey, don’t be a rude dude about my gramma’s cooking!” protests Roald. “Or else we’re gonna have to duke it out!”

“Aw, c’mon, buddy, it’s all in good f-f-fu—” says Puck, still covering his nose.

“GO!” yells Chris.

Chef picks up one dead fish, winces at the odor, then chucks it. Both Roald and Puck narrowly avoid it, then Chef picks up two and lobs them both at the boys. They dodge those as well. Finally, still with seven seconds on the clock, Puck glances over at Roald and gets hit squarely in the face with the biggest, most rotten fish carcass of all.

“P-TOOOO!” hacks Puck, wiping the fish remains off his face.

Chris’s buzzer beeps loudly. “Failure!” he says. “A valiant effort, I… guess. Maybe if you two weren’t too busy arguing, you’d have sealed the deal. Either way, here you are!” He tosses them both lime-green Chris-brand baseball caps.

Puck puts his hat on. “Silver lining, this hat looks snazzy paired with my hair!”

Whitney looks at her brother in the audience. “Actually, it doesn’t. It looks atrocious.”

“You’re not wrong, but it’s better than when he was bald,” says Wolfgang. “Barely.”

Roald and Puck climb back up into the bleachers with dejected looks on their faces. “At least I get to hang with you again, Wolfie,” says Puck, patting him on the back.

“Man, I dunno what got into me there, I never argue with my cuzzo!” says Roald. “Maybe I’m distracted? It’s gotta be that. But what could I be distracted by…?” A dramatic string chord plays. “Wait, I know, it’s Whitney! Classic!”

Suvir and his father stare at the Wheel of Misfortune in fear, inching away every few seconds. Chris stands on the other side, tapping his foot impatiently with his arms crossed.

“Are either of you gonna spin it, or…” he remarks.

Alyssa looks at Frances. “So that’s the guy you’re into?”

“Into?! Well,” she says. “I mean. Don’t put it that way. We’re friends. We might’ve kissed last night… or I kissed him.”

“Mkay,” says Alyssa skeptically. “Well, sounds great to me, sis. He looks… quirky.”

“I am not spinning that thing, and neither is my son,” says Rahul. “Do you not see it’s made out of wood? I have extracted far too many splinters from my screaming son’s hands and feet!”

“Yeah, man, I’ve been stabbed by wood waaaay too many times,” agrees Suvir.

Chris grumbles and spins the wheel for them, and it eventually lands on a picture of an amorphous white-gray blob.

“Ahhhh, this is a great one,” says Chris. “Gruel Chowdown! Two big pots of Chef’s most famous gruel, piping hot, coming right up. If each of you finishes a pot in the next five minutes, you’ll be moving on.”

“Ugh, I haven’t eaten a single bite of that crap yet,” says Suvir. “I’m not about to break my streak!”

“Son, I agree that it looks horrific, but do you not want to win?!” warns Rahul.

“Nahhh, Dad, I’m throwing in the towel,” says Suvir. “It’s fine. Let’s go for a walk or something.”

“Are you suuuure?” asks Chris, holding up two green baseball caps. “Another team will still have to do this challenge, FYI. You can choose.” Everyone in the audience looks frightened.

“Oh, then of course!” says Suvir. “I choose Bird-Lady and her weirdo friends.”

Kaitlin rolls her eyes. “All right, limp-dicks, let’s do this,” she then says to the Gang as they all descend from the bleachers.

Suvir and Rahul walk off, now wearing their Chris-brand hats. “That chick ruined my play yesterday! Thank god I get to make her lose,” he tells his dad.

“That is nice, but…” says Rahul. “I see you making googly-eyes at that other woman!”

“Huh-wha? You mean Franny?” asks Suvir. “Dad, no, she’s making googly-eyes at ME!”

“Yes, but I see that it is mutual,” says Rahul. “It’s a horrible idea! You need to decide whether one night of sexual activities is worth decades of pain and suffering. Just ask your mother.”

“Dad, I swear, I ain’t into her,” insists Suvir. “She and I were like best buds until last night, then she kissed me out of nowhere and ever since then it’s been—”

“Ah, the perils of a male-female friendship!” says Rahul. “To prevent this, you must look into an arranged marriage. Your cousin Vikram just had one, you know, and he is doing very well.”

“Whatever, Dad, I don’t need any more of this,” sighs Suvir. The two walk off towards the beach.

“Ooooof, I wasn’t expecting something that bad!” says Suvir. “I don’t have much interaction with my parents at home, I’m usually all hunkered down in my doomsday bunker, so Dad tries to have these weird ‘father-son talks’ with me whenever he does see me. My strategy is to wait an entire week, ignore her in every way possible, and THEN talk to Franny.”

Kaitlin and her three hangers-on stare at the long table in front of them, decorated with four large plates of a sickly white-brown substance.

“So let me get this straight,” says a queasy Dennis. “You’re making all three of us choke down that gruel?”

“Yep!” says Chris happily. “Kaitlin, this is what you get for breaking the rules and bringing three loved ones. They all have to finish their own plate!”

“I didn’t even break the rules!” yells Kaitlin. “And for the record, I don’t ‘love’ any of these guys.”

“Move past it, Kait, let’s just eat already,” says Mac.

“Yeah, I haven’t eaten anything today!” complains Charlie. “I’m starving as shit.”

“Charlie…” says Mac softly. “You ate the map, remember?”

“Well, whatever, dude. That doesn’t count!” says Charlie, his voice steadily rising. “That’s empty calories, buddy! This right here,” he eyes the gruel and licks his lips, “is what I’m talking about.”

Dennis scoffs loudly as a beeping sound emanates. “Well, you morons can eat as much gruel as you want, but I already ate my one meal of the day.” He looks at Mac and Charlie, who are already halfway through their plates. “See? Look at that. Disgusting.”

Chris looks at Dennis, smirks, then taps his watch. “I’d get eating if I were you, dude.”

Dennis looks around in a panic. “Wait, it already…?!” He watches Kaitlin ingest some of the gruel and immediately vomit it back out, while Charlie and Mac choke down the rest of the substance and slam their plates onto the table in success.

“YEAH!” they both yell, and Mac pounds his chest while Charlie starts screaming incoherently.

Chris’s watch beeps again. “Time’s up!” he announces. “Dennis, Kaitlin, you flubbed up, which sadly offsets the other two’s victories.”

“Oh, you DUMB BITCH!” yells Mac.

“Come on, dude, don’t blame it all on her, it was just as much Dennis’s fault—” says Charlie.

“You’re only saying that because you banged her, Charlie, let it go!” continues Mac.

Frances’s eyes widen in the audience. “Wait, Kaitlin’s had sex with that guy?” She pulls out her notepad and starts jotting down the details while laughing to herself.

The motley crew heads back up into the bleachers, all wearing Chris hats, all looking enraged beyond belief.

“God, why am I even here?” says Dennis. “I just don’t care about any of these people, including my sister. I watched 30 seconds of this show to pick out my prey, but she’s not even here. What was her name? The blonde one. Young, cute, innocent… but obviously fertile. Ah, I’ll find her someday.” He laughs sinisterly.

“Ha! Nice hat, Dennis!” mocks Frank from across the bleachers.

Artemis, with both her arms caressing Frank’s body, yawns. “Frank, I’m winding down. Shall we volunteer to go next?”

“I heard that!” says Chris down below. “That makes my job a lot easier. Artemis, Frank, you’ll spin next.”

Artemis quickly spins the Wheel of Misfortune, which spins for a while before landing on a space depicting a bathtub with brown fumes coming from it. Chris and Chef laugh and high-five.

Seconds later, Chef drags in a gigantic hot tub filled with a viscous, swampy, greenish-brown liquid. “Hot tub septic tank,” he announces. “Straight from th’ sewer system.”

“Strip down to your panties, get into that hot tub, and sit there for 10 seconds,” explains Chris. “There might be dead sewer rats in there? Not sure. We haven’t cleaned it.”

“I didn’t think my day could get more painful, but then Chris McLean used the word ‘panties,’” says Whitney.

“C’mon, this’ll be easy,” says Frank, already buck-naked. “Chollie and I go down to the sewers all the time.”

Artemis, still fully clothed, looks like she’s about to vomit. “I can’t do this. It’s… beneath a woman like me.”

“Oh, and banging 70-year-old men isn’t?!” screams Kaitlin from the bleachers.

Frank flips Kaitlin off as he climbs into the septic tank and takes a deep moan. “This shit’s great!” he laughs.

“I’m glad you like it, Mr. Reynolds,” says Chris. “Unfortunately, Artemis, by refusing to join your lover, your pair is out of the challenge.” He tosses a couple Chris-brand hats their way.

“Can I stay in here for a bit?” asks Frank while rolling around in the filth.

Chris shrugs, not seeing Charlie run down from the bleachers, take off his clothes as well, and join Frank. “Bathroom break,” he says. “Take five, families.” He and Chef quickly escape.

Whitney is focused on a magazine as usual, while Wolfgang has pulled out a pair of earbuds and is trying to untangle them. Graham hesitantly leans sideways and taps him on the shoulder. “Huh?” he says.

“Don’t talk to strangers,” scolds Ursula.

“Wolfgang!” says Graham, ignoring his grandma. “I just wanted to say, erm, you’re… I’m a big fan of yours. You were amazing, you know, when you won and everything.”

“Really?” asks Wolfgang with a smile. “Heh. Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that, so thanks, dude.”

“Of course,” says Graham, getting red. “And when you and Helga started dating, it just… you guys are very adorable. I support.” He stops himself before saying any more, then leans back out.

“That guy’s seriously unhinged,” whispers Whitney into her brother’s ear. “Don’t pay attention to him. He’s obsessed with me.”

“Aw, really? He seemed friendly enough,” says Wolfgang.

“Look, my sister and I almost never talk and I was only brought here to boost ratings,” says Wolfgang. “Not that there’s some deep, unspeakable drama between us, but she’s so crabby she makes me look social. That Graham guy touched my heart just then, you know? It’s nice to have fans other than 14-year-old lesbians who write erotica about me and Puck.”

“We’re back!” announces Chris, staring squarely into the camera. “Erica and Jacob just spun, now they’re out on the beach finding 10 extra-pointy shards of sea glass in five minutes. While they’re doing that, how about we get Wolfgang and Whitney up here?”

“Goooooo, Wolfie!” shouts Puck. “You’re the man!”

After walking up to Chris, Whitney spins the wheel and it lands on a space featuring a printed-out headshot of Miles.

“I’m almost too scared to ask what Miles has to do with anything,” observes Kelsey.

“Well,” says Chris, “Before the season started, Miles was kind enough to lend us a few of his demo tapes.” A few contestants gasp in horror. “You two will have to listen to 15 seconds of his latest recording, ‘Song for Jackie (Pt. XXXVI).’ That’s it! Just 15 seconds! Happy listening.” He and Chef take out their phones, with earbuds attached, and hand them to Wolfgang and Whitney.

“Uh, Chris, why’s your lock screen a picture of—” begins Wolfgang.

“Just listen!” snarls Chris.

Wolfgang scowls and puts on the earbuds, as does Whitney. The sounds of a poorly-mixed guitar intro, clanging drums, and eventually Miles shrieking are audible to the whole group, even those in the bleachers. Wolfgang closes his eyes, smiles, and starts tapping his foot, while Whitney throws her earbuds off after two seconds.

“That was, no exaggeration, the single worst thing I’ve ever heard,” she says flatly.

“You’re out!” says Chris, handing her a Chris hat. “Your bro seems to be enjoying it, though.” He snaps his fingers in Wolfgang’s face, but he doesn’t acknowledge him. “Hello? Earth to Wolfie?”

“Huh?” Wolfgang says, briefly taking out an earbud. “Oh, we lost? Can you let me finish this song?”

“Well, I suppose,” says Chris. “But DO NOT look at anything else on my phone.” The siblings nod and head back to the bleachers.

“God, I gotta get to know this Miles guy,” says Wolfgang. “That was some great stuff.”

“Wolfgang, glad we can still count on you for… unique sound bites,” says Chris. “Let’s see how Erica and her boy toy are doing!”

A few hundred feet over, Erica and Jacob are walking through the dunes hand-in-hand searching for shards of broken sea glass.

“So, baby, you have to tell me everything!” says Jacob. “Have you made friends? Are you gonna win?”

“Yes and yes,” says Erica confidently, carefully picking up some glass. “I feel like I’m friends with most people here? I’ve been very ‘social girl’ lately. Not really my usual thing.”

“That’s awesome!” says Jacob. “I’m always in awe of everything you accomplish! One question, though, what’s up with that tan guy?”

“Oh, Christian?” Erica’s expression turns paranoid, but she quickly covers it up. “Yeah, I don’t like him. Just your average fuckboy.”

Jacob winces. “He sounds like it! I’m really glad you don’t associate with those types.”

“Of course I don’t!” says Erica. “Only those who are Jacob-approved.” She leans in and kisses him.

“I love my girlfriend so much!” coos Jacob. “I’ve never dated a girl like her. She’s so honest and hardworking and mature… I’m not surprised everyone here loves her.”

“Okay, dude, I’d probably marry Kelsey,” says Christian to Blake discreetly. “Y’know, she’s mature, she could handle a family. Bang Erica, she’s freaky. So by default, I’d have to kill—”

“Christian! Blake! Your turn!” announces Chris.

“My guy, we were in the middle of something really important,” says Blake as he descends.

“Can it be as important as…” says Chris, before spinning the wheel and watching it land on a drawing of two shadowy outlines kissing. “This?”

“Uhhhh, I don’t like the look of this,” says Christian.

“This is the best possible scenario for this one,” giggles Chris. “Are you ready to… kiss your partner on the lips?”

Blake instantly starts walking back to the bleachers. “Nah, man, I’m out.”

“C’mon, bro! Million bucks on the line!” pleads Christian. “No homo…?”

“Ain’t happening,” says Blake. “Get another team to do it or something.”

“I’m not surprised Blake said no. He was the only homie who didn’t show up to last summer’s yacht party,” says Christian, wearing the Chris hat. “It got real steamy. I’d have better luck with Kyle, or Grant, or Charlie… Ryan, Nolan, Billy, Manty, Eddie, Antonio… Screw Blake, he’s a pussy.”

“You guys are so lame,” says Chris. “I’m not surprised that you’ve all failed your tasks so far. Anyway, Frances and Alyssa, you want to partake?”

“I’m good, thanks,” says Alyssa. “Incest isn’t really my thing.”

Frances looks slightly worried. “Uh, I mean, it’s not like we’d have to do it for long. Just for the game.”

“Wait, are you serious?” laughs Alyssa.

“Incest isn’t my thing either, but…” sighs Frances. “I’m feeling vulnerable now that it’s the merge. Roald’s still not over the Rhett thing, Kaitlin and Artemis both hate me, and I ruined my rapport with Suvir. Invincibility would be nice tonight. I guess for now I’ll just shut up and cross my fingers that the, er, larger personalities cannibalize themselves.”

“Sorry, sis,” says Alyssa, back in the bleachers and wearing a green Chris hat. Frances grunts.

Chris checks his watch. “If Erica and Jacob don’t get back in the next 27 seconds, they’ll be the eighth pair in a row to fail! Graham, Kelsey, you guys want to take up the kiss offer?”

“No, I don’t think Grandma has done that to me in at least 15 years,” says Graham.

“I was hoping that if we kept saying absolutely nothing, Chris would forget we were here,” mutters Kelsey to her mom.

Susan laughs and says, “How could he forget your adorable face?” Kelsey turns extremely red.

Right then, Erica and Jacob get back clutching well over 10 pieces of sea glass. “Done!” she says.

“Congrats!” says Chris. “You two are the first pair to move onto the second round! For another easy win, want to—”

Erica and Jacob take one look at the wheel and its kissing drawing and immediately start making out. Erica gives a wink and a thumbs-up to both Chris and the audience.

“...I guess that’s a yes,” says Chris. “Now we can finally move on. Chef, should we just cut that whole incest conversation out?”

“We should cut what you’re sayin’ right now out,” grumbles Chef.

“Okay,” says Kelsey, heading down to Chris and Chef with Susan in tow. “We’ve conserved enough energy, I think. It’s go time.” The two high-five.

Graham helps Ursula walk down from the bleachers as well. “It’s go time for us too, I suppose,” he says. He tries to high-five Ursula, but she just looks at him in confusion.

“All right, girl!” says Erica. “And… Graham! I’m excited to compete against you guys!”

The three stare each other down and make way for a montage with some totally-not-copyrighted music playing in the background. Kelsey and Susan are seen juggling hornets’ nests, Graham and Ursula hop across a row of stones with skunks lurking beneath, and Erica and Jacob are reluctantly giving a shirtless Chris and Chef back massages. After that, Graham and Ursula are chased in circles by a giant bear, Erica and Jacob each eat a Carolina Reaper pepper and breathe fire before chugging down half-gallons of milk, and Kelsey and Susan cower in fear while watching a wide-screen showing of “Badminton: The Movie” starring Chris McLean.

“My mom and I are crushing it right now,” says Kelsey proudly. “It’s weird, because like, I love her so much, but I also have her to blame for,” she points to herself, “this. Back in fourth grade, I got fifth place in my school spelling bee and came home with a single sheet of paper as my prize. I was so close to just throwing it out, but my mom saw it and was just elated. She started talking about how lucky she was to have such a smart daughter and all that sugary-sweet garbage, but it hit me real deep, right in the heart. Ever since then, I’ve just had this self-inflicted moral obligation to keep making my mom proud. And like, she doesn’t even pressure me, it’s just this never-ending inner monologue. So for anyone out there who thinks I’m too extra, or a ball of nerves, or whatever—which to be fair, I am—you have my girl Susan to thank for that.” She flashes a thumbs-up as her left eye twitches.

“Yeesh! You guys really came to play, huh?” asks an impatient Chris. “Well, I know what’ll do the trick. Erica, Jacob, you’re up!” Erica spins the wheel and it lands on a picture of Smoothie Guy wearing a shit-eating grin.

“That awful man again? You can’t be serious,” says Erica in disgust.

“Oh, but I am,” says Chris, waggling a finger. “This may be the most simple task of all.” He takes out a tiny slip of paper and a pen, and gives it to her. “Write down your phone number and give it to Smoothie Guy! He’s single and lonely.”

“NO!” shouts Erica instantly.

Jacob leans down to whisper to her, “Babe, you can just give him a fake—”

“I’m sorry, but I’ll pass,” proclaims Erica to Chris. “I’d like to keep my dignity intact.” She whispers back to Jacob, “I bet either Graham or Kelsey would pick us for dinner anyway.”

“Too bad, so sad,” says Chris. “Kelsey? You down to get dirty with Smoothie Guy?”

Kelsey snatches the paper out of Chris’s hands. “Let me see that.” She scrawls something nearly illegible onto the paper, then hands it back. “Perfect!” She then whispers to her mom, “I gave him Dad’s number. He’s about to spend at least an hour learning about stock trading.” Susan stifles a laugh.

“I’m not going to address all this questionable whispering since we’re low on time,” says Chris. “Kelsey, congrats, you and Graham—and your fam—are the only ones left. We’ve got one more challenge for you!”

“I’m not really that hungry,” says Graham. “We can forfeit if you’d like?”

Kelsey is about to say something until Ursula whacks Graham on the shoulder with her purse. “We ain’t forfeiting. My grandson is a tough man!”

“That settles that, I guess,” says Chris. “Time for a spin!” He pauses a second and waves his hands around dramatically before spinning the wheel. He, Chef, and the remaining two watch in suspense as it finally lands on a simple “0.”

“You serious?!” growls Chef.

“Ughhh, I knew we’d get to this one eventually,” says Chris. “Talk about an anti-climax. Well, uh… Graham, Kelsey, your final challenge is to pick a number between one and 1,000. You have exactly one minute to strategize.”

Most of the peanut gallery on the bleachers starts laughing. “Is Chris going through a midlife crisis or something?” asks Wolfgang.

“Yeah, ain’t it disheartening?” says Puck. “I remember when he was all spry and stuff, now he’s just some old fart.”

“Poor guy,” remarks Dennis. “Always sad when you don’t age gracefully. I mean, look at all that Botox.”

“Shut up, Dennis, you look like my right pinkie toe,” says Kaitlin.

“No, he DOES NOT!” Mac butts in, and Kaitlin recoils. “Sorry, Dennis. I, uh, had to defend you there, I hope you appreciate that.” He flashes a sheepish smile.

“All right, let’s get this over with,” says Chris. “Graham? Ursula?”

“Our number is 76,” says Graham. “It’s how ol—”

Ursula quickly interrupts him, “It’s just a damn good number, that’s all it is.” Chris nods.

“Kelsey, can I announce our number? This is so exciting!” says Susan.

“Exciting’s one word for it, I guess,” says Kelsey. “But sure, Mom, do your thing.”

“Okay!” says Susan, nodding rapidly. “Chris, our number is 897.”

After whispering with Chef for a second, Chris says, “Well… I mean, neither of you got it right. No surprises there. But the true answer was… 10!”

“Uncreative as hell, man, one of these days I’m just gonna—” Chef mumbles.

“Congratulations, Graham,” says Chris unenthusiastically. “You and Ursula are the winners of this challenge, which means you get to go on a dinner date to the Cheesecake Warehouse with one other pair of your choice! Don’t forget, you’ll both be skipping elimination and therefore can’t be voted off.”

Graham flashes his grandma a nervous look. “Pick whoever ya want,” she says.

“Maybe if this were a week ago, I’d pick Whitney,” explains Graham in the confessional. “I’m sure Wolfie would try his best to loosen up the conversation and get his sister to like me! But times have changed, and so have I, so now my main goal is to pick someone who I’m close with… but who will also kinda-sorta-maybe make Whitney jealous.”

“I’ll let you stew over that for a second while everyone else says their maybe-goodbyes,” says Chris.

Kelsey walks up to Graham. “You know, just putting it out there, my mom loves cheesecake,” she says. “Like, really loves it.” She winks, and Graham starts biting his nails.

Meanwhile, Kaitlin approaches the Gang. “Okay, can you guys leave already? You’re killing my mojo. My class.”

“What mojo? What class?” asks Mac.

“No, she’s right,” says Dennis. “Once Charlie finishes doing… whatever he’s doing,” he motions to a naked Charlie, slowly getting out of the septic tank and getting his clothes back on, “we can get out of here. This got boring fast.”

“All right! All right, I’m here,” says Charlie in a huff, running over. “Let’s go home, I need a beer. Frank’s about to bang that chick, we can leave without him.”

The four look over at two silhouettes in the distance, both short and wide, heading straight for the dumpster by the Wildcats’ dorm.

“Disgusting,” says Dennis. “I think that’s our cue to leave.”

“I can’t believe my brother and his moron buddies showed up today,” says Kaitlin. “Well, I guess they’re my moron buddies too, but I’m not a moron. I’m a respectable woman. Besides, it’s all gonna be worth it when I finally send Artemis packing tonight.”

Rahul and Suvir arrive back from their beachside walk just in time to say goodbye. “So, my child, the time has come,” says Rahul.

“Yeah, yeah,” says Suvir. “Peace out, Dad.”

“I think you should mend fences with that lady friend,” says Rahul. “She is very lovely. You don’t want to be a bachelor for life, do you?”

“For the last dang time, we’re not—” starts Suvir. “Fine, okay, I’ll talk with her.” He gives his dad a firm handshake.

A few feet over, Alyssa hugs her sister. “Don’t worry about tonight, you’ll be fine,” she reassures.

“Shhh, don’t even mention tonight,” says Frances. “Gotta slip under the radar in every way.”

Alyssa laughs. “Right. Anyway, for some reason I don’t think this Graham guy will pick us, so… I’ll catch you on the flipside.” She makes her leave.

“I can’t wait for this dinner! It’s gonna be so romantic,” swoons Erica, cuddling her boyfriend.

“Yeah!” agrees Jacob. “I’m so glad one of your friends won the challenge!”

Blake and Christian approach the two. “Later, bro,” says Blake. “I’ll text you later or sum. Good luck with… you know.” Erica glares at both of them.

“Bet,” says Christian, giving Blake a forceful hug-fist-bump-handshake combo before he leaves.

“Your friend is really rude, you know,” says Erica. Jacob nods sycophantically, while Christian smiles smugly then shrugs.

While Roald, Whitney, and their veteran contestant relatives attempt to make their awkward goodbyes, Graham cautiously walks up to Wolfgang. “Hey, um…”

“We’re kinda in the middle of something,” says Whitney, who is obviously not in the middle of anything.

“Hey dude, let’s talk for a sec,” says Wolfgang, pulling Graham aside. “Okay. Please, please don’t take us on the dinner. I can’t handle that much Whitney time, and I know you can’t either. She told me you were obsessed with her, and I doubt that’s true because she’s very into exaggerating, but on the off-chance it IS true… don’t waste your time, man. Even my brother Kyle would be a better choice, if you’re into dudes.” He eyes Graham’s meticulously cleaned outfit. “Are you into dudes?”

Graham laughs. “Thank you, Wolfie. Can I call you that?” Wolfgang grunts. “Okay, lovely. And also, thanks for being just as cool as you seemed on TV!” He stretches out his arms to hug Wolfgang, who shockingly hugs him back.

“Psst!” says Puck to his cousin. “You got the hots for Whitty, right? I understand. She’s ‘cool.’ Keep that going, man, and then Wolfie and I will be…” His eyes widen drastically. “BROTHERS!”

“Holy polar bears! That’s gigantic, brozinsky!” says Roald. “I’ll do it!”

“You guys, I didn’t magically disappear or anything,” says Whitney.

“Uhhhh…” says Puck. “Awko-taco. Heh-heh. Anyway, glad I could come. I really like it here!” Roald nods. “I mean, I really ‘lake’ it here!” He guffaws at his own pun and Roald joins in.

Whitney quickly walks away from this whole scene. “Bye,” she says to her brother.

“Nice to see you too,” Wolfgang says.

Chris blows an intrusively loud whistle. “Okay!” he yells. “That’s about all the time we have for emotional goodbyes. Graham? Time to pick.”

“Oh,” says Graham, instantly turning a greenish hue. “I pick…” He carefully analyzes Whitney’s completely disinterested facial expression. “Kelsey! And her mother.” Everyone nods except Erica, whose mouth is agape.

Susan beams wide. “Dinner date!” she says, rushing over to Graham. “That was so thoughtful and sweet of you! This’ll be so much fun.”

“Nice pick, bud,” says Kelsey. “I’m ready for some real food.”

“I’m really shocked I got chosen!” says Kelsey. “Maybe he saw how close we were to winning the challenge and picked us out of pity, but I’ll still take it. I really hope Mom doesn’t say or do anything weird, but Grandma Graham will be a nice buffer. Hopefully they’ll start talking about knitting or tofu or something and it’ll fly by.”

“All right, you four,” says Chris. “Enjoy your invincibility and get outta here!”

“Wait,” says Ursula. “You’re makin’ me go too?”

“Well yeah, that’s kinda the purpose of the whole thing,” says Chris. “You know, family bonding? Don’t you love your grandson?”

“Yeah, what’s going on? Grandma, you’re not coming?” asks Graham.

“I love ya very much, but listen, I’m pooped,” she retorts. “The flight here took a lot out of me. You kids have fun, I gotta catch some Zs tonight.” She heads back to the other loved ones, leaving Graham’s mouth hanging halfway open.

“You can… uh, use the cabin if you want,” adds on Chris. “I forgot that’s part of the reward too.”

Susan approaches the two. “Looks like it’s just us!” she cheers. “Don’t worry, Graham, I promise I won’t make things awkward. I know how much that gets under Kelsey Bear’s skin.”

“Does she think…” whispers a blushing Graham.

“Who even knows,” whispers an equally red-faced Kelsey back. “We’ll be fine.”

“Mkay!” says Chris loudly. “Graham, Kelsey, Susan. Your full service dining experience at the Cheesecake Warehouse awaits.” The three exit stage left. “Everyone else? Chef will drive you home!” The same green bus skids up to a nearby parking lot.

“Man, I really wanted that full service dinner,” laments Wolfgang.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, Wolfie!” says Puck cheerfully. “We can stop at Burrito King on the way home! Arthur told me their new Xtra-Juicy Beefarito is totally rockin’!”

“Lovely,” sighs Wolfgang as the two climb onto the bus.

“Ohhhh my goodness,” says Artemis, completely disheveled. “That was a transcendental experience. Now, Frank and I are nothing more than a casual tryst, but after spending so long without him at my every whim, our reunion was even more powerful.” She laughs heartily. “There was a day-old sub sandwich in the Dumpster. It was delightful.”

“I cannot BELIEVE Graham picked Kelsey over me!” says Erica. “I know I shouldn’t be mad, but like… I’m mad. Did all our bonding sessions mean nothing? What does Kelsey have that I don’t? I guess they worked on that play together or whatever, but I’ve been a rock for Graham since the start!” She starts tearing up. “Jakey-wakey, I’m so sorry. I’ll avenge you!” Although her makeup is running, she blows a kiss to the camera.

A bit later, the seven remaining contestants, minus Graham and Kelsey, have arrived back at the Wildcats’ old dorm and are strategizing.

“Yo, I’m beyond hungry,” says Christian. “Anyone got grub? I’ll take legit anything.”

“Now is not the time for that,” scolds Erica. “We have to focus on tonight! It’s really just me and you against the world.”

“Yeah, uh,” says Christian. “You know that Frances chick? She and I kinda vibed on the Cheeses. I invited her to strategize with us if that’s cool.”

Erica lunges towards Christian. “Are you kidding me?” she hisses. “I don’t like that girl.”

“Damn, seriously? My b,” squeaks Christian.

Right on cue, Frances walks over to the two. “Hey,” she says. “What’s up, you two? Erica, I hope it’s okay that I’ve crossed tribal lines or whatever.”

“It’s totally fine,” says Erica, all smiles. “Join us!”

“Okay, perfect,” says Frances. “Here’s the deal. I think tonight we should throw all strategy out the window and just take out one of my former teammates, Kaitlin or Artemis. They’re… really going at it.” She motions to the other room, where both their screaming voices can be heard.

“Artemis, I’m about to smash your face in,” says Kaitlin. “I swear.” She picks up a couple of empty beer bottles from her bed. “I’ve got ammo.”

“Oh, silly Kaitlin, I doubt you’ll be able to make a dent in my hourglass figure,” says Artemis. “Are you really that jealous?”

“I’m not jealous, like I already said! I’m just done!” shouts Kaitlin. “First the play and now this?! You’re all over my shit lately!”

“Look, I wanted great sex so I sought out your father,” says Artemis. “It’s simple, really.”

“Whatever,” snaps Kaitlin. “You were spared last night when that weasel-boy quit. Tonight’s gonna be a different story, oh yes it will.”

“Actually, I and a few others voted for yo—” chimes in Suvir from his bed.

“Suvir, one more word and I’m voting YOU off!” screeches Kaitlin.

Artemis is looking rather frightened. “Actually, I’d be okay with setting aside our differences and voting for Suvir as well.” She looks at Roald and Whitney, both trying desperately to look preoccupied. “You two? Suvir?”

“Nice try, Artemis, but there’s no stopping me this time,” says Kaitlin, an evil grin forming. “Hurricane Kaitlin has arrived.”

“Okay, well… I’ve spent plenty of time with Kaitlin and Artemis, observing and noting down their every move,” says Frances. “Enough time to realize that they’re both completely unhinged. But here’s the thing, one of them is unhinged and dumb, while the other is unhinged and crafty. That’s a bad combination. Either way? I’m just glad it’s not me.”

Downtown, a ways away, the sun sets over the Cheesecake Warehouse. Inside, the three are sitting in booths. Kelsey and Susan are next to each other right across the table from Graham, sitting alone in the middle of his booth. All three have immense salads in front of them.

“So then I had to drive both Kelsey AND Kathleen to the ER! Oh my goodness,” laughs Susan. “I know that story embarrasses her, but it’s just adorable.”

“Yeah, great story,” says Kelsey, her face beet-red. “Just to clarify, Graham, that happened like 10 years ago, but Mom loves bringing it up as much as humanly possible.”

“It’s hilarious!” says Graham. “Ah, humanity’s follies.”

“Well, that’s enough Kelsey stories for now,” says Susan, poking at her salad. “Now I want all your juiciest stories about the game so far! What’s everyone like? Graham, what’re YOU like?”

“That’s, er, not a question I’m used to answering,” says Graham hesitantly.

“I got you, bud,” says Kelsey. “Okay, Mom, I’ll give you the rundown. So Graham and I were on the same team from the start, the Killer Wildcats. Easily the superior team, by the way, even if we lost… a lot. We had this guy Miles, who was just ridiculous, and then there’s Erica—don’t even get me started on Erica—oh, and Rachel was pretty great.”

“Please! I’d love to get started on Erica!” says Susan. “Graham, you can talk about her too if you’d like.”

“I’m not used to being around human rays of sunshine,” says Graham, “so Kelsey’s mother caught me off-guard, to say the least. But at the same time, it’s very touching to meet someone who’s so sincerely interested in you and what you have to say. I guess it runs in the family…?”

“So there you have it,” finishes Kelsey. “Oh, and I had a breakdown one day, but that was nothing new. You’ve seen so much worse, Mom.”

“Well, I don’t like the sound of that, but I’m so glad things are good!” chirps Susan.

“I think I’m most proud of our play we co-wrote,” says Graham. “I may have expressed some… antiquated feelings in it, but—”

“Wait,” gasps Susan. “You two wrote a play?!”

“Yeah, we did,” says Kelsey, notably hurriedly. “So how about these salads, huh? They’re very… large—”

“That’s amazing!” cheers Susan. “I’ve been trying to get Kelsey-Bug to write again for years, but she’s too busy with school!”

“Yeah, well, this was just a mandatory challenge for Total Drama and all—” babbles Kelsey.

“Speaking of that, Graham, did you know Kelsey used to write poetry?” asks Susan. Kelsey slaps her forehead and Graham’s eyes bug out.

“It was a really, really long time ago, Graham, it was a bunch of cra—” insists Kelsey.

“It was so sweet,” says Susan. “She showed some of it to me one day back in 10th grade. One poem was even in French! What was it called, Kelsey?”

“God, Mom. I don’t even remember, it’s been so long,” lies Kelsey.

“Ah, that’s it!” says Susan, a lightbulb going off above her head. “It was called ‘L’amour est inevitable.’” Kelsey turns green. “I knew my one year of French would pay off.”

“Love is inevitable…” says Graham. “Written in the language of love?!”

“Yeah, but seriously, trust me on this,” says Kelsey. “It was awful. Like, edgy teen stuff about how nobody understood me.”

“It wasn’t awful OR edgy,” reassures Susan. “It was so precious.”

Right then, Smoothie Guy walks up to the table in waiter’s garb. “All right, who’s ready to chow down on some cheesecakes?!” he says, then looks at Kelsey. “Oh, and don’t think I didn’t get your note. I’ll be calling later. Mraow!”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see you,” says Kelsey, pinker than pink.

About an hour later, back at the lakeside, it’s completely dark outside. The eight losers have gathered at the bandshell as per usual.

“I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating now that we’re at the merge and all,” says Chris. “We’ve also got some ‘slow learners’ here.”

“Hey!” says Roald.

“I didn’t name names, but you do you, my man,” says Chris. “Anyway, if I call your name, you’re safe and you get a nice, yummy marshmallow. If I don’t call your name, you gotta walk down the Beach Trail of Shame, board the Yacht of Losers, and get out of here for good. No returnees this season, budget’s tighter than ever. So… if you haven’t voted, maybe do that.”

“Am I scared of Kaitlin? Not at all,” says Artemis. “She’s ridiculous. I must say, though, if things don’t work out with Frank, I have my eyes on Kaitlin’s brother. That right there is a fine specimen. I’d shake it for him any day.”

“Neither of them are really ‘eye candy’ material,” admits Christian. “I guess I saw Artemis’s rack the other day during that skit, but like… I’ve got a one-track mind right now and that one track rhymes with ‘Shmerica.’”

“I’m voting Suvir,” says Kaitlin. “Haha, just kidding. Do I really have to spell it out for you bozos? A-R-T-E-M-I-S. There, I spelled it out anyway.”

“Whatever gets them both to shut up,” says Whitney, casting her vote.

Suddenly, a limo pulls up and out walks Graham, Kelsey—neither of whom are saying anything—and Susan. “Did we make it?” she asks.

“Yes, you did,” says Chris. “By maybe five seconds. Let’s roll. Marshmallows go to our two winners,” he throws them long to reach the two, “as well as Suvir, Christian, Roald, Whitney, and Frances!”

All five receive their marshmallows; Roald swallows his in one gulp and Whitney gently places hers down on her stump.

“Wait, do I get a marshmallow?” asks Erica impatiently.

“Don’t say that! Ruins the suspense!” scolds Chris. “But yes, you do.” He tosses one to her. “Nobody saw this coming. The bottom two is Artemis and Kaitlin, and I mean it. No whiny emo boys to interrupt us this time.” Kaitlin and Artemis both look smug. “The final marshmallow goes to…”


“HA!” yells Kaitlin. Artemis doesn’t respond, so Kaitlin once again yells, “HA!”

Artemis stands up and dusts off her cowboy hat. “Meh,” she says. “I suppose every star has her curtain call. Kaitlin, I hope you get the help you need. Everyone else? I promise you won’t forget me. Especially you, Christian.”

“Come on! That's it? I was expecting more anger, more venom,” says Chris.

“Anger? Venom?” asks Artemis. “Such words mean nothing to me! The moon goddess is a higher power, unfazed by the gripes of ostrich-women and aging, irrelevant reality TV hosts. It is time to move on in life.” She takes one last bow and heads down the beach trail.

“Heh-heh, hey!” says a voice. Artemis looks ahead to see that Dennis, Mac, Charlie, and Frank are all sitting on the Yacht of Losers.

“Oh, this makes it ALL better,” she moans. She rushes over to the boat, steps in, and places one arm around Frank and the other around Dennis while winking squarely at Kaitlin. “Farewell!”

“Well, that was… something,” says Chris as the boat sails into the night. “Who will prevail? Who won’t? What’ll tonight’s sleeping arrangements be like now that there’s a soccer mom and an octogenarian in the mix? Find out the answers to these hot questions and more, next time on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Night falls. Once everyone else is asleep inside, Graham is sitting on the porch by himself, flipping through his old poetry and grumbling.

“Why did I even write this?” he mutters. “It doesn’t make any sense… ‘Your smile could light up inky-black trenches?’ I don’t think Whitney has ever smiled in her life. ‘The truest joy on this earth would be to watch your barriers peel away to reveal the blossom that is your personality?’ Blossom? More like a Rafflesia.”

He continues to rifle through the pages, sighing deeply, then finally collects them all together and prepares to rip them up. Before he can go through with it, he pauses abruptly, takes one more look at the poems, and sets them down.

“Hm,” he says quietly. “I wrote these about Whitney, and they don’t fit her at all, but they still feel familiar.” He gasps. “Wait. In all these poems, it sounds like I’m writing about…”

Chapter 9 - The Indiana Chainsaw Mild Inconvenience

“We’re rolling?” asks Chris, sitting shirtless in a hot tub in a nondescript backyard. “I mean… we’re rolling! Last time on Total Drama Lakeside, the Artisanal Cheeses and the Killer Wildcats were no more once I treated them to an early merge! That meant celebration for our 10 contestants in the form of loved ones. We got to meet some, well, interesting characters, but more importantly, we checked in on past fan favorites Wolfgang and Puck! They’re both doing pretty well, I think. I mean, I don’t really care, but the fans do, so that’s something. Anyway, Kaitlin and Artemis were at each other’s throats the whole time, something to do with Artemis hooking up with Kaitlin’s dad, and it got so bad that everyone else threw strategy out the window to send Artemis home! While that was happening, Graham, Kelsey, and Kelsey’s mom Susan were out on a fancy dinner to the Cheesecake Warehouse. Susan let slip some embarrassing Kelsey-related factoids, Kelsey tried to cover her tracks, and upon arriving back, Graham realized his crush on Whitney was a sham to cover up his true feelings for Kelsey! Can’t wait to see what happens there! Hopefully someone gets their heart broken. Stay tuned for more drama, more romance, and more Christian, right here on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

All nine remaining contestants are asleep in the Wildcats’ old dorm. In the girls’ room, Susan is taking up Artemis’s old bed, while in the guys’ room, Ursula is snoring loudly in the bunk directly above a tense and wide-awake Suvir.

Just then, the door swings open. Graham appears in the doorway, desperately trying to make as little sound as possible and closing the door gently. He takes off his hat and shoes, sighs, places his poetry back into his suitcase, then dives under the covers of his bed.

“Psst! Dude!” whispers Suvir.

Graham flinches slightly. “It’s very late! I should be sleeping…”

“Yeah, I know it’s late!” says Suvir. “What were you doing skulking around like that, man?”

“Oh, believe me, it’s nothing,” Graham says, then sighs again. “I’ll talk to you about it in the morning.” He rolls over and goes to sleep.

“Hmmm, I still don’t know if I trust that guy,” explains Suvir. “I used to watch this show where this British guy fought aliens and shit while traveling through time in a phone booth. Wait, was it a phone booth or a port-a-potty? Either way, that ain’t my point—I think that guy was based on Graham! Maybe his time machine’s parked outside? I gotta find it.”

Late in the morning, nearly all the male contestants are still asleep, except for Roald—who’s quietly doing squat thrusts in the corner. The girls’ side of the dorm, however, is noisy.

“You guys, I’m SO thrilled Artemis is gone,” says Kaitlin from her bed. “Like, I feel like I can be me again! All fun and sexy and classy and…”

“It’s great, because now I can just tune out anything she ever says,” whispers Frances.

“Oh, I already do that,” says Whitney. “I do that for you too, just FYI.”

“Hey, why did you guys get so quiet just now?” asks Kaitlin. “Don’t tell me you actually liked Artemis. Gross.” Frances, Whitney, and Erica look away from her.

“Okay, turns out Artemis being gone isn’t as good as I thought,” states Kaitlin. “For all her faults, and there were many, at least she increased my own screen time and likability. I can already tell I was the STAR of that pre-merge thanks to my hilarious comebacks! But now that she’s gone, I gotta do the heavy lifting all by myself, which means I have to come up with new material if I want to be on the show at all. Goddamnit.”

“So, girls!” says Kaitlin cheerfully. “Who wants to go shopping with me?”

“I’d rather commit seppuku,” says Whitney.

“Why are you trying to be nice to us?” asks Frances.

“Okay, enough from you guys!” says Kaitlin. “Erica? Wanna come with me? Or how about Kelsey? Where the hell even is Kelsey?”

From her bed, Erica starts to grimace, but catches herself and puts on her smile as usual. “Kelsey went to brunch with her mom,” she says. “They left like two hours ago. I’m not bitter or anything, but I’d have loved to go.”

“Uh, you were sound asleep when they left,” says Frances. “It’s not like they actively didn’t invite you.”

“Okay, sure,” says Erica. “That’s no excuse. I’m a light sleeper, she totally could’ve woken me up.”

“Pfffft, who even cares,” butts in Kaitlin. “Moms are lame anyway. My mom’s dead. Do I care? Nope.”

Erica gets up and grabs her clothes and toiletries. “Well, I’m going to take a shower to wake myself up,” she says. “Bye.”

“After sleeping on it, I think I’ve decided my next plan,” says Erica. “Graham and Kelsey are forming a power couple. I’m not in it because I guess Kelsey would rather cozy up with some dude than kick butt with her feminist friend, so they need to be stopped. Of course, I’ll make sure they don’t know I’m mad. I guess I’ll have to start bonding with Frances so I can keep the numbers, but… I hate her.”

A few hours later, the sun is shining and a shirtless Christian, Graham, Roald, and Suvir are all lying on towels outside the dorm, sunbathing.

“Dudes, I’m so glad we’re doing this,” says Christian, wearing sunglasses. “Once my bro Blake showed up, I realized I’d been neglecting brotherly bonding lately. That ends today.”

“Yeah, man! Let’s bury the bygones or whatever!” says Roald.

Suvir, who’s completely slathered in sunscreen to the point where his skin looks entirely white, says, “My dad ain’t gonna be happy to see me exposed like this… but I needed it.”

“Love to see it,” says Christian. “Ay, who wants to talk girls? Abe, my man, I see you smiling.” He looks at Graham, pulls down his sunglasses, and winks.

“Well…” says Graham. “It’s a nice day out. I just have to smile. Also, I had a lovely time at dinner last night.” His heart is audibly beating rapidly.

“I have no idea what to do,” says Graham quickly in the confessional. “I had the late-night realization that I have romantic feelings for Kelsey, and I need to pour that out somewhere, but I can’t tell those guys! Especially Christian, he is beyond untrustworthy. At least Kelsey herself is at brunch with her mom, so I don’t have to deal with that right now, but when she shows up… let’s just say I can’t hide my emotions very well. This might get bad.”

“Lovely time, huh?” asks Christian. “That’s too mysterious, man. I need deitz.”

“No, you really don’t,” says Graham, before laughing uncomfortably. “You know, it wasn’t even that interesting. Just really good cheesecake.”

“My cousin’s neighbor went there once and found a finger in their cheesecake,” warns Suvir. “Best be wary!”

“Well, thankfully there were no fingers in our dining experience,” says Graham. “Except our own, of course.”

“Yeah, yeah,” says Christian. “Wait a sec. Why didn’t you pick that Whitney chick for the dinner, anyway? You were all over her back on the Wild—”

“No, I’m not!” interjects Graham before catching himself. “, I wasn’t!”

Roald’s jaw drops. “You... had a crush on Whitney?”

“He sure did, breh,” says Christian. “I didn’t pay attention to half the shit he was saying, but I know for a fact it was all about her.”

“That’s not true, you could barely even say it was a crush, just a brief infatuation from afar, and it ended poorly after all—“ says Graham rapidly.

“Aw man!” moans Roald. He gets up and covers Graham in a gigantic bear hug. “Dude! I can’t believe I took your girl away from you! I’ll never do that again! Sh-sh-she’s all yours!”

“Mmmmf,” says a barely-breathing Graham.

“Okay, I’m not the smartest guy around. Some people even say I’m stupid,” says Roald. “But gosh, it all makes sense now! That’s why Graham got all salty when I told him about my crush on Whitney, and why he wrote that weird play and made me be that cool Mold guy! Aw… I don’t wanna let dumb romance get in the way of the game, but I do like Whitney oodles.”

“Trust me, Roald,” says Graham. “You did nothing wrong. It was just my overwrought emotions and I making much ado about nothing, as usual. If she likes you, that’s wonderful. I can’t do much about it.”

“Awwww, buddy. That means the world to me!” says Roald. “You’re a true blue dude.” He stretches, then gets up. “On that note, I’m off to the gym. Anyone wanna join?”

“Yuh,” nods Christian. “I’ve skipped the past few days. Gotta get back on track.”

“Whoop whoop! I knew you’d come around one day, Bronzey McBleach!” cheers Roald.

“Don’t push it,” says Christian. He and Roald walk into the distance.

“So…” says Suvir once the two are well out of earshot. “You’re not into Whitney, that’s clear as day, but I think I know who you are into.”

Graham nervously looks to the side. “You do? How did you…”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a pretty perceptive observer,” says Suvir, putting his hands on his hips. “Which just makes it worse that I didn’t know Franny liked me, but that ain’t relevant.”

“So you won’t tell her?” asks Graham. “I don’t mean Frances, I mean… you know.”

“Course not!” says Suvir. “I got no friends here, so I can’t just go around being a dick. I got you, man.”

Graham smiles at him. “Thanks, friend.”

Just then, Ursula appears in front of the doorway of the cabin. She gasps and walks over to her grandson, then shouts, “You? Shirtless? Oh, what’ve I turned ya into?!” She takes off her cardigan, leans down, and drapes it over Graham’s chest as he looks at her dead-eyed.

Downtown, on a rather busy street corner, Kelsey and her mother Susan are sitting at a table for two outside of a bustling gastropub called “The Hungry Horse.” Kelsey is picking at a blobby, pale-yellow omelette while Susan is excitedly eyeing a plate of French toast.

“Well, I wish I were a little more awake right now,” says Susan. “Those girls you room with really are,” she gulps, “fun!”

“Oh, yeah,” says Kelsey. “Did you enjoy Kaitlin’s 200-decibel snoring and Erica constantly sleep-talking to her boyfriend?”

“I’m sorry but I did not,” says Susan. “But this is what I came here for, yet another brunch date with my favorite daughter!”

“Your only daughter,” clarifies Kelsey.

“Okay, you’d be my favorite even if I had 20 daughters,” smiles Susan. Her smile continues even after she picks up and swallows an especially large piece of French toast. “So, you told me you were almost done with your grad school apps! How are those coming?”

“Oh god,” says Kelsey, eyes widening. “It’s been a hot minute since I’ve even opened them. I’m really sorry, I…” She looks down at the omelette, trying to avoid eye contact with her mother.

“Is everything okay?” asks Susan.

“Mom, gotta be honest, I’ve been slacking,” admits Kelsey. “Like, a lot.”

Susan pouts. “Slacking? No, I understand. You’ve just been focusing on Total Drama.”

“I guess,” says Kelsey. “I know the deadline is in like a month, but right now it’s the absolute last thing I want to think about.” She takes a minuscule bite of her omelette. “That breakdown I told you about? It was BAD. My number-one priority right now is preventing another one of those.”

“Are you taking your meds?” asks Susan politely.

“Pfft, of course I am,” says Kelsey. “I don’t know if I did that day, but… well, maybe I did. Okay, I just really hope you’re not disappointed in me.”

“Disappointed? Kelsey, I’d never be disappointed! You know your dad and I support you in everything you do, and we’re soooo proud you’ve made it this far. You’ve made the merge on Total Drama, you’re graduating next spring, these are all huge milestones.”

Kelsey’s face turns crimson. “Wait, really? I didn’t realize you and Dad cared that much.”

“You can’t be serious. Of course we do!” smiles her mom. “Always have and always will.”

“Oh. Well, uh, I guess I’ve never actually talked to you about any of this,” Kelsey says after a pause. “But thanks, Mom. I’ll try to internalize that.”

“Of course,” reassures Susan. “We’re always here for you!’ She laughs, takes a sip of her mimosa, then leans in. “So, that boy you brought to dinner last night, is he a friend or…”

Kelsey scoots back slightly in her chair. “Yeah, he’s a friend. Graham’s a sweet boy.”

“I don’t really know what to say right now,” says Kelsey in the confessional. “I usually just word-vomit in here, but that doesn’t even feel right. I don’t know if Mom’s just telling me what I want to hear, or what she thinks I want to hear, or maybe she’s dead serious? Either way, I need to start meditating or something.”

Back by the dorms, a few of the contestants are sitting at one of their usual picnic tables. Christian, having just returned from the gym with Roald, is shirtless with a towel wrapped around his sweaty shoulders, sitting next to Erica and Frances. All the while, Roald is lying face-down under a tree with Whitney silently sitting next to him.

Erica takes off her sunglasses and looks at Christian briefly, then looks away. “I miss my boyfriend already,” she says.

“It seemed like you guys were really close,” says Frances, reading through a newspaper. “It was sweet. So you met him at college, right? How’d you meet? What’s he studying? How long have you two been together?”

“Why do you want to know all that?” frowns Erica. “You’re not trying to steal him from me, are you? Look, you can have Christian—”

“Huh? What do I have to do with anything?” asks Christian.

“Yeah, I’m really confused,” says Frances. “I was just trying to make conversation. I’m… not into Christian.”

“HEY!” yells Christian, obviously insulted. “Wait… you’re not?”

“Oh god, I forgot you were right there,” gasps Frances. “This is awkward. I mean, you’re definitely hot. Objectively. But I’ve had a thing for Suvir since I met him.”

“Objectively? Not sure what that means, but I’ll take hot,” shrugs Christian.

“Hold on, Suvir? No offense, but he’s kinda weird-looking,” admits Erica, “Don’t you think?”

Frances hangs her head down. “He may be, but I like him a lot. Erica, I’m really sorry if I offended you for any reason. I just figured I’d try and get to know you, since we’re in an alliance and all.”

“I guess I just made Erica uncomfortable with my nosiness—I mean, my inquisition,” says Frances. “I definitely don’t have a crush on Christian, even though I know for a fact she does. I give it three days max until she ‘secretly’ cheats on Jacob with him, but I can’t even complain about that. It’s nice to have people like them on my side. At least… I think they’re on my side?”

Erica looks at Frances, pouts a bit, then says, “I guess we are in an alliance! I’m sorry I snapped at you like that.” Her teeth shine bright. “Speaking of that, I have a proposal for you two.”

“Huh?” exclaims Christian. “No way am I tryna get married right now.”

“You’re too funny,” says Erica without laughing at all. “No, what I mean is that I have an idea for our alliance. It’s obvious Graham and Kelsey are buddying up, and power couples like that are dangerous in this game. Right, boo?” She smiles at Christian.

“Really, those two?” asks Frances. “Now that’s interesting. Do you mean buddying up or… ‘buddying up?’”

“I think they’re a thing!” whispers Erica. “Something must’ve gone down at the Cheesecake Warehouse.”

“Deadass? K, that may be an issue,” says Christian. “Kelsey’s my girl.”

“Okay! We can take out Graham then,” decides Erica. “Mission accomplished.”

Frances raises a finger. “One slight objection. I don’t know if a three-person alliance when there’s nine of us left will accomplish anything.”

“You’re right,” says Erica. “That’s sad. Well, you and Suvir are friends, right? Bring him in. Then we can get Roald, probably, and that bird lady—”

Kaitlin walks by the three wearing a bikini top and cut-off shorts. “What up, ding-dongs?” she asks.

“Wanna be in an alliance with us?” asks Erica cheerfully, while Christian shakes his head, mouths the word “no,” and waves his hands frantically.

“You three? Ha!” guffaws Kaitlin. “But yeah, whatever. I’ll vote out anyone, I just want to be on TV as long as possible.”

“I feel you there,” says Christian. “Being on TV is sick. Like, just think of all the ladies out there who get to see my hair in HD.”

“Ahem, let’s focus on the alliance!” interjects Erica. “Okay, but your hair IS really nice…”

“What else is there to talk about? Seems pretty self-explanatory,” says Frances.

“I don’t know,” says Erica. “Go talk to Suvir or whatever. We need a fifth!” Frances nods apprehensively, then walks away.

“Erica’s got some beef, I don’t know why, I don’t really care,” says Christian. “I got me a moral dilemma right now, though. Do I want to hook up with Erica? Yes. Do I care that she’s in a relationship? Nah. But I dunno, she’s tryna bang 30s with Fran and I just want them to get along. See, I care about women as objects, not just as people, y’know?” He blinks. “Wait.”

Underneath the shade of a weeping willow, Graham sits tight while Ursula meticulously tries to button up his brown jacket for him. “Hon, I don’t know why you insist on dressing like this,” she says to him. “Doesn’t it get hot?”

“Mmm,” grumbles Graham. “I suppo—” He glances forward to see a green bus pull up and release Kelsey and Susan, excitedly gabbing and carrying multiple shopping bags. “Okay! Let’s go back to the dorm!”

“Wait, what’s goin’ on, isn’t that ya friend?” asks Ursula.

“Graham!” greets Kelsey. “Hey! We’re back.” She and Susan walk up to the two, Susan waving. “Just shopped for three hours, did we miss anything spicy?”

“Kelsey really wanted to come home and take a nap, but I knew it’d be more fun if we went out and shopped,” says Susan. “Show your friend what you got!”

“Um,” says Kelsey. “Sure, okay.” She sets down her one bag and pulls out a jacket that’s almost identical to her current one, only green instead of blue. “I don’t know, I thought it was a look.”

“It’s so hard to get her to shop with me,” says Susan, trying to whisper but not fully succeeding. “Well, it’s hard to get her to do anything besides study.” She laughs at her ‘joke.’

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says Ursula.

“Yes, I like it as well!” says Graham. “Now, er, Susan, you mentioned naps and it made me realize how tired I am myself, so I’m going to go rest for a bit. It was nice to see you both.” He starts to blush, quickly covers his face with his glove, pretends to sneeze to further cover it up, then runs away.

“Right, so he’s acting weirder than usual,” says Kelsey. “Something probably happened between him and, like, Christian while we were gone.”

Susan smiles coyly. “That must be it.”

Back by the dorm, Roald has awakened from his post-gym nap and is sitting right next to Whitney, with the newest issue of one of her fashion magazines, under the same tree.

“You’re quiet today,” observes Whitney.

“Yeah!” says Roald. “I mean,” he adopts a suave voice out of nowhere, “yeah.”

Whitney laughs slightly, then catches herself. “Roald, you don’t have to try and impress me.”

“Huh? How’d you know I was tryin’ to impress you?” asks Roald incredulously. “Wait, uh… did it work?”

“Nah, not really,” says Whitney. “Not much fazes me these days. Plus, I’m still trying to process that whole thing with your brother and Puck.”

“That was so wacky that they showed up, wasn’t it?” asks Roald. “I’m glad you and Wolfie got along so well!”

“What are you talking about?” asks Whitney. “We didn’t get along well at all.”

“I dunno, I guess I thought you two would scream at each other or maybe even kill each other.”

“Nah. I’m not very confrontational. He’s not either, now that he’s got that girlfriend and all.”

Roald giggles. “Who’da thunk getting a G.F. would make someone way more chill?” He leans in towards her face. “Know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” says Whitney flatly. “I don’t know, maybe.”

“Oooooh, maybe what?” gasps Roald.

“Maybe we can see each other… or something,” says Whitney. “Not yet, though. I have to win the million without any distractions.”

“Hyuk hyuk hyuk!” giggles Roald. “Not trying to be rude or anything, but you think you got a chance at winning? Everyone hates you!”

Whitney’s face begins to crinkle up but then it flattens. “Hm. You’re right. That may present some difficulties.” She looks at Roald, who flashes a thumbs-up, then shrugs. “Whatever.” The two begin violently making out.

“I don’t know, he’s kind of cute,” says Whitney, devoid of any emotion. “I’ve thought that for a while now. It must’ve started when he was all weepy about Rhett.” She blushes slightly, which creates a notable contrast with her gray-toned skin. “I don’t do PDA, though. That was a one-time exception. He better be okay with that.”

Later that day, right around dinner, Chris meets the nine remaining contestants, in addition to Ursula and Susan, in a parking lot in the opposite direction of the beach. The giant green bus, with Chef inside, is parked right behind the crowd.

“Thought I’d go an entire day without announcing the challenge?” asks Chris smugly. “You thought wrong! Ladies and germs, we’re heading to the lake.”

“Are we not already at the lake?” points out Whitney. Roald reaches out to hold her hand and she quickly puts her hand in her pocket.

“Thanks for your unneeded opinion, Miss Smartypants,” whines Chris. “Tonight, we’re going to a different part of the lake! We’re headed to Smoothie Guy’s great-aunt’s cabin, about an hour southeast. There, you must engage in a fight…” he narrows his eyes, “...for survival!”

“Ah, so we’re all gonna die,” says Kelsey. “That’s cool with me.” She laughs, but gets some concerned glances.

Susan puts a hand on her daughter's shoulder and says, “Sweetheart, I wish you’d stop saying things like that.”

“Mom, come on, I’m just—it’s just my sense of humor,” mutters Kelsey, although her face suggests she feels genuinely bad.

“Hey, why are you two still here? I thought—” says Chris, pointing to Susan and Ursula. Chef rapidly walks out of the bus and whispers something in his ear, and he nods. “Never mind. You can stay!”

“Jeez Louise, how long are ya gonna keep us here?” complains Ursula.

“Oh, come on, it’ll be another adventure!” chirps Susan.

“Chef has informed me that there have been… recent developments involving two certain contestants I won’t name,” explains Chris in the confessional. “Am I gonna kick those old ladies out right when things are finally getting saucy? No way!”

The contestants have all piled onto the bus as Chris starts to explain the challenge. “Okay, so here’s the deal. All you have to do to win this challenge is stay in the cabin all night. That’s it.”

“This isn’t another Awake-A-Thon, is it?” asks Suvir.

“No! I’d never reuse a challenge. You think I’m that lazy?” retorts an insulted Chris. “Don’t answer that. Anyway, literally all you have to do is stay in the cabin. Every single person who’s still in there tomorrow at nine in the morning will get invincibility.” A few gasps are heard. “You can try to sleep, that’s fine with us. You can sit on the porch, you can go on the deck out back, but the second you step out onto the grass, it’s over. The bus will be out here this whole time and you can sleep in there! Aren’t the seats comfy? Once again, don’t answer that. Any questions?”

“Yeah, what’s the catch?” Frances asks. “Don’t say there isn’t a catch, there always is.”

“Oh, there’s a catch!” says Chris, as Chef snickers quietly. “Many catches, actually. But be patient, all will be revealed tonight.”

About an hour later, the bus arrives to Smoothie Guy’s great-aunt’s cabin. It rests on the beach, similar to the dorms back at the lakeside, but this location feels much more rustic—there’s almost no sign of other civilization beyond a few flashing buildings a mile or two down the road. The beach is sandy, grassy, and uneven, while out back, a porch with many lawn chairs looks out over the lake.

“We’ll be in the bus if you need anything!” calls out Chris as they all walk out. “Or at least I’ll be in the bus. Chef will be…” He and Chef giggle once again.

First in line, Kaitlin swings open the cabin door. “Okay, is anyone else pissed that he didn’t let us stop for food? A bitch is hungry.”

“Hmmm, I could also go for some carb-loading right now!” agrees Roald. He surveys the cabin interior, which doesn’t have much other than a couch, a TV, a few shelves, a kitchen, and one single bed in the corner. “Bingo!” He rushes over to the kitchen, opens a pantry, and takes out a big box of Ultra-Bran Crunch.

“Yo, that stuff is the absolute worst,” says Christian. “How you gonna eat bran without the raisins?”

“Aw man, you’re right!” realizes Roald. “No raisins in here, huh? Bummer.” He peers further into corner of the pantry and grabs a couple small, dark, round objects. “RAISINS!”

Whitney gapes at what Roald is about to eat, rushes over to him, and grabs his wrist. “Let’s go elsewhere.”

“Porch party!” says Roald, leading his new lover outside.

Kaitlin swings open the fridge and sees a 30-pack of cheap, ancient-looking beer. “There we go,” she says, licking her lips. She takes all 30 beers out of the fridge and slams them onto the table in front of her. “All right, dickbags, here’s the deal. I’m gonna be pounding these bad boys down and then passing out in that bed over there. I’m winning this shit. Sound good?”

“Yeah, whatever keeps you from yappin’ away all night,” Suvir says.

“That does it, I’m starting on Beer #1,” announces Kaitlin, opening the first one, chugging it rapidly, and moving onto the second.

Erica, Christian, and Frances are all sitting on the bed in the corner of the room. Graham and Kelsey glance at their relatives, who are deep in conversation out on the deck, and head over to the three.

“Hey!” greets Kelsey. “It’s been a hot sec, I know, so we figured we’d check in about where you guys’ heads are at, game-wise.”

“Y-y-yeah,” agrees Graham. “Check in. What she said.”

“Okay, awesome,” says Erica in a rehearsed manner. “We’re thinking about keeping the Wildcats strong and voting for either Roald or Whitney next.”

“Erica, that’s nonsensical,” corrects Frances. “If we’re going by the most recent formation of the teams, Roald and Whitney would both be Wildcats, which would go completely against ‘keeping the Wildcats strong.’” Erica glares at her, fire in her eyes. “Sorry, just… had to point that out.”

“No worries, I understand,” Erica gives a smile to cover up her rage. “So, Graham, Kelsey, what do you say?”

“I’ve grown fond of Roald as of late,” admits Graham. “Maybe Whitney first?”

“I second that,” says Kelsey. “Roald’s pretty tame, but Whitney I could really go without.”

“Hey,” interjects Frances. “I’m Frances. I realized I hadn’t formally met you guys and wanted to change that, I guess.”

“Hello!” smiles Graham, while Kelsey points at her and then gives a thumbs-up.

“That may have been a little ham-fisted, but how else am I supposed to meet people?” Frances asks herself. “Suvir’s over on the couch watching TV, and I can’t just approach him out of nowhere. I prefer the company of the Wildcats, since they make me feel welcomed… well, except for Erica, but I think she’s just like that to everyone. She and I are alliance-buddies, so we’re probably also friends.”

“I feel kind of bad lying to Graham and Kelsey’s faces,” says Erica, “but I’m trying to tell myself that it’s all in the name of love! They ruined my only chance to see my boyfriend, so I’m gonna ruin their little thing in return. It’s not petty, I’m not being a bad person or anything. My love for Chr—Jacob is just too strong. I promise I’m having a completely natural reaction.”

Sitting on the couch by himself, Suvir flips through various TV channels until Kaitlin joins him. “What’re you doin’ here, devil-bird?” he asks.

“Trying to watch some TV, hopefully without talking to you,” says Kaitlin before chugging a beer.

“Fine,” huffs Suvir. He keeps flipping through channels, going through a rerun of The Ridonculous Race, a show depicting a dapper white-haired man and a tall woman in purple who vaguely resembles Kelsey, and finally, a cheesy-looking sci-fi series with a man in a trenchcoat. “There we go!”

“Isn’t this that dumbass alien show?” Kaitlin remarks. “God, I thought it got canned years ago.”

“Shhhh! Take a look,” says Suvir. He stares at the screen as the man in the trenchcoat takes off his fedora to reveal alien antennae, then starts fighting numerous other aliens.

“This blows,” says Kaitlin. “Can’t we watch ‘Coitus in the Country’ instead?”

“Did you see how that guy took off his hat and how there was wacky alien stuff underneath?” trembles Suvir. “Don’tcha think Graham could be hiding the same thing?”

“Hold on,” says Kaitlin, cracking open another beer and gulping it down. “There we go.” She tosses the can to the side, then belches. “Okay, I seriously don’t have time for your crap anymore. Can’t you talk to literally anyone else about this?”

“I’d talk to Franny, but she’s fraternizing with the enemy!” Suvir says, motioning over to the Wildcats and Frances in the corner.

“Ooh, yeah, about that—” says Kaitlin sheepishly.

“Y’know what? It’s fine,” concludes Suvir. “Graham and I are friends now. I gotta confront him by myself. I’m the man! I can do this!” He springs up from the couch and sprints off.

“Man, if I screw this Graham thing up, who knows what’ll happen?” asks Suvir. “Either I get my brains sucked out by his secret tentacles or I lose yet another friend! And in that case, I’d actually have to take my dad’s advice for once and ‘mend fences’ with Franny. I’m not ready for that yet.”

Out on the back porch sit Roald and Whitney, passing the box of Ultra-Bran Crunch back and forth and staring at the steadily setting sun.

“So, if we’re gonna be a real thing, we should get to know each other!” suggests Roald.

“I already know you fairly well,” says Whitney. “But fine.”

“Awesome!” whoops Roald. “Round one. What’s your favorite movie? I’m a big fan of the one where that guy rides a Segway through the mall! But not the original one, the sequel.”

“I don’t really watch movies,” admits Whitney.

“Oooookay, then what’s your favorite TV show?”

“Not huge on TV either. Wolfgang is always using it for his ‘gaming.’ Pointless, if you ask me.”

“C’mon, you’ve gotta enjoy something! How about your favorite makeup routine?”

Whitney’s face lights up and she gives Roald a sincere smile, perhaps the first one she’s made in the whole game. “Now we’re talking. Okay, so a month ago I got this palette called—”

“Wait!” interrupts Roald. Whitney shoots him daggers. “You hear that sound?” Indeed, a faint whirring sound is audible.

“Nah,” says Whitney. “What was I saying? Oh, that’s right. New palette. So—”

“Boo!” growls a guttural voice. Out of nowhere, Chef appears behind the two’s deck chairs wearing a hockey mask and holding a loud but very obviously plastic chainsaw.

“AAAAAHHHHHH!!!” Roald screeches as he runs off the deck in a panic, assuming the fetal position on the beach.

“Oh, just look what you’ve done,” says Whitney. “You ruined our little moment.”

“My bad,” grunts Chef.

Whitney stands up. “I guess I should check on him, make sure he didn’t burst a vessel or anything.”

“Uhhh, you do realize you’ll be out of th’ challenge?” questions Chef.

“Yeah, whatever,” says Whitney, already down onto the beach and approaching Roald. “Hey, buddy, you okay?” Roald makes a weak gasping noise. “Okay, great. Let’s go get food or something.”

He suddenly springs back up with as much pep as ever. “Awesome! I’ll go grab the Ultra-Bran Crunch!”

“No, I meant actual…” begins Whitney.

The camera immediately flashes to the two now sitting in the bus with Chris McLean, passing the box of Ultra-Bran Crunch back and forth.

“Thank god you guys showed up,” moans Chris. “I haven’t had an actual meal in weeks!”

“Man! Whitney is the greatest lady-friend ever!” swoons Roald. “She’s hilarious, she’s empathetic, she can pick me up when I’m down—literally!—and she’s a total cutie! It does seem like we got together completely out of nowhere with no build-up or anything, but I guess that’s just the way life works sometimes. Haha, I’m not complaining!”

“I’ve romanced many men in my lifetime,” says Whitney. “I usually get bored of them after about a week, but Roald’s different. I’ve known him for almost TWO weeks and I’m still mildly entertained. That’s a good sign.”

After the two have been safely deposited into the bus, the remaining seven contestants sit in a circle on the floor of the cabin while Susan and Ursula continue to chat it up on the porch.

“So I’m not sure if you guys saw that, but there’s a chainsaw guy on the loose!” yells Suvir. “I knew this challenge had a trick. We gotta keep our wits about us!”

“Okay, that ‘chainsaw guy’ was literally Chef,” says Kelsey.

“Chef or not, he was armed with a chainsaw,” warns Suvir. “And I ain’t screwin’ around with a chainsaw!”

Erica whispers to Frances right next to her, “Really, that’s the boy you’re crushing on?”

“Well, I mean, don’t phrase it like that…” says Frances with slight shame.

“Ahem,” says Christian as he stands up. “Homies, I’ve got a proposition to make. Chainsaw guy can’t get us if we’re all in the midst of some hardcore fun. You know what I mean, right? I mean, it’s time to play a nice, juicy game of ‘Never Have I Ever.’”

“Hilarious,” mocks Kaitlin. “What are you, 15?”

“I’m sorry, but she’s kinda right,” says Erica. “Never Have I Ever is so freshman year. We need something way juicier, like Hot Seat.”

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going outside for some fresh air,” says Graham abruptly, standing up and walking out to the front porch.

After Graham is gone, Kelsey scoots towards Frances. “So he’s probably my best friend here, but today he’s been acting really, really out of it.”

“I understand,” says Frances, “like, a lot. Suvir’s my best friend here, and he’s been equally weird.”

“Aren’t the boys here a fun bunch?” asks Kelsey sarcastically before standing up and walking to the couch. “Let’s talk about it.”

“Hey! You’re gonna miss the first round!” shouts Christian to the two exiting girls.

“Nah, start without ‘em,” slurs Kaitlin, clearly many beers deep. “I’ll go first. Now. Ask me questions now.”

“I had to escape that situation as quickly as possible,” wheezes Graham. “I’m dangerously prone to oversharing, especially in situations when I’m desperately trying to hide something, such as right now. I told all my old teammates about the Whitney stuff and built it up to be this massive, mythical thing. This time, I’m keeping it within. My feelings towards Kelsey feel too important to ruin like that.”

“Hiya, sonny!” greets Ursula as her grandson steps out onto the porch. “Sue and I were just talkin’ about you.”

“Oh no,” gulps Graham. “What about me, may I ask?”

“I heard all about your poetry!” says Susan. “You seem so talented. I didn’t realize you and my daughter had so much in common—well, she doesn’t have much time for that kind of thing anymore, but…”

Graham clutches his chest. “We do have a lot in common, don’t we?”

“Yup,” says Ursula. “I told her everything. She was wondering why you’re wearin’ a detective outfit, so I told her about Oliv—”

“ACHOO!” Graham instantly lets out a fake but loud sneeze.

“Oi, you gettin’ a cold?” asks a concerned Ursula. “Hang on. I got cough drops in my purse.”

“Well, that reminds me,” says Graham as his grandma sifts through her purse. “I’m working on a new poem, but I need ideas. It’s about a guy, a completely fictional guy, who realizes he has deep feelings for his close friend, but he’s very shy and has no idea how to tell her how he feels without jeopardizing the friendship. How should it end?”

“Oh, that’s soooo sweet,” gushes Susan. “It feels like something we can all relate to, you know?”

“Not me,” grumbles Ursula. “Y’ grandpa and I hated each other when we first met. We still do. We hate each other with love.”

“Well, I think she’s an exception,” continues Susan. “So, I think the boy in this poem should just try to spend time with his friend like normal and not make things any different, then wait for the perfect time to tell her how he feels.”

“Nah! Too schmaltzy,” says Ursula. “I think he should go find some other broad to distract ‘im. Foolproof.”

“Grandma, this is why I never show you my poems,” says Graham. “But thank you both. I’ll make sure to keep that in mind… for my character.” He heads back inside.

“What a special guy!” remarks Susan.

“Ain’t that the truth.”

The scene flashes back inside the cabin, where Kaitlin is just finishing up her round of Hot Seat. “Stop asking me dumb questions!”

“Okay, fine,” Erica concedes defeat. “I don’t know, what’s your favorite alcoholic beverage?”

“Oh, come on. Beer. Next question!” barks Kaitlin before chugging yet another beer.

“Next question is how many of those have you drank, and are there any left for ya boy?” asks Christian. “Pretty please with abs on top?”

“Hell no, and I’ve had twenty-three,” says Kaitlin.

“Next question: how are you even alive right now?” shouts Suvir.

“I’ve got a high tolerance unlike you pussies!” yells Kaitlin. She finishes one last beer, then collapses onto the floor unconscious.

“High tolerance,” says Erica. “Okay, right. I used to be a wild party girl like that, but now I’m basically a grandma.”

“Wanna change that and finish up those beers?” winks Christian.

“Not really,” says Erica. She glances over to the bed, where Frances and Kelsey are deep in enthusiastic conversation. “What’s going on over there? I don’t like that.”

“Yeah, about that. I’ve been meaning to ask, what’s your beef with Fran? She’s tight,” says Christian. “So is Kels, really.”

Erica rolls her eyes. “Have you been paying attention to anything I’ve said? You know how I feel about Kelsey, and Frances is just… I don’t know.” She pauses. “I guess I don’t have a reason for hating her, I just do.”

“That’s no way to live life, sister,” points out Christian.

“I don’t know, she’s just so smug and sassy! But she’s in our alliance, so we have to deal with it,” sighs Erica.

“‘We’ have to deal with it? I like Frances,” says Christian, “y’know, as a person.”

“What are you guys talking about?” asks a third voice. Erica and Christian look and see that Suvir is still right next to them, realize he’s heard all of their strategizing, and glance at each other in fear.

“I’m into Erica less and less each day,” laments Christian. “It’s tough, man. She bad, that’s just a fact, but is she worthy of all this drip?” He pounds his pecs with his fists.

“So fun fact, I was actually on my college newspaper as well,” Kelsey tells Frances, who starts to smile. “...and my high school one. Only for a year, but still.”

“That’s amazing,” says Frances. “I know a journalist when I see one. You’ve got that aura.”

“Okay, I wouldn’t go that far,” laughs Kelsey. “My journalistic skills are lacking. Debate was my big thing, and well, cross country, French, and honor society.”

“Whoa,” says Frances. “I mean… whoa. I wish I were like that, but I have kind of a one-track mind.”

“That’s still solid,” says Kelsey. “Probably a better way to live life than pouring yourself into so many extracurriculars that you can barely hear yourself think or figure out what you actually want to do with your life.” She laughs, then checks her pulse. “Not speaking from experience or anything.”

“Are you okay?” asks Frances. “I’ve been observing you from afar. You don’t seem okay.”

“Observing me from afar? Oh, I’m flattered,” jokes Kelsey. “Nah, I’m fine.”

“Good,” says Frances quietly. “Just had to ask.”

“I don’t know, maybe Frances is actually a sociopath and I just made a very big mistake,” says Kelsey, “but she kind of reminds me of me. Well, me if I talked 75% less. She’s good people, and I’m glad she’s hitting it off with my Wildcats, even if Erica and Christian are… you know, Erica and Christian.”

Suvir watches the new pair continue to talk from the couch, where he’s keeping a snoring Kaitlin company. “Okay,” he says to himself. “I didn’t wanna do this, but I gotta warn her about Erica. I’m gonna go over to Franny and apologize right now!”

“Want to go out and get some fresh air?” asks Frances, heading over to the front door.

“Oh, good call,” says Kelsey. “I should also make sure Susan isn’t getting into any mischief.”

The two open up the door and cautiously step onto the porch, look one direction to see Susan and an asleep Ursula sitting there as usual, then look the other direction and see the hockey-mask-clad Chef standing there silently.

“Sup?” he says coolly.

“Jesus Christ!” shouts Kelsey, and she and Frances both instinctively jump onto the lawn in horror and start making a run for it.

“I wasn’t even sayin’ nothin’,” says Chef. “Y’all make it too easy.”

“Okay, so we just lost the challenge in the dumbest way possible,” sighs Kelsey. “Perfect. Love that.” She and Frances start heading back to the porch.

“Oh, I’m just glad you’re alive and well,” grins Susan. “Come sit with us! Chef and I were just talking about the best ways to cook tofu.”

“Shit, I hate tofu, but this lady’s too damn happy to ignore,” says Chef.

“Hmm,” says Frances. “So, we could go to the bus,” she motions to the bus, where Whitney and Roald are very clearly making out against a window while Chris watches, smirking with his arms folded, “or we could stay here and learn about tofu. Let’s do that.” She takes out her notepad.

Susan puts her hand on her daughter’s knee and tries to hug her. “Seriously, don’t worry about the challenge, you tried your best!”

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” says Kelsey. “Thanks, Mom.” She gives her a pained smile.

“With all due respect, could you two keep it down?” says Frances as Chef is ranting about tofu. “This stuff is really interesting.”

Back inside, Graham is sitting in a darkened corner of the room scrawling things into his notebook while Suvir cowers in fear next to him. “Oh, how I wish I knew French,” he mutters.

“D-d-dude,” stammers Suvir. “Those girls still aren’t back yet… think the chainsaw man got ‘em?”

“You mean Chef? Of course not,” says Graham. “They’re right outside. Oh god, Kelsey is right outside. That’s horrifying.” His face flushes.

“You think I should go out there and tell Franny I miss her?” asks Suvir.

“Of course,” Graham advises. “A connection like that may only occur once in your life. Romantic or not, you two fit together perfectly, so why not mend it all up?”

Suvir hugs Graham out of nowhere. “You’re right, man! I’m goin’ out there!” He jumps up, runs over to the doorway, swings open the door, and barges into the tofu conversation, then announces, “Frances I’m sorry about everything and I really miss you and want to be your friend again and I don’t mind if you have a crush on me I just don’t want things to be weird and I appreciate you so much and NICE TRY, CHAINSAW MAN, you’re NOT gonna get me this time!!!”

Before Frances can respond, he runs back into the cabin and slams the door.

“Well, that solves that problem,” smiles Frances.

Erica and Christian lie lethargically on the couch, a large patterned quilt draped over them. Both seem to be nodding in and out of sleep, and Erica is continuously falling onto Christian’s shoulder and then scowling and sitting back up.

“I don’t like that those two went off like that,” says Erica. “Why is Frances trying to socialize with the girl I told her to vote out?”

“Gonna be honest, it’s prob because you treat Frances like dookie,” Christian says.

“Oh, shush, I do not,” protests Erica. “She and I have our differences, but all our conversations have been totally civil. I don’t like her, but I’ll respect her.”

“Whatever you say,” says Christian before producing a giant yawn. “Damn, I’m beat. Gonna call it a night.” He instantly closes his eyes and starts snoring.

“Hey! You can’t just do that!” says Erica. “You think I’ll stay here and cuddle with you that easily?” Christian keeps snoring. “I mean…” She looks at him, then starts to smile. “No. I can’t do this. I’m going out to the bus.”

Christian jolts awake. “Yo, really? You’d rather lose the challenge than get some C-Man action?”

“Yeah, actually,” admits Erica, standing up and heading towards the doorway. “We’re set for the vote. I don’t need invincibility.”

“Bleh-heh-heh!” chuckles Chef from outside, trying to scare her.

“I don’t wanna hear it,” says Erica before exiting the cabin and walking all the way to the bus.

Chris takes a break from watching Roald and Whitney make out to greet the two nearing contestants. “Oh hey, let’s welcome two more losers to the loser bus!”

“Wait, two?” asks Erica.

“Yo,” says Christian, lightly jogging to catch up to her. “Didn’t want to be in there alone. That place is a sausage-fest now.”

“Come on, I’m not gonna cheat on Jakey with Christian. Even if I were, I wouldn’t do it here,” says Erica frankly. “We’d definitely need a more private location, not some ugly old cabin or on a bus with Chris McLean. The lakeside at 3:00 am, though… now that’s an idea. I mean, if I actually wanted to do that, which I don’t.”

“Oh, there go the lovers,” notices Kelsey from the porch. “That bus is about to get real hot and real heavy.”

“Maybe we should go in there to check it out?” asks Frances. “Gather some intel?”

“I mean, if I wanted to surround myself with horny couples and sad middle-aged men I’d go to the Deuce on a Thursday night,” says Kelsey. “But yeah, why not. Hopefully our boys will be fine without us.”

“Do you mean Graham and Suvir? Oh, I didn’t know Graham was your ‘boy,’” gasps Frances. From her chair, Susan giggles slightly.

Kelsey laughs. “No, no, I just meant that we’ve been allies since day one.”

Frances takes out her notepad and quickly writes something down. “Hm, interesting.”

“What makes that interesting?” Kelsey says hesitantly.

“Do not tell a soul that I’m leaking this info,” whispers Frances, “but Erica thinks you and Graham are a ‘power couple’ and wants to vote you out, like, now. I was supposed to keep this a secret, but you’ve been nicer to me tonight than Erica ever has, so you deserve to know.”

“Oh no! They’ll have to pry you out of my cold, dead hands!” shrieks Susan.

“Jesus, Mom, chill,” says Kelsey. “Okay, so that’s weird and kind of scary but it’s probably just a misunderstanding. Graham and I are, uh, not a couple. Besides, he was into Whitney up until yesterday, right?”

“Apparently,” says Frances. “I’ll have to observe him further. He’s trustworthy, but he’s stra—” She hears a faint tapping noise, then looks into the cabin to see Suvir pressed up against the window, eavesdropping on their conversation, presumably trying to be subtle. “Seriously?”

The door swings open and Suvir shows himself. “Gah, sorry, I should’ve just come out!” he says.

“It’s good to formally speak with you again,” smiles Frances. “Did you hear any of that?”

“I heard all of it!” says Suvir. “I ain’t surprised, you never know who’s a snake out here, but listen—I gotta get back in there to win the challenge.” He glances at Chef, who’s still wearing the hockey mask but is now sound asleep on the porch.

Ursula wakes up out of nowhere. “Is my grandson doin’ okay in there?”

“Yeah, yeah, he’s just sitting in the corner writing poetry,” says Suvir. “But I actually think Graham’s an alien, so I gotta address that pronto. Toodles!”

“Didn’t he think we were aliens too?” asks Kelsey after a very long silence.

“Yeah. He… did, yeah.”

Susan, of all people, is shown in the confessional. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to be using this, but I couldn’t resist! So I’ve been married over 20 years and I know a bit about how romance works. That Graham boy is definitely crushing on my daughter, which is just adorable, but Kelsey doesn’t have much dating experience. Oh my gosh, she can never tell when boys like her! For such a smart girl, she can be so oblivious.”

Suvir closes the door behind him and dims the light switch of the cabin. “Looks like it’s just you and me, buddy,” he says in a gravelly voice.

“Welcome back!” says Graham. “Well, Kaitlin’s still here as well, but she’s far from conscious. How’d it go?”

“It went well,” growls Suvir. “Very well. But only one of us can win this challenge.”

Graham scratches his chin. “Wait, I thought Chris said anyone who was still in the house in the morning would win.”

“DOESN’T MATTER!” Suvir abruptly begins to yell. “You’re a time-traveling alien, bro!”

“Oh no. What did Frances say about me…”

“She didn’t say a thing, guy, this was nothing but my own keen observational skills! Now take off your hat so I can know once and for all!”

Quickly, Graham takes off his hat. Instead of any alien tentacles or extra appendages, however, all that’s underneath is a normal-looking head of hair. “Ta-da.”

“Whoa,” Suvir realizes. “No antennae. And no tentacles under that detective suit or nothin’?”

Graham nods, “No tentacles.”

“Oof. I’m sorry, man,” says Suvir. He heads over to the couch where both Graham and the still-sleeping Kaitlin are, then sits down. “That was a bit much even for me. I guess I was looking at your outfit and it reminded me of the guy from this old sci-fi show I used to love, who was an alien in disguise.”

“Ah, yes. ‘The Professor,’” snorts Graham. “Yeah, I’ve gotten that frequently, but it’s not quite what I’m going for.”

“Can I ask what you are going for?” asks Suvir. “Inquiring minds want to know.”

I shouldn’t say yes. I shouldn’t say yes. I should NOT say yes, repeats Graham’s inner monologue. He takes a deep breath and says, “Fine. My grandma almost blurted it out earlier today anyway.” He opens up his notepad and flips through pages and pages of poems. “So, I’m not sure if you knew but I dabble in poetry.”

“You’ve been writing and sighing for the past hour,” says Suvir. “I kinda figured it out.”

“Okay, well…” says Graham nervously. “Back in high school, I created this character for my poems named Oliver Kilgore. I had very few friends back when I created Oliver… actually, I had no friends. Thus, Oliver eventually became everything I wanted myself to be. He was brave, swashbuckling, and very romantic. I’d—I mean, he’d narrate these epic tales of love with full confidence. He always said and did exactly what he wanted, and even if the goings got tough, he’d prevail in the end. He was the ultimate hero! And…” he gulps, and seems to start tearing up, “I began dressing similarly to how I’d described him, and acting like him, in the hopes that I’d gain just a fraction of Oliver’s personality. Alas, that just made me even more anxious, since now I overthink every single interaction I have to ask myself the question ‘what would Oliver do?’. It’s all my fault, really.”

Suvir, deep in thought, finally says, “Wait, so your grandma doesn’t force you to dress like that?”

“Not at all,” says Graham. “In fact, she often says rude and vulgar things about my outfits. I just… don’t know where I’d be without Oliver.”

“This probably ain’t gonna help, since I know how hard it is,” says Suvir. “But I’ve only known you for a day or two, and you’re a pretty solid dude! And I’m talking about Graham, not Oliver.”

“Well, of course, Oliver is fictional…” mutters Graham. “Hm. Okay. In the scenario I’m currently in, I think Oliver would go up to his love interest and tell her how he feels, not mope about it in private.” He firmly shakes Suvir's hand. “I’m going to go out and talk to Kelsey like normal. No more avoiding her!”

“I did that with Franny just a bit ago and it went well! Godspeed, man,” says Suvir.

Graham steps out of the house and past the sleeping Chef to see that the porch is otherwise completely empty. He looks around a bit, frowns slightly, then keeps walking until he reaches the bus. The bus’s doors swing open to showcase a very much awake Chris in the driver’s seat, and after ignoring him and walking past, he looks to the end of the bus, past all the others, to see his grandma, Frances, Susan, and Kelsey all sound asleep in the back seats. He’s about to say something to Chris, but bites his tongue, walks to the back of the bus to join the four, and sits down in the seat directly in front of Kelsey. Looking at her and smiling, he takes off his hat and runs his fingers through his hair.

“It’s going to take a lot more than a pep talk to completely get rid of Oliver,” says Graham, “but I’m starting to realize that poetry and real life are much, much different. Unfortunately, I’m also starting to realize Suvir now knows my entire life story. That’s lovely.”

Chris walks up to Chef and stands in front of him, tapping his foot impatiently, until he finally wakes up.

“Hm? All the kids gone yet?” asks Chef.

“Nah, Suvir's still in there,” says Chris. “Kaitlin too, I think. Time to cut the power?”

“Indeedy it is,” says Chef. He trudges over to the side of the house, grabs some sort of large black cord, and yanks on it hard. All the lights in the cabin immediately go off.

“HEY!” yells a familiar voice from the house. “THAT AIN’T COOL, MAN!” Chris and Chef fall to the ground in laughter. “Fine, we’ll see who’s laughin’ in the morning! I ain’t done just yet!”

“The horrors I experienced in that cabin overnight, no human should ever have to go through,” says an exhausted Suvir, showcasing the dark, droopy bags under his eyes. “But the chainsaw guy? He was no match for me, I’m a new man! Chaw-haw-haw!”

The night comes and goes. Chris and Chef have, of course, collapsed on the ground right outside the cabin, and the others are all still asleep on the bus. Suvir, crashed on the couch, is awakened by a beeping noise. He grabs his phone from his pocket, turns off the alarm, jumps into the air, and cheers.

“8:58 in the morning, two more minutes until I win!”

“Mmmmf,” grunts Kaitlin, beginning to stir a little.

“Oh shit! I forgot she was still here!” says Suvir. A light bulb goes off his head as he grabs Kaitlin’s hand and starts dragging her off the couch.

“What’s going ooooon…” she murmurs.

“Don’t worry, Kaitlin, we’re goin’ on an adventure,” says Suvir softly. “Just me, you, and the rest of the cast. Now, come with me…” He delicately opens the door, drags her body out, and nudges her off the porch and onto the grass where she lands right next to Chris and Chef.

In the bus, the contestants start to awaken and focus their eyes on the goings-on outside. “What in the world is goin’ on out there?” asks Ursula.

“Are they doing yoga?” asks a puzzled Susan.

Even after Kaitlin’s little tumble, she says nothing but “Bleh, let me sleep more.”

Chris lurches awake. “Good morning! We have a winner!” he says, clearly half-asleep. “Now get on the bus, this entire trip was a terrible idea.”

“Jesus Christ, what happened last night?” Kaitlin says. “All I know is that I got some rock-solid sleep. I feel 20 years younger.”

The bus arrives back at the lakeside dorms a few hours later. Chris shoos everyone out the doors, saying curtly, “Elimination in two hours! Go nap or strategize or whatever.”

While the seven others pile back into their dorm, Frances stops Suvir. “Hey,” she says. “Congrats on winning the challenge.”

“Ain’t no thang,” says Suvir. “Call me a challenge beast or whatever! So what’re you thinking for the vote?”

“Well, here’s the thing,” Frances says. “We have three options. We could go along with Erica’s weird, petty plan, we could vote Whitney like what Kelsey thinks the plan is, or we could just vote out Erica. I don’t have a strong read on her yet, but I can tell she’s very dangerous.”

“Yeah, I’m right there with ya,” nods Suvir. “I refuse to vote out Kelsey. I owe it to, uh…” He stops himself and slaps his forehead. “I owe it to your new friendship with her!”

Frances smiles. “No need to hide it. I know exactly what you’re thinking, and you’re right, we should make sure those two stick around.”

“Which two?” asks another voice. Frances and Suvir both turn to the side to see Kelsey walk out of the dorm and join them.

“You and Graham!” Suvir says on the spot. “Y’know, because Erica keeps talking about that power couple thing.”

Kelsey snickers. “God, that’s so funny to me. I should probably talk to her and unpack that? Yeah, I’m gonna… go do that.” She smiles at the two, then walks back into the dorm.

Right as the door closes, the two both let out a “Phew!”

“That was close! Waaaay too close,” says Suvir.

“Okay, new plan. Once we settle this whole Erica thing tonight and she goes home, we turn our focus to setting up Graham and Kelsey. We can do it behind-the-scenes and everything, so it seems super cute and natural.”


“I’d be completely on board with Erica’s plan for tonight, if not for two specific roadblocks,” explains Frances. “One, I really like Kelsey. She and I hit it off, and considering my grand total of friends right now is two at most, I need to protect her. And two, Erica is just not a friendly person. I need to do some more digging, because I’m sure she has a juicy backstory, but for now, I can’t let her come out on top. I’m not stupid.”

“Whitney and I have got a humongo announcement for you dudes!” says Roald proudly, the two walking into a room with Christian, Erica, and Kaitlin. “We’re… dating!”

Complete silence ensues for around 10 seconds. “Okay, great to know?” says Kaitlin.

“I never used that specific wording,” clarifies Whitney. “Just putting that out there.”

“Aw, don’t tell me you’re ashamed of being seen with me!” says Roald. “I think we look real great together, don’t you?”

“Sure.” She pinches Roald’s cheek, then kisses it.

“Soooo, what’s the plan? Whittykins and I wanted to touch base, we’ve been all distracted by each other lately,” says Roald. “It’s the honeymoon phase! Haha!”

“Okay, if this is going to work out I don’t want you saying things like that,” warns Whitney.

Erica displays a huge, cheek-to-cheek smile. “You two are so cute together,” she says. “Well, what does everyone think? Graham is pretty wimpy, but Kelsey is both smart and athletic.”

“Wait, hold up, no way am I voting for her over here,” says Christian. “Eye candy. Can’t lose it just yet.”

“Are you serious?” Erica says. “Not that she’s ugly or anything, but she should really think about straightening her hair. Also, she has a fivehead.”

“Looks like someone’s a little jealous,” says Christian in a singsong voice.

“I’m not jealous!” says Erica before laughing really hard to prove she is indeed not jealous. “Come on, let’s just vote for her.”

“I’m fine with it,” says Kaitlin. “Barely even know the bitch.”

“Hmmmm!” Roald says, deep in thought. “What say you, Whittybear?”

“Frankly, I couldn't care less,” says Whitney.

Roald’s stomach rumbles. “Aw man, I’m too hungry to even think straight! Anyone got an extra box of that Ultra-Bran Crunch?”

“I’ll buy you a box if you vote for Kelsey with us,” bribes Erica.

“Deal! Pound it!” Roald says, reaching his fist out towards Erica’s.

“Maybe later,” Erica shrugs. “Okay, Christian, it doesn’t really matter because we have the majority anyway, but please. For me?”

“Okay, here’s my thing,” says Christian. “You and Kelsey each have a different style of hotness. You’re all feisty and shit and you’ve got that boyfriend, which makes you all sexy and forbidden. Kelsey’s got that ‘girl-next-door’ look you can bring home to mama. Super different.”

Erica looks deeply bothered, but then leans into Christian’s ear and whispers something.

“Deal! I’ll vote Kelsey,” he says.

Right on cue, Kelsey walks into the room. “Hey, Erica, can I talk to you in private for a sec?” she asks. The two walk towards the hallway until they’re out of earshot from the big group. “Okay, so I just wanted to let you know Graham and I aren’t plotting anything. If you felt excluded from the Cheesecake Warehouse dinner or anything, that was totally not our goal at all. I hope we’re still cool with voting Whitney?”

“Yeah, of course!” says Erica. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad about that. I’m a little sad I didn’t get to see more of my Jacob, but I know you and your mom are close.”

“Perfect,” smiles Kelsey. “We love dealing with our emotions in healthy, mature ways.”

Graham materializes from the boys’ dorm room to join the conversation. “Hello,” he says. “Just strategizing, I assume?”

“Well, aren’t you smart,” Kelsey jokes. “I was just reassuring Erica that we’re not a secret power couple or anything.”

“Huh?!” falters Graham. “Where’d you get that idea? No, we’re not a couple… or anything.”

“Okay!” says Erica. “Wait, you two would actually look cute together.” She heads back to the other room.

Graham thinks of what to say, then blurts out, “I’m… gonna go check up on my grandma.”

“Gotcha,” says Kelsey. “I should probably do the same thing with Susan. So we’re voting Whitney, right?”

“It seems so,” says Graham. “That’s funny what Erica sai—”

“Sounds good,” Kelsey interrupts. “Also, where’s the hat? First the mustache, now this? You’re a new Graham.”

“I was getting very sweaty,” says Graham. “The hat was sticking to my head.”

“Nice,” says Kelsey. After another pause, she says, “Ooookay, I’m gonna go vote.”

“As am I.”

A slightly panicked Frances says in the confessional, “I just realized we forgot to tell Graham and Kelsey about the plan, and of course I already cast my vote for Erica. This could be catastrophic.”

“Don’t overthink that interaction, Graham, do not overthink it,” says Graham. “Everything’s completely normal. What else was she supposed to say, that we ARE a couple? She has no idea how I feel!” He pauses. “How does she still have no idea how I feel?”

“Kinda suspicious about Erica today, but in other news, water is wet,” says Kelsey. “I mean, what’s her endgame here? Does she just want Graham and I to hook up?” She pauses. “Nah, she’s probably just being weird.”

Roald and Whitney are seen in the confessional together, Roald on Whitney’s lap. “Who do you wanna vote for, babe?” he gurgles.

“We’ve already been through this at least five times,” says Whitney.

“Aw, I’m sorry! It’s hard to concentrate on anything besides how cute you are.”

“You’re so good to me,” says Whitney emotionlessly.

The nine contestants, as well as the two still-hanging-on family members, arrive at the bandshell—however, it’s broad daylight as opposed to the usual twilight of the elimination ceremony.

“Jeez, you people are still here?” asks Chris, eyeing Ursula and Susan. “Whatever, let’s get on with it. Nine will become eight after tonight, blah de blah, I think you’ve all memorized my spiel by now. I’m just gonna say, though, this is getting old. Unlike me. My face is spotless and TV-ready at all times. Anyway, our first marshmallows go to Suvir, Frances, Christian, Roald, and Kaitlin.”

“I don’t get a congrats for winning that awful challenge?” protests Suvir as he catches his marshmallow.

“Isn’t a marshmallow all the congrats you need?” asks Chris. “Hmm. Okay, Whitney and Graham are both safe. Lovebirds! Heh-heh!”

Graham covers his face with his hands. “Please don’t say that.”

“Chris, you’re three days too late! Whit’s with me now!” says Roald.

“You two? Seriously?!” asks Chris in disgust. “I need to start paying closer attention. Whatever, the ratings will love that. Anyway, I have one marshmallow left, but two girls left. Kelsey and Erica. I’d try to explain why the votes came in the way they did, but let me tell you guys, this strategy is too advanced for my mind to process. All I know is that—”

“Chris? Can you just, like, pass out the final marshmallow?” asks Kelsey, her heart thumping.

“Yeah,” says Erica. “What’s this even about?”

“The final marshmallow goes to…”


Susan, Frances, and Graham all stand up and simultaneously shout, “What? No!”

“Sayonara, Kelsey…” says Chris, before a needlessly dramatic pause, “ what I’d say if this wasn’t a reward challenge! Hahaha!” He pulls out a squished marshmallow from his shirt pocket and tosses it to Kelsey. “Gotcha!”

Kelsey steadies herself to try and not collapse. “Oh my gosh. That was not funny. Not funny at all.”

“Chillax, you’re still in the game!” says Chris. “We realized we had enough room in our budget for a fake elimination, and figured now would be the perfect time to do it. Ratings would plummet if you left today.”

Susan rushes up to her daughter and squeezes her tight. “That was scary, wasn’t it? I’m so glad you’re still here with me!”

“Not so fast,” says Chris. “I neglected to mention that we ARE saying goodbye to two of you. Ursula, Susan, it’s time for you to hitch a ride on the Yacht of Losers!”

“It’s about time,” says Ursula. “Hated it here. Lots o’ bugs and crap. Graham, honey, do good.”

Graham gives his grandma a thumbs-up, then heads over to Susan instead. “You’re wonderful,” he says. “Safe travels!”

“You’re such a sweetie!” says Susan. “Well, Kelsey-Bug, I’ll see you in a couple weeks. Remember not to let this get you down! You’re still in the game!”

“Mom, it’d be great if you said that not in front of the people who just tried to vote me out,” twitches Kelsey. “Au revoir.” She hugs her mother one last time.

“Later!” says Chris as the two women head onto the docked Yacht of Losers. “That may not have been the most dramatic episode yet, but it was up there! I think? Maybe? Just tune i—”

“Yo, Chris!” says Suvir. “If this was a reward challenge, where’s my reward?”

“Oh, yeah,” says Chris. “Chef?” Chef tosses Suvir a ‘Family Size’ box of Ultra-Bran Crunch. “Hey, they were today’s sponsors. Anyway, tune in next time for more mayhem, more romance, less octogenarians, and of course, more drama, right here on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Kelsey and Erica both shoot Frances a thousand-yard stare. “I’m sorry in advance,” she squeaks.

The camera flashes to later that afternoon. Christian is sitting on the beach, sunbathing and listening to some sort of loud rap music as usual, until Erica approaches him.

“Yo!” he says. “So how about that thing you promised if I voted Kelsey, which I did?”

“I knew you’d ask that. I mean, that didn’t even count since she didn’t go home.”

“C’mon. Don’t weasel your way outta this. I put her name down on a sheet of paper and gave it to Chris, so pay up.”

Erica takes a deep and long sigh. “Okay,” she says, before curling both her arms around Christian and proceeding to make out with him as the sun sets in the distance.

Chapter 10 - The Whine and Cheese Club

“Last time on Total Drama Lakeside!” announces Chris, standing right by the beach. “The nine remaining contestants, and a couple of hangers-on, endured the scariest sight of all—Chef with a chainsaw. Suvir conquered his fear, or maybe the others just didn’t care enough, and he won the challenge. He also reunited with his best pal Frances, hopefully once and for all, and Roald and Whitney finally got together after nine straight episodes of romantic tension. Kelsey learned that no one loves you any better than your M-O-double-M-Y when Susan took her out to brunch, increased her self-confidence, and then… watched as the other contestants voted her out. Thankfully, I picked a great episode for a reward challenge, so she’s still in and Graham’s love is only growing by the day. Oh, and how could I forget the Erica-Christian drama? I hope Jacob doesn’t see that! But… since it’s gonna be aired on live television, he’s gonna see it. Awesome! Today, we’ve got some real heavy-hitters coming up. Elimination was early this afternoon, so I’m gonna treat the nine lake-mates to a fancy dinner. What’s gonna go on over there? Nothing good, I’m sure, but find out right here on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

The scene cuts to the dorm bathroom, where Frances is tweezing her eyebrows in the mirror and Kelsey is standing next to her, meticulously applying makeup.

“So you promise you and Suvir didn’t vote for me?” Kelsey asks. “I mean, I want to believe you, but today’s been rough.”

“I swear,” says Frances. “I screwed up by not telling you to vote Erica instead of Whitney, but that’s all that happened. We’re still tight, I hope?”

“For sure,” smiles Kelsey. “I’m gonna need to have a ‘chat’ with Erica, but that’s like… fine.”

“Do you think Chris is giving us a free dinner so we’ll get really drunk and scream at each other?” asks Frances. “Because if he is, I’m not partaking.”

“Yikes, yeah, probably,” Kelsey realizes. “But real talk, I need a glass of wine, or maybe five.”

Frances puts the tweezers back in her toiletry bag and opens the door to head out. “Okay, uh, just don’t make any decisions you regret.”

“Me? Decisions I’d regret? Oh, I’d never,” Kelsey drawls.

Right as Frances is about to head out the door, Kaitlin appears in front of it wearing a horribly gaudy face of makeup. “What up, ass-dicks?” she cackles.

“Ah, so YOU voted for me, didn’t you?” asks Kelsey.

“Yeah,” says Kaitlin frankly. “So what? I’ve almost been voted out three times. Get over it.”

“No, it’s fine, I just think it’s funny how—” Kelsey starts.

“Let’s go!” Frances says, dragging her by the hand out of the bathroom.

Kaitlin shrugs and starts brushing her teeth in front of a mirror. “She’s a touchy one,” says another voice. Kaitlin looks over to see Whitney sitting silently on the toilet, reading one of her magazines.

“Jesus, you startled me!” she yells.

“I’m sure I did,” says Whitney. “Whatever. I need to be peak glamorous for our dinner tonight. Tell me how I look.”

“You look gross, like always,” says Kaitlin. “Why are you asking me about this? Don’t we hate each other?”

Whitney blinks slowly. “Hmm. Yeah, we probably do. I guess I just want to impress Roald.”

“Oh, your new boy-toy?” says Kaitlin half-mockingly. “Just wear what you’re wearing now. That kid would probably be impressed by a turd on the ground.”

“Look, shouldn’t we be getting along now that we’re in the same alliance and all?” asks Whitney. “Normally I wouldn’t care about any of that, but Roald has changed me.” Contrary to her words, her face and tone both seem completely unchanged.

“Yeah, whatever,” says Kaitlin. “I’ll vote with her, but I don’t really care about Erica or her stupid plans or anything.”

“Good, then we’re in agreement,” Whitney says. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a shower.”

“What? I was here first, bitch, you can’t just—”

Whitney stands up, grabs a towel, takes off her shirt, and steps into the shower, then turns the knob until steam is billowing out. Kaitlin, aghast, walks out.

“I’m not stupid. I know there are four couples forming up and I’m the fifth wheel. It’s fine, I get it. It’s not like I’m the fifth wheel at home or anything,” Kaitlin insists. “But that just means I have to do something really good tonight, like throwing wine at Whitney’s face. Wait, would that be too tacky? Nah, I don’t really give a shit.”

Right outside the bathroom, three of the four remaining boys are loitering around and seemingly avoiding any eye contact with each other. Suvir has his box of Ultra-Bran Crunch resting on his lap, but as his hand steadily moves toward it every few seconds, he retracts it back.

“Worst reward ever,” he complains. “I survived the scariest night of my life for this? Tastes like cardboard.”

“Well, b-b-buddy,” says Roald. “Bran is super rich in fibers and proteins! If you wanna get jacked, you gotta eat that whole box.”

“I ain’t eating any of it,” Suvir says. “Graham, you want some?”

Graham is lying face-down in his bed with his hat still off. “I’ve lost my appetite,” he says, his voice muffled by the pillow.

“Awwww,” says Roald, walking over to Graham and weakly patting him on the back. “Is this about the elimination? Hey broseph, I’m sorry I voted for your lady.”

“You—” Graham rises up. “First of all, my lady? What? And secondly, you v-v-v…?!”

Roald looks down. “Yeah, Erica promised me an extra box of Ultra-Bran if I voted for her, and I was too distracted by Whitney to think strategy and stuff.”

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

“Is it bad that I’m just glad I’m not involved in the drama for once?” Suvir says, grinning mischievously. “It’s hilarious! I’m totally Team Graham, but who cares? Franny and I are a thing again! I got a free box of crap cereal! Life’s good!”

After Suvir’s confessional, the scene cuts abruptly back to Roald sobbing into Graham’s arms as Graham sits there completely still.

“I’m s-s-so sorry!” Roald chokes. “Young love is so b-b-beautiful, man! I can’t believe I tried to separate you… and her… I just…”

Graham finally lets out some words, “Listen, it’s okay. Just… please don’t tell Christian, or Erica, or obviously Kelsey. Maybe we can all sit together at tonight’s dinner? You, me, Kelsey, Whitney?”

Roald immediately stops crying. “Oh, nuts! The dinner! What am I doing, man? I can’t go out like this!”

“Darn, I forgot about the dinner too,” says Suvir. “Ain’t we going to some Italian place? I’m not messing with that. Could get fatty liver!”

“Yes, and I’m kind of terrified,” Graham admits. “Fancy restaurants are conduits for romance.”

“Hoooo man, that’s great to hear,” says Roald. “Whitney and I are about to get to fifth base there!”

“Is there even such a thing as a ‘fifth base?’” Suvir asks.

“I dunno, man, if not I’m inventing one!”

Graham clears his throat. “That may be great for you, but I’m not quite as far in the romance department. She doesn’t know! She probably doesn’t feel the same.”

“Last time I went out to dinner, only two nights ago, everything was fine,” says Graham. “So why am I so frightened? I mean, it’s not like it’ll just be us two… well, I guess Oliver Kilgore and his partner-in-crime Jessie Rose Malone had their first date at a five-star Italian restaurant, and instantly fell in love…” He pauses, then slaps himself in the face. “Oliver isn’t real. Okay, I have a plan.”

“Listen, the only way you’re gonna get any headway is if you suck it up and—” Suvir says.

The door of the cabin loudly swings open, and a tall, tanned figure struts into the boys’ room. “Suh,” slurs Christian, his hair tousled and his face and neck covered in bright red marks.

“Holy shit! The Chupacabra got him!” Suvir screams.

“Naw, man, what are you—” Christian says weakly.

Suvir rushes over to Christian, grabs his arm, and holds it up. “Stay calm! I’m gonna suck out the toxins!” He clamps his mouth down onto his arm and starts sucking very loudly.

“Dude,” says Christian, pulling his hand back. “What’re you doing? No toxins in me, just a very healthy libido. Yeah, that’s right, your guy got lucky.”

A look of growing shock and horror dawns on the three other guys’ faces. “With… who?” Suvir croaks.

“Hey man, I’m not gonna kiss and tell,” shrugs Christian. “But these red marks on my face? Lipstick. Aight boys, who’s ready to go to dinner?”

“You do realize Chris said we need to ‘dress to impress’ tonight, right?” Graham says, eyeing Christian’s unbuttoned shorts and half-tucked-in shirt.

“Anything I wear is dressing to impress,” says Christian. “Plus, I’m keeping this on. It’s still got her smell and everything.” He takes a deep sniff of his right shirt sleeve. “Aw, yeah.”

“Congrats on the lady-killing, man,” says Roald. “Unless it was Whitney, in which case, I’m gonna pulverize you!”

“Nah, dog, not Whitney,” says Christian. “One of the finer specimens of woman here. Some may say the finest.” He leaves the room, then walks into the bathroom.

“You don’t think he and Kelsey hooked up, did you?” shivers Graham.

Suvir says nothing, just gives him a paranoid stare.

“It was a long time coming with Erica, and I was getting real impatient,” says Christian. “Whatev, tonight was worth it. She can go deal with all that messy boyfriend stuff, that’s not my problem. But you know what IS my problem? I gotta figure out where she places on my sex ranking. Hmm. She’s definitely in the top 50.”

“I can’t believe I just had sex with Christian,” Erica says, looking regret-stricken and borderline horrified. “I mean… I ‘’can’’ believe it, he’s really cute, but… I had SEX with him. Okay, wait, it was only so he’d vote with me, and I did tell Jacob I’d do anything to win the money. So I didn’t actually do anything bad… right?”

About an hour later, all nine contestants are ready and sitting down on the benches outside as they wait for Chris to pick them up in the classic green bus.

“Hey, girls!” says Erica, wearing a white lace dress that looks like a giant doily, as she walks up to Frances and Kelsey. “Mind if I sit with you while we wait?”

Kelsey, wearing a deep purple patterned jumpsuit, laughs. “I kind of do mind, yeah.”

“Oh, you’re sad about earlier?” asks Erica. “I’m sorry! If it’s any consolation, I don’t want to vote you out anymore. I have new priorities.” With that last sentence, she shifts her gaze onto Frances.

“Uh, I’d love to stay and talk but I have to go take care of something—” Frances, in a red dress, says in a hurry as she gets up. She starts to speed-walk back towards the dorm, but bumps into a tall, male figure. “Who are you?”

The man blushes. “It’s me,” he says, as Frances, Erica, and Kelsey all simultaneously realize that it’s none other than a made-over, near-unrecognizable Graham. His hat is off and his hair is flowing freely, showing off its natural wave, he still has no mustache, and his sideburns have been drastically trimmed. Instead of his trademark detective outfit, he’s wearing a pale blue button-down shirt tucked into a pair of crisp off-white shorts. “How’s everyone doing?”

“Oh my god,” says Frances. “This is… unexpected.”

“Question, am I talking to Graham right now, or Kyle from Beta Zeta Theta?” Kelsey jokes, and Graham looks vaguely disappointed. “No, you look great.” His smile returns.

“Okay, something’s definitely going on here,” Erica squeals, pointing to Graham then Kelsey. “Can I get a picture with you two at dinner, with me squeezed in the middle? It’ll look so cute!”

“Well, mayb—”

Preceded by its usual screeching in the distance, the giant green bus pulls up to the parking lot. “Perfect timing,” says Frances, and the three sprint towards the doors as fast as possible before Erica can even blink.

“Just so I’m clear, in the past four hours Erica convinced at least four people to vote me out, did so successfully, and only failed because Chris threw out a surprise reward challenge, and now she wants to be my friend again,” Kelsey says. “Awesome. Love that for me. I absolutely cannot get drunk and start shit tonight, that’ll just make her want to get me out even more… but I need wine. Lots of it.”

“Listen up,” says Chris, standing outside the restaurant with Chef and the contestants. “This is a fancy establishment. It’s a privilege that I’m letting you eat here tonight, on MY check, giving you unlimited food… and drinks. I better not hear about any funny business, okay?” He pauses for a second. “Buuuuut, don’t forget there’s a camera crew inside, so be entertaining. That should be your priority. Now, if you’ll excuse me and Chef, we have our own priorities.”

“Goin’ to a Hawaiian spa,” Chef says, flashing a toothy grin.

“We’re gonna spa it up! Word!” quips Chris to complete silence. “Okay, bye.”

The hosts head out, and the contestants open the doors to the restaurant. The interior is long, rectangular, and dimly lit, with cylindrical lamps hanging down from the ceiling over each table. Almost every table is filled except for a long, circular booth at the far end of the restaurant.

“Hey-ho!” Roald says to the hostess, hand-in-hand with Whitney at the front of the pack. “Reservation for nine, please!”

“Be patient, hon,” hisses Whitney into his ear.

The hostess, a young woman with sandy blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, scrolls through the list of reservations. “Oh, are you the McLean group?” she says with slight fear in her voice.

Christian, upon seeing the hostess, strong-arms his way to the front of the cluster and stares her down. “Yeah, that’s us,” he says suavely.

“Great,” says the hostess. “Right this way. Alex will be taking care of your table tonight.”

“Alex? No, no, he’s had a long day, his mood is even worse than usual—” whispers a waitress standing to the hostess’s right.

“You don’t want to know what this Chris McLean guy said to me on the phone,” retorts the hostess. “They’re getting Alex.” She turns to the group of contestants again, then smiles. “Okay! Right this way!”

The contestants follow the hostess all the way to the empty booth at the end of the restaurant. The walls behind the bar are decorated with various posters of musicians, including one which seemingly depicts Jackie’s boyfriend Daniel. Graham glances at that specific poster, shivers, and starts walking slightly faster.

Finally, the hostess beckons to the booth. “I’m getting in first,” says Kaitlin. “Best seat in the house, bitches.” She collapses into the booth, spreading her legs out wide.

“Oooh! That spot looks good!” Roald points to the empty spot next to Kaitlin. “Let’s climb on in, Whitty-babe!”

“Roald, you know I’d rather stand than sit next to Kaitlin,” Whitney states. “But I’ll do it. Just for you.” She kisses him on the cheek.

Kaitlin gasps in offense. “Well, screw you too!”

Christian follows the couple, sitting down in the middle of the booth. “Erica? Pop a squat next to me?”

“I guess,” Erica feigns ambivalence. “Kelsey, sit next to me!”

“You know, I’m actually just gonna pull up a chair if that’s okay,” says Kelsey.

“No, no, let’s do it this way,” offers Graham. He sits down next to Erica, then scoots so forcefully that everyone on the bench is pushed to the left. “Kelsey, uh, there’s one more spot here!” He pats the remaining sliver of the booth next to him.

“Perfect,” says Kelsey, sitting down. She leans in and whispers to him, “Make sure things don’t get too ugly. You know, with…” Graham nods in understanding.

Frances and Suvir eye the booth, which is completely filled up. “Feeling really loved right now, everyone,” says Frances.

“It’s cool, Franny!” says Suvir. “Check out what I brought.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out an oversized plastic bag filled with Ultra-Bran Crunch. “Smuggled some in from the dorms. Figured it’d be good if we were in a bind!”

“We certainly are in a bind,” Frances says, grabbing two chairs from a nearby table and awkwardly placing them across from the booth. “There. That’s… fine, isn’t it?”

“Fine with me!” Suvir gives a thumbs-up. “We don’t need that booth anyway, trust me. There’s probably all sorts of gross sputum caked onto it.”

“You’re right,” says Frances. She bends over and says to Suvir quietly, “Also, this way we can make sure Graham and Kelsey make some progress.”

Once the nine are comfortable, “Alex” the waiter—of course, Smoothie Guy—approaches the table, then lets out a sigh of deep, deep exasperation. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Heyo! You’re that guy who watched me get beat up!” says Roald.

“Wait, am I supposed to know this guy?” asks Christian. “Also hey, who’s ready to order?”

“Are you kidding me? He’s disgusting,” says Erica. “Don’t even look him in the eye.”

“Yeah, order now, I don’t care,” says Smoothie Guy. “I’m not even going to bother with you guys tonight.”

Roald eyes the menu. “Aw, I’m not ready to order yet! Everything looks sooo gooood.”

“Fine,” Smoothie Guy says, then immediately walks away.

“Great, look what you’ve done,” whines Kaitlin. “Now I can’t order a beer for another five minutes.”

“Ah, I could go for a beer myself,” Christian says. “But that’s not gonna be enough to tame the beast. What I really need is pizza. Lots of it.”

“Lucky for you, we just happen to be eating at a pizza place,” Kelsey smiles. Graham and Suvir give each other wide-eyed glances. “Okay, I’m getting a bottle of wine. They’re not cheap, but Chris said everything’s free, right? Why not partake?”

“Pfft, wine,” laughs Kaitlin. “Amateur move right there.”

“Hmm, actually maybe I shouldn’t drink an entire bottle,” says Kelsey to herself. “But half a bottle… now there’s an idea. Graham, want to split a bottle with me?”

“Definitely,” Graham says. “But it’d have to be white wine, that’s the only kind I drink.”

“Only white wine? That stuff’s way too sweet!” protests Erica. “You two should get a nice dark red wine. Just friend-to-friend advice.” She turns to Christian. “What’re you getting, Chrissy?”

“Shots,” he smirks.

“Oh my gosh, of course. You’re funny!”

Frances watches the unsubtle flirtation from across the table, and says to Suvir, “I’m starting to think all of Erica’s talk about ‘power couples’ was just her projecting.”

“Hoooo, you may be right!” gasps Suvir. “Christian came into the dorm earlier all roughed up too, and I was scared it was from Kelsey, but…” He pauses for just enough time for the revelation to hit him. “Oh my yuck.”

“That was a classic deduction, courtesy of the Frances-Suvir journalistic power duo,” says Frances proudly. “Now, if Erica tries to scream at me about flipping on her alliance, I can just fire back by asking her why she cheated on Jacob with Christian. This is perfect!”

Smoothie Guy returns to the table, now with a pad of paper and a small pencil. “May I take your orders,” he says grouchily, motioning to Frances and Suvir. “Start with you two.”

“Ain’t getting anything,” says Suvir. “I got my bag of bran right here!”

“Didn’t you say you hated that stuff and it tasted like cardboard?” asks Graham.

Suvir shrugs. “Eh, must be Stockholm syndrome.”

“I’m not ordering anything either,” adds Frances. “I’ll just eat whatever’s left from everyone’s plates.”

“You’re not eating anything from my plate,” says Erica passive-aggressively.

“Less chit-chat, let’s just keep the orders a-comin’, guys.”

Kaitlin clears her throat loudly. “Okay, so I’ll be getting a beer, whichever one has the highest alcohol content—I don’t really care about the taste—and also—”

“I’m gonna order three pizzas,” interrupts Christian.

“Wow, thanks for talking directly over me,” screeches Kaitlin. “Wait, three pizzas, are you kidding me?”

“Nah, G. Three pizzas, deadass,” says Christian. “Full-size. Cheese, cheese, and cheese. I gotta carb-load after I burned all those calories this afternoon.”

“Aw, come on, Broseidon!” Roald shouts. “I was gonna order three ‘zas too!”

“You were what now?” asks a concerned Whitney.

“Hey, my nutritionist recommends it. He tells me it’s a good way to keep up the ‘compact but girthy’ physique I’ve got goin’ on,” Roald explains. “You can split them with me if you want, bae.”

Whitney shakes her head, “No thanks, I’m getting a salad.”

“Okay! I can roll with a salad,” says Roald.

“...what?” asks Whitney. “I just said I was getting a salad. You don’t need to get one too.”

“Nah, screw my nutritionist,” Roald smiles sheepishly. “Three ‘zas? Ha. That’s crazy talk! Let’s split that salad.”

“You’re cute,” says Whitney.

“I’m not kidding. It’s cute to see Roald keep trying to impress me,” says a blushing Whitney. “He’s got the right idea. More people out there should emulate me.”

“So, right now I have…” Smoothie Guy says, jotting down the orders. “Three cheese pizzas, a salad, the beer with the highest alcohol content… what else do you degenerates want?”

“Hol up, I wasn’t done with my order. I’m also getting shots,” says Christian.

“We don’t serve shots, bozo. We’re a respectable establishment.”

“For real? Lame. I’ll get a cocktail then. Sex on the beach.” He winks at Erica.

Erica frowns slightly. “Are you sure you don’t want wine? Look at this one… ‘cabernet sauvignon.’ Fancy! Let’s go with that.”

“Ah, I see, I see, you’re tryna loosen me up before Round T—”

“Excuse me!” she interrupts. “I’m going to get a salad too! Your classic Caesar, please. Graham? Kelsey?”

Kelsey, flipping back and forth through the menu over and over, finally sets it down. “We’ve decided we’re going to split a wild mushroom pizza and also get a bottle of chardonnay to split. Sound good?”

“Sounds amazing,” says Graham.

“Great,” says Smoothie Guy, slowly inching away from the table. “All your shit will be done in like an hour, maybe? I don’t know, I’m not the one cooking.”

Once he sprints out of sight, nobody else at the table proceeds to say anything. “Uhhhh,” says Roald. “Mind if I break the silence?”

“You just did,” clarifies Whitney.

“Great! I’ll keep on breakin’, then!” Roald smiles. “Let’s dive into some hard-hitting questions. I’ll start. What is the meaning of life?”

“I’ve been so focused on my new lady that I’m all behind on the drama!” says Roald. “Not that I like drama, though. It’s making me pretty sad, I’m a ‘Kumbaya’-type guy. But I figure as long as I can make ‘em laugh, especially Whittypoo, then none of that dumb drama matters… right?”

“Meaning of life is a dumb concept,” says Suvir. “That’s what all those old-ass philosophers loved to prattle on about, right? Screw ‘em. Probably all reptilians.”

“Yeah, Roald, I have to say, that question’s a little too broad,” Frances agrees.

Whitney pats Roald on the back. “I’ll answer. Right now, I think the meaning of life is being here with you.”

“D’AWWWWW!” Roald shouts out. “I knew I’d get one good answer! You never let me down!”

Kaitlin, again, clears her throat loudly. “All right, fart-brains, now I’ve got a question.”

“Hey, does anyone know when the wine’s going to get here?” Kelsey interjects. “Ya girl is slightly thirsty.”

“Oh my gosh, you guys are so antsy tonight,” says Erica. “Why don’t we just appreciate what we have right now? We’re all bonding in this awesome atmosphere, and—”

Kelsey opens her mouth, but then chomps down on her lip. Graham looks at her and gives her a nervous thumbs-up. Then, Smoothie Guy appears holding a salad, a large glass of beer, and an even larger bottle of wine.

“Here you go,” he says in a hurry, dropping the salad onto the table carelessly. Various shreds of lettuce launch up onto Roald’s face, and he somehow extends his tongue to lap them all up, then grins. Kelsey snatches the wine bottle from his hands and Kaitlin grabs out for the beer, but Smoothie Guy just sets the beer on the opposite side of the table, then leaves.

“Goddamnit, I can’t reach that,” says Kaitlin. “Somebody pass me my beer.”

Kelsey gazes lovingly at her bottle of wine. “My baby,” she sighs. “Okay, let’s crack it open. Graham? Chardonnay for you?”

“I’ll have a couple sips, sure,” says Graham.

Kelsey pours a glass about a third of the way full for Graham, gives it to him, then pours her own glass all the way to the brim, then chugs it in one gulp. “One down, quite a few to go,” she says, pouring another glass already.

“Oh wow, Kelsey, I didn’t know you were a party girl,” says Erica pointedly.

“Party girl? Nah,” says Kelsey. “Just trying to adjust to a very, uh, high-stress environment. Thanks for the concern, but I’m doing great.” She takes another big gulp of wine.

“Yee yee, that’s right,” Christian nods. “Didn’t know you could pound ‘em down that quick.”

Erica looks vaguely green with envy. “Oh, please. That’s nothing. You should’ve seen me in my prime, like freshman year of college.”

“Seriously, you guys, I need my beer,” Kaitlin stresses.

“Your freshman year? Psssh, everyone’s sloppy their freshman year,” Christian says. “You gotta keep that slop nice and consistent. That’s what I do.”

Some other waiter, not Smoothie Guy or the hostess, appears pushing a cart with all four of the gang’s pizzas on it. “All right, we have three cheese pizzas—”

“Over here, my guy,” smirks Christian.

“These are all for you?” asks the waiter.

“Yeah, man,” says Christian. “You got a problem with that?”

“Not at all, sir. Here you go,” he carefully grabs each pizza and sprawls them out in front of him, “and here’s the mushroom pizza, which I hope isn’t for you as well.”

“Nope!” Kelsey’s hand shoots up into the air. “That’s ours, over here.”

“Kelsey has had a few too many sips, I can tell,” Graham says, looking downright fearful. “I’m not quite sure what will come of this, but I don’t want to go the same route myself. I usually drink for the taste—I’ve spent many a night alone in my study, sipping on white wine while trying to make headway on my poems, and this is definitely a new scenario. But I don’t know, I’m all made up, I feel a little different, maybe now is the time I tell her how I feel?”

“Mmmf, you guys, this pizza? Fuck me up,” Kelsey says, in the midst of taking a large bite. “Okay, wait. Serious question. Who wants to have an open dialogue right now?”

“I’m going to eat a little more of this salad, it’s really good,” says Erica. “But after that, I’m down!”

“Perfect,” Kelsey narrows her eyes. “I think you’ll really like the topic of this dialogue, Erica. You’ll like it a lot.”

Kaitlin forcefully stands up, causing some of the wine glasses to shake. “If nobody gives me my beer in the next ten seconds, I’m going over there and snatching it.”

A silence occurs. “O…kay,” says Suvir.

“That was always an option,” says Frances.

“You guys are the worst,” Kaitlin grumbles, maneuvering her way past the entire row of contestants, grabbing the beer, and chugging it instantly. “Dammit, now I’m all out. WAITER!”

Christian, who’s already done with one complete pizza, looks over in shock. “For real? Man, I just got one-upped. It’s wine time.” He pours some of the cabernet into his glass, then pounds it down. “Watch out, ladies. The C-Man ain’t here to play.”

“Great, Christian, I’m so glad you just did that,” Kelsey laughs. “Like, that was inspirational. The speed at which you drank that wine? Impressive. Anyway, Erica, I just want to say,” while saying this, she gets up and starts standing on her chair like she’s giving a speech, “I’m really glad you voted for me earlier today. From the bottom of my heart, just… thank you.”

“Kelsey!” Frances interjects, before Erica can respond. “Ahem! Did you, uh, notice what Graham did to his hair tonight?” Graham starts waving his hands around.

“Of course I did! It looks so fresh. Love it.” She quickly runs her fingers through Graham’s hair, and he blushes on impact.

“I feel bad about being so obvious, but if Kelsey started yelling at Erica, that’d put both her and me in trouble, and I don’t need that,” explains Frances. “Besides, I figure it’s only a matter of time before Erica starts yelling at me.”

“So, we were just talking about having an open dialogue, and now feels like the perfect time!” says Erica. “Christian, follow me here.”

“Mrmf?” Christian, halfway through his second pizza, grunts.

“Okay, Kelsey, you gotta get over it,” says Erica. “I apologized! Remember? Let’s let bygones be bygones. And Frances, I’m still angry at you for flipping on our alliance.”

“Y’all had no alliance!” butts in Suvir. “We voted for you because you freak us out!”

“W-w-well, Suvir could’ve put that a little more delicately, but he’s not completely wrong,” stutters Frances. “Kelsey and I have gotten along really well, and I didn’t want to vote for her, and…”

“We so have, haven’t we?” Kelsey leans over to hug Frances with one arm. “My bitch.”

“Whatever,” huffs Erica. “I just have to say, then,” she takes another swig of wine, “don’t be surprised when you’re voted out tonight, okay?”

“Wait a sec, I’m not voting Frances,” says Christian. “Nuh-uh.”

Erica thrusts her hand onto his mouth. “Don’t talk yet, okay, sweetie?”

“Fine, then,” Christian says. “I’mma go take a leak.” He gets up and starts staggering aimlessly around the restaurant in search of a bathroom.

Frances looks at Suvir, and the two grin mischievously at each other. “That’s convenient, because I have a bomb to drop,” she says. Erica looks worried for a second, until her face twists into a similar grin. “This might sound fake, but trust me, it’s real. Earlier tonight, Christian hooked up with—”

“God, Franny,” interrupts Erica. “We already know you two hooked up, okay? No need to rub it in our faces. Some of us have boyfriends.”

“Yea-WHUH?!” Roald shouts. “Fran and Christian?! Man! That’s a couple for the ages!”

“No,” says Whitney. “We’re a couple for the ages.”

“Why the hell did a beefcake like him settle for… you?” Kaitlin asks.

Frances looks like a deer in headlights. “Huh? You’ve said many times you think Christian is ugly. Get your facts straight. And also, I don’t know what she’s talking about, we didn’t hook up.”

“Right! We know the truth," Suvir adds on. “Christian did the do with ERICA!”

“What? Are you kidding me?!” Erica feigns disgust. “I have a boyfriend! Remember him from the family visit?”

“Agreed, buddy, I don’t buy that,” nods Roald. “Cheating isn’t chill. Right, pookykins?”

Whitney, discreetly staring at a muscular, bearded man a few tables down, snaps her head back to face Roald. “Right.”

“I’m skeptical of Erica’s claims. I’ve seen the way she looks at him,” Whitney says. “But who am I kidding? I care about none of this.” She stands up and walks out the confessional door.

Kelsey leans in close to Graham, closer than she ever has before, to whisper, “I was wondering when it would finally happen between those two lovebirds.”

“Yeah, isn’t that… a funny thing to wonder…” squeaks Graham.

Christian staggers back in from out of frame, and Erica starts staring at him right away. “Yo, I’m back,” he slurs. “Whuh’d I miss?”

“Christian! Tell us now! Did you screw Erica or Frances?” Suvir asks aggressively.

“Suvir, you of all people should know it wasn’t me—”

Christian’s mouth shoots open. “Awww, seriously? This ain’t it, chief. I already told you’ll cowards I wasn’t gonna kiss and tell.”

“I’m ready to change the subject, but Erica,” says Frances, her voice growing ominously quiet, "you’ve unleashed a hurricane.”

“That’s fine,” chirps Erica. “It’s just a game, right? I’m not offended by your lies or anything!”

Erica, whose makeup is running and her eyes wide, is pacing back and forth in the confessional. “How does she know? How does SUVIR know?! This is awful. I can’t lose my sweet Jakey… I can’t believe out of all the guys I could’ve cheated with, I chose some bleach-blonde douchebag! Ugh! What will my woke college friends think? They’ll disown me!” She rips off some toilet paper and dabs her eyes with it. “Okay, everything is fine. Deny, deny, deny. Maybe I’ll talk to Roald and Whitney about their relationship… their stable, healthy relationship…” Her eyes start to water.

Christian bangs his head against the side of the confessional door. “God, this ain’t good. Where did they get the idea I banged Frances? I mean, if she asked, I’d be down. Free vag. But c’mon, I’m an innocent man, I got no baggage… unlike Erica. And I’m not saying Jacob could 100% beat me up, but there’s a CHANCE, so no way am I fessing up to that shit in public.”

“I’m drunk,” says Kelsey.

“You better watch out, Fran,” warns Kaitlin. “She’s scary, I can tell. Reminds me of this character of mine, ‘Taiwan Tammy,’ who—”

“Excuse me?” asks Erica.

“Man!” Roald bellows. “Bad vibes at this table! I’m gettin’ all disheartened! Let’s start up some more wacky conversation prompts, like… hmm.”

“Actually, I’d prefer it if we just made out instead,” Whitney says, draping her arm around his shoulder.

“Fufufufu! I can’t argue with that!” says Roald, and the two start making out while everyone else continues to squabble.

Graham looks at his pizza, which only has one slice remaining. “Kelsey?” he asks. “Do you want to split this slice, or should I…” Kelsey’s head is planted face-down onto the table cloth and she’s completely motionless. “I’ll just… I’ll just eat it.”

“Um, is your girlfriend okay?” asks Erica.

“Don’t—don’t say that! Gah!” says a panicked Graham. “She’s right here.”

“Yeah, seriously, we’re trying to make this happen as delicately and organically as possible,” adds Frances, “so we really don’t need any rude interjections like that. Thanks.”

“Did you hear anything just now, Christian? I didn’t,” says Erica.

“Yeah, I heard Frances saying some shit about delicacies, I dunno,” garbles Christian. Erica rolls her eyes.

Graham touches Kelsey’s shoulder gently to try and stir her, and she lurches awake after a couple seconds. “Whoa! Oh my god, did I just…” she says, wearing a glazed look. “Jesus. I’m sorry. I’m gonna go out and get some fresh air.”

“I’ll, uh, come with,” says Graham quietly, following her as she grabs her bag and walks out of the restaurant. Once the two are gone, Christian reaches over, takes the remaining slice of their pizza, and eats it in one bite.

“So they’re a thing, huh?” asks Kaitlin. “I mean, have I been living under a rock or something? Hello? Nobody told ME that!”

“When do y’all think we’re gonna get the check?” asks Suvir. “I’m getting all restless. I don’t like it in here!”

“HEY! Shut up, you turkey! I just asked a serious question!” roars Kaitlin.

“Excuse us? Waitress?” Erica raises her hand to nobody in particular. “We’re ready for the check.”

“Oooh, get that cute one from the front desk to come back here,” suggests Christian. “I like her.”

Erica leans in and whispers to him, “What? How could you be thinking about other girls right now?” Christian looks at Frances in perplexion, although she just smirks.

“I may be a little late to the party here, but I’m starting to think this Erica chick is bad news,” says Suvir. “I mean, come on. Nobody says that kind of stuff about my best friend and lives to tell the tale! Dang, if only I could tie her up and send her body out as a sacrifice to the Elder Gods or something.”

“Big, important update,” announces Kaitlin. “I’m going through with my plan from earlier. I don’t care if it’s tacky or whatever. They’re ignoring me? They’re gonna feel the wrath of a Golden Goddess.”

Smoothie Guy stomps over to the table. “Hey, bozos, did you forget that the dinner was free? You don’t need a che—”

Kaitlin interrupts his grumblings by grabbing one of the leftover, half-full bottles of wine on the table, reaching over, and pouring it all over Whitney’s face and dress while she makes out with Roald. “HAHAHAHAHA!” she cackles, as she grabs the other wine bottle and launches its contents onto Suvir, who yowls and sprints out.

“HEY!” yells Smoothie Guy. “Get the hell out of here, all of you!”

“Hm, that was uncalled for,” says Whitney. “Come on, let’s call it a night.” She takes her boyfriend by the hand and the two leave.

“I’ll make sure he didn’t spontaneously combust,” says Frances. She leaves too, and so do Erica and Christian, leaving Kaitlin all alone.

“Well, that didn’t quite have the effect I was hoping,” grumbles Kaitlin.

“I can’t believe that ostrich-lady spilled wine on my GF!” says Roald. “I’m irate right now, buddy! Sure, I asked her how she was feeling and she just grunted and said ‘that was a gross dress anyway, I bought it at Goodwill for five bucks,’ but I gotta defend her honor! Ta-ta forever, Kaity.”

All the contestants have returned to the dorms and are getting ready to go to sleep, except for two. Kelsey and Graham are walking around the block of downtown right by the pizza place, Kelsey walking faster than average and leading Graham around.

“I still can’t get over that whole power couple thing,” she laughs. “It’s so funny, Erica’s so dumb.”

“Yeah…” says Graham. “I felt weird about everything that went down at the restaurant just now. I hope things will be okay.”

“Pssssh, don’t worry about it, we’re having a great time, out on the town on a Friday night,” says Kelsey. “At least, I think it’s a Friday. Right?”

Graham chuckles. “I don’t know, I’ve lost track of the days at this point.”

“Good, because same… and I drank a lot, which can’t have helped. How much of that bottle did I have?”

“You’re asking me? Well, we could deduce it this way: I drank two glasses, which is a LOT by my standards, and a bottle is usually six glasses, so you had… four.”

“Whoa, wine connoisseur over here,” says Kelsey. “So many hidden depths.”

“Heh, I drink a lot of white wine when I’m trying to write—”

“Oh my god, that reminds me.” She punches his shoulder. “Can you like… write a poem for me? Do you take requests?”

Graham’s face turns a deep purple. “I don’t think I’ve ever shared a poem I’ve written with anyone,” his heart starts beating audibly, “but… I wrote some drafts about you earlier tonight.”

“You did NOT. Graham, stop.” Out of nowhere, she grabs his hand. “Okay, I don’t care if they’re good or not, you should show me those drafts. Maybe I can get one tattooed on me. Where do you think I should get it? Maybe I'll get it on my ass. That'd be great.”

All Graham can manage to verbalize is, “Eep!”

“Wait, wait, look,” she says, pointing to a building on their left and yanking his hand a little harder. “I’ve heard this place has good ice cream. Wait, no, what’s it called here? ‘Frozen custard.’ Yessss, let’s go get some.”

“I’m not sure I have any change…”

“No worries. I’ve maxed out my credit card buying coffee before, I can cover for you, we deserve a break anyway!” Still with his hand in hers, Kelsey leads Graham inside the doors of the shop.

“I can’t believe what’s happening right now,” Graham says, holding a giant cup filled with presumably frozen custard, sweating but looking over-the-moon. “I’m drunk, she’s drunk, but it’s fine. What do they say… ‘drunk words are sober thoughts’ or something… that’s probably a myth, but I can’t second-guess myself right now. It seems like she really does like me, so I should just be honest with her.”

The sun has fully set. Having come and gone from the frozen custard shop, Graham and Kelsey sit together—with about an inch or two between them—on a bench in a grassy knoll right by the lakeside beach.

“That was so good,” Kelsey says. “I think I spilled some on my leg, so that sucks. It’s fine, this jumpsuit is old and ugly.”

“No, no, I like it. You… look really nice tonight.”

“Seriously, stop. Sweet boy, you don’t have to lie like that to me.”

“I’m not lying! I promise I wouldn’t lie about that.”

“Okay, sure, I’ll believe it this time,” Kelsey scoots a little bit closer. “So even though that dinner kinda sucked, this right here? It’s good, right?”

Graham pauses for a second. “Yeah, I’m enjoying it. I’m glad… we’re here. Together.” He pauses again, then carefully slips his hand into hers, but only partially and limply.

“Hey. Move your hand a little—”

Graham’s face drops. “Oh, I’m sorry, I figured it was all right, but…”

“No, no, just—” Kelsey grabs his hand with her other hand, then places it further into hers and clasps it tightly. “There we go. I wanted your whole hand, not half of it.”

Graham smiles, then leans a little closer to her until she’s resting her head on his shoulder. “I like this a lot better.”

“So glad,” sighs Kelsey. “Whenever I’m out getting drunk in LA, back home, it’s… stressful and sometimes just awful, and sometimes I throw up, and we don’t have to talk about that anymore, but this isn’t like that, and I like it here.”

“I do too. I really, really do too. I don’t know what else to say except for, well, tha—”

Kelsey rises up and quickly kisses Graham on the lips. His body starts physically vibrating as she leans back down onto his shoulder.

“I hope that was called for.”

“Totally called for. Fully and completely. Thank you.”

“Who thanks someone for kissing them?”

“I mean… it sounded like a good thing to say in my head. Also, who says ‘I hope that was called for’ after kissing someone?”

“Okay, great, we’re both losers, case closed. Ohmygod, I’m tired.”

“I am too, maybe we should head back,” says Graham. “But I guess I want to say something first.” He takes a deep breath in. “I, uh, really like you and… I just thought of you as a friend for the first week or so, but then I realized how warm you make me feel and how passionate and smart and adorable and, uh… and all that that you are, and I hope we can stay friends even if you don’t feel the same way, and I’m going through some weird stuff right now because I just told Suvir about how I’ve spent the last five-some years pretending to be a fictional character of mine from the Victorian area, but now I’m realizing that I can and should just be myself and be upfront about my feelings and… so… that’s what I’m doing right now, I guess.”

He looks down at Kelsey and sees that not only is she sound asleep, but she’s quietly snoring as well. He sighs and closes his eyes himself.

Kelsey sits in the confessional—sunlight is shining through the window and she has thick bags under her eyes. “Well, I just got back from a nice three hours of sleeping on Graham’s lap on a public park bench. What was I thinking? I got so caught up in the Erica-Fran drama that I guess I just HAD to binge-drink, and then… I kissed him. And we talked about, uh, some stuff. Point is, I’m drifting away from my main focus in this game, which is of course winning, and I’m not happy about it. I’m not gonna think about the Graham thing anymore.” She blinks. “But I heard everything he said right before falling asleep, and that was… a lot.”

Graham wakes up as the sun rises to see that Kelsey is gone. His expression quickly turns from ecstasy to resignation as he stands up and starts power-walking back to the dorm. He swings the door open and sees Suvir, in bed, half-asleep. “Psst! Hey!”

“What’s up, man?” Suvir whispers. “Just woke up.”

“We kissed,” Graham says apprehensively, "at like one in the morning. It was euphoric… thanks so much for the help.”

“Dude, that’s massive! Congrats! I spent the night making sure Franny didn’t kill Erica in her sleep, and vice versa. You win.”

Roald and Christian burst out of the bathroom, clad in workout gear—Christian in particular is wearing nothing but a pair of short-shorts and knee-high socks. “Let’s RUMBLE!” yells Roald.

“I’m actually about to go back to sleep,” Graham says, grabbing his sheets and disappearing under them as quickly as possible.

“Hahaha, no, you’re not! We’re goin’ to the gym, guy! Even Whitney’s coming!” says Roald.

Whitney walks out of the girls’ room wearing a crop-top with a giant red heart and the words “LOVE GODDESS” in silver and gold jeweled print, as well as a pair of zebra-print shorts. “Just putting it out there, I’m only doing this because of Roald,” she says.

“Wait, Whitney!” shouts Graham. “I—is Kelsey in there?”

“You tell me. It’s 7:00 in the morning, and that’s where her bed is,” says Whitney.

Graham peers into the room, sees her asleep in there, then quickly snaps back. “Okay, I’m coming.”

“That’s the spirit,” says Christian. “Let’s put those triceps to good use, B.”

Afternoon comes, and the scene transitions to the outside of a large, white building with the words “Lakeside Community Art Center” printed on a sign out front. Inside, Chris stands in front of the contestants—with the gym group back, looking sweaty, exhausted, and sporting giant bags of ice tied to their calves—in a blank white room with a bevy of art supplies in the corner.

“Greetings,” he says. “It’s been an eventful 24 hours, huh? I don’t want to know what went down at that restaurant, especially after what Smoothie Guy told me. But hey, I’m sure we’ll win our time slot this week, so who cares?! Ha! Okay, time for the challenge. You’ll be given all afternoon to make art stuff, or something like that. See those materials over there? Yeah, go crazy. After a couple hours, we’re gonna bring in some esteemed intellectuals who love modern art and are also LOADED, and they’re gonna bid on your masterpieces! Here’s the kicker: whoever gets the lowest bid is out.”

“Wait, out of the game, or…?” asks Frances.

“Yeah!” shouts Chris with glee. “We’re past the merge now, you guys, it’s time to spice things up. Got it? Okay, you have until dinner time, go nuts.” He walks off-screen.

“I can’t believe Chris,” says Frances. “I’ve spent the whole day avoiding Erica, desperately trying not to set off another nuke on her end OR mine. I was just going to lay low, get everyone to vote her tonight, and go back to normalcy… but now that it’s an auto-elimination, that’s all thrown out the window.” She gasps. “Wait. Journalism is technically art, isn’t it? Oh, never mind, it’s on.”

Roald grabs a giant fistful of gray pipe cleaners and beige, flesh-colored construction paper from the art pile, looks over at Whitney, and nods his head.

“Hey, Roald,” says Frances, sliding up to him. “I just wanted to say sorry about that whole Rhett thing from way back when, if you remember that.”

“How could I forget, d-d-dude?!” Roald asks. “He was my first exercise buddy! I’m still reelin’ from his loss.”

“Yeah, I… get it. Regardless, I felt the need to apologize. After everything that happened last night, it’s putting me into perspective and I can see how I kind of overreacted there.”

“Aw, don’t sweat it. I’m still bummed he’s gone, but I got an olive branch right here for ya!” He leans in to hug her, but she steps back, seeing the sweat dripping down his body.


“Haha, that works!” says Roald. “Anyway, I’m off to make a papier-mache bust of Whitney’s head. Wanna help?”

“Not really,” says Frances. “I’ve got other plans.”

Kelsey grabs a glob of purple clay from a bucket on the table. She looks at Graham, sitting in the other corner of the room and sketching something in his notebook. She then starts walking over to him, but stops herself and turns around, running straight into Erica.

“Soooo, tell me what happened last night,” she smiles.

“Nothing happened,” says Kelsey rapidly. “We just got ice cream, came back to the dorm, then went to bed. Hey, where’s Christian? Shouldn’t you be hitting on him right now?”

“Busted! I spent last night having FaceTime sex with my boyfriend in the confessional, so I was up super late, and I didn’t see you in your bed.”

“Should we stop and unpack the first part of what you just said?” Kelsey asks.

“No, that's irrelevant,” says Erica. “Wait, do you want to vote out Christian with me?”

“Vote out Christian? What the—I thought you were dead set on the Frances thing.”

“Oh, did I say Christian? Oh my gosh, I meant Frances. Sorry!” Erica quickly corrects herself.

“I’m gonna go work on my sculpture,” says Kelsey.

“My master plan after voting out Frances was to get rid of Christian, mostly so his hotness wouldn’t distract me anymore,” Erica says. “But that wasn’t supposed to be for a while! I should NOT have said that out loud! My whole strategy is going downhill fast. I should take a step back… take it easy… make some art. Artists are good people, right? Usually?”

Christian approaches Suvir, who’s making some sort of clay diorama featuring tentacled creatures and a giant ostrich. “Yo, I could use an extra set of eyes on my painting.”

“Whazzat?” Suvir croaks, looking up. “Don’t interrupt an artist at work!”

“Aw, sick,” says Christian, glancing at the clay figures a little more closely. “You got skills. Anyway, check my thing out.” He holds up his art project, which is a crudely-drawn watercolor painting depicting a stick figure version of himself surrounded by redheads in bikinis.

Suvir examines the picture. “Redheads, huh?”

“Yeah, man. I love me some gingers. They got that sorta exotic, supernatural quality to ‘em, right?”

“Supernatural, that’s for damn sure!” shivers Suvir. “You don’t wanna mess with that. They got no souls, don’t you know they’re all part-demon?”

“Hmm,” Christian thinks for a second, “that’s even hotter. Thanks man.” He starts to walk away but is intercepted by Frances. “Zamn, you two are all over me lately.”

“Hey, can I conduct a brief interview?” asks Frances. Christian nods. “Okay, so—”

“Fine, fine, I admit it,” says Christian under his breath. “Erica and I hooked up last night, shit was FIRE, I’m not ashamed at all, I just can’t go bragging about it because I don’t wanna get beaten up by Jacob.”

“Whoa, that was easy. But can I just mention the fact that this is a nationally-broadcasted TV show, and Jacob’s eventually going to find out no matter what?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Whatev, you caught me, ya boy’s kind of a pussy.”

“I’m sorry,” says Frances. “It seems like you’re in a pretty rough situation. Thankfully, so am I.”

“Right, that’s the nice thing. And I felt real weird when Erica was saying I hooked up with you, not gonna lie, because I like you.” Frances blinks. “But not like that, like… a bro. A platonic bro.”

She smiles, “A platonic bro. Think that’s the first time I’ve heard that one.”

“Yeah, well, I’m creative.”

“Awesome. Thanks so much for…” Frances says, “telling me all that. I’ll use the information wisely, but I do have to get revenge on Erica.”

“S’cool, I can handle that, I have no real reason to keep screwin’ around with her anymore.”

“Perfect.” The two high-five.

“Am I gonna end my showmance-slash-alliance with Erica? Yeah, probably,” says Christian. “She can be a side piece if she wants, but I got bigger fish to fry: winning.”

Elsewhere, at the craft table, Graham is still sketching in his notebook while Kaitlin, sitting next to him, carefully examines the beer can she’s holding in her hand.

“Can I bare my soul to you for a second?” he asks, after a long period of zero communication.

“Do I know you?” asks Kaitlin rudely. “Wait, wait, talking with different characters will increase my TV time. Okay, go on, bare your soul or whatever.”

“Kelsey and I had this amazing night last night, but we were both drunk, and now I think both of us are too nervous to follow up with each other.”

“Okay, and?” Kaitlin taps her fingers on the table.

“Well… should I initiate a conversation with her, or should I hang back for a little while?” demands Graham.

“Wait, you’re asking me for advice?” Kaitlin’s eyes lit up. “Perfect. So what you gotta do, before anything else, is bang her. Engage her physically, if you will. Then… I don’t know, I usually ditch guys after banging ‘em, but if you have feelings or whatever, just keep banging and you’ll be good.”

Graham stands up and leaves the table.

“God, these people are morons,” says Kaitlin. “I mean, at least I know what looks good on TV. All this whining and shit doesn’t fly. Maybe Artemis was right about a few things…”

The contestants, finished with their art projects, stand in a line in front of Chris. “Okay! Let’s take a look at what we have to offer before we open the floodgates and let in these… er, elderly folk. Christian? You’re up first.”

Christian flashes his painting proudly. “Here we have my dream afternoon, painted with only the finest watercolors. This boutta be my first activity after winning the million.”

“Great,” says Chris. “At least they’re wearing clothes. Erica, you’re next.”

Erica holds up a yellow mug with the words “I <3 JACOB” painted sloppily on it. “Well, I didn’t make this mug, but I found it lying around and had to spice it up!”

“Hmm, last time I checked, my name wasn’t Jacob,” says Christian smugly.

“Ugh, don’t even start,” says Erica. “You could’ve put me in your painting, but…”

“Are you a redhead? Didn’t think so.”

“Moving on… where’s Frances?” says Chris.

“She said something about heading to the ‘printing room,’” says Suvir. “I think she’ll be back eventually!”

“Fine, it’s not like I had a foolproof plan to go in alphabetical order or anything,” Chris complains. “Graham, you’re next.”

Graham sheepishly displays a piece of paper with many roses scribbled on it. “These are roses,” he says. “I don’t know why I drew them. They’re pretty, I guess.”

“Nice,” says Chris. “Boring, but nice. Kaitlin?”

Kaitlin takes a swig of beer, then holds up a ripped piece of notebook paper which displays horrible caricatures of Graham and Kelsey engaged in an XXX-rated act. “Ta-da.”

“Jesus, what?!” Kelsey says in horror.

“Sex sells, bitches,” says Kaitlin. “Let’s see anyone try to outbid THIS.”

“Okay, I was hoping we wouldn’t have to call the censors at all today, so thanks a lot, Kaitlin,” says Chris. “Who’s next, uh, Kelsey?”

“Yeah,” says Kelsey, holding up a purple clay feline. “This is a Killer Wildcat.”

“Simple yet effective, I like it,” says Chris. “But will the bidders? Only time will tell. Roald’s turn!”

As everyone gasps in fright, Roald holds up his completed papier-mache tribute to Whitney—it looks nothing like her. Her head is massive and ovular, her pipe-cleaner hair is sloppily glued on, her “eyes” are made of two different-sized googly eyes, one of which is gradually sliding off. “I call this… ‘Bust of a Goddess!’”

“It was the worst thing I’d ever seen,” says Whitney. “Just plain foul. Offensive to my eyes. But I didn’t care because it was in the name of love. Maybe I’ll mail it to my brother, he’d get a kick out of it.”

“If nobody wants to buy my art piece, I’m gonna take it home and hang it over my bed!” Roald says. “Of course, the real thing is so much better, but two Whits are better than one!”

“I’m going to pretend I never saw that,” shivers Chris. “Suvir, your turn.”

Suvir opens his mouth but is interrupted by Frances rushing back into the room, carrying a stack of thin newspapers. “Hi! I’m here. Sorry, that took a while.”

“End of the line!” says Chris sternly. “You don’t deserve to go yet.” Frances rolls her eyes.

“Okay, well…” Suvir says. “This is a diorama, depicting a large, flightless bird being kidnapped and eventually eaten by the Ancient Ones.” He points to his clay figures, an ostrich with a blonde wig and a massive, green being with tentacles. “Any resemblance to existing persons living or dead is purely coincidental, bro!”

“Fuck you,” says Kaitlin.

“Cool! Letting your emotions out through art is probably good, I wouldn’t know,” says Chris. “Whitney, you’re second-to-last. What do you have for us?”

Whitney waves her empty hands in the air. “I didn’t make anything.”

“What?! That was the whole point of the challenge!”

“Well, yeah, I knew that. Roald wanted me to model for his… er, project, so I had to sit completely still for two hours. After that, I couldn’t be concerned with making any art of my own.”

“Mkay, fine, but you’ll have no shot at winning,” says Chris. “Is that what you want?” Whitney rolls her eyes. “Fine. Frances, go.”

“This is the long-awaited second issue of the Lakeside News,” advertises Frances, “now known as the Lakeside Gazette, because I like that name better. If any of you try to tell me journalism isn’t art, I will stuff this down your throat. Anyway… the rest of the copies will be passed out tonight.”

“Also featuring an opinion piece by yours truly,” says Suvir. “I wrote it in 45 seconds!”

“I hope it doesn’t get me kicked off the show, but my new hypothesis is that Chris McLean is secretly a snake person,” says Suvir. “I said lizard person a while back, I know, but the guy’s so ssssslippery and ssssslimy. It’s gross, man! Speaking of slippery and slimy… uh, I hope Erica loses the challenge and goes home.”

“Great! So there we have it—our nine, I mean eight,” Chris glares at Whitney, “art pieces. Now, if you’ll just follow me this way, we’re gonna hide in this hallway while these geezers battle it out for the prizes. This is gonna go QUICK.”

Everyone walks out into the hallway of the art center, turning to the side to navigate past a large group of impatient-looking elderly people, all carrying large knapsacks and wearing generally fancy clothing. Once Chris and the contestants are safely past, the group throws the door open and pounces.

“Good heavens! Look at this! It’s so… crude!”

“Crude, you say? No, that’s just artistic expression. It’s tasteful.”

“I refuse to hang that monstrosity on the walls of our house, Edith.”

“Look at this mug, I like it! My grandson’s name is Jacob. I wonder how he’s doing?”

“Ain’t he one of them ‘sodomites?’ Put that back!”

“The hell does this newspaper say? I have to squint to make anything out…”

“Something about ‘Erica’ and ‘Christian’ having—wait, this is SMUT! I refuse to purchase this!”

“Smut? Eh-heh-heh, bring it over here.”

“You stop right there, Herb, I saw it first!”

“No, no, YOU stop right there. Go look at that painting with all the busty redheads, you’ll like that one more.”

“Oh, look at this little kitty. It’s adorable. I’ll take it for $500.”

“Really, $500 for an ugly clay cat some crackhead college student probably threw together in two seconds? Excuse me, I’d like to purchase this diorama for $650.”

“I’LL pay $675 for the diorama. I like emus.”

“That’s an ostrich, you old coot. Glass eye acting up again?”

“No, it’s not a coot. It’s an emu. Trust me, I know birds.”

“Is anyone gonna bid on that… thing over there?”

“The head? No. I don’t even want to look at it.”

“I hope that if I turn away from it, it’ll eventually go away. It’s horrid.”

“It looks like old Bertha from down the street, y’know, the one who got the face lift last week?”

“I almost want to buy it just so I can set it on fire.”

“Don’t do that, you chowder-head! It’ll come to life and possess you!”

“Well, I’m going to get these pretty roses. I’ll hang them up in my kitchen.”

“Those roses ain’t pretty, my three-legged cat could draw better than that.”

The contestants, sitting silently in the hallway, stare at each other in mass confusion. Kelsey bites her lip to prevent herself from laughing hysterically. After a few more minutes of squabbling, the doors swing back open and the elders stampede out of the building, creating a gigantic cloud of smoke.

“So… shall we go back in?” asks Chris.

The group walks in. Chef, loitering by the corner and looking shell-shocked, comes up to Chris and whispers something.

“Hm, okay,” says Chris. “Well! I have good news for some of you, and I guess bad news for some of you too. The item bought for the highest price was Christian’s watercolor piece, and I guess you get invincibility, but since it’s an auto-elimination, that doesn’t really matter.”

“Gimme a reward,” demands Christian.

“Sheesh, I was just gonna say I’d give you a reward!” Chris says. “Moving on… there was one art piece nobody even attempted to buy. The loser of the challenge is clear here, unfortunately. Our zero-dollar loser is…”

“To nobody’s surprise, Roald.”

“Aw, MAN!” Roald shrieks. “But blood, sweat, and tears were poured into that sculpture! It was my finest work yet!”

“Look, Roald, if we’re gonna stay together, we have to practice honesty,” says Whitney, hugging him. “I hated it. It was a bastardization of my gorgeously-structured face. But that’s fine, because you also have a gorgeously-structured face.”

“I can’t be mad anymore,” giggles Roald. “Maybe I should stick to working out. Art ain’t my forte!”

Chris walks up to Roald and pats him on the back. “Sorry, buddy,” he says. “If it’s any consolation, you won’t be going to the loser lodge alone… because Whitney’s ALSO out! Ha!”

Whitney frowns. “What are you talking about?”

“If you’ll remember, I strictly said, ‘whoever gets the lowest bid is out’—Whitney, since you didn’t make an art piece in the first place, you technically finished with a bid of zero dollars and zero cents. Normally I’d do a tiebreaker, but we just had that fake elimination last episode and it feels right for you to go home with your love interest, and… forget it. Point is, see ya!”

A little while later, the sun is setting on the lake, the Yacht of Losers has arrived, and the contestants stand on the dock to say goodbye to the freshly-eliminated couple.

“I had so much fun here!” says Roald. “I can’t be too down in the dumps. I made some b-b-buddies, I showcased my sick skills, AND I got the best prize of all!”

“Mm,” says Whitney. “I’m glad we’re leaving, personally. This show isn’t for me.”

“Just a heads-up, I’m gonna be hitting the gym with Rhett and Boris twice a day once we get there,” says Roald. “You better be ready!”

“On second thought, I may jump off the side of the yacht,” says Whitney.

Roald gives everyone left a hug, except Kaitlin, who leans away in revulsion. “Peace out, h-h-homies. See you on the flipside… the lakeside flipside!”

“Bye, Roald, we love you!” says Graham.

“It’s always nice to feel included,” says Whitney as she and Roald step into the back of the yacht, then it honks its horn and chugs off.

“So, that challenge left a little to be desired,” says Chris, signing off the episode, “but at least we got some TOTALLY dramatic drama! And I mean lots of it! Tomorrow, we’re gonna be waking up the final seven bright and early—”

“What did you just say?” shouts Kaitlin.

“Ahem! We’re gonna be waking up the final seven bright and early to push them to their limits in yet another horrible, or horribly amazing, way! Tune in next time to see the drama keep on heating up, and of course to see my beautiful TV-ready smile in action, right here on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Chapter 11 - Super Lakeside Odyssey

For what seems like the 100th instance of the season, Chris starts the intro looking disheveled and wearing his red velvet bathrobe—but this time, he’s talking on the phone. “Okay. 8:30 sharp, tomorrow morning? I mean, I can do that, it’s just a matter of whether the kids can. Yeah, they’re kids. Pffft. 21 years old is a kid to me. Look, of course they’re going to be grouchy, you think we cast normal, well-adjusted people on Total Drama? No. Oh, I’ll give them a warning, but my kids are going to corrupt yours, just a heads up.” He stops for a second while the person on the line keeps talking rapidly. “Wait, what?! I don’t have to come? Seriously? Ooooh my god, you’re a life-saver. There’s a reason you’ve always been my favorite niece. All right, great, we’ll be there—or should I say they’ll be there. I won’t be there, because I’ll be sleeping in! Ha! Okay. Yeah, great. Yeah, I called Grandma last week. I heard her surgery went wel—wait, hospice care? What the?! I guess I’ll follow up on that later. Okay. Love you too. Bye.” He hangs up, then faces the camera and smiles. “Welcome back. Who was I just talking to? What awesome things are the final seven going to do tomorrow? Find out right now on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

Minutes after the elimination ceremony, the final seven open the door to their dorm and head back inside.

“Can’t believe Chris is making us wake up at 8 am,” says Christian. “Rat bastard.”

“And right after we finally lose Roald!” Kaitlin adds. “I was so excited to not have to hear all that awful shrieking anymore.”

Frances picks up the large stack of papers by her bedside. “Hey, if anyone wants some light reading material before bed, I have seven more copies of the new Lakeside Gazette.”

“You guys are gonna like this one, I promise,” says Suvir. “Grade-A journalism!”

“What’s it even about, aliens or zombies or—” Erica says, stopping once she glances at the top headline. “You didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” Frances asks, a smile curling onto her lips.

“This is a fake headline!” yells Erica. “Before any of you read this, just remember that!”

“Naw,” says Christian. “As one of the most important people in this cover story, maybe even THE most important person, I can tell y’all: 100% straight facts.”

“‘Erica [Yang] and I hooked up last night,’ revealed Total Drama Lakeside contestant Christian Brunner in a shocking tell-all,” Erica says, reading the story out loud. “He then admitted the ‘[expletive deleted] was fire’ and that he was ‘not ashamed at all,’ but also said, ‘I just can’t go bragging about it because I don’t wanna get beaten up by [Yang’s boyfriend] Jacob.’ Representatives reached out to Yang, but she declined to comment.” She throws the newspaper in the air. “This is libel! I mean, it’s all true, but I can’t believe she’d just do that! And for the record, Jacob would never beat anyone up, he’s too much of a sweetie. Ugh! I have to get Frances GOOD for this one.”

Graham, holding a copy of the newspaper, approaches Kelsey. “So, there’s some pretty ridiculous stuff in here, huh?”

“Yeah,” she says, cracking a slight smile. “Listen, I’m gonna go to bed, I still feel super drained from last night.”

“Super—dr—wha—you didn’t have a good time?” Graham asks.

“I meant physically,” laughs Kelsey. “Park benches aren’t the most comfortable place to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.” She heads to the bathroom.

Graham dejectedly walks back to the boys’ side of the dorm. “Goodnight, everyone.”

“Glum again, big man?” asks Suvir. “Don’t be. Be happy we’re finally having an Erica Exposed Party!”

“Eh, I have no stakes in any of that drama,” says Graham. “I just want things to be okay regarding my own drama.”

“Suck it up, bro, it’s ruining my vibe,” Christian says, now rereading the article and laughing to himself. “Have you read this? ‘Brunner shared that he believes his ‘dashing good looks’ and ‘boyish yet mature charm’ are what drew Yang to him in the first place.’ Damn, I’m hilarious.”

“Okay, I’ll go back to my usual routine of angsting in the confessional.” Graham says, getting out of bed and walking away.

“Angsting, seriously? Gimme a break,” laughs Christian. “I see the way Kelsey stares at you. It’s like how Erica looks at me, but with less horniness and more sappy romcom shit.”

“What?!” gasps Graham. “That’s just what I needed!” He races away.

Suvir and Christian look at each other, look away, and then look at each other again. “Man, I’m ready to stop hearing about all this,” admits Christian.

“Tell me about it,” says Suvir. “Hey, read the article out loud again, will ya?”

“You bet!” says Christian, unfolding the paper. “Ahem. ‘It seems even more drama has arrived at the Lakeside…’”

“Self-doubt is my worst habit,” Graham says. “I had an amazing night last night, and I know she did too, she even told me that! So why do I have to start catastrophizing about these scenarios that have no bearing in reality? That conversation we just had was fine. Seriously, it wasn’t bad at all. I don’t think I’ve driven her away yet… I don’t think.”

“Here’s the deal,” says Kelsey. “At school, at home, in my daily life, wherever, I never think about dating. I devote literally zero time to the subject. So sure, I might like Graham, maybe. But my mind has never straight-up told me, ‘okay, you like this boy, you should date him.’ I don’t even know what the next step is after that. Do you just go up to someone and… say that to them? Do you keep it deeply repressed within yourself to focus on the important things, like networking and career planning? Maybe I should just write a 40-page thesis about my feelings.”

Bright and early the next morning, an ear-splitting noise goes off right near the dorm, by which everyone is woken up and starts grumbling.

“Whatever that is, can it not?” Erica croaks.

“Nothing like a migraine to start the day off right,” says Kelsey.

Everyone heads to the door and looks outside to see a giant yellow school bus sitting in the parking lot. The door opens to make way for Chef, holding an air horn and grinning sinisterly.

“Oh, I don’t like the look of that one bit,” says Kaitlin.

“Are we gonna be babysitting?!” yells Suvir. “I don’t wanna get ‘the grippe’ from all those unvaccinated kids!”

“Jus’ get on the bus and I’ll explain it all,” Chef yells back.

About a half hour later, everyone is dressed, groomed (to an extent), and sitting in the bus looking uneasy at best.

“All right,” Chef says. “Chris is asleep, so I’m explainin’ today. You’re going to be dropped off at some school where Chris’s niece teaches, and… actually, that’s all I know. She’ll tell you th’ rest.”

“Ayo, wait,” calls out Christian. “I was promised a reward. Pay me my money down.”

“Mm, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to, but…” says Chef, reaching into his apron pocket and pulling out two small pinkish pills. “Here y’ go.”

“Advil?” Christian asks. “Aight, fine. I’ve done lines of this before.”

“We have to work with kids?!” shouts Kaitlin. “This is gonna be bad. I was part of a child beauty pageant once—well, I wasn’t in the pageant, I helped put it on. We killed it. But you always gotta look out for diddlers, and I swear, if everyone starts going around saying I’ve been diddlin’ kids, which I have not and never will, my reputation will be SHOT!”

The bus pulls up to a long, brick school with a large red door and a fenced-in playground off to the side, where a bunch of tiny children frolic about. Waiting by the door is a bony woman who, despite wearing glasses, a bandana, and much more casual clothing, is clearly related to Chris from her beady eyes and dark hair. She waves as the bus parks and Chef leads the kids out.

“Chef! It’s been so long!” she says, preparing for a hug.

“Ain’t that right,” grunts Chef. “I gotta go. You take it from here.” He hurriedly walks back into the bus, then jerks out of the parking lot.

The final seven silently stare at the woman until she says, “Hi!” A few of them wave back. “I guess you guys know my uncle Chris? I'm Christine. Christine McLean,” she giggles. “Okay! Should we go in and visit the classroom you’ll be helping out today?”

“Lady, it’s not like we have a choice here,” says Kaitlin while following the crowd.

“Too many Chrises around these parts,” says Christian. “I don’t like it. Bruises my ego. I hooked up with a Chris once… a girl, obviously. Well, her name was probably short for something else, but it was still kinda weird moaning out my own name. That's why I stopped thinking about it and just kept pumping away.”

Christine leads the group through the halls of the school, where the laughter (and sobbing) of children can be heard through all the walls. The lockers are a bright blue color, the walls and ceilings are dotted with art, and the door they eventually walk into is lined with scribbly crayon drawings.

“Here we are!” she says, gesturing to the classroom—filled with even more bright colors, toys strewn about everywhere, and little nooks with books and building blocks. “They should be coming any minute! You know, they’re really excited to get to know you all. All the other students are on a field trip today, but I told these seven they’d get to hang with ‘cool teenagers’ and they were just thrilled.”

“That’s adorable, but we’re all 21,” says Kelsey.

“Excuse me, I don’t want to sound mean here,” Frances says, “but I was thinking we’d be spending time with… older students, you know, not preschoolers.”

“Oh, you are!” says a confused-looking Christine. “Should I just bring them out?” she opens a door to her right and yells in, “Come on out, you guys!”

Five sulky-looking middle schoolers of diverse shapes and sizes walk out in a single-file line from behind the door, then sit down on stools directly facing the Lakeside contestants.

“These guys look like losers,” says a short, egg-shaped boy with spiky hair and a voice that sounds like a donkey with a sore throat.

Christine ignores that, then turns back to the contestants and smiles, “Here are your mentees! Or... most of them. The way this is going to work is I’ll pair each of you off, then you’ll get to spend the whole day together. You can take them outside, if you make sure to stay within the fenced-in area, or you can stay and learn in here! We’ll take a lunch break and eat together at noon sharp, and after that, you’ll be with them again until school ends at 4:00. Then, they’ll each fill out a little ‘report card’ about how much they enjoyed their time with you. Chris told me that whoever gets the highest score wins the challenge! And I think he’ll be back after that, so I don’t know what happens next, but… just aim for that high score.” She gives them a giant smile.

“And they can grade us on literally anything?” asks Suvir.

“Yeah! We like to give our students as much free will as possible. They have no set schedule, so you can do whatever you think sounds fun,” says Christine. “Now, Chris told me about each of your… ‘quirks,’ and we worked together to determine which student would fit best with each of you. So sit tight for a moment and I’ll pair you off, okay?”

“I need to take a shit,” says the same short boy.

“Okay, Oswald, we’ll pair you off first so you can use the restroom,” Christine blushes. “You’ll be with…” she reads the clipboard in front of her, “Christian! Who’s that?”

Christian raises his hand, looking slightly wary. “Over here.”

“Great! This is Oswald,” Christine motions to him and he looks down and pouts, “and I’m sure you two will have lots of fun together!”

“Wait right here, it might be a while,” commands Oswald, and he waddles out the door.

Christian grabs the Advil out of his pocket, immediately takes it, and walks over to the drinking fountain to wash it down. “It’s now or never, I guess.”

“All right, next up we have Erica, can she raise her hand?” asks Christine politely.

“That’s me!” Erica displays a TV-worthy smile to prove her alleged friendliness in front of all the kids.

“You’re going to be working with Matt today,” says Christine, pointing to a tall, tanned boy with impeccably-styled hair and a chiseled, Adonis-esque face. Erica’s jaw drops.

“Sweet,” says Matt, heading over to give Erica a high-five.

“Do we have a Frances?” continues Christine.

“Yeah, that’s me,” says Frances apprehensively. “Should I be worried?”

“Not at all,” Christine laughs. “Your partner is Gabriel. He’s one of the best-behaved students here. Hey, where is—” She glances toward the corner of the room and notices a pasty boy with a wispy mustache sitting completely still with his mouth hanging open. “Gabriel! Over here. Come on, we have to start our day.”

“No, no, I’ll just… head over to him, I guess,” says Frances. “Don’t worry about it.” She walks over to the kid and introduces herself, “Hi, er, I’m your mentor today.”

“Okay,” Gabriel says before going back to his business.

“Of course I’m stuck with the oddball,” says Frances. “But this could be good—really good. Maybe I’ll turn him against Erica too, then Suvir and I can have a full-fledged army of angry middle schoolers to do our bidding.” She coughs. “You know, hypothetically.”

“Next up, Graham, I assume that’s our tall guy over here?” Christine says, motioning to Graham.

“What, you don’t think a brown man could be named Graham?!” Suvir argues.

Christine giggles toothily. “I’m sorry, Chris told me about a couple of you guys already. Maybe I should’ve kept that to myself. Never mind. Graham, your student, along with Kelsey’s student, are not here yet. They carpool to school, and… are late almost every day.”

“Oh, awesome, that’s a really promising thing to hear,” Kelsey says.

“No problem with me,” Graham shrugs. “I can wait.”

Christine reads the next name on her clipboard and gulps. “Okay, perfect. I was warn—I mean, notified about the next one of you, but I think I’ve picked the perfect partner, so don’t worry!”

“You’re talking about me, right?” asks Kaitlin. “Bitch.”

“I usually don’t permit that sort of language in the classroom, but you guys are new here, so I understand,” Christine says. “But yeah, I’m talking about you. Your partner is Francine.”

“Chris, Christian, Christine, Frances, Francine? My brain hurts,” Kaitlin whines. “Okay, where is she.” She looks at a small blonde girl, who waves timidly. “Goddamn, it's you? Fine. Let’s go.”

“Okay,” squeaks Francine, darting out of the room.

“It’s me next, right? Gimme my kid!” says Suvir impatiently.

Christine speeds over to Suvir and whispers, “We try not to call them ‘kids’ here, since they get really offended by that! They’re their own functioning human beings with independent thoughts and all…” She raises her voice again, “Anyway, Suvir, right? You’re with Katharine.”

A short girl with giant round glasses, who looks deeply, soul-crushingly bored, glides up to Suvir without saying a word.

“Sup,” says Suvir awkwardly. “I’m Suvir, I guess.”

“Yeah, I know. She just said that,” Katharine says in a soft, flat voice.

“Awesome! Thanks a lot!” says Suvir. “Let’s just go outside and keep up this stimulating conversation there.” Katharine sighs, then follows him out.

“The second I saw that glazed-over, listless look on Katharine’s face, I knew she’d been possessed by some sort of something,” says Suvir. “Usually, I’d do mouth-to-mouth to suck out whatever weird bacteria is inside of her, but that might look a little suspicious in this case, since… she’s 13. Yeah, just gonna steer clear from all that!”

Footsteps approach the closed door. “I can’t believe we’re late again,” says a loud female voice.

“Who cares? She’s not gonna yell at us in front of everyone,” says a higher-pitched, distinctly male voice with a speech impediment. “We’ve got ‘visitors’ today, remember?”

“Oh yeah, those college kids or whatever,” says the female voice. “I hope there’s at least one hottie.”

“Christine isn’t hot enough for you? I mean, those knockers. Mmmm.”

“Oh my god, gross, shut UP—”

Christine walks over and opens the door, and the two children freeze up. “Come on in, all right?” They sheepishly walk inside, giving pained smiles to the final seven contestants. “Everyone,” continues Christine, “this is Allie,” she motions to the scowling girl, who’s tall with curly brown hair and, strangely enough, looks vaguely like Kelsey herself, “and—”

“Sup, fuckers?” asks the boy, a lanky character wearing a mischievous grin, sporting mostly black clothing, and eating from a bag of Funyuns. “Pardon my language.”

“—and that’s Rylan,” Christine says with a defeated sigh. “Graham, you’ll be with him, and Kelsey, you’ll take Allie. There, everyone ready? Three, two, one, break.”

“You’re Graham?” Rylan asks, examining his look. “This could be worse, I guess. Question: do you believe the earth is flat?” Suvir glances in his direction from a distance.

Graham points to Suvir. “My friend Suvir over there would be a lot more interested in that question than I am.”

“Yeah, whatever,” says Rylan. “I bet Allie’s salty she didn’t get you. She LOVES tall guys. You’re kinda weird-looking, but she probably wouldn't care.”

“Okay, I’m sure Allie will have a great time with Kelsey,” says Graham. “So, do you have homework or anything else to work on?”

“Nah, I finished it last night,” says Rylan. “Pulled an all-nighter.”

“What… were you doing all night? Middle school homework can’t take that long, can it?!”

“No way, man. I finished the homework at 8:00 pm. After that, I was gaming.”

Graham starts walking out the door, Rylan instinctively follows him. “Okay, maybe we can go to the computer lab and you can play something in there?”

Rylan laughs mockingly. “I wish. Last year I tried to download hentai on one of the computers, on Oswald’s account, and they cracked down on a ‘website ban.’ Now we can only go to the school website.”

“This kid is deranged,” says Graham. “All I need to do right now is get him distracted on something, whether it be gaming or schoolwork or whatever, so I don’t have to deal with him and I can go back to thinking about what to do in this Kelsey situation. That’s Plan A. Plan B is… he helps me with the situation. Oh no.”

Kaitlin walks down the hallway with Francine, who’s trying to stay as far away from her as possible and looks determined to get to wherever she’s going. “Where the hell are we going?”

“My locker,” Francine squeaks.

“Your locker? Come on. We were just in your classroom! I mean, seriously, you’re just wasting my time here," says Kaitlin.

“I have to get my homework…”

“God, you actually do your homework? You can do that shit later. Today we’re gonna have FUN! You like to have fun, right?”

“Yeah, I guess, but—”

“No, no, no, no buts. I don’t wanna hear that, sister. You’re cramping my style,” Kaitlin protests. “So, where’s the nearest liquor store?” She takes out her phone and starts punching something in.

“But we’re not supposed to leave. I don’t want to get in trouble,” Francine says, arriving at her locker and secretively opening it up.

“God. Middle schoolers are so uncool nowadays,” complains Kaitlin. “Okay, fine. Crank out that homework and then we can have fun.”

Francine grabs a gigantic binder from the top of her locker, drags it out, then closes the locker and starts making her way back to the classroom. “Okay.”

“Yaaaay! That’s what I like to hear!” says Kaitlin faux-enthusiastically.

“This Francine bitch is the worst,” says Kaitlin. “I can’t believe I got stuck with her out of everyone! Like, come on. At least those other ones had personality. She’s just a goddamn wet blanket. I gotta do something about this.”

Down at the school gym, Erica is leaning against the wall while she watches her mentee, Matt, shoot baskets by himself.

“So, is this… fun for you?” she asks, attempting to break the ice.

Matt shrugs. “Yeah, sure. I don’t have much else to do, I finished all this week’s homework last night.”

“Really? Ooooh, smart boy,” says Erica. 

“Yeah, sure,” Matt says again, trying to laugh along. “I dunno, I can’t wait to get out of here. I’m graduating so soon, but high school CANNOT come soon enough.”

“High school, huh? So you’re… 13, then?” Erica asks.

“14,” nods Matt. “I’m the oldest in the grade, I got held back in preschool. That was lame.”

“Well, in a couple years, you should definitely call m—” begins Erica, before abruptly stopping herself. “M-my cousin! She’s your age and she lives only a couple states away, I think you two would definitely get along.”

Matt looks slightly confused, but smiles and goes along with it. “Aight, cool. I’ll do that. Hey, this is getting boring, want to go back to the classroom?”

“Sure!” smiles Erica.

Matt throws the basketball off-screen, then the two make their way to the doors of the gym to head out… before running right into Christian, who looks at wit’s end, and Oswald.

“Oh, uh,” says Christian, his face shockingly flushed. “We were just gonna… oh, okay, we’ll leave.”

“No, it’s fine, we were just heading out ourselves,” Erica says emotionlessly.

“No way!” yells Oswald. “Matt, 1v1 me, bro. Christian, you can join in too… unless you’re a pussy.”

“Hey, man, we’ve gone over this,” Christian scolds. “That’s inappropriate fuckin’ language.”

Oswald gasps mockingly. “Come on, man. You just said inappropriate language yourself. I thought you were better than this.”

Erica pushes Matt out the door and barrels past the other duo. “Okay, we’re leaving.”

“I’m a little pissed at Christian for telling Frances we hooked up the other night,” Erica admits. “So I’m gonna try to make him jealous. I hope it’s working! And it’s not like I’m actually gonna do anything with Matt, are you kidding me? He’s 14…” she looks down, “okay, he's literally one of the most attractive 14-year-olds I've ever seen.”

“Glad we got out of that whole thing,” says Matt as the two walk away. “Oswald’s nuts. He punched Rylan in the face on a field trip last month.”

“I’m about ready to punch them both in the face,” seethes Erica.

“Whoa, whoa, don’t stoop to their level,” says Matt wisely.

“Don’t worry, it was a figure of speech. Adult stuff. You’ll get it in a few years!”

As the two pass by the cafeteria, Frances and her mentee Gabriel subtly peek out from behind a large vending machine, then step out completely once Erica’s out of sight.

“That was interesting,” Frances observes. “Erica seems to be angry, which isn’t that shocking… okay, what did you notice?”

Gabriel is picking his nose and staring blankly. “Eh?”

“Gabriel. Come on,” says Frances. “Get your head in the game so I can gather intel! If I’m going to be your mentor, you should also be mine. We can create a feedback loop.”

“But I don’t care about any of that.”

“Well, you should,” Frances stresses. “I’m stuck in a showdown to the metaphorical death with that girl, and she needs to realize that she’s made a grave mistake. Many of them, actually.”

“Okay,” says Gabriel. He reaches into his pocket, then pulls out a crumpled piece of paper and shows it to her. “Do you know how to do long division?”

Frances snatches the paper. “Ugh, um… yeah. I do.”

“Good,” says Gabriel. “You do that. Do you want to talk about the political issues in Venezuela?”

“I mean, I’ve done a lot of research on the whole thing, but it’s not really a subject I’m super passionate about, so—”

“Okay. Just do the long division.”

“Gabriel is challenging,” says Frances. “I was never a big math whiz, so it’s not like I did that long division well or anything. He’s gonna get a horrible grade on that assignment, but that’s what he deserves after not paying close enough attention to Erica. I need to know what sort of sick stunt she’s going to pull next!”

Back in the classroom, Graham sits on a couch in the corner next to Rylan, who has his phone out and is pointing it down at them.

“What’s up, fans?!” he yells into the phone. “Your favorite vlogger is back, now with special guest star Graham. We’ve had a pretty rough morning, I just dropped a giant deuce and it was NASTY. Smelled worse than Oswald. Now I’m just sitting on this couch, waiting for lunchtime because I’m hungry. Graham, anything you want to add?”

“Hm,” says Graham, staring with deep concentration at a picture book.

“Graham here’s enjoying some light reading,” continues Rylan. “What book, you may ask?” He grabs the book from Graham’s lap and starts reading it. “‘And if the green grass is six and the soybeans are seven’... what the crap is this? Okay, fans, it looks like he’s forgotten how to count! What a loser!”

“Are you allowed to be on your phone right now?” whispers Graham.

“Did you hear that, fans? Graham doesn’t think I should be on my phone right now. Well, I don’t think he should even be here at all right now, so how’s that for a—”

“Watch out! Christine’s coming!” says Graham, pointing to the door.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shi—” Rylan stuffs his phone into his pocket, then looks at the door to see no sign of Christine. “You dick.”

“I’m sorry,” laughs Graham. “I figured we should be doing something productive with our time, you know, since I’m here one day only.”

“Yeah, and?” says Rylan. “It’s not like you’re helping me with anything.”

“Fine. I present to you a deal. If you have any projects due in the near future, I’ll help you out with all of them, literally anything you ask… and in return, I ask only one thing.”

Rylan raises an eyebrow. “Tell me more.”

Over at a table on the other side of the room, Suvir is slumped down in a chair with his mentee, Katharine, who’s silently writing in a notebook.

“So… sure you don’t need any help?” asks Suvir.

“Ugh,” Katharine mutters. “I hate this project.”

“Naw, I’m sure you’re doing fine,” he says half-heartedly. “What’s it about?”

“That’s the thing. It’s about nothing. They call it ‘free write.’ It’s stupid.”

“Wait, so let me get this straight, you can write about literally anything?” asks Suvir.

“Yeah, I guess. I usually just write about what I did over the weekend. That’s a lot more interesting than all the stuff they make us do here, but it still sucks.”

“Yo! I’ll TOTALLY do this assignment for you!” says Suvir, smacking his hand onto her notebook. “I’ve got so many good ideas!”

“Thanks, but I’m okay. Can you just be quiet so I can finish this?”

“C’mon,” says Suvir. “You seem miserable. Go have fun, go do whatever 12-year-olds do, I’ve got this crap covered.”

A slight smile creeps onto Katharine’s face. “I do kinda want to go eat lunch.”

“Perfect! I ingested so much Ultra-Bran Crunch this morning that I ain’t hungry!” says Suvir, grabbing a pencil from the center of the table. “Let’s do this.”

“I don’t know, man, I’m invested in her,” says Suvir. “I hope that didn’t sound creepy. I was just as reserved as her back in middle school, probably because I was starting to stumble upon the true horrors of the universe. But now I’m all amped up! I’m gonna write the story version of that diorama I made yesterday, the one where Kaitlin gets abducted by those Elder Gods. She’s all set! Chaw-haw-haw!”

“I can’t believe they’re making us do all this math,” complains Allie, sitting on a bench outside with Kelsey and staring angrily at her notebook. “My talent is being WASTED.”

“A modern tragedy,” says Kelsey dryly. “I’d love to help, but I’m not a math major. Art history over here.”

“Art history? What do you do, stare at old paintings? Pffft, boring.”

“Uh, excuse you, there’s nothing boring about it! You want to see boring, try taking pre-law courses as a freshman. That’ll make you crave the sweet release of death.”

Allie stares blankly at Kelsey. “What are you talking about?”

“Not even I know,” says Kelsey.

“You know, you are very frustrating.”

Kelsey takes a very deep breath. “Okay, Allie. Please, I beg of you, let me know what I can do to help you out, because I’m under a very high-stress situation right now, and the last thing I need is to witness a 13-year-old girl call me frustrating.”

“Why didn’t you SAY that?” yells Allie. “Tell me about your ‘high-stress situation.’ I love tea.”

“Really?” Kelsey asks. “Okay, brace yourself, because it’s… a lot.”

About 10 minutes later, Allie’s mind is clearly blown. “Ohhhhh my god. Kelsey! I had no idea you were this interesting! You seemed so boring, but no, you’ve got all this romantic stuff… I love it. I’m INVESTED.”

“Amazing, then if you’re truly invested, help a bitch out,” says Kelsey.

“Okay,” says Allie. “Well, I think you’re the prettiest girl here. You remind me of me. You could definitely get any of those guys, but Graham isn’t a bad choice. What about that blonde one?”

“Christian? God, no, been there, done that,” laughs Kelsey. “We’re focusing on Graham here. And remember, I don’t even know if I like him or not.”

“You were BLUSHING the whole time you talked about him!” yells Allie. “Focus!”

Kelsey gently touches Allie’s hand. “Allie, why are you more supportive than all my college friends combined?”

“You know,” Allie flips her hair. “I’m just naturally charming.” Suddenly, a bell rings on the loudspeaker and a bunch of small children begin rushing into the hallway.

“Should I be worried about whatever that was?” asks Kelsey.

“No, no, that means it’s lunchtime,” explains Allie. “Now listen VERY carefully. We’re gonna go to my locker, grab my lunch, then go downstairs to the cafeteria and sit right next to Rylan and Graham. I’ll tell you what to do from there. Got it?”

“I guess?”

“Not ‘I guess.’ Yes. The answer should be YES.”


“Good!” shouts Allie. “I like you, Kelsey. Let’s do this.”

“So I’ve really reached a point in life where I’m ready and willing to accept love life advice from a middle schooler,” Kelsey says. “Nice.”

The cafeteria is completely packed with tiny children. Erica, Matt, Suvir, Katharine, Frances, Gabriel, Kaitlin, and Francine are all sitting down at the closest table to the exit, none of them saying a word and instead focusing on their lunches. Suvir is busy writing in Katharine’s notebook, wearing a giant pair of headphones and seeming deeply in the zone.

Christian comes up to the table and collapses into his seat. “Y’all, I can’t take it anymore. Oswald is an ANIMAL,” he says. “I mean, he kept calling me the N-word earlier. Come on.”

“Sounds like Oswald to me,” laughs Matt. “Where is he now?”

“Hell if I know,” Christian scoffs. “He had to go get his lunch, then he saw his mom packed him two cookies instead of three, so he screamed, threw the cookies at my face, and ran into the bathroom. I mean, sure, I ate his fuckin’ cookies, but I was still heated.”

“Dessert after lunch? I’d watch my weight if I were you,” Erica says.

“Hey hey, you’re just missing your real after-lunch dessert,” says Christian, flipping his hair. “Me.”

“Wait, what? You two were a thing?!” asks an excited Matt.

Frances stands up. “I don’t need to hear about this anymore. Gabriel, are you done eating? Let’s go.”

“But I thought you said we needed to gather intel,” Gabriel says.

Erica and Christian both look straight at Frances, who says through gritted teeth, “That was a private subject.” She hurries away, dragging Gabriel in her wake.

Suvir removes his headphones, then sets them down onto the notebook. “POW!” he says. “I’m done. Kath, this is gonna be the best assignment you’ll ever turn in. Just absolute godlike writing coming outta me!”

“Katharine, what are you…” says Matt.

“He’s writing my journal entries for me,” Katharine says presumptuously. “I didn’t want him to, but he’s doing it anyway.” She takes the notebook from Suvir, then says, “Thanks.” The two walk away.

“Whoa,” whispers Francine.

“Sick,” smiles Matt.

Just then, Rylan and Graham show up, Rylan carrying a lunchbox with what looks like an anime girl plastered on the side and Graham holding a single red apple. “Yo yo yo,” says Rylan.

“Are Kelsey and Allie here yet?” asks Graham, looking side to side.

Rylan whacks Graham’s shoulder with his anime girl lunchbox. “Dude, if we're gonna make any progress, you gotta be a lot more subtle than that.”

After a brief silence, Christian says, “Well, uh, I guess I’mma go track down Oswald and make sure he hasn’t murdered anybody.”

“Honestly, I’d be cool if Oswald DID murder somebody, ‘cause then I wouldn’t have to deal with him ever again,” says Christian. “Seriously, I’m boutta have early onset heart failure at the age of 21 thanks to that fool.”

“Matt, are you ready?” Erica asks, getting up from the table as well.

“We’re leaving, Francine,” Kaitlin demands.

Graham looks around at the table, now completely empty, and the cafeteria at large, which is equally empty. “Well, that got depressing mighty quick.”

“Depressing? No way, dude,” Rylan says. “You gotta stop being so emo. They’ll be here any second, and—”

Kelsey and Allie, giggling secretively to each other, walk into the lunchroom. “Wow, full house today,” says Kelsey, looking around at all the empty tables.

“HI, GRAHAM,” says Allie loudly.

“Come join us!” Graham says, blushing already.

“Nah, we were actually thinking we’d go to that tiny, empty table in the corner over there,” says Kelsey. “Kidding.” She and Allie sit down. “How’s today been for you boys?”

“Pretty good,” Rylan says, seeing what’s in his lunchbox and gasping. “I’m about to deepthroat this taco.”

“Ew, I’m about to start EATING, I don’t need to hear that,” Allie whines. “So. Graham. Tell us about your day.”

Graham tugs at his collar a bit. “Well, erm, we just sat on a couch for two hours while Rylan filmed us on his phone, and we talked about… certain things…”

“Certain things such as deepthroating tacos?” Kelsey asks. 

Allie grabs Kelsey’s head and scream-whispers into her ear, “Don’t say that! That’s stupid!!!”

“Come on, I'm trying!" Kelsey retorts. "It was a light-hearted joke that everyone at the table would get." 

“Whatever, I’m taking charge of this myself,” says Allie. “Graham. I heard you write poetry. Kelsey said she wants to read it.”

“Yeah, I know that… uh, she told me that last night.”

“Wait, did I? Oh god, I did. I definitely did. I mean, I do! I do want to read it.”

“GOOD. Let’s keep this going,” barks Allie. “Do you, like, write creatively? I know this hottie who also writes creatively, and I need help getting his attention—”

“Ew, Allie, don’t use this guy to solve your own love life problems,” says Rylan.

“Shut up, Rylan! It was a serious question!”

“You need to give up. You saw him with that other girl, remember? And she’s not 13, unlike you,” Rylan continues, as Allie’s expression gets progressively more enraged.

“I already TOLD YOU, I'm playing the long-term game!”

“Okay, keep telling yourself that. Now let’s keep this conversation going. Graham, are you going to be participating in Destroy Dick December?”

Kelsey grabs Allie’s shoulder. “You know, we should probably get going, right, Allie? I seem to remember you telling me you had a loooot more homework to do. Let’s get on that.”

“Fine,” Allie groans. “You guys are bad at having conversations.”

Graham looks at Rylan, his face full of taco sauce. “I’m not hungry anymore either.”

“Follow-up to my previous confessional: I probably shouldn’t have accepted love life advice from a middle schooler, especially one who seems to have her own love life issues,” says Kelsey. “Eh, happens to the best of us. God. But she completely clocked me earlier when she said I was blushing while talking about Graham, so… I guess that’s a thing. Oh boy.”

“I’m doing okay, I’m doing okay,” repeats Graham to himself. “I wasn’t the one who brought up Destroy Dick December, whatever that is. I didn’t make a fool of myself or anything. Augh! Come on! Is flirting really this hard?!”

In the classroom, Christian holds a crumpled-up piece of paper in his hands and stares at it intently. “Dude. This is just sad.” He shows it to Oswald, revealing it’s a math worksheet filled with unintelligible scribbles.

“Huh? Why is it sad?” Oswald asks. “I don’t do math.”

“Well, you should. Here, I’ll help you out. I’m a business major, I’ve done my fair share of math. It’s business time.”

“NO!” roars Oswald. “We’re gonna go down to the gym and wrestle.”

“Me, wrestle you?” Christian starts to giggle. “My guy, you’re like four feet tall and shaped like an egg. I was the kicker of my high school football team. That’s no fair matchup.”

“If you don’t wrestle me, I’m gonna give you the lowest possible score!” threatens Oswald.

Christian slaps his forehead. “I’ll go get my jockstrap.”

“So, uh…” says Suvir, a few tables over, as awkwardly far away from Katharine as ever. “Wanna hear what I wrote about in your journal?”

“Not really,” says Katharine.

“Dang! I do all this for you, and you can’t even muster up a smile? I’ll tell ya, try keeping up that indifferent facade when you get abducted by Dogman in the woods at night, then we’ll talk!”

“I hate it here and I want to go home,” says Katharine.

“Aw, what? Home? I guess that’s kinda the place to be if you wanna hide out from The Man…” says Suvir.

“No offense, but can you please stop talking to me? I’ll give you a perfect score if you do.”

“For real?! Heck yeah! I’ll shut up now!”

“Okay,” says Katharine. She takes out an expensive-looking smartphone from her pocket and a pair of AirPods.

Suvir sneaks a look at the other side of the classroom, where Frances and Gabriel are sitting, Frances on her laptop. “You don’t mind if I just leave you here, then?”

“That’s fine.”

“There we go! Catch you on the flipside, Katharine,” Suvir bids her adieu and unsubtly rushes over to Frances’s table. “So, how’s it goin’ over here? Any big news?”

“No big news,” says a disappointed Frances. “Erica has been gone for over an hour. My plan is to cause drama between her and Matt, so he’ll give her a low score and she’ll be gone, but he’s been by her side the whole time. It’s annoying.”

“She is very angry,” points out Gabriel.

“Thanks for that, Gabe,” says Frances. “Although I wouldn’t say angry, maybe ‘slightly disappointed.’ I don’t care that much about the Erica thing.”

“Uhhhh, don’t take this the wrong way, but you sure seem to care!” says Suvir. “Plus, you already got even with her when you published the Gazette. Why the extra mile?”

“Oh, I can tell she’s planning her next strike, but f I beat her twice in a row before she can even enact a plan, she’ll be ancient history.”

“I have history homework,” says Gabriel. “I need to do that.”

“Okay, take it out and we can work on it while we stay on the lookout,” Frances says hastily.

“No. It’s in my locker.”

“Oh, for the love of—”

“Actually, that’s perfect!” says Suvir. “We can hunt for Erica and Matt while we’re in the hallway! Because we damn sure know they’re not in the classroom.”

“Hm,” Frances says, tapping her chin. “Okay, fine. A quick there and back. Maybe we’ll spot them.”

“Okay,” says Gabriel, and the three walk out of the right-hand door and head off to the east wing of the school.

Seconds later, Erica and Matt walk in through the direct opposite door.

“Early on in my high school days, I got this suspicion my locker was a portal to a pocket dimension,” says Suvir. “I tried stuffing my old crap in there to see if it’d disappear the next day… it didn’t. I also spent an entire class period hiding in there and trying to smash the back wall with a hammer I stole from Home Ec class. Also didn’t work. God, now I understand why I had to switch schools.”

“Spending a day with middle schoolers is weird, because they have all this petty drama, and I like to think I’m above that,” says Erica. “Maybe in high school I was more dramatic, but nowadays I feel like I’m cool, calm, and collected. Anyway, I have a new plan to get back at Frances once and for all, and I’m SO excited. If she’s gonna avoid me, I gotta take down her closest ally.”

“Matt, how do you feel about Katharine over there?” asks Erica.

“Oh, uh, she’s cool, I guess,” shrugs Matt. “I dunno. My buddy had a crush on her last month and she wasn’t into him, and now she kinda just gives us death glares.”

“I don’t care about any of that, I want to know if she’d be receptive to talking to me about… things,” Erica says.


“Awesome!” Erica claps her hands together. “Listen, I’ll be right back.” She leaves Matt at a table by himself, where he starts staring off into space once she’s gone, and heads over to Katharine, still at the table with her AirPods in. “Hey!” Katharine says nothing, so Erica touches her shoulder. “I like your sweater.”

Katharine takes a single AirPod out. “What?”

“I like your sweater!”

“Thanks,” says Katharine. “It was $350 plus tax. My mom bought it for me when I got a B+ on my last math test.”

“Oh my gosh! My boyfriend Jake bought me a new blouse right around that price a few months ago,” cheers Erica. “We have so much in common! Anyway, what’s your mentor Suvir up to?”

“I don’t know and I don’t really care,” Katharine admits. “He went to go hang out with that other weird girl, so now I’m enjoying quietude.”

“Okay, good,” Erica lowers her voice to slightly above a whisper. “I don’t want to influence your score or anything, but can I tell you a secret about him?”


“I heard him whisper to Frances right before lunch that he actually hates you and can’t wait until today’s over. Isn’t that horrible?!”

“Oh, that’s fine. I don’t really like him either.”

“Okay… but don’t you think you should get back at him somehow?”

“Not really. I’m just glad he’s leaving me alone.”

“Fine, whatever. I ALSO heard he wrote a bunch of offensive things in your journal so you’d get in trouble.”

“What are you talking about? I just read it and it’s all a bunch of dumb crap about aliens.”

“Ugh!” yells Erica. “I mean… wow, I guess he must’ve erased it. That’s crazy!”

“As long as I get an A, I’m fine with it.”

“Okay, well, I have one more piece of info about Suvir,” says Erica, getting ready to whisper into Katharine’s ear. “Get ready for this one.” She says something unintelligible, and Katharine’s face turns sheet-white.

The scene switches to the gym, where Oswald, clad in a singlet, has a shirtless Christian pinned down on the ground, with streams of water running down his face that seem to be either sweat or tears. “AAAAAUUUUUGH!” he cries out.

“I got you! Get good, bro!” Oswald taunts.

“Okay, okay, I give up,” says Christian. “You win. Jesus, man, I think you knocked the wind out of me.”

“So what? You just can’t handle the beast unleashed!” says Oswald.

Christian manages to slide out from underneath his grasp. “That might’ve been the lowest point of my entire life so far.”

“Chris,” says a stern Christian. “You BETTER cut that shit out from the final footage. Deadass. If the boys back home see me getting my ass kicked by a 12-year-old, I’m gonna be a laughingstock. A fool. A nerd! Seriously, just replace that footage with a clip of me doing my hair, or something else people actually wanna see. Otherwise, I’ll sic Oswald on y’all.”

“Listen, kid, let me suggest a peace offering,” says Christian.

“You’re just scared I’m gonna beat you up again!” yells Oswald.

“Pffft, no. I just don’t wanna spend the whole day brawling. Anyway, you down to get some grub? That burned off a bunch of calories. I’m thinking the McDick’s drive-thru.”

“Um, we can’t leave school, remember?”

“Shit, you’re right,” says Christian. “That’s nathan. Yo, wait. Want to order from my phone? If I don’t get 20-piece McNuggs right now, I’mma punch something.”

“Dude! That’s my favorite item on the menu!” Oswald yells in glee. “That’s it, I’m giving you an A+.”

“MY MAN!!!” Christian says, offering up a high-five.

Frances, Gabriel, and Suvir, having finally collected Gabriel’s homework from his locker, head back to the classroom just in time to see Erica and Matt leaving again.

“Sup,” says Matt.

“What were you—” Frances says, clearly shocked. “Where did you two come from?”

“Is Katharine still in there?!” Suvir adds.

“Yeah? Of course she is, it’s not like she’s my mentee or anything,” says Erica. “Anyway, we gotta go, we still have a lot of work to do.”

“Work to do? Wait, I finished all my homework…” Matt mutters.

“Metaphorical work, silly boy,” says Erica. She and Matt walk away.

Suvir looks into the classroom and sees Katharine, still at the same table, looking just as indifferent as always. “God, I dunno, she looks like she’s up to something!”

Gabriel looks at the clock. “We only have an hour left. I need to finish my homework.”

“Fine, let’s just do that,” sighs Frances.

“Okay, I change my mind, this whole thing is consuming me,” says Frances. “I need a hard reboot. I can’t spend the entire game as a nervous wreck. Like, honestly, am I becoming Suvir? No, I’m just going to pretend nothing happened in there while we were gone, because I have no proof anything did happen. I will now proceed to think about nothing except Gabriel’s history homework.”

The camera zooms out of the school and to a small, dilapidated building a few blocks away, displaying a sign that reads “Lyle’s Liquor.” Inside, Kaitlin and a horrified-looking Francine browse the aisles, Kaitlin stopping to examine every single different type of beer.

“Why are we here?” squeaks Francine.

“Because, I’ve told you a million goddamn times, we’re going on a very important outing,” says Kaitlin. “It’s time to have fun and let loose, Frankie. You don’t want to be stuck inside that dumbass school doing dumbass homework all day, do you?”

“I don’t want to do my homework, but we have to,” says Francine. “We could’ve finished it this morning, but you kept yelling at me.”

“I wasn’t YELLING!” yells Kaitlin. “I was just trying to get to know you. You know, ‘cause we’re friends!”

“We’re gonna get in so much trouble…” says Francine.

“Relax, we’re so close to the school that we’ll be back in a jiff,” says Kaitlin. “Miss Kaitlin just has to buy herself a couple drinks, you know, for later tonight, and then we’ll zoom on back there, okay?”

“I really don’t know about this…”

“Fine. If you want me to hurry, I’ll hurry,” snaps Kaitlin. She grabs a case of Coors from a bottom shelf and hauls it over to the cash register, where Smoothie Guy is of course lurking.

“Great,” he says.

“What? You?!” asks Kaitlin. “Hold on, your name isn’t Lyle. Why the hell is this place called Lyle’s Liquor?”

“Don’t ask me, I’m not Lyle, I’m just a wage slave,” grumbles Smoothie Guy. “Anyway, I’d ask for your ID, but I notice you have a child with you who is very much under 21, so put that beer BACK.”

“You really think I’m gonna give her any of this beer? Come ON,” laughs Kaitlin. “All for me.”

“I’ll just meet you back at school, okay?” asks Francine, trying to subtly tiptoe to the door.

“No! You’re staying here until I buy this shit! If you go outside without your mentor, you could get hit by a car or something!” yells Kaitlin.

“I’m not selling you anything,” snaps Smoothie Guy. “Period.”

“Ohhhh, really?” Kaitlin says mockingly. “Try to stop this.” She looks around, picks up the nearest bottle of liquor, then chucks it at Smoothie Guy’s head. It hits him right in the forehead and he lurches back. Kaitlin then, still holding the entire case of beer, sprints towards the doorway, makes it outside, then trips forward, slams head first into the side of a parked car, and wipes out.

“I’ll be at school if you need me,” whispers Francine, trying to hold in laughter as Smoothie Guy staggers toward the doorway and police sirens start emanating in the distance.

“I don’t care what she says to those other snot-nosed kids,” says Kaitlin, in handcuffs, in the confessional. “I gave Francine the time of her LIFE today, and she better be thankful.”

Kelsey and Allie sit in the cafeteria, at the same table where they ate lunch. “I don’t get why we’re here and not in class,” says Allie.

“I don’t know, it’s stupid but…” says Kelsey. “Once we finished all your homework, I figured that if Graham and Rylan sat with us earlier, you know, they could come back here… maybe. To hang out with us, I guess.”

“Who hangs out in the cafeteria?!” Allie laughs. “Kelsey, I don’t want to judge you or anything, but have you ever dated a boy?”

“Me? No, god no,” says Kelsey. “You think I have the time for that?”

“I dunno,” shrugs Allie. “Maybe.”

“Have YOU ever dated a boy? Is this the pot meeting the kettle?” Kelsey fires back.

“Come on, I’m only 13,” says Allie. “All the boys my age are fuckin’ stupid. That’s why I—”

“Okay, interjection, I have to say that I am continuously shocked at your mouth. Jeez, sister.”

“What’s wrong with it? I learned it all from my mom. We swear at each other all the time.”

“That explains it,” says Kelsey. “Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ve ever heard my mom say anything worse than ‘gosh.’ Anyway, keep talking about boys, this is good content.”

Allie takes out her phone, which is small and dilapidated unlike Katharine’s fancy one, and presses her lock button to reveal a photo of multiple glamorous-looking men. “Okay, so I’m mentally dating ALL of these hotties. Whenever I hang out with Rylan and he says something stupid, I just tell myself that none of my fake boyfriends would ever treat me that way. I’ve never met any of them—well, except for one, but he’s soooo out of my league—”

“Fake boyfriends,” repeats Kelsey. “I think I get it. Kind of like my years-long K-pop phase? Wait, I said that out loud, didn’t I.”

“Yeah, but guess what,” Allie continues. “I only have these fake boyfriends because I don’t have time for a real boyfriend. No boys my age can handle how vivacious and bubbly I am. But you have one right in front of you, so you BETTER not fuck that up!”

“Okay, cool. One final thing: what if I have way too much on my plate in my everyday life to deal with romance?”

“You’re not IN your everyday life right now, are you? You’re on Total Drama. Get it together.”

“Okay, okay, that’s solved… I guess. Good talk.”

“Not to be overly dramatic, but I’d die for Allie,” says Kelsey. “Ahhh, why don’t I have a younger sister like her? I’d never get this level of love from my brother. Susan, I love you, but you dropped the ball.”

Two figures walk into the cafeteria. “And here we have the cafeteria, where the little bastards eat up the disgusting, overpriced organic food their mommies pack for ‘em,” says Rylan, adopting a voice even more ear-splitting than his normal one.

“I’m learning so much from your guided tour of the school,” says Graham. “This is a lot more productive than your homework. Thanks, Rylan.”

“Rylan? Who’s that? I’m his alter-ego, Crackhead Craig,” Rylan squawks.

“Great. Thanks… Craig,” says Graham, before turning to Kelsey and Allie at the table. “Hey, guys.” He walks over and sits down across from them, and Rylan joins.

“So, did you have a productive afternoo—” begins Kelsey, but she’s interrupted by the bell chiming over the loudspeakers.

“Oh SHIT! It’s 4:00! Time to go home!” cheers Allie, jumping up.

“No, no, we’re not going home yet, remember? We gotta fill out those stupid report cards about these guys,” Rylan reminds.

“Fuck!” says Allie. “Okay, Kelsey, you get an A+.”

“We’re not supposed to tell them, you moron,” says Rylan.

“So what? I need to show Kelsey how much I love and cherish her,” says Allie.

“My HEART! The feeling is mutual!” Kelsey says, creating a heart with her fingers.

Rylan stands up and starts to walk away with Allie, leaving Graham and Kelsey alone at the table. “Bye, duders.”

“Anyway,” Graham smiles. “I did have a productive afternoon. I eventually learned to tune out Rylan’s voice, which was really all I could’ve asked for.”

Kelsey smiles back. “Love to hear that.”

Meanwhile, Chris and Chef loiter right outside the school front doors—Chef looking rather impatient, and Chris on the phone with someone and seeming enraged.

“You’re kidding me,” he shouts into the phone. “This has to be a joke. She’s WHERE?!” He pauses as whoever’s on the line squeaks back in response. “Yeah, yeah, we’ll be there. I guess. Give us like… a half hour, though. And you’re sure it’ll only take a second? My time is very valuable. Yes, I have the money! Okay, fine. Bye.” He aggressively hangs up.

“Do I even wanna know what that was about?” grunts Chef.

“No,” says Chris.

The doors swing open, and Christine peeks her head out. “Uncle Chris!” she hoots, giving him a giant hug. “Come on in! The kids are almost done with their report cards, just in time for you to do your big reveal.”

“Uh, well,” Chris nervously looks to the side. “We’re kinda in a pickle. One of our contestants… is currently in jail.”

“What?!” Christine drops the stack of papers she’s holding.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s just Kaitlin,” says Chris. “She does this kind of stuff all the time. I should’ve seen it coming. Anyway, can you host the elimination ceremony tonight? Chef and I have to bail her out.”

“Of course I can, but that’s horrible,” pouts Christine. “I’m glad all the kids are okay. Her mentee, Francine, is upstairs doing her regular thing… thank goodness.”

“Ehhh, no sweat, we’ll pay whatever fines we need to and she’ll be outta there in a flash,” says Chris. “Just pretend she’s still in the game, right there in front of you. This elimination ceremony is gonna be a GREAT one, I’m not gonna waste it on something this stupid.”

“It’s gonna be a loooong drive,” warns Chef.

“Then let’s go!” says Chris, and the two leave without saying goodbye to Christine.

“Uncle Chris is just as cheerful as ever,” says Christine to herself, heading back up the stairs to her classroom. She opens the door and sees all seven kids hard at work, and six out of the seven contestants eyeing them anxiously, then says, “Okay! If you’re done, the bus is waiting outside for us! We’re gonna present the results back at the Total Drama Lakeside set!”

About an hour later, the contestants are back in the dorm, preparing themselves for the elimination ceremony. Christian is wearing multiple ice packs, while Erica is standing by one of the outside mirrors and prepping her makeup for some reason.

“Man, Oswald and I went ham on those McNuggs,” he says. “He better not be lying about giving me a perfect score, after all that male bonding.”

“So you’re talking to me again?” Erica says, while not looking at him and continuing to focus on her makeup.

“I mean… I was just kinda thinkin’ out loud,” says Christian. “But if that floats your boat, sure. What’s with the makeover?”

“It’s not to impress you,” she hisses. “It’s for Ma—uh, so I can look TV-friendly in that heavy lighting tonight.”

“Classic,” laughs Christian, and Erica grimaces.

Kelsey, sitting on her bed, rifles through her suitcase and pulls out the green jacket she bought on her shopping spree with Susan. “Should I finally bust this bad boy out tonight?”

“Definitely!” says Graham. “The green is nice, it matches your eyes.”

Kelsey blushes. “Oh gosh, stop. You can say that once we’ve both survived the elimination.”

“...fair point,” Graham says as they both walk outside.

Over by the back door, Suvir looks at Frances, who’s putting her coat on, and says, “I’m not sure how I feel about my chances of winning this challenge. Katharine basically stopped talking to me after we got back to the room.”

“Yeah, I noticed that,” says Frances. “It’s concerning, I suppose, but didn’t you say that’s just what she’s like?”

“I did! But usually she’d say ONE snarky thing before tuning me out,” Suvir says. “Mmph. Okay, maybe I’m just being paranoid.”

“‘Maybe I’m just being paranoid?!’” Frances shouts. “Suvir, I’m sorry, but… I never thought I’d hear that sentence coming out of your mouth. This is a historic moment.”

“Yeah, yeah. My paranoia is usually justified!”

“I’m starting to realize you could say my entire life has been me just being paranoid…” says Suvir. “But I don’t care. That’s my biggest strength! If y’all think you’re gonna get some sorta emotional confession outta me where I decide to drastically alter all my life choices, you’re wrong!”

It’s twilight. The final seven contestants, minus Kaitlin, have arranged themselves around the front row of the bandshell, with Christine and her seven students placed where Chris normally stands.

“Okay!” announces Christine, tapping the mic. “Ooooh, this is exciting. This is what Chris gets do every day? Wow. Maybe he won’t come back for a few days and I can keep hosting instead! That’d be awesome. Actually no, I kid, I kid, I have to teach tomorrow. Anyway, here’s how this will work. The scores have been tallied, and one of you has won the challenge, and one of you is going home!”

Frances raises her hand. “Wait… excuse me?”

“Yeah, Chris said…” Christine pulls out a notepad that was resting on the podium, “something about how whoever has received the lowest score is automatically going home.”

“Twice in a row? Oh my gosh!” Erica says, trying to look as horrified as possible.

“I tried to act shocked when she revealed it was an auto-elimination, so I wouldn’t come off as too cocky or anything… because I’m not trying to be cocky!” explains Erica. “I just know that Matt and I bonded really well, so there’s no chance I’m leaving. And I guess I can thank Chris for that, because I think everyone hates me and was gonna vote me off. Yikes. Oh well, that’s their problem.”

“Yeah, I’m so sorry in advance,” says Christine. “Just know that none of this was my decision, and I’m completely at the whims of my students here.”

“What else is new?” says Rylan, slouched down in a chair and wearing a shit-eating grin.

“Okay! We’ll go alphabetically by contestant, which means Oswald, you get to reveal your score for Christian first,” says Christine. “And whoever gets the highest score gets a reward straight from our classroom! Awesome! Okay, Oswald, you ready?”

“‘Course I’m ready,” Oswald says, pushing her aside and standing on his tiptoes to reach the podium—even then, though, only the tip of his hair can be seen. “Christian?”

“Hit me with your best shot, buddy,” says Christian.

“Earlier today, we had… some differences. It must've been hard for you to realize I’m a lot stronger than you. Like, a LOT stronger. But that doesn’t matter, because you’re my—” Oswald’s speech is suddenly bleeped out, although his lips continue moving, “—and I’m glad I met you.”

There’s an extended, painfully awkward silence. “So… well… what score did you give him?” says a mortified Christine.

“Oh, Christian gets a 100. A deal’s a deal,” Oswald says, pointing finger guns at him.

“YOOOOO!” bellows Christian. “Challenge beast over here!”

“Wow! We have an early winner!” says Christine. “Don’t worry, though—if anyone else gets a 100, I’ll make sure the prize is distributed evenly among all of you. Anyway, Matt, you’re next!”

“All right,” says Matt, smiling for the crowd. “Erica, I gotta admit, I was kind of confused at most of the things you said to me. But you’re chill, I could definitely see myself kicking it with you in the future. Your boyfriend seems cool, too. Okay, you get a 9/10.”

“A 90?! Why not—” begins Erica. “No, it’s fine. Thanks, sweetie!”

“Sweetie? Only my mom calls me that, but no problem,” Matt says coolly, sitting down as Gabriel takes his place.

“Frances. Thank you for helping me with my history homework,” mumbles Gabriel. “8.7 out of 10.” He sits back down.

“Short, to the point, even with a decimal number,” says Frances. “I can’t even be mad.”

Christine notices Rylan preparing to take the mic, and shouts out, “No funny business! Remember, we’ve been over this!”

Rylan smirks, then belches extremely loudly into the microphone. After wiping off some of the spit, he starts talking. “That wasn’t even my best effort. Lame. But Graham, you’re kinda cool, I guess. I’m not feeling very generous today, so you get a 6/10.”

“Ohhhh boy,” Graham says, specifically turning to Kelsey.

“Come on, you’re fine,” she reassures. “Look, Francine is next. Her mentee is currently in prison. You’re golden.”

Francine squeaks as she picks up the mic, “Kaitlin isn’t even here but I’m gonna give her a 3/10… I had a horrible day, but at least once she left, I finally got to finish my homework.”

“Yikes,” winces Christine. “Kaitlin’s our loser so far. Imagine if she gets bailed out by Chris, and then he tells her she’s out of the game anyway? Oh, that’d be awful! But… kinda funny. Allie, you’re up!”

“KELSEY,” Allie says passionately, as she grips the microphone. “I love you. Lots. I’m giving you a 10, as long as you do all the stuff we talked about this afternoon. Oh, I also friended you on Instagram and Snapchat, so you HAVE to accept those.”

“Wait, in the past hour? How’d you find me that quickly?” Kelsey asks.

“You’re reeeeeally easy to stalk,” says Allie. “But that’s not important. What’s important is that you do what you’re destined to do!!!”

“Thanks, babe,” says Kelsey jokingly. “You too. Just keep being you.”

Katharine steps up to the podium, and Christine says, “Okay! One more student… depending on the score she gives Suvir, we could be saying goodbye to him, or we could have another winner, which would make Kaitlin our loser! What do you have to say, Katharine?”

Katharine clears her throat, and says…

“Zero. You’re gross.”

“Wh-wh-wh—” Suvir stammers. “Gross? Zero? What are you even—”

Frances instantly rises. “Can someone let us know what exactly is going on here?”

“I’m done talking,” Katharine says, heading back to her seat.

Allie leans in beside her and says, “If you whisper it to me, I can do the talking. I’m good at talking.” Katharine nods, whispers for a very long time, then Allie says, “Ew! Wait, that’s actually kinda sexy.” Rylan starts snickering once he hears the word ‘sexy.’

“Not the reaction I wanted!” huffs Katharine.

“Okay, guys, she said this is all according to Erica, I don’t know who that is but probably one of you,” says Allie, “but Suvir was telling everyone else about how he thinks Katharine is ‘hot’ and was trying to use the challenge to flirt with her. And date her. And she doesn’t like that because she’s 13 and he’s, I dunno, 40 or something, but I on the other hand would be fine with it because I’m really into older gu—”

“Ew! What the?!” yells Suvir. “I never said any of that! Did I tell anyone that? Franny, I didn’t tell you that, did I? Graham? Christian?” Crickets chirp.

“Oh, then it was probably a lie,” Katharine rolls her eyes. “Sorry or whatever.”

“Look on the bright side,” Erica says cheerfully. “Now you two have the perfect cover story for the next issue of the Lakeside Gazette!”

Frances’s eyes start burning with the passion of 10,000 suns. “You didn’t.”

"I really hope we can mutually respect each other's gameplay decisions," says Erica diplomatically.

A few minutes later, the bus has picked up all seven middle-schoolers to take them home, while the contestants and Christine are gathered in front of the Yacht of Losers as Suvir prepares to step in.

“Hate to go, everyone,” says Suvir. “I don’t wanna waste your time with platitudes or whatever, because I’m heated.” He turns to Christine. “Can’t y’all get rid of Kaitlin instead?!”

“I’m really sorry, I don’t make the rules,” says Christine. “And I don’t want Chris to yell at me again, so…”

“Gah, I can’t believe she outlasted me!” Suvir yells. “Hey, and Erica, I can’t believe you sabotaged ME of all people.”

“Sabotaged? No, that feels like too strong a word for what I did,” Erica says. “It was just a game move!”

Frances, who looks borderline heartbroken, walks up to Suvir and gives him a big hug. “Thanks for the great memories,” she says, her voice shaky.

“Franny! My #1 buddy,” replies Suvir. “I didn’t know what having close friends was like until I met you. Hey, when I get home, I’m gonna email you qualitative research about the faked moon landing and you’ll FINALLY believe me.”

“It’s nice to see that even getting voted out hasn’t sunk your spirits,” smiles Graham.

“Spirits? Where?!” Suvir yelps, then jumps onto the boat. “Oh, wait…” The boat begins to sail off as he finally realizes his mistake. He waves to the crowd, then turns around and heads into the darkness of the boat’s interior.

Frances walks up to Erica and says, “I don’t even have the energy to fight back, or say something dramatic, or… do anything.” She then walks off-frame, in the direction of the cabins. Erica opens her mouth and prepares to say something, but stops as well and follows her back.

“Well…” says Christine, eyeing the only remaining contestants in Graham, Kelsey, and Christian. “Chris told me not to do the outro and that he’d splice it in later. So… thanks for all the help, you guys! Hopefully we’ll see you again!”

“It was our pleasure!” Graham says.

“Sure thing,” Kelsey gives an ‘ok’ sign.

“Bet,” nods Christian.

The scene abruptly switches to what’s clearly a county jail, with Chris and Chef sitting restlessly in a waiting room populated by all sorts of unsavory-looking characters. Chris is, once again, on the phone. “Yeah, it looks like we won’t get out of here until tomorrow morning,” he says. “My fault?! Come on! I was a completely neutral party!” He groans loudly. “I don’t think I’ll even get back in time for the challenge.”

“I can host th’ challenge,” says Chef softly.

“No, no, you always screw things up,” Chris says to Chef, then resumes his phone conversation. “Wait, WHAT? You can fill in?! Hahaha, no way, dude! You’re a life-saver!” Another pause. “Oooh, really? I like that. Spicy. Let’s do it. And that way, we can keep all the biggest drama-causers in the game, if you know what I’m saying. Okay. Let me do this outro real quick, and—” he turns away from the phone, then says, “See you next time on Total… Drama… Lakeside!” One more pause. “Okay, perfect. Thank you SO much! All right. Later, Don.”

Chapter 12 - Total Drama Lakeside Presents: The Ridonculous Lake

A handsome, well-dressed man in his 40s, who is clearly not Chris McLean, stands on the beach right in front of the bandshell. “Last time on—” he begins, until his voice is abruptly cut out and replaced with Chris’s voice saying “Total Drama Lakeside.” The man continues. “I caught a last-minute flight from Toronto to, uh, wherever we are right now, and only narrowly made it to my destination. But hey, Chris paid for the whole thing! I’m a free flyer! I can’t complain about any of this. So, thanks to Chris generously taking a day off and letting his superior take the reins… I’m your host, Don, and this is… Total Drama Lakeside Presents: The Ridonculous Lake!”

The morning after Suvir’s elimination, five of the six remaining contestants are gradually waking themselves up in the dorm. Frances looks over at her two roommates—Kelsey, who’s looking at something on her phone and furtively smiling, and Erica, who’s clearly awake but lying in bed motionless, then sighs.

“So, it finally happened, I lost my partner,” says Frances. “My partner in the game, I mean. He’s gone, probably for good, and I know I ‘’should’’ get back at Erica in some convoluted, amazingly petty way, but I just don’t have any energy. All I did to earn her wrath was tell everyone about things SHE did—I didn’t even lie!—and she responded with that. Well, you win, Erica. I give up. Are you happy now?”

“Hey, hey bro,” Christian says, nudging a semi-awake Graham. “You up?”

“Yeah,” yawns Graham, “barely. What’s the deal today?”

“Listen, you wanna go for a jog around the lake?” asks Christian. “It’ll be super-quick. We’ll be there and back in like 10 minutes.”

Graham tries to conceal his laughter. “I didn’t know Roald was still here.”

“C’mon, you don’t understand,” says Christian, his tone growing more desperate. “Yesterday, I got the shit kicked outta me by a 4-foot tweenager. I gotta get back to peak performance, and the best way to do that is to start working out with guys who are way less jacked than me.”

“Okay, okay,” Graham climbs out of bed and starts rifling through his clothes. “I’ll go jog with you, but only because I need to make myself look good today… for you-know-who.”

“Jeeeesus, dude, chillax,” Christian laughs. “You ain’t gotta worry about Kelsey. For the 1,000th time, she’s into you. Lack of muscles and all.”

“Mkay, I’m ready to jog,” says Graham, suddenly in his workout gear. He rushes out the door, and Christian, still laughing to himself, follows.

A little while after the boys are gone, Kelsey gets out of bed. “Hey, girls. So…”

“Please don’t take offense to this, but I’m not really in the ‘talking’ mood right now,” Frances says quietly, trying not to disturb the ‘sleeping’ Erica.

“Neither am I,” says Erica.

“Oh… she’s awake,” Frances remarks. “Perfect.”

“Of course I’m awake,” says Erica. “I’m an early riser, haha!”

“Well,” Kelsey shoots finger guns. “I can sense there’s some weird drama brewing that I’m not at all caught up on, and that’s really not the vibe I need right now, so… who wants to go get coffee and talk about my—I mean, our feelings?”

“I’m good,” says Frances.

“Kelsey, you’re totally caught up on it,” snarls Erica. “Don’t you remember? It all started because of you.”

“Ohhhh, that’s right, it started when you tried to vote me out,” says Kelsey. “God, that feels like it was a year ago.”

“I’m not kidding,” Kelsey continues. “I completely forgot about the whole ‘me-being-voted-out’ thing. I’m not even mad anymore, really. My entire mental state has been completely consumed by this one boy for the past… what, two days? Three days. God. That’s three too many.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t think we need to talk about it anymore,” Erica returns to smiling. “We’re all just strong, empowered female players trying to win a million dollars, right?”

“I mean—” Frances says, before being interrupted by the sound of an air horn.

The door creaks open, and a sweaty Christian peeks his head in. “Yo, there’s a weird guy standing out there who definitely isn’t Chris OR Chef.”

“Have we not dealt with enough weird guys already?” Kelsey jokes.

“Yeah, you especially,” says Erica. “You’re dating one.”

“Okay, it’s fine if you think he’s weird, but please don’t use the ‘D’ word, that’s scary—”

“I get it, it took me and Jacob three months to be ‘exclusive!’ Before that, I just couldn’t stop looking at other guys.”

“Before and after that, you mean,” clarifies Frances.

Erica crosses her arms and struts away. “I’ll see you guys at the challenge.”

“I’m so tired of this whole Frances thing,” says Erica. “It might’ve been a low blow to rally Katharine against Suvir… maybe… but I feel like I’m justified in doing that. It was a totally diplomatic move! I think if we sit down and work out our differences together, then she’ll realize I’m not a bad person, and…” she winces upon saying this next part, “maybe I’ll realize she’s not a bad person either. Maybe.”

“Welcome to your next challenge!” says Don, having gathered five of the six contestants outside. “For today only, Total Drama Lakeside is being rebranded as…” the camera zooms into his face for a dramatic close-up, “The Ridonculous Lake!”

“Whoa, hey,” says Christian. “You’re that guy from that thing.”

“That thing?” Frances says. “You mean the Total Drama spin-off that was unjustly canceled after only one season.”

“THANK you!” smiles Don. “Someone recognizes my many merits as a reality TV host. Did you hear that, TVS?”

“Actually, I didn’t mean to imply that. I don’t really remember anything you did. I just liked the contestants… and the drama.”

“I take that back,” says Don flatly. “Now, let’s all zip our lips so I can create a quick, streamlined, easy-to-follow intro to the challenge.”

“Can we pick our teams?” asks Graham, looking over to Kelsey.

“Questions will be saved until the end!” shouts Don. “Ahem. Teams will travel, using any transportation they can find, to the Lakeside North Beach, where they’ll receive their next clue from a custom-made, new and improved Don Box.” Everyone nods in understanding. “There. NOW I’ll take questions.”

Graham opens his mouth, notices Don standing there and waiting for him to repeat his question, and finally repeats, “Can… we pick our teams?”

“No, you may not. But worry not! I’ve been tuned into the episodes, and I’ve devised the ultimate setup for both drama and ridonculousness. Our teams will be…” Don takes a pad of paper out of his pocket. “Graham and Kelsey, Erica and Frances, and Christian and Kaitlin!”

While Graham and Kelsey smile and Erica and Frances look mortified, Christian says, “Kaitlin ain’t even here, chief.”

“Huh?” Don asks, before a pause. “...oh. She’s the one being bailed out of prison. Wonderful. That ruins the whole format!”

“I can be a one-man team,” Christian says. “Trust me. Count on it.”

“Absolutely not!” responds Don. “The greatest part of The Ridonculous Race, besides being able to see my cheekbones in HD glory, is the interpersonal dynamic between the teams. So, I’m gonna need to pair you off with someone else.”

“You could probably grab Smoothie Guy, I’m sure he’s free,” Kelsey giggles.

Don shudders. “That’s that guy who almost rear-ended my cab on the way here. I’ll pass on that. But… Kaitlin’s blonde, right? We could grab another blonde.”

“Don’t you see? I’M blonde! I’m so blonde that I’m basically two blondes in one!” yells Christian.

“No, no, we need another blonde besides you,” says Don. “It’d be visually satisfying. Hmm… does anyone know where the loser lodge is?”

“I can’t imagine,” says Graham. “None of us have been there.”

“Fine, then. The Ridonculous Lake is hereby postponed for… 45 minutes! Strategize with your teammate or whatever! I’ll be back in a flash.” Don speed-walks away.

“What a weirdo,” Erica says, once he’s out of earshot.

“Erica, with all due respect, we’ve spent the past month straight with Chris McLean, and you think THAT guy is a weirdo?” asks Kelsey.

“Naw, I agree,” Christian shrugs. “Kinda seems like a less cool version of my dad, and my dad ain’t cool at all.”

“Can’t believe Don won’t let me compete by myself,” says Christian. “I’m heated, y’all. This may be the breaking point for C-Man here. And if he pairs me off with some crackhead like Smoothie Guy, I’mma throw myself into the lake. Wait, hol up.” He gasps. “If Don’s heading to the loser lodge…” His face turns bright pink.

45 minutes later, everyone has made themselves comfortable on various park benches while mindlessly staring either at their phones or into space, not noticing Don has strolled up to them with a familiar face in tow.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m back!” says an ecstatic Isabella. “Hi, everyone!”

“Correction,” says Don. “You’re not ‘’back’’-back, you’re just a temporary substitute for this challenge. Did I not make that part clear?”

“Don’t worry, I’m sooo fine with that,” assures Isabella. “It’ll be like a fun little day-trip! Like when I went to Montreal a couple months ago with my girlfriends, and—”

Erica, showing off a calm yet almost murderous look, says, “What’s she doing here? We voted her out first.”

Kelsey scoots away from Erica and tries to appear inviting. “Hey girl,” she says lightheartedly.

“You guys! I’m back for the challenge!” cheers Isabella. “Isn’t that so exciting? I know I’M excited.”

“I-I-I’m excited too,” falters Christian, looking uncharacteristically nervous.

“Isabella?” says Don, placing a hand on her shoulder. “For The Ridonculous Lake, you will be partnered with Christian!”

“Don, you the GOAT,” Christian says, projecting confidence once again by puffing up his chest. “Aight, Bella. Let’s hit the lake.”

“The Ridonculous Lake will be kicked off in…” Don says, counting down on his fingers but not saying anything until finally shouting out, “Go!”

“So I’ve totally been following everything that’s happened. I’m, like, the queen of the loser lodge, so they tell me all the juiciest stuff!” Isabella says. “I guess there’s been some drama with Christian and Erica, and I think those two are soooo cute together, but I also caught him staring at me while Don was saying all those words that I didn’t pay attention to. Does he still like me? I hope he doesn’t think I caught feelings. I just really like making out with people.”

Right after the race’s kickoff, Graham and Kelsey leisurely walk in the direction of the North Beach, as Kelsey pulls out her phone to check directions. “Okay, so… the North Beach is half a mile away. Oh, we’re absolutely walking.”

“Walking? That’s cool with me,” says Graham. “Totally cool.”

“,” Kelsey smiles. “So, how are you feeling after your quality bonding time with Rylan yesterday?”

“That kid is an animal,” Graham shakes his head. “Absolutely insane. I think he may actually be half-feral. But hey, he… uh, he helped me out with a lot of things that were on my mind.”

“And are you going to tell me what those things were, or are you just gonna do your usual thing of dropping weird, vague statements in a casual convo and hoping I pick up on their hidden meaning?”

“What?!” Graham says, starting to walk faster. “Oh no, I’m sorry, my god, I just—”

“She knows,” he sweats in the confessional. “She definitely knows. I think I need to stop thinking about what this symbolizes for future Graham, and just live in the now. I can just hear the ghost of Rylan mocking me already. I have to make moves!”

Graham, still walking with Kelsey to the North Beach, suddenly grabs Kelsey’s hand. “Whoa,” she says.

“Okay, we did this the other night and it was really nice and I was just hoping we could do it again. Is that… fine?”

“Come on, baby boy,” Kelsey says. “You know how I feel. At least, I hope you do. But we have a race to win, so let’s talk about that stuff afterwards, mkay?”

“I take it I can keep holding your hand?”

“God, Graham, of course you can keep holding my hand,” Kelsey laughs in exasperation. “But let’s not get sidetracked. Race. Us. Win. Got it?”

“...I got it,” Graham says. The two start walking a little more quickly.

The camera pans past Erica and Frances, who are briskly walking on a beachside path to their destination and not saying a word to each other, and to Christian and Isabella, who are in an Uber.

“This shit’s awk,” Christian says, breaking a heavy silence.

Isabella giggles slightly. “Yeah…” she says, right before the Uber driver turns up the radio slightly, starting to blast a hazy-sounding trap rap track. “Oh my gosh, I love this song!”

“Ayo, really? I mean, it’s a banger.”

“Of course!” she smiles. “I looove making playlists, I make a new one based on every mood I have, and I have this one called ‘mascara & blush,’ all-lowercase. It’s for when I’m feeling extra cute and special. I had the ultimate hot girl summer, right? So the second I heard this song, I put it on there!”

“Hey, that’s awesome,” says Christian suavely.

“I know! My friends call me the Playlist Queen,” Isabella flips her hair.

“Yeah,” says Christian. “This ride’s boring. But you know what isn’t boring? You.”

Isabella laughs uproariously, potentially trying to cover up the fact that she doesn’t actually find it all that funny. “You’re so sweet!”

“Yeah, I know,” says Christian. “So, uh, driver. When’s our ETA?”

“I have been parked for three minutes,” croaks the Uber driver.

Christian looks outside the window, where the car is indeed completely stopped, with multiple impatient-looking drivers resting behind it. “Hahaha, hey, wouldn’t you look at that? I guess I’ve been too distracted by this solid banter to realize we’re—”

Isabella gets out of the car, and before Christian can fully step out, the Uber driver starts slowly driving away. Christian lunges the rest of his body out of the car, trips and almost falls flat on his face, then finally stands back up like it was nothing.

“Let’s roll,” he says.

A little ways away from where they got out of the car, closer toward the edge of the water, lies a Don Box wearing a garish Hawaiian shirt and a pair of sunglasses. Graham, Kelsey, Erica, and Frances all walk up to it and press the button to release two clues.

“It’s an Either/Or,” says Frances as she reads the clue. “‘Surf and Turf.’ Interesting.”

Don’s face appears out of nowhere, transitioning to a cutscene where he’s suddenly in front of the beach. “An Either/Or challenge requires teams to complete one of two tasks! In this case, teams will either take to the seas to windsurf for three laps around a course of buoys for ‘Surf,’ or infiltrate a college football game’s tailgate party, their metaphorical ‘Turf,’ to find a special golden artifact! Once the challenge is finished, teams will be forced to race to their next destination, where the last team to arrive… may be eliminated!”

Don’s face suddenly stops moving, and all audio and video cuts out of the screen right before Chris’s voice is heard out of nowhere. “Correction! Don doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We’re doing a normal vote-out this time. Back to the drama!”

The audio and video come back, displaying Don posing for the camera and winking.

As the three teams look at their clues, Kelsey says, “I don’t know how I feel about windsurfing. Not big on any sports besides tennis. Let’s do the tailgate?”

“Not super big on college football parties…” says Graham.

“Come on. You can stay outside if you want,” Kelsey promises, and when she notices Graham still looks apprehensive, she squeezes his hand. He nods, and the two head over.

“I’m having so much fun,” laughs Kelsey to herself in the confessional. “Trust me, though, I am NOT manipulating that boy. I’m just shocked that for once… I’m someone’s first choice. I don’t know if that’s ever something I’ve experienced, and it feels new, and nice, and comforting. Okay, that’s enough feelings, back to the race.”

“Tailgate!” Christian cheers. “Hands down.”

“I totally agree!” Isabella smiles at him. “It’ll be like I’m back at hoco! There’ll be so many awesome photo ops!”

“Yeah, let’s do that one,” Frances says half-heartedly, after the two other teams have left.

Erica says nothing, just nods slightly at her and they walk in the direction of the others.

“I can’t believe Frances is giving me the silent treatment!” gasps Erica. “She’s being such a mean girl. I would think she’d be mature enough to realize how low-stakes this whole thing is. She’s gonna see Suvir in a few days anyway, maybe even in one day once I vote her out tonight. Ugh, how did I ever think we’d be able to work out our differences?”

Over at the director’s pad, Don is sitting in the control room all alone, staring at the screens connected to the various cameras he has up.

“Nobody picked windsurfing?!” he gasps. “This is ridiculous! Ridonculous! I shelled out $500 to recruit an actual windsurfing instructor and everything…”

The door opens, and Don turns around in a flash to see Chris, Chef, and an enraged-looking Kaitlin walk into the main hallway.

“Anyone home?” shouts Chris.

“Chris, he’s right in here,” grunts Chef, opening the door to the control room.

Don flashes the three a dazzling, TV-worthy smile. “Salutations!”

“Don! Old buddy. Thanks for filling in for us,” says Chris. “You’re good to leave now, don’t worry. I can pick up the rest of the episode from here.”

Don stands up and his grin drops. “Excuse me? You’re not picking anything up until this leg of The Ridonculous Lake is fully complete!”

“Hmm,” says Chris. He leans in to whisper something to Chef, who shrugs. “Okay, fine. I need to take a nap anyway.”

“Perfect! I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist TV gold. Maybe this’ll finally get you a million viewers again, eh?” Don nudges Chris in the stomach with his elbow.

Fire burns in Chris’s eyes. “That… was unnecessary.”

“Oh, come on, McLean,” Don says. “Look at you. You’re old, you’re tired, you’re washed-up. I’m in my prime! While you got your hosting duties taken over by an 18-year-old girl, I was traveling the globe!”

“Excuse me?” Chris starts yelling. “I VOLUNTARILY gave Roz my hosting gig, and it was so I could take some time off!”

“My point has been proven,” retorts Don. “Someone who’s seriously made for TV doesn’t need to take any time off. You always have to be ready for the cameras!”

“I mean… his hair is pretty flawless,” Kaitlin chimes in.

“Did I say you could talk?!” Chris snaps. “Okay, I’m too angry to nap now.”

“Where the hell is everyone else?” asks Kaitlin.

“They’re doing a challenge, which you would also be doing if you weren’t being bailed outta jail,” says Chris. “Now, how do you want to make yourself useful?”

“I could use a latte right now,” Chef mumbles.

“Great!” says Chris, handing Kaitlin a $20 bill. “Go and get Chef and I one large latte each.”

Kaitlin snatches Chris’s money, then says, “Are you kidding me? I’m not running errands for you, you turd. I have much better things to do—”

“Apparently you don’t, since everyone else is having a great time doing the challenge, while you’re stuck here with a bunch of guys in their 40s,” says Chris.

“FINE,” yells Kaitlin. “I’ll get your damn coffees.” She storms off.

“Oh, get me one too!” Don pipes in. Kaitlin screams something so offensive it’s completely bleeped out.

“I’ll show those guys, oh yes I will,” grumbles Kaitlin. “How many people on this goddamn show do I need to get revenge on now? Let’s see… Chris, Chef, that new guy, Suvir, Christian, Artemis, that Boris asshole, uh… probably Roald and Whitney too… Smoothie Guy… Francine, for narcing me out… Christ, I’ve got my work cut out for me. I’m gonna go tell ‘em all what’s what.”

“So,” says Erica flatly, gazing across the street from the beach at a row of frat houses. “Which house do you think we’re aiming for?”

“I’m going to take a wild guess and say it’s that one,” Frances says, pointing to a house that has a large sign with Don’s smiling face on it propped up in front.

“You acknowledged me! We’re making progress!” says Erica.

Frances begins walking across the street, leaving Erica behind. “Look, I just want to win the challenge.”

“Girl, so do I. What reason would I have to want to lose?”

Frances just scoffs, then walks up to the doorway of the house where a couple muscle-bound college-aged males wearing purple sports gear are lurking. “Just gonna sneak past you guys, if that’s cool.”

“Wait, hold up,” says one of the guys. “Who do y’all know here?”

“We don’t know anyone, but—” begins Frances.

Erica slithers up to one of the men, stares intently in his eyes, and starts caressing his cheek. “But we’d really, really like to get to know you. Right, Fran?”

The other guy looks at Frances with a very determined expression, and she looks away. “I…”

“Go on in,” says the first guy, stepping aside and motioning through the doorway. Erica grins deviously and walks inside.

Over by the side of the house, Kelsey and Graham examine their surroundings. “So I’m thinking we sneak around toward the backyard?” she says. “I haven’t been to one of these since my freshman year.”

“How did you even have time for all of that?” asks Graham. “You know, between that and… the thousands of other things you’ve told me about.”

“Oh, I barely had time for it,” laughs Kelsey. “I had an average of 20 minutes of free time a day, and that’s if I was ahead of schedule. It’s cool. I’m fine. We’re thriving.”

“So, any idea what Don was talking about when he mentioned the ‘golden artifact?’”

“Not at all,” she says. “Probably a football jersey or something.”

Don’s face abruptly appears on the screen as the audio and video pause again, and he says, “The golden artifact teams have been tasked to find is… an empty beer can! There are three hidden in the house, and I spray-painted all three of ‘em and hid them in ridonculous locations! Ha-ha!”

Kelsey and Graham peer through the fence and see a gaggle of college students, half dressed in purple and the other wearing green and white, socializing around a bunch of picnic tables and tipped-over chairs. There’s a giant cooler filled with beers on a table in the middle, where three even buffer dudes are residing.

“Hey,” says Kelsey, smiling at one of the guys, which Graham then notices and starts to look anxious. “How’s… life?”

“Life’s good, bih,” says the guy. “We’re gonna win today.”

“Are you? That’s thrilling,” says Graham slightly rudely. “I don’t care much about that, but anyway, do you know where to find a ‘golden artifact?’”

“The hell are you talking about?” says the guy.

The other football guy sitting next to him nudges him in the stomach. “Hey, check it out over there, Trevor’s making some ‘golden artifacts’ of his own.” He points to a tree in the corner of the backyard, where an extremely jacked guy is discreetly peeing against.

“Heh-heh-heh,” both guys laugh.

“We’re just gonna go inside, but thanks for the help,” Kelsey says in a rush, leading Graham with her hand indoors. “Okay, that didn’t go super well.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” says Graham.

“Are you okay? Seriously, that was nothing. I don’t want you to think it was anything.”

“Yeah! I’m fine!” Graham hesitantly says. “I just… god, I’ve never interacted with folks like those. One of my good friends at college always tells me that I’m ‘smug and off-putting’ when I meet people for the first time.”

“What do you know,” says Kelsey. “Smug and off-putting are my favorite traits. My girlfriends have told me I’m too ‘exuberant and intense’ when I meet people, so… we make a pretty solid race team, don’t you think?” She punches him on the shoulder.

“I’d say so,” says Graham, snaking his way through large groups of football fans. “Oh, look, there’s a fridge in here.”

“Fridge! Great. Stay here, I got this,” Kelsey says, walking into the kitchen and subtly placing herself in line for a beer.

Once Kelsey leaves, Graham stands against the wall completely still and alone, staring into space for about a minute.

After a minute, two blonde girls wearing matching cropped green-and-white football jerseys, and holding tall white cans of some sort of beverage, walk up to him. “Hi!” the taller girl says.

“Hey,” he says politely.

“Where are your friends?” she asks, leaning in very close to him.

Graham motions to the kitchen. “Oh, I’m only here with one other person and she’s in the kitchen, uh, grabbing us a drink—”

“She’s?” says the first girl.

The shorter girl steps closer to Graham, then says, “God, I’m so sorry, don’t mind her. But isn’t she cute?” She turns to her friend, and says, “Can I give him your number?”

“Wh—?!” Graham stammers.

“Yeah! Of course,” the taller girl smiles.

“Okay, just take out your phone,” says the shorter girl. “Here’s her number. If you give me your phone, I can type it in for you, so you don’t have to—”

Kelsey walks back out of the kitchen and touches Graham’s shoulder. “Hey, I didn’t see any golden cans in there, let’s try upstairs?” she says, then notices the two girls. “Oh, hey.”

“We were just leaving,” says the shorter girl, and the girls both make their exits.

“Making new friends?” Kelsey smiles.

Graham starts to walk in the opposite direction of those girls. “Yeah, they were just talking to me about whatever, it was really nothing. Seriously, I don’t want you to think it was anything,” he echoes her earlier statement.

“Nice,” nods Kelsey. “Upstairs? Let’s do that.”

“That was uncomfortable, and I feel bad… even if I did nothing wrong,” says Graham. “I guess she and I have a lot of things to talk about if we’re going to date. Why can’t life be like the movies, where all you need to do is have a huge, climactic kiss in the rain or at sunset and then boom, you’re in love?” He pauses. “Also, I’ve never gotten hit on like that before. Maybe it’s because I shaved.” He touches his smooth face, then smiles a little.

Christian stands in the backyard, holding a phone and taking a picture of Isabella, who’s smiling wide and posing with some random girls in oversized football gear.

“Okay, now let’s do a silly one!” says Isabella. “I have the best idea for a caption. It’s really witty, so I don’t wanna reveal it yet, but…”

Christian takes a picture before she’s even done talking, and the other two girls scatter away. “Done,” he says.

“Oh my gosh! Perfect! You even got a candid!” smiles Isabella. “Thanks!” She hugs him.

“Yuh,” smirks Christian. “Did you even know those girls?”

“I didn’t, but I’m such a social butterfly, I’m soooo good at making friends,” Isabella smiles. “It’s just part of my charm! That’s what everyone says.”

“Yeah, you sure got me charmed. Anyway, check this out.” Christian takes out one of the golden beer cans and thrusts it into the air.

Isabella gasps. “Where’d you find it?!”

“It was legit just on the ground right over there,” says Christian, pointing to some bushes to the side. “But s’cool. We’re way ahead of schedule. Wanna fuck around at this party a little longer?”

“I’d love to,” smiles Isabella. “I feel like this is the party I deserve! It’s sooo boring at the loser lodge.”

“I mean it,” she says in the confessional. “I have to make my own fun, everyone else is such a Debbie downer! Like—”

The screen pauses once again, and sure enough, Don appears. “If you’re dying to hear what Isabella has to say about the loser lodge, tune into the Total Drama Lakeside Losers’ Special, premiering shortly after this installment of Total Drama Lakeside, for some exclusive firsthand footage of your favorite losers—hosted by moi!”

“I dunno what it is,” Christian laments. “She left like two weeks ago. I had one day of wallowing, maybe two, POSSIBLY three, but that was that. Cast that shit outta my mind and body real quick, got like five girls’ numbers the day after that, then I scored with Erica. So I’ve been slaying puss left and right, as usual, but now that she’s back… I got eyes on no one else, man. I think she’s the one.”

“Awesome,” Christian says, giving her a sleazy grin. “Ay, look at that stuff over there.” He points to nothing in particular, then takes Isabella’s hand and leads her away.

Back inside the house, Frances and Erica head down into the basement, which looks unfinished and has little more than a giant beer pong set-up with four jocks on each side, busy in the midst of a game, as well as a mini-fridge crammed into the corner.

“The fridge is open, and I think I see something gold in there,” observes Frances.

“Yay! You talked again!” says Erica.

“Don’t read into it,” Frances snaps. “I’m talking to myself.”

The two slip past the table with their backs against the wall of the basement, trying to attract as little attention as possible. One guy lands his ball into a cup and starts bellowing, and Frances covers her ears.

“Okay! I’m a little smaller than you, so I’ll sneak over and grab it,” says Erica, touching Frances’s shoulder and then walking over to the mini-fridge. She kneels down to grab the gold can, which is right in front, but is intercepted by another hand.

“Excuse me?”

Erica looks up to find herself face-to-face with a towering, tanned, glamorous brunette, who looks more than slightly perturbed. She’s wearing the same green-and-white sports gear as about half of the partiers, but has an extra addition to her outfit: a colorful, stylish scarf.

“Oh, am I in your way?” Erica says, feigning innocence. “I’m sorry! Let me just grab this one golden can…”

Chelsey rolls her eyes. “What made you think you have the rights to that can? I DEFINITELY saw it first.”

Erica puts the can down. “I’d totally give it to you, but it’s really important. I need it!”

“Yeah, news flash, so do I. It’s the first away game of the season, I drove here all the way from Michigan, and I have to get white girl wasted in the next 37 minutes. Normal cans don’t cut it, I want gold.”

“And why do you deserve the gold more than I do?”

“Um, because I’m prettier? Obviously. Wait, I do love that top though. Where’d you buy it?”

Erica smiles briefly. “Thanks girl, I got it online!” After that, she switches back to her usual grimace. “Now, if you don’t mind me, we have a challenge to get back to.”

“We? Who else are you w—” says Chelsey.

Erica points to the other side of the room, where Frances originally was, only to see that she’s vanished… and so has the can.

Frances, laughing hysterically in the confessional, gathers her breath and says, “That was priceless. One of the most popular Total Drama contestants of all time shows up out of nowhere, just to let Erica know how horrible she is? Absolutely amazing. I must admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Chelsey on either of her seasons, but she’s made a fan for life. And also…” She holds up the golden can in her hand. “I grabbed the can while those two were arguing,” she giggles, “I know we’re on the same team, but I can’t help it. She should’ve seen this coming.”

“Great! Now I get to drink this gross regular beer,” Chelsey says, picking up a nondescript can. “I guess we can be friends now, or whatever.”

“Why do you think I’d even want to be your friend after you insulted me like that?”

“Uh, girl, when it comes to gold-spray-painted cans of cheap beer, the claws come OUT. But whatever, this isn’t worth my time. I’m trying to determine your PP, but it’s hard.”

“My what?” Erica looks offended.

“Popularity points,” Chelsey sighs dramatically. “Don’t tell me you know nothing about the popularity meter. Oooh, wait, maybe you’re one of those cool rich girls who lives in so much of an isolated bubble that she doesn’t even have to pretend to care about anything that doesn’t directly affect her, which always makes her even more popular. Yeah, that’s definitely you. Your top SCREAMS that. Anyway, so that’s at least a 9/10 already, but factoring in that resting bitch face, which always leaves the boys wanting more, you’re a top contender for a solid 99—”

Erica mutters something and walks away.

“Okay, great, bye!” Chelsey rolls her eyes again. “The French exit never does any favors, hun!”

Just then, Christian and Isabella walk in. “Yo, check it, they got beer pong down here,” says Christian. “You think ya boy could score some cups?”

“You can do anything you put your mind to!” says Isabella. “Just some Saturday morning motivation, haha!”

Christian notices Chelsey, then slinks over to her. “‘Ey, how’s it going, I’m Christian.” He attempts to subtly flex his biceps behind his back.

“Hi!” Isabella smiles and waves. “Oh my gosh, I love your scarf.”

Chelsey grabs a few more beers from the fridge. “Oh, would you look at the time, I gotta go.”

“And I oop—” says Isabella, then laughs at herself. “Kingsley has been teaching me so many funny sayings at the loser lodge lately! He’s so precious.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Christian mutters. “Enough chit-chat, let’s dip.”

Chelsey walks into the bathroom of the house, which has a makeshift confessional set up, then prepares to sit down onto the toilet, notices the camera, and sighs. “I knew something was fishy, between all those weirdos I just talked to and the random camera guy chilling in the corner of the basement. But Total Drama, seriously? Get a life, McLean. I was hoping I’d never interact with this show again, but since I’m here… might as well plug my Insta. You could be my 4,000th follower! Shoot me a follow at—” The tape cuts out.

Don pops up onto the screen in yet another pre-recorded cutscene. “Once teams successfully find the golden beer can, they must race to the Chill Zone, located at one of our most famous local monuments—the Baha’i House of Worship.” Don steps backward and motions behind him, to a gigantic, intricate, dome-shaped white structure. “Constructed over the course of 41 years, this temple is a place of worship for…” he fumbles through his pocket, trying to find his notes, “...don’t judge me. I’m rusty. It’s been a few years.” He pulls some note cards out. “Ah! There! A place of worship for the Baha’i faith. Well, I could’ve figured that out from the name alone. Basically, I picked it because it looked cool. Just… pan back to the contestants.”

Meanwhile, at a coffee shop a few blocks from the goings-on, an impatient Kaitlin is waiting in line.

She turns around to face a man standing motionlessly behind her in line. “Christ, would you quit breathing in my direction? It smells like garbage. Screw you.”

“Um, ma’am, please order whenever you’re ready,” says the young female barista politely.

Kaitlin holds her hand up to shoo the barista. “Did you just sass me? I can’t believe you just sassed me.”

“I’m sorry, could you please order…?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m getting to that. I’m gonna buy three large lattes for three low-life degenerate 40-year-old men. Oh, and get me a water too, I’m all sweaty.”

“O...kay,” the barista replies.

“Well, it better be okay,” Kaitlin snaps. “You don’t know what I’ve had to deal with to get to the front of this line, and I’m standing in the middle of the worst parts of the entire human population right here. So take it easy on the sass, sister, okay?”

“Your lattes will be out in a minute,” the barista smiles, then runs away.

“I can’t believe this,” Kaitlin whines. “Chris McLean, you’re the worst. I just went to PRISON, you know. That can be a traumatic experience for a woman like me. And now you’re sending me to do your dirty work? Well, what if I drank all three of your goddamn lattes? Because that IS something I can do. And maybe it’s something I will do. But first, it’s time for part two of my revenge tour.” She rubs her hands together and smiles sinisterly. “Get ready for this.”

Back on the route of the Ridonculous Race, Frances and Erica are sitting together in a nearly-empty metro car, both still completely silent. Erica is clutching the golden beer can, while Frances’s eyes are glued to her phone.

“Looks like it’s only about a 20-minute ride,” she says to herself.

“Awesome!” Erica gives another fake grin.

“Can you stop assuming I’m talking to you? I’m not.”

Erica huffs. “Okay, I’m starting to get a little annoyed. Why are you in such a grouchy mood today?”

Frances is about to say something, then just gives a long, weary look to Erica, before finally saying, “Please tell me you’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not!” Erica shakes her head. “Seriously, I just want to stress that this is a game, and if you’re angry at me about the Suvir thing, I guess I could say sorry, but I don’t want to live life constantly apologizing for my actions. I’m strong!”

“Okay,” says Frances, taking a deep breath. “You didn’t just get him out, but you made up a completely unnecessary rumor about him being attracted to a 13-year-old girl, only a day after you made up an equally unnecessary rumor about me hooking up with Christian, when we all knew you were the one who actually hooked up with him.”

“Yeah, and? You’re overreacting. Those were calculated strategic plays, and they worked!”

“They worked, but come on,” says Frances. “Things like that can hurt people, you know.”

“Did they hurt you?”

“Of course they hurt me, why else would I be bringing it up—”

“Okay, I think you have the wrong idea,” Erica says. “Don’t worry, I have an explanation for everything. Suvir’s creepy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually were into underage girls, and who wouldn’t want to hook up with Christian? He’s SO hot. I’d be flattered if I were you.”

“Sure, he’s an objectively attractive person, but it was ridiculous that you’d try to deflect the fact you cheated on your boyfriend, even though you knew it’d be on live TV anyway.”

“Hey, this show isn’t airing for another three-or-so months, right? I’d have plenty of time to cover my tracks.”

“Forget it,” murmurs Frances.

“Okay, I’ll forget it,” says Erica. “Just like I’ve forgotten that insulting newspaper article you wrote about me, because I know this is just a silly TV show!”

“FYI, I have NOT forgotten that insulting newspaper article,” clarifies Erica in the confessional, “and I don’t think I ever will. I also won’t forget the fact she tried to vote me out right at the merge. But if I show her how angry I am, she’s going to trust me even less. I have to stay chill. I think I did a good job in that conversation, proving I’m a strong, unapologetic woman!”

“I have nothing else to say to you now,” says Frances. “We’re almost there, we’ll probably win this leg of the race, so could you just be glad about that for the day instead of trying to vote me out?”

“Of course! And if we win, it’s not like I’d be able to vote you out anyway. Calm down.”

“So you DO still want to vote me out?! I knew it.”

“Yeah, but like… don’t take it personally!”

“The hardest part to accept is that I was the one who started this, since I tried to get her out the second I met her,” says Frances with her head down. “But I understand why I had to do that, I don’t think she cares about anyone but herself. She’s a textbook sociopath, really. Anyway, now I have to think up the best possible way to get revenge, in such a drastic way that her life is completely and utterly ruined. My fire is back.”

Christian and Isabella are walking along suburban roads, surrounded by neatly-trimmed gardens and very large houses, on their way to the Chill Zone.

“These houses are so precious,” Isabella says, stopping every few seconds to take a picture. “They remind me of my parents’ place!”

“Your parents got stacks too?” Christian smiles. “We could rule the world together, baby.”

Isabella gasps and touches Christian’s chest. “I’d love to be a queen.”

“Keep your hand there,” he says, then gives her a nod. “Aw yeah. You feel those? Rock-hard.”

“Oh, I didn’t really mean it like that—”

Christian slaps his face. “What am I doing? I'm crashin’ and burnin’. Let’s just, uh, rewind a sec.”

“Rewind what?” Isabella asks. “Ohhh wait, that reminds me, do you want to see my TikToks?”

“Nah dawg,” says Christian. “Let’s save that for later. Back to the banter. So… you fuck with rap? Ever listen to FDǾ? They fuckin’ hit.”

Isabella flashes Christian a peace sign. “Oh yeah bud, hundo P.”

“Yo, for serious?!”

“Yeah! I told you about some of my playlists, right? I have one that’s filled with rap, it’s called ‘Corona with lime,’ but the word ‘with’ is just the letter ‘w.’ Isn’t that so minimalist?”

Christian nods once again. “Okay, keep talking about your playlists. The C-Man has gotta brainstorm.”

“Brainstorm what? Oooh, do you have any song suggestions?”

“Naw, I jus—” he says, before pausing, “you better believe it, bih.”

Over in another metro car, only one or two cars down from Erica and Frances’s, Graham and Kelsey are sitting together with only a couple inches of space from each other.

“I’m… glad we found that can,” says Graham, “or we would’ve been in trouble.”

“Yeah, we would’ve,” Kelsey agrees. “That Don guy seems okay, but I don’t want to get on his bad side… or really anyone’s bad side, ever.”


A few seconds go by, with both of them trying intensely to avoid eye contact. “Can we talk?”

“Aren’t we already talking right now?”

Kelsey laughs, her tone unclear. “I mean, sure, we’re talking, but you know what I mean. Talk-talk.” She looks even further away. “You know, never mind. I don’t know what I would even say.”

“Your feelings are a giant, jumbled, unclear pile of mush as well?”

“How’d you know,” she snarks.

Graham inches slightly closer to Kelsey, then looks at her expression for a few seconds to try and analyze it, and finally scoots bit back to where he was.

“I guess I just—okay, wait, can I pour my soul out for a sec? Don’t want to catch you off-guard.”

“Yeah, you can,” smiles Graham. “Even before these… recent developments, you’ve been my closest friend here.”

“Great, thanks,” Kelsey breathes in deeply. “Part one is the backstory. I told all this crap to the confessional the other day, so I’m all ready. Here goes.” She prepares to tell Graham all about her family background, her relationship with her mother, and the origin of her overachieving.

“That was… a lot,” Graham says, his face looking slightly white but his pinks cheek from blushing. “I can’t say I’m surprised Kelsey trusted me with all that, since oversharing seems to be one of her main things. She and I have that in common. I don’t really know how to relate to what she said, because I don’t see my mom often and my grandma is… different than Susan. But I have a tremendous amount of empathy for her, and I think I’m in lo—” he pauses, “—in luck to have such a, er, talented race partner.”

“So… I’m going to be honest, I thought there was some horrible failure in your life, some storybook-level tragic backstory that turned you into the way you are.”

“Nope!” Kelsey says. “Just me and my anxiety. Love her, she keeps me grounded.”

“Well, I’m really glad you told me that… okay, how much time until our stop?”

“Shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes,” assumes Kelsey.

“Great. If we’re sharing deeply personal past experiences, can I go next?”

“Oh, I’m all ears.”

“Oliver Kilgore,” Kelsey repeats, trying to treat the subject seriously and not start laughing. “He’s such a dork. Freshman year Kelsey would be destroying current-day Kelsey right now for catching feelings for a guy like THAT, but I don’t even care anymore. The real, authentic me is apparently into boys who like to roleplay as gentlemen from the Victorian era for almost half of their lives. But I still don’t know what to do with the fact I’m into him, and it’s not like I’m ever gonna figure it out, and… yeah, this is bad.”

“I mean…” says Kelsey. “I’ll put this delicately, this is the type of thing I would’ve expected from you when I first met you. Day one, when you had Whitney on the mind, you know?”

“So I’m predictable, huh?”

“Yeah. That should be your takeaway here,” she smiles. “No! It’s satisfying when your read on someone is right, and… I don’t know, I’m glad you shared it.”

Graham reaches for her hand again, and slips it into his, but this time it feels slightly limp. “I’m really glad too.”

“Okay, I want to say something else, I hope that’s cool?”

“Of course, how else are we gonna spend this last eight-or-so minutes?”

“...yeah,” Kelsey says. “So, I guess,” she pauses, then gets ready to spill, “I’m not really sure where my head is at, in a bunch of different ways, but this is one of those ways. I like you! I like you a lot, both as a person and, uh, more than that. You’re great. We have an amazing time together, we get along so well, I just feel warm and fuzzy around you. But this is all completely new to me. I came here wanting to pad out my resume and make a million bucks, and had zero idea this would even be a little bit of a thing—I haven’t pursued a guy since freshman year, and every time someone has been into me since then, I’ll just give them some BS excuse or ignore them and hope that magically makes them go away, because my true priority was always my schoolwork, and I guess I could do that here too, but I don’t want to… because I realized ‘oh god, I actually care about him,’ you know? I know you’re interested, and I know you’re the romantic type, and I know you probably have this elaborate plan in your head of how things are gonna go, but I’m not sure if I can lean all the way into that right now. I just need some time and space to think, I guess. Not just about you, but I talked to my mom about some stuff, and I talked to Allie about some stuff yesterday, and I… yeah. I have to think. I hope you understand.” She pauses, then starts laughing. “Holy crap, that was a LOT.”

Graham looks slightly like he’s about to cry, but is clearly smiling. “I’m so glad you felt honest enough to share all that. I know you’d probably call that ‘word vomiting’ or whatever, but… I understand you. I care about you lots, and I was somehow terrified even up until this morning that you didn’t feel the same way about me, so to deny you time to think about all this would be just as selfish as when I tried to break up Whitney and Roald. I could use some of that myself—you’re right, I never really think twice about anything romantic that comes into my life, I just thrust myself into it, figuring it’ll be amazing and dreamy and all that, but the good almost never outweighs the bad. So let’s maybe both take a step back, and we can both put the competition as our main focus? Then reassess all that afterwards? It’ll be over in only a week, you know.”

“Also, if we scaled it back a little bit, we’d stop getting harassed by Erica,” Kelsey laughs.

“That’d be pretty great.”

Kelsey beams at Graham, and the two hug.

Elsewhere, Kaitlin is stomping down the street, holding a single cup of coffee. A woman pushing a stroller walks by and smiles at her, and she responds by flipping her off.

“This is inhumane,” she says to herself. “Sure, I drank Chef’s coffee, Chris’s coffee, AND that Don asshole’s coffee, but that’s not enough. Nooooo, not at all, I gotta remember that I just got out of prison, and there’s one more dickbag who ratted me out.”

She turns right to head down a sidewalk, and the camera pans upward—revealing the familiar brick exterior of the school the contestants visited only one day before.

“No way are they letting me in there if they see me at the front desk,” Kaitlin plots. “That’s why…” she reaches into her purse and takes out a shapeless grey mass of clothes, “I brought one of my wacky disguises. See, this was originally a butler character, but I’ve repurposed him to be a janitor!” She takes out an obnoxiously fake mustache and slaps it on her upper lip. “Here we go. Francine, you bitch, you’re going down.”

Kaitlin, clad head-to-toe in a full janitor disguise complete with a mop, strolls down the hallway and pokes her head into a random classroom on the left, where a bunch of kids—very clearly not the middle schoolers the contestants had taught—are doing their thing.

“God, I hate kids,” she whispers to herself.

The teacher, a pretty young redhead wearing a scarf and a white skirt depicting many pineapples, approaches the door. “Hi!” she says. “May I help you?”

“Yeah, you may,” Kaitlin scoffs, adopting a deep, gruff voice. “There was a gas leak in your classroom. I need all your kids outta the room immediately, except Francine.”

“Francine?” the teacher asks. “I don’t have a Francine… at least, I don’t think!”

“Oh, don’t you play coy with me. She’s gotta be in here somewhere.”

“I teach 1st through 3rd graders, is that the age you’re looking for?”

“What the hell?! Of course not. She’s like 12 or something.”

“I hope you realize 1st graders tend to be a little younger than 12…” the teacher gives a big smile.

Kaitlin lunges toward her. “Tell me where her classroom is now, or I’ll dump this thing of coffee all over your giant head.”

The teacher laughs again. “I’d love that! I actually haven’t had coffee today, and I could REALLY use some.”

“UGH!” yells Kaitlin. “I’m outta here.” She prepares to storm off.

“Wait, what about the gas leak—” the teacher tries to stop her.

“There wasn’t a goddamn gas leak, is there anything in that pea-brain of yours?”

The teacher heads over to her desk, with Kaitlin still loitering by the door, and picks up the telephone. “Okay, I’m going to call the main office,” she says, shooting Kaitlin a pointed smile.

The scene instantly cuts to Kaitlin being escorted out of the main doorway by two large bearded men.

“Okay, whatever, you got me!” she shouts. “You happy now?!”

The two men, once having successfully dropped her off outside, shrug and turn around to go back inside, locking the doors behind them. Kaitlin looks around and sees a bunch of kids, seemingly a lot older than the redheaded teacher’s class, running around on the fenced-in playground to her left.

“Bingo,” she smirks.

She walks over to the fence and peers in through it, surveying the area for any sign of Francine. She then notices Allie, Rylan, and a third student—a blonde girl—hanging out in the corner of the playground by the edge of the fence, and speed-walks over to them.

“Psst! Hey!” she whispers. “Morons! Over here!”

Rylan guffaws. “Hey, it’s that weird chick from yesterday.”

“That crazy lady who got arrested?!” Allie gasps, then turns around. “Oh my god, it IS her.”

“Dressed as an old man for some reason…” says the blonde girl.

“Hey, you assholes, I can hear you!” Kaitlin yells. “Where’s Francine?!”

All three of them look around at each other, then simultaneously shrug. “We don’t hang out with Francine much,” says Allie.

“She’s really quiet,” nods the blonde.

“Wait, wait, wait. You’re blonde. All you blondes look the same,” says Kaitlin, throwing off her gray wig to reveal her golden hair. “Are you Francine?”

“God, Catie, why does everyone think you’re Francine?” Rylan laughs.

“I’m not Francine,” says the girl, presumably Catie.

“She’s a LOT hotter than Francine,” adds Allie.

“Great. Well, this conversation is thrilling, I hate to leave it,” whines Kaitlin. “I’m outta here. Enjoy your meaningless lives.” Right as she’s about to turn around. Francine and a couple other girls walk by. “HEY!”

Francine jumps a little, then squeaks, “Oh my gosh.”

Kaitlin menacingly points a finger at her, and she approaches the fence. “Now, listen here, you little shit-mouthed bitch,” she says. “You know you ratted me out. You’re gonna pay for that, mkay? Like, you see this coffee cup right here? I could dump it all over you right now if I wanted to. But no, instead I’m gonna plot an even better comeback—”

“To your left!” yells a voice from off-screen.


Kaitlin looks to her left to see a biker speeding up to her her, then fails to get out of the way in time and collides head-on with the biker. He escapes unscathed, other than his bike swerving out of the way a little bit, while Kaitlin falls face-first onto the ground.


In the gardens right outside the Baha’i House of Worship, Don waits at the signature circular golden mat and announces, “Looks like our teams should be getting here any second!”

A perturbed-looking Chris and Chef, sitting on a bench a few feet away from the action, mutter to each other.

“And here’s our first team!” announces Don, gesturing to the side while still looking at the camera. “It’s… oh, I’ve lost my notes. Okay, it’s ‘girl wearing red and another girl wearing red!’”

Erica and Frances walk up from across the bridge leading to the bus stop. “Hi,” says Frances.

“Congratulations!” Don says as they step on the mat. “You two have won the first—”

“And only,” shouts Chris.

“—leg of The Ridonculous Lake!” Don continues. “Any thoughts?”

“You couldn’t pay me to say a single word,” says Frances as she walks off.

“Don’t mind her,” Erica grins. “I feel so honored to have won the race! I really dealt with a lot of obstacles throughout today, like the fact my teammate refused to talk to me, which has to be the biggest obstacle of all.”

“Ooooh, that’s gotta be rough,” Don says. “Tell us how that made you feel!”

“Not very good, I have to admit, but I know it’s just a personality flaw of hers! And now, since we’re both safe, we can continue to work out our differences in a healthy, relaxed manner.”

“All right. Uh… you can go stand over there and wait.”

About five seconds later, Graham and Kelsey, who are no longer holding hands but are also both smiling, race up to the growing group and step onto the mat.

“Team number two!” announces Don. “The classic ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ duo! I have to say, you two are a lot less aesthetically pleasing than Carrie and Devin, but you have a sort of homely charm that—”

“Okay, glad that’s over,” interrupts Kelsey.

“Congratulations on dodging elimination,” says Don. “How’d that metro ride go?”

“It went,” Graham and Kelsey both say simultaneously, then look away from each other.

“Spicy! Meanwhile…” says Don, “the struggle is real for our last team, Christian and Isabella. How are they doing? Let’s find out.”

“I got the perfect plan,” Christian says. “Get this. Girls like Isabella love gay-ass romantic shit, right? Like love poems, the kinda crap Graham probably nuts to the thought of. Imma take her to the bridge right in front of the Chill Zone and tell her I love her. Watch and learn, virgins.”

“Isabella,” says Christian, as the two walk over the bridge. The Chill Zone, as well as everyone else, are only a couple hundred feet away. “Listen. I dig you.”

“Awww, I dig you too!” says Isabella.

“Naw, I’m serious. Like… I didn’t know what love was before I met you. And I was scared. I was scared…” he hesitates, “of that love. But I ain’t scared no more, baby. Wanna be my woman?”

Isabella’s smile turns into a frown. “I was hoping this wouldn’t happen… I didn’t realize you caught feels!”

“You DIDN’T catch feels?! Whuh, I mean, look at all this!”

“I don’t think I can tie myself down to just one guy right now!” Isabella says. “You’re cute, and you’re funny, and you’re also cute. Did I mention the cuteness? But—”

“C’mon,” pleads Christian. “I’m a man on a mission. You’re a hottie outta luck. We’d make a perfect team, in and out of this race.”

”Carlton, I really don’t know if I can handle this conversation—”

“Wait-wait-wait. ‘Carlton?!’”

“Did I just call you…” she stops. “Oh my god, Christian, I’m soooo soary.”

Christian, who appears to be on the verge of tears, then stammers, “There goes my dignity. Let’s just… make it to the finish line or whatev.”

The four arrived contestants look on at the two stragglers, most with completely tuned-out expressions. “Wow, Christian doesn’t look happy,” Erica observes. “I wonder what that’s about?” Nobody says anything.

“Aight, Donnyboy, we here,” Christian says, stepping onto the mat.

“Christian and Isabella,” says Don, looking them up and down. “You are the last team to arrive, which means…”

Chris pops up out of nowhere from right behind Don. “It means nothing!” he says hastily. “We’re going to elimination tonight! Frances and Erica are invincible, everyone else is fair game. All right, see ya later, Don.”

Don, instead of getting angry or firing back at Chris, simply smiles. “This isn’t the last you’ll see of me, McLean.”

“Oooh, spooky,” deadpans Chef.

“I’ve had such a ridiculous Erica-focused tunnel vision that I no longer know what’s going on in the rest of the game,” says Frances. “Like, how are Graham and Kelsey doing? Their whole thing could make an amazing story, provided it’s at all interesting. People love petty revenge, but they also love romance. Hmm… I have to strike that happy medium.”

“I STILL can’t believe the lady of my dreams got my name wrong,” Christian laments. “After all these days. If only she knew how many nights I spent in my feelings in the Wildcats’ shack, just goin’ hog-wild once Graham and Kingsley and Miles were knocked out. And now she calls me some bum-ass prep school name like CARLTON?! Sad is an understatement, man. Maybe I gotta start smoking again.”

“Conversation with the boy went well!” Kelsey says. “And it really helped me realize, like… ‘oh right, you’re competing for a million dollars, you’re not just on a date.’ Great. What even is strategy anymore? I guess I’ll vote for… uh…”

The contestants, plus Chris, Chef, and Isabella, gather around at the bandshell a little while later.

“Do I get to vote? I’d love that soooo much,” Isabella asks.

“No,” says Chris. “Why would you? You got voted out two weeks ago. You shouldn’t even be here!”

“Oh my gosh, you’re so mean,” Isabella frowns. “No wonder everyone likes Don more than you!”

“Wait… you’re not serious, are you?” Chris scans the crowd, expecting someone to raise their voice, but everyone just looks away and Graham starts to whistle. “Whatever. Get on the Yacht of Losers, Isabella. You deserved to be voted out first.”

Christian solemnly waves to Isabella. “I ain’t never gonna forget you, b.”

She glances at him, her eyes widen slightly, then she looks back forward and boards the yacht.

Seconds later, someone loudly clears their throat. Everyone turns around to look at Kaitlin, who’s finally returned—still looking rather beaten-up from her run-in with the biker.

“There you are,” groans Chris. “Where’s my coffee?”

“Don’t you dare ask me about that coffee,” she snarls. “Do you want to know what I did this afternoon? What sorts of horrors I experienced?”

“Nah, not really,” says Chris. “But you know what I do want you to do? Vote someone off!”

“Pfffft, whatever.”

“Hmm, can I vote for Francine? That’d be nice,” Kaitlin says in the confessional. “Or maybe that son-of-a-bitch biker who ran me over. What about Chris? He deserves to be knocked down a peg or two. You know, I’m really starting to realize how much better I am than everyone else here.”

“I’d vote for Christian, but I don’t really want to,” says Erica. “I know he isn’t talking to me anymore, and I should keep my distance too just in case Jacob gets mad—which I know he won’t, he’s such a sweetie—but Christian is all I have left. You know what? I’m gonna vote for Frances, even though she’s immune. I’m making a statement.”

“I’m so glad I didn’t start sobbing during the conversation on the metro,” says Graham. “I’m not angry or upset or even a little disappointed, I’m just glad Kelsey was honest with me. It may not feel quite like a scene from an Oliver Kilgore story… but it feels real.”

“Okay!” Chris says. “It’s good to be passing out marshmallows again. The first four go to Erica, Frances, Graham, and Kelsey.”

He tosses each contestant their marshmallows, and all four of them smile.

“What, I don’t get any special treatment after winning the challenge?” asks Erica.

Chris raises an eyebrow. “Isn’t getting a marshmallow special enough?”

“Personally, I’m fine with just getting a marshmallow,” says Frances.

“There we go!” Chris says. “Listen to Franny. Anyway, Christian and Kaitlin, you’re tonight’s two losers. Only one of you will live to see tomorrow. Who’s it gonna b—”

“Wait, what the hell?!” interrupts Kaitlin. “I didn’t even do the challenge! I was busy doing your dumbass odd jobs all day! Why am I in the bottom two?”

“I don’t know, ask the voters,” says Chris. “The final marshmallow goes to…”


“As it should,” Christian says.

Kaitlin stands up. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’d like some good, solid reasoning from every one of you about why you chose to vote ME off today.”

“I mean, it’s not like we had all that many options,” Kelsey shrugs.

“To be honest, I kind of forgot you were even still in the game,” says Frances.

“You kind of scare me,” adds Graham.

“All right!” yells Kaitlin. “Awesome. Well, joke’s on you guys, I accomplished everything I wanted to today. Well, almost everything.” She stomps over to Chris, pulls the one remaining coffee cup out of her back pocket, and pours it all over his head.

“Ptoo!” Chris projectile-spits-out a bunch of coffee. “That’s IT! Get outta here!”

“Gladly,” Kaitlin says. “See you later, assholes.” She strides onto the Yacht of Losers and reluctantly sits down next to Isabella.

“Oh, hi! You’re the girl who I filled in for,” Isabella extends her hand to try and get Kaitlin to shake it. “I think I did a pretty good job, haha!”

“Shut up.”

The yacht sails into the night. Chris turns back to the contestants, and says, “Well, the world’s most irritating underdog has finally taken a bow. With only five left, what’s gonna happen next time? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to…”


Chris looks to the side to see Don, standing right next to him once again. “You’re still here? Oh, come on.”

“You bet I’m still here,” says Don, unfolding a large pad of paper. “I have a blueprint for three more legs of The Ridonculous Lake, and it’d be a shame if I weren’t able to use them.”

“Not happening,” says Chris. “But… wait. I do have something for you to do. Head over to the loser lodge tomorrow morning, you’re in charge of the loser special.”

“Loser special? Can do!” Don gives him a thumbs-up. 

“All right, now you can stop talking,” says Chris. “Back to the outro! Tune in next time on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

“For a fascinating look into what your favorite losers have been up to!” Don adds. “With equally fascinating commentary by your favorite host, Don.” Chris glares at him one more time as the camera fades out.

Chapter 13 - Don of the Loser Forever

Right in the midst of downtown, Don appears in front of a gigantic skyscraper and flashes his classic grin. “We’re here at the Total Drama Lakeside loser lodge! I’m your dashing host, Don, and today I’ll be taking you on a journey to catch up with the first 11 boots of the season. I’m not really sure what any of them are like, and I probably only know three or four of their names, so I’m going into this as blind as you!”

As the camera flashes, Don is suddenly inside, pacing around the lobby—which looks suitably fancy and meticulously cleaned. “This five-star hotel is the perfect setting for all sorts of hi-jinks to occur. There’s an open bar,” he says, jumping over to the bar where Smoothie Guy is sitting and reading an explicit magazine, “a swimming pool,” the camera flashes to a Speedo-clad Don at the pool, lying on a gigantic unicorn-shaped pool floatie, “a gym,” it flashes again, this time to Don in workout gear wheezing on a treadmill that’s going very slowly, “and a bunch of other stuff that I doubt the losers care about. After all, they’re probably too busy moping around in their rooms. But there’s only one way to find out what they’re really up to! So, follow me as we catch up on their lives and all that, right here on Total Drama Lakeside… Presents: The Ridonculous Losers!”

Shortly after, Don walks to a lounge on the western side of the hotel lobby, where Whitney, Rhett, and Boris are all sitting, eating, and drinking.

“We start here, with some former Artisanal Cheeses,” says Don. “What have they been doing? What exactly are those beverages? Let’s have a look.”

Roald walks up to the table, carrying three giant plates of pancakes. Notably, he has traded his usual winter coat and plaid t-shirt for a spiffy red button-down flannel.

“It’s about time,” says Whitney, wearing a new outfit as well—a blue denim dress. “I can’t take any more of this scintillating conversation.”

Boris, through a mouthful of chicken tenders, yells to Rhett, “I find it preposterous that you believe you could take down even one horse-sized duck.”

“Yea, s’nuthin’,” Rhett says. “Ah’ve wrangled all sortsa ducks, all sortsa horses, ain’t no thang!”

“But do you understand how immense a being of that sort would be?” retorts Boris.

“Boris, m’buddy, you use way too bigga words!”

“Hmph,” Boris folds his arms. “I am not surprised you would say something that feeble-minded. See, maybe if you watched an episode of Mojo’s Peculiar Escapade, like I insist on you doing—”

While the two continue to go at it, Roald looks at his girlfriend and smiles. “What’s new, babykins!”

“I notice you got me some pancakes,” says Whitney. “You didn’t have to.”

“Haw-haw, I’m sorry, but these are all mine,” Roald puffs out his chest. “It’s carb day! Besides, don’t you have your salad?”

Whitney looks down at the tiny bowl in front of her, which has nothing more than three or four leaves of lettuce with a tiny sprinkle of carrots, topped off by one single cherry tomato.

“This salad isn’t doing much.”

“Awww! Okay, here you go.” Roald rips off a giant piece of pancake with his bare hands, slathers some maple syrup on it, and places it on top of Whitney’s salad.

“I appreciate the gesture,” she smiles faintly.

Don tries and interrupts the conversation by walking up to the table, saying nothing, then stretching his arms out to announce his presence.

Nobody looks up at him, including Whitney, who eyes the torn-off pancake and then takes a bite. “Hm. It’s solid. Could be slightly more moist, I don’t think you distributed the syrup too well.”

“Oof!” Roald says. “Hey, I tried my best, and it’s the thought that counts!”

“That’s true. I could never be mad at you.”

“Yeeee buddy, lemme at summa dem pancakes,” Rhett says. He grabs a piece of the pancake, also with his bare hands, and shoves it in his gullet.

“Well,” snorts Boris, “unlike you australopithecines, I prefer to consume my food in a refined manner.” He picks up a chicken tender from his plate and dips it in a giant pool of ketchup.

Don clears his throat, and the boys finally look up at him while Whitney continues staring ahead.

“Sup!” greets Rhett.

“Hello,” Don nods. “I’m award-winning reality television host Don, known for my cult classic vanity project ‘Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race.’ I’m here to interview you all and see what sorts of ridonculous shenanigans have been going on at the loser lodge! So, who wants to start?”

“Not me,” says Whitney, about to get up and leave until Roald stops her.

“Aw! Don’t go, schmoopyboo!” Roald says. “Let’s tell this fella all about our juicy lives!”

“Juicy lives, you say? Okay, that’s a good start, continue,” replies Don.

Whitney reluctantly sits back down. “Well, okay. Roald and I arrived a few days ago, and when he unpacked his suitcase, I noticed his wardrobe was looking a little… bland.”

“See, I didn’t think it was bland as much as ‘form-fitting, comfy athletic wear,’ but I gotta trust a lady’s instinct!”

“Whatever. I bought him a new shirt for a belated one-week anniversary gift,” Whitney says, stroking the sweater with her hand. “It’s very soft and it makes him look hunky.”

“Even hunkier than usual, don’tcha mean!”

“Mmmhmm, Roald been shirkin’ out on th’ gym because he’s spendin’ so much time wit the missus, but ah can’t complain,” Rhett adds.

“You’re saying Roald has been neglecting ‘bro-time’ in favor of his new girlfriend?” Don asks.

Whitney says, “Personally, I don’t blame him.”

“Rhetty, man, we went to the gym two hours ago! What’re you sayin’?” frowns Roald.

Rhett scratches the stubble on his chin for a second while staring mindlessly into the distance, before finally shouting out, “Ohhhh, yuh! Ain’t that right! Ah got a bad memory.”

“Poor recollection skills seem to be the least of your issues,” Boris says.

“Huh-huh, it’s a fun time here!” Rhett says in the confessional. “Ah’m doin’ pretty well, y’know? Ain’t no reason to think about nothin’ but havin’ fun every day. An’ when I’m with m’ buddies, ain’t nothin’ better to do!”

“Boris,” Don says. “I understand that you had a, well, tumultuous time on the show. How are you feeling nowadays?”

“I am feeling decent!” smiles Boris. “I have been honing my skills, spending vast portions of my time lifting weights. In between my anime marathons, that is.”

“That’s nice. Do you have anything to say to your fellow competitors now that you’re out of the game?” asks Don.

“Nay, I have said everything I need to say,” says Boris. “I do not interact with very many of them, aside from these three.”

“Somehow, I don’t feel like I should count in that list,” Whitney says, looking away from him.

“An’ how ‘bout your li’l chat with Izzybelle?” Rhett asks, grinning mischievously.

Boris’s face suddenly turns sheet-white. “Silence!” he commands. “We do not speak of that encounter!”

“What encounter?!” gasps Don. “Let’s hear it.”

“Ah, yee, ah remember it like it was yesterday,” Rhett prepares to tell the story.

“It WAS yesterday,” says Whitney.

“Haw! Thanks fer th’ clarifimacation!”

“Whatever sorts of gobbledygook Rhett is about to spout out, just know that man is made of lies!” Boris insists in the confessional. “I guarantee, you will not blame me once you see the true series of events that have unfolded. I did not connect with the females on my team particularly well, I found most of them to be lacking refinement. So, when witnessing these ‘Killer Wildcat’ women upon my arrival at the lodge of losers, I presumed I had to engage in various low-pressure conversations with them. After all, I am a true Renaissance man, able to stimulate most—if not all—minds. But… I should stop talking.”

The screen briefly turns to white before showing Isabella walking down a hallway of the hotel, indicating that it’s a flashback. Suddenly, a trembling Boris appears at Isabella’s left.

“Greetings,” Boris says, preparing to take his fedora off and tip it at her, but hesitating.

“Oh,” she smiles politely, while also surveying her surroundings to find potential exits. “Hi! You just got here, right?”

“Indeed, I did,” nods Boris, stepping closer to her. “I am known as Boris. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, m’lady.” He extends his hand for her to shake.

“Hi, Boris!” she says. She looks at his hand, gives it a quick high-five, and starts walking away.

Boris quickly catches up to Isabella. “W-w-wait!” he shouts out. “I have a simple request.”

“Uh, soary,” says Isabella. “I have to check on my laundry, I spilled pink moscato on one of my favorite blouses yesterday—”

“Would you—would you like to dine with me sometime?” he asks. “I shall provide the foodstuffs, the drinks, and of course, the conversation. All you must do is show up.”

“Oh, uh…” Isabella says, looking incredibly uncomfortable. “I don’t really feel that way about you!”

“You do not?!” he gasps. “But how can you deduce that if you have only known me for 30 seconds at maximum?! Hogwash!”

“I’m just gonna go put my clothes in the dryer…”

“This is heart-shattering!” cries out Boris. “You would have a sublime time, I promise. Hear me out, I’m a nice guy!”

Back in the present, at the brunch table, everyone stares at Boris, who does not seem to be too ashamed—rather, he’s nodding his head smugly. “At least I had the tenacity to approach the maiden in the first place, unlike you recreants.”

“I got my own maiden right here, buddo!” shouts Roald, putting his head on Whitney’s shoulder.

Whitney accidentally takes a whiff of Roald’s hair. “Sweetie, you need to shower.”

“Yer a true gennleman, cuz,” Rhett says, patting Boris on the back. “Don’tcha worry.”

“Well, I think it’s time for me to move on,” says Don. “I appreciate the updates, but for some reason, I now have even more questions. Anyway… enjoy your meals.”

“It’s nice here,” Whitney says in the confessional. “A lot more ‘my speed’ than the show. I wake up at around noon every day, then I scroll through my favorite fashion blogs. I usually get through 10 or 12 before I decide that getting out of bed would be a good idea. Roald always picks out my clothes for me, too. I don’t make him, he just volunteers. What a doll he is.”

“Unga bunga!” shouts Roald. “This place is deee-luxe! I’m thrivin’ and survivin’ beyond belief, man. They got a free gym here, free laundry, all-you-can-eat buffet… you have no idea how much fat, MUSCULAR fat, I’ve been packing on. I gotta start living like this when I get back home!”

Over across the room and down a hallway is a large indoor pool, with the lake visible through a giant glass window taking up the wall. Isabella, Rachel, and Kingsley—who’s in swim trunks, but still wearing his fluffy gray hat—are all sitting together and socializing by a hot tub.

Isabella sits in a plastic chair, aiming her phone outside carefully. “Gosh, why can’t I get better angles? It’s too sunny.”

“Oh, I really wish we could just go out there and enjoy the sunlight,” Rachel says, staring out lovingly at the natural setting around her. “This is nice, but a natural body of water is right there.”

“Um, yeah, but there are gross people in that lake,” says Kingsley. “Look. See that toddler over there?” He points to a speck in the distance. “He’s probably getting his disgusting baby germs all over that crystal-clear water. Not gonna be crystal-clear anymore, is it, girl.”

“Gross people or not, nature is nature,” frowns Rachel.

Isabella snaps one more picture. “Okay! There we go. I’m done.”

“What were you even taking a photo of, queen?” Kingsley asks, feigning curiosity.

“Oh, it was my daily gram post,” explains Isabella. “Well, not a post, but a story, you know? I gotta keep everyone on their toes!”

Kingsley starts to roll his eyes, but fixes his expression to return to a smile. “Ya. You sure do keep me on my toes.”

“I have been at this hotel with Isabella for two weeks, and I am loooosing my miiiiiind,” moans Kingsley. “Seriously. You would NOT believe the trash she says. She just has, like, no filter. Always has to fill up every second with some stupid comment. ‘Oh, you look so cute today, I love your top.’ ‘Listen to this new playlist I made.’ ‘What’s your favorite flavor of La Croix?’ If she says ‘Pamplemousse’ in a stupid French accent one more time, I’m literally gonna kill myself. But here’s the thing: she’s my favorite person here.” He gasps. “It’s HORRIBLE.”

“Okay! Do you guys wanna go outside now?” asks Isabella. “We could have a beach day!”

“Every day has been a beach day, sis,” says Kingsley. “We’re literally living on the beach.”

“Well yeah, but there’s a difference between a day at the beach and a beach DAY. You gotta manifest that beachy good vibes feeling, otherwise does it even really count?”

Rachel smiles and nods, “Well put, Isabella. Should we go get Miles?”

“Do we haaaaave to?” Kingsley whines.

“Yeah! I was gonna get Miles anyway. He borrowed some of my champagne last night, said he was ‘planning new material’ and needed ‘artistic inspiration,’ so I gotta get it back. Isn’t he weird?”

“Weird is one word, I’d call him an artistic soul,” says Rachel.

“Artistic soul? That sounds hot. Oh my gosh, imagine if a boy came up to me and was like, ‘I’m an artistic soul.’ Oh, I’d just die, it’s like that song by Mott Fresno County—”

“Ew. That guy’s so scrawny,” says Kingsley. Isabella glances at Kingsley’s twiglike arms and nearly-concave chest. “Ya, I know. Stare all you want, hun.”

“I feel kinda bad about curving Christian yesterday, but I just don’t think he and I are meant to be together,” Isabella explains. “Like, he’s really really hot, I’ve thought that since the day I met him, but he’s got no class. He always talks about pooping and tells me to feel his abs and stuff. I like making out with boys like that, but he’s not boyfriend material. So I’ve been listening to a ton of music and daydreaming about a deep, brooding boy whooshing me off my feet. Like, Wetty’s verse at the end of ‘3am?’ Soooo romantic.”

Right as Kingsley and Isabella are getting ready to go outside, Rachel returns with someone else in tow… but it’s not Miles, it’s Don.

“I think Miles is asleep, but luckily I picked up this strange man instead,” she gestures to Don, who flashes his pearly-whites.

“I’m Don!” he says. “Wait, no,” he clears his throat, “I’m award-winning reality television host Don, known for my cult classic vanity project ‘Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race.’ I’m here to interview you all and see what sorts of ridonculous shenanigans have been going on at the loser lodge! Hmm, maybe I should stop saying that whole blurb.”

“Nothing ridonculous has been going on over here, king,” Kingsley says. “Just depression.”

“Depression? Awww, okay, we gotta go outside this second,” Isabella touches his shoulder. “Sunlight always helps me when I’m sad.”

“I’ll come with!” Don says, inviting himself along for the ride. “Do you three mind being asked a variety of lively, thought-provoking conversation questions?”

“Of course!” smiles Isabella.

“I don’t see why not,” adds Rachel.

“Whatever,” huffs Kingsley.

The three step outside through a door on the side of the pool room and head over to a few lawn chairs on the beach. Isabella takes out a towel and spreads it out, then opens up her travel backpack to take out a few pinkish cans of something.

“Anyone want a La Croix? I got,” she puts on a French accent in preparation, “pamplemou—”

“Nah, I’m not thirsty,” Kingsley cuts her off before she can finish.

“Come ON, Kingy. It’s totally refreshing. Don’t you know they have, like, zero calories? And the cans look so pretty too, they’re so aesthetic!”

“Mmmm, I ate a really big breakfast, soooo… I’m gonna pass.”

“I’ll take one,” says Rachel, stretching her arms out and sitting down on the beach towel.

“What, no sparkling water for your special guest?” an impatient Don asks while tapping his foot.

Isabella takes one more out of her backpack and tosses it to him. “You can totally get one, Don! This is my thanks for letting me back on the show!”

“Um, can we discuss that? What makes her so special? I’d have loved some alone time with Christian,” Kingsley interjects.

“Patience, patience, we’ll get there when we get there. Okay. First off…” says Don. “I hear all three of you were eliminated fairly early. How did each of you take it?”

“It’s, like, whatever,” says Kingsley. “I got over it once I got here and saw there were free drinks. Oh, and I get to sleep in as late as I want without that rat Chris waking us up… a girl needs her REST. So I don’t care about those hoes anymore.”

“Kingy, you spent like three days saying really scary and awful things about Erica,” points out Isabella.

“Shhhh! We don’t talk about that! I’m over it, trust.”

“Are… you really?”

“Of course. How immature do you think I am? Like, I know Erica’s just jealous.”

“I’m glad I didn’t interact too much with her,” says Rachel. “I always thought she seemed okay… from afar… but I don’t know..”

“Hey, hey,” Don interrupts. “Let’s save our opinions on the final five until later. I have a whole thing planned for that, just sit tight. Okay, Rachel, let’s hear your thoughts on YOUR elimination!”

Rachel thinks for a moment, before saying, “Well, I wasn’t thrilled with the circumstances of it all, but while sailing to the loser lodge, all I wanted was to make sure things were okay with Miles. He and I really did bond, and… I’m happy to say that things are okay with him.”

“Are things ever really okay with him?” asks Kingsley.

Rachel crinkles up her face. “You know, they are, and I don’t think comments like that help anything at all…”

“Don’t mind him, he’s just being sassy!” Isabella says. “Kingsley, you’re too sassy. I’m dead.”

“Mmm, whatever,” says Kingsley. “I haven’t seen that bitch in days. Anyone checked on him, made sure he’s not dead?”

“He’s not dead. We went for a short walk yesterday, it was so gorgeous. He’s just… catching up on his sleep, and his mental health, I suppose.”

Rachel sits in the confessional, and says, “I wish the others cared about my Total Drama experience beyond my interactions with Miles. It doesn’t seem like I’ve connected too well with anyone, but I guess sitting by the pool with Isabella isn’t the worst thing ever… right? She’s very sweet. Selfishly, I wish Graham and Kelsey were here—I adored them—but I’m just glad they’re still in. I’ve cast overwhelming positive energy into the cosmos to help them thrive in the game.”

“Okay,” Don continues. “Thanks for the adequate response, Rachel. And Isabella? How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling awesome!” she grins. “They call me the Queen of the Loser Lodge.”

“Nobody calls you that, you gave yourself that nickname and made a flimsy-ass paper crown—”

“Shhhh, Kingy!” Isabella continues. “Well, I feel like a queen. And now that I have a little taste of what the merge is like after yesterday, I’m thinking ‘oh my gosh, I totally got the full Total Drama experience!’”

“You’re welcome for letting you come back, thanks to an unprecedented move that I don’t think McLean would’ve approved of,” Don mutters.

“Yeah. And since I’m such a huge extrovert, I’ve been broadening my horizons here. Like, I even talk to the weirdos. Miles and I are so becoming friends.” Rachel winces slightly upon hearing this. “He and I talk about music a lot! Our tastes are different, but I love all the stuff he says. It’s so quirky.”

“Really? You’ve caught the elusive Miles too?”

“Yeah, he’s always up at like 3 am, and I sometimes go on late night walks when I’m feeling super antsy. He always wants to talk about super deep stuff, and it’s kinda uncomfy sometimes, so usually I just smile and nod. Haha!”

“On the contrary, my conversations with Miles are pretty in-depth,” says Rachel.

“Hmm,” says Don. “Well, I think it’s my time to head to the next set of losers. Thanks for this enlightening conversation… that mostly ended up about someone who’s not even here. Great. See you later, everyone.” He walks away.

“Don is so funny, ahahaha,” Isabella smiles. “But you guys, I’m so glad we’re outside.” She stretches her arms out and breathes in the lakeside air. “Je suis très contente!!!”

Kingsley’s face turns scarlet as he clenches his fists.

Miles, of all people, appears in the confessional. Although he looks the same for the most part, his hair has changed from the Jackie-esque shade of magenta to a natural brunette color, and he’s also shaved off the peach fuzz on his chin.

“Welp,” he says. “Here I am. It’s been a weird time at the loser lodge so far… I guess I don’t really feel like a loser. I mean, I quit the game, I could still be competing if I wanted to. Do I want to? Hell if I know. Every morning, when I wake up, I’ll either spend the whole day mentally replaying that conversation with Jackie and that Daniel asshole, or I won’t be thinking about it at all and I’ll just be writing music… or vaping… or talking to Rachel… or Isabella sometimes. I’ve barely left my room, but somehow, I don’t feel too bad about it. Am I happy? Nah, man, but am I still a sadboy? Probably nah. Lots of things on my mind, I guess.”

Back inside the hotel, Don walks through a side hallway, stopping briefly at each door to determine which one to knock on.

“Okay, we could visit Miles,” he says, “but we just heard all about him. Kaitlin, I’d rather not see at all. Wait… I have the perfect idea!”

He walks up to the very next door, knocks on it, and gets no response. A few seconds pass, and he knocks again. Still with no response, he finally grabs the handle and swings it open, revealing Suvir lying on his bed, looking completely zoned out, eating tortilla chips and staring at a laptop screen.

“Whoa!” he yells, tossing his laptop aside. “Who the hell are you, barging in on my me-time?”

“Relax, Suvir,” Don says.

“Wait, wait, wait, how do you know my name? Oh god, are you the fuzz? Listen, I’m an innocent dude! I ain’t done nothing you can prov—”

“Relax,” says Don, walking over to an armchair in the corner and sitting down relaxedly. “I’m Don, former host of Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race.”

Suvir takes a deep breath and grabs his laptop once again. “Oh.”

“I’m here to interview you,” he continues. “Chris so generously told me I could host the losers’ special, and you’re one of our biggest names.”

“Me? A big name?” Suvir looks down. “Nah, I’m a joke. I got duped by a 12-year-old.”

“Duped by a 12-year-old, eh? I didn’t know about this, enlighten me.”

“Ughhh, I don’t really wanna relive it. Basically, Erica spread some dumb rumors and got me out as revenge against Franny. I feel like garbo.”

“I’d feel like garbo too if I were duped by a 12-year-old,” giggles Don.

“Can you stop repeating that?!”

“Sorry, sorry, it just has a nice ring to it! Okay. Continue.”

“I don’t really wanna continue, but whatever. I just got dumped on by all the forces of nature in the game, bro. It was taxing! Yeah, I made a couple of friends, but when you get voted out like THAT, it’s really hard to focus on the positives. I don’t wanna be here anymore.”


“Yeah, like, I made it to 7th place. But whatever! That ain’t special! Franny’s still in, sure, but she’s got the evil genius Erica working against her. I don’t even want to know what’s going on over in the dorms right now, but whatever it is, I’m not worried. She’s a badass. She can take on anyone!”

“Yet you don’t have romantic feelings for Frances… do you?”

“Course not!” Suvir raises his voice. “We already went over this when we did those skits. She tried to kiss me, and I guess kisses are nice or whatever, but Franny and I don’t click in that way. I could see us beating up monsters together, or running for office and trying to transform this country or something, but I wouldn’t date her. Dating isn’t really my thing right now.”

“And what IS your thing, then? How have you been keeping yourself busy?”

“Well… I’ve been fiddling around with some stuff on here,” he shows Don his computer screen, which is filled with an intimidating amount of red flashing buttons and code. “I’ve installed a little camera drone near the lakeside to see what Franny’s up to, to make sure Erica doesn’t try to pull any funny business, but I think a bird snatched it or something! Look.” He clicks a button to access the camera, and the only thing that comes up on the screen is static. “Just straight-up static. Nasty.”

Don nods, then stands up. “Okay, well, this has been a unique conversation. Suvir, I wish you the best, and—”

He’s interrupted by some frantic pounding on the door. “GO AWAY!” yells Suvir.

“Who could that be?” Don asks, walking over to open it.

“No, don’t open it, you asshole! It’s—”

Don shoots Suvir a smirk and opens the door, revealing Boris, Rhett, Roald, and even Whitney, all clad in workout gear and dancing around wildly.

“I already told you guys, I don’t wanna go to the gym! Y’all know how many germs you can find on exercise equipment?”

Roald rushes into the room, clad in an outfit consisting of a sweatband, a graphic tank top depicting an extremely buff man lifting weights, and compression shorts. “C’mon, big man, you gotta get outta your funk, and this is the way to do it!”

“Yes, I presume you will feel far better once you have actively utilized your athleticism, as opposed to staring at a screen all day,” Boris waggles a finger.

“But Boris, pardner, that’s all ya do!”

“Silence! It is not ALL I do. For 23 of the 24 hours of any given day, it may be, but I spend the remaining hour demonstrating impressive motivation and athletic prowess.”

Whitney backs even further away from the boys. “I have nothing to add to this conversation.”

“Mmmmmmrf.” Suvir sinks deeper into his bedding. “Fine. Not like I have anything better to do.”

Roald jumps onto the bed beside him and throws a sweaty arm around him. “AWESOME! It’ll be a Cheeses reunion! Hey, I wonder where Kaitlin and Artemis are?”

“I swear to god, if you bring Kaitlin with, I’m staying right here and not going anywhere near that gym,” Suvir warns.

“Haha, just kiddin’!” reassures Roald. “Okay, let’s head out!”

And in the blink of an eye, the caravan rolls out of Suvir's room, with Suvir—clutching some crumpled-up gym clothes—apprehensively following the four.

“Hm,” says Don, now all by himself. “That was… unique.”

“I dunno, man, my eyes were starting to burn staring at my laptop screen,” Suvir says. “That’s the only reason I left. I just wish I were still in the game! Argh! I’d sacrifice a finger, MAYBE even my whole hand, to be back in there. Probably not my foot, though. I don’t know if I’d be able to make speedy getaways with a robo-foot, although it’d look pretty damn cool.”

In a different area of the hotel—specifically, the bar that Don passed by while doing his intro—Kaitlin and Artemis are sitting next to each other, each with a drink in front of them.

“So, how’s your first day at the loser lodge treating you?” Artemis purrs.

“Would you stop using that ‘L’ word? I’m not a loser,” stresses Kaitlin. “I’m a winner. I should be THE winner. I would’ve won this whole goddamn thing if I didn’t get taken out like a chump.”

“Listen, sweet K. There are two ways one can deal with being eliminated from an irrelevant game show.”

“Yeah? Educate me then, if you’re such a genius.”

“Yes. So, once I was voted out, I accepted the fact immediately. I knew I’d been outplayed. Once I got here, I smoked a bowl and started trying on all the glamorous outfits I had packed. Meanwhile, I can sense that your panties are still in a twist.”

“Yeah, my panties are in a twist because I went to jail AND I was forced outta the game.”

Artemis stifles a laugh. “I still can’t believe you were in jail.”

“I can’t believe it either. That was ridiculous. Francine deserved everything I did to her, and honestly, she’s lucky she still has a working spleen right now.”

“If only I could’ve survived until that challenge with the children. I would’ve taught them about some VERY important things.”

“Artemis, I feel sorry for any kid who’s ever existed within 20 feet of you.”

“Is that so? Hm. Then I’m sure you’d love to know that I once hosted a children’s theatre workshop. We performed ‘Oedipus Rex.’”

“Ew, what the hell?! Isn’t that about some Greek dude bangin’ his mom?”

“It is. I’m unsurprised that you know about the subject matter.”

“I should be the one who’s unsurprised, bitch. You’re the one who banged my dad.”

“Ohohoho!” Artemis chortles. “I somehow forgot about that! See, my life has been full of so many exciting spectacles lately that that’s almost an afterthought.”

“Whatever, if you’re into sex with old people, then that’s your problem.”

“Hey, listen. Your father’s a beefcake, what can I say? So is Dennis, for that matter. Actually, can you get him to send me a dick pic?”

Kaitlin shrieks in disgust. “I will never show you a picture of my brother’s dick.”

Artemis smiles, then takes a giant swig of her drink. “If you say so.”

“Why are you even hanging out with me right now? Shouldn’t you be off bangin’ dudes or something, since you talk about that so much?”

“Listen, Kaitlin,” says Artemis, still smiling. “You should be honored I’m in your presence right now. I actually enjoyed spending time with you in the game, and I still do now.”

“You what?! But we hated each other! That was like our whole thing!”

“Sure, it may have been, but a true actress knows how to transform a mild feud into a true hate-filled bloodlust. If you’d read behind the scenes… you’d know there is more to Artemis than meets the eye.”

“Okay, I’ve lost interest,” says Kaitlin. “I’m gonna go unpack my shit.” She downs the rest of her drink, slams it back on the table, then walks away.

A few seconds later, Don walks by and approaches Artemis. “Hello!” he says. “You’re Artemis?”

“Who’s asking?”

“I’m Don,” says Don. “Wait, oops, I’m award-winning reality television host Don, known for my cult classic vanity project ‘Total Drama Pre—”

“Okay, I get the idea,” says Artemis.

She snaps her fingers and disappears in a cloud of smoke, leaving Don just standing there, alone once again, looking hopelessly confused.

Another puff of smoke appears in the empty confessional and parts to reveal Artemis. “Lately, I’ve been questioning whether I actually competed on this show ‘Total Drama’ or if the entire experience was simply one extended, ayahuasca-fueled fever dream. Either way, I feel ready to publish another one-woman show: ‘Bird vs. The World.’ Of course, Kaitlin will star in it. I figure there’s nothing else she has to live for, she’d jump at the opportunity to work with an actress and auteur as talented as I.”

A little later in the evening, as the sun sets, Don gathers the 11 eliminated contestants—or 10, since Miles is still nowhere to be seen—around the beach for a round table discussion. After everyone seats themselves and starts to get comfortable, the gym-goers walk up, with Whitney sitting down in the middle of the crowd and Roald, Rhett, Boris, and Suvir sitting behind her, all four boys staying in the back with the same sex.

Don uses his fingers to take a headcount. “Sheesh, still no Miles?” he says. “How mysterious does this guy think he is?”

“He’s in his room, writing a song!” says Rachel. “He told me yesterday that he needs to spend lots of time alone when he’s writing, in order to ‘conjure up imagery.’”

“The way he talks is so funny,” Isabella chuckles.

“Weird, but okay. So here’s the deal,” announces Don. “None of you have made it to the final five, the five most coveted spots in the Total Drama elimination order. And sadly, you’re not going to be voting anyone out tonight either.”

“Dammit!” yell Suvir and Kaitlin simultaneously. They look at each other and grimace.

“But what we ARE going to do,” continues Don, “is have a round-table—or round-beach—discussion about the five contestants left, and how everyone feels about them! No hand-raising etiquette needed, feel free to shout out anything that’s on your mind.”

“Hey, boys,” shouts out Roald to his friends. “Has that protein powder we’ve been poundin’ made any of you, like… super constipated?”

“Sweetie, I think he means anything that has to do with the contestants,” Whitney whispers.

“D’oh! Forget I just said that.”

“To answer your question, Roald, yes, I have experienced that sensation,” says Boris mournfully. “However, due to my robust diet of steaks and Doritos Locos Tacos, there are days where I instead experience the direct opposite sensation.”

Don winces. “Guys, okay, we’ll do this alphabetically. First up: Christian!”

“Oh, absolutely,” Artemis immediately says.

“Ew, you really want Christian to win?” asks Kaitlin disapprovingly.

“Of course. It’s not like I ever interacted with the others.”

“Honestly, he’s a pretty decent guy,” says Suvir. “I dunno. All I know is that he and Franny hit it off, and any friend of hers is a friend of mine!”

“Co-signing that, my former Cheese!” Roald agrees. “Christian is a man who appreciates the art of being jacked. That’s some awesome stuff.”

“I have no ill will toward that man,” Boris says, which attracts a few surprised glances. “I gradually realized that one must coexist peacefully with herds of Chads in order to become one. While I do believe we would bond if he arrived here at the loser lodge, I would verily support him to win the prize.”

“Hecks yeah! Boris knows his shizz, man!” says Roald. “Christian’s a nice guy!”

“Well, I would not go that far,” continues Boris. “He is still a Chad at his core! Chads and nice guys are two drastically different species.”

“Hmmm, big Boris, I never really understand what you’re saying,” Roald smiles weakly. “But, uh, I’d be team Christian if I didn’t like one of the other dudes a lot better.”

“Please don’t tell me it’s who I think it is,” mumbles Whitney.

“C’mon, babe, we’ve talked about this. He’s no creep. He’s cool beans!”

“Well,” says Don, “it looks like we’ve got a rather diverse set of opinions regarding Christian. Anyone want to say the last word?”

“Zaddy,” says Kingsley.

Isabella blushes. “Totally agree with you there—”

“We been knew, sis.”

“—I wasn’t done! Totally agree with you that he’s a zaddy, but I think I’m gonna ghost him. He… uh, I didn’t tell you guys this, but he, like, asked me out yesterday during the race, and he was saying all this gushy stuff to me and it was super obvious that he caught feels, and I just…”

“...wait, didn’t you bang that guy?” asks Kaitlin.

“Oh my gosh, that’s personal business,” gasps Isabella. “And how do you know that? I don’t even know you!”

“I know a lotta shit, sister.”

“Okay, this is awk. Let’s move on.”

“See, those are the types of compelling dramatic moments you can ONLY find on the Ridonculous Race!” says Don. “Would you be able to get that from a mere Total Drama merge episode? I think not!” He pauses, looking around at the contestants to see if anyone’s nodding their head in agreement, while everyone just sits still. “Okay… well then, next up is Erica.”

“Blechhhh,” Kingsley pretends to vomit.

“Yo, I don’t wanna give the censors a field day, but there are so many things I could say about that slimy creature, and I’m gonna politely refrain from saying ‘em,” says Suvir.

“Aw, she was sweet!” says Isabella. “She was a great part of our girl gang. Right, Rach?”

“Uh…” Rachel looks away.

“Are you okay?”

“What Rachel’s trying to say is that you still don’t know Erica was the reason you got voted out, and it’s like… kinda sad, hun,” Kingsley says.

Isabella’s jaw drops. “She was WHAT?!” She starts frantically looking around at everyone else. “But why me? I’m so sweet, so fun, so bubbly! She and I were totally sisters!”

“Yeah, wake up and smell the roses,” Suvir says gruffly. “She’s bad news.”

Whitney shrugs. “Not a fan either.”

“I completely respect Erica,” says Rachel. “I believe there’s some good at her core. She doesn’t strike me as a consciously malicious person. But… I question what happened in her past to make her what she is today, you know? She seemed so purposefully hurtful. Plus… we all know she’s a Gemini.”

“Whuzzat?” asks Rhett. “Didja just say she’s a genie?! Ay, I’d wish fer a new pair o’ boots—”

“Gosh,” Isabella says, looking down. “I totally thought you guys just wanted to keep the Wildcats strong. I didn’t realize there was something else.”

Rachel puts her arm around Isabella and cuddles her. “Don’t worry, my sweet Aries friend. We all love you over here.”

Artemis, who’s busy writing something down in a notebook that Kaitlin keeps stealing glances at, says, “Erica’s pathetic. I should’ve been the villainess of this season.”

“Artemis, you weren’t anywhere near a villainess,” Kaitlin snaps. “You were just a weirdo. Erica’s not a villainess either. I was the villainess. I was also the breakout star.”

“Breakout star?! Nooo, that was me! I was a fan fave!” says Roald.

“I don’t know about that, babe,” Whitney says. “But you were a fan fave in my heart.”

“You may all be enjoyed by the general public, but truly sophisticated Lakeside viewers will be able to recognize that I provided an unparalleled, pathos-driven viewing experience,” says Boris.

“Guys, guys!” Don tries to break up the growing feud. “I’m really glad everyone’s… so passionate about this stuff. It seems like Erica got some strong reactions too. Great. Next up is Frances.”

“Franny!” yells Suvir. “My number one! She’s the winner in my book.”

“I can’t say I’d call myself a fan of hers either,” says Whitney.

“Ayuh, lissen up, Whitney,” begins Rhett. “I wasn’t a fan o’ hers either. She snaked me straight outta the game! But then my big man Roald here told me that Franny was feelin’ all sad and stuff about votin’ me off, saying she ovuhreacted, and it takes a big man to admit yeh screwed up.”

“That’s right! Man, I forgot about that!” says Roald. “I was super happy to hear it.”

Kaitlin sticks her tongue out. “She was the worst.”


“I take that back,” she says, looking at Suvir. “Second worst, after you.”

“I’m truly flattered to not be one of the two worst,” smiles Artemis.

“Look, I’ve only spent like five hours with her since I got here and I’m already sick of Artemis again,” complains Kaitlin in the confessional. “But I’m starting to understand the appeal of having her around. She’s so fun to argue with! We’re like those two wacky side characters who are always squabbling. Those characters who everyone THINKS should be the stars, but they get shafted by the network or whatever. And then they get their own spin-off series. Hear that, Chris, you bastard?”

“Frances seems to be an esteemed mind,” says Boris. “I respect her journalistic artistry.”

“Yeah, there’s definitely something about her that intrigues me,” agrees Rachel. “I wonder what her next step in striking back against Erica will be?”

“Ohhhh, if she’s against Erica, then I’m definitely rooting for her,” says Isabella.

Suvir stands up and throws a fist into the air. “Hecks yeah, she’s against Erica! She’s the leader of the resistance! You got this, Franny, you’re the BEST!” He bellows out some sort of gibberish war cry into the heavens. “Think she heard that?”

“My friend, of course she heard that,” says Boris. “It is like you were imbued with the power of the Wailing Ogres of Yggdor!”

“Okay, we’re talking about wailing trolls now, which means that’s probably it on Frances?” asks Don.

“Go Franny!” says Suvir one more time.

“Yee-haw!” Rhett starts dancing.

“She’s the only Artisanal Cheese left!” says Roald. “Gotta give her props just for that!”

“Well, technically, Christian was a Cheese… at one point,” Whitney corrects her boyfriend.

“But he wasn’t a Cheese when we were, babe! Remember? Aw, your memory’s so rusty. It’s adorbs.”

“All right,” Don takes out a couple of notecards from his pocket and quickly reviews them. “We’re down to two more. First Graham, and then Kelsey.”

Isabella swoons. “Oooh, can we talk about those two together?”

“I agree,” says Rachel. “I’m just so glad there’s finally a love connection blossoming on the lakeside…”

“What are we, chopped liver?” asks an offended Whitney.

“Well,” Rachel continues, ignoring the beta couple’s banter, “I want to relay a message from Miles, who said that he’s rooting for Graham the most out of everyone. I think the two really created a beautiful friendship.”

“Mmm, he’s fine, I guess,” says Kingsley.

“I appreciated that man’s fashion sense at first, he seemed to dress like an esteemed gentleman,” says Boris. “Alas, he has turned into a normie. Such is the inevitable plight of the common man!”

“Dude,” Suvir says to Boris quietly. “I promise you he had a reason for it.”

“Okay, but we gotta talk about that ‘mance!” says Roald enthusiastically. “I’m so glad my dude’s gotten over his funk and is hanging out with that cool lady!”

“‘That cool lady?’ Kelsey deserves more than that, doesn’t she?” asks Rachel.

“Ah mean, she seems cool, an’ ain’t she a lady?” Rhett replies.

“...I guess I can’t argue with that logic.”

“Either way,” Roald says, “if Franny doesn’t win, Whitney and I are on Team Graham!”

“What?! No, we’re absolutely not,” snaps Whitney, showing more emotion than she almost ever has otherwise.

“She’s still a little peeved about the whole short play Graham wrote,” explains Roald to everyone else. “And… uh, well, I guess everything else that he said to her in the first week. But it’s cool!”

“If he’s found someone new to creepily follow, then more power to him, I guess.”

“Trust me,” Rachel says. “It seems like there’s far, far more than creepy following there. The two are so adorable together, from everything I’ve heard… I just hope they survive the show.”

“Me too!” smiles Isabella. “Kelsey is such a sweetie, she deserves a cute boy.”

“You think Graham is cute? Weird,” says Kaitlin.

“I mean…” Isabella pauses, trying to delicately word her response. “He’s not really my type, and he’s no Christian, but he’s tall, he’s kinda hunky, and he dresses super nice now! So glad he got rid of the weird suit.”

“Speak for yourself, I preferred the weird suit,” says Artemis.

Suvir suggests, “I dunno if either of them can win, just because I think they’re too distracted by each other! Canoodling gets your guard down, man.”

“Hm,” says Kingsley. “Graham, yeah, probs not. But Kelsey? I think that bish is playing him. She seems sssssneaky.”

“Kelsey, playing Graham? Noooo, they really do like each other!” says Isabella.

“Yeah, and what about it?” scoffs Kingsley. “You thought Erica liked you. Case closed.”

Isabella gasps. “That’s totally a low blow, Kingsley, I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Guys, guys…” Rachel attempts to diffuse the situation. “Let’s meditate before bed tonight, okay?”

“Speakin’ of bed, ah’m pooped,” says Rhett.

“Yeah, I could deffo use a power nap!” says Roald. “Gotta recharge!”

“I’m taking more than a nap,” Whitney says. She pinches Roald’s cheeks as she stands up. “See you in about 12 hours.”

After some brief contemplation, Don stands up. “Okay!” he says. “Let’s call it a night, then. Everyone, thank you for a truly unique day at the loser lodge. And to everyone who’s still in the game, and everyone who’s watching at home? I can’t promise when I’ll see you again, but trust me, you have not seen the last of me. Yeah, you can thank me later…” he concludes, “but now my race is run.”

With one last TV-ready smile, Don walks into the night, while the ten losers gather their belongings from the beachfront and pile back into the hotel.

Later that night, Rachel walks through the hallway with a toiletry bag on her way to the communal showers. Right as she gets to the door, it swings open and out comes Miles, wearing his tank top and pajama pants.

“Oh!” she says. “Nice to see you out.”

Miles avoids looking her straight in the eyes, then says, “Yeah, I figured I’d, uh, at least take a shower.”

“That’s exactly what I’m about to do myself.”

“Hey, what’d I miss at the beach thing? Anything fun?”

“Nothing too fun. Just… a lot of conversation, a lot of discourse, a lot of negative energy directed toward certain contestants. I was happy to be there, but I wish you had joined us.”

“Yeah, uh…” he hesitates. “I did too, but I was so motivated to write this new song.”

“I’d love to hear it soon,” Rachel gives him a slight yet warm smile.

Miles’s face gets red. “Hmmm, uh, it’s kinda personal. But… maybe soon.”

“Good. As long as it’s not about Jackie. I hope our daily chats have helped you out a lot in that regard…”

“Not about Jackie,” Miles says. “I’m done thinking about her… well, that’s a lie, I think about her all the time… but I’m done thinking about her on purpose.”

“That makes me unbelievably happy,” she responds. She gives Miles a hug. “Goodnight, Miles.”

“Later…” he says, walking the opposite direction back to his room.

Time elapses, and instead of going to bed, Miles continues writing and fiddling around on his guitar. The lights are all off except for one tiny desk lamp, and his hotel room is generally trashed—with a few empty chip bags on the floor, a heap of clothes lurking in the corner, and what looks like a crumpled piece of paper depicting Jackie’s boyfriend Daniel in the trash can.

There’s a knock on the door. “Mmm?” he croaks. “Rach?”

“It’s me!” says a high-pitched feminine voice that’s clearly not Rachel.


The door cracks open and Isabella’s head peeks through. “Hi! Can I come in?” She looks around the pitch-black room. “Kinda dark in here,” she says.

“Yeah, you’re good… I’m just writing.”

“Awesome,” says Isabella. “How’s your artistic inspiration?”

“Y’know, I’m getting somewhere… oh, do you want your champagne? Is that why you’re here?” Miles groans, then gradually stands up and walks to his dresser, where a half-empty bottle of champagne is resting.

“I mean, that’s one of the reasons I’m here,” Isabella smiles sheepishly. “I also wanted to say hey! We’re buddies now, right?”

“Sure,” he says, handing the champagne bottle back to her. “This did a lot… thanks. I’ve been drafting some good new stuff.”

“Ooooh, does it have that lyric I suggested? You know the one!”

“Well… yeah,” Miles is clearly lying. “I… fit it in there somewhere.”

“Awesome! I can’t wait to hear it! I bet it’ll make a good addition to my playlist.”

“Yeah, probably. Wait, by the way, how was that whole thing yesterday? You know, the race with… the guy.”


“I was kinda avoiding his name on purpose.”

“Ohhhhhh. Yikes, you never liked him, right? I totally get why. That sounds so bad, but yesterday was soooo weird. I mean, we had an awesome time at a party, but then he started throwing all these feelings onto me, and it was super overwhelming.”

“Wait, you told me the other day you were gonna try and pursue him… but now that’s kaputt?”

“Oh my gosh, I legit forgot I said that. You should forget I said it too!”

“Mm, okay. Anyway, I think I’m gonna hit the hay—”

“Wait!” Isabella blurts out. “I’m soary. Can we talk really quick? I need to get some feels out.”

“I thought getting feelings out was, like, your least favorite thing on the planet…”

She laughs. “Okay, I don’t really like it most of the time, but since you always talk about your feels to me, we can, like, trade this time!”

“Trade? Jeez, okay…”

“Yeah,” Isabella takes this as an invitation to continue talking. “Okay, so I thought I had a big crush on Christian, but I realized I just thought he was hot. It’s not like he makes me think or anything, you know? I sooooo love having deep conversations. I don’t wanna hear a guy ask me ‘you up?’ or whatever. I wanna talk about, like, the secrets of the universe.”

“Hm,” says Miles.

“And he has this weird thing going on with Erica, who I thought was my friend until—”

“Pro tip, I don’t think anyone here is Erica’s friend.”

“Duh! I know that now, because earlier, Rachel told me that Erica was the one who came up with voting me off! Isn’t that awful? Did you know that?!”

Miles tries not to giggle. “Yeah… I was in on it. It was gonna be you or me.”

“Okay, I can forgive you and Rach, but not Erica. She’s a total mean girl, right? Super fake. I think it reflects badly on Christian to be hanging out with a mean girl like that.”

“I’m not sure if he’s actually hanging out with her, or if he’s just thirsty and she has him wrapped around her finger. I guess I’m kinda out of the loop…”

“Feel that. I just want something low-pressure with a boy who just wants to have fun! And I thought I had that with Christian, but then he got all gushy.”

“Hey, it happens. Take it from a pro.”

There’s a short pause, before Isabella says, “Okay, how are YOU doing today?”

“I don’t know,” Miles says, super vaguely. “Mind if I tell you some stuff about myself? It’s been a weird couple days…”

“Totally. And I’ll sit here and listen just like always!”

“Yeah, okay.” He clutches his notebook, then looks down at the words he’s written and takes a breath. “So I’ve been writing… a lot. And for the past three or four years, I’ve only written songs about Jackie… at first they were about how much I loved her, and then how much I wanted her back, but now I just don’t want to do that anymore. Like, at all.”

“Awesome! You’re making so much progress.”

“Yeah, but here’s the thing, I’m not,” he laughs mockingly at himself. “Then I wrote this new song one night in the Wildcat cabin, and it was about Rachel, but… she rejected me. And I’m cool with that, but then we started talking more as friends at the loser lodge, and I still couldn’t get the song I wrote about her off my mind…”

“Well, that makes things a little messier. Wait, maybe you should just write about someone new! That’s the perfect solution!”

“I appreciate that, but it's not realistic just yet. If you haven’t noticed, my mind likes to dwell on one woman at a time…”

“Ohhh, I actually haven’t noticed,” Isabella says, completely sincerely.

Miles looks her in the eye, then smirks a little. “Okay, no judgment here. So basically, now I’m spending half my time thinking about how I’m no longer obsessed with the girl I’ve been obsessed with for two years… and the other half of my time trying NOT to obsess over a friend. And this song’s reflecting that, it’s damn hard to write. I’m just getting bored.”

“Wait. Oh my gosh, I was thinking earlier how nice it’d be for a boy to write a song about me. Can you do that?!”

“W-w-well, I mean, that’d be kinda…”

“Okay, I know you’re just my friend, but I’d be sooooo flattered if a boy wrote a song about me. Even a boy who I didn’t like in that way.”

Miles takes a breath, then says, “You know? Why not. I can fix up these lyrics a little bit.”

“Awesome! I’m so excited!” she grins. “It’s gonna go straight to my playlist ‘cozy coffee days.’” Isabella looks back at Miles, then looks back away. “Okay, can I say one more thing?”

“Hit me…”

“I think I have the perfect way to solve both of our problems. Like, at least for a little bit.”

“Yeah? What’s up?”

Isabella smiles and looks into his eyes, and he blushes. She leans forward, grabs Miles’s head, and the two start making out. A few seconds later, they collapse sideways onto the bed. Miles opens one eye, looks at his desk lamp nearby, stretches his arm to the side, and turns off the light.

Chapter 14 - Extreme Birdbotching

“Last time on Total Drama Lakeside!” begins Chris, back at his usual position on the beach, while Don is nowhere to be found. “Chef and I were busy with extenuating circumstances, so I got disgraced Ridonculous Race mogul Don to fill in for us! He forced the final six through a race all around the city, and although I wasn’t there and have little idea what went down, I’m sure it was dramatic. Isabella was there for some reason… and I heard something about Christian trying to make a big move on her and failing miserably. Ha! Classic. Also, Graham and Kelsey had a nice romantic talk on the metro, and Erica did Erica stuff, which Frances wasn’t too thrilled about. Oh yeah, and Kaitlin is finally gone. I don’t want to talk about her ever again. Speaking of ‘finally gone,’ Don is gone too! Ha! Today I’m gonna show him who’s the true king of Canadian reality television. We’re cooking up something crazy for the final five, right here, right now, on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

The afternoon after the challenge, right at the same time as Don is hosting the losers' special, Frances and Kelsey are sitting at a small circular table outside a coffee shop, each with a small mug resting beside them and Kelsey with her laptop out.

“This is good,” says Kelsey. “I needed this.”

“Agreed,” says Frances. “I’m not quite sure what to make of yesterday, and it’s good to be with someone I know is on the same page.”

“Oh, sister, I’m always on the same page. Do you wanna talk about it, or…”

“Sure,” hesitates Frances. “I’ve deduced you’re also itching to talk about something.”

“Mmm, how’d you guess,” says Kelsey dryly.

“Come on. You and Graham spent an entire day together, I’d be more shocked if you DIDN’T have anything to say.”

Kelsey blushes slightly, then looks away. “You got me. A lot happened, and we had a talk… a pretty big one.”

“Big talk? Go on.”

“Hey, wait a sec, you’re not off the hook just yet,” Kelsey says before taking a large sip of her coffee. “You were the one who wanted to talk about stuff first. So, you go, then I’ll tell you about me and the boy.”

“Fine,” smiles Frances. “I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but Erica and I did not get along yesterday. I’ll leave it at that for now.”

“Wow, never would’ve guessed, isn’t she your favorite person?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Frances says hurriedly. “The point is, I’m getting tired of the whole Erica revenge tunnel-vision, so I want to spend at least one day ignoring it.”

“We’re off to a good start so far. You’re here, you’re with me, I can tell you about the boy now.”

“That’s exactly what I need! I was just thinking that in order to branch out and move on, I want to write a story about you and Graham.”

Kelsey stares in shock, or maybe slight horror. “Whoa, hold up—”

“Obviously, I wouldn’t share it with the world if you didn’t want, but it’s a sweet story. It’d get all sorts of positive reception.”

“I’ll tell you, you’re not gonna think it’s sweet after you hear what happened yesterday.”

“You didn’t break his heart, did you?!”

“God, of course not,” Kelsey says, making an expression that implies she’d be horrified at the possibility of breaking his heart. “I just kinda told him we had to slow down, because we’re still competing for a million bucks and all.”

“Okay, very true,” Frances scratches her chin. “You’re in a dilemma, then.”

“That’s one way to put it.” She thinks for a minute. “God, it’s torture. Succeeding is my ‘thing,’ dating boys is NOT. If I ruin my chance to win because of a guy, I’ll never let myself live it down.”

“Well, obviously. That makes me glad things didn’t work out with Suvir.”

“See? That’d be the dream. If Graham stayed obsessing over Whitney, we never would’ve gone out to dinner with my mom, and… I never would’ve caught any feels.”

“Nah, you still probably would’ve.”

Kelsey scoffs. “Come on! I have more self-control than that. Usually.”

“Well, there are only three days left, remember? You can hold out until then, I’m sure.”

“I’m not as sure, but I’ll try my best.”

“Okay,” Frances claps. “Now. I’m ready to start developing the introduction to our Graham x Kelsey lover—I mean, cover story.” Kelsey frowns. “Tell me about yourself, your backstory, all those things the average reader wouldn’t know.”

“Wait, I haven’t told you about the spelling bee yet, have I?” asks Kelsey.

“You have not.”

Kelsey deeply inhales in. “Here goes.”

“I’m confident about how today’s going,” says a poised Frances in the confessional. “Kelsey’s the first ally I needed to reconnect with. Now that that’s taken care of, Graham will be next, and after that I may as well chat with Christian too. Then, we could get a nice four-piece ensemble going to take out Eri—” she pauses, “—wait. Ugh. I’m still not over this Erica thing, am I?”

Frances, who now has her notepad out, stares at a page’s worth of new, frantically scrawled notes. “That was amazing.”

“Aw, you flatter me,” Kelsey jokingly strikes a model’s pose. “Hope that’s enough content for right now.”

“It’s great,” says Frances. “Okay, so one more thing. Not to bring this back to game talk, but…”

“PLEASE bring this back to game talk. You know that’s what I need to focus on.”

“All right,” continues Frances. “I know this is probably implied already, after all the talking we’ve been doing, but how would you feel about me, you, and Graham in the final three together?”

Kelsey holds up her finger and is about to say something, but quickly refrains.

Frances stares at her in slight confusion. “I’m not sure what response I’m getting here.”

“Here’s the deal, I’d totally say yes,” says Kelsey eventually. “So mark me down as a ‘yes.’ But… competing against Gra—I mean, you and Graham at the end scares me. I feel like I’d get super, super stressed since I really do care about you both.”

“Hmm, you make a good point,” says Frances. “Wait. Consider this. Wouldn’t you rather compete against trusted friends, where things’ll be good in the end no matter what, than the unbridled chaos that Christian and Erica bring?”

Kelsey closes her eyes for a few seconds, then gives an emphatic nod. “Yyyyyyes. That’s a great point.”

“Cool,” Frances says. “Me, you, and Graham in the final three. It’s a deal.”

“Love to see it.”

“I guess I should feel good that I’m going to the final three with my friend and my boy,” says Kelsey. “Hopefully. But, like, that’s not how my mind works. Even if things turn out all lovey-dovey in the end, there’s still the final challenge to get through, which will definitely suck, and I have my grad school apps and my thesis still sitting there, taunting me.”

Back in the dorm, Graham is sitting on his bed, staring at his journal. On one page is what appears to be a half-completed drawing of a girl with brown hair, scribbled out before completion, and on the other page is a scrawled poem. He looks at it, smiles, then sighs.

A bit later, Christian walks in. “Ay dude, listen up. Let’s have a talk.”

“A talk about…?”

“Y’know,” Christian says, plopping down next to Graham. “Guy stuff. Mano-a-mano.”

Graham eyes Christian, then scoots away from him a bit. “I assume Erica isn’t in the dorm at the moment.”

“Nah, she’s not, but that don’t matter,” Christian says dismissively. “Listen, I got shit on my mind.”

“Don’t we all? I know I do…”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m sayin’!” Christian grabs Graham’s shoulders and shakes him a little bit, which Graham does not respond positively to. “We gotta let that crap out.”

“Well,” Graham says, thinking to himself. “We ARE the only two guys left. It may be nice to get to know each other a little better.”

“Yeah, whatever you wanna call it. Here’s the deal: ya boy got shrekt last night.”

“Define ‘shrekt?’”


“Do I?”

“Me… and, uh…” Christian’s face starts getting sweaty and slightly pink.

A smile creeps onto Graham’s face. “You and Isabella. I knew you had a weakness!”

“Hey, don’t say it like that!” he suddenly shouts. “She ain’t no ‘weakness.’ She, uh… just caught me off-guard. I told her I dug her, and she said all that crap girls say when they just tryna let you down easy. She even called me by the wrong name.”

“What name? It wasn’t Roald or anything, was it?”

“You for real? Naw. She called me ‘Carlton.’ What kinda stupid name…”

Graham gives Christian an expression that shows he’s genuinely empathetic toward his plight. “I’m sorry. That must sting.”

“I dunno,” he looks down, “she made me feel sublime, man.”

“I can understand why. I mean, Isabella and I didn’t click, but—”

“What is it with her?! I got all these girls tryna ring me up, tryna get in bed with the C-man, no matter where I go. Even Erica, and she already has a mans. But Isabella? The one I’m super into, more than anyone I’ve ever met? She just,” he sticks out his tongue and gives a thumbs-down.

“Well,” Graham says contemplatively, “pardon if I get cheesy for a sec.”

“My guy, you’re always cheesy. S’why I don’t talk to you much. But I’m in a pretty dark place right now, so I can deal with the cheese.”

“Okay, so—”

“Wait. You gotta be doing something right, if you’re hanging out with Kelsey. Okay, now I’m listening.”

“Good to know you wouldn’t have been listening otherwise…”

“Hey, man, that’s irrelevant. Just keep talkin’.”

“So,” says Graham, getting back on track. “I get that it stings when your love is not reciprocated. I’d say it stings more than any sort of physical pain, well, short of getting your leg ripped off by a tiger or something. But… it helps you grow, it helps you heal.”

“Yeah, I don’t wanna grow or heal, I wanna dick down Isabella.”

Graham blinks. “Well. That’s a response.” He stops, then thinks again, before saying, “What makes Isabella different from the rest of your… harem?”

“I don’t even know what a harem is. The hell is a harem?”

“That’s not the point. What makes Isabella different from—”

“She was so fine, man,” Christian says longingly. “Soooo fine. And I mean, it’s always child’s play getting some broad’s number. I can just shoot her a smile and flip my hair and it’s a slam dunk. But Isabella’s trickier. She didn’t want anything to do wit’ that, she just wanted to hit on me, then lead me on, and… it doesn’t feel good to be rejected, bruh. I never get rejected.”

Graham contemplates a bit more, then says, “Okay… I can’t relate to anything you’ve said in these past few minutes, and that’s usually how I best empathize. I guess I’ve spent a lot of my life developing these crushes, usually on women I barely even know, ones I just admire from afar. Like Whitney. So, a little different from your situation, but somehow similar, and now, erm, I’m spending time with Kelsey and I can only think about her.”

“So you’re saying I gotta play the long-term game? Tried to do that with Isabella, homie.”

“Yeah. Obviously the two parties don’t always see eye to eye, and that’s the grand tragedy of unrequited love. But sometimes… they do see eye to eye, and they work, and you feel like you’re on cloud nine. Or cloud ten. Or cloud 100, which is about where I’m currently at.”

“Ayyyy, you DID score with Kelsey? My maaaan!”

“Sure,” Graham says sheepishly. “It’s pretty ambiguous, but we had a great talk last night.”

“That’s legit. So you’re saying I gotta just find one lady instead of 500?”

“Well, you can do whatever you want to do, but that’s what’s working best for me,” Graham says. “'Quality over quantity’ also applies to the world of love.”

Christian stands up, then extends his hand for Graham to shake, which he eventually does after a second. “Good talk, b. Dunno if I agree with any of it but… thanks for listening.”

“No problem, Christian. I’m always happy to help.”

“I meant it,” says Christian. “Look, Graham ain’t the type of guy I’d ever chill with outside of this game. He’s kind of a loser. But… y’know, there ain’t too many other options ‘round these parts, and us males gotta stick together. I’d hang out with most chicks over him any day, but it’s always nice to squeeze in some of that male-on-male bonding.”

“I didn’t think Christian had anywhere near that level of depth,” admits Graham, “and most of what he said was… kind of disgusting, but I could see the pain behind his eyes. He put himself out there for Isabella and was crushingly rejected. Now, I don’t blame Isabella at all for that—this is Christian we’re talking about—but I empathize with him, and it’s nice to make a new connection. One of the reasons I came here was to make friends, and I don’t know, maybe someday I could call him a friend.”

Christian walks out of the dorm and sees Erica, sitting alone at a bench outside.

“Now is when I tell myself ‘Christian, my dude, you’re better than this,’” he whispers to himself, right before walking over to Erica and sitting down directly next to her. “‘Sup.”

“Hi,” she says coldly.

“How’s… life?”

“It’s been weird,” she says. “I don’t talk to Frances anymore, or those other two.”

“Hey, Graham ain’t all that bad. I just shot the shit with him inside.”

Erica glares at him for a second, before hiding it with a smile in her inimitable Erica way. “You did?!” she hisses.

“...yeah? I dunno, I needed a dude to talk to. A dude’s dude.”

“Oh, it’s about you and the blonde girl,” she says. “Well, okay, fine. Will you vote out Frances with me tonight?”

“Ahhhh, and now she comes crawlin’ back to me,” he leans back on the bench, throws his arms behind his head, and smirks.

“Hey!” she says. “I’m offended that you’d say that. If anything, you’re the one crawling back to me.”

“Aight, aight, we’re both crawlin’ back to each other. Let’s see where the challenge takes us, then we can talk strats, mkay?”

“Fine,” says Erica. “But I’m still angry at you.”

“You? Angry at—wait, what did I even do…” he starts tapping his head, counting his fingers, and so on.

“We,” she says this in a normal tone of voice, then whispers the next part, “made out—” she returns to a normal volume, “—and then you totally pretended it didn’t happen. Now Jacob’s gonna be so mad at me.”

“Yo, you can’t be mad,” says Christian. “I’m single, I’m an innocent party in this situation.”

“That doesn’t matter, the real problem is—”

“And you were the one who pretended I hooked up with Franny…” he continues, before realizing, “Wait! Maybe SHE'S the lady I gotta be with.”

“Are you seriously talking about hooking up with Frances right in front of me?” Erica says in horror.

“You brought that idea up in the first place, sister.”

“Ugh,” Erica huffs. “I’m going to go do my makeup.”

“We’re at the point where I’m ready to go home,” says Erica. “Like, yeah, of course I want to win the game, but not if it’s in exchange for my dignity! Which I still have a ton of, just to be clear. Three more days, Erica, you can do this… maybe they can fly out my sweet Jakey-boy for the finale, for some extra motivation?”

That afternoon, shortly after lunch, Chris and Chef meet the final five at one of the park fountains a little ways away from the dorm, where they’re sitting on a picnic blanket and taking sips from juice boxes.

“Classy, real nice,” says Kelsey.

“Thanks,” says Chris without a hint of sarcasm. “Welcome to your final five challenge, final five! Today’s challenge will test how well you can assimilate… with the natural world.” He looks at Chef, who’s eating from a bucket of drumsticks. “Chef, that’s perfect!”

“Mmmf?” he says, giant wad of chicken in mouth. “I was hungry.”

“Chef here is perfectly demonstrating our challenge, which is…” announces Chris. “Extreme Birdwatching!” Everyone looks at him with a classic confused expression. “Well, obviously you’re not going to be cooking and eating the birds… and there are no chickens around here in the first place, but… okay, the FOUNDATION for the joke was there. You gotta at least give me that.”

“Let’s just hear what we’re doing in the challenge first,” says Frances.

“I’m getting to that!” groans Chris. “So, you all know the esteemed pastime of birding, correct? Basically dorks walking around and trying to identify birds. Each of you will be given a bingo card of five species you must identify, and snap a picture of with these handy-dandy McLean-brand cameras,” he gestures to a duffel bag right next to him with five neon green Chris-head-emblazoned cameras peeking out, “before the day is done.”

“And where does the ‘extreme’ part come in?” asks Graham.

“Ha! I’m glad you asked, dude,” says Chris. “See, the ‘extreme’ part comes in because you’re not just gonna be looking at birds. Well, one of you is, but…” He looks at Chef, and the two share a sinister snicker. “I’m just gonna pass out the cards.”

Chris takes a few pieces of laminated paper out of his pocket, then walks down to the contestants.

“One for you…” he hands one to Erica, “one for Christian, Frances, Graham, and Kelsey!”

Everyone examines their cards, and Frances is the first to speak up. “Okay,” she says. “Correct me if I’m wrong, storks don’t live around here. Also, I have a lion on my card.”

Kelsey then holds up her card, decorated with all sorts of marine life. “So I’m supposed to find a shark and a bunch of obscure fish species with names I won’t even try to pronounce.”

“It could be worse,” says Graham, showing her his card, which has a picture of a giant bear on it, surrounded by various other critters.

Erica looks at her card, depicting a parade of butterflies and other bugs. “Chris, I don’t know if you knew, but butterflies are actually insects, not birds.”

“The hell is a cormorant?” Christian says to himself, examining his card.

“Hahahaha!” Chris guffaws. “It seems you’ve all picked up what I meant when I said ‘extreme birding!’”

“So, we’re really just going on a scavenger hunt for animals that don’t even live in North America, let alone the midwestern United States?” asks Kelsey for clarification.

“Yup,” says Chef.

“You guys are resourceful,” says Chris. “There’s plenty of ways to figure this challenge out! If nobody has all five by the end of the day, whoever has the most pictures out of five will win, and if there’s a tie… we’ll deal with that possibility later, I guess. Everyone ready?!”

“Not really,” says Frances honestly.

Chris throws his hands in the air and shouts, “Aaaaand, go!”

The five half-heartedly disperse, most of them pulling out their phones or otherwise pacing around. Frances walks up to Graham, who’s staring at Kelsey from a few feet away but trying to be subtle about it.

“Hey,” she says. “I’ve got a bunch of ‘exotic’ animals on my card. You have a bear, right?”

“I do,” Graham says, showing her his card. “I was going to take a picture of my teddy bear.”

“You brought a stuffed animal here?” asks Frances, smiling goofily.

Graham starts to look slightly embarrassed. “Yeah. He’s buried at the bottom of my suitcase… his name’s Beardo.”

“That’s charming, but sadly, I’m not sure if Chris will let that fly.”

“I know,” says Graham. “Probably for the best. I wouldn’t want Kelsey to see him.”

“Something tells me Kelsey would also find it charming,” Frances assures him. “Anyway, what I was going to say was, want to work together today?”

“How so?”

“There’s a zoo about a half hour away. I remember researching it before coming here. That’ll absolutely give us what we need.”

“Well, Kelsey and I said we were gonna take a break from each other today, so… sure.”

“Awesome,” smiles Frances, giving him a high-five. “Let’s head to the metro.”

“This worked out well, as far as Chris’s horribly rigged challenges go,” says Frances. “Once we’re at the zoo, I’ll introduce to Graham the possibility of the me-him-Kelsey final three, and then I’ll get his side of the love story for my newest cover article! Perfect day so far.”

Once Frances and Graham have left, Kelsey looks around at her immediate vicinity, seeing nobody else around except for Chris and Chef—who are still enjoying their picnic.

She walks up to them, then hesitantly says, “...hey, Chris.”

“Hi, Kelsey!” he says faux-cheerfully.

“Quick question,” she asks. “Where would one go to find a shark?”

“Come on, you’re smart, you can figure this one out,” says Chris. “Or does your lover boy have you all distracted?”

“Ain’t called for, man,” chides Chef.

“Excuse me,” Kelsey starts to smile, hiding her discomfort. “The ‘lover boy’ DOES have me distracted, but he’s one of many, many things that do. So. Shark location, please.”

“Go to th’ aquarium,” says Chef.

“Chef! What gives?!”

“Don’t y’ want her to win?” he whispers about as loudly and unsubtly as possible.

Chris’s face turns white. “Kelsey, get out of here, this is not a conversation for you—” Once she rolls her eyes and leaves, he turns closer to Chef and continues. “I never said that! I said I didn’t want her to go home yet. The producers are looooving the romance stuff.”

“Should’ve given her the bug card then.”

“Pffft, you know it was a total coincidence Erica got the easiest card in the bunch,” says Chris.

“It wasn’t,” says a smirking Chris in the confessional.

Kelsey is standing up in the confessional and pacing back and forth. “Okay, soooo… gotta go check out some fish, I guess. Baby me loved the aquarium back in Cali. Dad used to take me to the kelp forest exhibit and I was just totally hypnotized. It’s been a minute since I’ve been to an aquarium, but right now, it’s giving me ‘angsty musical montage in an indie movie’ vibes. I’m here for that, God knows I need it.”

Christian walks down a wooded path by the beach, wearing a pair of binoculars and every so often glancing at his card of birds. He hears loud squawking, then looks above in excitement to see nothing but a couple of seagulls.

“Bastards,” he says. “Getting my hopes up.”

He keeps walking through the brush, then parts a couple bushes to walk back out onto the beach, towards a small peninsula. He looks elsewhere to see a large group, mostly made up of elderly men, walking in the same direction he is.


He runs over to the group, trying to approach the man in the front, who’s in the middle of excitedly describing something to the rest of them.

“Hey, so, uh—” he says, but is met with a few “Shh!”s. He then nudges his way through the rest of the group, trying to sneak to the back of the line as discreetly as possible.

“Watch where you’re going!”

“You’re gonna scare the birds away.”

Christian perks up. “Wait, birds? Hell yea, I knew this was the place to be.”

The man in the very front—a large fellow with a bushy gray mustache, a fishing cap, and a vest decorated with multiple pairs of binoculars and guidebooks stuffed in each pocket—takes notice of Christian.

“Howdy!” he greets. “We got a new member, everyone! Welcome to the most exclusive birding club this side o’ Kalamazoo!”

“It doesn’t seem too fuckin’ exclusive, let me tell you,” Christian says, looking at the rest of the birders, who range from a couple apathetic-looking young women to a tall, wiry middle-aged guy with glasses to at least 10 septuagenarians.

“So yer probably a little nervous to be starting off with us seasoned birders,” says the man. “I don’t blame ya! The name’s Big Johnson. I’ll teach ya everything ya need to know.”

“Sick, dawg,” Christian says, about to read off of his card. “So… y’all seen any great blue herons or double-breasted cormorants?”

“Of course I have,” Big Johnson says. “Them’s all over these parts! Plus, I’ve been birdin’ upwards of 50 years.”

“Damn, I feel sorry for you.”

“Hey, sorry but…” whispers one of the younger birders to Christian. “We’re kinda in the middle of a woodland bird trek.”

“Woodland? Shit, all my birds are waterbirds. Can we just skip to that?”

Big Johnson guffaws, perhaps mockingly. “What’s your name, sonny?” he asks.


“Haw! All righty, Christian, you gotta hold yer horses. Waterfowl aren’t scheduled for—” he checks his watch, “another two an’ a half hours, so just sit tight and we’ll get there eventually!”

“Trust me, it’s gonna be fun,” another birder tells him. “We’re gonna check out sparrows for 45 minutes.”

Christian says nothing and instead just stares mindlessly at the water. A goose flies by and poops on his head.

Elsewhere, Frances and Graham have arrived at the nearest zoo, nestled within an eastern part of the city. The classic skyline can be seen in the background behind a vista of trees and tall exhibits.

“Okay, here we are,” says Frances, her card and camera both out. “I say we hit the big cats first.”

“I don’t have any big cats…” replies Graham. “Just a bear, three different types of monkeys, and a horse. Lovely selection.”

“Well, do you want to split up?”

“No! Definitely not. I’ve had enough alone time.”

“Okay, then… let’s go to the big cats. I have a lion, and also a zebra and giraffe for some reason.”

“Last time I checked, zebras and giraffes were not cats.”

Frances exhales, a mixture of a defeated sigh and an almost-laugh. “I’m aware. So, animal talk aside, I have a proposal for you.”

“What’s up?” Graham asks, his eyes fixated on a meerkat exhibit to the left.

“I was getting coffee with Kelsey earlier, and I realized that we’re in the final stages of the game. I figured I’ve been focusing so hard on getting rid of Erica that I’ve forgotten to bond with my allies. So… would you be interested in a final three deal with me and Kelsey?”

“No question,” Graham immediately says. “With you two, I’m on board!”

“Awesome,” says Frances. The two reach a large fenced-in rectangle with all sorts of African wildlife roaming around, including a big herd of zebras and one very slowly-walking giraffe. “Hey, here we are, stop #1.” She zooms in on her camera and takes a few pictures.

“We’ll be done in no time!”

“You mean I’ll be done in no time. I have two down, you haven’t found any yet, right?”

“...well, no. But this is a collaborative effort, is it not?”

“Of course it is. I’m just focusing on myself first and foremost. Glad to have you here, though.”

“I do enjoy Frances,” says Graham. “We haven’t spent too much time together, and practically no time just one-on-one. She sometimes frightens me, since I’m well aware of how much she focuses on strategy and revenge and whatnot, and some of the things she says make me uneasy. But… Kelsey likes her and I trust her taste in friends, and yet it’s hard to focus on the game when I can’t tear my mind away from her.”

Kelsey walks through the aquarium. The lights are dim, and the building’s walls are a blue cobblestone that slant toward a domelike ceiling, with all sorts of fish displays lining below. The aquarium is filled with people, most being a decade or two younger than Kelsey. She walks past a group of children and tries not to make eye contact with them, but they still look at her in entertainment. She averts her eyes, pulls out her card, and looks at that instead.

“Gar,” she says, looking at the first fish on the list. “Okay, he’s… cute.”

She examines the picture of the gar, its alligator-like maw completely agape. She shivers slightly, then walks toward an exhibit with a sign reading “Lakes and Rivers.”

“THERE’S a gar.”

Kelsey walks up to one of the biggest tanks in the exhibit, which holds none other than a gar. She examines the gar for well over 30 seconds before taking a picture of it.

“Really into that gar, huh?” asks a man standing a few feet away.

“It’s pretty weird, isn’t it?” asks a woman standing right next to him.

Kelsey looks down at the woman’s arm, which is wrapped around the man’s shoulders—then says, “Sure, I guess. Okay, funny story, I’m actually here for a challenge.”

“A challenge?” asks the woman, trying to sound interested but clearly not.

“Yeah.” Kelsey snaps one more picture of the gar for good measure. “So I’m a part of this reality show—Total Drama, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, it used to be big like 10 years ago but now it’s pretty irrelevant and I’m on a season called Total Drama Lakeside and okay, that’s not really the part that matters—but there are only five of us left, and we’re supposed to roam around the city and take pictures of wildlife and stuff, and I got assigned a bunch of fish because apparently Kelsey can’t have nice things—oh, I’m Kelsey, by the way—and so here I am, at the aquarium, and I should probably be working together to win this challenge with my boyfriend right now—well, he’s not technically my boyfriend, we haven’t really done the whole ‘labels’ thing yet because both of us have lots of feels and are scared of all that, and I kinda told him yesterday I just wanted to focus on the game, and I DO because getting a million dollars would be really cool—but anyway, I should be doing the challenge with him right now, but I’m not because I’m stupid, so now I’m just stressing about what’ll happen if I lose the challenge and I go home and none of this ends up mattering and I end up ruining something great—”

She looks to the side, and not only has the other couple fled, but so has everyone else around her in about a six-foot radius.

“Maybe one day I’ll stop oversharing with strangers,” she sighs. “Did that feel good? Yes. But still.”

Back by the dorms, Erica is kneeling over a small flower garden, one teeming with butterflies and other insects, and strategically aiming her lens to take pictures of them.

“This is dumb,” she says to herself. “One more…”

A tiger swallowtail butterfly lands on the tuft of greenery closest to her. She smiles, aims her lens, and captures the picture.

“I don’t like bugs at all, but they helped me out today,” says Erica. “I’m actually at capacity and dealing with SO much personal stuff right now, and I don’t think I can hold appropriate space for this challenge. So… I can’t believe I’m saying this, but thanks, Chris.” She shudders. “Ew.”

Less than an hour after the challenge was first announced, Erica heads back to Chris and Chef, her card and camera in hand.

“You’re already back?!” asks Chris.

“Don’t try an’ act surprised, Chris.”

Erica reluctantly takes out her camera and starts flipping through the pictures so Chris can see. “Here you go,” she says. “This challenge was a waste of time.”

“Try telling that to your other four peers who are on a wild goose chase right now!” grins Chris.

“I should probably feel sorry for them, but…” admits Erica. “I don’t.” She forces out a laugh. “Oh gosh, is that bad?”

“You tell me,” says Chris, examining the photos. “Point is, all five of these images are valid! The monarch butterfly pic is KINDA blurry, but I’ll let it slide. Congratulations, Erica, you’ve won the challenge!”

“Yay!” she says, almost in a monotone.

“Now shoo,” says Chris. “Chef and I are in the middle of some serious business.”

Erica glowers at Chris before throwing her card on the ground and walking away. “Okay, it’s not like I’d ever choose to hang out with you two.”

She makes her way to the dorm and throws open the door. The rooms are empty, with no trace of any of the other contestants. She walks over to her bed and picks up her phone, which is lying on a bedside table and charging. Then, she presses the phone’s lock button to see a text from Jacob.

“Hi! Miss you babe! Good luck on the challenge today! Just remember you’re my hero! :)”

She looks at it for a few seconds, almost smiles, then just laughs dismissively. “I can’t believe he still uses that many exclamation points,” she mutters to herself, as she slumps onto her bed. “Today sucks. Why am I even still here if none of them like me? I’m doing the best I can!” She pouts. “I feel like High School Erica again. She was a bitch. I have to go back to College Erica!”

It’s a sunny day, presumably sometime in the middle of March or April. The automatic doors to the local convenience mart slide open to make way for a slightly younger-looking Erica, with much longer hair, flanked by two others—a girl with sandy-brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing rustic clothing, and a tall, gangly boy with curly hair.

“I’m gonna go grab some choccy milk,” says the boy. “We’re all out.”

The non-Erica girl laughs. “God, you and your choccy milk…”

“Hey, maybe if you weren’t a damn vegan, you’d be able to enjoy it too,” he says, before trailing off to the back of the store.

“You guys are weird,” Erica shouts out. “Hey, Christie, how are you and that boy doing?”

“Oh…” says Christie uncomfortably. “That kinda ended the other day. I don’t know, I got bored. Just like you and that frat boy.”

“Pssssh, I’m done with frat boy,” Erica says, although her tone suggests otherwise. “He was gross… but he made me feel good. I need to get that kind of validation again. Hey, I’ll be right back.”


Erica walks over to the frozen aisle, where the lanky boy is carefully examining three different kinds of frozen pizza. “Hey.”

“Mm, hey,” says the boy, clearly preoccupied.

“You know, I was thinking,” says Erica. “I could see us dating in the future.”

The boy swivels over 180 degrees and he gapes at Erica. “Huh?!” he says, his face turning a varied shade of greens and reds. “I mean… I guess, yeah, me too, maybe?”

Erica shrugs. “Yeah, I just thought I’d say that. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

Both of them walk back over to Christie, and a few minutes later, they’re heading back from the store, plastic grocery bags in hand.

“Christie, could you see us two dating in the future?” Erica asks, breaking a silence.

“What?! Oh my gosh. No. Don’t even—”

“Yeah, I didn’t really know what to say," the boy pipes in.

“That wasn’t the reaction I thought I’d get from either of you.”

“God,” Christie says. “Let’s change the subject.”

Erica stands in a sprawling crowd of college students under a large white tent, all lined up in front of a stage. She’s surrounded by a few white brunette girls who are approximately the same height as her. All three are wearing Greek lettering on their shirts.

She looks over to her right and sees the same lanky curly-haired boy standing next to Christie and a blonde, bespectacled, equally lanky Swede. She then looks to her left and notices Jacob, standing in a crowd made up of outdoorsy-looking types.

“Oh my gosh, there he is…”

“Jacob? Or—” whispers one of the brunettes.

“Jacob, obviously,” Erica says.

“Well, are you going to go talk to him?”

“I know I should,” Erica says coyly. “He’s my little crush and all. But… I don’t know. Not yet.”

“Come on, he’s totally into you.”

“Yeah, but you can’t let him know you’re into HIM!”

“She’s right,” says Erica to the other girl. “Hang on, I’ll be right back.”

“Just go talk to him.”

Erica looks at Jacob and his friends, then apprehensively starts walking over to him—but at the last second, right as she catches Jacob’s eye, she makes a sharp turn right and heads over to Christie and the two lanky boys instead.

“Oh, uh, hey Erica,” says the blonde one.

“Hey!” she says, gently touching the curly-haired boy on the shoulder. “What’re you doing later tonight?”

“Not quite sure, we were thinking about a power hour?”

Christie laughs. “It’s a horrible idea, we know.”

“Okay! I’d love to hang out with you,” she says, directing that solely to the curly-haired boy despite the presence of her two other friends. “Meet you here in a couple two hours?”

“Sounds like a plan—”

Erica nods and prepares to walk away. She glances over at Jacob again, seeing that his gaze is fixated in her exact direction. “Wait!” she says. “Christie, want to take a picture of us two real quick?” She hands Christie her phone, inches closer to the curly-haired boy, then puts her arm around him and leans in closer. “There we go. Ready?”


Christie takes the picture, then looks at both boys quizzically. Erica grabs her phone back, takes one last look at Jacob to confirm he’s still staring at her from afar, and walks away. “See you guys later tonight!”

Back at the lakeside, in the present day, Erica flips through the camera roll in her phone while lying in bed.

“Ugh,” she mutters. “I was doing so well back then! I was making friends, I was creating bonds, I was happy… and Jacob and I had such a cute and healthy start. Maybe the people here are just not ‘my people.’”

At the zoo, Frances and Graham walk through a dank, musty brown building labeled the “Primate House”—while on the receiving end of a staredown courtesy of a gorilla.

“So, I’m loving this whole Oliver Kilgore thing,” says Frances, focused more on her notepad than taking pictures of animals.

Graham is snapping a photo of a golden lion tamarin. “Try living with Oliver full-time. He becomes a very irritating presence after a while.”

“Can’t imagine,” says Frances. “So, you were picked for Total Drama. Tell me your thought process there. Was it, ‘hell yeah, I’m gonna keep up this persona,’ or…”

“By then, it was more than a persona…” he says regretfully. “After a while, I forgot that I'd ever lived life without him, so it was really no question that Oliver would appear on the show.”

“It’s a pity, ‘cause I did like those mutton chops a lot…”

Graham laughs a bit. “I did too. Then I met Whitney once I got here, and she told me that my ‘face fluff’ made me look 80, and I was just enamored.”

Frances raises an eyebrow. “You were enamored by a girl insulting you?”

“Yes,” sighs Graham. “I didn’t know what a real relationship was like. I had nothing to go off of! Nothing except, well, Oliver Kilgore’s on-and-off rollercoaster ride with his lady love Jessie Rose Malone. The two hated each other at first—she was actually a trained assassin sent to murder him and inherit his wealth—but eventually, that was no match for the power of love.” He pauses for a second to reflect on the words that just came out of his mouth. “God, I spent over five years coming up with this garbage.”

“So Whitney just represented all of that?”

“Absolutely. I never even knew her! Roald, on the other hand, is Whitney’s perfect match. I’m happy for those two. I should have never acted that foolishly.”

“Graham?” smiles Frances. “It takes a really self-aware person to admit all that. Props.”

Graham smiles back, and the two shake hands. “I guess once I met Kelsey, I realized… I feel amazing when I’m with her, like the way I feel around my deepest, most trusted friends back home—all two of them—but I also want to kiss her every second. And that, to me, feels ideal. Not the literary ideal, but you know, the real ideal.”

Frances says nothing, as she’s too busy scrawling down notes as fast as humanly possible.

“That was some of the most golden content I’ve ever gotten!” she says triumphantly. “He’s made for the news. The level of sound bites that man can just throw out is almost overwhelming. God, he and Kelsey will make quite the team once they partner up again.” She blinks. “Wait. I hope that doesn’t become a problem... for me.”

“Okay,” Frances says as the two make their way out of the primate house and back into the wide open fields of the zoo. “I have one animal left, the stork.”

“Something tells me the birds are over there,” says Graham, pointing to an arrow-shaped sign that reads ‘Birds.’

“Wish I wore my contacts today,” says Frances dryly. “Are you all done?”

“Mhm,” he nods. “Those three monkeys were the last I needed.”

“So, I’m gonna say… go check in with Chris, obviously, then go find Kelsey.”


“Yeah!” Frances pulls out her notes. “These are the notes I took on you gushing over her,” she flips to one page before, “and these are the notes I took on her gushing over you. I think she’ll be happy to see you.”

“Well, we did talk yesterday about how we were going to focus on the game and all before we dove back into romance…” Graham protests, until he catches Frances beginning to roll her eyes. “All right, I’ll go. Thanks for the help! Truly.”

“Best of luck,” smiles Frances.

Once Graham’s gone, she scans her surroundings in search of any zookeepers. She eventually makes out, and walks over to, a stocky African-American man with glasses and a massive, bushy gray-black beard.

“May I be of assistance?” the man asks, seeing Frances speed over to him.

“Yeah, you may,” she says. “Where could one find a stork?”

The man smiles, like his entire life has led up to this moment, then gazes toward the sky. “The stork… is that way,” he says, pointing upward. “It lives high above the canyons' mighty walls. It cannot be caged. However, its mortal enclosure is over there with the owl.” He points behind him to his left, where an elegant white bird stands.


“So…” says an even-more-nervous-than-usual Graham in the confessional. “I just dropped my card off with Chris, and he told me Erica won the challenge, so that’s just lovely. But I can’t even focus on that right now! I’m on my way to the aquarium, and I’m just excited to be with Kelsey again.”

Deep in the aquarium, in an exhibit located in the basement and decorated with garish coral-reef accents, Kelsey sits on a small velvet couch and stares at a giant tank full of sharks.

“So that shark is me…” she says to herself, eyeing a great white. “No, that shark is the vibe I try and give off around other people, when I’m actually…” she keeps looking until she spots a lumpy, grotesque-looking fish about ¼ of the shark’s size camouflaging on the seafloor, “that one.”

“I don’t know,” says a familiar voice. “I think you’re more of a stingray.”

Kelsey looks to her side and jumps at the sight of the newly-arrived Graham. “Oh my god! Hi.”

“Hey,” he scratches his neck.

“How’d things go at the zoo?” asks Kelsey. “I mean, I assume well, but…”

“They went well,” Graham nods. “Not as well as they could’ve—I mean, Erica won the challenge.”

“You’re serious?!” gasps Kelsey, trying not to laugh. “God. I’m sorry, I can’t help it. Of course Erica won the challenge. Maybe if I didn’t spend the last two hours straight vibing with these fish, I’d have won, but.”

“It’s okay,” Graham says, standing up. “I’m sure you’re doing your best, you know? Are there any fish left on your card?”

“Yeah, just this weird guy,” says Kelsey, taking the card out of her pocket and pointing to a strikingly orange-colored damselfish.

“Oh my—!”

“Come on, he’s not thaaaat scary,” says Kelsey playfully.

“No, no,” Graham shakes his head. “I know that fish. That’s my favorite fish, the Garibaldi. My grandma used to have this giant encyclopedia of the natural world… and since I was a wee lad, my favorite page was always the Garibaldi’s.”

“You’re kidding me,” Kelsey is now full-on laughing. “Do you think Chris knew that?”

“How would he? It’s not like I go around telling people my favorite marine animals…”

“I don’t know. You’re Graham, I wouldn’t put it past you to do that.”

“Stop,” chuckles Graham. “Okay, I know where it would be, just follow me.”

“Did you write a poem about it?” jokes Kelsey while the two walk out of the shark exhibit.

“I actually did. It’s called—”

“Please say no more. God, you’re the worst.”

“This feels like the ultimate test,” Kelsey says in the confessional. “What am I going to do next? Am I going to ruin this sweet little storybook moment in an aquarium of all places because I’m too busy stressing about Erica winning the challenge? Or am I going to temporarily forget about all the scary and bad things in my life right now to just enjoy this moment with this sweet boy? Place your bets, folks!”

Graham and Kelsey round the bend of a staircase and find themselves back on the main floor of the aquarium.

“I can’t believe you even have a favorite fish in the first place,” Kelsey says.

“And you don’t?” asks Graham.

“Sadly, can’t say I do,” says Kelsey. “But I do have a favorite exhibit from when I used to—”

“Oh, hey, sorry to interrupt, but we’re here.”

Graham motions to a giant, wall-spanning tank at the edge of a hallway, and Kelsey looks up at it and softly gasps. The tank is filled with thin, olive-green towers of kelp, with fish weaving in and out between them. Surrounded by a few larger, more dull-colored fish is one single neon orange damselfish.

“Wait.” Kelsey sits down—nearly collapses—onto the conveniently located cushion right below her. “So my dad used to take me to the aquarium when I was back in California, and my favorite exhibit by FAR was the kelp forest. Does the Garibaldi fish… live in the kelp forest?”

“You bet it does,” smiles Graham.

Kelsey checks her pulse and laughs in slight relief. “This might be the most ridiculous thing that’s happened to me in the whole game.”

She takes a picture of the Garibaldi before it darts behind a leopard shark, then looks at Graham, who’s sat down right next to her. He smiles at her and places his right hand on her thigh. Kelsey gently places her left hand on top of his hand, then leans in to give him a rather long kiss.


“That… felt good.”

“It did.”

“I needed that. No, we needed that.”

"I'm sorry if you wanted to be left alone, I just... wanted to say hey."

"No, no, I'm really glad you came. Gonna be honest, all day I was hoping this would happen."

"Well, I'm glad we're on the same page then."

"Me too. God, I really told you yesterday, 'ohhhh, I wanna focus on the game, I have no time to kiss boys anymore,' and now here I am, procrastinating on a challenge by kissing a boy."

Graham beams. “Well, now you're all done. Let’s head back to Chris?”

“Erica already won, remember?”

“Ugh, I wish I could forget. Maybe we should just stay here all night.”

“As much as I’d love to do that,” Kelsey runs her hand up and down Graham’s arm, “I feel like we’ve got work to do back home.”

“Definitely,” nods Graham. “We should probably check in with Frances.”

“Yeah! Sounds like a plan.”

The two get up, Kelsey taking one last longing look at the Garibaldi, and head out the way they came.

“Hey, uh,” Graham says as the two walk through the main exit. “Thanks… for that. I really, er, like you.”

Kelsey laughs. “I like you too. Lots.”

“Yo, I’m three hours into this birding shit and I think I’m boutta lose my mind,” a frazzled Christian says in the confessional, his pupils bugging out. “I told Johnson I had to go take a piss, but he said I had to be back ‘pronto’ so I didn’t miss the sparrows. My guy, you just spent 45 minutes talking to us about fuckin’ sparrows. I’ve SEEN sparrows. I see ‘em every fuckin’ day, actually. I can’t take this anymore.”

The group of birders has made their way about 20 feet ahead of where they began nearly three hours prior. While most of them are staring with rapt attention at a flock of sparrows in a nearby tree, Christian takes out a tiny white jar of Adderall from his pocket and pops one.

“Alrighty, folks!” Big Johnson chortles from the front of the line. “Gotten enough time with our sparrowy friends?”

“YES!” screams Christian.

“Hey, keep it down,” says a frustrated birder.

“Hyuk hyuk, I can see our novice birder is havin’ a tough time staying patient!” says Big Johnson. “But I can’t blame ya for wantin’ to move on! Just so many exciting birds out there! One more thing before we go: most o’ these sparrows are field sparrows—Spizella pusilla—but d’y’all see that little black-and-red fella up there?” He points to a small black bird.

“Yo! Wait!” Christian yells, pulling out his card and flashing it around in the air. “That motherfucker is on my card! It’s a,” he pauses to read the tiny print, “‘eastern towhee!’”

Big Johnson walks over to Christian and gives him a nice, hearty slap on the back. “Now we’re talkin’! I knew you’d get the hang of it eventually!”

“Fun fact,” says one of the birders, the middle-aged guy with glasses. “The eastern towhee’s cry sounds like it’s saying ‘Drink your teeeea!’”

“Y’know,” says Big Johnson, “maybe if Christian had drank summa his tea, he woulda been less grouchy this morn! HYUK HYUK HYUK—”

“Aight, I’mma head out,” says Christian, nudging his way through the crowd of birders and stomping away, toward the direction of Chris and the lakeside.

“Wait up!” shouts out Big Johnson. “Forgot yer free T-shirt!”

Before Christian can give any sort of protest, a giant blue T-shirt is thrown at the back of his head. He grabs it off and unfolds it to see an immense print of Big Johnson’s grinning face, surrounded by tons of birds. He grumbles, then stuffs the shirt in his back pocket.

Chris and Chef are still sitting by the fountain, though by this point, they’ve replaced their picnic supplies with two large bottles of wine and a giant, untouched brick of cheese.

“You know, I’d be enjoying this cheese if you’d remembered a knife,” says Chris.

“Whatchu think this is, a charcuterie?”

Frances, camera in hand, rushes up to the two. “Hey!” she says. “Done with the challenge. How’d I do?”

Chris snatches her camera and her card, then says, “Hold on, hold on, sheesh.” He examines her pictures. “Nice stork you got there.”

“Thanks, uh, it was the last picture I took.”

“Cool, you’ve got all five, which means…” says Chris, as Frances’s eyes widen. “Nothing! Sadly for you, Erica already submitted her five pictures earlier today, which means she has won the challenge. So, you can… go back to the dorm or whatever.”

“Ugh,” says Frances. She prepares to walk back to the dorm, before being joined from behind by Graham and Kelsey.

“Hey, Fran,” says Kelsey. Frances gives her a vague nod and just keeps walking.

“Hm, wonder what that was about…” says Graham.

Kelsey shrugs. “Probably super stressed about Erica winning again. Don’t blame her.”

“Graham! Kelsey!” says Chris. “Congrats on, uh, taking all your pictures? I don’t really have anything to give you. Sorry.”

“It’s cool,” says Kelsey. “At least I got to spend four hours doing nothing at an aquarium. Needed that.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t say we necessarily ‘did nothing…’” Graham says.

“Pssssh, you’re right,” she smiles at him.

The newly formed couple makes their way back to the dorm as well, before Chris and Chef are joined by the final straggler—Christian.

“That challenge was some BS, man,” says Christian, chucking his camera straight at Chris’s lap/groin area.


“I’m outta here,” he says. “Still gonna wear this fit though.” He takes the Big Johnson-brand shirt out of his back pocket, throws it on over his polo, and stomps away.

“I’ve decided that the best way to deal with all this is by keeping a positive attitude,” says Erica in the confessional, wearing an even more painfully stretched-out smile. “Sweet-girl Erica is coming out tonight! What do they call it? The social game. Yeah, that’s it. I just have to make it seem like I love and appreciate everyone, even though I don’t, and it’ll make up for all the weird, irrational feelings they have toward me!”

Graham and Kelsey walk into the dorm and both head over to the boys’ room, where Christian doesn’t seem to be.

“I’m just going to hang out here for a bit, you’re welcome to join,” Graham says, taking out his notebook.

“No, sorry, I actually have pressing matters to attend to with Christian and Erica,” snarks Kelsey.

“Funny you say that…” mutters Graham, watching as Erica walks into the room.

“Hi, you two!” she says cheerfully. “How did the challenge go?”

“You know, it went,” Kelsey flips her hair. “Didn’t win, so that’s awesome.”

“Don’t worry, I know how it feels,” says Erica as she sits down uninvited next to the two.

“But… you won the challenge,” Graham says, looking quite confused.

“Well, yeah, but I’ve lost challenges in the past,” says Erica. “It’s so not fun. Like, knowing that you might go home? It’s scary! So, anyway, who are you guys voting for tonight?”

“God, I knew it,” laughs Kelsey. “Always an ulterior motive. But, uh, it’s not like we have too many options.”

“Frankly, I almost forgot we were even voting,” whispers Graham into Kelsey’s ear. “Kind of my last priority right now…”

“Okay!” says Erica. “Well, if you want to talk strategy at all, you know where to find me.” She gets up, waves at the two, then walks out of the room. “You two are so cute.”

Once she’s well out of earshot, Kelsey says, “So… that was weird, right?"


“I guess all we can do is vote for Christian,” says Kelsey. “Honoring the final three pact and all. Want to go check with Franny to make sure?”

“Yes, definitely,” says Graham. “I think she’s talking with Christian right now, probably about Erica stuff.”

“Christian and Frances? Scary,” says Kelsey. “But we gotta calm down these nerves. No anxiety spirals for ya girl tonight. Let’s, I don’t know, do some yoga.”

“Yoga? Okay… sure!”

Meanwhile, in the other room, Frances is sitting in bed and looking at one of the old newspapers from her backpack, while Christian stares blankly at the wall.

“Suh,” he finally says after a minute or two.

“Are you asking me ‘what’s up,’ or…” replies Frances.

“Yeah, I guess,” says Christian. “What’re you thinking for tonight? I mean, I don’t really know what’s goin’ on anymore.”

“Neither do I,” sighs Frances. “I’m kind of in a pickle, and it’s all because Erica won the challenge today.”

Christian exhales loudly. “I know! I was tryna vote her ass out real quick.”

“Really?” asks Frances. “That’s… actually shocking. I thought you were her full-time sidekick, but it seems your loyalties lie elsewhere.”

“Yeah, whatever that means,” shrugs Christian. “I dunno. Once I started kickin’ it with Isabella again, I kinda realized, ‘y’know, Erica treats me like hot garbage, I shouldn’t give her the time of day anymore.’ Also, wack how she keeps tryna pretend she’s not into me.”

“We all know it’s just to stay in Jacob’s good graces,” says Frances. “She’d be all over you if she were single.”

“Mmm,” says Christian. “Tonight’s gonna blow. I had this guy-to-guy chat with Graham earlier, and dude’s a homie. I don’t wanna vote for him.”

“So, you’re voting for Kelsey? I’m not sure if—”

“Naw, naw, I don’t wanna vote for her either. Too hot.”

“You’re saying you won’t vote for a girl who’s all but in a relationship by now, with a guy who’s definitely not you, in fact, a guy who couldn’t be further from you in any way, because you think she’s hot.”

Christian pauses for a second before saying, “Yeah, pretty much.”

“You’re really showing your strategic prowess.”

“Whatev,” says Christian. “It’s not like you wanna vote out Kelsey either, right?’

“, I don’t. She’s my friend.”

“See? Tough shit, brah. Let’s just vote for Erica. I don’t care if she got immunity.”

“I’m not sure I’m willing to risk that, Christian.”

A solemn-looking Frances says in the confessional, “See, I don’t want to tell Christian about the final three alliance I have with Graham and Kelsey. Maybe he wouldn’t care, but maybe he would, and he’d feel left out, and then that’d just be one more ally who’s angry at me. And I guess I should just vote for Christian tonight, but I’m still worried that if I go to the end with the couple, they’re going to partner up at the final three… and then, I’ll be toast.”

“Frances has been acting mysteriously this evening,” says Graham. “I’m sure she’s worried sick about tonight. Presumably, Christian and Erica are going to vote one way, and Kelsey and I will vote the other. Frances’s position isn’t one I want to be in. But… honestly, I personally feel so wonderful about today that I can’t be too worried.” He blushes a deep pink, swoons, and grabs his chest.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna win this whole thing,” boasts Christian in the confessional. “I’ve already won two challenges, what’s stopping me from beast moding the rest of ‘em? I don’t care that Erica won tonight. That was a fluke. Ain’t gonna happen again.”

As the sun sets, the final five contestants gather at the bandshell with Chris and Chef to say goodbye to yet another of their own.

“Welcome back,” says Chris. “I have a feeling tonight’s gonna be a good one!”

“Oh, lovely,” says Kelsey. “A vague, ominous statement from Chris. Really gets the adrenaline going at just the right time.”

Erica clears her throat loudly. “Do I get anything special for winning the challenge?”

“Grats,” says Chef quietly.

“Totally rigged!” Christian says, trying to “disguise” it as a loud cough.

Erica glares at Christian, then gets up from her seat and travels to the direct opposite side of the bandshell to sit as far away from him as possible.

“I don’t know why I even bother anymore.”

“Well, now that everyone’s all situated, it’s time to vote,” says Chris. “Remember! Don’t vote for Erica. She’s immune.”

“Why would any of us do that, bruh,” says Christian.

“So, I guess voting for Christian is the move?” asks Kelsey. “Maybe? Him or Frances, which would be an insanely bad decision. Uhhh, I feel terrified and I don’t like that that’s happening!” As usual, she smiles and laughs after saying that.

“Voting for Frances is obviously what I want to do,” says Erica. “But I know I have to move on from petty drama like that. I have to be mature and strategic, so I’m voting for one of the boys! Once Frances wakes up tomorrow and she’s still here, she’ll totally realize that it was all just a misunderstanding and she never needed to get that mad at me!”

Chris holds up the classic purple plate with five marshmallows on it. “Well, here we are,” he says. “Our first marshmallow goes to… Erica!”

“Yeah, we knew that,” says Erica as she catches her marshmallow.

“Also…” says Chris, readying two more. “Frances and Kelsey! You’re safe.”

Kelsey smiles softly as she picks up her marshmallow, while Frances is taking pains to avoid looking anywhere near Kelsey, Graham, or Christian’s direction.

“Fellas,” says Chris.

Graham and Christian direct their gazes at one another. Christian gives a curt head-nod to Graham, who just flashes him a thumbs-up—while sweating.

“There’s only one marshmallow left, and two of you left. The final marshmallow goes to…”


Christian catches his marshmallow from up high. “Did it to em,” he says.

“Hm?” Graham says.

“What?!” Kelsey jumps up, appearing far more taken aback than the newly-eliminated contestant. “That’s—god, no, I should’ve known.”

Graham stands up right next to her and places his hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay,” he says. “I’m not sure what happened, really,” he peers over to Frances, who’s still avoiding eye contact, “but I’m not too crushed.”

“You’re not?” smiles Kelsey. “That’s sweet. I love that for you.”

“I love…” Graham says without a pause. “...d getting the chance to… meet you. In this game.”

“Yeah,” Kelsey blushes. She stands up on her tiptoes to give Graham a quick kiss on the lips. “No need to get all sappy yet. I’m gonna see you in a couple days, babe—well, assuming you don’t die at the loser lodge or anything.” Her face gets even redder. “Sorry, I’ll stop talking.”

Graham takes a step forward, approaching the Yacht of Losers. “It was fun, everyone,” he says, giving the four a wave.

“No hard feelings, G,” says Christian. “I hope?”

“No, not at all,” Graham says, shaking Christian’s hand. “Well… I hope everyone has a good night, and I hope the remaining days in the competition are as amazing for you as my final days were for me.”

Graham steps onto the Yacht of Losers and gives one last wave to the contestants. He bows slightly, then disappears into the cabin as the yacht sputters away.

Kelsey nudges Frances with her elbow. “So, how about that alliance of ours?” she asks. Frances doesn’t respond.

“Well, that was a shocker!” says Chris, popping up between the two girls. “Tune in next time for more drama, more betrayals, more action, and probably less romance, since the only interesting couple on this show is RUINED now. Whatever. We’ll see you then, right here on Total… Drama… Lakeside!”

As the Yacht of Losers sails further down the lake, Graham steps out onto the back balcony and sits down.

“That was fun,” he says to himself. “I guess I got too caught up with Kelsey to really fight for the million dollars… I can’t believe I almost told her I loved her. Do I love her? I’ve only known her for a couple weeks. I’ve jumped the gun so many times before that I’m going to hold that thought for quite a while. But I’m at peace. She’s amazing, and you know, this show was amazing. It’s the dawn of a new Graham.”

He unzips the giant suitcase in front of him, fumbles around in one of the pockets, and takes out his signature blue porkpie hat. He looks at the hat for a while, turns his head around to stare back at the bandshell and the lakeside, then smiles.

Elimination Table

# Contestant 2 3 4 51 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14
13th Rachel IN IN WIN OUT
14th Rhett WIN WIN OUT
15th Kingsley IN OUT
16th Isabella OUT
  • 1 = At the end of Chapter 5, Christian was swapped to the Cheeses while Roald and Whitney went to the Wildcats.
  • 2 = Due to Miles's quit, both Kaitlin and Artemis were spared from elimination.
  • 3 = Kelsey was technically voted out in Chapter 9, but was saved by Chris's reveal that it was a fake elimination.

Author's Notes

  • I hadn't planned to write any more new fanfics after finishing TDSS in 2016, but a heightened level of summer boredom and the urge to practice my creative writing skills even more before graduating college made this happen.
  • As this story contains an all-new cast and very few references to past Toad-al Drama stories, I consider it more of a standalone entry than the 6th story in the canon.

Chapter 1

  • The setting of this story is an homage to Evanston, Illinois, a city 20 minutes north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan.  
  • Boris's talk about "Chads" and "Stacies" is incel jargon. I didn't want to make Boris a full-on incel, since that'd get rid of a lot of his comedy, but I figured the way of talking was funny enough to keep in.
  • Christian allegedly having a rapping career is a shout-out to Chris Noble of Survivor: Ghost Island.
  • Suvir's intro confessional was taken word-for-word from the first chapter of my failed fanfic Mt. Total Drama, which I wrote around three pages of before giving up. His entire introduction scene with Kingsley was relatively unchanged too.
  • Rhett's intro builds on his similarities to Wes Nale of Survivor: San Juan del Sur, in particular his reference to Jeff Probst's infamous nude scene. 
  • Roald's "Pineapple Breeze" deodorant was previously used by Puck in the seventh chapter of Total Drama: Superstar Showdown, being the first of many hints that they're related. 
  • Most of Kaitlin's lines are modeled after her inspiration from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but are still originally written, while Artemis's lines are generally taken directly from the show and slightly adapted. I've found it a lot easier to write for Kaitlin than for Artemis.
  • Miles's ex-girlfriend, Jackie, was named after the songs "Jacqueline" by Tracyanne & Danny and "Jackie" and "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras" by The New Pornographers.
  • The idea of Graham and Whitney's interactions first came from their inspirations, Beardo and Whitney, in my Animal Crossing: New Leaf town - who often had suspicious interactions that seemed more than platonic, but also very one-sided.
  • The team names were decided on a whim as I was finishing the chapter. The Artisanal Cheeses was decided as a sort of "fancy" name, something that Chris would use to try and seem more sophisticated, while the Killer Wildcats was a shout-out to Northwestern University (in Evanston) and their mascot, Willie the Wildcat. The Wildcats' team color has the same hex code as Northwestern's signature purple. 
    • I almost named one of the teams the Pecan Sandies, another It's Always Sunny reference, but wanted to ease up on those references. 

Chapter 7

  • This chapter contains a vast amount of musical references, specifically to the band The New Pornographers. Every single NPs song written by Dan Bejar is alluded to in this chapter in some way, and these references are detailed in the list below:
    • The chapter title is a reference to "Ballad of a Comeback Kid" off the album Electric Version.
    • Luncheons & Laggins' "Spidyr Queen" is a sneaky shout-out to "Spidyr," originally by Swan Lake.
    • Kaitlin saying "wipe that look from your face" to Artemis is a lyric from "Chump Change."
    • Miles' line "last night I dreamt..." is the first line of "War on the East Coast."
    • His insistence "all I wanted was an answer" is from "The Spirit of Giving."
    • The "broken breads" Roald hands to Graham allude to a track called... "Broken Breads."
    • Graham talking about his experience acting in Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore references a reference (!) to the same play in the lyrics of "If You Can't See My Mirrors."
    • Jackie wearing a shirt depicting two cobras references the title and lyrics of "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras."
    • Daniel saying to Jackie, "Do you think the girls here ever wonder how they got so pretty? Oh, well I do" is a lyric from "Myriad Harbour," with Jackie replacing John in this scenario. 
  • The three judges, allegedly found by Chris at a dive bar at 3 am, are references to three writers/musicians I enjoy - the moon-faced man is Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake, and (of course) Moonface; the redhead with a bullet-shaped head is Jonathan Ames, novelist and creator of the TV series Bored to Death; and the tall, stubbly man is singer-songwriter-whistler-violinist Andrew Bird.

Chapter 8

  • I had a hard time naming this chapter. I was originally going to save the specific pun—referencing hit ABBA single "Lay All Your Love On Me"—for a chapter involving a later winter sledding challenge called Sleigh All Your Love On Me. After failing to think of any more ideas, though, I transferred that reference to this chapter. Both of these hypothetical chapters were planned to be Kelsey-heavy.
  • If you really, really want to know the basis of the red-bearded judge suddenly being naked in Chris's room at an inopportune time, just watch the second episode of season two of Bored to Death - entitled "Make It Quick, Fitzgerald!".
  • The family visit was one of the first challenges planned for this story (along with Take a Skit, of course).
    • It went through a few minor changes, though: first, it was meant to just be a trivia-answering competition a la TDSS, then it was changed to family members suggesting challenges for different contestants, and finally it became what it is now.
  • Graham's grandma was named after yet another Animal Crossing character (a bear).
  • Suvir's father was named after the roommate of a former romantic partner of mine.
  • Kelsey's mother was modeled after a particularly wonderful mom I met while working as a counselor at a summer camp. She was ridiculously sweet and outgoing, and actively went out of her way to make me feel amazing. I figured introducing a character as over-the-top adorable as her into Kelsey's life would be funny.
  • Kaitlin and Artemis were purposefully both brought to the merge so I could have It's Always Sunny's entire cast make an appearance, same with Roald, Whitney, and their Toad-al Drama alum relatives.
  • Almost all the names Christian mentioned while listing his fraternity brothers were references of some kind. Special mention goes to Nolan, my favorite old character of Sprinklemist's.
  • I figured giving Kelsey a stereotypically overbearing helicopter parent would be too cliche an explanation for her whole personality, and completely reversing that to create an impossibly kind, understanding parent would be a lot more clever of a twist.
  • The Cheesecake Warehouse was an old parody of the Cheesecake Factory found in Nickelodeon classic iCarly. It was also a location in "What About Tom?", an ancient fanfic of mine, so I wanted to do it justice.
  • Kaitlin seemed like much more versatile of a character, so I kept her in over Artemis—even though Artemis was initially planned to make it all the way to 5th.

Chapter 9

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