After the shocking events of Episode Three, the remaining contestants could do little more than stare vacantly at their surroundings.
“Half a second!” shouted Lunk. “I can’t believe I lost by HALF A SECOND!”
“It’s not a big deal,” said Zerferlumpagus. “You’re still alive, aren’t you?”
But it was a big deal. In the time since Toto’s death, someone had moved a bunch of new furniture into the pad. Zerflumpagus’ winning stereo was blaring celebratory music and there was a note taped to it that said:
Dear Lettuce Leaves,
Enjoy your new entertainment system and magic food maker thing. Make sure you thank Zerflumpagus for being so awesome. And don’t worry, there is nothing unsafe about fastening a flat-screen to a window.
Zerflumpagus was on a high, but not Lunk’s kind of high. She whipped up omelettes for everyone with gusto, and by that I mean the press of a button.
“Isn’t this great?” she said to the group.
“Well,” said Melba, “Lunk’s girlfriend just died and we’re still trapped in a glass box. So I’mma go ahead and say no.”
Squonky didn’t want to say so, but he was pretty okay with things. Mostly because he could now wash dishes without indoor plumbing.
“There is a god,” he said, and wept quietly.
Zerflumpagus had her own waterless cleaning method.
“Life is wonderful!” she cried as she devoured the remains of Porge’s omelette.
“Is there a rule against offing each other?” asked Lunk. “Because I vote she goes next.”
“It sounds like you have some pent-up feelings,” said Melba. “If you want, my Zumba classes are known to scour away emotions. Among other things.”
“I’m fine,” Lunk insisted. “And besides, I don’t work out.”
“Maybe that’s why you’re not winning any challenges,” said Porge, as if looking to get punched.
Porge wasn’t the only one studying the system. Zerflumpagus was quickly becoming obsessed.
“Do you realize I’ve won two challenges in a row?” she said to Squonky, who just wanted to learn how to make fettuccini alfredo. “I wonder if something cool happens when I win three.”
There was a moment of static before the loudspeaker came on.
ATTENTION, LETTUCE LEAVES. A NEW RULE HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTED. ANY CONTESTANT WHO MIRACULOUSLY WINS THREE CONSECUTIVE CHALLENGES WILL EARN A BYE FROM THE FOLLOWING CHALLENGE.
“That’s you!” said Porge.
“That’s me!” said Zerflumpagus.
“See?” said Zerflumpagus. “Things aren’t so bad. We can do this.”
Squonky said nothing. He didn’t have the heart to remind her that Toto had been a challenge winner, and now Toto was dead.
“Listen to her, all high and mighty,” said Melba. “Is she really taking this competition seriously? We’re hostages. My money says we’re all dead by the end of this.”
“I know right?” said Porge. “What a bitch!”
“Porge!” said Zerflumpagus, who was standing right there. “I thought we were friends!”
“Um,” said Porge.
Lunk stayed out of the drama. His feelings were starting to catch up with him, so he decided to do some Zumba after all.
Unfortunately, his booty-shaking intentions were misunderstood by some.
“He’s totally grinding on you,” said Melba.
“He is not!” giggled Zerflumpagus.
“Hey look,” she said, “now he’s doing it to you!”
“Death is inevitable,” said Lunk with a smile.
“One second,” said Melba. “I have to go correct his technique.”
Squonky, meanwhile, had forsaken the cooking channel at the words “put some water on to boil.”
“I will never be a chef!” he lamented.
“Or a functional human being,” said Porge. He was really asking for it lately.
But it was Zerflumpagus who was really pushing people’s buttons. Now that she had won two things, she fancied herself the authority on winning.
“You’re doing so well!” she said to Squonky when he found a new hobby. “Wow, I’m impressed. Good for you! Go, Squonky!”
It wasn’t condescending at all.
Soon enough, Melba had Lunk’s moves in tip-top shape, and he was feeling much better.
“Everything sucks,” he said, “except that… I’m rich!”
“Where did you get that from?” gasped Melba.
“I don’t know!” said Lunk.
“Maybe you’d better teach me some Zumba,” interrupted Porge. “I also have pent-up feelings, if you know what I mean.”
“What?” cried Lunk. “You’re going to teach him too? I thought it was our special thing!”
Melba wouldn’t stand for this. “For your information,” she spat, “I was about to tell him what a horny pig he is. And Zumba is not ‘our special thing’ – it was my career!”
“She got you there, man,” said Porge.
“Whatever,” said Lunk.
“Hey,” said Porge, “if she’s gonna be such a tightwad, maybe you can teach me. You must be an expert after that five-minute lesson.”
“I am!” said Lunk. “I’m the best!”
“Men,” said Melba.
When you’re under the thumb of a disembodied voice with the power to kill you, it makes sense to stay put and do what it says. But when an ice cream truck drove by, the contestants succumbed to the childish instinct that never quite leaves us.
“And why do you get to go first?” said Melba.
“I am the Zumba master,” said Lunk simply.
“Guys!” Zerflumpagus gasped as she caught up with them. “We’re not supposed to— We shouldn’t be doing this!”
“But if we are going to do it,” she said, skipping the line, “at least let the winner go first.”
“Well, that about does it,” said Melba. “Squonky, hold her arms back for me.”
Just then, Melba’s cell phone rang.
WE ARE QUITE THE REBELS, AREN’T WE? said a familiar voice. IF YOU IDIOTS AREN’T BACK INSIDE IN FIVE MINUTES, I WILL KILL YOU. WELL, I AM GOING TO KILL YOU ANYWAY… BUT I WILL MAKE YOUR DEATHS SLOW AND BORING AND UNDIGNIFIED, SO THAT THE VIEWERS GET BORED AND HATE YOU ETERNALLY.
“We don’t care what you do to us,” said Melba. “We are getting our ice cream and that is that.” And she hung up on him.
“Do you have anything that doesn’t contain water?” said Squonky, poring carefully over the five-item menu.
By the time Melba was off the phone and Squonky had made his decision, the ice cream truck had started to drive away.
“What the hell!” said Melba. “That’s not fair!”
So she stole Lunk’s popsicle and let him chase down the truck to get another.
“Our five minutes are up!” said Zerflumpagus. “Hurry, we’d better get inside!”
“Fuck off,” said Melba.
They all made it safely back inside, even though they could probably have made a break for it. Porge had skipped the whole expedition, claiming to be “watching his weight.” (Really, he was sore from the Zumba lesson because Lunk hadn’t taught him proper form.)
“I’m sorry I called you a bitch,” he told Zerflumpagus. “I was just trying to fit in.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “it doesn’t hurt to have allies around here.”
“Will you be my ally?” asked Porge.
“I don’t really need them,” said Zerflumpagus. “I’m good enough to roll solo.”
Squonky overheard their conversation and got an idea. “Hey, wanna be allies?” he asked Lunk. “We already have the matching outfits.”
“Sure, man, whatever,” said Lunk. “We’re all gonna die anyway.”
“Why would you say that?” said Squonky.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Lunk, suddenly standing up. “Maybe because they built a new death trap out there while we were learning how to scramble eggs.”
“Oh, bother,” said Squonky.
But they decided to put that out of their minds until further orders, and think happy thoughts.
“Look,” said Lunk. “I made butterflies!”
“What are you, a magician?” said Melba.
Porge didn’t like this exchange. Porge didn’t like it one bit.
“Alright, let me spell this out for you. Melba is mine. She has a thing for me.”
“I don’t know if that’s—” Lunk started.
“So you and your little booty-poppin’ butt can take a hike, okay?”
“This is very uncomfortable,” said Lunk.
“I’m sorry,” said Porge. “Sometimes I just get the uncontrollable urge to be a jerkface.”
“I feel ya,” said Lunk.
The contestants retired for the night, only to be woken at the crack of dawn by the Rooster’s Crow of Death.
UP AND AT ‘EM, LETTUCE LEAVES! IT IS TIME TO MAKE SIM SALAD. AND BOY, WHAT A MAGICAL SALAD I HAVE IN STORE FOR YOU TODAY. NO TIME FOR BREAKFAST, SO I HOPE YOU HAD A NUTRITIOUS DINNER—YOU’LL NEED IT. CONVENE ON THE FIVE IN TWO MINUTES.
Zerflumpagus was oddly calm about the whole thing. “Bet you guys are glad I made you those omelettes now, eh?” she said.
“Hnngh,” said Lunk.
Out on the 5, they found the most confusing setup yet.
“I have a b-bad feeling about this,” stuttered Squonky.
Even Zerflumpagus was starting to lose her nerve. Winning seemed so easy in theory, but it suddenly hit her that she had no idea how she’d been doing it.
“Just one more,” she pep-talked herself. “Just one more and you can sit out the next one.”
WELCOME… said the loudspeaker, TO THE DEADLIEST SHOW ON EARTH! I’M IN THE MOOD FOR SOME MAGIC TRICKS, SO STEP RIGHT UP AND ENTERTAIN ME. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS ESCAPE FROM A GLASS BOX. SHOULDN’T BE ANY TROUBLE FOR YOU, ZERFLUMPAGUS YOU LITTLE TROLL. JUST DON’T GET TOO… BOGGED DOWN… IN THE DETAILS.
The voice laughed darkly and fell silent.
For the first time, they didn’t need a bird’s eye view to tell them they were in danger.
COMMENCE ROUND ONE! said the loudspeaker.
Hesitantly, the contestants stepped up to their respective stages.
They had no idea what they were doing.
“Do we just, like, go in?” said Porge.
Zerflumpagus was trying hard to stay one step ahead. “There’s got to be a secret button,” she muttered.
And then the mud began to rise.
“OH GOD,” said Squonky. “THIS IS HOW IT ENDS.”
“Forget winning,” said Zerflumpagus. “I’d like to start with not drowning, please!”
“Same,” said Melba and Lunk.
Within seconds, they were totally submerged.
And then, after a harrowing half-minute, the mud started to drain away.
“I wanna be where the people are,” Squonky was singing frantically when he materialized outside. “Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they- Oh, thank god!”
Porge, it seemed, had escaped the box by striking a dramatic pose.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” he said.
That was certainly the strategy Melba had used.
Others… hadn’t found a strategy at all.
“$#^$%&@#!@#%#)*^,”said Lunk, spitting out a mouthful of mud.
“I… I lost?” said Zerflumpagus. “But… how is that possible?”
“Oh, how the mighty have fallen!” said Porge.
Zerflumpagus’ cheeks were flaming. “This can’t be happening,” she whispered.
COME ON, YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT, said the loudspeaker. TRY AGAIN.
So the two frontrunners of the last challenge prepared to fight tooth and nail for second-last place.
“I’ll get you this time,” said Lunk.
“Over my dead body,” said Zerflumpagus.
“Yes,” said Lunk.
The sinister sludge engulfed them once again.
FRESHLY MPORTED FROM APPALOOSA PLAINS, the loudspeaker said proudly.
And once again, neither could work the necessary magic.
“I was making butterflies an hour ago!” cried Lunk. “Why do I suck when my life depends on it?”
THE BETTER QUESTION IS WHY DOES ZERFLUMPAGUS SUCK? the loudspeaker sneered. WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, LITTLE MISS “I CAN SWIM IN THE FLOOR”?
“Leave me alone,” said Zerflumpagus.
NEVER! said the voice. BACK IN THE BOX YOU GO!
“Ta-da,” said Lunk flatly when he kicked Zerflumpagus’ but.
“What?” said Zerflumpagus. “How are you guys doing this? You have to tell me, please!”
“Nope,” said Lunk.
AGAIN, said the loudspeaker.
“Well, I’m doomed,” said Zerflumpagus. “Goodbye, everyone.”
With a calm smile, she accepted her inevitable death.
Only to succeed at last.
“I’m saved!” she rejoiced.
COMMENCE ROUND TWO, said the voice.
The magicians set up for their trick again.
Porge came through with ease, joined this time by Zerflumpagus.
“Still don’t wanna be my ally?” he teased her.
The rest of them had lost their knack.
In the next match, Squonky was victorious.
“Sick of swimmin’, ready to stand!” he sang.
Lunk made it out, but so did half of his mud.
“Lunk + Mud 4 Lyfe,” he giggled. All that manure he’d swallowed was starting to take its toll.
Melba, however, couldn’t pull it off.
YOUR TURN TO GO SOLO, said the voice.
She did. She failed.
“Come ON!” said Melba.
AGAIN, said the voice.
So she tried again. And failed again.
“How many times do I have to do this?” she demanded. “Can’t we just call it a round?”
NO, said the voice.
“Screw you,” said Melba when she made it out on the sixth try. “You thought you had me!”
COMMENCE ROUND THREE, said the voice, ignoring her.
Round Three commenced. The sun was high in the sky now, not that you could tell.
Lunk escaped like there was nothing to it.
“I’m the QUEEN!” he said triumphantly.
The rest, it appeared, were not “the Queen.”
ALRIGHT, said the voice, IT’S PAST LUNCHTIME AND I’M GETTING HANGRY. GET ON WITH THE SHOW ALREADY!
Zerflumpagus, suck-up that she was, tried extra hard upon hearing this (not realizing the voice had a different kind of “get on with it” in mind).
Porge went one better.
“Look,” he said, “I made Han Solo!”
“Show-off,” said Zerflumpagus.
Melba floundered yet again, and so she and Squonky had to rematch.
Squonky sang his way to safety for the umpteenth time. “What would I give if I could live out of these waters?”
And Melba… Well, Melba wasn’t very good at this.
“Oh, just smite me already,” she said.
But then she discovered she could muscle the side panel off the box, and she was golden.
COMMENCE ROUND FOUR, groaned the voice. AND MAKE IT SNAPPY.
“Snap!” said Porge.
“Snap!” said Squonky.
“Derp,” said the other three.
AGAIN, said the voice.
By all counts, Melba and Zerflumpagus were the losers of the day.
Yet somehow, they made it through Round Four unscathed.
“Bring it on,” said Zerflumpagus.
“I hate you,” said Melba.
FIVE HAD BETTER BE THE MAGIC NUMBER, said the loudspeaker. I’M GETTING SICK OF YOUR FACES.
Round Five was nearly a unanimous success. Nearly.
“Pooooooorge,” the others groaned, as if they could talk.
“I don’t want to die young!” he cried as the mud crawled over his bosom. He was forty-five years old.
And for now, it looked like he would live to see forty-six.
COMMENCE. ROUND. SIX, said the loudspeaker through gritted teeth.
Things were getting tense. This time, the supposed allies fumbled the ball together (but not like that).
“Sink or swim, we do it together, right man?” said Lunk drunkenly.
Squonky began to tremble at the thought of sinking or swimming with anyone.
He was so rattled he couldn’t remember his Little Mermaid lyrics.
“You let me sink!” said Squonky as he went under again. “You are no true ally!”
Squonky seemed to lose all dexterity when he got emotional. To put it delicately, he really needed to calm the fuck down.
“Think, think, think!” he muttered. “Wandering free… Wish I could be…”
“Part of your woooooooorld!” finished Squonky, and took a bow.
OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, said the voice. SOMEBODY DIE ALREADY!
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” said Squonky.
But despite a few close calls from the Typical Two…
…nobody perished in Round Seven or Eight.
By Round Nine, night had fallen. Everyone was completely exhausted, and the loudspeaker was verbally abusing them.
I SWEAR TO GOD, IF YOU FOOLS DRAG THIS THING OUT ANY LONGER, I WILL SEND AN A-BOMB DOWN ON THIS ENTIRE @#@$%^!ING OPERATION, YOU USELESS #$@#)$ING WADS OF @@#$%@%&!@#$—SORRY DAISY, I DIDN’T MEAN TO WAKE YOU, GO BACK TO—WELL, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? COMMENCE ROUND NINE!!!
They did as they were told.
And this time, Lunk was so high on manure that he forgot to bring his mud with him.
“Grrrrgggg” was the last sound that escaped his lips.
The others weren’t sure what to make of the scene.
“Whoa!” said Porge. “Where is Lunk? He must have teleported really far! I bet he’s the winner of this challenge!”
But Lunk wasn’t the winner. “Lunk was dead.
“Oh no,” said the Grim Reaper, “not this guy! He’s going to break up my love affair with Toto!”
“Damn straight,” said Lunk as he appeared before them.
“What happened, man?” said Squonky. “We were supposed to be allies.”
“It’s okay buddy, you’ll have to swim without me,” said Lunk.
When Lunk disappeared, there was a collective sigh of “thank goodness it wasn’t me” relief.
THAT CONCLUDES ANOTHER ROUSING DAY OF SIM SALAD, said the loudspeaker, yawning. THE WINNER, BASED ON WIN-TO-FAIL RATIO, IS PORGE. AND NOW FOR A PLOT TWIST… ONE OF YOU SOGGY LETTUCE LEAVES WILL NOT HAVE TO COMPETE IN THE NEXT CHALLENGE AFTER ALL. BUT THAT CHOICE LIES WITH THE VIEWERS, SO YOU’D BETTER HOPE YOU’VE CHARMED THE PANTS OFF OF THEM. GOOD RIDDANCE, AND I’LL SEE YOU ON THE… THE…
The rest was static.