‘Challenge’ Fan Fiction: ‘The Long Way Home,’ Part 1

“Challenge” Fan Fiction: For all the times we’ve wondered what goes down when the cameras stop rolling, now we’re just gonna make some s**t up. So grab an electrolyte-heavy drink, put on your reading glasses and go with it, ‘kay?

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It was hot. Beads of sweat rolled down Jemmye’s back in quick-moving droplets as she climbed into the backseat of the giant silver S.U.V. She was angry. Not just because she’d watched her $125K payday go down the drain, but because she’d spent the past hour playing some hellish life-size game of Tetrus while Camila screamed and cursed at her in Portugese.

Jemmye sneaked a glance at her partner. Still wearing her neon green T-shirt, Camila was the physical embodiment of despair. Her eyes brimming with tears, she stared languidly out the window as though she were not really present but, rather, still in the throes of an uneasy sleep. Both girls watched as the “Challenge” grounds, their home for the past six weeks, grew smaller and smaller before quietly disappearing into a thicket of bitter green trees.

“Goodbye, Phuket,” Jemmye whispered out loud. Inwardly, though, her mind swirled in confusion. Gone was the opportunity to leave as a champion. Gone the dream of paying off her student loans without having to take a second job, and the satisfaction of showing everyone — ex-boyfriend included — that she was capable of doing big things. Of achieving actual greatness.

Her feeling of shame was palpable, almost visceral. It was like that time on the farm back in Mississippi, when Uncle Amus had caught her playing with the pigs she was supposed to be bringing home for slaughter. Jemmye was just a little girl of six or seven at the time, but as soon as she’d seen her uncle barreling towards her across the cornfield, she’d felt her cheeks flush red and she knew that she’d done wrong.

Of course, that day, she’d gotten to face her humiliation alone. This time, she had to share it with the entire MTV-watching world. From this day forward, she’d be The Girl Who Sucked At Solving Puzzles In 100 Degree Heat. Or something. After a while, though, she’d just be the girl who didn’t win. And eventually, perhaps, she’d be nothing at all. Lost in her own private thoughts, Jemmye thought back on her journey, silently cataloguing her proudest achievements and greatest regrets. Coming in third was solidly at the top of both lists.

“I still can’t believe we lost,” Camila moaned despondently from the next seat. Jemmye ignored her and hoped she was doing a good job at pretending to be asleep. Getting thrown out of Thailand was bad enough — the last thing she wanted to do was have a ten-hour conversation about how they’d failed. But that was the amazing thing about Camila, Jemmye realized. If it were up to her, she’d pretty much never stop talking. Overbearing and hot-tempered, she was always clumsily ruining the moment, intrusively interrupting your train of thought with her long emotional tirades. Sure, Johnny knew how to push Camila’s buttons. But then again, so did everybody else in the house — including the lawn furniture.

Still, it wasn’t like Jemmye was a beacon of tranquility and self-restraint. Hadn’t she flown off the handle every time Knight so much as glanced in her direction? Was it really just yesterday that she’d laughed at Paula and Emily for trying to cry their way out of the final girls’ elimination? Or scolded Diem for allowing herself to put too much trust in CT? Jemmye knew she hadn’t made too many close friends in the house — not that she was surprised. She wasn’t exactly what you would call a “joiner.” At least Camila had understood her — or at least had understood what it was like to be among a loud group of people and never feel more alone.

“Jemmye, we’re almost here.”

With a start, Jemmye looked at the window and realized Camila was right. They were pulling up to the Phuket International Airport now, and soon they’d be flying off in different directions, trying to pick up the pieces of their scattered lives and slip back into the people they’d been before. Dragging her suitcase behind her, Jemmye trailed behind Camila as she pushed her way through the interminable crowd. And just when she was finally approaching the check-in counter, she felt an insistent tug on her left shoulder. Wheeling around, Jemmye suddenly found herself staring into a familiar set of brown eyes. They narrowed at her in recognition.

“Nice outfit,” the girl sneered, grabbing at the fabric on Jemmye’s t-shirt.  She flashed a wicked smile. “Remember me?”

How could Jemmye forget. “Hello, Aneesa.”

To Be Continued…

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Photo: Cedric Arnold