“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?
Think happy thoughts. Remembering the clichéd words of her former therapist, Aneesa took a deep breath, closed her eyes and tried to shut out the chaotic scene at Phuket International Airport. It had been less than 24 hours since Jemmye and Camila sent her packing, and while losing hurt (and losing to Jemila hurt more), her indignation had faded and now she just felt tired. “Rivals II” may have been Aneesa’s seventh (or was that her eighth?) “Challenge,” but it suddenly felt like her 800th. Somehow it was always the same: Underneath all the (so-called) camaraderie was a group of individuals so desperate to win money they’d cut off their right arms if T.J. Lavin ever asked. It was colder and more businesslike than on TV — and sometimes, it was more than Aneesa could handle.
Still, for a loudmouthed 30-something from Pennsylvania, Aneesa had to admit she’d done pretty well for herself. She’d parlayed her stint on “Real World: Chicago” into a lifetime of free, all-expense-paid (and clothing-optional) trips around the world…and all she had to do to earn her keep was drink like a fish, show middle America how to twerk it and remind the Trishelles of the world to keep their mouths shut. Not a bad way to eke out a living — even if it did mean she spent the bulk of her time biting her tongue every time Johnny Bananas offered up another pearl of wisdom. Or CT. Especially CT…
Truth was, even though Aneesa hadn’t gotten any better at faking it over the years (“Shut up, you listen to Tay Swift? She’s my FAVE!”), she had gotten smarter about knowing when to just smile and walk away, unlike her teammate, who forgot the game is all just one big mindf***k and ran straight into the arms of her manipulative ex.
Not that Aneesa didn’t wish Diem well. Although she had certainly rolled her eyes when she’d first found out they’d be working as a team, she’d quickly come to appreciate Diem’s finer qualities, like her badass pixie hair and steely determination. And while they’d never be best friends, Aneesa couldn’t help but feel strangely protective of her partner. There was something so beautifully vulnerable about the way Diem only saw the good in people. In a way, Aneesa was actually envious. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d acted with such reckless abandon. It must be nice, she thought, to feel so deeply, so unreservedly.
Of course, in the end it wasn’t even Diem’s feelings for CT that had cost them — it was sheer bad luck. She and Diem could have run all the half-marathons in the world, but that stupid upside-down sawing competition would have still been their undoing. So what if Jemmye and Camila were better at hanging upside down while swinging a sharp, serrated knife? Those two got winded running to the fridge for a six-pack. They weren’t nearly as fit or focused as Cooke and Cara Maria, let alone on the same tier as Emily “I Actually Have A Six-Pack.” If the final challenge had anything to do with physical strength or endurance, Aneesa knew Jemmye and Camila would need a miracle to win.
As her mind drifted back to thoughts of the final challenge, Aneesa rubbed her temples and begrudgingly allowed herself to float back to reality. She hadn’t exactly wanted to leave Thailand at first — but now that she was packed and ready, it was time to get the f**k outta Phuket.
Using her passport as a fan, she struggled to pick up her over-sized suitcase and wished she hadn’t kept all that monogrammed Under Armour. So now, not only had she come in fourth and been forced to stay overnight at some dingy Thai hotel because all the flights to the U.S. were booked, she’d be leaving Phuket $50 in the hole thanks to a luggage surcharge. At least the universe had a sense of humor. Then, just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, Aneesa looked over her shoulder and saw two pissed-off brunettes — in matching neon green athletic gear — struggling with their suitcases.
Without thinking, Aneesa jumped out of line and strode towards the team that had ended her time in Thailand. She could see Camila in front, chattering away, while Jemmye stared off into space behind her. Circling them like a shark, Aneesa positioned herself directly behind them, then sprung, grabbing Jemmye’s shoulder and rolling her eyes at the sight of their green “Rivals II” gear. “Nice outfit,” she muttered, while Jemmye stared back at her, wide-eyed. “Remember me?”
For a split second, Jemmye looked absolutely terrified. She started to spit out a clumsy hello, then — spotting the annoyance in Aneesa’s eye — she broke out into a wild grin and wrapped Aneesa up in a bear hug. “Girl, you don’t even know!” she exclaimed. And just like that, all of Aneesa’s anger and resentment melted away, and the girls went from being bitter competitors to something more like friends. Jemmye and Camila quickly filled Aneesa in on T.J.’s plot twist — the larger-than-life game of Tetris and two-part finale — and Aneesa decided that her own morning (of sleeping in and breakfast in bed) wasn’t half bad after all.
Aneesa led the girls to where Diem was (impatiently) waiting, and suddenly realized she was coming away from this experience richer after all. Maybe it wasn’t really about the money. Maybe it was about personal growth — stepping out of your comfort zone and learning to have faith in yourself and each other. Caught up in the moment, Aneesa was overcome with emotion as she stepped up to the check-in counter with her suitcase.
“Excess baggage,” chirped the woman behind the counter, robotically. “That’ll be an extra $75, U.S.”
Aneesa cursed under her breath and reached for her wallet. She looked back and saw Camila laughing quietly, briefly caught Jemmye’s eye as she tried to hide that kid-like grin. Even Diem was chuckling behind her. She cursed again, and whipped out her credit card. F**k personal growth, she thought. And eff all that trust and relationship crap.
I really could have used that money…
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Photo: Cedric Arnold