I have this thing in the bag.—Owen MacIntosh, Day 1, Endurance Island: Alaska
THREE DUGOUT CANOES SAT IN the middle of the frigid bay, surrounded by a dozen cameras (and cameramen) near the shore of the rocky Alaskan beach.
On the shore, the host of Endurance Island, Chip Brubaker, waved a flag emblazoned with the logo of the show. "Welcome to the newest edition of Endurance Island," he called out to us as we huddled, six contestants to a canoe.
I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to cheer at that. A few scattered people clapped their hands.
Chip glanced at a cue card, and then spoke again, reading a prompt. "This time, our castaways won’t be roughing it on a sexy beach or frolicking in the sand. Instead, they’ll have to face off hungry bears and bitter cold and tons and tons of snow. Stay tuned for this and more in this season’s Endurance Island—Alaska!"
I kept waiting to hear cheers, but there was only silence and the occasional slap of waves against the wooden canoe sides. My teeth chattered and I huddled in the front of the canoe, barely clutching the oar in my hands. The icy mist made my clothes stick to my skin and my boots were sitting in an inch of water that had slopped into the canoe. In short, it was wicked freezing out here.
I was pretty sure when I’d signed up for Endurance Island, I hadn’t signed up for the Alaska edition. If I’d wanted to spend my time up to my ass in snow all winter, I’d be digging out my mom’s front porch for her back in Boston. I’d signed up for sun and sand over the Christmas holidays.
Instead, I’d gotten pine trees, Alaska, and way too much snow. Who had I pissed off to deserve this?
Chip spoke again. "When I give the word, the game will begin." He raised the flag high in the air, a clear signal to us.
I felt our little canoe shake as people readied their oars.
"The first team to reach the beach will win a special present, including a hot meal for your first night in Alaska. The other two teams will receive matches – since we don’t want you to freeze." Chip’s white teeth flashed in his face like an army of Chiclets and he raised a big green and red wrapped present high into the air for us to see.
Oh great. Not only was this Endurance Island: Alaska, but I was apparently on the Christmas edition of the show. Visions of elf costumes and reindeer challenges flew through my head, all completely cringe-worthy.
Ugh. I’d hated Christmas ever since my father had died three days prior to it when I was twenty-three. Ever since then? Mom hadn’t given a shit about Christmas, and neither had I. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing to celebrate.
But it was too late to bail on the show, and I wouldn’t have anyhow. I could endure some elfy-Santa bullcrap now and then if it meant getting close to that million dollars they were offering.
I should have guessed it was a Christmas edition when they’d told me that we’d be filming through all of December. But I’d gotten excited instead, because I’d thought they’d ship us out to Bora Bora or something like that. And I should have guessed that this would be a different sort of edition of the show when they’d informed me that the prize money was only one million, instead of the normal two.
I’d just thought they’d gotten a bit cheap on us.
But it all made sense now, and once the pieces had all slid together in my brain…I wish I’d recognized it earlier. The crew kept things so well concealed from us – from our flight in to the gear bags they’d made for us – that I’d had no idea of what was going on until they’d plopped us into a dugout canoe atop some freezing water and told us to start rowing to shore, and handed us fluffy red parkas.
That had been a big freaking hint.
I was taking the whole ‘Christmas edition’ thing better than the redhead on my team, though. She’d been weeping ever since they’d dropped an oar in her hands. My guess was that she’d wanted to do a lot of sauntering around in skimpy bikinis.
"Are you ready, teams?" Chip braced himself over on the beach, his microphoned voice ringing out to us.
A cheer arose. I looked down across the water and saw two more teams in canoes – one in blue, one in yellow. One big mammoth guy in the yellow parka was raising his oar above his head and screaming his enthusiasm like a wild animal. Jesus. I was glad he wasn’t on my team.
"Ready…set…" Chip’s voice rang out over the water.
Eighteen sets of oars plunged into the water. The six people in our red team canoe scrambled, the entire thing shaking with our efforts. I hurried to get my oar lined up, flailing a bit. I’d never rowed before. I was a Boston girl, and I didn’t like the water in winter. I stared at the shore, determined.
At the back, a guy shouted, "Hey…hey! Up there in the front! Why don’t you actually try putting your oar in the damn water? We’ll get a lot further."
Was he…talking to me?
No f**king way. "What the f**k did he just say?" I bellowed.
"Yeah, hey you. Boston Princess," the guy said. "Stick your damn o-ah in the wah-tah."
"Go f**k yourself," I told him. It was far too early in the game for this shit. I’d barely said two words to anyone, but apparently they were pronounced wrong. Jerks.
Scowling, I looked over at my oar. Son of a…
So it wasn’t really hitting the water. Big flipping deal. I dug in, mentally picturing jackass as the water and constantly slapping my oar across his face.
I got a lot of rowing done that way.
BY THE TIME WE LANDED on shore, we were in second place. Not terrible, in my opinion, but not first place. Some people on the team clearly weren’t terribly happy with that placement, though. As we all flopped down on the beach from the long row in, we scoped each other out and caught our breath.
One bland looking guy raised his hand, giving us all a friendly look. "This isn’t the Hunger Games, so I figure we can all work together, right? I’m Gary from Ohio." He pointed at his jacket, which read GARY on the breast and across his back, since Endurance Island liked to clearly label us to make it easier for the audience to tell everyone apart.
The sniffly redhead was sitting next to him, and she gave us all a wobbly smile. "Clarissa, from Los Angeles."
"You a model?" Gary asked.
She giggled at him and swatted at his arm. "Flatterer!"
My eyes narrowed. That didn’t mean no. I’d have to watch Clarissa. It was clear she was going to play the flirty card.
"I’m Patty," said another woman, and I immediately sussed her up. Everyone on the show seemed to fall into certain categories, after all. Looks, brains, or entertainment. Patty was clearly going to be entertainment. She had a sweet face, a dainty build, a necklace that said "Number One Mom" and the most godawful feathered mullet I’d ever seen since Billy Ray Cyrus.
Next around the circle was another guy. Small, nerdy. Glasses. Freckles. Ginger. "Kinda funny that your name is Patty," he said in a voice that seemed far more abrasive than should have come out of the mouth of such a tiny guy. "I’m Pat, too. As in Patrick." And he pointed at the breast of his pocket. Sure enough, we now had Pat and Patty.
"Wow," I said. "You think they could have figured that out a little better, don’t you think?"
"Bettah?" Clarissa giggled. "Are you from Jersey Shore?"
Okay, if I didn’t kill Clarissa in week one, it would be a friggin’ miracle. "I’m from Boston. And I’m Luna." It nearly killed me to do it, but I smiled at all of them as if this were the most fun I’d had in forever. Whee.
"Owen," said the last guy, and I tensed at the sound of his voice. It was the a**hole that had pointed out I was rowing wrong. He was number one on my shit list at the moment. Owen was clearly on the island – uh, Alaska – for looks. He was hot enough, with dusky skin, a strong, clean jawline and the prettiest pair of amber-colored hazel eyes I’d ever seen.
Too bad about that whole total ‘douchebag’ thing he had going.
"Well," I said, sitting up and dusting off my hands. "Now that we’ve all introduced ourselves, we should probably make a fire and boil some water so we can have something to drink."
"No," said Owen.
I turned to look at him, incredulous. "What do you mean, no?"
"I mean, no." He straightened and got to his feet. Not only was he pretty to look at, but he was tall and muscular. I resented that, because every time he spoke, I hated him more, and I knew if he was tall and strong, he’d last that much further in the game. "We need shelter before we do anything. It’s going to rain."
"Listen, Owen," I began, trying to keep my tone reasonable. "There are trees all along the edge of this beach. If it rains, we can duck under one of those. We need drinking water because we can’t get dehydrated."
"No," he said again. "We can’t just duck ‘un-dah’ a tree if it rains, Luna." His tone was scathing. "Haven’t you ever heard of lightning?"
"Haven’t you ever heard of waterborne parasites?" I was pretty sure I’d seen one too many episodes of House to ever drink anything from a stream. Like, ever.
"It’s clear we need a leader here in camp," Owen said, those pretty eyes staring daggers down at me. "So why don’t we have a vote? Those in favor of me being the leader, raise your hand."
Every hand went up but mine.
I gritted my teeth. "Okay, fine. Shelter it is." I could play along. I wasn’t stupid.
If Owen wanted to run this tribe, I’d let him. And when he ran it straight into the ground, his would be the first name we’d write down.
BY THE TIME NIGHT FELL, we had about half of a shelter. Unfortunately, it was the wrong half, considering that Owen thought it was a brilliant idea to start from the floor and work our way up. Oh sure, I thought to myself. Because if it snows, what you totally want is a f**king floor instead of a roof.
But I kept that to myself.
In fact, I was pretty quiet all around. I mean, I knew I was right. I didn’t have to rub it in anyone’s face to prove that I was. They could already tell. I noticed some of the others kept shooting me looks as it grew dark.
"You think we should build a fire?" Patty asked in a perky voice. "How cold do you think it’ll get?"
"My guess is pretty cold," Gary said. "Why else would they give us matches on day one without us doing anything to win them?"
And finally, someone had come to the same conclusion that I had earlier that day. They’d given us thick parkas and matches because they didn’t want us to die, even though they were sending us out to rough it in Alaska in the dead of winter. Dead people probably didn’t make good TV.
But I kept my mouth shut about this, too.
Instead, I huddled on my end of the uncomfortable, lumpy platform—because there was no way I was calling it a shelter – and decided to dig through the bag of supplies that they’d given each of us. Maybe we had some extra layers we could put on. I was already cold, and with the sun dropping below the skies, it was just going to get colder.
"I’m freezing," Clarissa whined. She sidled up to Owen where he sat on the other end of the platform. "Can I come cuddle with you?"
"Of course," Owen said, and wrapped his arm around her.
She promptly unzipped the front of his jacket and shoved her hand down it. "Ooo, you’re so warm," she cooed.
It’s all that hot air, I thought to myself.
"Well, let’s try and see if we can’t make a fire," Pat said to Patty.
After about twenty minutes of watching them fumble with the matches on some wet wood, I figured there was not going to be a fire. I wanted to try it myself, but that’d seem too aggressive, and the red team already thought I was pushy. So I dug into my pack to see what the good people of Endurance Island had provided for me to wear for the next month. A t-shirt, some panties, a pair of insulated pants that I’d be putting on in about two minutes flat, some water-shoes, and a small, crinkly little square package that I couldn’t figure out. I held it up to the fading light, frowning at it.
What the heck was it?
"I think the fire’s a bust," Patty eventually said, pulling me away from my contemplation of the mystery item.
No surprise there. I unwrapped the little square and began to unfold it. It crinkled and was made of a thin, flimsy sort of plastic, but it was big – like the size of a sheet. "Is this some sort of blanket?"
All eyes turned to me and my crinkly mess. A moment later, everyone was digging through their packs, looking for their own. "It’s a thermal blanket," Owen told us all.
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
"Everyone get yours out and sleep in it tonight,” Owen told us, as if we couldn’t figure out how to use a blanket on our own. “We’ll finish the shelter in the morning."
Obediently, the others crawled onto the platform and we all squished together to preserve body heat. One after another, blankets crinkled open, and then there was nothing to do but lay in the dark, shiver, and wait for dawn.
IT RAINED THAT NIGHT. OF course it did. We didn’t have a roof, so God had to clearly be punishing us. You would think it would snow, but nope. Fat, drippy plops of rain with little icy cores flicked and spit on us all night, to the point that we wore our blankets over our heads and questioned why we’d ever signed up for this stupid show.