Author Discretion: Mild swearing.
The two motor boats were driven by show staff towards the vacant island.
“Two Contestants! Two Weeks! One Island!”
Both contestants looked up as they heard the booming voice coming from the island. Not that it made a difference as they’d both been blindfolded.
“These two lovebirds are looking for that special someone, and will be put through a series of tests to determine if they’re meant to be!”
The female contestant gripped the front of her shirt, and the male contestant tapped his fingers on his legs.
“Will love conquer all!? Find out in: LOVE.”
At last, the boats arrived on the island, at which point the staff led both contestants through the jungle path, hand in hand. The staff had also instructed them not to speak to each other until given the okay. After a long and nerve-wracking walk, finally they arrived at a fancy dinner table in a clearing where the two of them were guided down into their seats. Both were too anxious to feel comfortable.
“Welcome, you two,” a voice said next to the table. “You can’t see me, but I’m your host, Jim. I’ll be taking you through this spiritual journey. Sometimes in person, sometimes through the speakers hidden throughout the island.”
“Why don’t you two start by introducing yourselves?”
“Hi, I’m Pamela,” she instinctively waved even though neither could see each other.
“Hi, I’m Jonah,” he replied, his hands overlapping on the table and staying close to him.
“You sound nice,” she said.
“For the next two weeks, we will introduce you two to a different conflict you must overcome together as you build your relationship. Each conflict will correspond to the letters of LOVE. So naturally, your first letter is ‘L’. Which means your first challenge is… Lie.”
Both of them looked in his direction.
“I will give each of you the option to tell one lie if you so choose today as you get to know each other. Only one, and at the end of the competition you’re both allowed to ask what that lie is if you so chose.”
Jonah furrowed his brow.
“Are you ready?” Jim asked.
They both confirmed they were.
Jim smiled. “Great, I will give you two some privacy. Talk about whatever, but do not remove the blinds folds! No peeking!”
They chuckled, and Jim excused himself.
“Well, this is something,” Jonah began.
“Yeah, I’m used to the extreme, but this is a new one,” Pamela said, feeling nervous she overlapped her hands on the table to calm herself.
Jonah instinctively leaned in closer. “What do you do Pam? If I can call you that?”
“Pam’s fine. I’m a nature photographer.”
“Sounds pretty cool.”
“Yeah, I publish pictures in a magazine, you?”
“Huh, did you come here to get the adventure experience?”
“Yeah, the best adventure, finding love,” Jonah said.
“But we’re more in your element it looks like.”
“Yeah, love me some forest….”
“Then you’re in luck!” Jim said over a nearby speaker, both jumped slightly at his voice.
“We’re going to mix things up a bit and have you two continue your dates on the road.”
Jim brought them to a fenced off patch of tall grass no bigger than their dinner table had been. While still blindfolded, he instructed them to fish around in the bushes. As they searched they continued their conversation.
“Graduated at the top of my class with honors,” Pamela said. “Took time off to do photography on horseback.”
They moved about the square, bumping into each other at one point.
“Excuse me,” they said in conjunction as they moved.
“Can’t top that, I just make simulated violence for a living,” he said.
“Better than actual violence,” she replied.
“Pays better too, never hurting for cash.”
“That’s good. I travel a fair bit, so I’m good for that. Not sure where I haven’t been. Do you travel?”
“I’ve only been to the fun sounding ones.”
“The fun sounding ones?” she chuckled.
“Have you been to Acapulco?”
“Never been to Acapulco? You gotta go.”
“Is that just because it’s called Acapulco?”
“No, it’s just nice,” he smiled. “Got some rays, made some business deals with top guys. Sometimes my company sends me to talk with people.”
“Sounds important,” she replied with what he thought was a skeptical tone.
“Yeah, well, I also have a big penis, so.”
Pamela laughed. “Well, I found the lie.”
“Hey!” he said playfully. Suddenly Jonah’s foot hit something. He felt around and picked it up.
“Congratulations, Jonah!” Jim’s voice boomed from a nearby speaker. “You’ve found the key, now remove your blindfold.”
He did as told and set his eyes on what appeared to be a hard plastic white helmet. Its entire front was a silver reflective lens.
“Put it on,” Jim said.
He pulled the helmet over his head and noted immediately that it was basically the same concept as mirror sunglasses. Reflective to onlookers, but the wearer had shaded vision.
“Since you found the helmet, it’s your job to guide Pamela out of the pen to that tree on the hill. Take her hand.”
“May I?” he asked her, despite the command.
“Sounds good to me.”
He gently took her hand and navigated her towards the big oak, where he noticed a tree hollow.
“Now take your partner’s hand and move it inside the tree to collect your prizes.”
Jonah complied, gently moving Pamela’s hand into the hollow in the middle of the tree. She pulled out a hard-boiled egg.
“Aaand that’s your dinner,” Jimmy said, walking up behind them from seemingly out of nowhere. At his side he held a matching helmet to that of Jonah’s.
“... What? You’re joking right?” Pamela asked.
“Nope, this will be your test for the night.”
“You expect us to survive off two hard-boiled eggs?” Jonah asked.
“Just the one,” Jim corrected.
“You said “prizes” plural.”
“Yeah, I lied.”
Even though Jim wouldn’t be able to see it, Jonah scowled at him.
“This is also for you,” Jim said, handing Pamela the matching helmet. “You two will be wearing these from now on.”
She reluctantly took it and let her hand drop lazily to her side while she looked at the egg in the other with disappointment.
“I’d be happy to give either of you a second one, provided you’re willing to admit your lie.”
They both looked at him in consideration.
“Otherwise, you can take it from her, Jonah. Unless you’d prefer, she ate.”
“...No, Pamela can have it, and I haven’t lied.”
Jonah walked off, annoyed, leaving the two on the hill.
“Now I shouldn’t have just left her, but that’s bullshit,” Jonah said to the camera in the confession tent. “I won. Why am I the one who has to starve? If it weren’t for the cash prize at the end, I’d leave right now.”
They were both instructed not to take off their helmets except when they were alone in their tents. Jonah found Pamela waiting for him at his.
“This is yours,” she said, extending her hand with the egg.
“Damn right it is, yoink!” He plucked the egg from her hand.
“I’m kidding, here. It’s okay, I don’t mind, you can eat.”
She took it back and split it in two. “No reason we can’t share.”
“If, you’re sure.”
They sat outside and ate, then talked for a bit.
Come the time for the next challenge, they were treated to a proper dinner. Both were permitted to raise their helmets as much as necessary whenever they had to eat.
“Alright, you two,” Jimmy said through the speaker. “The letter of the day is “O”. Short for Oh No! You two are gonna have to reveal your biggest fears to one another!”
“So you can sick them on us? We’re on to your game,” Pamela replied with a smug smile.
“Would you prefer I picked?” Jim asked.
She didn’t abandon her smile, but scrunched her eyes shut before turning back to Jonah. “Alright, ready?” Pamela asked.
Jonah nodded and, on the count of three, they both said. “Snakes!”
They laughed and continued the meal. He wouldn’t dare…. She thought.
Sure enough, she arrived later in the night to a rattlesnake in her tent.
“Oh,” she whispered.
“No!” she heard Jonah yell from his nearby tent.
“Jesus Christ!” She yelped when the stunned surprise faded.
Jim’s voice came from a nearby speaker. “For the record, the correct choice was always rattlesnakes, since it’s what we had on hand. It was just a bonus that you’re both afraid of them.”
Pamela cowered away with a whimpering noise. She heard a loud grunt from Jonah as well.
“Don’t worry, it’s tamed and the venom glands or whatever they are have been removed. You two just have to pick it up and move it from your tent to the basket in front.”
She trembled, looking at the snake for several minutes.
“You could also forfeit. You won’t find love or get paid but-”
“You’re really sick, you know that Jim?”
Pamela reluctantly lifted the snake from the tent and dumped it as gently as she could in the basket, remembering it was still a feeling creature then dashed into her tent, not bothering to check what choice Jonah had made, but hoping he was there when she got up.
She tossed and turned, unable to sleep in the early night. Eventually, she got up, put her helmet on and walked over to his tent. The producers permitted this, provided they kept their helmets on.
“Jonah? You awake?” Pamela asked outside the tent.
“How could I not be? I’m afraid I’ll wake up covered in scorpions after that,” he responded from inside.
“I can’t sleep either. Would it be okay if I slept beside you? I’m afraid to, and could use some company.”
“... Yeah, same actually, just give me a sec to get my helmet on.”
They went to bed cuddling and masked, knowing there were cameras on them.
“That was really effed up,” Pamela said in the confession tent. “One of the worst things I’ve ever faced, but… Jonah was a gentleman. I felt comfortable sleeping beside him, so it was for the best, in a way. We have common interests. He makes me laugh and I think that… maybe we could work, maybe I can be me with him… but screw Jim.”
A few days later, towards the end of the first week. Jonah chatted with Pamela at her tent. She had one hand on her stomach.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Love is in the air, you two… as is this three-day bug we concocted. Today’s letter is “V” which stands for virus! One of you is about to get sick.”
Sure enough, Pamela came down with a headache and nausea. She was bedridden, though still obligated to her helmet when Jonas was around.
“We’re not feeding you, you’re gonna have to hunt, plenty of rabbits and fish,” Jim’s voice boomed.
“So… this is definitely hundred percent illegal,” Jonah said in the confession tent. Like the egg and snake thing were one thing. But this… I think they might have kidnapped us. Like I legitimately think we aren’t leaving the island. Doesn’t help that they confiscated our cell phones until the end.”
“Great ratings. People will love it!”
Jonah called his bluff the first day, went hunting the next. Wearing his helmet and provided with a basics of hunting manual, he made a basic rabbit snare. Soon enough, he caught one.
This is actually kind of exciting, me hunting here like a real man; he thought.
He stared down at the squirming, squealing creature, rock in hand.
“Alright, here we go!”
The grey rabbit stared up at him with its sad, beady eyes. He stared back, and they sat like that for sometime.
Later that evening, after signalling his return and giving her time to put on her helmet and give the okay. He walked into Pamela’s tent with a fried fish on a plate. “Sorry, I couldn’t seem to find any rabbits, fast little things.”
“It’s okay,” she said, now helmet clad. “Who needs hare in their food?”
Jonah chuckled as she lifted her helmet a few inches so he could feed her. “Good? Did what I could with the provided basic meal prep kit.”
“Yeah, you did good. Missed a few scales, but still.”
“Yeah, I’ve never skinned before.”
After the three days, at the start of the second week, Pamela had recovered and this time Jonah was infected. He heard a campfire outside. She soon announced she was coming in then after he’d donned his helmet and given the okay, she walked in with little chunks of rabbit meat.
“Hey! Dinner’s served, she cheered.
He stared at the plate, then at her. “I-is this?”
“Yeah, I feel a little bad. But I got so frustrated with the freaking fish! Slippery bastards! I eventually just went primal and chucked a rock at the first one I saw.
Jonah continued to stare at her.
“What? I did it so we wouldn’t starve.”
“No yeah, that works.”
“You think less of me, don’t you? It’s all fun and games when you don’t have to think of where the meat came from,” she said.
Though her tone was playful, he sensed a mild irritation in her voice. “Well, guess he’s regretting taking that wrong turn at Albuquerque now.”
There was a pause, and they both chuckled.
“I’m sorry, it’s been a long day,” Pamela said.
“I imagine you have any Advil? Or did the producers make you make that too?” Jonah asked.
“I’ll check the first aid kit.”
She turned to check the box in the corner of the room.
She looked up at him.
“Thanks for everything.”
“Well, you literally did the same for me.”
They both smiled at each other, though neither could see it through the reflective masks and she brought him the pain relief.
“E, the last letter!” Jim said over the speaker as the two, now recovered, sat at the dinner table, having finished their steak dinners. “Drumroll please… ENVY!”
“Are you going to instill the envy of death in us? Cause you already did,” Jonah said.
“Don’t give him ideas,” Pamela said.
“We’ll take it easy today. You guys seem to have fairly accomplished lives. What’s something you envy? Someone you envy? That’s all for today.”
They sat tapping their fingers.
“I envy the viewers right now, they don’t have to go through all this,” Pamela joked, and they chuckled.
“I’m not sure I envy anyone, I’m better than my brother who just sits at home and games… made my parents proud,” Jonah said.”
“Same with me and my shut in sister. One of us had to have a life of adventure. But… I guess I envy the fact that our parents let them be them,” Pamela said.
It was quiet between them for the rest of the night. Both were in their thoughts and called it an early dinner and night.
At the end of the second week, the final challenge came.
This is it, you two. Both of you will hike up the mountain and meet each other at the specified location, Jim had declared. Where you’ll decide once and for, if you want to be together. We’ll also allow you to ask what lies each of you have told. I’m betting there’s more than one you little sneaks.
They both endured the grueling hour-long hike, though they no longer had to wear the helmets which helped. At last, they came upon a small cave covered in moss and grass. It was dark inside and Jim had given them different times to start the hike, so one would arrive before the other. The idea being they’d only fully see each other for the first time when they stepped outside, having laid out all truths.
Pamela stepped into the pitch dark.
“Hey, is that you?” Jonah said, a few feet from her.
“Yeah,” she said, sitting down across from where she’d heard him. “Here we are at the end.”
“Yeah, man this was Hell.”
“Yeah, but I got to know you.”
She couldn’t see it but his smile faded. “Yeah….”
The quiet made the dark more ominous.
“Tell me what the lie was? Please,” Pamela said at last.
“...All of it, I’m the deadbeat brother,” Jonah said. “I did this to get out for once. Folks gave up on me ages ago. My brother is the programmer. I just sit around playing Ultimate Soldier. I’ve always envied him, and how much more my parents respected him.”
She paused to collect this.
“Look, it sounds like you’re doing things right. I think you could do better so I understand-
“Man, what a relief. I thought I was the only one.”
He looked at her in the dark.
“Yeah, I just aped my sister’s life too. I also suck, unemployed, dropout shut in. But this was fun, traumatizing but fun.”
“Hn, so we’re both huge lying screw ups.”
He heard her hand fishing around in the dark. He fished around too but she caught his hand first.
“We could figure it out together, if you want,” Pamela said. “It’s easier with a partner.”
“I do,” Jonah replied.
“Oh, and, Ultimate Soldier is awesome!”
They walked out of the cave hand in hand into the light. Taking in each other’s faces for the first time.
Then they kissed.
“Glad I didn’t disappoint,” Jonah said.
They smiled and embraced.
“Alright,” Pamela said. “Let’s head back down, wrap up and kick Jim’s ass.”
“I mean, he still has to pay us, and get us off the island.”
“You’re right, we’ll have to figure out where he lives then.”
“But before that, gaming date.”
They waved to the cameras in the bushes and cave, then walked back down the mountain holding hands.