The contestants all headed backstage while the Build Team prepared the studio for the first proper game. Niamh hesitantly approached this rather odd woman with blue dreadlocks. “Excuse me, but is there somewhere I can clean up?” she said quietly.
“That way, love,” said the blue-haired woman, pointing to a door next to the dressing rooms. Niamh followed the woman’s Welsh-accented directions and saw a large communal shower area. “Suzi’s in there, but I think she told me she was going to leave her clothes on.”
The busty redhead blushed a little. “G-good to know!” she said as she walked into the shower room.
“I’ll see you back on the set, gorgeous!” Tanya said with a wink and a wave.
Sure enough, Suzi was stood under one of the many shower heads, soaking herself under a deluge of warm water. The gunge was falling off her body rapidly, leaving her hair and skin clean. Her clothes still had a very thin pink layer covering her bottom, lap and stomach though, along with the drops from the bucket Nicki had placed on her head. They clung tightly to her body, showing a plain white bikini underneath. “Hi, is it okay if I just…” Niamh’s voice trailed off.
“Wash off a bit? Sure,” smiled Suzi, wringing her hair out. “So you’re from Belfast.”
Niamh stepped under one of the shower heads and hit the button, resulting in a thorough dousing of pleasantly warm water. “Yeah. Why?”
“It just seems like a long way to come for this. What attracted you to the show?”
The curly-haired woman looked down at the floor, letting the water hit the slimiest part of her hair. She nervously curled her toes as she tried to think of an explanation. “I’m on an internet community that’s all about celebrating this kind of programme.”
“This kind of programme?” Suzi repeated, chuckling a bit. “You mean…?”
“Game shows! What did you think I meant?”
The host ran her hands through her long, brown hair as the water stopped falling on her. “Oh, something else. Clean up quickly now!”
In one corner of the backstage area, Carlota was doing sit-ups, counting each one in Portuguese. After the hundredth, she sat up and saw her team-mate Erin looking at her. “Aren’t you going to do some warm-up exercises?” she asked.
“I uh, I don’t really know any,” said Erin.
“Fantastic. I take it that since you weren’t particularly proactive in the quiz round that you don’t have much general knowledge either?”
The party girl frowned. “You didn’t buzz in either!”
“Maybe not, but I intend to fully make up for that by winning the next game. I suggest that if you can’t keep up, you stay out of my way.” With that, Carlota marched back onto the stage.
As the fitness enthusiast stormed off, Tanya wandered over. “Oh dear. She doesn’t seem like a lot of fun at all, does she?”
“I don’t get her at all! We’re supposed to be a team!”
“Do you suppose that she’s upset with you for picking literally everyone above her?”
Erin shrugged her shoulders. “She didn’t seem to mind before. Maybe she’s just pretending it’s fine for the cameras. Say, where’s Niamh?”
“She’ll meet me back on the set. Right now she’s leaning up before she inevitably gets gunged again!”
Erin laughed. “I’m so glad that wasn’t me earlier!”
“It will be soon enough,” Tanya smirked. “As much as I’ve enjoyed our chat, I think we should end it there and go back on the set. Don’t mistake my friendliness for mercy – I shall defeat you!”
“I wouldn’t be so sure!” said Erin as she and Tanya left the backstage area.
Victoria looked to Helen with a rather puzzled expression. “What is?”
“That in the first quiz, the only one of us to answer a question was you, the ‘brawn’.”
“That’s not fascinating to me at all,” said Victoria. “It was a football question, and I got it right. Similarly, the musician got the music question right.”
Helen chuckled haughtily. “Therein lies the fascination, Victoria! Of the three questions, two of them were on subjects that were close to the hearts of specific players! Would it not make more sense to pick questions that any player had a chance at?”
“Even then, it wasn’t a difficult question. The Toon Army are one of the more famous fan groups.”
“And I suppose punk rock isn’t a genre that is heavily reliant on music theory.”
“I thought Tanya was a goth?”
“Ah, my mistake!” said Helen. “I must admit, alternative subcultures are one of the few things I am not all that familiar with. Anyway, we’ve got a physical game coming up. May I ask you for a small favour?”
Victoria’s puzzled expression was rapidly becoming the default in dealings with her nerdy colleague. “What’s the favour?”
“If it looks like I’m in trouble and you cannot save me without forfeiting points, leave me.”
“No way!” Victoria shouted, slamming her fist into her open palm. “We’re a team, and that means that whether we go home showered in glory or showered in gunge, we do it together!”
“Even if the most pragmatic thing to do would be to leave me and earn more points in doing so?”
“Yes! Being in a team is about unity. I would rather lose than sell out a team mate.”
Helen smiled, rather warmly. “Congratulations. You passed the test.”
“To see if I was right in picking you as my first choice. Now, let us show the other teams the power of our unity!”
The show returned, only now Nicki and the contestants were away from the podiums. “Welcome back, viewers,” said the fiery hostess. “We’re about to have our first physical game. It’s called Assault the Course, and… well, it’s an assault course. I’ll leave it up to Suzi to explain the details.”
Suzi stood at the start line with the six contestants. Her hair and clothes were still somewhat damp. “Yes, our contestants will have their physical limitations tested as they go through this assault course. After they set off, they have to navigate their way through here, the Web Chamber” she said, stepping forwards past a small room full of what seemed to be ropes of varying lengths and thickness, but all coated in slime. There were pipes on the outside of the chamber, with holes on the inside. Suzi didn’t draw attention to them, and instead moved onto the next set of obstacles.
“After that, they have to, in the words of Pink Floyd, break down the wall. Specifically, this Foam Wall.” The wall in question was about three metres high and made to look like carefully stacked grey concrete blocks, about 30 centimetres high and thick by 60 wide.
“Through the wall, and into the Slop Swamp, which contains extra-thick gunge we had made specially. Even I don’t fancy a dip in that!” Suzi giggled as the camera zoomed in on the so-called swamp. The gunge did indeed look thick, and it was a very murky green colour. Bubbles slowly formed and burst on the surface occasionally, making tiny lumps on the top.
“Make your way through that to the Travelator,” said Suzi as she arrived at a rather gentle ramp with a red conveyor belt on it. The belt had a white chevron pattern, all of them pointing back down to the Slop Swamp. Thankfully, it wasn’t a massively high climb, otherwise it would likely have been impossible to ascend. Up above the Travelator was a hopper, no doubt full of some kind of goo, just to make things even harder for the players.
“Next is the Barrel Roll,” said Suzi as she made her way up the dormant Travelator. “Now, the producer told me that this was one obstacle I could have a go at,” she said as she approached the Barrel Roll. It consisted of three oil drums, much like the ones she posed with in the first part, strung end-to-end to form a walkway. As Suzi stepped towards it, the barrels started to turn very slowly, in an anti-clockwise direction. Beneath her was a pit of lime green slime, bubbling like the Slop Swamp. “The Roll is tricky, as it can change speed, direction or both in an instant,” she said as she began to run across it. However, such trickery wasn’t needed as the brunette slipped, faceplanting into the gunge pit beneath her. She resurfaced and wiped her eyes. “Now, this stuff’s not as thick as the Swamp, but it’s deeper. If you find yourself in it, not to worry!” she said, wading to the far end of the Barrel Roll. There was a ladder leading up to the next obstacle, which she ascended rather quickly.
“Finally, our competitors will finish on the Rope Swing. If they manage to make the swing over the gap, they can save a lot of time they would waste by wading through another gunge pool, much like the one I just took a dip in!” said Suzi, flicking a sloppy bit of her hair out of her face. There was just one rope, and it dangled over a large pit of lime green gunge, just as Suzi had said. “Tell them about the scoring, Nickster. I’m off for another shower!”
Nicki walked over to the contestants. “It’s quite simple, really. If you finish first, you get 50 points. If you don’t, you get less, and the later you finish the less you get. If you finish last or not at all, you get nothing. Also, there’s an extra 10 points for the first team with both members over the finish line.” She turned to them. “Now, if you’re ready then begin!”
Immediately, the sporty rivals Carlota and Victoria dashed straight into the Web Chamber, with gothic Tanya following right behind. Meek Niamh took a deep breath and moved on cautiously, carefully trying to avoid touching the ropes. Much to everyone’s surprise though, it was the tiny geek girl Helen who had the best start. Thanks to her small build, she was able to worm her way through the gaps in the ropes without much trouble at all. However, she found herself get careless as she inadvertently placed her right foot on a rope. Her toes wrapped around it, almost instinctively as a klaxon sounded. Purple gunge began to seep from the holes in the walls, trickling down and making a bunch of puddles on the floor, which quickly formed one big slippery layer on the floor. Quickly enough, the floor gunge claimed its first victim; Carlota tumbled forwards and found herself tangled up in the ropes.
Soon, Helen was out of the Web Chamber and waiting by the Foam Wall for Victoria. Although the wall wasn’t too heavy, the sheer size of it meant that Helen was going to struggle to bash through. She didn’t have to wait too long, as the footballer charged out of the Web Chamber, covered in little splotches of green gunk. She smashed into the wall, knocking a big chunk of it down. The bricks tumbled into the Slop Swamp and floated on the top.
Back in the Web Chamber, Niahm had caught up with Tanya, who in turn had just overtaken Carlota. The end of the Chamber was in their sights when they heard a frustrated grunt from behind her. Tanya looked back briefly and saw Erin helping to free Carlota, who promptly charged out of the Web Chamber, pushing the red team over as she ran. The reds fell down, leaving themselves sat in the gunge. Tanya quickly stood up and reached for Niamh, who once again found herself blushing. As the redhead stood up, there was a sloshing sound. Tanya raised an eyebrow as they went onwards.
Carlota rushed through the gap the yellows had made and dashed over the Slop Swamp, using the fallen blocks as stepping stones. The blocks sank beneath the weight and force of Carlota’s feet. She managed to keep the momentum up and dashed up the Travelator, dodging a deluge of orange muck.
The yellow team joined hands and stepped into the Slop Swamp. The thick gunge came up to Helen’s waist, and the uneven floor made it treacherous to cross. At the bottom was some sort of paste-like gunk, which felt a bit gritty underneath Victoria’s soles. The footballer winced as she trudged through the muck with Helen. The red team followed behind, moving slowly through the gunge with their hands held. Erin sighed as she jumped in and tried to swim through the gunge rather than wade through it, determined to catch up with Carlota. However, the reds and yellows were just getting further and further ahead. Her only hope was that the future obstacles would slow them down.
For Carlota, being slowed down was not a problem at all. She stood at the Barrel Roll, watching the spinning barrels intently. The constantly changing speed and direction made it difficult for her to commit to advancing, but when she looked back and saw the yellow team at the foot of the Travelator, she decided she just had to go for it. Her rapid dash forwards paid off, and she was already at the rope swing. A quick swing later, she was over the finish line.
Victoria was the first of the five Slop Swamp inhabitants to try escaping via the Travelator. She pulled herself out of the gunge and stood up, psyching herself up before charging up the ramp. She slipped on the orange slime on the belt and fell, gripping the top of the ramp as she landed. More orange gunge fell down, hitting her straight in the face. Still, she grabbed on tightly and began to pull herself up. Immediately, Helen jumped up and tried pushing her teammate up. However, the red team were right behind her. Niamh and Tanya began to run up the Travelator together as more gunge fell down on them. Determined not to let it put her off, the busty Irish girl jumped up to the top and pulled her gothic team mate up, before letting her go first on the Barrel Roll.
Tanya looked at the Barrel Roll and took a deep breath. She ran over it but slipped, freefalling into the gunge pit beneath her. She disappeared beneath it with a loud splat, before surfacing and swimming to the ladder. It was still gooey from Suzi’s climb out of it, so gripping it wasn’t going to be easy – especially since she herself was now covered in slippery green ooze too. Niamh tried to run straight across too, but nerves got to her as she reached the middle. She curled up and fell straight into the gunge, almost as if she cannonballed in. Needless to say, this gave the yellow team the perfect opportunity to get ahead as Victoria ran straight over, followed by Helen. The nerdy brunette slipped at the last moment, but Victoria caught her, sparing Helen a dip in the gunge. The football player gestured for Helen to go ahead and swing on the rope. Rather than wait for the rope to return, Victoria jumped straight into the gunge pool beneath, swimming up to the finish platform and climbing onto it for third place.
Back at the Travelator, Erin was finally arriving. She looked at the slimy ramp with a sense of despair. Carlota had made it up before it got too messy, and the others had been able to get up through the power of teamwork. Still, she was in last place with nothing to lose. Quitting was out of the question, odds be damned. She let out a powerful scream as she charged up the hill, gripping the top as she slipped and pulling herself up. What she hoped to see was the other teams struggling with the Barrel Roll.
What she actually saw was a very slimy blob that vaguely resembled Niamh flying over the finish line, before the rope returned and what appeared to be Tanya swinging after. A klaxon confirmed her worst fears – she was too late to do anything. She turned back to the Travelator and slid down it, sitting dejectedly with her feet dipped in the Slop Swamp.
Suzi and Nicki entered the set, with Suzi heading for the finish area. “What a great first game! First of all, wow! Carlota, that was impressive! A bit of an early struggle with the webs but then you were unleashed and unstoppable!”
“Thanks. It’s just a shame that my team mate wasn’t able to keep up.”
Tanya frowned at that comment and muttered “Bullshit” under her breath.
“Yellow team, great teamwork there. Victoria, why did you choose to go for a dip rather than swing?” Suzi asked.
Victoria laughed as she looked down at the gunge covering her body. “Well, I just wanted to make sure we got as many points as we could. The reds were behind us and could have taken the rope from one of us, so I decided to let Helen swing over while I swam for it. I was already pretty messy anyway.”
Helen smiled and added her own thoughts. “I must say, I have been very impressed with Victoria as a team mate.”
“As for you, reds, you had a messy time of it!”
Niamh blushed once again. “I’ve got gunge in my knickers!” she confessed.
“Maybe you should go backstage and take them off!” Tanya winked. “But yes, neither my little Neevy nor I are particularly physically-inclined. I’m just pleased that neither of us came dead last.”
“On that note, I think you guys should go back to your podiums while I go talk to Erin,” said Suzi. The five players did so, while the brunette hostess walked over to the Travelator, where Erin was still sat, looking rather dejected. “Erin, how are you feeling?” Suzi asked as she sat down next to the party girl, dipping her feet into the Slop Swap. “Ooh, the build team weren’t kidding – this stuff is extra thick!”
Erin giggled at Suzi’s comment. “I’m really disappointed, Suzi. Not just with myself for not finishing, but also with Carlota for abandoning me after I helped her out. She didn’t even say ‘thank you’!”
Suzi’s heart sank. She was expecting the teams to be ruthless, but this was on an entirely different level. “That’s rough. Are you worried that you’ll end up losing because of her lack of team spirit?”
“No, we’ll end up losing because I’m not capable of winning. I would have slowed Carlota down, I know it.”
“I don’t believe that for a moment! Go join her for the next quiz part and win some more points, got it?” Suzi smiled, opening her arms up for a quick hug. Erin reciprocated, before pushing Suzi into the Slop Swap. “Okay, don’t get too cocky now!” Suzi yelled as Erin headed back to the podium.
With the teams back at the podiums, it was time for Nicki to take control of the show again. “I can announce the scores from that round. First off, the red team. Because Niamh came fourth and Tanya fifth, you earned a total of thirty points.”
Niamh and Tanya smiled and nodded at the news. It was about three times as many points as they expected, but they knew it was likely the lowest score of the round.
“Yellow team next. It’s an impressive score since Helen came second and Victoria third. You were also the first team with both members at the finish line, giving you a very nice total of eighty points!”
Helen and Victoria wrapped their arms around each other in mirth, the gunge on their clothes making a squelching sound as it was pushed out. They let go after a couple of seconds as Nicki announced the blue team’s score.
“As for the blues, Erin didn’t score anything as even if she had finished, she would have been last. However, Carlota’s utter domination of the course earned you fifty points.”
Erin smiled and clapped for Carlota, who just stood there smugly. Not only had she finished first, but she had managed to stay fairly clean. There was the odd spot of translucent green stuff from her time in the Web Chamber, but aside from that only her feet had actually gotten messy. Not like the others, who were all covered head-to-toe in the various gunk they had encountered.
“So, the total scores after the first round. The blues are still in last place with 50 points. The reds have moved down to second on 60, but out in front with 90 points, we have the yellow team,” Nicki announced. Erin and the red team clapped sportingly for the yellows, but Carlota simply turned her nose up and pouted. The yellow team raised their arms triumphantly and let out a quick cheer. “However, we’ve got another quiz round. This one has another slightly different set of rules since rather unusually, there are no points on offer. Instead, the points are all going to be taken from your coffers! I’ve got three questions. Buzz in and get one right, and you can choose a team to steal ten points from. Get it wrong, and you have to give ten points to one of your rivals. Also, like the last round, there’s mess involved.” Nicki clicked her fingers.
On cue, the very sloppy Suzi entered, wheeling a trolley with six custard pies on it. “Not only will you lose points, but you’ll also lose some dignity!”
“Indeed. When you have your points stolen or have to give them up for being wrong, Suzi and I will just twist the knife, by which I mean flan you. Just as well there’s two of us and two people per team, huh?” Nicki winked.
“You couldn’t make it up!” Suzi added.
“The first question is about science! When copper is burnt, what colour are the flames?”
Immediately, Helen buzzed in and said “Green. Pie the blues.”
Nicki took a look at the question card. “Well, I suppose we should since that’s right!” she said, taking a custard pie from the trolley and walking over to the blue team. Suzi followed, and they each stood at the sides of the blue podium. “I’m amazed that you managed to avoid getting messy for this long, Carlota,” Nicki smirked, shoving the pie straight into the fitness fan’s face. Carlota pouted as she wiped the cream and crust from her eyes.
“I told you not to get too cocky!” Suzi teased as she flanned Erin. The party girl took it surprisingly well, giggling as the custard and cream covered her face. She licked her lips, confirming that Panicked Productions really did use actual pies rather than shaving foam or similar.
Nicki returned to her podium. “Next question. Who won The Sun’s Page 3 Idol competition in 2013?” she asked, Suzi stood next to her.
The contestants all looked at each other. None of them seemed to have any idea, as none of them were particularly fond of that particular brand of tabloid ‘journalism’, and certainly weren’t interested in the typical “Page 3 Stunnas”. Suddenly, a name popped into Niamh’s head, and she pressed the buzzer. “Mellisa Clarke?”
“That’s correct!” Nicki announced.
“What? How the hell did you know that, Neevy?” Tanya asked, her mouth agape.
Niamh didn’t answer, looking to the floor rather coyly. “Who are you going to take 10 points from?” Nicki asked her.
“I think the yellows should share their points a bit!”
“You heard the lady!” said Nicki, grabbing another pie and walking up to the yellows. “You might want to remove your glasses,” she smirked as she held the pie up to Helen’s face. The science student took the advice and closed her eyes, resigning herself to her messy fate. The pie went everywhere, covering her face entirely.
“Who threw all the pies? Who threw all the pies?” Suzi sang as she ran up to Victoria and splattered the custard pie in the footballer’s face. Victoria rolled her eyes and sighed. There was little point in wiping it off, since she was already completely covered with gunge. In fact, the gunge was actually quite useful since it meant the pie didn’t stick. Instead, it slipped off her face and onto her feet. She lifted her foot to try and kick the pie away, but all she managed to do was squish it between her toes.
The two hosts returned to their starting positions as Nicki read out the final question. “Last question. Which modern-day country is Chernobyl located in?”
Erin buzzed in. “I think it’s in Ukraine.”
“And you’re right to. Who are you going to steal from?”
“Since they got us pied, I think we should return the favour. Yellow team.”
As Suzi and Nicki went over to the yellows, Erin felt something gently thump on her back. She looked to Carlota, who looked back and said, “You’re not just a pretty face then.”
Erin smiled and watched as the presenters pied the yellows again. Nicki stood next to Victoria this time. “I don’t exactly feel guilty about this. After all, you literally jumped into the gunge earlier,” she said, splattering the pie on Victoria’s head. The custard and cream dripped down onto her shoulders and ran down her body with some of the gunge. Victoria sighed, but stood there and took it – just because Nicki promised to take her dignity didn’t mean she actually would do so.
“Do you know the chemical formula for custard?” Suzi teased as she smashed the custard pie into Helen’s hair and rubbed it in. “That’s us out of pies now!” she said as she walked off-stage, taking the trolley with her. “What does that put the points at?”
“Overall, it’s no change for the blues, who are still on 50. The reds are now up to 70 and the yellows are down some points but still ahead on 80,” Nicki explained. “Join us in part three, where we’ll be saying goodbye to one of our teams.”