SO sorry that this has taken so long to come out!
The two teams enjoyed a quick shower, and sat around backstage waiting for the next part of the show. “I need to know something,” said Erin to her teammate. “When you said I’m more than just pretty or whatever…”
Carlota’s gaze pierced into Erin’s very soul. “You proved yourself to be capable of doing more than just gussying up and partying. You also managed to guess an answer to a question correctly.”
“So does that mean you’re going to treat her better?” asked Tanya, her deathly glare undermined somewhat by the pair of pigtails she was now sporting.
“I’m just saying that you’re not functioning as a team, which bears ill omen for you in a game based around teamwork.”
Helen cleared her throat. “The emo lady is correct. The way the mechanics of this game work seem to suggest that the best way to win is to function as a team, based on what has come before us thus far. Were a team to finish in the top two places in the last round, they would score one hundred points, which is fifty points above the absolute maximum that another team could score. Now, I believe that the teams have been assigned without our preferences even factoring into them. Rather, there is some anonymous adjudicator who has decided to pair us up based on other factors.”
Carlota seethed internally about Helen’s rather loquacious interjection. Just what did this nerd hope to achieve by ranting at her? Still, the part about an anonymous adjudicator raised an eyebrow. “What other factors?”
“I am a scholar and Victoria is a sportswoman. The red team are an emo lesbian and a shy, yet rather attractive woman.” Niamh blushed at Helen saying she was attractive. “As for the blue team, one’s a tough no-nonsense muscular woman and the other defines herself by her frivolous hobbies,” Helen explained, before looking to Erin and adding, “No offence.”
“Your assertion is fascinating, but has one rather glaring factual error: I am not ’emo’,” said Tanya.
“Regardless of the subculture you identify with, you do see that the teams have been arranged specifically to create a clash of opposing personalities, correct?” asked the skinny yellow.
“Indubitably!” Victoria laughed, tying her blonde hair into a tight ponytail. Tanya and Helen stared at her. “I’m kidding! You’re both overthinking this. It’s just a fun little game show.”
Just then, the familiar Welsh-accented tones of Natalie Orwell broke the conversation. The blue-haired woman stood over the players and said “If it’s such fun, I think you should go back to the set. We’re ready to start shooting part three.”
Nicki and Suzi were sat by a huge pool of gunge. The former was cross-legged whereas the latter had her legs stretched out. “Welcome back the Pairing Game. We’re here in the Elimination Enclosure, having a look at the fate that’s going to befall one of the teams after the next game,” said Suzi.
“We’re not going to give too much away, but when a team ends up out of the game, they end up in this massive pit!” Nicki grinned as the camera moved, showing just how big the gunge pool was. It was about 10 metres across and in the shape of an octagon. On the opposite side to the two hosts was some kind of rail track, leading towards a long, pitch black tunnel. The gunge inside the tank was an elaborate mix of colours too, from murky greens and browns, to pastel pinks. and bright blues. “I dare ya to dip your feet in there, Suzi!”
The brunette presenter bit her bottom lip. “Alright,” she said, shuffling forwards precariously. She lowered her feet into the pool and gently prodded the top of the gunge with her soles, leaving behind a pair of footprints on the top. “This is so thick!” Suzi said, eyes wide with surprise.
“Really get them in there!”
Suzi forced her feet into the gunge. It made some kind of slurping noise as it forced its way around her pretty little feet, between her toes and over the tops. “Oh g-god,” she shivered as the gunge lapped around her ankles. “You need to f-feel this for yourself, N-Nickster!”
The redhead smirked and grabbed onto her right bootlaces. “Should I?” she asked as the crowd cheered. Nicki shrugged her shoulders and undid the laces, before undoing the ones on her left boot. She pulled her boots off, followed by her socks, which she promptly stuffed in the boots. She shuffled forwards, a wry grin on her face, and held her feet over the gunge. Then, all of a sudden, she turned away and picked her boots up, rising to her feet. “Nah, I don’t wanna! Plus, we’ve got more important things to do, like settle who’s going in that stuff!”
The crowd booed as Suzi pouted as she swung her legs through the goo. “Someone get me a frickin’ towel.”
Nicki walked along the rails and back to the main set, sitting down momentarily. “Our next game is called Horad of the Rings, and since each player on each team does a different job, Suzi’s going to need some help,” she said as she passed her boots and socks to a stagehand, who in turn passed her a microphone. The ginger presenter headed for the studio audience. “And you know what, audience? If you want to see yet another gungee in tonight’s show, how about one of you volunteers?” she smirked. “Let’s see some hands up, yeah?”
A group of three women were sat in the front row. They were all dressed in fairly similar attire – white blouses and grey trousers. One of them was next to the aisle, and she had short blonde hair and heavy make-up, though looking closer at her she seemed to be a bit older than the rest. Next to her was a dark-skinned twentysomething with shoulder-length straight black hair and deep brown eyes. She had a rather nice body – thin, but not too skinny, and with a nice ample chest. Finally, there was a chubby woman with short red hair and green eyes. The blonde and the redhead looked to the one in the middle and smiled. “What?” said the one in the middle, quietly. “You think I should?”
“We dare you, Asha!” said the blonde.
“You’ll get to be on TV! Consider it a birthday treat,” added the redhead.
The twentysomething blushed and raised her hand into the air. There was no getting past the eager grins of her two friends. Nicki caught the hand’s ascent in the corner of her eye. “Ah, you seem eager! Stand up” she said, walking over. “What’s your name?”
The black-haired woman stood up and walked into the aisle, her heavily made-up friend standing out of her way. “I’m Asha,” the volunteer said, laughing nervously.
“Charmed,” Nicki said, looking the girl up and down. “I would ask you to remove your shoes, but I see you already have.” The camera panned down to show Asha’s bare feet. Her toenails unpainted but shiny nevertheless. She tried adjusting the camera to hide them from view, but the camera returned to its shot of the two women’s faces. “So, are you ready to get messy with Suzi?”
“I’d rather it was you, but sure!” said Asha, smiling cheekily.
“I’m not violating the part of my contract that says I don’t get messy! Now come on!” Nicki grabbed Asha’s right wrist and walked her over to the game area. Stage right, there was a large inflatable pool of gunge with what appeared to be large plastic toy hoops floating on the top. Next to it was a pair of walls, separating the game area into thirds until around the middle, where there was an open area. On the other side of it was another set of walls, along with three large poles. The floor was covered with multi-coloured gunge, with no particular pattern. “You might want to roll your trouser legs up,” Nicki suggested as she turned to face the camera. “This next game is Hoard of the Rings, and it’s a pretty critical one as one of our teams will be eliminated after it. The blues are trailing on fifty points, but they’re only just behind the reds at seventy and the yellows at eighty. Anything could happen, but we’ll have Suzi and Asha show you what.”
Suzi walked onto the stage as Nicki left, carrying a hoop. “I hope you’re good at catching, Asha!” she smiled. “What’s going to happen is that each team is split into two roles. Erin, Tanya and Victoria will be rooting through the vat and pulling out these rings,” she said as she walked over to the vat. She stepped into the game area where Natalie put her into some kind of harness attached to a cord. “Once they have a ring – and I must stress that it has to be one ring, they have to run up the runway and throw it to their teammate.”
Over on the other side. Asha had taken Nicki’s advice and rolled the legs of her trousers up. She took a deep breath and bravely placed her right foot into the gunge, sole first. Feeling the gunge engulf her foot was an oddly pleasant sensation, as the gunge was actually rather warm and thick. She put her left foot in, then crouched down and ran her left hand fingers through her hair, and her right hand through the gunge. It felt sort of nice, like a good custard only without a skin on the top. Her curiosity satiated, Asha stood up and wiped her fingers clean on her blouse – chances were that was going to get messy soon anyway.
“Here I come!” Suzi called out. She did a little hop so that her feet were out of the gunge, then ran up the path, her slimy soles slapping on the surface of the sludge. She threw the hoop to Asha, before getting yanked backwards and pulled butt-first through the goo. The ring didn’t look like it was going to reach its target, so Asha jumped forwards, towards the open part of the play area.
The plucky volunteer grabbed the ring with both hands and put it around her neck, before entering the foetal position. Curled up, Asha hit the gunge in the open area feet first and sank downwards, unaware that the middle was deeper than the sides. She sprang up, covered in colourful gunge, the ring floating in the ooze around her waist. She smiled with some embarrassment. “You never said it was deep!” she called out.
“You never asked!” Suzi giggled, standing up while Natalie helped her out of the harness. “You should be able to just walk up to the pole and place the ring on it, though.” Sure enough, Asha waded though the gunge and stepped up to her runway. She lifted the ring with her right foot, then grabbed it in her right hand and placed it over a large pole, about two metres high and fairly thin. She gave a little bow as the audience cheered. Suzi walked over, leaving a trail of gunge behind her. “Thanks for the help, Asha,” she said, putting her right arm around the messy volunteer. “There’s just one thing I didn’t mention.” On cue, a deluge of green gunge fell on the two women. Asha stood there and rolled her eyes, smiling politely as it fell. She was already covered from head to toe, so what was more gunge anyway? Suzi giggled and said “That might happen occasionally! Anyway, it’s ten points for each ring on the pole at the end, but if you cheat and carry more than one at a time, you’ll forfeit all your points! Natalie, are the teams ready?”
“Ready, love,” said the blue-haired assistant.
“Then let’s hit the showers!” said Suzi, running off-stage with Asha.
Nicki walked back to her podium, and turned to face the game. “You have two minutes. Let the game begin!” she announced.
Immediately Erin, Victoria and Tanya got stuck in and started rooting through the vat for the plastic rings. Erin found one first and dashed along the runway, with Tanya right behind. Erin threw her ring straight into Carlota’s arms and turned around to start running back. Tanya took a rather different approach and, after throwing her first ring to Niamh, jumped backwards and let the bungee pull her back. Victoria soon caught up and threw her first ring to Helen, before jumping back quickly.
Now covered up to her hips with gunge, Tanya stood up and started rooting around for another ring, whilst Erin and Victoria caught up. Victoria wasted no time in finding another ring while her rivals struggled, but Tanya was away quickly. The overhead gunge droppers burst into life, showering the footballer and the goth with rather unflattering bright pink goop. Tanya and Victoria threw their rings to their teammates, with the latter’s accuracy being fairly unhindered by the slime in her hair making her normally-blonde locks cover half her face. Tanya’s throw was slightly short, and landed on the edge of the pool.
Helen didn’t have a problem catching Victoria’s ring and adding it to the hoard, but Niamh had one rather irritating setback – the ring floated on top of the gunge pit, which meant she had to reach for it somehow. She wandered towards the pit, inwardly enjoying the sensation of the gunge squelching under her naked soles. Once at the edge, she knelt down and reached out, balancing precariously. Unbeknownst to her, there was a gunge dropper right above her, and it went off, pouring cold, electric blue sludge down her back. She squealed as she lost her balance and fell forwards, faceplanting straight into the slime. Despite her scream, she had a wide smile on her face – something Helen couldn’t help noticing and raising an eyebrow at. As much fun as she was having, she knew she couldn’t waste time if she wanted to stay in the game.
The game continued on, with Tanya refocusing her efforts. Trying to beat Victoria in this game was pretty pointless. After all, the blonde (well, she was blonde when they started anyway) was very much in her element. The skinny dark-haired woman wasn’t. Then again, neither was Erin. Given that Erin happened to be on the fewest points of the three going in, the goth knew that her best chance was to match Erin’s momentum. Thankfully, that didn’t seem to be difficult, even with the constant deluges of colourful slop, the dragging of the bungee and the non-existent grip that the soft, slime-coated floor offered. It was clear to her that Victoria and Erin were also struggling with those.
Victoria didn’t show any signs of stopping, and kept running and throwing rings to Helen. She watched the others and noticed that Erin was making things needlessly difficult for herself by running back after Carlota grabbed the ring, whereas both Tanya and herself were letting the bungee do the bulk of the effort for them. Still, the skinny goth was surprisingly formidable. What she lacked in muscles, she made up for in sheer determination. Compared to party girl Erin, who seemed to just meander and flounder around, Tanya seemed like a decent competitor.
Erin wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. All she knew was that she was cursing the fact that she hadn’t tied her hair back, unlike Tanya and Victoria. Her hair was now a colourful mess, and it was impossible to wipe out of her face since that just got more gunge on her. Trying to see what she was doing was slowing her down, too. In fact, before she knew it, a klaxon sounded to denote that the game was finished. The two presenters entered the stage. “Woah, what an intense game!” Suzi exclaimed. “I guess I’m going to have to count the rings and see who won, right?”
“Too right. Even if I wanted to stand in the gunge, what did I say earlier about my contract?” Nicki said, staring menacingly at Suzi. “Besides, it’ll ruin my boots.”
“The same boots you were happy to take off earlier,” grumbled Suzi.
Nicki gave a haughty laugh. “I’ll admit, going barefoot while presenting does feel quite homely, but people accuse me of ripping you off already. I’d hate to justify such a silly notion!”
Suzi rolled her eyes. “Let’s start with the reds,” she said, walking over Niamh, who was running her messy hands through her hair. “You look like you’ve had fun. Let’s count your rings.” Suzi knelt at the pole and started counting them. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Not bad. Sixty points, giving you a total of 130!”
Helen looked at her pile of rings and smiled contently as she did the arithmetic. She looked to Suzi, who approached. “Yellows, you need six as well to be certain of a place in the next round,” said the host, crouching down to count again. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7! Fantastic work guys. Seventy points, putting you at 150!”
Carlota frowned. The game hadn’t gone well for the blues, but that was pretty much a given. However, she didn’t seem to have many rings on her pole. She crossed her arms and looked away as Suzi confirmed her worst fears. “Ooh, Carlota, things aren’t looking great for you. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Just fifty points gives you a total of just 100.” She stretched her arms out. “Come here. You too, Erin.” The blue team wandered over hesitantly. Erin was covered head-to-toe in colourful muck, whereas Carlota had avoided most of the mess. The bodybuilder’s feet were covered, but beyond that she only had the odd splatter on her. Erin walked into Suzi’s outstretched arms and hugged her. “You’re not the hugging type, are you?” said the presenter to the relatively clean competitor.
“We lost,” said Carlota. “I’d rather you just got the elimination thing over and done with.”
Suzi smirked. “Ah, but you see there’s one thing we’ve got to do before that, and that’s take your 100 points and divide them up between the reds and the blues.”
“That’s what, fifty each?”
“If you want it to be, but it’s up to you and Erin. You could split it 50-50, or 40-60, or 30-70 and so on. You could even give all your points to one team,” Suzi explained.
Carlota shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t think they should get the points I earned.”
“Okay first off, Erin earned those points too, especially in the last round. Second, think what you want, but those are the rules of the game,” said Suzi, unfazed by the gunge rubbing off on her as Erin hugged tighter.
“So let Erin decide. I don’t really care. They’re not my points any more.”
Suzi looked to the woman clinging onto her. “What do you want to do?”
“Well, it’s only fair that they each get half the points, so split it half and half,” said Erin.
“And a fifty-fifty split puts the reds on 180 and the yellows on 200,” Suzi announced. “As for you two, it’s time for you both to leave,” she said, walking both Erin and Carlota to the entrance of the Elimination Enclosure. The huge industrial door opened up, revealing what was at the other end of the tracks leading from the gunge pit Suzi and Nicki were sat by before. The ‘what’ was a couple of seats on some kind of tiny car, designed no doubt to run along the track and through the black tunnel. The seats had restraints on them, which looked like they’d fold down to secure the riders in place. “Please, take a seat,” said Suzi. The blue team did so, with Carlota sitting on the right and Erin on the left. Suzi locked the restraints into place.
Just then, Nicki walked up to the entrance with the other two teams, and put her right hand on a dial. “This is not only the first elimination of this edition of The Pairing Game, but the first elimination of The Pairing Game ever. So, I thought we’d get someone in who built this crazy contraption to explain what’s happening.”
“It’s not that Asha girl again, is it?” asked Suzi.
“Nah, though she did seem like fun. Her online friends call her ‘rivetgirl’, but spelt with a one, two Rs and no I. I call her Blue, but everyone else calls her our head techie, Natalie Orwell,” the matriarchal redhead said. Natalie walked onto the stage and stood between Suzi and Nicki. “So Blue, I take it I turn this dial to make it go?”
“You do indeed,” said Natalie. “Since this is the first elimination of the episode, turn it to one.”
Nicki did as instructed, and the car crept forwards, carrying the chairs and the two occupants. “This seems like a rather drawn-out way of dunking someone.”
The Welsh girl smirked. “Oh, if we were just going to dunk them then we wouldn’t have bothered with all this, love! No, we’ve got a load of fun little extras planned for the riders on here!”
As Natalie declared that, the car stopped. A load of thick, sticky white foam erupted from all angles, dousing the occupants. “I take it that’s one of them?”
“It is indeed, Suzi. Erin and Carlota are going to get a bit of a cleanup before we subject them to the main tank.”
Suzi winced as the foam fell on the two riders, completely covering them. The car suddenly moved forwards and through what seemed to be a waterfall. Erin and Carlota squealed as the water hit them, displacing the foam and gunge. “I guess it was pretty cold, then?” asked Suzi.
“What a pair of wusses. My boyfriend had me do the Ice Bucket Challenge. That was cold!” Nicki scoffed.
“I never got around to doing mine before the fad died,” Suzi said, wistfully.
“Still, it didn’t quite clean them up,” Nicki pointed out, referring to the white streaks that were left all over Erin and Carlota’s clothes and hair. Erin laughed as she looked to Carlota, who was trying to push the restraints open. The Portuguese woman looked furious, like she was going to turn green and smash the set. In fact, as the car passed under a large gunge dropper, she did turn green. At least, her hair did, as did Erin’s.
“I don’t think Carlota likes your ride,” Suzi said, sadly.
“I know, right? This is gold!” added Nicki.
“She’ll be glad it’s nearly over, then!” Natalie chuckled as the car reached the end of the track. The seats tipped forward, leaving Erin and Carlota dangling precariously. Carlota breathed in deeply and screwed her face up. She’d gotten off pretty lightly thus far, but finally the mess had caught up with her. Her toes tightly clenched as she grabbed onto the restraint, awaiting the imminent drop. Erin meanwhile looked to Carlota and smiled. Her so-called “teammate” had been nothing but a bully since the first game, and annoyingly had managed to weasel out of getting particularly messy while the others got stuck in. Losing was almost worth it just to see her get her comeuppance. She tried to stretch out with her foot to see if the gunge was as bad as Suzi had implied before, but couldn’t quite reach. “There’s just one last thing before we dunk them,” said Natalie.
“What?” Carlota, rather foolishly, yelled. Immediately after she asked, a short spray of gunge spat out from the pit, hitting both her and Erin straight in the face. While Carlota growled angrily, Erin just laughed. “Why are you laughing? You got it too!”
“Because you’re so pissed off and serious all the time!” said Erin.
“Of course I’m pissed off! I’m the best damn player here and I lost because–WAAAH!!” Carlota’s rant was cut off as the restraints unlocked and jolted up. Both she and Erin plummeted face-first into the thick, murky gunge. They both vanished beneath the surface of the goo, but Carlota surfaced first. Erin soon followed and saw her teammate angrily smashing her fists into the surface of the mire. Around the surface of the pit, a bunch of sprinklers popped up and showered the pit and its two occupants with a colourful gungy mist. Erin laughed as it covered both herself and Carlota, who just turned to her and yelled, “Why are you laughing?!”
Erin shook her head and splashed gunge at Carlota. “You’re just so funny! It’s just goo!”
“It’s my reputation!”
“You still don’t get that it wasn’t about you, do you?” Erin sighed.
“Neither do you.” As Carlota insisted on having the last word, a stream of pink gunge fell on her from above. She shouted some word nobody in the audience knew the meaning of, but if they did know the meaning, they’d probably be offended.
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that!” Nicki smirked.
“You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a shot glass of gunge.”
The redhead couldn’t help nodding at Suzi’s counterpoint. “That’s true, Sooz. Like I said before though, contractual reasons!” She then turned to the yellow team. “So, what did you make of that?”
Victoria looked worrisome. “I’m glad Erin made the best of it, but she didn’t deserve that. I wish she didn’t have to go on it.”
“Who would have taken her place, though?” Nicki asked.
“You?” laughed the blonde. “I’m kidding, of course!”
“Just as well! Helen, thoughts?”
The nerdy girl looked at the gunge pit and the two women within. “I was slightly underwhelmed, to be honest. I was expecting something more.”
“If I may,” said Natalie. “The second elimination will be more brutal than the first, so I hope you won’t be disappointed by that one.”
“Oh, the only way the second elimination could disappoint me is if I were on it!” smirked Helen.
Suzi looked to the red team. “Any thoughts, Niamh?”
Niamh blushed and stuttered. “I… Well… Uh… Sorry, I need to go back to my dressing room!” she blurted out, before running off-stage, leaving a slimy trail behind her.
“Well, uh… I thought it was a remarkable feat of engineering, Natalie,” said Tanya, smiling. “I for one can’t wait to see the lovely Helen take a ride on it!”
“Oh ho ho! Someone’s getting a bit cocky, are they not?” Helen winked. “Just because you fancy this other scene chick!”
“We’re not scene chicks,” Tanya and Natalie said in unison.
“You’re not denying the other part, though.”
Tanya shrugged her shoulders and pursed her lips. “I don’t usually go for the cyber subclique, but if you don’t mind me saying, you are quite cute, Nat. However, I only have eyes for my little Neevy!”
“Okay, I think that’s a good point to call a break, don’t you, Suzi?” said Nicki, blushing a little bit at Tanya’s forwardness.
“I think it is! Coming up in part four, we’ve got more games, more gunge and more trivia. Now, don’t go anywhere! Erin and Carlota certainly won’t be!”