The show opens in a different studio to usual. It has the same features – most notably a cylindrical vat towering in the centre of the stage – but the layout and colour scheme are slightly different. A leggy dark-brunette of olive complexion struts out, clad in a short green dress. She beams as she laps up the enthusiastic applause.
Brunette: ¡Gracias, muchas gracias! Buenas noches y bienvenidos a este nuevo espectáculo – ¡Merecido!
The audience cheers.
Brunette: En este programa, tenéis la oportunidad de vengarse de aquellas profesiones que realmente os molestan. Cada semana, vamos conecer tres trabajadores muy impopulares, y vostros debéis decider, por votación pública, quien más merece un castigo humillante… ¡en nuestra “Mucky Dip!”
The scene switches to a close shot of Sian.
Sian: Do not adjust your sets! We just wanted to give you a glimpse of our Spanish sister show, which started airing this week. [Winks at the camera] Spoiler: the matador got it!
The camera slowly zooms out to reveal Sian standing on the familiar stage with the Mucky Dip behind her.
Sian: But back here in the UK, it’s business as usual. We have three abhorrent professionals, millions of vengeful voters, and one very mucky punishment. I’m Sian Welby [spreads arms wide and throws back head] and this is COMEUPPANCE!!
The audience goes mental.
Sian: What a fab crowd we’ve got tonight! Let’s get straight down to it and meet the contestants!
The fashion vlogger
Sian: Back for another round of judgement is Princess Priscilla. She’s eighteen, from Derry, and as you’ll surely recall, she’s a fashion and makeup blogger.
Sian: This is normally the part of the show where I ask the returning runner-up what they’ve been up to during the week, but in your case, Priscilla, there’s no need. You’ve spent the week making a deluxe-length vlog post about your experience on last week’s Comeuppance, and it’s already garnered over three million views. Must be raking in a nice bit of dough for you, huh?
Priscilla: Indeed it is, and my other videos have also had a big boost in views since my appearance. Still, the money never lasts long. Good clothes and makeup are expensive, you know.
Sian: About this video of yours – it’s 45 minutes long and mostly dull drivel, but there’s one part that caught my attention, [frowns] and not in a good way. Let’s play the clip.
The scene shows Priscilla at her dressing table, wearing a pale pink top and staring self-importantly into the camera.
Priscilla: …I had rated Sian Welby very highly for fashion-sense – she always looks chic on the Health Lottery – but on the occasion of meeting her in person I was rather disappointed. Sian was evidently trying to pull off a bright and breezy spring look, but the yellow tone of her dress clashed dreadfully with her hair, her lipstick was insipid, and as for those shoes… [sighs] well they have to go on Priscilla’s little list of celebrity faux pas, I’m afraid…
The clip fades out. There is a long “OooooOOOOooo!!” from the audience and a number of meows. Sian stands with her arms folded, glaring at Priscilla.
Sian: So what’s the meaning of this?
Priscilla: [innocently] Just my honest and well-considered review. You’re lucky to get free advice from someone with such refined taste. [Looks Sian up and down] I have to say, you and denim…
Sian: [growling] Not! Another! Word! I’ll tell you what a faux pas is! It’s wearing the most garish colours and foulest fragrances of the season from head to toe! Because that’s how you could be leaving us tonight, and I will gladly push the button if the public so will it, Princess!
Sian stomps off. Fear flickers on Priscilla’s face as she recalls the trauma of last week’s vote, but she maintains a sultry pose.
Sian: [Takes a deep breath] Well folks, I trust you’re itching to see this little madam make her big splash on the Comeuppance catwalk, but I’m duty-bound to introduce the other contestants and commend them for your consideration, so let’s press on.
The student union sabbatical officer
Sian: Our second malefactor is twenty-one-year-old Monique. She’s originally from Leeds, but currently she’s president of Larchester University Students’ Association – or LUSA for short.
Sian: Monique is a sabbatical officer, meaning she’s suspended her studies for a year and is paid to work full time for LUSA, but I’m not convinced by what she has to show for it. Monique, there was a time when student unions concerned themselves with bread-and-butter issues such as accommodation, grievances with faculty, and most importantly, cheap beer! These days they’re bogged down with self-indugent gesture politics, tedious debates over semantics, and general neo-Stalinist lunacy. Lost the plot rather, haven’t you?
Monique: No, not at all Sian. I think it’s important that students engage and show solidarity with the wider world, and LUSA’s policies do that very effectively.
Sian: Well let’s have a look at those policies, shall we? You’ve banned virtually every televised sporting event from the union bar, because you deem one or other of the sponsers to be “unethical”. You’ve passed toothless motions condemning everything from emerald mining in Zanzibar to Donald Trump’s comb-over. And you have two women’s officers, but your constitution expressly forbids the instatement of a men’s officer, leaving half of the student body unrepresented!
A chorus of snorts and puffs emanates from the audience throughout Sian’s list.
Monique: Actually, cis-males make up 50.3% of Larchester’s student body, which goes to show what a priviledged and over-represented group they are!
Sian: [shaking her head] Point three percent, eh? That’s exactly the kind of pedantry I’m getting at! But I shouldn’t be too harsh on LUSA, because they do have some good policies. For example, the very reason you’re standing here in this cage is because a motion was passed mandating you to sign up for the show, right?
Monique: [ruefully] Yes, and it had the biggest turnout and majority of any vote in LUSA’s history!
Sian: I’m not at all surprised! Your fellow students all want to see you brought down from political cloud-cuckoo-land into something wet, cold and slimy, and they might well get their wish!
Monique grins with her tongue on her lip and shakes her head.
Sian: [turns to face the camera] No doubt many of you would like to see that too, but before you send Monique off for her re-education, please weigh up tonight’s third and final villain.
Sian: Her name is Cara. She’s thirty-three and from Shrewsbury, where she has run a private diet and nutrition consultancy for the past nine years.
Sian: Now Cara, I’ve always thought that our mothers and grandmothers had settled the question of healthy eating – a sensible balance of meat, carbs and veg, and the occasional sweet treat. Yet I can’t step into a bookshop without being confronted by some radical diet manifesto purporting to be the biggest gastronomic revolution since sliced bread!
Cara: I certainly wouldn’t recommend eating bread Sian, sliced or otherwise. Wheat is very bad for you! And I’m afraid that mother doesn’t always know best. Modern science is overturning conventional wisdom, and we nutritionists are here to rectify those age-old errors and improve people’s wellbeing through smarter nutrition.
Sian: [sharply] Actually, many medical experts say you push nonsensical fad diets that encourage extreme eating habits and have grave consequences for health!
The audience boos.
Cara: [icily] I don’t “push fad diets”, Sian. I develop carefully structured nutrition plans.
Sian: Really? Earlier I went on your website, and here are some of the “plans” you offer: the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet, the detox diet, the retox diet, the breakfast diet, the Buckfast diet, the shrew and berry diet (guess that’s a special one for your locality), the Three Mile Island diet, the National Diet of Japan, and of course the current big alimentary craze – the Paleolithic diet!
Cara: Oh, no no no! The latest research shows the Paleolithic diet is extremely bad for you; the new Triassic diet is where it’s at!
Sian: And that’s another thing: the advice gets rewritten more often than an Orwellian newspaper! Last year’s miracle diet becomes this year’s poison, otherwise you lot wouldn’t make money flogging new books! Well guess what Cara, we have a diet that’ll work wonders for you! It’s somewhere between solid and liquid intake, and even though you may gain some weight during the process, the smell is guaranteed to suppress your appetite! It’s called the muck diet, and you could be on it very soon!
Cara raises her eyebrows and flashes a little coy smile.
Sian: [facing the camera and strolling forwards] So those are our three wrongdoers, safely under lock and key while they await judgement. Before the evening is out, one of them will be submerged in our Mucky Dip, hauled back out and left to dangle as a warning to others!
As the audience whoops, an overhead camera peers down over the colossal vat, but the dry ice fog obscures what lies within.
Sian: [looking up at the camera] You might not be able to see in there yet, but let me tell you, the pong is wafting down already and it’s none too sweet!
The scene reverts to the stage-level camera.
Sian: The only question is who will sit in that dreaded chair, a decision we leave in your capable hands. Appearing on your screen are the phone numbers for voting for your preferred comeuppancee. If you’re eager to give the vain and conceited Princess Priscilla [spits out the words] a mucky makeover, then you need to get dialling 0900 68259 01. If you want to teach militant Monique a lesson she won’t find in her university syllabus, then you should key in 0900 68259 02. Or if you’d love to see Cara the fad foodie eat her words and wash them down with bitter slop, then 0900 68259 03 is the number for you! Calls cost £1.50 plus whatever your service provider charges; it’s a bargain price for some seriously satisfying payback. See you all later!
Alternative poll link
The poll will close at 10 pm on Wednesday the 20th. You can vote multiple times throughout the course of the week, but only once every 12 hours.