With the game officially underway, the team cooperates to earn the biggest possible pot, but must then vote to eliminate one of their own.
"Start the clock."
Lance's heart pounded in his chest as the Hostess turned her podium to face Alyssa MacIntosh, the pop singer who would answer the first question. The game was officially underway.
"Alyssa, which four-letter word denotes a celebrity from the world of entertainment or a celestial body seen as a twinkling light in the night sky?"
She looked down as she thought about her answer. "A star?"
"Correct," the Hostess pointed next towards Grace. Lance was confident the clever girl wouldn't disappoint the rest of the team. "Grace, in a standard deck of playing cards, if two of the four suits are black, then the other suits typically are which colour?"
"Red," the dark-skinned girl answered immediately.
"Correct. Lance," and the dancer's stomach rose to the back of his throat as the host turned to look at him. "In the dish known as 'bangers and mash,' which of the two words describes the sausage element?"
Despite the nerves turning his belly to jelly, Lance found himself smiling. How many times had Mum put bangers and mash on the table for the family? It was almost her signature dish - that, or her extra-fatty brand of lasagna.
That wasn't so bad.
The three questions so far had been pretty easy, actually. Lance could have answered any of them without a beat.
"Jamie, in instructions for opening doors, what 'P' is the opposite of the word 'push?'"
Jamie recoiled a little, as though he were suspicious of how simple his question was and feared the Hostess was trying to trick him. "Pull."
"Correct. Nathan, in maths, a person is a teenager for a total of how many years?"
Nathan actually used his fingers to count, drawing some laughs from the audience members behind them. To his credit, he figured it out faster than Lance did. "Seven!"
That was the fifth correct answer in a row, Lance realised. Nathan's question was worth fifteen hundred pounds. Casey's was worth two-thousand, two hundred and fifty quid. The money was quickly adding up! Four more, and they could bank the five thousand right off the bat!
"Casey, in which country of the UK is the daffodil a national emblem?"
"Scotland," Casey replied instantly.
Lance felt like someone slapped him. Fifteen hundred pounds, so much money, gone down the drain just like that. Five answers and time on the clock, all for nothing. The daft tart! Who was she to take jabs at his intelligence? At least he got his bleeding question right! She didn't even seem to be bothered in the slightest. If she wasn't going to have the decency to even pretend to be apologetic for her mistake, then he wasn't going to mask his disappointment. She'd be getting his vote for elimination for sure.
"Paul, in education, what 'L' means a single period of instruction?"
After eight or nine seconds, each of which felt like an eternity, Paul shook his head guiltily and gave his answer in a tiny voice. "Learning?"
Are you serious right now?
"Lesson," the Hostess replied in a consternated tone that suggested she couldn't believe that he spent so much time thinking up the wrong answer. "Eliza, in time measurement, forty-five minutes past eight is also a quarter to what?"
"Correct! Cian, in a game of rugby, what 'S' is the set-piece formation used to restart play?"
Lance's eyes bugged. He was incredibly lucky that he didn't get that question. He had no interest or knowledge in sports outside dance.
"Scrum," Cian answered promptly, and Lance was sure that the Scottish athlete immediately became ten per cent more attractive. Hot, sweet and smart all in one package - what Jamie should have been.
"Correct. Alyssa, in language, how many syllables are there in the word syllable?"
The unnaturally-blonde girl looked as though someone had spat at her, then her eyes rolled into the back of her head. "Um. Four?"
"Three!" the Hostess corrected her.
Lance exhaled through his nose. More money lost, and more importantly, time that they wouldn't get back. They had done a full rotation now, ten questions, and nobody had banked any money. Should he bank after Grace inevitably got her question right, even if it would only secure one hundred pounds?
"Grace, in human anatomy, what 'L' is the name for the short bands of tough, flexible tissue that binds bones together?"
Grace, Lance noticed, smiled when she knew the answer, and she knew it before the Hostess finished her question. "Ligament."
"Correct. Lance," the young dancer braced himself as the Hostess pointed her podium at him. "In colloquial English, an elderly man who lavishes gifts on a young woman is known as a sugar what?"
Lance grinned mischievously. How many times had he jokingly called Bobby his sugar daddy, even though the Serbian born dancer was only eighteen? "Daddy!"
"Correct," the Hostess turned the podium to Jamie, and Lance was mercifully left alone. For now. "Jamie, another name for Santa Clause is Father what?"
"Correct. Nathan, in cosmetic surgery, the technique known as liposuction is intended to remove from the body excess amounts of what substance?"
Lance let his eyes burn through his rose-gold contact lenses at Casey. Nathan's correct answer meant that her question was worth one thousand and five hundred pounds. Was she going to lose it all again?
A wave of relief seemed to wash through the other contestants like a set of dominoes. Lance felt much better knowing that there were a thousand pounds in the bank if nothing else. That was a lot of money, even if it was only a fraction of their potential prize this round.
"In geology, what 'P' is the term for rigid segments of the crust of the earth that move across the heavier rock below?"
Lance didn't know the answer. Not by a long shot. Maybe one of his teachers mentioned it once while he and his best friend Jane listened to Rihanna on her iPod. Casey, though, so high up there on her pedestal about her intellect, should probably know it.
Are you kidding me? Does she actually know anything?
Plates? Really? Huh.
"Paul, in fashion, what modern accessory frequently classed as an item of jewellery is often water-proof, anti-magnetic and shock-resistant?"
Paul's eyes looked down at his podium as he took his time answering incorrectly. "Necklace?"
"No, a watch."
It wasn't a bad answer. It wouldn't do at all to be choked to death by a necklace if someone happened to be carrying something magnetic nearby. But it wasn't the right answer, and every wrong answer cost the team money. Poor Paul screwed his face up and bowed his head as the Hostess ruthlessly moved on to the next question.
"Eliza, in disease, what illness is the word 'flu' short for?"
"Correct. Cian, in food, an omelette is typically made up of which primary ingredient?"
The young man shifted his weight. "Eggs."
"Bank," the pop singer seemed to have been shaken by her last incorrect answer.
Better safe than sorry.
"In optometry, which artificial lenses sit directly on the eyeball?"
Lance let out a small laugh by accident, leading to a chuckle rounding the room. He'd been hiding his eyes behind coloured contacts since he was fourteen.
"Contact lenses," Alyssa answered, grinning at the dancer from her platform.
"Correct!" The Hostess almost teased her before turning to the next girl. "Grace, in chemistry, which gas has the chemical symbol 'O?'"
"Oxygen," the young girl replied automatically.
"Correct. Lance, in spoken English, which winged insect shares its name with the identical sound of a letter of the alphabet?"
Oh, that one was so easy! "Bee."
"Bank!" There was a sense of urgency from the blond boy. Time was running out.
"In food, from which animal do the meat products pork, ham--"
"In the circus, what 'T' is the swinging bar on which acrobats perform?"
"Ahh-- the er-- trapeze!" He shouted.
"Correct. Casey, in politics, to which party does--" the Hostess was cut off by the deafeningly loud music. "Time's up, and I cannot complete that question." As the audience applauded, the older woman folded her arms superciliously, and a playful smirk marked her lips as she looked down her nose at the contestants. "Teenage triumphs. Are we sure that we've got the right people in the studio today?" The audience laughed. So did Lance. He knew it was coming. "In that pathetically easy first round, from a possible five thousand pounds, you've managed to bank only one thousand, eight hundred and fifty pounds."
"Woo!" Cian pumped his fist in the air, and the spectators behind the contestants clapped for them. Lance agreed. That was a lot of money, even if the supposedly smart Casey could have nearly doubled the amount had she banked before her terrible answer.
The Hostess ignored them. "If this is indeed the best that the United Kingdom can offer, we're in serious trouble. Who among you is just a pretty face? Who thinks ballroom means just a brand of men's pants?" Lance laughed into his hands. "Somebody is about to leave empty-handed, and you must decide who among you isn't up to the task. It's time to vote off the weakest link."
The ominous music sounded through the studio, and the lights turned red - voting phase. Lance had been nervous while answering questions, but now he felt good. He answered all three of his questions correctly, just as Grace, Jamie and Nathan had. Eliza and Cian only had two questions apiece, but they got them both right. On the other hand, Casey and Paul got both of their questions wrong. He didn't imagine the team would vote him off unless there was some homophobic conspiracy among the others. It had to be one of those two. But which one? Casey lost a lot of money and didn't even seem to care. Paul, on the other hand, looked like he was falling to bits, not able to get his easy questions right. Besides, they'd both gotten under Lance's skin in the green room. It was a hard decision.
He decided on Casey, and he wrote her name on the board with the marker provided. Following that, the man in charge of production instructed the contestants to pretend to write for sixty seconds longer. Lance decided to spend his extra name-writing time decorating his slat with stars and dots in a pattern, and his eyes crept to Grace's voting board on the podium beside him. He couldn't see much of it, but the name on it was definitely Paul. They weren't on the same page, but at least she didn't vote for him. His eyes crept to his left as well, but bloody showoff Jamie had his tanned arm in the way. Freddy then checked everybody's board to make sure they would flip the right way, and the Hostess returned to her podium. When the music sounded and the lights flickered, she spoke again.
"Okay, voting over. I noticed there was a lot of peeking going on, team!" Lance averted his eyes. He was guilty of snooping. "I shouldn't need to remind teenage triumphs that your vote is yours and yours alone. It's time now to reveal who you think is the weakest link."
"Casey," Cian voted.
"Casey!" from Alyssa.
"Paul," Grace flipped her board over, all business.
Lance waited for the camera to shift to him. "Casey."
"Paul," Jamie was so eager to vote someone off that he almost went too early, shooting daggers with his eyes to his prey.
"Paul," from Nathan.
"Paul," Casey didn't sound so confident anymore.
Paul kept his eyes down. "Alyssa."
"Casey," Eliza finished off the vote.
"We have a tie. Four votes for Paul, our app developer, and four votes for Casey, our incredibly important novelist," the Hostess paused to let the audience laugh. She turned her podium to face Alyssa and looked down her glasses with a withering stare. "Alyssa. Did you write your song?"
Alyssa giggled girlishly. "I did."
The Hostess remained unmoved. "I see. And you did it all without learning how to count syllables, did you?"
Lance didn't bother to mask his amusement. He'd been thinking the same thing. Others were more obvious, with some audience members and Jamie laughing out loud.
"I know! I'm so embarrassed," the diva showcased a charming smile.
"And this song wasn't a complete catastrophe?"
Alyssa's glib attitude, Lance noticed, lessened when she felt people didn't respect her as a singer or celebrity. She became visibly affronted. "I spent six weeks in the top ten for UK singles, and I peaked at the second position. "
"Oh, so you are good! Put your board down. Let's hear it," the Hostess insisted, folding her arms with a playful grin.
Alyssa threw humble out the window the moment the Hostess asked her to do what she did best. She'd been waiting for the opportunity, no question. She chose eight lines - the chorus - of Whispers in my Dreams, an admittedly beautiful song about a lonely lady mesmerised by a gorgeous man. Lance couldn't help but have butterflies in his stomach, watching her perform live, so close to him. Even without music, she had a terrific voice, and she managed to hit a few high notes that Lance had long been unable to reach in the shower since his voice broke. When Alyssa finished, all eight other contestants and the people sitting in the audience applauded in earnest. Even though Lance didn't personally like her, he admitted that she was definitely going to be a star in the future.
The performance broke the ice queen facade of the Hostess, who cracked a smile. "Put your board up. Tell me what Casey did in that round to offend you."
"She made two mistakes."
"You made a mistake as well."
She flicked honey-coloured hair over her shoulder with a graceful swing of her hand. "But Casey made two mistakes and lost us a lot of money. I only made one."
"Right," the Hostess then rotated right, past Grace, and thankfully past Lance. "Jamie Ceannaideach. What is it you do?"
Jamie blinked. "I'm an actor, a dancer, a singer and a model."
Lance didn't roll his eyes. He wouldn't be caught on camera being petty or unprofessional, but Eliza obviously didn't mind, making a face all the way over there on the other side of the curve.
"Right. I can't say I've ever seen you on the big screen before. You can't be too famous then, can you?"
He managed a hollow laugh. "I'm part of the main cast of Ember Seal, currently the number one show on Webflix. Someone your age probably doesn't know how to watch it."
People laughed. Lance didn't. He didn't want to give Jamie that validation. The Hostess stifled a smile. "That's no way to talk to me after I summoned you to play on my show. On prime time television, with more than sixty viewers!"
Jamie, to his credit, was quick-witted and willing to spar. "It's your show, but it's my episode, so you should be the one thanking me for the ratings."
The audience lapped up his every word and applauded his cleverness, which was annoying. Especially Mum and Dad. When he peeked over his shoulder, they were both laughing.
They didn't see him in the green room. They don't know he's a tool.
The Hostess moved on. "So, my sources tell me that you're the bad boy in this Ember Seal show that only sixty people watch on your Webflix."
In an instant, Lance was looking at Corey Channing, who flashed his patented smirk complete with lower lip-bite that showed up whenever he did something naughty. Despite himself, Lance's heart fluttered. He was so beautiful.
"Aye, a lot of people call me that. Corey doesn't make a lot of good choices."
"Stop me if you remember any of these names. Delta Cunningham. Ayla Ross. Leslie Mackay. Seonaid Reid."
Lance giggled. The Hostess was gradually listing everyone Corey Channing had kissed from the very first episode.
"My co-actors?" Jamie tried his best to play coy, but nobody was buying it.
"Is that all they are to you? Co-actors? And now you're currently courting Emily Shanklin!" Jamie's brown cheeks pinkened, something the Hostess pounced on immediately. "Who is it that plays the part of your on-screen sweetheart Emily?"
"The very talented Sophie Hanna."
"Oh, you think she's talented, do you?"
"It's not just because she lets you kiss her in the show?"
Though he'd started their exchange with the advantage, the Hostess had successfully found her way into his head. Jamie had gone from golden almond to slightly pink, to red and now puce, as he tried to hold on to his dignity. "Er-- ahh, I-- well, I mean, that's not a downside to the job... at all."
The Hostess, content with unravelling the arrogant Scotsman, finally showed some mercy. "Why did you vote for Paul? Is it because of that moustache?"
He laughed. "It's not just because he got both of his easy questions wrong, it's that he wasted so much time," Jamie eyed Paul out of the corner of his eyes. “But the moustache doesn’t help.”
The Hostess turned all the way over to Eliza, who comically recoiled. "Eliza Stacey Brooks! Remind me why you're here tonight."
"I'm a theatre actress," the tall girl replied confidently.
"Oh, so you're not talented enough for television?"
Eliza could laugh at herself, and she did. "Not quite talented enough for movies, but much too talented to host a television game show."
That was a solid burn! The Hostess didn't seem to have a reply for that, looking down to hide her grin from the cameras, folding her arms. "What are you currently starring in?"
"I'm in the Sherman Theatre's musical production of The Little Mermaid."
"No, I play Ursula the Sea Witch."
"Not good enough at singing to be cast as Ariel?" The Hostess asked her. Lance laughed, and so did Eliza.
"Not at all! I auditioned for Ursula. I think she's much more interesting than Ariel, and I like her songs better," the actress explained, brushing a black curl from her face.
"So in this off, off, off, off-Broadway production, do you sing?"
"I do! I sing two songs."
"Do you sing Poor Unfortunate Souls?" The Hostess had dropped her signature icy frown, and she looked genuinely interested. It made sense. Eliza was very likeable and charismatic.
"Yes!" Eliza nodded, beaming a gorgeous smile.
"Would you sing some of it for me now?" The Hostess demanded of her. "Put your board down."
Lance watched as Eliza gracefully placed her slat down on her podium, breathed in and out, and then began to sing the familiar lyrics. Almost immediately, he was entranced by her powerful voice. He didn’t expect a belting soprano portrayal of the husky-voiced Disney villainess with prominent vibrato, but the actress was amazing - definitely as talented as the pop princess Alyssa! Eliza was animated, using her expressive face and body language to flawlessly convey cruelty, spite and malice underneath her sweet, sympathetic lyrics. When she stopped after the first verse, Lance was a little upset. He'd been enjoying it a lot! When the audience and other contestants applauded, he joined in earnest. He definitely wanted to go and see the production live, if only to watch Eliza in her element!
The Hostess was half-smiling when the girl finished. “Lovely! Put your board up. Why did you vote for Casey?"
"Casey's mistake was a very costly one, and it was a question about Wales that she got wrong, which I took personally." Eliza looked apologetically over to the blue and pink-haired author.
The Hostess turned back around and stopped at the girl in question, staring down her nose. "Casey! You've never been to Wales, then?"
"You do realise, don't you, that you’re supposed to give the correct answer? I can't fathom how someone important enough to have not one, but two published novels could lack so much knowledge. Don't you have to know things to be an author?"
Casey shrugged and made a face, which annoyed Lance far more than it should have, and he gripped his board with her name on it until his knuckles went white. "Don't forget that I banked the lion's share of the money we won this round."
"You did, but only after the other contestants managed to answer their questions correctly!" The Hostess loved to play with her food, and it was great to see her take Casey bloody Adams down a peg. "How many copies of your books did you sell?"
"Glass Kingdom sold eleven thousand copies, and Obsidian Arrowhead almost doubled that," Casey bragged.
"Really? Fiction, I hope, because we've established that non-fiction certainly isn't your speciality."
"I know a lot of things, actually," Casey wasn’t being cute. She came across as combative. Where Eliza, Jamie and even Alyssa had been bantering with the Hostess, the author had no playfulness about her. She seemed like a brat. "I read a lot of textbooks and novels. I have a wealth of knowledge. That doesn’t mean I know everything."
"Why did you vote for Paul?" The Hostess gave up on trying to play with Casey - it wasn't going anywhere.
"He got both his answers wrong, same as me, except he didn't bank any money and he hesitated before answering. I banked a thousand pounds."
"Right. Paul," the Hostess shifted to the next boy, poor Paul, who looked as though he'd rather be anywhere else in the world. "I imagine that with all those apps, you wouldn't have much use for a watch."
"I... I blanked," Paul stammered.
"And you still go to school, don't you?"
Lance knew where she was going with this, but once again, Paul didn't seem to have a clue. He was utterly gormless. "Yeah."
"How many lessons do you have in a day at school?"
"Um, six periods."
"W-w... o-oh, y-yeah."
The audience seemed too uncomfortable to laugh. Lance kept his trap shut. Jamie didn't. The Hostess wisely redirected the conversation. "And you're an app developer, aren't you?"
"When do you develop apps? At school?"
"Erm, no. At-at home."
He was so nervous and it was only getting worse. The Hostess wasn't even picking on him. She was trying to get him to open up about himself.
This is sooo cringe.
Lance wished he'd voted for Paul in hindsight if only to put the human praying mantis out of his misery. The fact that Paul voted for Alyssa for some reason was just further proof that his head wasn't in the game. Had he voted for Casey like any well-adjusted person, she would have the majority vote, and he'd be safe. It was his own fault.
"Why should Casey go home instead of you?"
"She lost money. I didn't have a chance to bank anything or even lose anything because sh-she, erm, got her questions wrong first."
"Well, in the event of a tie, it falls to the strongest link to cast the deciding vote, and that's Jamie!" The Hostess turned to the actor. Lance wasn't at all pleased that his rival had found yet another way to overshadow him. "Who will you send home? Paul, who develops apps at home, or Casey, the most important novelist in the world?"
"Definitely Paul. He's way too nervous to be any good," Jamie answered her immediately and ruthlessly.
A few people in the crowd, likely friends or family of Paul's, groaned as the Hostess turned back to him to deliver the coup de grace.
"Paul. You might well be a whiz with apps, but your lack of other knowledge has left Jamie feeling quite underwhelmed. Statistically, you were the worst player, and with four votes, you are the weakest link. Goodbye."
The death toll rang through the studio, the lights changed, and Paul, shoulders slumped, miserably placed his board back down on his podium before taking the walk of shame to the back of the studio. Lance caught a brief look at his face, and he looked like he was about to cry. At that moment, the reality of the game show hit Lance like a ton of bricks. It really was over, just like that. Jamie sent Paul home without a shred of regret or hesitation, and it was terrifying. The app developer exited through the studio doors and he wasn't coming back.
Thanks for reading! I hope you have a terrific day.