THE BORING BITS - STANDARD DISCLAIMER;

Xena, and Gabrielle, and the usuals are the property of Universal/MCA, and Renaissance Pictures. The use of such characters is strictly for fun, not for profit. No plagiarist activity or theft of character is intended in any way.

However, this story is not set in Greece and it doesn't star the warrior or her bard friend. What it does have it two characters that are not a million miles away from the actresses we all know and love, but it is essentially an uber tale.

Any resemblance may not be entirely coincidental but I'm hoping it's all in good fun. Please don't sue me. I don't get paid anywhere near enough to afford the legal bill.

As for the content, I'm not going to pre-warn you about what happens in this story, as I believe too many disclaimers spoil the surprise.

In brief;

Violence – possibly but nothing serious enough to get upset over

Subtext – definitely.

Sex - what? I don't even get taken to a movie first? Seriously, if you are looking for something graphic, you won’t find it here. Why else would God have given you an imagination?

As for the rest, what I will say is that if you don't like it, don't agree with it or find any of it in bad taste the answer is simple - stop reading, I ain’t forcing ya :P

I should also mention that it is based around a popular real life TV show but I in no way intend to infringe any copyright or make any profit (if only!!) from it's usage either.

As a first-time uber writer I welcome ALL feedback so please send your compliments, criticisms (both constructive and unfounded) and any general opinions to s_eliot@crazedanddazed.com

This story will be posted in parts so please be patient.

It’s Only A Game Show

10 people, five weeks, 24 cameras, one house, 100,000

"You’re gonna do WHAT?!?" Tim stood staring with his eyes wide, wearing a stunned expression on his normally smiling face. Sure his sister had pulled some crazy stunts in her time, but this? This latest idea had to be the most ridiculous idea he had ever heard.

At twenty-six Alex might have been three years his elder, but that certainly didn’t make her any wiser he thought to himself.

To a stranger the two siblings may well have been twins. Both tall, her at 5’ 11" and him and 6’ 2", with naturally tanned complexions and eyes the colour of the bluest Mediterranean Sea, the pair certainly turned a few heads when out together.

Alex rolled her eyes dramatically and ran a hand through her long dark hair, "Look, I told you ages ago I’d applied, it just goes to show how much you listen to what I say to you.

"The letter arrived this morning and I’ve been accepted. Can you believe it? In six weeks time I could have a fortune, pay off my debts and finally do everything I’ve ever wanted to. And the big bonus is I get a break from all the shit that seems to follow me around."

Tim couldn’t help but laugh. If this weren’t so serious, it would be funny. "Can I believe it??? Of course I can’t! You, YOU," he pointed a finger at her chest, "of all people is going to be on TV, and taking part in some crazy game show no less.

"Alex, have you finally gone insane? You hate game shows. You’re the one that always says their main aim is to make ordinary people look like fools and here you are ready to parade yourself, warts and all, in front of the nation on ‘It’s Only A Game Show’.

It’s Only A Game Show’ was a new concept in fly-on-the-wall TV and the adverts for contestants had been appearing in the newspapers for weeks now.

It seemed simple enough, ten contestants enclosed in a house for five weeks with hidden cameras monitoring every move. They each vote to oust who they like least until only three remain. Then it’s up to the public, with a telephone vote picking out the eventual winner of the $100,000 prize.

Alex read the acceptance letter over again. She hadn’t really expected to be chosen as a contestant. After weeks of arguing with her now ex-girlfriend Tracey, all she wanted to do was get away.

With no cash for a vacation, five weeks all expenses paid in a plush house at an undisclosed location seemed like the next best thing.

So what if people could see her on television, at least she wouldn’t have to see them right? And if she could just hang in there for that prize then all her worries would be over.

"Tim, I’m telling you I’ll be fine. I just need to pack a few things, it says here I’m allowed one case of clothes, basic toiletries and one luxury item to keep me occupied. How bad could five weeks be? I’m sure it will fly by and that’s if I even make it that far along.

"According to the letter the first contestant will be voted out at the end of the first week, I might be back before you’ve even had a chance to miss me."

Tim’s reply was a heavy sigh. His sister was well known in their family for her stubborn streak, there really was no point in arguing when she got an idea in her head, no matter how ludicrous it was.

"Okay, okay." He held his hands up in mock surrender. "Just don't say I didn't try to talk you out of this when you're stuck in that house surrounded by weirdo’s and there's no escape.

"AND I'll make sure I tape every episode too so you can watch it all at home after they've evicted your grumpy ass."

He chuckled and avoided the playful punch aimed at his midsection. "Come on, I can at least help you pack" he said as Alex grinned in response.

***********************************************************************************

Jim Reynolds, the show’s ageing and stocky producer, glanced down at his watch for the fourth time in three minutes. Pulling the strings to bring the idea of "Its Only a Game Show" to life hadn’t been an easy task. It wasn’t like it was a tried and tested formula.

He knew in his heart that, with the right people on board, it would be a screaming success especially with a public that had developed a morbid fascination with television showcasing real life and real people in all their grotesque splendour.

Springer, Opra and Ricki Lake had just whetted the appetite of the nation in his eyes. Viewers were tuning in by the thousands to revel in the misery, despair and very occasionally joy of complete strangers from the comfort of their own sofa.

The format had worked, and worked well, for its current wooden presenters, bringing them and their respective shows’ notoriety the world over.

But now it was time to go one better and Jim knew he had just the presenter that would deliver his ‘new’ warts and all product.

It had taken some convincing on his part to get the bosses back at the network to share his enthusiasm. In fact, it was only after downgrading some of the financial conditions on his own contract that they agreed. But he knew he would prove them wrong.

Now that he had the network, and more importantly their cash, behind him the real work could begin.

Bringing Rachel on board was a masterstroke he thought, not that he would ever tell her that of course. Making her life hell was too much fun. No point in spoiling the game with genuine compliments.

She was young, fresh, vibrant and most importantly blonde. All the ingredients the camera loved. That wasn’t all though, there was something else about her that he hadn’t quite managed to put a finger on.

When he first spotted her fronting some cable travel show, she captured his attention immediately. Not just for her looks, or because he particularly cared about the enthusiasm she showed telling the wonders of Europe.

But because the air seemed to crackle around her. Although small and slight of build, Rachel O’Reilly carried with her a quiet strength and maturity beyond her years.

And it was that aura and presence that shone through every time she appeared on air.

Well, at least that was when she could get her ass to the set on time.

"WHERE THE HELL IS SHE??" he screamed at some hapless runner who made the mistake of being in Jim’s line of sight at exactly the wrong time.

"Uhhh makeup sir, I think, I mean, I’m pretty sure that’s where she is."

"Jesus fucking Christ! STILL!! How long does it take? It’s not like she has a hair down to her arse and a huge face to powder! I’ve known movie stars that can get ready in half as much time as it takes her," he ranted, too busy venting his fury at the pale young lad to notice Rachel walk nonciently up beside him.

"But would they look half as good?" she breathed in his ear, chuckling as he jumped at the sound of her voice.

***********************************************************************************

Jim whirled round, ready to vent his frustrations directly at their source.

"Are you trying to give me a fuckinh heart att….oh..whoa…uh….wow!" The producer’s jaw dropped and his anger faded as his eyes widened, taking in the vision standing in front of him.

Ohhhhh yeah, definitely the right decision he thought. Even if his gut feeling was wrong and the content of his show was a flop, this was the one reason that would keep viewers tuning in.

Her natural beauty had hit him straight away the moment he saw her face beaming out at him from his TV set. On a dodgy low budget cable show she was the only highlight. On a well-produced mainstream television programme she would be a star.

Her disarming smile, soft voice and gentle manner all combined with an almost hypnotic effect. Even the young lackey who had been shaking in fear moments earlier stood captivated.

Tailored shoulder length blonde hair framed her flawlessly made-up face perfectly. Jim slowly ran his eyes from the ground upwards, practically drinking in the sight that stood before him.

Classic heeled shoes gave way to toned sun-kissed legs. All those hours reviewing for the travel show obviously having some benefits.

Knees disappeared under a brown heavy suede skirt complete with revealing side spilt to mid thigh. The tails of a fitted burnt orange blouse swayed slightly as she walked across the floor, her green eyes shining out like a fox admiring the dawn.

"So when do they move in?"

"Huh?" mumbled Jim, missing her question completely. Rachel just rolled her eyes.

"Our guests, contestants, housemates, whatever you’re calling them. You signed up ten right? When do we get them?"

He coughed to clear his throat and lifted his eyes to meet her curious green gaze, trying to focus his mind back on the task at hand.

"Already have, this morning in fact. The house is all set up, two bedrooms, one for the girls, one for the guys. Then there is the living room, kitchen, bathroom and enclosed garden. No way out and best of all microphones and cameras EVERYWHERE," he beamed proudly.

It had taken several months of construction work but the game show house had surpassed all of his expectations and the technology installed was quite brilliant.

From the smallest of cameras in lights, mirrors and fans to undetectable waterproof ones in shower – each square centimetre of the building was covered, designed to monitor those inside every where and every second. There was nowhere was hidden from view, just as Jim had specified. That way he could be sure there would be no cheating and no scheming among the contestants.

Under the rules it was strictly forbidden for one or more housemates to conspire against another. And anyone found disclosing who they were voting up for removal, or encouraging others who to opt for, would be ejected from the house immediately, effectively ending their chance of the prize money.

"You’re a sick man Jim, but you pay well," laughed Rachel as she took his arm and let him lead her towards the main ‘Its Only a Game Show’ set.

Joking aside, it really wasn’t the money that had attracted Rachel to the project. Her curiosity was piqued as soon as her agent let her read a brief outline of the idea behind the show.

It was the first thing she had ever been offered that promised more than just using her as a robotic front with the sole focus of reading from a strategically placed auto cue.

She had been thirsty for a chance to show what she was truly capable for months now but every offer she received was the same stale format that had given her a start in this business. Now she wanted something more and she was counting on Jim to deliver it.

"Alright, here we have the main presentation area", he pointed to the corner of the studio that had been set up with two main brightly coloured sofa chairs, a table with accompanying water jug, and a huge eight foot show poster as the back drop. Several cameras on stands had already been assembled facing onto the set and all the lighting had been put in place.

"From here you’ll do the main introduction pieces, links between live footage and also interviews with those evicted. If everything goes to plan, in ten weeks time you’ll be sitting here with the show’s winner handing over a cheque for $100,000."

Rachel just nodded and whistled softly, trying to get a feel for her new workplace as Jim led her towards a silver door in the middle of the poster behind the two chairs.

"And here," he said, grinning and pausing for effect, "is where the real magic is going to happen."

***********************************************************************************

As they stepped inside Rachel blinked several times, adjusting her eyes to their new surroundings after leaving the bright artificial lighting of the main set.

"Holy Mary mother of God" she whispered, slowly exhaling the breath she wasn’t aware she had been holding.

"I feel like I’m in Star Trek."

Jim just chuckled and pulled out the chair in front of them, motioning for her to sit down.

The small room was a far cry from the bright colours and open space of their previous location. The walls were lined with TV screens, each showing images from the hundreds of cameras inside the game house. Every room was there for her to watch and she let her eyes wander over the various scenes.

Two men, one blonde haired the other dark, were arm-wrestling over the coffee table in the living room. Typical macho show of strength crap she thought to herself.

Another two were shaking hands in the male bedroom, while in the girls room she could see the backs of two contestants, one with long dark hair the other wild blonde curls, bent over half unpacked suitcases.

The screen below showed another three girls talking in the kitchen and on the next she could even make out a young black guy perched on the toilet in the bathroom. Rachel pulled a face. Eeeewww, that’s one wall I don’t want to be a fly on.

Eventually her eyes came to rest on the large black screen positioned directly in front of her.

"Why isn’t this one on?"

Jim crouched down beside her and flicked the monitor’s ‘POWER’ switch, waiting as the screen hummed to life.

"The only room that isn’t under constant surveillance is the Confession Room and that’s because it is kept locked most of the time."

Rachel giggled. "How wonderfully Catholic."

Jim frowned and motioned to the large control panel on the desk in front of her.

"You can only operate the lock on the door from here."

"Gotcha" she replied staring at the screen in front of her. All she could see was a tiny room with plain white walls and a large empty black reclining chair positioned close up to the camera.

"You know, this reminds me of that old TV show Mastermind. Do you remember?" she spun her chair round to face her producer.

"The one where people sat in that big black chair to answer really hard questions. And everytime the buzzer sounded the old host guy would say," Rachel lowered her voice for effect, "I’ve started so I’ll finish."

Jim coughed and counted to 10 in his head, then looked at her face and carried on to twenty.

"Sorry," mumbled Rachel, glancing away from his less than impressed expression. She looked down at her hands and then back to the screen.

"So what do all these other buttons do?"

His stoic expression softened as he watched the concentrated frown re-appear on her face.

"Alright kid, this is what you would basically call the nerve centre of the show," he explained.

"You’ll spend most of your time in here, more so than on the main set. That’s just for public show."

He lifted up a small headset and placed it snugly over her ears, pulling down the tiny attached microphone so it sat level with her lips.

"This button here," he pointed to one on the large control panel that sat in front of the monitor Rachel was gazing at, "is like, well, a sort of tannoy to the house.

"Press that and talk into the mic and everyone will hear you. You'll use it to call contestants to the confession room, announce the tasks and also announce the evictions.

"If we need you to make any group announcements, then you'll do it through this."

The blonde headed simply nodded, quietly absorbing all the new information.

"This one here," Jim pointed again, "locks and unlocks the confession room door. There's a buzzer in the house that contestants can press when they need entry to talk to you, or you can call them in through the tannoy if you want, otherwise it stays locked.

"It can only be opened by you or one of the show staff from here.

"The only other thing you need to know at this point is the record switch," he said motioning to the larger key and accompanying red light.

"Most of the time the camera in the confession room will record and monitor the events. But if any of those inside the house need personal help or advice either from you or from one the counsellors we have hired here for the duration of the show, then they are allowed some privacy.

"Just make sure you don't over use it though, the whole point of the game is to have their good, bad, embarrassing and tearful moments on TV okay?"

Rachel just nodded again, her brow furrowed in thought as her eyes roamed over the myriad of screens and controls now at her fingertips.

This is gonna be sooooo cool, she thought to herself.

I'll be part TV host, part psychotherapist. And it definitely sounds like just what I need to make it big in this business.

The hardest part is going to be getting these sheep to trust me, still mum always said I would be able to sell snow to the Eskimo’s if I put my mind to it. I'm sure I can talk a few money-hungry strangers round.

Besides the more they talk to me, the more exposure they'll have with the public. And convincing them is the only way to walk away with all the cash.

Jim looked up and caught the faraway expression on the young presenter’s face.

"Look, I know it looks complicated and a bit overwhelming at first but it's really quite simple. I'm sure you'll soon get the hang of it," he said squeezing her shoulder reassuringly.

"Stay here and have a play with everything for half an hour okay? Put the names to faces, get a basic first impression of them and then we’ll start the introductory read through.

"You won't be able to communicate with them until tomorrow, we want to give them 24 hours to adjust to their new surroundings, but you can watch for now. Once they are settled in and used to their new home, we will be able to advance to the next stage."

Rachel leaned back in her chair as Jim left her alone, the door clicking shut faintly behind him. She let her eyes wander slowly over the walls of the room again, shaking her head at the multitude of screens, blinking lights, cables and controls.

She whistled softly. "Jesus, would you look at this place? It's like the Tardis."

Her small hand reached forward to the control panel and, after fiddling around with several buttons and switches she soon discovered how to alternate between different camera views and even mastered the zoom commands.

Jim's was voice still echoing in her ears as she took her time focusing in on each of the contestants, trying to figure out who was who from the biographies she had read in preparation the night before.

They are practically going to be your children Rachel. You have to watch them closely, get to know them, find out what makes them tick. In return they need to learn to trust you.

You're voice will be the only contact they are going to have with the real world for the next two and a half months. They have to be comfortable talking to you, be able to confess how they feel.

You need to get them to confide in you. Trust me the viewers will love that.

And on the other hand you will be able to read their reactions. Be able to push the right buttons to liven things up in the house a little bit for the cameras if need be.

Rachel giggled to herself at the sight of one of the male contestants - a muscle-bound body builder called Mike she was sure - pick his nose and then carefully inspect the contents of his finger. I wonder if he knows we are watching them already? She thought to herself then laughed again. This is going to be so much fun.

Rachel grinned and switched to a different camera view. She leaned forward closer to the main screen, looking closely at two of the female contestants who seemed to be deep in conversation.

***********************************************************************************

"So let me get this right, you hate game show's, don't like people and are claustrophobic?" Laura, a cheery blonde with long, snaking curls asked her new roommate.

She plopped down on the bed next to the tall, dark-haired woman who was busy unpacking not quite believing her ears.

"I never said I was claustrophobic," Alex growled, growing more annoyed by the minute.

I've not even been in here a day and already they are driving me up the wall, she thought to herself. Tim was right. This was SO not a good idea. There's no way I'm gonna make it for one week, never mind ten, without killing someone.

Dressed in a pair of black denim Calvin’s that cut low to her hips and hugged her long slim legs, heeled black boots and a white v-necked tee shirt, Alex’s imposing frame towered over that of her smaller bubbly companion.

"Uh, yeah sure," said Laura. "That’s why your face turned white whenever our hosts locked us in here and you’ve been fidgety ever since. I’d say that was class A standard claustrophobia."

"Really?" drawled Alex sarcastically. "Well I don’t remember asking for your expert opinion. Don’t you have to unpack or something?"

"Lucky for you I'm all finished huh? I thought I'd take sometime to get to know my new friends. Don't mind do you?"

Alex’s dark eyebrow practically shot above her forehead at the use of the word ‘friends’, she looked skyward. Lord, what did I do to deserve this? On second thoughts, noooo don't answer that.

"Lucky me," she mumbled turning back to her case and pulling out the few remaining items of clothing she had been allowed to bring with her.

Laura looked around for a conversation starter.

"Nice guitar," she said spotting the obviously well looked after acoustic instrument that had been carefully laid across the pillow.

"Thanks." answered Alex, not even looking up.

"You play much?"

"Yes."

"Write your own material?"

"Yeah"

Laura frowned. "Do you always reply to questions with a one word answer?"

"Not always," Alex couldn't help but grin.

"Jesus you’re hard work, anybody ever tell you that?"

Alex didn't bother to answer, truth be known she was rather enjoying being the cause of the growing frustration that was evident across her housemate’s once smiling features.

"Soooo," Laura sighed, trying to plot a way to get Alex to open up a little. "Out of everyone in here, you are the last one I've talked to.

"I guess that means I have the low-down on all of the competition huh? I’m just a mind of information really."

Alex paused and turned her head. "But I can see you’d rather be alone," continued a smirking Laura. "So maybe I’ll just leave you to it. Yeah, I think I’ll umm just go make some coffee or something. Want me to get you one?"

She uncrossed her legs and began to rise slowly, her eyes dancing mischievously in Alex’s direction.

Her near-silent companion knitted her brows together and sighed. Dammit, she mentally berated herself for giving in so easily.

"Okay I'll bite, tell me about the rest. What are they like?"

***********************************************************************************

Rachel yawned and pulled off her headset just as Georgia, make-up girl extraordinaire and her closest friend, stuck a dishevelled head around the door.

"Jim's been called into a meeting with some marketing exec over the adverts for the show, seems they're not what studio management had planned.

"Anyway, it means your read-through has been put back until morning so we can all head home, yayyy-oooooh," she caught a glimpse of the screen.

"Is that thing live? Are those the poor souls that have to take orders from you for the next ten weeks?"

Rachel stuck out her tongue.

"Not quite George, but yes that’s them. Ten money hungry punters all willing to sell ten week’s of their lives for 100,000."

"Sounds cool, but something tells me you don't approve.

"Not really up to me is it?," replied the host. "Besides, I'm not exactly in a position to complain, after all their actions are paying my wages.

"All I know is that I’m glad I’m up here and not one of the ones locked down in that house fighting it out to be the winner, it all sounds a bit mercenary. Somehow I think I got the best part of the deal."

George slapped her playfully on the back. "Course you bloody did!"

"You get me, not just your favourite pal, but the best in the business when it comes to hiding hangover evidence from the camera to look after you."

Rachel stood up and stretched her tired arms over her head, wincing as her shoulder popped.

"George, as much as I love you and appreciate your talents, I have to point out that you are usually the cause of the majority of my hangovers."

"The cause? Moi? No, no, no sweetie," her friend replied, waggling her index finger. "Alcohol is the cause, I’m simply the catalyst."

Rachel laughed and rolled her eyes. "Same thing."

"S’not" her friend shot back indignantly. "Besides, even if it is, it certainly sounds better. Now c’mon since I’m so good to you you can give me a lift home."

Georgia waited a beat then smiled at Rachel, brown eyes twinkling. "Fancy stopping for a drink on the way?"

Several hours later and a rather drunk Rachel was stabbing her key into the front door of her apartment, chipping off a small piece of wood in the process.

One quick drink had turned into ten at Georgia's insistence and a few free happy hour cocktails had been thrown in by the friendly bar staff for good measure. Rachel's car had been abandoned in town as the swaying pair hailed a cab home with the driver dropping a blurry eyed, singing Georgia off on the way.

The dizzy presenter groaned and squinted her eyes, trying to focus her energy on finding the lock. Task complete at the eighth attempt she stumbled forward and staggered towards the bedroom, falling face-first onto her waiting bed with as much grace as a recently lumbered tree, not even bothering to remove her clothes.

***********************************************************************************

Inside the game house on the other side of town a very sober and very much awake Alex lay in darkness under the fresh plain sheets of her single bed in the girl's shared room.

She stretched her hands up behind her head and stared at the ceiling trying to block out the heavy breathing and annoying snores that were drifting to her ears from across the room.

As the day had worn on she had grown more and more restless, despite Laura's kind attempts to keep her amused with all the latest gossip on her fellow contestants.

She thought of her home, the quiet peacefulness that came with living alone and the breathtaking night time view she had of the skyline. How she wished she could be there at that moment, sitting on her wide windowsill with her feet propped up and a cup of steaming black coffee in her hand.

She had lost count of the number of nights she had spent in that spot, just thinking and staring out at the moon until it’s comforting glow had been replaced by the welcome warmth of the morning sun.

Now here she was, stuck for goodness knows how long, in a situation that was entirely her own stupid doing. With no Tim to talk or turn to when things got unbearable, as she was sure they inevitably would. She hadn’t actually realised how much she had grown to rely on her brother since their mother had died six months ago but now it was slowly sinking in.

What would her mother think of all this? Alex could almost hear her soft gentle laughter reverberating around the room.

"Alex Connor! Would you look at yourself!

When I said get in the bath I meant for you to get undressed first! Dear God girl."

Angela Connor stood over the bemused five-year-old who had been splashing away quite happily in the tub before her mother came in. She couldn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about. Mom had run her a bath because she got her new clothes dirty from playing outside.

In Alex’s simple young mind all she was doing was washing herself and washing her clothes at the same time. The plan had been to make her mother happy by showing her how clever she was, but somehow she had a feeling things had not quite panned out the way she had hoped.

Angela looked down at her daughter’s innocent expression and couldn’t hold back the laughter. A confused frown appeared on Alex’s face as she watched the blue dye from her navy outfit drip from her body and pollute the clear clean water.

When she looked back up there were tears running from her mother’s eyes.

"Momma don’t cry. I was only trying to be good, honest I was." The young child sniffed and wiped her runny nose with her hand, smearing a blue dye moustache across her face and causing her mother to laugh even harder.

"Sweetie I’m not crying because I’m sad" Her mother reassured her, trying hard to catch her breath. "Sometimes people cry when they are happy too, and you and your brother both make me very happy. You can drive me crazy, but you can always make me happy."

She lifted her daughter from the bathtub, draining the dyed water away and running a fresh clean bath, bubbles and all.

After peeling off Alex’s damp clothing, she helped her back into the tub.

"Now you get washed properly while I go clean these clothes right. Just yell if you need me."

And with that she was gone, the sound of her laughter carrying to Alex’s ears as she made her way downstairs to the washing machine with the damp bundle.

Alex felt her eyes filling with water. Yelling doesn’t work anymore does it momma?

Suddenly aware of her surroundings she stubbornly fought back the urge to cry.

There was no way she was risking waking any of the others, and she had no intentions of letting them think she was weak. All she would have to do was stay calm, stay cold and stay quiet and hopefully she would get through the show okay.

She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes, whispering the same silent prayer she had every night since she was a little girl, not forgetting the new additional line at the end.

Goodnight momma, don’t forget I love you.

***********************************************************************************

"AGAIN!" yelled Jim as Rachel stumbled over what was a relatively easy line. It was her fourth read through attempt of the morning and, although she was getting progressively better with each take, she was still a long way from nailing it the way her producer wanted her to.

The blonde presenter’s head was pounding and her mouth felt like it had been filled with sand. I could kill Georgia. She thought to herself. Definitely. A long, slow, painful death. I haven’t felt this bad in ages, God I must be getting old.

Rachel swallowed, raised her head to the camera and forced a smile before starting her lines over again.

After two more hours without a break even Jim could see his presenter was definitely wilting. He could spot a hangover easily and, despite having more than enough footage already, he had made her carry on for the last 40 minutes out of badness. To her credit though, she hadn’t complained or argued once but had carried out his every request without question. Not something he was used to when dealing with regular ‘stars’ and their over-inflated egos.

"Alright people, that’ll do us for now. Let’s break for lunch," Jim announced much to the small presenters’ relief.

As the crew around him filtered out of the studio, the producer walked over to Rachel who was now sitting down clutching a bottle of Evian in a shaky right hand.

"If you insist on coming onto my set with a hangover, I will punish you for it," he said, rather more firmly than he had intended.

She looked up to argue but knew she didn’t really have a case.

" Jim, nothing you could say will make me feel any worse than I already do. Trust me on that. It won’t happen again."

"Make sure it doesn’t," he replied. "I need you at your best to pull this off Rachel. I’m relying on you." His expression turned sympathetic and he smiled softly. "Look, go get yourself something to eat, it will make you feel better. We’ve got more work to do this afternoon and luckily for you it’s just your voice we need. You’re going to be in the command centre talking to the contestants one on one okay?"

Rachel nodded and smiled at her boss. Well that could have been worse. "That I can do. Thanks Jim."

Two greasy bacon sandwiches, a litre of mineral water and an hour later saw Rachel feeling much more like her old self. Lunch with Georgia had lifted her mood somewhat. She didn’t think it would have been possible to find someone who felt worse than she did that morning but the usually bubbly make-up girl had proved her wrong.

One look at what Rachel had ordered from the café had poor Georgia running for the bathroom with her hand over her mouth much to her friend’s amusement. Serves her right for ordering us tequila giggled Rachel as the sick feeling that had been hovering over her all morning lifted.

After lunch she made her way to the command centre and flicked the power switch to the main screen monitor, waiting patiently for it to come to life.

Pulling on the headset she reacquainted herself with the controls she had been practising on the day before and began looking over the script instructions that lay before her. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Okay Rach, here goes nothing...

***********************************************************************************

Alex sat on the house sofa plucking absentmindedly at the strings of her guitar and warily watching her fellow competitors out the corner of her eye.

Laura had been talked into trying her hand at yoga by Carolyn – an overly cheery New Age American who had earlier tried to convince Alex that meditation and mental healing would be good for her soul. A soundless glare from those no-nonsense blues had soon convinced her otherwise and poor Laura had been roped in instead.

Alex was struggling to keep a straight face while watching her self-proclaimed friend sitting on the floor trying to place her left ankle behind her neck. How that could stimulate 'those, like, happy vibes' she'd never know.

Suddenly she felt her the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. She was being watched, she could feel it, and not only by the multitude of cameras either. She slowly turned her head to find Claire, a tall stern-looking woman with dirty blonde hair, brown at the roots, and even darker eyes glaring at her menacingly.

"There something I can do for you?" Alex asked politely, keeping her anger at this woman’s blatant rudeness in check.

"Yeah," Claire replied pushing her body from its resting place against a nearby doorframe and strolling towards the young musician, "as a matter of fact there is."

Alex affected a bored expression and watched her approach the sofa.

"Entertain me," said Claire looking down on the seated Alex.

"Scuse me?"

"You’ve been sitting there all morning with that thing on your lap barely playing anything that resembles a tune. Everyone has to contribute something to the house and somehow I doubt yours will be your dazzling personality.

"So do something useful," the older woman crossed her arms and raised her voice slightly, "and entertain me."

Laura stopped, holding her leg in mid air. Carolyn picked up on the tension too and watched quietly, as did the other contestants that were scattered around the large living room, all aware of the new uncomfortable atmosphere that had descended upon the house.

The only two left smiling were Claire, all be it sadistically, and the blonde-haired Lea who had just come in from the enclosed garden, waiting for Alex’s response with interest.

The young guitarist remained silent, her face burning with anger and her jaw clenched tightly shut. She was determined not to give into the older woman’s taunts even though her hands were shaking with the desire to jump up and grab Claire by the throat.

"What’s wrong? You only perform for paying customers’ or something?" Claire leered, her eyes drifting slowly down the younger woman’s body making Alex visibly squirm in her seat.

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, before looking backup at her aggressive housemate, shaking her head and exhaling slowly.

"Claire, to be perfectly honest, no matter how much you’re paying, most people just don’t have standards that low," said Alex, smiling as falsely and sweetly as she could manage.

Claire sucked in a breath and her face clouded over with rage, but before she could respond Rachel’s pleasant voice filled the air, cutting through the intense atmosphere much to the other contestants’ relief.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking..."

Stephen, an attractive African-born lad who had been watching the scenario unfolding between the two women chuckled softly.

"...Sorry to interrupt your fun but would Claire please make her way to the Confession Room. You’ll all be called in one by one throughout the day. Thank you."

"I won’t forget that" muttered Claire, glaring angrily at Alex.

"Remember it, write it down, take a picture. I don't give a fuck" growled the dark-haired guitarist in return as Claire turned on her heel and stalked off towards the Confession Room.

Alex in turn got up from her seat and stormed into the girls’ empty shared room, slamming the door shut behind her.

Laura rose too and followed the dark-haired woman, limping slightly from over-stretching under-used muscles. She found a brooding Alex lying on the bed staring at the ceiling with her hands behind her head and approached her tentatively.

"Uh you okay?"

"Go away" mumbled Alex quietly.

"Alex..." began Laura softly.

"I SAID GO AWAY." she snapped, making Laura jump at the loudness of her voice and turn towards the door.

"I only wanted to check if you were okay, why don’t you stop trying so hard to hate everyone," her housemate whispered sadly over her shoulder before leaving Alex alone in the bedroom with her thoughts.

***********************************************************************************

Rachel watched Mike, the eighth contestant she had spoken to that afternoon, leave the confession room. She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose, deciding that she needed a five-minute break before calling in the remaining two.

This was supposed to be the exciting part she thought to herself. So far all the blonde presenter had been faced with were both twitchy and nervous contestants like Stephen, Philipe, Dwayne and Carolyn or over arrogant and mildly annoying individuals like Claire, Mike, Joel and Lea.

Still at least Philipe had been entertaining, and she was hopeful his camp as knickers persona would add a touch of flavour to the house as time wore on.

Rachel glanced down at the sheets of white paper in her hand. Just Alex and Laura to go and then she could call it a day. C'mon Rach, may as well get it over with, she tried to motivate herself. Let’s get tall, dark and grumpy over with first.

She called Alex in over the microphone and didn't even look up as the brooding contestant entered the room. Rachel read out the first question from her instruction papers in a bored voice while picking at the chipped polish on her fingernails.

"You've had your first night in the show house Alex, how are you settling in?"

She waiting patiently for the same stream of mundane answers that had graced the lips of the dark-haired woman's competitors and mimicked them in her mind, "great, fine, not too bad, it's okay so far."

Alex stared straight into the large black camera lens in front of her and quirked a wry grin.

"I feel like a trapped extra on the Truman Show and you have NO idea how much I hated that movie."

Rachel's eyes widened in surprise and she lifted her head to look at the screen, only to find herself caught in a hypnotic blue gaze.

Several moments passed before Rachel realised that Alex was sitting waiting patiently for her to speak again. She shook her head, trying to regain her concentration, and sat up intrigued.

"You know you can leave anytime you want to."

"I know."

"Then why don't you?" queried the presenter expecting to hear a capitalistic reply relating to the amount of prize money on offer to the last remaining survivor in the show.

Alex glanced down at the floor and thought for a moment before looking back up at the camera through her lengthening dark bangs.

"Honestly?"

"Of course."

"My brother would kill me."

Rachel couldn't stop the chuckle that escaped her throat and she smiled her first genuine smile of the day. However her laughing fit was cut short when she saw a look of hurt flash across Alex’s face.

The taller woman got up from her chair quickly and turned to leave.

"Sorry, I’m sorry. Don’t go Alex… please," pleaded the presenter, hurriedly composing herself.

Alex stopped with her hand on the door handle and moved slowly back to the large chair, her face flushed.

"I’m sorry," continued Rachel. "Really, I am. I wasn’t laughing at you I promise."

"Then why?" prompted the embarrassed musician with a confused frown on her face.

"Let’s just say its answer I least expected," she replied and Alex nodded in quiet understanding.

Rachel waited for Alex to elaborate on her earlier statement but the dark-haired woman just sat quiet, eventually forcing the presenter to break the silence once again.

"So what does your brother have to do with this?"

Alex grinned recalling Tim’s reaction to her coming on the show in the first place.

"Well he thinks I’m mad for being here for one. But even though he hated the idea I know for a fact that he would hate it more if I quit.

Alex paused and ran her hand through her hair nervously. "He has never let me give up on anything, not from a game of chess to high school math.

"If I lose, I lose knowing I gave it my best shot but I’ll never quit. Even when we were young he would always say to me ‘causes are only lost when people give up.’"

Rachel smiled fondly. "Wow. He must be some brother."

"He is," replied Alex.

Her smile faded away to a pained expression as she whispered a barely audible "he’s all I have left."

Jim’s words still echoed in Rachel’s mind and she considered pushing the contestant further on the subject but the sad blue eyes on the screen in front of her made her hastily change her mind.

I'll have to re-check her biography later, she thought. Time for a subject change.

"So what's your opinion of Claire?"

Alex cocked her head to the side and raised a dark eyebrow.

"You are obviously referring to earlier."

Rachel smiled. Busted.

"Well?"

Alex simply shrugged. "She’s trouble. And I don’t think she likes me very much."

"No wonder, you didn't exactly miss her and hit the wall did you?"

Alex chuckled, "I have no idea what you just said."

Rachel grinned. "Sorry, sometimes people wish I came with a translator. I meant to say you certainly put her in her place."

"Yeah, I guess so. She asked for it. Somehow I don’t think it’s over though."

Good, that will keep Jim happy for now, thought the presenter.

"I wouldn’t worry about it too much Alex. Just remember, if you don’t have enemies, you don’t have character."

"Is that your own personal mantra?" joked the contestant.

"Not quite, let’s just say it’s something I’ve learned from this business," said Rachel hoping Alex wouldn’t ask her to explain further.

She reluctantly glanced down at her watch and raised her eyebrows in surprise when she realised the time.

She had spent almost twice as long talking to Alex than any of the other contestants in the show.

Reluctantly she brought the conversation to a close, thanking Alex for being so candid and saying she would talk to her again soon.

Alex just smiled and stood to leave, affording Rachel a full-length view of the contestants lithe form that she couldn’t help but gaze at.

"Could you ask Laura to come in please," Rachel croaked out, wondering why her mouth suddenly seemed so dry.

Well that wasn’t as painful as I’d imagined, thought Alex as she strolled across the living room smiling to herself.

"You’re on," she said grinning and winking at Laura as the bubbly blonde made her way towards the confession room.

Wow, I wonder what put a smile on her face. That’s the most relaxed she’s looked since she got here, pondered Laura as she entered the room and closed the door behind her

***********************************************************************************

The next week passed reasonably quietly for the contestants. The seven-day amnesty had been planned to give them a little time off air to spend getting used to the house and their new companions before having the added worry of being broadcast live to millions of greedy viewers.

Rachel had spoken briefly to Alex and the other contestants, keeping updated on their progress and preparing them for the show’s official live launch at prime time on Friday evening. As the day drew nearer she found herself getting more and more nervous, more so than any of the contestants she was sure.

Georgia had been trying admirably to keep her spirits up but her crisis of confidence continued unabated. Live TV was so different from the pre-recorded shows she had worked on in the past.

What if she forgot her lines? What if she messed up on air? It wasn’t like they could just bin the footage and start over. This was real. This was live. And there was no room for error.

Every time Rachel thought about it her stomach filled with knots. She’d been on such a high when she accepted the job believing she was, not only the freshest, but most talented presenter available. However, the gritty reality was beginning to sink in and Rachel had almost convinced herself that she’d probably only been picked out because she was still relatively unknown and therefore the cheapest.

All it would take to ruin her dreams of a bright prosperous career was one howler, or so her insecurities told her.

Thursday had already come far too fast for her liking and she found herself counting down the hours until her skills as a presenter would be put to the ultimate test with dread.

She had been frantically trying to grab breaks in between meetings and briefings with the director and producers all day to learn her lines and was growing more and more flustered with each interruption.

Even Georgia had picked up on her tension as she was checked over by makeup and wardrobe and kept uncharacteristically quiet as her friend concentrated on the task ahead.

Rachel had eventually made her way into the quiet surroundings of the control room and was sitting listening to the quiet hum of all the high-tech machinery around her.

She took a deep breath and booted up the main screen, getting ready to give the contestants their final instructions before the show’s big launch.

Bodybuilder Mike was first on her list and he swaggered towards the room confidently when she summoned him.

"Hey gorgeous," he drawled. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Rachel rolled her eyes. Christ, he thinks he’s God’s gift…

"Just a quick check-up Mike, any pre-performance nerves? ? Do you think the contestants are ready?""

He laughed out loud, lent back in the chair and consciously widened his legs affording Rachel a view she really didn’t care for.

"Dunno about the others, but I’m good to go babes, ready when you are," he said loudly, winking at the camera.

The presenter almost gagged. I’m SO not in the mood for this.

She bit down on her tongue to prevent herself from making a smart remark that would only get her in trouble with Jim and the others.

Deciding it was best to move on, she quickly reinforced the larger man’s knowledge of the game rules and brought the conversation to a halt, sticking her tongue out at the screen as he rose to leave.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, wishing the weekend would hurry up and arrive so her first-time nerves would be over and done with.

Rachel glanced down at the paper in front of her and realised Alex was up next. Her lips formed a tiny smile and she reached for the microphone to call the tall woman in.

Maybe this will cheer me up, she thought.

Alex entered the room and sat down quietly, her back straight and her shoulders tense. She stared blankly ahead and waited. Rachel picked up on her nervousness straight away.

"I don’t bite you know," her voice carried through the speaker system to the surprised contestant. Alex smiled and let her shoulders relax a little.

"I’m not good at talking to people I can’t see," she replied honestly.

"Not much I can do about that I’m afraid," apologised the presenter. "Rules are rules."

"Yeah, I guess."

"So are you nervous about the show going live tomorrow," ventured Rachel trying to stick to her task.

Alex shrugged. "Not really. We’re all in this together and most of the time we forget that the cameras are there because they are so well hidden. Anyway, I’ve had a week to get used to the idea."

"So it’s just me then?"

"Sorry?" said Alex, not quite understanding.

"That makes you nervous," explained Rachel.

Alex suddenly started coughing furiously and Rachel tried not to laugh at the startled look on the contestant’s face, remembering all too well the effect her laughing had during their previous conversation. She hastily decided to move on and not embarrass the woman further.

"Anyway, um, what I’m trying to find out is how you think you’ll cope for the next 10 weeks knowing that millions of people, not to mention the media, will be watching every move you make. Does that bother you at all?"

"Well it didn’t until you put it like that," replied Alex. "You almost sound like you are trying to make us nervous. Are you?"

"No, not at all. I just wondered if you had given much thought to all those people," answered Rachel quickly.

Alex sat up in her chair with interest. "Not really, but it sounds like you have. Um, what about you? Are you scared?"

The presenter’s whispered answer slipped out before she could think to stop it. "I’m terrified."

Alex’s eyes widened incredulously, "Of what?"

"Nothing. It’s silly," said Rachel, regretting mentioning her fears in the first place.

"C’mon. If I have to promise to be honest with you about my emotions for the next 10 weeks, the least you can do is afford me the same courtesy."

Rachel stared at the concerned expression on the face that was visible on the screen in front of her and thought for a minute. What the hell, it’s not like we’re recording…

"Well, it’s just, I don’t want to fail," she mumbled quietly.

"Who does? I certainly don’t."

"I know, but I’ve got a helluva lot more to lose than you."

"Ha! I wouldn’t be so sure. 100,000 is a pretty hefty sum to miss out on."

Rachel frowned. "Yeah, well there’s more than money at stake for some of us."

"Oh yeah? Like what?" inquired the contestant.

"Like what?? Like a reputation, a career, a future!"

Alex raised a dark eyebrow. "So you’re scared that if you mess up it will be a ‘you’ll never work in this town again’ kind of response?"

"Something like that," replied Rachel quietly looking down at her hands, surprised at how easily she was finding it to open up to a perfect stranger.

Still, there was something about the darker woman that made her feel at ease. She couldn’t quite explain it, had they met before maybe? Surely she would have remembered.

Alex’s soothing tone interrupted her musings.

"You need to stop worrying about the bigger picture. You’ll drive yourself mad otherwise."

Rachel sighed. "Tell me something I don’t know. It’s just not that easy."

"Sure it is. Look, you need to break it down." She paused. "First you concentrate on turning up to work on time. Then you concentrate on getting through whatever your first task is, getting your lines right or whatever. Once you’ve got that down, then you can focus on what comes next.

"Don’t worry about the whole day or the whole week or even the whole show, just take it hour by hour. Am I making sense?"

"I think so," replied Rachel thoughtfully, digesting the taller woman’s advice.

"There’s an old saying," continued Alex. "Take care of the little problems and…"

"The big problems will take care of themselves?" finished the presenter.

A broad grin lit up Alex’s face. "Exactly! If you break your challenges up into small pieces, they won’t seem so overwhelming."

The contestant’s dark hair fell gently over her shoulders and framed her face as she sat back in her chair triumphantly and Rachel suddenly became conscious of the fact that she was staring.

She found something else to look at, picking up the data sheets on her lap and putting them back in order.

The presenter cleared her throat. "Umm, I’ll try to do that. One step at a time right?"

"Right. That is my plan for in here. No reason why it can’t work for you too I guess."

"No, I guess not," said Rachel smiling back at Alex’s face on screen.

She turned her head, hearing a soft knock on the door. She shook her head and grinned as she caught sight of Georgia’s inquisitive face pressed up against the circular window.

Rachel held up both her palms and mouthed "ten minutes" before turning back to the screen and her mic.

"Alex I have to go. Best of luck tomorrow okay."

The contestant nodded and smiled. "Same to you."

Rachel hesitated, suddenly feeling a little awkward with the situation. "Look, I’d umm appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to anyone. We’re not recording right now."

Alex was surprised at this revelation but kept her face placid. "Hey, no need to ask, your secret is safe with me," she said rising out of her chair.

"Alex," said Rachel quietly as the contestant made her way to the exit. The dark-haired woman turned, "yeah?"

"Thanks" said Rachel sincerely. "I really appreciate… umm… you know."

The contestant just winked and whispered "your welcome" before ducking out the door.


Tbc…

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