The Badlands

I told myself I was going to get out. It was a refrain I’d sung before, but this time I belted it out with drunk-karaoke-at-4am conviction. Not even six months ago I was so deep in the hole they were starting to shovel dirt on me. But I bided my time. Played the angles. Next thing you knew, I was stepping out onto fresh earth – the living dead. The ground was level and all things considered, I was square. I was free to go.

But where? And with what? When you don’t have answers to those questions, it’s tough to feel alive.

All I needed was one big score. One final hit to answer one of those questions, grease the wheels and give me a push in the right direction.

It couldn’t have turned out better if I planned it. Two crazy bitches dueling it out in the Badlands like a pair of homesteaders staking their claim. Only one would take that helicopter ride back to what passes for civilization in Deadwood, South Dakota. The other would – walk? Take some sort of off-roading device? The show wasn’t entirely clear about that, but it didn’t need to be.

There were only nine crazies left this week, and we’d passed the half-way point in the episode, meaning one of them had already gone on the one-on-one date and acquired that ill-gotten rose. It’s like a goddamn handout. All you have to do on that date is not be a crazy bitch and you’re safe until next week. One of those girls made that mistake this season – one. I’d bet my bottom dollar we won’t see that again. At least not until next season.

I went to the Big Board. There was still money to be made on in-game action. This is the week where it heats up, when we get the two-on-ones. Two girls on a date with the Main Man. One gets a rose. The other goes home. At this point in the season it’s where almost all the action goes. I put up odds on the remaining girls from the group date, but they never get a lot of play at this point except from the novices and thrill seekers. They don’t have real dollars to move, anyhow. They’re just in it for a few cheap thrills, only betting enough to say they did it – impress their friends around the water cooler on Tuesday morning.

So it all comes down to this. Ashley I. – the second best virgin on the show – against Kelsey, maybe the second-best sociopath on the show.

That’s not fair – she is the best. Ashley S. was a psychopath, Kelsey’s the only true sociopath. Ashley S. would say shit about being able to see angels dancing in your teeth and asking if you could feel their heartbeat before running off into the dark, not caring if you followed. Kelsey, on the other hand, flippantly tells the story about her dead husband then has a conveniently-timed panic attack an hour later, using the calamity to get a little more face time with the man of the hour so she can discuss the rose ceremony before casually bringing up the authenticity of the brownies that were recently served. She’s cunning, but America doesn’t want cunning, it wants honesty. So it’s only fitting that it got a freelance journalist who aspires to be a Disney princess and is currently pretending to be a Kardashian. It couldn’t have worked out better if I’d planned it.

At the Big Board, cigarette in my mouth and chalk in hand, my brain was busy making sums over the course of the commercial break. In reality, I saw Ashley I. going home 60 times out of a 100 and Kelsey 40 times, but those odds are laughable: 2-to-3 and 3-to-2 respectively. That’s a fair line in terms of percentages, which means it’d make me a sucker. There was a right way to play it and a wrong way to play it, but I said fuck it and played it my way.

I gave Ashley I. even money – nobody was going to bet on her at 2-to-3 – and Kelsey…Kelsey I gave 10 to 1. I bit down hard on the filter and knew all my old bosses would have beat me senseless merely at hearing the notion, but I was already there. Kelsey was too smart, she was more like a 20% shot to go home. I’d back that horse. Everyone who was even remotely out on America’s Widow jumped at the opportunity to profit off her departure, and the ones who were on the fence saw easy money.  When I posted Kelsey at 10:1 on Twitter, bets came pouring in through the offshore service. It went exactly as planned. When all was said and done the action was eight grand on Ashley I., and four stacks of high society, thanks to a couple major bets, on Kelsey. “All bets are off,” I wrote, breathing a sigh of relief as I clicked Tweet. I traded the old cigarette for another and waited.

It played out beautifully. Ashley I., dumb, dependable Ashley I., led with a not-so-thinly veiled (read: direct) shit-talking campaign against Kelsey to Mr. Man – this was after she did her best impression of one of those face-sucker creatures in Aliens. She doesn’t have many moves, so I considered it pretty ballsy of her to bring both of them out at once.

That gave way to Chris throwing Ashley I. under the bus, though at least confronting Kelsey directly about the accusations that she was alienating the girls in the house. Frankly, those tactics should be the name of the game. I don’t know why these girls are operating under the pretense that they’re friends. A buddy of mine and I were both dating the same girl at one point. We didn’t stay buddies very long. We didn’t have an unlimited supply of white wine, though.

And the showdown we had was a far cry from the showdown of the century of the week that those two ladies had. When it comes to the biggest fights in my life, I hope I get to have them sitting on a four-post bed in the middle of the Badlands with a camera crew fifteen feet away televising it to America. Some weird, nonsensical things were said that I couldn’t quite follow. Ashley I. referenced the movie Pleasantville, which is odd considering – as far as I know – even the people who were in Pleasantville try not to reference Pleasantville. But, considering it wasn’t a reference to a Disney movie, I considered it progress on ABC’s part. She eventually stormed off in tears. I poured myself a glass of Johnny Walker Blue. Thirty-two large isn’t enough to start a life on, but it’ll certainly help get you there.

I savored the drink. It was well earned. I toasted Ashley I. as she went down in a flaming, combustible mass of beauty products, grasping at straws to bring down anyone around her as she went (taking a particularly nice swipe at Britt as she went. The Hollywood waitress – who may or may not have been serving said tables at a strip-club, it’s tough to tell – was 25-to-1 for an exit this week before she got immunity. I see those odds plummeting in the near future). Ashley I. sobbed and sobbed, reaching the breakdown quota she’d guaranteed the producers on day 1 of filming. I traded the cigarette for a cigar and lit up.

The Big Guy, with the goddamnit-can’t-a-guy-just-drink-in-peace-in-the-desert look that accompanies any trip to a biome consisting of arid climates and clay soil, was marching off for another encounter. I thought nothing of it. I was too busy squaring funds away on the system, taking gigantic, king of New York puffs from my hand-rolled Churchill.

Then I saw it. And I knew I was fucked.

A 25k bet on Kelsey, courtesy of user “Jimmy the Geek.”

I looked to the TV as tears were welling up, both in her eyes and mine. Chris, that corn-pone half-wit, was cutting her loose, flying back to thriving Deadwood in the peace and goddamn quiet of what would now be a private helicopter ride.

Both of them. The goddamn pair. I had to pay out all of it. At odds.

Cut to commercial. Sure enough there was Jimmy, smugly announcing that he was going to have one of the losers of that week’s episode on his show that evening. He winked at the camera with that goddamn twinkle in his eye he always got when he was saying, “Fuck you, Jackson. Pay up.”

That son of a bitch.

I poured the rest of the Johnny back into the bottle and switched to Listerine. Because just like that, I went from being up thirty-two thousand to down four hundred grand. The pittance of bets that came in on the field cleared because there was no goddamn rose ceremony. People will cry foul, but those odds are week to week. Maybe I’ll massage the numbers a bit and give them a chance to win it back before the start of the next episode, but not without high risk to the bettors. The Geek didn’t get to where he is by being lenient about payments – and I didn’t sniff the fresh air of freedom only to get locked in the shit-house again. It’s a whole new game next week; somebody’s going home – and you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be there to make a profit off it.

Like I’ve always said about this game: I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make dollars.

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