“You nervous, Elo?” asked the gentle voice, laughter laced in the words. Elo relaxed her leg, suddenly hyper-aware of the sound of creaking wicker it caused from bouncing.
“I guess so,” she answered sheepishly. Chuck, from behind the camera, flashed her a thumbs up. Showtime. Finally got to use that previously-useless theatre degree. Elo returned the thumbs up. “We’re ready, Grace.”
“Do you have your talking points?” asked the blonde as she approached the font of the camera with a clap board. Elo nodded, but looked straight ahead into the lens of the camera. It was hard to look anywhere else, with the bright LED lights all pointing to her and the straw wall backdrop.
“Camera rolling; audio rolling,” Chuck announced. “Good to go, Grace.”
“Thanks.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and positioned the clapper right in front of Elo’s face. “Alright. This is Introduction to Ellie, Take One.” With a sharp snap, she shut the board and stepped away to stand beside Chuck.
Elo pursed her lips and sucked in a deep breath. She plastered on a big smile, a little crooked on purpose, and waited for Grace to call for “Action.”
On cue, Elo began: “Hi, I’m Ellie, and I’m a project manager for a large entertainment company.” She dropped her head just a little. “At least, that’s what I’ll be telling the other contestants.”
Grace shook her head. “Cut!” After fixing the clapper board to reflect the newest take, she approached Elo with it. “Let’s do it again. This time, try a sweeter approach, then turn a little mischievous. Okay? Try to be Ellie for the first bit. Then, take a breath, we’ll have music or whatever, then spill the beans.”
Elo took a finger to the corner of her lips to check her lipstick, make sure it wasn’t smudging, but nodded when Grace set up the shot again. Her makeup was fine, her hair was fine. Grace would have stopped the shot if something was off. After Grace called the shot number, Elo looked up.
“Wait, is this before or after the real intro?”
“After. Show premise, contestants, then you, with the twist. Got it?” Elo nodded. “Okay. Action.”
Elo sat up a little straighter, rolled her shoulders back, and added a bit more of a bounce to her personality, both in fluttering her lashes a bit more, and keeping her smile straighter. Friendly. Outgoing. That was supposed to be Ellie’s major pull to the contestants: a real lovely person you could talk to any time. Smiles a lot, jokes a lot, trustworthy. After a quick breath, Elo squared herself with the camera again.
“Hi. I’m Ellie, a project manager for a large entertainment company.” She waited until Grace gestured for her to keep going, then leaned back in her wicker chair a bit more, settling in. “At least, that’s what I’ll be telling the other contestants.” A thumbs up from Grace. “My real name is Eloise, and I’m a content creator for your favorite reality show streaming network.” She gave a cheeky, pointed look to the camera. “You’ve heard the rules, you’ve heard the game, and the stakes. But what’s so different about shoving a bunch of people together in a house to compete for points in a competition? That’s been done already.” Elo gestured with her hand loosely. “We all know reality shows are fake. So let’s have a little fun with it, shall we?” She leaned in to the camera, careful of the lavalier mic under one of the lace ruffles of her shirt. “The contestants will be without contact with the outside world. No internet, no phone, no TV, not even a newspaper. But, I’m not a contestant. I’m your Shitdisturber.” She flashed her smile again. “Each episode, you’ll be able to write in suggestions and vote for sabotages to give me to make the contestants’ lives a little more...interesting.” If Elo had seen a person smile the way she just did at the camera, she would have turned tail and walked back home. But, something like this made for good TV...so…. “When I come in for one of these ‘confessionals’--” She used finger quotes and continued, “the producers will give me a rundown of what sort of shit you’d like me to disturb. While the other contestants innocently go about the challenges for points, I’m secretly fighting for points from you. You rate me on my success, and that’s how I get points to win big.” Grace made a gesture to indicate for her to hurry up. Elo cleared her throat.
“To spice things up, if I get found out, I’m disqualified--and so is the person that catches me. So there’s a bit of a guarantee that I’ll keep quiet.” She let out a laugh, and gave a pause at Grace’s finger.
“Motivation?” she mouthed off to the side. Elo gave a few seconds of dead air before she put her smile back on.
“If I win, the hundred grand will go to Second Chance at Life Rescue. Second Chance is a non-profit dog shelter that specializes in fostering dogs that have been deemed dangerous from either a court order or different animal shelter. Second Chance employs highly trained and specialized dog psychologists and trainers to retrain and rehabilitate these dogs, and transitions them into a forever foster home with someone that has those same certifications. The money won would go on to fund the hiring of two more officers, which can save up to a hundred more dogs a year.” Elo’s smile was long gone, but she looked to the camera and attempted to conjure one anyway. She let it falter, let it stay a bit heavy on the corners of her mouth. “Even just the publicity from this show can save more lives. A mistake made in fear should not mean a death sentence. For anyone.” It was easy to show genuine concern with this spiel, since this was all the truth. Actually, this tiny beach hut was now the only place she could truly be herself for any length of time. The minute she walked out, she’d be Ellie, playing for the cash to help pay for debt and get a new car.
“Cut! Good! Nearly a one-take wonder. Great job, Elo.” Grace erased the clapper board, and looked up. “Do you want a break? You can film the confessional about the rescue later, if you don’t want to rush it. You’ve got...twenty minutes ’til you need to be in the backyard.” Elo grimaced.
“Better not risk it. I’ll come back after today’s challenge and before the party, okay? Same outfit. Unless you’d like me to come just before the party in a new outfit.” Grace contemplated for a moment, but shrugged.
“If you get a chance to come before everyone gets ready for the party, sure. I wouldn’t stress it. It’s probably best to do it before your change for the party, though. I’m expecting tears, so might as well do it when you’re changing makeup.” Elo rose from the wicker chair, raising a brow.
“Should I get onions or peppers?” Chuck asked unhelpfully as he began to pack up the camera.
“Who’s going to root for you if you’re the only contestant that doesn’t cry about her motivation?”
“I’m not a contestant,” Elo reminded. She ran her fingers through her hair, fluffing it at the roots a bit, before taking a few steps to the hut door. “Alright. See you later?” Grace shook her head.
“Not until I update you again. Your next one will be an actual confessional, if we’re not filming it before the party.” Elo hesitated.
“Wait, do you get to go home?”
“Of course. I didn’t decide to purposefully ruin my life last year by signing this stupid contract to pretend to be someone else.” She said it with so much sass and play, then nudged her friend. “I’ve read enough of these contracts to know not to sign them.”
“I wrote this one,” said Elo with a frown.
“Then I really don’t know why you’re not more nervous. Anyway, good luck! Oh, wait, your bracelet.” Before she could turn, Grace grabbed a cheap, rubber bracelet, not unlike those cancer support things people got from donating five bucks to a charity, and tossed it to Elo.
“Oh, at least I get purple.” She slipped it on. “Alright, catch you later. Hug Swiffer for me.”
“His name isn’t Swiffer.”
“He looks like one.” Most Pomeranians of some sort looked like a mop.
“Get out, you Shitdisturber.” The two shared a laugh.
“Love you too, Grace! Thanks for today, Chuck. Take care.” With a final wave, Elo grabbed the knob of the door and stepped onto the beautiful estate she signed up to live in for three months.
This beach hut was off to the side, found only by an unkempt dirt path. The estate, resting on its own set of rolling hills, was encased by a tall stone fence. The rich people they rented this from had a paparazzi problem, which only made this location all the better for the show. Most of the security cameras they got to use, they’d get to use for actual footage, which saved cost on physical cameramen. The VP was sold the minute he spotted the entire room near the base of the hill just to man all the cameras.
Elo struggled to walk the path in her heels, and silently cursed herself for not carrying her purse with her so she could use her extra flip-flops for this exact reason. Well, whatever. Maybe “Ellie” didn’t think ahead like Elo did. Maybe “Ellie” didn’t grow up in a woodsy area.
General hubbub conglomerated at the gate to the back yard, where small tents and teams waited for their cue. The other contestants would come in through the sliding door to the back yard, so she had to make sure to be in there before anyone noticed her coming in from the side.
The various producers and assistants only nodded to her in greeting; she’d already said her soft goodbyes to them before. Now, she was just Ellie. She didn’t have a sister staying in her apartment and controlling her accounts while she was here, or have a boss hiding behind a screen somewhere, waiting for footage.
“Ellie--” called a producer’s assistant from one of the tents. “We’re saying you’re first. Go make yourself comfortable in a chair.”
“Oh,” she said, blinking. Changes already? Just last week, she sat at a desk, sending out copies of the vendor invoices to Accounting. Everything was supposed to be as finalized as possible. She frowned, but nodded to the PA and stepped through the gate. She wasn’t supposed to go first initially. But, well, when she signed out of work on Friday, she fully, willingly, gave up any further say she had in this show. And even when she signed up, she wasn’t allowed to help plan challenges or even scout the location. They said it was to protect her anonymity, but...that was also just how business went sometimes. Once she scouted the content and got it signed on for the network, it was out of her hands.
Still, they did a wonderful job, even without her input. The backyard was immaculate, surrounded by large shrubs and palm trees. The pool was partially shaded by a center island, small, with just a few boulders and one palm tree, punctuated by a simple, backless bench.
The sunbeds faced the massive house, arranged in a way for the contestants to sit on as they filmed their introduction just through the screen doors. As Elo went to go sit on one of the white cushions, a PA sprinted up to her, a different one from the one by the gate.
“Lav!” she whispered harshly. Oh, shit! Elo was quick to rip the mic from her shirt and pull the transmitter pack from her back waistband, and silently thanked the girl before she dashed back to the other side of the gate. That was close. There were mics wired all over this house, designed to pick up every whisper possible. None of the other contestants had lavs, so it would have been an awkward first conversation to have.
Elo leaned back on the chair, laying her head so that the shade of the nearby pergola covered her face just slightly. She only got to relax for a couple of minutes before the cameramen came in from the gate, placing themselves where directed.
“Ready?” called one of the assistants by the sliding glass door of the estate. “Alright. Cameras rolling? Camera B? Okay.” One of the few cameras focused on the door, while another focused right on Elo. She’d have to find a way to get used to that quickly. She was normally on the other side of these things.
“Okay, we have…Brooke!” The sliding door opened, and out through the curtains stepped a dark-skinned girl in an olive green dress, leggy and perfect in her supermodel catwalk. She smiled brightly at the camera, flashed one to Elo, and took a seat beside her, smelling slightly of lavender.
The PA counted a few beats before she looked to the camera focused on the entrances of the contestants.
“Next up is Ehan!” And through the door came a man, dressed in a full suit, oddly enough. He strode with a confident air, and used one hand to push back his thick, dark hair. He regarded both girls with equal enthusiasm before he sat down.
“Aren’t you sweating in that thing?” Brooke asked him before the PA shouted out: “Trish!” Ehan shrugged, then turned his attention to the short, curvaceous woman that struck a pose right in front of the camera. She also wore a dress, and was a lot more made up than Elo. Was wearing jeans a mistake? Her top was kind of flashy, and she still wore heels, but now she felt out-of-place.
“Shane!” At least this guy was a lot more casual. He wore a jean jacket, and used his hand to brush through his rather voluminous brown hair like an Instagram model advertising for shampoo. Shane addressed everyone with a wink before he sat down. Brooke scoffed quietly beside her. Elo had already made up her mind: Brooke was probably her favorite person so far.
“Devi!” Another gorgeous woman, this time in a red dress with corkscrew curls piled atop her head. Elo couldn’t help but reach up to try and check to see if her false lashes were still in place. Why was everyone beautiful?
“Quin!” Even this guy. He looked like he belonged on a billboard in Silicon Valley, with his jeans and suit jacket and glasses. Maybe...maybe she shouldn’t have signed up for this show. Maybe she should have turned down her boss when he suggested she fill the spot.
“Abby!” The eighth contestant came out in a pink skirt with her hair in loose pigtails, which would have looked very strange on anyone other than her. She skipped through the door and twirled, showing off an obviously large personality, before she made herself comfortable in a chair.
“Okay, last one!” the PA called. “Nick!” And out from the door, came a guy dressed in business casual, thick, black glasses, and five o’clock shadow.
Elo’s stomach dropped at the sight of him. As he started to survey the people around, she took the moment to try and twist around to pop her back, and to give her a quick moment to allow herself to react without any prying eyes of the contestants--though she was positive one of the cameras caught her. She finally faced forward again when she heard him settle into a chair. The main camera that filmed the entrances focused on the host, Isaiah, who strode through in a full suit and introduced himself to everyone around.
He started his spiel just fine, outlining the rules for the viewers and contestants.It was typical stuff--first place winner of a challenge got five points, second place got three, third place got one point.
“But that’s not all!” Isaiah announced as he looked at everyone with clasped and manicured hands. “Just because you don’t get to post on Twitter does not mean you aren’t going to be on it. Each challenge, in addition to points for winning the challenge, another contestant will get five points for being the Social Media Favorite. So smile wide, there’s a high chance the audience gets a say in who wins the final one hundred K.” The contestants perked up in various amounts of excitement at the sound of that. They hadn’t heard about that part yet. Elo pretended to be interested in it.
“So let’s get this rolling, shall we? Let’s introduce ourselves to one another. We’ll start here.” He gestured to Nick, who rose from his seat. Elo pretended to have a scratch on her face when he started looking at her.
“I’m Nick, I’m a security consultant.” Always short and to the point. At least it made it so her suddenly itchy eyebrow was natural. Elo finally put her hand down when he sat and Abby rose.
“I’m Abby, and I’m a writer.” At least he set a president for everyone to be quick about it.
“Quin, professor of history at BAU.”
“Devi, HR Manager.”
“Shane, Sous Chef.”
“Trish, freelance voice actress.”
“Ehan, marketing strategist.”
“Brooke, graphic designer.”
Elo tried to be even faster, but she couldn’t help it. She naturally just ended up looking at Nick, while she introduced herself as, “Ellie, project manager.” It was really hard not to acknowledge his expression, twisted in confusion and surprise.
He, of course, knew her as Elo, and as far as her LinkedIn profile said, she was a content specialist at an entertainment company, working on her next big, secret project. He commented on it last week when he suggested that they catch up, since it had been three years since they last spoke--when they worked together at a different company.
Oh, she was fucked.