Truth be told, I went to retrieve this book from my local op shop for one reason and one reason only: I had to know how the ghostwriter was going to sum up the, er, events of the last book. I mean, Tom showed his undercarriage to a stadium full of unsuspecting Chicagoans, and I could simply not live another day without knowing how they were going to explain what they made him do. Spoiler: they don't explain, at all. Instead of rehashing all the crazy shit Tom did last time, they decided to just make him do more crazy shit in this one.
The thing that really pushed me over the edge is the blurb for the C plot: "Tom Watts and Todd Wilkins -- best buddies? Absolutely!" Read into that: Tom and Todd, the untapped comedy resource of the century, will be buddy-vibin' again in this book! Sold, Francine. Sold.
That's Liz and (presumably) Sam frolicking up there on the cover. Bonus fact: I Googled Sam's Secret Love Diary to see whether or not they used the same cover model for both, and noticed in the image search that the picture they use for Jessica on her Love Diary is from this shoot. Having recapped a ridiculous amount of TV episodes, I'm an expert at telling the Daniel twins apart (also, they're not identical), and I've no doubt that it's Cynthia Daniel up there...which means that they put a picture of Elizabeth on the front cover of Jessica's Love Diary. Talk about a spotlight-hog.
Bonus fact #2: I went to the 1bruce1 recap of Jessica's Secret Love Diary to see if anyone else noticed, and apparently this is information I already knew:
Weird. The Ghost of Hellobrisvegas Past would be terribly upset that I don't listen when she talks. Or even types.
I highly recommend reading last week's recap of the previous book to work out what's going on, but for those who don't have time, here's how the competition works: four teams of six college students head around the U.S. in a Winnebago, travelling to designated cities where they then compete in events to win points. The team with the most points at the end of the competition wins...something. The teams are as follows -- Elizabeth, Sam and some randoms who are there to make up the numbers (Charlie, Ruby, Josh and Uli) are on Team One; while Jessica, Tom, Todd, Neil and their randoms, Pam and Rob, are Team Two. (And I know I just lazily copy-pasted a lot of that from my Stranded post, but when you see how insane this book is, you'll understand why I was all recapped out at this point.)
Also, from book #49:
--Sam and Neil are people who exist now.
--Jessica is mad at Neil for rejecting her advances, even though the reason for that is that he's gay. She knows this, but she's still mad at him for it.
--Elizabeth and Sam hated each other, then liked each other, and now they're back to hating each other. Sam has another girlfriend, conveniently located in Florida, where the competition ends.
--Tom only joined the comp to reclaim Liz's love. He's not doing a great job thus far.
--Charlie, the random from Team Two, has just found out that she's pregnant. We're supposed to care, but, you know...we don't.
Alright, actual reap time now.
Team One is eating rattlesnake in a diner in Tennessee. Jessica mopes about the fact that her team is ignoring her due to her bad behaviour in the last book. She does mention that "in the past weeks, [Tom and Todd] had morphed into Beavis and Butthead," which is easily the most accurate description of anybody in a Sweet Valley book, ever. She then mentions the third-best thing from the last book, her poolside smush-fest with an Elvis impersonator, and I'm getting more and more hopeful that at some point, someone, somewhere, will give us a little exposition on Tom's highly embarrassing declaration of love for Elizabeth at Wrigley Field.
Meanwhile, Team Two is trying to decide where to stop for lunch. Elizabeth is busy pitying poor, poor knocked-up Charlie. It's so irritating that even Ruby, one of her other teammates, tells her that Charlie's pregnant, not dying. The two of them decide not to tell the boys in the team that Charlie's preggers, and Liz randomly thinks about how hot-and-cold Sam is. Heh. It's like she's getting a taste of what it's like to date Elizabeth Wakefield, and apparently this medicine is mighty bitter.
Tom and Todd are up the front of the Team One Winnebago. Tom's yet again attempting to bond with Todd over their mutual loathing of Sam Burgess. Todd's more concered about other things, like the fact that Tom's driving like a maniac. Todd makes sure to tell Tom that their situations are different -- he doesn't want to see Elizabeth with Sam because Sam's a douchecanoe, but Tom wants to break them up because he's still got a hankering for Liz. Tom's offended by this, so he takes a swipe at Todd's fledgling relationship with his old girlfriend Dana. Ick, these two really do share a lot of love interests for characters who so rarely interact themselves.
Speaking of ick, the next few paragraphs are devoted to Tom and Todd discussing the passionate way Sam and Liz were kissing when they found them. No, you guys! We do not talk about the way your shared ex-girlfriend is kissing her current love interest! Tom muses that Liz never kissed him "like that" when they were together. 'Ick' is no longer a strong enough word, I fear. Todd mentions that the last time Liz kissed him so passionately was a year ago, when they were leaving for college. Tom's like, "You mean she used to kiss you like that?" Ick-factor a trillion! Tom, you are the king of ick! He then demands to know exactly how many times Liz kissed Todd the way she was kissing Sam, and would you believe, the word 'ick' has lost all its meaning. Tom has lost the plot.
Oh, and while he's is taking stock of the exact technique Liz has used to kiss all her boyfriends, Tom gets the Team Onesies lost. Serves him right. That's God telling him to die in the desert for making me read that shit up there.
Neil snarks that Tom's taken them "somewhere between dazed and confused, but hey, we might have just made it all the way to hopelessly lost." Go Neil. He relegates TW Squared to the back of the Winnebago and takes over driving, with Jessica riding shotgun. Since Jess hasn't gotten over the whole hitting-on-a-gay-guy thing, the ride back to civilisation is awkward at best. He wonders if maybe Jess is homophobic, which we the readers know is silly. Jessica just doesn't handle rejection well, even if said rejection is something as understandable as "I'm not sexually attracted to you because I'm not sexually attracted to women period." At some point, this book turns into a cartoon, and their map flies out the window.
Team Two is taking a pit-stop in Chattanooga. I hope there's a certain party at the station there that at least one of them used to call Funny Face. Sam thinks about how beautiful Liz is, but also that she's annoying as hell. I said it last time and I'll say it again -- I love how believable Sam is when it comes to Liz. He thinks she's hot, and yeah, she's okay sometimes, but she's also monumentally frustrating. This is Liz in an absolute nutshell. The idea that Sam's such a bad guy for ever thinking ill of Elizabeth 'Perfection Is My Middle Name' Wakefield doesn't fly with me. Tom Watts thinking the sun shines out of her bungus is far more ridiculous.
Sam then thinks about how good-looking Tom and Todd are, which is, uh, weird. Then the Team Two boys decide to engage in a tobacco-spitting contest to win themselves a free lunch, so I suppose 'weird' is going to be the word of the chapter. When it's Sam turn, he accidentally spits tobacco right on Elizabeth's face. Hee!
Charlie's POV now. She calls her boyfriend and tells him that she's pregnant. He seems pretty okay with it, considering he's nineteen. She then goes and talks to Liz, and is touched that she's so concerned that Charlie's relationship is still solid. Hmm. Maybe I'm just cynical, but I feel like Liz would be more jazzed that the little bastard bub presently occupying Charlie's uterus at least has a father figure. That's just the sort of backwards thinking I expect from her.
Team One has reached Atlanta! Pam the Not-Cared-About wants to go visit Tara from Gone With The Wind, but Tom mentions that Tara's actually on the Paramount lot in LA. A note from your frustrated, movie-loving recapper: it takes fifteen seconds out of a person's day to Google Gone With The Wind and discover that it's not a Paramount film. Even in 1999, I'm sure you could've asked Jeeves or even just cracked a book or something. That is a world of lazy.
Jessica looks at herself in the mirror. Even though she looks fabulous, there's nobody around to appreciate it, "she thought disconsolately as she glanced at Neil." Yeah, Neil! How dare you be gay! Appreciate Jessica's beauty or GTFO.
Tom and Todd are already bored with stupid Atlanta. Tom suggests that they go to a bar and drink mint juleps (of all things), but they decide that they don't want to participate in tomorrow's event hung-over. Todd guesses that Tom's been driven to drink by his love for Liz, and Tom actually asks if it's that obvious. Todd's like, "Um, yeah," but doesn't use the pants-dropping incident of the last book as evidence. Why are we choosing to ignore that? Todd then proves to us all that he's trolling by telling Tom to consider going after Jessica next.
Back in Chattanooga, Liz nearly falls off a mountain. No, really, she does. It's the weirdest thing. Sam sees her close to the edge OF A MOUNTAIN, then she gets dizzy and looks like she's about to fall OFF THE SIDE OF A FUCKING MOUNTAIN. It's not a hill, or a particularly steep grassy knoll -- it's a mountain. Sam catches her in time, and then they kiss. That's...that's all the explanation we get? Liz nearly fell off a mountain, and we don't get any sort of how or why or anything? After that, the Team Two girls hurry over and take Liz to go calm her farm, and Sam, "laughed hollowly to himself as he shoved his hand in his pants." So...Liz almost takes a tumble off an honest-to-goodness mountain, and Sam's reaction is to laugh and masturbate? This book just got certifiable out of absolutely nowhere.
That night, Liz drives the Winnebago while everyone else catches up on some sleep. She thinks about how wonderful it was to be held by Sam. Call me crazy, but if I had been in the same situation, I'd probably be more concerned that I had a fainting spell and nearly dropped to my death from a mountain. Note that even though we're getting things from Liz's perspective now, she offers no further explanation as to what she was doing so close to the edge, or why she was so dizzy. (Probably because she was so close to the damn edge.)
Pictured: no big deal, apparently.
That's the actual mountain up there, by the way. Anyhoo, the Winnebago seemingly decides to mess with these lunatics a little and runs out of gas, and so Liz grabs the gas can and sneaks out. Sam catches up with her and tells her that he's not going to let her go off by herself, even though Jessica did it last book and it all turned out pretty well for her. While walking to a nearby gas station, Sam starts quoting poetry, and Liz swoons. Tom Watts, take note -- this is how you get Elizabeth Wakefield hot. Puns and butts -- and certainly, puns about butts -- won't cut it, mister.
Team One arrives at the next checkpoint, Savannah. They find the instructions for the penultimate event -- they're going to re-enact the Civil War using paint guns. I'm not American enough to know if I should be offended by this. Tom, not put off by his most recent rebuffed love declaration, ridiculously thinks, "Maybe I could ambush Elizabeth and take her prisoner. She'd have to be impressed that I'm such a good soldier!" Ahahahaha! At this point, I have to wonder if Tom knows anything about Elizabeth other than her name's Elizabeth.
The Team Onesies find the other teams in the parking lot. Tom's still thinking about how his archery skills (?) are going to help him "rack up some points and ambush Elizabeth." So it's not just a passing thought, then. He's going to ambush Elizabeth. This is outstanding. Just then, Tom sees Danny from Team Four and heads towards him, thinking, "Wait until he hears how I intend to ambush Elizabeth." No. No. This is too good. New drinking game -- drink whenever Tom mentions his foolproof plan to ambush Elizabeth. You can even take three retroactive shots right now, 'cause that's how many times those exact words have left his lips thus far.
Tom realises that Danny's busy chatting up some girl, and loses the desire to tell him about his plot to ambush Elizabeth. Drink. He turns away quickly and runs right into...Elizabeth! Oh wait, it's only dumb ol' Jessica. Who'd want to ambush her? Jess tells him that Liz isn't worth moping over, even though that's her sister, and what a horrid thing to say about one's sister. Tom ignores her, obviously, and then thinks about how he's going to give his all in tomorrow's event to prove to everybody that Tom Watts is nobody's doormat. And also, to ambush Elizabeth. Drink.
During target practice, Neil shoots Jessica in the head with his paint gun. As if I couldn't love Neil more.
War time! Finally! Ruby, the Team Two general, admits that she's nervous. And she's not even the one who's going to get ambushed! The game begins, and Liz goes full Katniss on all those Union sons of bitches. Unfortunately, because Liz has turned into Clumsy McKlutzface this book, she walks right into a tree branch and Sam thinks she's been hit. He runs out of his hiding place and jumps on top of her. Not sure why, if he thinks she's already been shot. He must've forgotten for a moment that they're not real bullets.
From the bushes, Tom spies on them and thinks about how skeevy Sam is. Boy howdy. Before he can put the 'ambush Elizabeth' plan into action (drink), some girl from Team Four shoots her and she's out of the game.
Meanwhile, Jessica has turned into GI Jane, even going to far as to rub dirt into her face for camouflage. She's out to get Alison Quinn (who's in Team Three), but loses her. Instead, she shoots Neil because what the hell. Todd watches Jessica shooting Neil and Tom actively not shooting Liz, and wonders how in the world he managed to get put into a team full of effing morons. You know you're going badly when Todd is the straight man in a book this mental.
Team Three (one of the Confederate teams) wins. I wouldn't want to be in the room when someone alerts General Sherman. Elizabeth blames Sam for their team's loss. It's cute that she doesn't realise how close she got to being held prisoner by her crazed ex-boyfriend. Later, Sam talks to another teammate, Josh, about how the finish line is nigh and how he's about to stroll into the arms of his Floridian lady friend, Angelina. Josh suggests that he call her for a "wild night." This makes Sam think about Liz, because the words 'Liz' and 'wild night' go together so well.
Coincidently, Team One stops for lunch in the same town as Team Two. Todd, wanting to get away from Tom for a while, goes into a bar and overhears Sam and Josh's conversation about sexing up this other woman. "His hands curled into fists." Unsurprising. He turns to leave...and runs smack-bang into Tom. Who's just standing there behind him. Is nobody safe from Tom's creeper ways? Tom tells Todd that he heard what Sam was saying, and he doesn't seem all that happy about it, to be honest. Elizabeth might end up getting ambushed after all.
While all this is going on, the Team Two girls are driving around an amateur racetrack. Not Charlie, though, as she's still suffering through her nine-month case of the pregnants.
Jessica is doing some stalking of her own, following Neil into a store and watching from afar as he asks a salesperson for a pair of purple boots in his size. Yes, purple boots. Neil's gay. All gay people like flamboyant footwear. Jessica finds a pair of the boots in her own size, and secretly buys them just to spite Neil. She grins with delight while thinking about how she's going to wear them around him just to shove his stupid gay face in it. Apparently she's been doing this all afternoon, and has nearly maxed out her credit card buying things Neil wants but can't fit into. She. Is. Deplorable. Neil leaves to go to another store, and Jessica continues to trail him, because if trailing people without their knowledge were part of this competition, Team One would be ahead by miles.
I can tell this chapter is going to be good, since it starts with Todd running around Palm Beach like a maniac, wondering, "Is Tom still following me? He looked nervously over his shoulder." Holy batshit. Tom is crazed. Todd breathes a sigh of relief when he can't see Tom behind him, but the second he turns back around, THERE'S TOM. Like a pop-up book from hell. Tom explains that he didn't hear all of Sam's conversation, and asks Todd for the details, including, "Did he mention kissing her again?" Tom! Again with the kissing! Sergeant Ick, please give us back the Tom we know and love.
Tom questions Todd like this for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES and begins hatching plans to get Liz away from Sam. 'Ambush Elizabeth' isn't one of them this time, unfortunately. He even suggests slipping something in Sam's drink. They're going to roofie Sam? That's the plan? Todd is so desperate to escape this lunatic that he dodges traffic and voluntarily joins Jessica in her shopping wars.
Tom, meanwhile, is standing there on the other side of the street, wondering what Todd's problem is. Possibly the most deluded thing I've read all book: Tom thinks that he and Todd are on the same page re Elizabeth, even though Todd had never had the kind of "deep, meaningful, adult relationship" Tom had. Yeah, but Todd got to kiss her with tongue, so take that. Tom crosses the road to look for Todd some more, and spots Neil...with Jessica behind him...and Todd behind her. He thinks, "What are they doing -- playing follow the leader?" Are you fucking kidding me, Tom?! As if you are in any position to chide others for stalking!
While this Benny Hill shit is going on, those horny boys from Team Two are chilling out at the beach, looking at women in bikinis through binoculars.
Cut to a small airport. They have to fly planes to the next checkpoint? That's not going to end well. Evidently, they don't have to go in their teams or anything, because Liz and Jess are in the same plane. With Sam. And Neil. (And I'm presuming a pilot, since nobody seems to be flying this thing.) Right on cue, the whole thing does an Almost Famous, and Sam and Liz hold on to each other. So do Jess and Neil. Instant closeness! The only thing better would be if Neil had screamed out that he was gay right before the turbulence stopped.
Somewhat unfortunately, everyone survives and nobody outs themselves at the eleventh hour. They get to the site of final event in Key West, which turns out to be riding bikes over a cliff. Actually physically riding bikes off a ramp, jumping off them, and landing in the ocean. Is there even a competition element to something like that? Todd reasons that it can't be that dangerous, as Robin and Quinn jumped off a cliff in Six Days, Seven Nights and survived. Nice job sidestepping the obvious Thelma and Louise reference there, Wilkins.
Tom says, "It looks like a beautiful morning to die," which sounds quite unnerving coming from the guy who tried to take his ex-girlfriend prisoner and then stalked poor Toddles right into oncoming traffic. Jessica decides to run the hell away from the crazy people trying to make her jump cliffs, but thankfully Todd's there to grab her by the collar. Never change, Todd. It seems that the team who gets all their members in the water first wins...which is a shonky way to decide who wins a competition like this, no? Today's the practice run, where they'll all ride their bikes up the cliff without jumping.
Todd, it seems, has learned nothing from his adventures in Palm Beach, and has decided to get TW Squared back together and go after that bastard Sam. Jess comes along to ruin his plans, telling him that she's scared to ride up the cliff and she wants him to go with her. Tom comes up to him and says that Todd can stay with Jessica because "I'll go after Burgess." Of course he will.
Meanwhile, Liz asks Sam out for dinner, because she's back on Team Burgess. A side effect of all that hugging and preparing for death on the plane, I expect. Sam has decided to hold out for his other girlfriend, Angelina, and rejects Liz's offer.
Neil is having problems with his Wakefield, too. He's just realised why Jessica's mad at him, and it's not because she's homophobic -- it's because he's the first guy to ever resist her charms. He confronts her about this. She admits it. Then they make up and go shopping, together this time.
Sam meets up with Josh, who goes on about some girl he just tried to pick up. Out of nowhere, Sam gets all Liz-like and tells Josh that he's a mysogynistic bastard. Josh shoots back that Sam's the one who's been making a play for Liz even though he's got that hot piece of tail Angelina waiting for him, and Sam angrily gives him Angelina's phone number and tells him to call her if he's so damn hung up on her. What a bizarre way for this friendship to end. Also, I wouldn't be too happy if a guy I were dating gave some skeevy wanker my phone number. What a dick move.
Of course, Tom is watching all of this go down from behind a tree. Hey Stalky Stalkerton, why so stalky? He can't make out what they're saying, and laments that "he had squat to tell Wilkins." Heh. Even though this book could've easily been titled Tom's Descent Into Madness, he still has to report to Todd. You'll have to snatch that Psycho of the Millennium award from his cold dead hands, Watts!
Elizabeth, meantime, is chatting to the other girls over croissants and coffee, blissfully unaware that everyone who's ever loved her has spontaneously decided to become nuttier than a king-size Snickers bar.
Alright, this part is gold. A few of the competitors, including Liz and Sam, decide to go snorkelling to pass the time before their imminent jump of death. Sam sees Liz swimming up ahead and decides to swim after her, but if we've learned anything from this book, it's that you can't turn around abruptly without running into Tom Watts. Even underwater. Sam's a little freaked out by this, but manages to swim away...right into Todd. He swims away again, and there's Tom again. They've ambushed him. Underwater. Y'know, I was thinking maybe there'd be some sort of cliff-top fight for Elizabeth's love or something, but at no point did I think this whole thing would play out below sea level. Ghostwriter, you've bested me yet again.
In case anybody actually cares, Charlie's babydaddy has joined her in Key West, where Charlie takes the opportunity to tell him that she's going to compete in the final event. Not being a baby expert myself, I can't say with absolute certainty that it's unsafe to drop fifty feet into the ocean whilst pregnant, but the least she could've done is consulted a doctor or something before making a decision like that.
TW Squared has successfully chased Sam out of the water and away from their lady love. They head up to the surface to have a high-five moment and congratulate one another on the day's meddling. What they don't realise is that Liz has bobbed up near them, and has overheard what they've done. She's, quite understandably, upset that her two ex-boyfriends have had an underwater face-off with her current love interest. (Though she's angrier at Tom, since he has ulterior motives.) She swims away to find Sam who, if he had any sense, would want nothing to do with her after today.
Finally, we get to the cliff-jump. Nothing exciting happens. Team One wins, but gets disqualified on some sort of bullshit technicality. Team Two (who really ought to get some extra points considering one of them jumped with a foetus inside her) makes it into the water last, but they end up second overall. Team One ends up dead last, I'm assuming because Jessica took all that time off in the previous book to go road-tripping with Elvis.
The competitors get treated to an after-party, which seems like the least they're owed after their cross-country ordeal. Tom and Todd decide to continue their guy love, although Tom confesses that he's still thinking of Liz. This causes Todd to launch into a story about something wacky Liz and Jess did in high school, and Tom realises that he needs to get over Liz the way Todd has. Todd decides to help him out, and offers some girl called Briana as a sacrifice. And symbolism alert -- Briana's the one who shot Liz during the Civil War task! After Tom goes off to dance with Briana, Todd thinks about how he's not such a bad guy after all. Aww! These two are the bestest. The craziest, but also the bestest.
Liz and Sam make out of the dancefloor. Blargh.
Neil and Jessica are also on the dancefloor, except they're not making out, 'cause that would be weird. Neil suddenly decides to transfer to SVU (from Stanford, mind you) and then comes out on national television. His male teammates still like him, though. Bully for happy endings!
So that was a weird journey we just went on, huh? I sure am glad that Tom was so proud of his 'ambush Elizabeth' plan, because it gave me leave to take six shots right in the middle of the recap. Might not have been able to handle all the crazy otherwise. I mean, Tom Watts actually planned to take Liz hostage during a war game in order to show her how good he is at kidnapping things. That was his plan. It really, truly, boggles the mind.