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#116 Nightmare in Death Valley

Time for the second and last book in the Sweet Valley Survival miniseries! It’s not a nightmare on Elm Street, it’s a nightmare in Death Valley! It’s a nightmare to read! If you’re short on time here’s my too-long-didn’t-read review:

God! It’s effing terrible, and just begging for me to make fun of it, so let’s go. If you need a reminder of what happened in the first book, check out my recap here.

The goofiness begins on this cover:

Somebody forgot to mention to the cover artist that Heather left her hiking boots at home.

So we have Liz dangling off a cliff while Bruce finally snaps and tries to drop her to her doom, or wait, maybe he’s trying to rescue her. Either way, Liz doesn’t look terrified for her life so much as slightly bothered. At left, Heather and Jessica crouch by a campfire while three werewolf-esque zombies creep up on them in the background! Whoops, I think that’s supposed to be the escaped convicts that have been following them and snatchin’ up their gold. Damn cover got my hopes up that it was Liz’s old werewolf boyfriend back from the dead with two cronies.

Now let’s get into the story so you can all suffer along. We pick up where we left off, with our six Sweet Valley Survival School (SVSS) participants getting hit by the mega storm their absentee survival trainers had warned them was coming. Everyone runs under a nearby rock overhang, although Liz has to stop to drag forever-screeching Heather out of a puddle she fell in. They all cram under the overhang and commence to bickering like usual. Heather whines that she’s cold, so Liz loans her her survival school-issued flannel shirt, since Heather’s is presumably at the bottom of the river somewhere. Jessica seethes because she’s furious any time someone tries to keep Heather alive. The storm clears pretty quick, but they realize more could be coming and they should probably find a roomier shelter to bed down for the night. The only appropriate place is that skeleton- and scorpion-infested cave they just found! Everyone seems more concerned about the skeletons than the possibility of getting stung by the loads of scorpions. Also, nobody seems to consider that a search party might’ve been sent out for them when they didn’t make it to the meetup point at the allotted time – it’s not even brought up. Although, I guess I wouldn’t blame the rest of Sweet Valley if they were relieved to be free of these morons and did in fact just leave them out there to rot.

Inside the cave, Ken briefly shows affection toward Jessica almost like he wants to make up with her, then he abruptly walks off to start a fire. Bruce keeps heckling people like usual and he’s really juvenile. Then Jessica and Heather say they want to keep hiking for the night rather than waste time sleeping. No one else agrees, and Jessica gets pissed off and makes a big show of dragging her sleeping bag outside to sleep there. She’s obviously cold, but she refuses Liz’s offer of a sweatshirt and Liz almost cries because Jessica is the fucking worst. Back inside the cave, Ken and Todd have Heather set up her sleeping bag between them because she’s scared of the escaped convicts from the prison nearby, and Liz feels jealous. (By the way, still nobody believes Heather when she says she saw them.) Then Jessica peeks back in the cave and sees Heather snuggled next to her man, and dramatically decides she’s sleeping in the cave after all. Oh god Jessica, how about you go sleep in a pile of scorpions. Then, it’s dinner time, but there isn’t much food left since these dumbasses threw most of their dinner rations out in the last book to make room for the gold they found. Liz searches her pack and finds two mac and cheese boxes, and Jessica shocks her by offering to cook them up for everyone. I would be concerned she was looking to poison everyone, but that’s just me, apparently. Jessica carefully levels off the meager servings and hands them out, but then stupid jerk Bruce becomes infuriated as he claims Jessica is deliberately serving him less than everyone else, which she insists she’s not, pointing out everyone has the same five bites, but Bruce is convinced she’s trying to deliberately starve him. I mean, it’s tempting right. When Jessica exasperatedly hands him his serving, both she and Bruce are so flustered by Bruce’s growly temper tantrum that it ends up getting accidentally knocked in the dirt. Bruce flips out and lunges at Jessica to strangle her or something, and Todd has to hold him back. Bruce breaks free, and Liz jumps in front of her sister and pushes Bruce back into the dirt, temporarily resurrecting the fractured bond between our feuding twins. Man, Bruce sounds like the Hulk in this scene. I’m wondering if he ate some peyote on the trail or something.

The group is still seeing scorpions scuttle around the cave, so they gather up bunches of sagebrush and use it to sweep them all out. Haha! After they have all gone to sleep, Liz gets out her flashlight and reviews the remaining page of the old Gold Rush diary she’s been carrying around and is alarmed to see it talks about a group that fought and acted unlike themselves over the gold, just like this group is. Could the Sweet Valley gang be headed for the same fate? Can I be so lucky?

The next morning, Jessica wakes to lizards scampering around her head and she deliberately drops one on Heather to start a scene because she’s five. Then the gang divvies up their remaining food. All they have left for the rest of the hike back is nine granola bars for six people, over an estimated two days. They decide to each eat half a granola bar for breakfast, leaving six granola bars for later. Liz is the last one out of the cave, and Bruce starts some shit with her, blocking her path out of the cave and demanding that they all get to eat the remaining granola bars now. Liz tries to remind him of what they learned over their training weekend, that they should ration it out to keep up their energy, but he doesn’t let up and keeps growling at her and blocking her path until Todd breaks it up. Fucking creeper!

The gang’s water supplies are also dwindling, and Jessica has been carelessly guzzling hers because of course she has. But, they should reach the Desert Oasis diner the following evening if they keep a good pace. Then they realize it’s impossible for them to keep a good pace because Heather can’t walk on her sprained ankle and has to be helped the whole way. (And the only people who will help her are Todd and Ken.) Ultimately, it’s decided to leave Heather behind in a “safe” spot with a buddy and then the rest of the group will send help when they reach the diner. Ken is ready to be the buddy, but Jessica’s jealousy gets in the way and she winds up staying with Heather instead just so Ken won’t. And the rest of the group is like, Okay cool! Oh my god, you’re going to leave JESSICA and HEATHER together and assume they will survive? Now I know for sure that the rest of the group wants to just let them die. I wouldn’t trust either of those two to tie my damn shoes let alone survive by themselves in fuckin’ Death Valley for a couple days. Just in the last book Liz was going off on Todd for trusting her horrible sister, and now here she is trusting Jessica herself to keep Heather, someone who Jessica’s already almost gotten killed, alive and well. The fuck! To maybe help keep them alive, Liz gives them some of her water and two granola bars (although the way it was written, I at first thought she gave them ALL the remaining bars), and Todd leaves them a flare they can set off in case of emergency.

The remaining group of four – Liz, Todd, Ken, and Bruce – hikes off with tension starting to build up between Bruce and Todd as Bruce acts like he’s too good for things like sun hats and Todd’s father’s “nouveau” wealth. Bruce seriously just won’t shut the fuck up about anything. I think I’m supposed to read him as comedic relief, but I actually want to reach through the pages and slap him in the face with a bag of scorpions. Then Ken busts through the tension to happily point out a desert tortoise and it cracks me the fuck up for some reason. Then the gang come to a fork in the road and an argument starts about which side is best to take. This is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you take the right path, you’ll have to climb super high boulders and will add an extra day to your trip. If you take the lower left path, you’ll stay on track but could get caught in a flash flood if another storm comes. Bruce and Todd are mad that Liz, again the lone person who actually paid full attention in their pre-trip training classes, is worried over the possibility of a flash flood and trying to tell them what to do. Todd thinks about how shrill her voice is and tells her “I wish you’d stuff a sock in it”. Man, y’all know I’m not much of a Liz fan, but get bent, Todd. I really hate that this book doesn’t allow me to feel joy at someone telling Liz to shut up, because everyone else is acting like such jackasses. Finally, Todd and Bruce decide to take the lower canyon path, while Ken and Liz decide to try their luck hiking up the boulders. Todd gets jealous remembering how Ken and Liz used to hook up in the past and starts worrying it’s gonna happen again. Then as he hikes off with Bruce, he gets jealous again remembering how Liz cheated on him with Bruce and wants to “throttle” Bruce. This trip is hopeless. Bruce wastes no time showing Todd what a moron he was to want to stick with Bruce Patman of all people, by relentlessly ragging on him about how Ken and Liz are probably going to get it on in the rocks.

Back to Heather and Jessica … shock me shock me, they’re not getting along. Jessica lectures Heather about being in no position to make demands, then builds a fire while Heather cries softly, and they eat their dinner of half a granola bar each. Of course, Jessica is not going to admit to the shit she herself pulled that made the biggest contribution to them being in this mess – deliberately and sneakily leading everyone off their plotted course in the previous book. I can’t stand either of them at this point. But Jessica does show rare compassion and agrees to loan Heather her hairbrush, and then some paper from her notebook and a pen so Heather can write a journal entry. Jessica writes about how much she misses Ken. Heather writes about how Ken will never leave Jessica for her because Jessica is so beautiful and perfect and he loves her, and she talks about how bad she feels that she hurt her ankle because she insisted on wearing her dumb cheerleading shoes rather than her SVSS-issued hiking boots. Then Heather crumples the journal entry up and dramatically throws it into the fire. She thinks she hears noises in the brush and gets Jessica to get up and go look, but when Jessica comes back, she finds Heather opening a chocolate bar! Another food ration! Heather claims she had found it that morning, in her jacket or sleeping bag I guess. She claims she was going to split it with Jessica. Jessica doesn’t believe her, but is mollified when Heather hands her half of the bar, and the girls fall asleep. I like that the candy bar is apparently not melted after a day in the scorching hot desert.

Jessica wakes up to see the three convicts prowling around their campsite, snatching up Jessica’s gold rations and looking for Heather’s, which of course are also in the river unless Heather is going to magically come across those as well. Jessica keeps still so that the criminals don’t notice she’s awake until Heather also wakes and, of course, starts freakin’ screaming bloody murder.

Before we get a scene of the girls being axe-murdered, we cut back to Liz and Ken. They set up camp in the rocks and look at the stars, and there’s an unspoken attraction between them again. That tired plotline is older than the Jurassic. I thought all that shit just got resolved in the last mini-series, but they had to bring it up again for lack of any better drama. You know, Jessica has been such an asshole, I’m almost hoping they do hook up. Also because I definitely prefer Liz-Ken to Liz-Todd at this point, and I think Liz and Todd need to just accept their relationship is over and move on. Ken and Liz bond over the campfire and a game of cards, and keep seeming like they might hook up, but don’t. They distract themselves by each writing in their journals about how much they want to make out with each other right now. As Liz falls off to sleep, Ken comes over and kisses her goodnight on the cheek. Why did y’all break up again? I’m really not understanding why we’re supposed to think Jessica and Ken belong together when they keep going out of their way to show us that Ken and Liz are madly in love, especially now that Ken’s character has been revamped as the male version of Liz.

Bruce keeps ragging on Todd nonstop and I’m really surprised no Todd punches have been thrown. Now get ready for some bonkers shit. A big old rattlesnake creeps up on Todd for some reason, like just slithers on up and goes “Hey guys! What’s happenin’?” Todd leaps up to get the hell out of dodge, but Bruce throws a rock at the snake and stuns it, which would be the boys’ cue to move the fuck on because honestly, most snakes find humans frightening and they aren’t going to come after you if you just leave them the hell alone! But then Todd is like, great, I obviously haven’t had enough drama this trip so let me try some shit I saw on the Discovery Channel because I’m dying for a snake bite, and he actually goes to grab the snake by the tail to move it. What the fuck, Todd can’t read a map for shit and was just acting like he hates the outdoors now in the previous book, but he thinks he’s an expert snake handler? How fucking stupid. But before Todd can move/get bit by the snake, Bruce goes fucking batshit crazy. Warning, here comes some unusually graphic gore for these books because I have to tell you exactly what it says as I find it utterly bizarre. Bruce grabs a rock and smashes the snake to smithereens until it’s “utterly pulverized”, then lifts the rock over his head covered with “smashed snake guts” and with “an expression of insane exhilaration” leaving “a grotesque pile of blood and snakeskin”. I really wish I had a photo of my face when I read this. Bruce has been losing his damn mind all book long and this just takes the cake. I have a spontaneous image of a blood-spattered Bruce yelling “HE-MAAAAAAAAN!” and I am not impressed. By the way, I love snakes, so while I know shit happens I actually could’ve really done without that gory ass description. If you’re gonna ask me what do I expect and if I would just have the snake go on and bite Bruce and Todd, yes I would actually, because they’re both getting on my last damn nerve. And if he could then go slithering after Jessica and Heather next I would be satisfied. Anyway, Bruce mocks Todd for not being the true wilderness-survivor. Todd just shakes his head and goes to sleep.

The next day, Todd and Bruce are running out of water and doing more bitching, so Todd finds and cuts open a barrel cactus hoping to find water inside, because he apparently did pay attention to that part of the training class, but there’s only inedible pulp in there. Bruce, who hasn’t done shit to find any food and water other than complain and intimidate people, mocks him and I desperately need for him to get punched in the face. Todd reacts by abruptly sitting down and writing a spontaneous journal entry about how he’s got to see Liz. Then, Todd takes a cue from Jessica and quietly re-routes the trail without saying anything, just so they will end up running into Liz and Ken, because that’s how much he’s obsessing over this shit. How Todd, who they went to great pains to show us sucks at navigating in the last book, is supposed to effectively re-route them like that, or get them any place at all, is beyond me. Bruce soon figures out what he’s doing, loses his shit, and strides off without Todd.

Liz wakes up that same morning snuggled up against Ken, then Ken wakes up and spends some time telling her how great she is. I’m about to spend some time throwing up. Then they have to hike up a sheer, treacherous rock face. Liz goes first and somehow gets way higher than Ken, then the rock starts to crumble. There are no other handholds available and she’s about to lose her grip and die and Ken is too far behind to catch her. Not to worry, Bruce is sitting up there at the top of the rock, writing in his journal with “an expensive fountain pen” about Liz at that very moment, because everyone is obsessed with her! He hears Liz scream and leans over to pull her up to safety and I guess it’s supposed to show character building?! I fully expected him to drop her with how crazy he’s been acting all mini-series long. And get this. He has to choose to save her or his gold. I can’t even write this without cracking the fuck up and I’m totally sober at the moment. See, apparently Bruce just carries his gold stash around in his hand, never letting it out of his sight. And so he still has it in his hand as he leans over to grab Liz, but then he has to put the gold down because he needs his other hand. Just then, a huge BALD EAGLE flies on up and starts to go for the gold! I’m not lying to y’all, that’s what is happening and I’m screaming. He’s all flapping and squawking and stretching out his massive, terrifying talons for Bruce’s precious stash. Bruce seems like he’s considering dropping Liz until he looks deep into her eyes and remembers what it felt like to make out with her in her bikini! I’m dead serious, that’s what sways him. He resists the temptation to let her drop and throws the gold down next to him, so that he can use both hands to pull her up, as the eagle STEALS THE GOLD and flies off with it. WHAT IS HAPPENING? WHO WROTE THIS? Bravo, ’cause my God I’m lucky I didn’t piss myself laughing at this. By the way, I’m pissed that eagle isn’t on the cover. He is the real hero.

If you even still care what’s happening with the convicts, well, they’re currently loping around making menacing remarks at a tied-up Jessica and Heather, demanding to know where the rest of the gold is, even though they searched Jessica’s bag and can see there isn’t any more. Jessica names the two most evil convicts Moe and Larry after two of the Three Stooges, but she names the nice, kinda cute, curly-haired one Jack. Jack is the only one who doesn’t have a gun, and he feeds Heather and Jessica beef jerky, granola bars and water and tries to get the other two not to hurt them. The convicts find the flare Todd gave them and get the bright idea to set it off to get the rest of their friends to come back, so they can steal their gold, too. Won’t that also alert the authorities who are actively looking for the escaped convicts in this area? Nobody in this book has a brain! Bruce, Todd, and Liz see the flare go off and take off. Now, I know Liz was about to hump Ken in his sleeping bag last night but now she has literally forgotten he exists until he shouts up at her from down below the rocky boulder she just climbed. Ken is going to follow along separately from the other three and they are just ALL going to go back to where they left Heather and Jessica even though they have no food or water and some of them are close to reaching civilization. I’m so confused. Although, apparently they weren’t all that far away from where they left H and J anyway, because they seem to make it back in record time.

Todd, Bruce, and Liz arrive at Heather and Jessica’s campsite first and don’t understand why they’re just standing there not saying anything until they realize they’re tied up, and then the convicts jump out to menace them. Bruce says he has gold in his pack but they have to get it themselves because he’s tired and they’re all like, hur hur, okay! As Larry digs through his pack for gold, Liz shudders with the memory of the bald eagle’s giant gold-stealin’ talons rather than at the guns currently pointed at her. Then Bruce yells “Watch out! A bobcat!” to distract Larry, and jumps him while his back is turned, but Moe runs up and pistol-whips him. Smooth move, Bruce. Liz hands over her own gold and says that’s all there is and the convicts believe her. What happened to Todd’s gold? He must’ve lost it or gotten rid of it and I forgot … or the writer did, haha.

Ken sneaks up on the campsite and Jessica sees him. To help Ken launch the next surprise attack, she flirts wildly with Larry, who agrees to come over and loosen her ropes and is all “Aw shucks, this girl I’ve terrorized thinks I’m sexy.” Then Ken leaps out and kicks Larry in the stomach and gets the gun, but Moe intervenes once again and stomps on Ken’s wrist to make him drop it, then calls him “golden boy” and makes him hand over his gold. There’s a large clap of thunder, and Larry jumps and fires a random shot in the air making everyone scream. Liz plants an idea that it’s not safe to stay on the rocks, so Moe and Larry are like, “Great idea, princess”, and decide to tie the group up and leave them on top of the rocks to get hit by lightning while they hustle down to safety below. Jack tries to talk them out of this plan, earning admiration from the rest of the group, but he soon gives up and shuffles off with the others like Eeyore. If anyone is trying to figure out where Todd’s gold is, I missed it. I really think this book is so unreal it made me blank on a plot point, but with this series, who knows right? As soon as the convicts have left, the teens free themselves and take off down a rock again. Then they hear a scream and see Jack caught in the rapidly rising river, in one of those flash floods Liz kept harping about. They decide Jack is a nice guy so they team up to save him. Then Heather almost drowns. Jack saves her, and Bruce comforts a sobbing Heather even though he hates her with the fire of a thousand suns. He must’ve decided he wants to hook up again.

The teens and Jack shelter under a rock outcropping and keep making a point to overconfidently state that Larry and Moe surely drowned in the flash flood. Foreshadowing! Jack declines to tell the teens his real name, but he tells them his sob story and wins their affection. See, Moe and Larry are crazed murderers, whereas Jack was sent to prison for 10 years after he was “talked into” committing an armed robbery. In fact, Moe is a domestic terrorist who has killed countless people through bombings in “urban residential areas”! After a few years of prison, Jack decided to break out so he could escape over the border to Mexico, where he’ll send for his beloved girlfriend. But Moe and Larry caught him trying to escape and demanded he take them with him because they had heard the Death Valley gold legends and wanted to find the gold for themselves! So they busted out of the prison, which if I didn’t already mention is conveniently next to Death Valley, and headed right out to do that, dragging poor Jack, the lone unarmed criminal in the bunch, with them. Hey, it’s not all bad, Jack brought a tin of his girlfriend’s homemade brownies! He shares them with the teens and I am wondering if they’re about to be high as fuck. Wait, are you allowed to receive baked goods in prison? The gang decides that Jack is really nice and trustworthy.

The gang is relieved that at least they no longer have any of the cursed gold. They don’t? Then Jessica reveals actually they do, because when the convicts weren’t looking she dug through Moe’s bag and re-stole Ken’s share. Nobody is worried about Jack hearing all this because he’s established himself as a friendly guy who just accidentally fell into a life of crime. Liz orders Jessica to bury the gold on the trail next to a cactus and she pretends to, but sticks it back in her bag instead when nobody’s looking. Oh, god. And in case you were worried, the gang also makes sure to refill their water bottles with fresh falling rain!

The group reaches a cave. Suddenly, Moe’s arm pops out of the cave entrance, grabs Liz and drags her into it. That somehow disturbs some bats and they all come flapping out of the cave and everyone screams and flails at the “angry bats” as they attack their faces, what? What is this, Kiss of the Vampire? Moe menaces Liz with a knife while everyone screams and hollers. In an effort to save Liz, Jessica pulls out the gold she secretly kept and gives it to Moe, but no dice because Moe is really excited about slicing and dicing Liz. They haven’t gotten to murder in a while and they are desperate to; odd how they missed all the other opportunities they had to off the whole group! Larry doesn’t understand why no one else is excited at Liz’s impending doom because Moe is an “artist” at murder and it will be fun to watch. Then Larry remembers how Jessica flirted with him before and starts trying to start something with her again. At the same time, Jack inches toward Moe and tries to talk him out of killing Liz, but Moe is eager to kill her off, just like the rest of us might be at this point in the series. So Jessica creates a stupid distraction by clutching her stomach and hollering about how the untreated water they had earlier must’ve gotten her. Moe yells to shut her up, and while that distraction is ongoing, Jack tackles Moe and they fight, but then Moe just shoots Jack through the heart and that’s that.

Moe decides to reward Larry for being a good fellow escapee by allowing him to kill the other five teens. Larry goes for Jessica first, but just as he’s about to shoot her, there’s the sound of a jetliner or a helicopter or an alien spaceship flying overhead. Moe goes to check it out after threatening Larry for some reason, and Jessica pleads with Larry not to shoot her. He finally relents and leaves, but first he angrily fires off all of the remaining shots in his gun into the cave ceiling for some undetermined reason. He must’ve been watching Point Break back in the pen and got inspired. But the shots cause a cave-in, and the teens are trapped!

The teens try to pull out the rocks from the entrance to escape, but determine it’s no use and start complaining they’re running out of air. It’s also totally dark, and nobody but Liz has a flashlight because apparently these geniuses all ditched theirs when they were trying to make room for the gold. The teens decide to explore back further in the cave for another way out, but first, even though they just bitched about running out of air, pause to bury Jack’s body and cry about it some more. Exploring the back of the cave, they eventually run into a river and then it suddenly rises and they all get trapped and Liz drops her flashlight so they’re all drowning in the dark. Everyone starts frantically shouting out their goodbyes and I love yous and just then, the water magically recedes right as their heads touch the top of the cave ceiling, and they all drop to the cave floor again. But, they’re still trapped and without any food or water since nobody thought to search Jack’s body for any before they buried him.

Then Ken decides to spend his last breaths punching the cave wall in frustration, and his fist goes right through it. Hey! It’s only shale! They all bust through it and find themselves 50 yards from the Desert Oasis 7-Eleven. How convenient! Wait, it’s a 7-Eleven? I thought it was a diner?! Who cares, they’re saved! Joy.

A few days later, the kids head to the SVSS offices to meet up with Brad and Kay, the adult “leaders” who trained them for a couple days and then pitched them into the desert unsupervised. Nobody is mad at the kids for not following the rules and being a bunch of dumb fucks or anything like that and they don’t get anything worse than a raised eyebrow. As it turns out, Brad and Kay did send that rescue plane or whatever that everyone heard, and it picked up Moe and Larry instead and they’re in big trouble now! Liz explains the whole story about the gold, and shares the diary papers and a single remaining gold nugget. Brad takes one look at that stuff and can tell that the “gold” is pyrite (fool’s gold) and the diary is a clever reproduction with recent binding and paper. Not so smart are you now, Liz? Brad shrugs and says that it was probably a theater group that left that stuff out there as a fun exercise or something. Okay. Jessica is like, I guess they left the skeletons too and those were fake, but nobody gives a fuck about making sure.

The kids return to school and are lauded as heroes but make a big deal out of the fact they don’t like gold and now prefer silver. Oh, and if you care, the two couples in the group realized they can’t live without one another thanks to this ordeal.

I hate everyone in this book so much.

This mini-series totally reminded me of a video game, like a desert version of Oregon Trail, if somebody made a shitty rip-off version.

WTF: This book completely changes the narrative of how these kids wound up being the chosen ones for the SVSS trip. In the last book it told us the whole school was forced to enter an essay contest and these six won. Now it says that they were hand-picked by school leadership because they were “the top student leaders at Sweet Valley High” and “based on their special individual accomplishments”; e.g., Todd is captain of the basketball team, Ken is football team quarterback, Jessica and Heather co-lead the cheerleading team, etc. LOL, I love the way they just totally leave out scholarly achievement, except in Liz’s case. This actually makes MORE sense to me because we could all see this group gets special privileges as it is. I do recall that near the end of the previous book, there was some odd mention from Todd or someone about how they were supposed to be setting a good example since they were “the leaders” of their school. I figure this part of the plot was changed later on in the editing process to make things sound more plausible and the opening of the mini-series just got completely overlooked.

Quote from Todd, talking about Heather: “Jessica, she lost her backpack – have a little patience and compassion. I’ll find you a dictionary so you can look those words up.”

Jessica longs for her “forest-scented bubble bath”. What does forest-scented smell like? Pine needles and bear poop?

Bruce Patman quote: “There’s nothing more dangerous than loyalty.”

Here’s Jessica reminding us how old this book is: “It will be March of the year 2000 before we get back to the Oasis.” Man, remember when 2000 seemed very far away still? Now it does, but that’s because it actually is, in the other direction!

The group sees a fox and keep calling it a “wild fox”. Were they expecting to see domesticated foxes in the desert?

Ken goes on and on about his deep love and knowledge of astronomy. Ken, you just get smarter and smarter in every book.

Bruce says something is “more stupider” and that about sums up everything for me.

Bruce talking about the twins to Todd: “Well, I have, in fact, kissed both girls myself. And between you and me, Todd, neither one is really that hot.” I mean, Todd has also kissed both of them, and so has Ken, so you aren’t really that special, Bruce.

When Jessica is trying to flirt with Larry to distract him, we learn she considers herself “the sexy seductress of Sweet Valley High”.

Liz thinks about how much she wants to marry Todd and have his babies. Hahaha, dream on Liz.

Coming up next: A couple of Super Thrillers, although I think they technically make up yet another mini-series!

#115 The Treasure of Death Valley

It’s time to start another mini-series! Please try to contain your excitement as this one is only two books long. Actually, I’m pretty excited myself since two is about all I can take before I find myself desperately wishing for a new storyline. Of course, with my luck, I may find that this mini-series is my favorite and I wish it would last forever, haha! Without further ado, it’s time for … Sweet Valley Survival! In this series, we’ll follow Liz, Jessica, Todd, Ken, Heather, and Bruce as they spend several days tramping through the middle of the desert. Let’s check out our cover

First off, I want y’all to notice that the previous official twin portraits have been retired. Now, the top of the book features brand new portraits with markedly different features. I think it’s pretty clear these new portraits were debuted to make the twins look more like their TV counterparts, Brittany and Cynthia Daniel of the 1994-1997 SVH TV show (which is conveniently advertised on the cover, like always, with that blaring starburst graphic). The Daniel twins are certainly babes and their portraits look nice enough, but I still feel annoyed by this obvious attempt to advertise to fans of the TV show by changing the iconic book characters’ look.

Anyway, any wistfulness is quickly washed away when I glance at the lower righthand corner. Look at that shit! Haha, look at Liz’s face! “Gee willikers, I found some gold!” And nice touch on the over-the-top sparkles. Is that even gold, or did she just stumble upon some props from the old Legends of the Hidden Temple TV game show?

On the left hand side we have our hiking gang. I have no idea who’s who other than the dude in front who is obviously Bruce Patman with that freakin’ attitude. The other brunette has got to be Todd then, but I can’t figure out who’s leaning on him. I would say Liz of course, but the person’s hair is down like Jessica’s. I’m going with, back row, left to right: Jessica, Todd, Heather, Ken, Liz, and Bruce in front.

So, let’s see what in tarnation is going on here in this gold-diggin’ tale! There is a program called Sweet Valley Survival School (SVSS) which is meant to teach people leadership and teamwork skills through extreme survival situations, that type of thing. SVSS is running a survival program in Death Valley for six Sweet Valley High students, and the entire school was forced to enter an essay contest to pick the best candidates. Needless to say, Liz was one of the winners, as she expected (no really, the book tells us she knew she would win). But then it wants us to believe that the other winners just happened to be Todd, Jessica, Ken, Bruce and Heather, all of whom make it clear they would rather die than join this trip. For real, you’re telling me they just accidentally all wrote amazing essays that beat out, say, Randy Mason? Olivia Davidson? Penny Ayala? This shit is fake and rigged. There must be some reveal coming up that shows SVSS deliberately chose the single best essay AND the five worst essays so everyone could learn from Liz.

We’re told that pre-trip, the six winners spent a weekend training and learning survival skills with their SVSS instructors, Kay and Brad. Then the next week, the kids get to skip school to go on their official survival trip test. Kay and Brad load them up with backpacks, food (freeze-dried lunches and canned dinners), supplies, and clothes, and drive them to a drop-off point – a mini-mart with provisions – and leave them there to hike about 40 miles through the desert over four days, on their own, till they reach a diner called Desert Oasis, where a bus will meet them and pick them up at 7 PM on the last day. That’s right, the adult leaders just up and drop them off like, well, bye kids, hope you don’t die in Death Valley! Is this a thing that really happens? I think this book is supposed to be based on those Outward Bound programs, but don’t those have guides? I wouldn’t want to be dropped off in a freakin’ Death Valley desert with no guides after a whole two days of training, and these are teenagers! So if somebody dies in the desert unsupervised, who do the parents sue? Even more hilarious, Kay and Brad warn that there’s a huge storm coming around the time of their pickup, so if the teens don’t make it to their endpoint by the given date, they’re double doomed!

Anyway, this is Sweet Valley, we don’t have room for realism here! Before merrily driving off in a cloud of dust and ominous warnings to remember to disinfect their drinking water, Kay and Brad assign everyone a “buddy”: Liz with Bruce, Jessica with Todd, and Heather with Ken. Jessica is pissed because Heather keeps flirting with Ken, and Todd is pissed because he’s afraid Liz and Bruce are going to start hooking up again. I mean, I would be too Todd, ’cause that girl has been hookin’ up with freakin’ everybody out here. Jessica and Todd team up to try to convince Liz to let everyone have the buddy they want, since it’s not like there’s anyone actually supervising this trip to care, but she says that defies the goals of the trip and refuses. Since everyone has just let Liz be the de facto leader since she’s the only one capable of keeping them all alive, and also the only one who is actually happy to be there, they go along with whatever she says, while grumbling about how “straight-laced” she is. Honestly, Liz seems more like herself at the start of this book than she has in the last few, and it’s surprisingly refreshing.

Liz maps out their route and determines they should be able to hike 10 miles that day before making camp. Everyone is wearing their SVSS-issued clothes and hiking boots except for Heather, who got away with wearing her special custom cheerleading shoes, pissing off Jessica who thinks the boots make her own legs look fat. As the gang starts off from their start point, they run into a strange man sitting on a post who warns them to all be careful. Foreshadowing!

Early on in their hike, Liz crouches down to examine some wildflowers and Bruce nudges her over so that she falls into a pile of prickly bushes and gets welts all over her arms. Liz comforts herself with thoughts of how she will be able to write an article about this journey for the Sweet Valley News. Then it’s time to break for lunch. Further flouting the rules, Heather whips out a mini-TV she brought with her so she could watch her soap opera at 1 each day, which is conveniently the gang’s lunch time. She invites Ken to watch with her and he does, provoking Jessica’s ire and Bruce’s wisecracks. We learn Jessica doesn’t want Ken to know that she used to love watching soap operas. Is there any dude out there that Jessica can just be herself around?

The gang makes camp for their first night and Ken and Heather cook up a batch of chili. Heather makes sure to give Jessica a giant serving because the implication is it will make her fat or something. I’m waiting to see if there will be discussion of someone going off into the bushes to dig a hole in which to take a chili-induced crap. The couples make sure to all place their sleeping bags close together around the fire. Heather wears a sexy nightie and insists on sleeping on the other side of Ken from Jessica, and Bruce loudly asks her if she’s “going for a threesome”, LMFAO!!!

Everyone is required to keep a daily journal, and Chapter 3 is devoted entirely to those entries. I assume the SVSS group will be reviewing what they wrote to close out the assignment, but the entries are mostly just each person bitching about everyone else. Liz spends her entry whining about Jessica and Todd being such babies, and talking about how much more responsible she is than everyone else, which I mean, no lie there. She also claims she’s not as fit and athletic as the others and she can’t believe she can actually keep up with them. Isn’t this the girl who can do a backflip on cue just because Ken Matthews is watching, and loves to swim, jog and hike in the woods with Todd? I call total bullshit. Heather’s entry discusses her plans to steal Ken from Jessica, and maybe Todd from Liz too if she gets bored enough. Ken’s entry sadly reports on Jessica’s jealousy and insists Heather isn’t going to try anything, Jessica’s entry complains about what a horrible person Heather is, and Todd’s pouts about Liz and Bruce some more. Bo-ring. Bruce’s entry, on the other hand, is HILARIOUS. Here are some choice quotes:

  • “I can’t believe I’m stuck in the desert with this bunch of geeks.”
  • “I am learning how much cooler I am than the rest of this bunch.”
  • “What a disappointment [Heather]’s turning out to be. I thought maybe we could hook up – it would definitely break up the monotony of this trip. But she’s drooling all over Matthews. And he’s being a complete loser.”
  • “I can’t believe I’m actually writing this stuff. Who needs to write when you can afford a secretary?”

By the way, I’m assuming Pamela is completely out of the picture at this point. Or, you know, maybe Bruce just got bored with her the way he does with everyone else and is ready to get an affair going already. Look out Pammy, you’re gonna be the next Regina!

Ken decides to try his hand at plotting the route the next day. Heather whines about the blister her cheerleading shoes have given her and throws herself at Ken like usual. At lunch, Heather and Ken’s soap opera is interrupted by a special announcement about three escaped fugitives in the area. Heather freaks the fuck out, but everyone else is unperturbed because you know, psycho killers are old hat to them. Jessica tries to sneak off with Ken to make out, but Heather interrupts them to point out Jessica has a scorpion on her leg. (Unfortunately, Ken gets it off of her before it stings her.)

The gang comes across an abandoned mine and Bruce insists on exploring it even though it’s clearly dangerous and even though Kay and Brad had explicitly warned them the mine shafts were likely to collapse at any time. Liz wants to let Bruce take his chances on his own until everyone reminds her that she insisted on keeping the regular “buddy” cadence and it’s her responsibility to look after him and guilt trips her into following him. Liz does, but soon loses track of him. In fact, pretty much as soon as she steps inside, she just happens to come across an abandoned miner’s pickaxe and a satchel. The satchel contains random papers with diary entries from an 1840s gold rush miner. She grabs up the satchel, but then the mine starts caving in on her and she hustles out just in time, only to find Bruce outside the mine lounging around wondering what took her so long. Then she learns Jessica and Todd had followed her in there to try to rescue her once Bruce came out without her, and now the mine’s collapsed on them. Everyone panics and whips out collapsible shovels to dig them out. Just then, Jessica and Todd stumble out of the mine hacking up a lung. Yay! Everyone cheers and hugs and it’s a valuable teamwork lesson! Liz uses the occasion to give everyone a lecture about the importance of following the rules.

As the group resumes hiking, Liz shows them her stolen artifacts. It turns out there’s another smaller bag inside the larger one, and it contains – gasp! – gold nuggets. There’s a big fight over who has the rights to it until Todd finally demands that everyone listen to Liz since she’s the one who found it. I can’t help but notice that at least three of these kids are super rich already and don’t need this fucking gold. Liz goes through the papers and finds a treasure map marked with some black X marks, and a diary entry about the “Treasure of the Scorpion.” Apparently the deal is, there’s this gold treasure, and when you find it you have to copy the map that’s with it, and leave the map plus half of the gold stash for the next person to find. If you don’t, you’ll be cursed! So the gang has presumably found the half of the first batch of gold that these 1800s prospectors left behind, and I guess there’s more ahead. The gang argues about whether or not they should keep to their original plotted route, or break the rules and follow the treasure map to the second X. Liz finally agrees that they should take the opportunity to find the rest of the treasure. Then there’s another argument about whether the “scorpion curse” is real. Liz and Todd are going to bury half of the gold and make a map copy as instructed, but the others protest, and they finally all agree the whole curse story is likely bullshit and split the entire treasure six ways among them instead. Jessica makes sure to carefully hide her share in her toiletries bag where I’m sure it will be safe and sound for the rest of the book. I love the way nobody is considering that maybe this is a carefully planted test for them and that perhaps the gold is fool’s gold.

The gang merrily skips off talking about what they’ll do with their newfound riches, bla bla, with Ken leading the navigation this time. Heather alternates between whining about her feet hurting, giggling at Ken, and freaking out about the escaped convicts. The group comes to some boulders they have to climb and Todd finds himself ogling Jessica’s fit legs. Bruce helps his “buddy” Liz rock climb much to Todd’s jealousy. Then Liz decides she should make more of an effort to bond with Bruce, so she starts talking about stocks, then thinks about how sexy Bruce looks when he’s talking about something he likes. Oh gawd, here we go again. Then Liz suddenly realizes that their original route had been plotted to stop at a water source that night, and this new one hasn’t because nobody cares about water, so they won’t be able to get fresh water tonight. Oops! The heat is unbearable, and Liz wonders if it’s the curse of the scorpion before chastising herself that only Jessica believes in shit like that.

The gang reaches the second X on the map and there’s a cave there; they all go in to try to find the second treasure and are shocked to discover that bats live in caves! Sadly, nobody seems to have gotten any guano on them. They split up at a fork in the cave, and Bruce takes the opportunity to try to make out with Liz. Just as they’re about to kiss, Jessica yells out that the rest of the group has found the second treasure stash, along with more diary pages. The diary writer talks about how the rest of his group doesn’t believe in the curse and says that he tried to warn them about what had happened to “Old Johnny Lock”. Liz reads that part aloud, but nobody else cares. That’s six more shares of gold to go around! Then there’s a big argument over whether the group should try to make it to the third and final X to get the last of the gold. Liz determines that if they do, they won’t make it back to the pick-up point in time to meet their bus, and the storm is coming, so that’s dangerous. Everyone agrees with Liz that they should just continue on to the pickup point and forget about the last batch of gold except for Jessica and Bruce, who stomp off in disgust after Bruce calls Liz a “boring nerd” and Jessica calls everyone “wimps.” Todd, meanwhile, is looking at Bruce and Liz with suspicion because he can see there’s some kind of feelings being rekindled between them. Liz consoles herself with endless thoughts of the fabulous story she’s sure to write about this adventure and how it will make her famous. Girl, if the other shit you’ve been through hasn’t made you famous by now …

At camp that night, Liz insists on making the fire by herself, but can’t get it started. Todd tries to help, and Jessica pissily demands he help his buddy (her) blow up her air mattress instead. (That’s right, Jessica is hauling an air mattress on this trip.) Todd keeps trying to help Liz anyway, but she bites his head off, so he relents. It takes her so long to get the fire going that the rest of the group grouchily eats the freeze-dried lunches they had set aside for the next day instead of a hot dinner. Liz finally gets a good fire going and is proud of herself, but everyone else is asleep by then. Liz eats dried apricots for dinner and crawls miserably into her sleeping bag fully clothed – a literal sad sack.

The next morning, the fire has gone out and everyone’s cold and in a shit mood, and this trip is about to become truly insufferable. The group finds that their pack are now too heavy to carry with all that gold in them, so they all start removing canned food rations and just leave them on the ground, except for Liz, who’s horrified because they need to eat. Everyone is kind of an asshole to her and she defiantly stuffs a bunch of their discarded cans in her pack so they won’t starve. Later though, her extra-heavy pack rubs her shoulders raw and makes them bleed, so she has to take a bunch of the cans out anyway. She’s tired, so when Todd offers to take over the navigation for the day, Liz lets him even though she and Ken were the only people paying any attention during that part of the training weekend. Jessica quickly sees that Todd doesn’t know what he’s doing and offers to “help”; when Todd agrees, she starts secretly steering them in the direction of the final treasure, instead of the pickup point the group had agreed on. When they break for lunch, Liz is the only one who still has a freeze-dried meal to eat, so she has to share the cans she still has out of her pack so everyone else can eat too. As they start hiking again, Liz soon realizes they aren’t following the agreed-upon route and confronts Jessica, who admits they’re actually headed to the treasure. She and Bruce high-five and Liz is outraged. She calls Todd an “idiot” for not knowing how to read a map and also for trusting Jessica. I mean …. Then Heather claims Liz shirked her responsibility for letting Todd lead. Shut the fuck up, Heather. Liz loses it on everyone and calls Todd “weak and spineless”, Jessica “the most deceitful, untrustworthy person ever to walk on this planet”, Bruce a “no-good, egomaniacal buffoon”, Heather “a spoiled brat who can only be counted on to flirt with every guy in sight”, and Ken “absolutely worthless”. Damn, tell ’em how you really feel, Liz. Liz then feels bad at her outburst and thinks that Heather’s right and that she’s really the one at fault here. What?

It’s too late to change up their route now, plus Liz sees there’s a water source on the treasure route for today, so the gang keeps going toward the final treasure. When they get to the water source, it’s actually a raging river in a canyon and everyone snipes at Liz like it’s her fault. Everyone stumbles down the canyon slopes and then links arms and does a special human chain technique they learned in the training weekend to cross, with the strongest people making up the ends of the chain. Then, as is inevitable, Jessica, who’s near the end of the chain because she’s the strongest girl, fucks everything up. Heather is linked to Ken, and that makes Jessica jealous, so she suddenly breaks from her end of the chain and busts on ahead to break in between Ken and Heather in the middle of the river. Everyone struggles to stay together. Heather has to cling to Jessica in the new formation, but she is too scared to hold on and Jessica isn’t strong enough to hold her, so Heather loses her grip and gets carried away in the rapids. After the group makes it to shore, they find Heather hanging on to a stuck log for dear life and manage to rescue her. They also find her drenched sleeping bag later on, but the rest of her pack – including her share of the gold – is gone. Heather blames Jessica for what happened and calls her “childish” (true) and says that Jessica should give her her gold to make up for the loss, and a brief shouting match ensues. Ken takes Heather’s side, and Jessica storms off with Liz following her while Todd and Ken look on in disgust. Bruce and Todd get a fire going and use a bunch of blank pages of the journals nobody’s writing in anymore as kindling.

Liz eventually brings Jessica back to the campsite and the gang lightens up a bit. But everyone dissolves into fighting again after Jessica keeps picking at Heather and Ken admonishes her for harassing someone who nearly died. Then Todd and Liz both seem eager to simply put Heather’s near-death experience aside and keep moving, and Ken gets upset at that because he thinks that’s mean. Adding fuel to the fire, Liz looks in her bag and finds the water purification kit she’d been entrusted with for the entire team is missing. She must’ve left it on the ground with her offloaded canned goods, oops! The gang refills their canteens from the river and hopes for the best and I’m hoping they all get mad diarrhea of the hot lava variety because by now I’m definitely sick of everyone, although I actually have more sympathy for Liz than pretty much anybody at this point. This trip is like the worst kind of group project where nobody does any work except the one person and then when the whole group doesn’t get the grade they want, they all get mad at the person who actually did things.

To further improve the evening, Todd grabs a hot log on the fire to move it without thinking and burns his dopey hand and wonders what’s happening to him and everyone. (Is it the curse, or is it just that everyone here sucks at life? I vote the latter.) Liz sits next to him to apologize for being snotty to him and calling him names before, but before she can do that, she looks past him and suddenly spies another recently extinguished campfire. Someone was just here! Was it the escaped convicts? Heather goes into another fit about how the convicts are coming for them and I really want to just toss her back into the river. Bruce picks on Heather relentlessly and Ken angers Jessica by standing up for her again.

Then everyone decides they better haul out their journals since they all skipped making an entry the night before. Heather writes about how stupid and immature Jessica is and how she’s definitely going to steal Ken now – TONIGHT! Ken writes that he doesn’t know what he ever saw in Jessica and also wonders how Liz could be so irresponsible and unlike herself. Jessica rages in her journal about how much she hates Heather and Ken, and Liz’s entry talks about how much pretty much everyone sucks. Todd mopes in his journal about how he misses Liz and wants them to make up. Bruce happily writes about the gold, and how everyone else is such a loser.

Jessica interrupts Bruce mid-entry to get all close to him and (ideally) make Ken jealous. Bruce is hornier than a triceratops so he gets all turned on and is about to kiss her when Heather starts making loud remarks about her wet sleeping bag. People make a bed for her out of warm blankets and Jessica is outraged. Then she abruptly decides Heather is going to steal her gold while she sleeps, so she moves it out of her backpack and into the bottom of her sleeping bag where her feet are. Then she rolls her sleeping bag next to Bruce and snuggles up. Heather and Ken walk off to have a talk and end up kissing. Jessica gets up to go pee, and comes back to find her gold missing from her sleeping bag and starts screaming. As everyone gathers round, she accuses Heather of stealing it, and Heather and Ken share that they’ve been off together this whole time, so there’s no way Heather could’ve done that, further enraging Jessica. Heather is sure the convicts must have taken it and starts having a screeching breakdown again. I really hate everyone.

The next morning, the gang wakes to what is supposed to be their last day. They’re supposed to find the last treasure, then somehow make their way to the Desert Oasis diner on time to meet their bus before the storm hits. Jessica remembers her gold is missing as soon as she wakes and starts another tiresome screaming fight with Heather in which they call each other “dumb blonde” and “bimbo”. Ken once again insists Heather couldn’t have taken it, but now he kind of wants to reunite with Jessica after all, so he claims he and Heather were “just talking” when they were off the night before. Heather stomps off to the river. I swear to God, there is more stomping in this story than a Godzilla movie. At the river, Heather comes across – gasp! – the three escaped convicts, but they don’t see her. They’re hanging around behind a boulder talking about how much gold the kids must have on them, and they have Jessica’s stolen gold just sitting there in plain sight in front of them. Heather runs back and tells the rest of the group, but nobody believes her. Another dumbass shouting match ensues. Heather starts hanging all over Todd, and Jessica is secretly pleased because she thinks Liz deserves it.

The group comes across a giant boulder field and has to leap from boulder to boulder to make it across. Heather starts showing off with crazy cheerleading jumps and sprains her ankle. The boys end up having to carry her around because both twins refuse to help. They finally make it to the final treasure cave. Inside are six skeletons and another satchel – but instead of gold, it’s full of scorpions! Everyone screams and runs. Liz is sure the six skeletons are the people written about in the old diary pages she has. Now it’s seven o’clock, their meetup time, and the gang is miles away from the Desert Oasis diner. Just then, the killer storm rolls in. They’re all gonna die! Yay Oh no!

I was surprised that I actually kind of liked this one. I definitely got sick of all the stupid bickering, but it was kind of fascinating to see just how much this group can thoroughly fuck themselves over!

Quote made of pure gold: “What is with those Wakefield women that makes them think they’re better than everybody?” -Ken Matthews

Other crap: The seating arrangements in the van on the way up are hard to picture and seem like they keep changing and it’s really confusing. I can only assume they were playing musical chairs at each rest stop.

Both twins think about how even Lila Fowler would’ve been a better teammate than Heather Mallone. Uh, no shit.

Bruce Patman reads comic books. I would not have guessed that. Then again, I could see him finding a kindred spirit in Archie Comics’ Reggie Mantle.

The soap opera that Heather loves is called Sunrise, Sunset and now I have a Fiddler on the Roof song stuck in my head. Jessica’s (supposedly former) favorite is called Days of Turmoil. That sounds really familiar and I’m pretty sure they’re doing a throwback to the early books.

Bruce says his dad has a friend named BENTLEY WENTWORTH (ROFL!) who found a hidden stash of gold in an old mine shaft and now lives on a yacht.

Jessica prides herself on hiding her fear of things because Ken doesn’t like “histrionics.”

Todd says he will use his riches to buy himself a brand new car – just any new car – and acts like nice cars are alien to him. Yeah, maybe back in the Datsun days, but they made him rich a long time ago and he drives a brand new BMW!

Heather: “Platinum is my favorite – gold is so pedestrian.”

Bruce: “Darnit! Jessica Wakefield is always cramping my style.” And pretty much everyone’s, dude.

Todd to himself, amazed that Liz wants to brush off Heather’s near-death experience in the river and keep going: “Liz usually loves to discuss and dissect intense experiences, running them into the ground until they just about lose all their meaning.”

WTF: “Jessica blinked, then blinked again. She’d had enough biology to recognize the sight. Skeletons! Human skeletons!” So like … she passed kindergarten biology?

In the back of the book: Nothing new – book listing, fan club ad, TV show listings.

Up next: We find out how the gang inevitably triumphs. I’m still kind of betting that gold is fake and this is all a set-up designed to test their mettle, except for the convict part. I’m waiting for Yosemite Sam to pop out.

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