Check out our episode here! Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Dear readers, this is a message from The Corporation. The Corporation loves you and only wants to sell you the best beauty products and definitely not take over the world. Thank you for your time. Our story begins with a plane crash. But it’s a beautiful plane crash because the plane is filled with teen beauty queens preparing to participate in the Miss Teen Dream competition. Instead of arriving safely at their destination, the engine cuts out and the plane takes a nosedive onto a deserted island. Unfortunately not all of our beauties make it. Miss New Hampshire, Adina, and Miss Nebraska, Mary Lou, wake up, frantic about their shoes and dresses and fail to notice the bodies floating around them. Yikes. Miss Texas, Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, begins gathering the survivors and we learn that there are only twelve, one of which has part of an airline tray embedded in her forehead. Don’t worry, she’s fine.
Taylor gets the girls organized into two groups, the Sparkle Ponies and the Lost Girls. The Sparkle Ponies gather supplies and the Lost Girls search for survivors. Taylor is inspired by Ladybird Hope, a former Miss Teen Dream who saved the pageant by getting corporate sponsors to pay for it. She maintains that they need to continue practicing their routines for the pageant and stay in shape, just what everyone wants to hear. The Lost Girls go out in search of survivors and to scout out the terrain. While they’re out, they find Nicole, Miss Colorado. She’s black, which causes Shanti, Miss California, to freak out because hey, she’s Indian, she’s the ethnic one. Yikes again. Petra, Miss Rhode Island, is also freaking out, but it’s because she can’t find her medication, which she desperately needs.
The groups meet up again. The Lost Girls only found one survivor and some bodies. The Sparkle Ponies gathered some blankets and beauty products. Taylor wants everyone to practice their pageant routines, so they’ll start that in the morning, but now, they scout out a place to camp for the night and find some firewood. Adina keeps watch. Here we learn that Adina wants to take down the pageant. She is an aspiring journalist who wants to write about the pageant industry to show off its bad side. She sees lights in the distance near the volcano and begins to think this deserted island is not so deserted after all. And she’s right. The lights are coming from The Corporation who has a station set up inside the volcano. There is an agent there, Agent Jones, who is talking to his boss about the girls. The corporation is working on Operation Peacock which requires the plane crash to have no survivors. Oooooohhhhh. Commercial break! Try Lady ‘Stache Off!
When we return, Petra finds her overnight bag that has her medication in it. As she runs into the water to get it, huge waves roll in and then the girls are washed over a waterfall. Yikes this place! Ladybird Hope is interviewed at this time. She says they’re doing everything they can to bring the girls back, that the plane was taken down by terrorists and that she’s running for president. Jennifer, Miss Michigan, has her questionnaire here, and we learn that she’s a lesbian juvenile delinquent mechanic who super loves comic books. She’s on her own now after the tidal wave and she finds Miss Illinois, Sosie, who is then eaten whole by a snake. Yikes! Jennifer stabs the snake with a spear while Sosie pries its teeth apart and climbs out. The snake then bites down on a jar of Lady Stache Off and explodes? Then they find a temple with a radio, a chocolate bar and more Lady Stache Off.
Meanwhile, Petra, Nicole, Shanti, and Tiara are on their way back to the beach, singing Boys Will B Boyz songs. Shanti hassles Petra about her overnight bag and we find out that the medication in there is a hormone treatment. Hmm… They rest for the night and Shanti wakes to find Tiara has found and eaten a star-shaped fruit. Fruit? Yum! She seems okay, so they all eat it, but uh oh, the fruit is hallucinogenic. Each of the girls has a weird, trippy dream trip where they work on their insecurities. Shanti has control issues and dreams of letting go. Petra is a frog who wants to become a princess. Nicole is in a sitcom with sassy black sidekicks. During these trips, we see Agent Jones again, working with an intern who set up the system in the volcano to respond only to PowerPoint presentations. That seems like a really good plan. We learn that The Corporation is running low on resources and is working with MoMo B. ChaCha, a crazy dictator who has a taxidermied pet lemur, General Good Times, as his advisor and a cut out of Ladybird Hope that he’s in love with. They’re giving him explosives made with Lady Stache Off (which explains the exploding snake) and he’s letting The Corporation work in his country. Excellent.
Back on the beach, everyone has returned safely. They make survival a part of their pageant training and craft fishing lines, build huts, make weapons like missile launchers, splatter guns, and arrows, sew SOS signs with sequins and make hammocks and traps. Really, they’ve moved past being pageant girls, well, all except for Taylor, but she’s in charge, so they keep practicing. And surviving. And they’re doing really well! While they’re together on the beach, Petra reveals that she is transgender and used to be a member of Boys Will B Boyz. Shanti has issues with this, but Petra tells her that everyone lies about who they are, which is a slap in the face to Shanti. They almost kick Petra out, but instead decide that everyone needs to stay together. Jennifer tries to fix the radio she found and Mary Lou talks about being a sexually insatiable wild woman who is protected by a purity ring. Inside the volcano, the intern, Harris, wants to know who another guy, Benny, is working with, but then he accidentally shoots him. Commercial break! Protect what matters to you most! Buy the Git R Done 447 Personal Safety handgun!
They continue bonding, but also they’re kind of freeing themselves, everyone except for Taylor who is really too into this pageant. Sosie, who really just wants a best friend but always has to make able-bodied hearing people feel okay with her, tries to catch a bird and Jennifer comes over and shows her a dance and then they dance together and laugh and play and almost kiss. Tiara cuts her hair with a machete because she’s tired of pageant stuff because she’s been doing pageants since she was two weeks old. Around the campfire that night, they talk about things they miss and don’t miss and want to have a GirlCon instead of a pageant. There are some commercials, one about Patriot Daughters featuring sexy Betsy Ross giving it all for her country and one about Captains Bodacious, several hunky, shirtless young men in breeches and earrings who have run away from prep school because they witnessed a murder who oil their pecs before battle.
Mary Lou used to want to be a pirate when she was little. She also used to fantasize about the hunky pirate studs on Captains Bodacious. She lost her purity ring that keeps the wildness in check and then runs naked around the island. She finds a fellow sleeping and gets caught in a trap. The fellow, Tane, helps her out. He’s an ecowarrior and the island that they’ve crashed on used to belong to his people but The Corporation kicked them off and took over. He says he’s going to investigate and then will send help back to the girls.
Nicole heads out into the jungle and finds the ruins and temple. She thinks about how she always wanted to be a doctor but her mom, a former Laker Girl, pushed her into pageants. Shanti follows her and Nicole asks why Shanti doesn't like her, Shanti admits it's because Nicole is her only real competition because they’re the only two people of color in the pageant. But then she started sinking in quicksand. Yikes! Nicole tries to help but also gets stuck and then Shanti loses her proper Indian accent and her valley girl finally comes out. She’s finally herself. They escape the quicksand and make it back to camp where Jennifer has fixed the radio. They all hear that Ladybird Hope has called off the search for the girls who were sabotaged by terrorists. Taylor is so upset by this, her hero Ladybird called off the search! After all they’ve done! She runs off into the jungle. She finds men in black shirts and sees them going into the volcano. She overhears Agent Jones and Harris talking about not being able to rescue the girls because then people will discover that they have been working with MoMo B. ChaCha, so she beats them up. She goes to tell the rest of the girls but is hit in the butt with darts coated in hallucinogenic fruit. Agent Jones puts some of the fruit around her so when she’s found, everyone will just think she’s crazy and definitely not telling the truth about what she saw. The girls rescue her and put her in a hut, but she runs off again and ends up killing more blackshirts in her hallucinogenic haze.
Mary Lou tells the girls about Tane, but when she takes them to meet him, he’s gone. Then another storm rolls in and when they run to higher ground, they see… a pirate ship? Enter Captains Bodacious, the reality TV pirates. Captain Sinjin says that he and his crew drunkenly sailed off course and asks for food and water, so the girls obviously help them. Adina, who has taken charge since Taylor ran off crazy into the jungle, is attracted to pirate Duff and Captain Sinjin has a crush on Petra. The girls fix up the boat when one of the pirates, Charlie, gets stung by a jellyfish! Oh no! You know what makes that feel better? PEE! While they’re arguing over who’s going to do it, Petra takes control, obviously revealing that she has a penis. Captain Sinjin’s response? Bodacious! And we all say AWW! Then we all say ARRRGGGHHH when Duff films him and Adina having sex. But Mary Lou punches him in the face, so that’s something. Then Adina finds a body and the pirates reveal that they are on the run from The Corporation because they witnessed some human trafficking. Yikes. This paragraph is full of yikes. Then the pirates leave to keep the girls safe. Yeah, sure. Yikes again.
During all these pirate shenanigans, both good and bad, Taylor is still hallucinating around the jungle. She decorates a statue like a pageant girl and then attaches Lady Stache Off explosives to it, she ninja-kills a bunch of blackshirts as they approach the rest of the girls on the beach and she has many conversations with her imaginary friend, Ladybird Hope. And speaking of Ladybird, she and MoMo are somewhat of an item in real life, not just in cardboard world. But Ladybird has decided that MoMo needs to be taken out so the corporation can take over his country. But she’s got an even more sinister plan in the works, she’s going to kill all the pageant girls live on TV and blame it on MoMo. MoMo suspects something is afoot, so he gathers some incriminating evidence. There are other things afoot, too. Mary Lou looks for Tane and sees him being dragged into the secret facility in the volcano. Before she can run back and tell her friends, she’s taken into the volcano, too… by gunpoint.
Agent Jones then “finds” the other girls. He pretends to rescue them but takes them to the volcano instead. The girls obviously don’t trust him, especially after the pirates left, but they go with him anyway. AND GET SHOWERS! AND FOOD! Ladybird Hope calls and tells them to do a pageant on the island. She conveniently dismisses the fact that they’ve survived on this deserted island. That was a mistake. The girls ask about Mary Lou, but are told she went home, which uh, how? Really, she and Tane are dangling on a hook above a tank of hungry piranhas. Because of course they are. Mary Lou swings them to a ledge and they escape. The rest of the girls are getting more and more suspicious and play dumb to find out secrets about what’s going on inside this volcano. They sexily ask guards for gummy bears and also do the dreaded I’M ON MY PERIOD scheme and are able to find out from Harris the intern that Ladybird is planning on killing them during their live pageant so The Corporation can frame MoMo and start a war. Speaking of periods… Commercial Break! Buy Maxi-Pad Pets! Who’s got a tiger in their trousers? You can!
The girls find Mary Lou and Tane and plan to steal MoMo’s yacht and escape during the pageant. They also find Taylor and try to get her in on the escape plan, but she’s too far gone on the Mind Flower. MoMo wants to watch the pageant, which starts out like any other pageant, but when they get to the interview portion, things start going… awry. The questions Adina asks are very leading about The Corporation and secrets are released left and right. So much so that Agent Jones picks up on it and rushes the pageant forward to the dance number. But they’re not ready for that yet. And their flamethrower jams! Oh no! Right then, just as the fake rebels are aiming their guns, Taylor’s armed Miss Miss statue rolls on stage with a note to RUN on the back. The girls take off and the statue explodes.
That’s not the end of the craziness though. Oh no. As the girls scatter, Tiara and Petra are caught by Harris, who is then eaten by a giant snake. Shanti and Nicole run to the temple and are almost found by blackshirts but then a mysterious wind blows them away. The other girls end up disabling a lot more blackshirts with those homemade weapons they built a while ago. Taylor and Adina are found by Agent Jones, but Taylor leads him into the jungle and shoots him with the Mind Flower darts, so Adina runs off and right into Duff. Yeah, the pirates came back a few chapters ago. But then MoMo shows up. Duff mentions that he’s on Captains Bodacious and MoMo loves that show, so he says he’s on it now and is going to make them walk the plank. They tell MoMo that they know where Ladybird is, so instead of walking the plank, they go to the volcano where they meet up with the rest of the girls and the pirates. Ladybird hope is there, telecommuting of course because it has to be eerily applicable to our current times, and tells them that she’s rigged the volcano compound to explode. Luckily Agent Jones is there, hopped up on hallucinogens, and tells them that Harris made everything in the compound controllable via PowerPoint, so they determine they have to make a presentation to shut down the bombs. They include in their PowerPoint all the terrible things the corporation has done. Nice.
They all escape as the Lady Stache off explodes and make it to the pirate ship. Mary Lou and Tane have taken it over, but that’s fine because they actually know what they’re doing at the helm. They are finally safe, but there’s still one thing that they have to do. They interrupt Ladybird Hope live on TV during the interview where she was telling everyone that they all died. Oops. The girls end their interview with their PowerPoint presentation and a sex tape that they found featuring Ladybird and MoMo. Yikes. Turns out, the audience cares more about the sex scandal than anything else that The Corporation has done. Of course. They sail away on the ship, leaving Taylor behind, but it’s okay. She’s taken over the island and is perfectly happy. And so are all the rest of the girls.