Tsunami Survivor Conserves Energy Via Escapism, Or, Between God And A Hard Place - a short play by Lee Bob Black


Setting (time): April 2005.

Setting (place): On the set of Comedy Central’s satirical news program, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

JON STEWART [speaking into the camera]: Four months ago, on December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake triggered a series of tsunamis that killed approximately a quarter of a billion people. Tonight’s guest is Rizal Shahputra, an Indonesian who was swept out to sea, and survived nine days clinging to an uprooted tree, finally being picked up by a passing cargo ship. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Rizal Shahputra.

[RIZAL SHAHPUTRA walks onto the set, shakes hands with JON, and sits down.]

JON: Welcome to the Daily Show.

RIZAL: Thank you.

JON: So what do you do in the middle of the ocean, miles from your hometown of Aceh, under the blazing sun, with no ships around, for nine days?

RIZAL: You wait. You curse god. You watch your friends struggling to hold on to branches, and you watch them, one by one, all slide into the water, and you hardly notice them flaying their arms or floating away.
Basically, you do what you have to do. I was black and blue by the tsunami. And hanging on to that tree while awake was one thing, trying to sleep on it was quite another. So, I was also looking for something to take my mind off my predicament, you know, a little time out, a little distraction, you know.

[RIZAL winks at JON.]

JON [facetiously pretending to know what RIZAL is hinting at]: Oh, I know.

RIZAL: It’s weird, even though I was miles away from shore--the undertow of the tsunami was immense; straight after it hit, all the water that wasn’t trapped inland got sucked back into the Indian Ocean. So, even though I was miles from anyone who could possibly see me, before I, you know--

JON [still facetiously playing along with RIZAL]: Oh yeah, I know . . . actually I have no idea what you’re talking about.

RIZAL [raising his eyebrows]: Before I would you know with my bestfriend . . . I . . .

[RIZAL looks left and right, behind his back, and again left and right. RIZAL is re-enacting being on the tree, and before masturbating, checking if anyone’s watching. Eventually JON figures out what is RIZAL re-enacting.]

RIZAL: That says something about the irrationality of human nature--that we can’t masturbate without worrying that someone’s watching.

JON [looking at the camera]: Some of us have, however, evolved beyond that.

[The audience and RIZAL laugh.]

JON: I hadn’t known Catholicism was popular in Indonesia.

RIZAL [laughing]: After the others had all drowned, I masturbated a few times a day, and started thinking--

JON: About sharks? Sharks are attracted to blood, maybe they’re also . . .

[JON is insinuating that sharks might also be attracted to the scent/taste of ejaculation.]

RIZAL: I started thinking about my energy. Do you know what you’re supposed to do if you’re stranded in the desert with no water?

[JON shrugs his shoulders, indicating that he doesn’t know.]

RIZAL: To conserve energy . . . ?

JON: You mean?

[JON stands up, makes a “sss”-ing sound, pretends to pee into an imaginary cup, and then takes a drink from the cup.]

RIZAL: Exactly. Stranded in the desert, you drink your pee. It’s a no-brainer. Not so pleasing for the taste buds, kind of like Coca-Cola mixed with . . . I don’t know, something else disgusting. But your piss has vitamins and minerals in it, and instead of wasting them, you recycle them and get to stay alive that little bit longer; which highlights another thing about human nature--how super-strong the survival instinct is, how we’ll consider doing practically anything to stay alive that one or two days more, or that one or two minutes more. Because, when you’re stranded in the desert--or out to sea like I was--you don’t know how many days it’ll be before you’re rescued, if you’re rescued. So there I was, with no more coconuts to eat, masturbating in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and . . .

[RIZAL extends his right hand and looks at an imaginary cup in it. It looks like he’s twirling a glass of red wine and that he’s looking at the colors of the wine, and smelling it. He’s thus insinuating that he had considered eating his own semen to conserve energy.]

RIZAL: I’m faced with a conundrum. Do I . . . ?

[RIZAL is effectively saying, “Do I eat my own cum?”]

RIZAL: On the one hand [RIZAL keeps his right arm extended], I can exercise my right to experience a little bit of pleasure. With masturbation, nobody gets hurt, nobody gets pregnant, nobody gets any sexual diseases. Or . . .

JON: On your other hand.

[JON places a big emphasis on the word “On”; he’s insinuating that there might be cum on the hand.]

RIZAL [laughs]: Exactly. On the other hand, if I want to increase my chance of survival, I have to, you know. I remember thinking, “Why can’t it? Other people do it for pleasure.”

JON: Or out of obligation.

[The crowd groans.]

JON: But, if it was life and death, would I drink my own pee to stay alive? I’d probably do that. But I don’t care how many vitamins and minerals are in my semen, I wouldn't eat it in a million years. If I had to choose between eating my own semen, and say the electric chair, I’d be like, “Where do you plug it in?”

RIZAL: It depends on what culture you’ve grown up in. In Indonesian, women are spitters. I don’t know what Indonesian men do. But in America, some women spit, some . . . .

JON [smiling excessively]: And some don’t--let’s leave it at that. You realize we’re going to bleep half of this interview? What I want to know is, did you, when you were stranded out to sea, did you, you know, get your recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals? A man needs a lot of energy to survive nine days holding onto a tree.

RIZAL: To find out, you’ll have to read my book.

[JON laughs and grabs RIZAL’s memoir, and angles it on his desk so that another camera can zoom in on it.]

JON: Rizal Shahputra’s memoir, Between God And A Hard Place, is out now.

JON [looking back to RIZAL]: Did your agent ever think about doing a public speaking tour with Jon Krakow and Aron Ralston? It could be called, “We Will Survive.” Some food for thought. I’m afraid that’s all we have time for tonight. Thanks for coming on the show. Ladies and gentlemen, please thank Rizal Shahputra.

RIZAL: Thank you.

[The audience claps. The segment ends.]



Rizal Shahputra inspired me to write this short play. On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunamis killed approximately 230,000 people. Rizal Shahputra, 23 at the time, was swept out to sea with family members and others on a raft of tree branches and debris. Crewmen on a passing container vessel, the MV Durban Bridge, spotted Rizal Shahputra, the only survivor, on January 3, 2005, 160km (100 miles) from Banda Aceh, Indonesia. 

Photos: Rizal Shahputra.
Photos: Rizal Shahputra.
Photos: Rizal Shahputra.
Photos: Rizal Shahputra.
Photos: Rizal Shahputra.
Photos: Rizal Shahputra.
Photos: Rizal Shahputra.
Photos: Rizal Shahputra.
Photos: Rizal Shahputra.