CRACKED 5 by Sam Berrett

"SAM!!!" I hear Nicci screaming in a panic as she's being violently pulled away from the group sitting on the hard, dirty floor in a tight circle. I'm grabbing her shirt and pulling her back towards me as best as possible when Mathias (who we met last year at Cracked vs. Heretic) leans over to grab her shoe and helps me get her back to us as we read Blake's now familiar 2 page oration in unison, loudly, over and over. I would have helped her more, but I was in a headlock being pulled the other direction.

Teamwork. A theme that would come up more than once during the 4+ hour event. If we were going to survive this whole show, it would be as a group. I was aware that some previous shows of Cracked had 10 people enter, 1 person being the winner. This year, there was no mention of this before the show, and as the scenes unfolded, it was clear that this would not be the case for year 5. Our goal was to endure. To finish. To become part of Blake's exclusive Reliquia.

Last year (2018), we had the opportunity to experience Cracked vs. Heretic in Los Angeles, and it left us in awe (and very sore for days). We had wanted to experience both of these horror simulations for years, and here was our shot to see the two collide. We made the journey, finished the 4.5 hour show, threw away our haggard clothes, came home and were absolutely amazed by what we had just encountered and survived. This had been our first true extreme horror simulation, and we got to do it together, and survive together. It was a show that impacted us enough that we now wear our matching tattoos of the show's symbol with pride.

Soon after, when hints of another show in 2019 in the UK (the third collaboration between Cracked and Heretic) came, we immediately decided we were in. Eventually, this show appeared to not be happening, so we decided we would still go to the UK, but for Cracked's 5th year of their own show. We knew it would be difficult, but the moment tickets went on pre-sale, we bought them. We decided we'd fly to London to be tourists and have fun site seeing for 2 days, then travel to Yorkshire for Cracked, then come home the next morning.

Before the event, months before the shows happened (8 people went in April, and the other 8 in May, which included Nicci and myself), we were added to a secret Facebook group. Here, we answered various questions, made videos and more as a slow but effective build up to the show. I knew from last year to do my best to memorize people's answers to questions as it would help me at some point during the show. Sure enough, it helped, in a very different type of game than last year though. A game I had no experience with, but endured very well, to my surprise.

The show came quick, and after a lovely couple of days in London running around like kids, we made our train ride to Yorkshire on Friday. We had a nice dinner with a friend, Elicia, who would be going through the event with us the following night. Mid-dinner we got our private messages on Facebook with information on where exactly to be the next night. It was now 24 hours to the show. Things got very real in that moment, and I was now to be Subject 3 the following night and also received my safeword in case things became too much for me during the show. We got some rest and had dinner with two more people from our group (Mike and Colin) before the show on Saturday. This time we spent with our fellow subjects was really nice and a great way to build up to the show together.

We arrived near the pickup point for a group picture and some brief socializing before we headed to the exact area marked on the maps we had received the night before. Everyone was getting nervous but also really excited as we timed it out to arrive exactly on time at the pickup point. A van showed up, we lined up by number, and we were broken into two groups of 4. I was still with Nicci, something I was very grateful for. The four others were escorted forcefully into the van, and the rest of us were left to find "something important for later." We spent our time overthinking things but ultimately got what we needed.

In an amazing moment of comic relief, a random couple came walking by with a dog and asked us what we were doing. I smiled and shrugged to communicate "I don't know," as at the time I really didn't know. She saw our two Cracked crew members in all white coveralls and masks and asked me across the street if we were "forensics," which seems fair enough since we were looking around frantically with two people in all white watching over us. I don't know what they told this poor lady and her husband, but eventually they left... staring at us with crazy eyes until they were out of sight.

Suddenly the van was back, and now the four of us were rushed into seats, blindfolded and hooded, and now at the mercy of Sarge. A frantic, instruction filled ride followed as we all listened to a recording of Blake speaking over the van speakers. Slowly the sound decayed away and became more nightmarish as the ride and orders became more chaotic as well. This was our first test to see if we could follow instructions and endure some discomfort.

With an abrupt stop, we're lead out of the van, and with no clue where I am, I'm being pushed and guided around with no sight. This feeling was a first for me, and keeping myself moving without sight was very unnerving, especially at the brisk pace I was lead at. Things slowed down, but now it was a matter of navigating stairs. The team was excellent at moving us along with both efficiency and safety in mind. We're unhooded to discover our four friends from the beginning and we save them.

What followed was some very thoughtful theatrical scenes with our group huddled together and told we'd meet Blake soon to eventually ascend to his Reliquia, but first we needed to be cleansed and baptized... made worthy of Blake. This was the next very intense test to see who would be sticking it out all night, who really wanted to be there. We lost one person during this scene, and the sounds of people screaming around us was quite chilling. "I'm trying!" ... "I am Blake!" ... "PLEASE NO!!" ... all of this without sight to assess what was happening. This scene will stick with me for a long time.

Ushered back to the previous room and then unhooded, we could finally see who was still here and who wasn't. Group scenes followed and as things got extremely physical, one more subject called the safeword. Now it was 6 of us. Blake had explained that a tough mind is important but we need tough bodies as well. Scenes of endurance followed, with a cinematic thread that followed us during our various tests. We were being initiated into something greater than our individual selves.

In a very emotional moment for me, Blake came up to me during a scene where Nicci was separate from me and asked me why I had come. I sputtered out something about proving myself to him and Reliquia, to which he immediately stopped me and said "NO! When you went on your computer and bought those tickets, what is it that you WANTED?" I closed my eyes, breathed slowly, and told him "To conquer inner demons, and ones I haven't seen yet." He raised his voice and told me "Now THAT'S a great answer!" while patting my chest and then walked to another subject with the same question. In that moment I wanted to cry. I had spoken the truth and he knew it. These extreme haunts are a journey of self discovery. A journey that continues.

The thing I dreaded most, coming to Cracked, was the extreme eating segment which I had a hunch was coming in some form during the show. When faced with it, I put in all the willpower I had in me and was the first one done with my meal. Nicci shortly finished after me, and a crew member informed the group that the Americans were kicking their butts. I was elated by this, and then Rosalie came up to me, smiled, and told me she was proud of me. Again, I wanted to cry with joy that I had conquered something I was genuinely worried about. My stomach is terrible.

Not too much later, it was time to see Blake again, as he spoke to us in a candlelit room. We could tell the tests were over, and Nicci and I had tears of accomplishment in our eyes as we read Blake's 2 pages aloud one final time. This time I was memorizing lines and looking up to speak them as I stared at Blake directly in front of me, only feet away. The scene ended, and as we were taken to the final moments of the show, we passed by the entire Faceless Ventures team standing one by one. It was here that I, for the first time since all of the chaos began, recognized some faces I hadn't previously seen, and felt warmly welcomed into Club Reliquia. We blew our candles out as Blake touched our heads, and we were done.

We wandered into the city streets in awe and eventually realized we were walking into the middle of nowhere and became confused. Fortunately Mike looked back and eventually spotted a van back towards where we came from. We laughed about it, turned around, were picked up silently, and were dropped back off at the pickup site and given our bags we'd brought with us. The show was over and we now had each other to talk to about the experience for a while before we headed off to bed. We were excited to realize our shirts would make it home with us this year as souvenirs. Last year they were ditched in an alley due to smell... Needless to say, the locals in a nearby bar were very confused by the weird kids standing in a parking lot all wearing white... but we didn't care at this point. They stared and eventually lost interest.

After an evening like this, it's not easy to sleep. We showered and talked for hours. Nicci received a message from Lee/Sarah Conway, two of the main creative minds behind Cracked and Faceless Ventures. We were informed that Blake had said we'd done awesome. The tears welled up as we shared pride in ourselves and each other for making it through the evening. The 5000 mile trip had been 100% worth it. We held each other in joy and exhaustion and eventually fell asleep.

Nicci and I got about 2 hours of sleep before an insanely full day of literally planes, trains and automobiles, a terrifying experience in itself! This was our first trip out of the country, so it involved many steps we weren't used to taking. As we flew over the Atlantic, taking in amazing views of Greenland, I wrote a note to Blake of deep gratitude for the experience and the catharsis I felt and still feel from Cracked even now. I told him how this had been our first time out of the country, an early honeymoon gift from my incredibly loving and supportive mother, who enjoys hearing about these crazy adventures we go on. I also explained what an amazing, once in a lifetime bonding experience this had been for Nicci and me. I described how "we look into each other's eyes with an even deeper sense of lifelong connection. We hug and hold each other with a pride, openness and warmth that is stronger and more devoted than ever." I let him know that "you and ALL of Faceless Ventures are forever part of our love for each other, and we wear our tattoos from CR v H last year with intense pride, even more now than before."

We made it home after a day of travel longer than 24 hours, and yet I couldn't sleep. Nicci and I were up for hours talking about the trip, and griping about how difficult it was to go up and down our stairs. We were happy to be home with our own bed (and especially our kitty!!), but sad to say goodbye to everyone we'd met and become good friends with. Luckily we're still connected through Facebook, and with any luck we'll see some of them again at future shows or vacations.

We are now Blake.




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