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Chomp is a young adult novel written in 2012 by the Newbery Award-winning author Carl Hiaasen. Chomp is the fourth novel Hiaasen has written for young adults.
Wahoo Cray has an unusual life. His father, Mickey, is a professional animal wrangler. Wahoo has been learning the trade from his father. One day, both father and son are hired to work on a new reality television show called Expedition: Survival! Unfortunately, the elder Cray suffers a concussion following a freak accident. Rather than give up the lucrative new job, Wahoo accepts the position.
Now Wahoo must not only help with the show’s animals, he also must be ever-vigilant for attacks by his father on Derek Badger, the program’s fat, spoiled star. It annoys both father and son that Derek has no interest at all in animals or nature. What’s worse, Derek is reckless and disrespectful. For example, the show decides they want to film an underwater sequence using the Cray’s pet alligator, Alice. Instead of going with the original plan, Derek decides to make things more exciting by climbing on Alice’s back; the alligator becomes alarmed and freaks out. Her thrashing almost kills Derek before Mickey pulls the ignorant child to safety.
The Crays are shaken up by the near-death experience but Derek, having learned nothing about respect for wildlife, is overjoyed. He starts pushing the producers to go on a “real” survival expedition in the Everglades of Florida, a dangerous place for even veteran animal wranglers. Derek urges the Crays to agree and accompany him and the crew. Because Mickey’s family needs the money, he reluctantly agrees.
As the Crays and the crew prepare for the trip, they run into a classmate of Wahoo’s, Tuna Gordon. Tuna is running away from her abusive father. She has no one to go to and nowhere to go, so Wahoo invites Tuna on their trip to the Everglades.
Unfortunately, as might have been predicted, the trip does not go well. Derek is ill-prepared for the physical demands that the trip requires and he is not sufficiently aware of the dangers that lurk in the glades. Because of his incompetence, Derek winds up being bitten multiple times by a Banded Water Snake.
As for Tuna, she is very disappointed to learn that Expedition: Survival! which had been one of her favorite shows, was totally fake. She discovers, to her chagrin, that even Derek’s entrance via parachute into every new show is actually performed by his stunt-double. The spoiled star doesn’t even stay on location during filming; he is whisked away to a luxury hotel after each day’s shooting. But what bothers Tuna the most is Derek’s killing of animals to eat; he isn’t hungry, that might be excused. No, he kills and then eats animals because that gets ratings and continues to make the show popular.
The crowning disaster of the Everglade expedition happens when a lightning storm forces the helicopter to remain grounded. With no way to escape, Derek must stay on location with the rest of the Expedition: Survival! crew. As darkness settles, a huge Mastiff Bat lands in the camp. Derek, showing off, tries to eat it. The bat retaliates and bites Derek’s tongue in self-defense. It’s up to Mickey to try to remove the frightened animals without tearing out Derek’s tongue.
Another uproar occurs the next morning. Derek has hijacked one of the crew’s airboats; this vessel has all the crew’s equipment aboard. No one can find him. He has going out of his mind as a result of the infection from the bat bite from the previous night. Fueled by both the infection and his love of horror films, Derek thinks he is turning into a vampire.
A search party is formed by the crew. They decide that the souvenir shop on the Tamiami Trail will serve as their headquarters. Raven Stark, Derek’s personal assistant, does not get a lot of help from the show’s executive producer, who has tired of Derek’s expensive liability and brattish behavior; instead of “rescuing” him, the producer secretly hopes that he will have a legitimate reason to replace the problematic star.
As if the search for Derek wasn’t complicated enough for the crew of Expedition: Survival! things become even more exasperating when Tuna’s father, Jared Gordon, tracks his daughter down to souvenir shop. Tuna sees him coming and in a panic, jumps into one of the search airboats. She pleads with Luke, the driver of the boat, to hide her. Wahoo has joined her, but then Jared grabs Mickey and takes him hostage. Jared shoots and wounds Link, the airboat driver, as the boat begins to pull away from the pier. Jarek hijacks another boat, holding onto Mickey, his hostage.
While all this is going on, Derek is having a miserable time in the Everglades. His lack of wilderness experience soon leads to great thirst and hunger. What’s more, his poor navigational skills get him completely lost. He suffers many minor injuries and has the terrifying experience of being chased by a feral pig.
On the hijacked boat, Mickey navigates the boat aimlessly with the intent of staying as far away from the kid as possible. As for Wahoo and Tuna, they are concentrating on getting the wounded Link back to get help for his injuries. This quest is waylaid when the airboat dies; they land on an island and come upon the half-delirious Derek. Wahoo and Tuna try to bail the water out of Derek’s stolen boat; while they are doing this, Derek collapses from exhaustion.
Jared manages to track down his daughter when she gets separated from Wahoo and Link. Jared knows he is a wanted man; he demands that Mickey get himself and his daughter out of the swamp and away from the police. Mickey will not let Tuna go with her father; Gordon retaliates and shoots Mickey in the foot.
Wahoo manages to jump Gordon when Link appears, demanding his boat back. It doesn’t take long for Gordon to shake Wahoo off, but suddenly, the still-delirious Derek rushes out from the trees and tackles Gordon, biting him viciously on the neck, his vampire fantasy in full throttle. The others manage to tie up Gordon as they await the police. When the police show up, they arrest Gordon. Mickey and Link are rushed to a hospital. Tuna, in gratitude, asks Derek for his autograph.
The Expedition: Survival! Everglades episode is an enormous hit due to the publicity about Derek’s injury and heroism. Unfortunately, it seems Derek has learned no lasting lessons from the ordeal. His spoiled brat behavior continues as he tries to renegotiate his contract and demands a ludicrously high salary. The show’s producers refuse. Derek loses his job and is replace by a legitimate outdoorsman from New Zealand.
The show’s producers also try to weasel out of paying the Crays, but Wahoo’s older sister, who is a lawyer, changes their minds and both Wahoo and Mickey receive their promised money.
Father and son sit down to watch the episode. While it is playing, Tuna calls. She is now living with her mother in Chicago. Wahoo and Tuna talk about their dread of testifying at her father’s upcoming trial. Despite their apprehension, both are looking forward to seeing one another. They promise to meet and close by calling each other their pet names, “Lance” and “Lucille.”
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