In this novel, an aimless, 30-something woman cast in a Survivor-style reality show falls for a good-looking operator out to win at any cost.
Robin Bricker has drifted through her 20s, reaching 31 without either a family like her brother Ian or a high-paying job like her brother Ted, who won’t let anyone forget he went to Harvard. When she lands a spot on The Holdout, she sees not just a chance to win a million dollars but an opportunity to prove to her family that she’s a competent adult. In the Philippines, she meets Grant, a curly haired charmer who claims to have lost both his parents in Iraq, which ignites a connection with the all-too-unsuspecting Robin, still haunted by her mother’s death in a car accident when she was 2. They form an alliance, advancing to the final five, where he sells her out. The swiftness of Robin’s infatuation defies belief considering her stated commitment to winning the game; it’s hard to disagree with Holdout fans who lambast her online for stupidity. Yet the fallout is wholly credible, with Robin back home in Iowa cringing weekly at each new episode, bothered by judgments on Twitter and the memory of her own missteps, “feeling exposed, icky and vulnerable, like it’s time for my yearly gynecologist exam.” Called up for jury duty, she arrives with darkened hair and thick-framed glasses (so as to avoid recognition) determined to play the group dynamics better in the deliberation room than she did on the island. That includes intriguing Juror No. 10, who seems like a nice guy, if a little short. Osterkamp (November Surprise, 2013, etc.) fills Robin’s life with well-drawn relatives, such as her cousin Jack, whose marriage is falling apart, and her sister-in-law Lucy, initially the only person to respect Robin’s decision to go on television. Osterkamp also adeptly builds the momentum leading to the revelation of the final holdout, a showdown between double-dealing Grant and the dark-horse contestant whom Robin backs in the final vote.
Captivating entertainment, like an episode of reality TV.