It's almost 8 p.m. on Wednesday, and something isn't quite right in the Rhoades household.
If this were any other Wednesday of the summer, Rob and Debbie would have finished dinner by now. One of them - they took turns - would be sprawling on the comfy blue chair in front of the television, with the other claiming the less desirable sofa. The unspoken rules would be in effect: No distractions, no discussion about anything except the topic at hand, no telephone calls - but then, who would dare call when seemingly the entire country was riveted to "Survivor"?
This night represents the first time they won't be able to jeer at Richard, or argue over who should be kicked off the island, or mimic Sue's Midwestern accent. Somehow, everything seems flat and gray, as if February suddenly snuck up and replaced the end of summer.
Debbie sits at a round wooden table, picking at her vegetable quesadilla, while her husband flips through channels.
"I don't even know what they're gonna have on instead," Rob says.
"I have no idea," she says.
"I'm sure as hell not watching Regis," he vows. Then he brightens: "Oh, look!"
Susan - she of the grating accent - is guest host on the E! Entertainment program "Talk Soup," which showcases ludicrous clips from daytime talk shows such as "Jerry Springer."
"We're still able to get a little 'Survivor' fix," Rob says happily.
They settle in to watch, but it isn't the same. No other show has the power to transfix them the way "Survivor" did. Once, Debbie almost turned down a day at the beach with her friends because they wanted to go on a Wednesday, and she wouldn't be back by 8 o'clock. She was on her way home, driving through a rainstorm, while the program aired. Rob updated her by cellular phone during every commercial break.
"That was the week Greg got kicked off," she says.
When they vacationed in Chicago, they made sure to be back in their hotel by 7 o'clock (due to the time difference) to catch the show.
Rob and Debbie are still watching Sue on "Talk Soup" - "She looks better now, doesn't she?" Debbie says - but they are easily distracted. After all, they're not television junkies. They generally watch a show or two a day, and always try to catch "The West Wing" and "E.R.," but that's about it.
It's impossible to say if they're typical "Survivor" fans, because one of the secrets of the show was that it cut across geographic and demographic lines, pulling in everyone from teen-agers to great-grandparents.
But here's what we can say about Rob and Debbie Rhoades:
They're both 36, and they met a decade ago in a bar called the Green Turtle in Laurel. He was with friends, and so was she. She overheard a crack he made, didn't understand he was joking (it involves a word we can't print), and so she insulted him. They argued for the next couple of hours, and got married a few years later.
They live in a Jessup townhouse, which they painted with lovely, unusual colors - mustard yellow walls for the living room, an earthy red kitchen, and blue ceilings. Rob works as a water treatment technician, while Debbie is a second-grade teacher in Montgomery County.
They're also alarmingly athletic. Training for a mini-triathlon, they run and bike and swim nearly every day of the week. "We used to take Wednesdays off," Rob says, but not anymore.
By now, it's 8:30 and "Talk Soup" is over. Rob gets up to change the channel (they misplaced their clicker last weekend). There isn't anything on, of course, so he settles for the Orioles' game.
"That's the thing that was so cool about that show," he says. "Summer TV is awful. It was something worth watching."
Debbie emerges from the basement, where she was searching for her new issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine. Its cover story, of course, is "Survivor." She skims through it until she finds what she's looking for: a list of mock awards.
"Safest bug hideout: Colleen's leg sores," she reads aloud. "Worst PR for pudding: Susan's ear-stabbing pronunciation of tapioca."
But she doesn't take much pleasure in the list. What's the use of trying to cling to memories of Colleen and Sue and the rest when they're absent from the Rhoades' living room and will never be back?
It's 9, and they decide to watch "The West Wing" for a few minutes. It isn't really that interesting, so they debate putting in an Anne Heche movie they started watching a few days ago. That doesn't sound so appealing, either.
Summer is over.
What: Reruns of 13 episodes
When: 9 p.m. Sept. 15, continuing on consecutive nights except for Sundays
Where: CBS affiliates (WJZ and WUSA)