I am back from Sun Valley and safely in my office at Manka Bros. in Burbank.
There wasn’t much news out of Sun Valley this year because a) the conference sucked and, b) many of us nearly lost our lives last Friday and Herbie “Super Fly” Allen wants both of those points to be kept quiet.
Well, I’m not keeping it quiet, Herbie – non-disclosure agreement be damned!
All I can say is last Friday in Sun Valley was the most bullshittingest fucking day of all the bullshittingest fucking days in all the bullshittingest fucking world!
Let me back up.
Herbert Allen, our host at Sun Valley, of Allen & Company (sidebar: does anyone really know what this company does?) decided that on Day 3 – we should have a Mogul Challenge..
“Rise, Rise, Rise with the Sun.
We are Moguls.
The World We Run… etc. etc.”
Like hungover Norse Gods crawling to Ragnarok unable to resist the call, we Sun Valley moguls rolled out of our beds and stumbled zombie-like to the Great Pitch Of The Moguls (for mortals, it’s the green lawn area outside the Sun Valley Pavilion).
Herb Allen, spry, in a referee uniform and too-tight bicycle shorts, pulled out a bear horn and gave it a long, annoying BLAST to get our attention. (Herb is a professional drinker who handles every morning like a Mormon who didn’t get hammered the night before… but we all know the truth.)
As the sun rose, I’m fairly certain there has never been a larger congregation of hungover and pissed off billionaires. (It seems like there should be a joke here… but, seriously, there hasn’t – though put your obvious jokes in the comments.)
Herb Allen paced back and forth like a Drill Sergeant even though we weren’t standing in formation or even paying attention.
Herb Allen: How are you supposed to change the world if you can’t even change the shape of your stomachs!
He pointed directly at my stomach – which was an insult as I was standing right next to Reid Hoffman – and, I mean, come on….seriously?
Herb: Today, we’re going to do things a little different. We have a challenge – an anonymous challenge from three moguls who will not be named. A challenge to determine who is the strongest, toughest mogul at Sun Valley.
With that, the opening riff of “Rock You Like A Hurricane” blasted from somewhere just off the pitch.
Almost in unison, the assembled moguls turned to see–
–Jeff Bezos and Tim Armstrong approach, arms jacked, wearing sleeveless black vests (think Burt Reynolds from ‘Deliverance’), dark glasses and “fuck you” expressions.
Walking with them was a Young Lackey holding an Echo device which was blasting the AC/DC song.
A few steps back, wearing the same tough guy gear, was Barry Diller – not quite rocking the look as much – arms not jacked – more like jello arms, sort of jowly, slathered in thick white sunscreen.
The assembled moguls looked at this group with smirks, envy and disdain.
Then, perfectly on cue, an Air Force flyover of five jets screamed a couple hundred feet over the assembled, slamming a perfect punctuation on the entrance!
After the smoke had cleared, Bezos summoned his inner Clint Eastwood and said: “Alexa… stop.”
The music stopped on the word “Rock!”
The Young Lackey backed away sheepishly, trying not to make eye contact with anyone.
Herb Allen: You ordered an Air Force flyover… for yourself?
Jeff Bezos: Who gives a fuck… let’s just do this!
Herb Allen: Hold on, Bezos. No one knows what we’re doing yet.
Bezos cocks a fist and jerks forward to kill Herb Allen. Armstrong holds him back.
Tim Armstrong: Stop! He’s not worth it.
Jeff Bezos: Get on with it, prick!.
Herb Allen stares down Bezos and Armstrong and continues to pace.
Herb Allen: Today, we embark on a battle to end all battles. A journey to end all journeys. Ragnarok. Götterdämmerung. One of the–
Bob Iger: The fuck, dude, get to it.
Herb Allen: It’s a whitewater raft race down the Salmon River, one of the most dangerous in the world. A river that has claimed scores of lives over the years. Your survival is not guaranteed. That’s why you signed all those releases!
Herb Allen laughed – no one else did.
Bezos and Armstrong slam their hands together in a violent high five – clearly the steroids were working.
Behind them, Barry Diller wasn’t paying attention. He was being interviewed on CNBC by Julia Boorstin.
Herb Allen: The winner… will receive a prize. Those who don’t win – or the losers – will not be guaranteed an invite back to my conference… unless your name is Warren Buffett.
Herb Allen then approached Jeff Katzenberg, who wore an ill-fitting bathing suit from what looked like a Coney Island postcard from 1905 with a large medallion hanging from his neck.
Herb Allen: Jeff, are you sure you want to wear your Medal of Freedom while rafting?
Jeff Katzenberg: I never take off my Medal of Freedom… Herb. I’m sure you wouldn’t either… if you had one.
They lock eyes for a moment. Herb Allen moves on.
There was a general commotion among the moguls as everyone was slowly starting to figure out what the fuck was going on.
Herb Allen: The Captains will choose their teams based on childhood Brooklyn stick ball rules. One chosen at a time, from the pack, until everyone is chosen.
Let’s cut to the chase.
I was in Bezos’ boat with Tim Armstrong, Marissa Mayer, Barry Diller, Evan Spiegel (Snapchat dude) and, yes, I was chosen last for my raft.
To my credit, I wasn’t the last mogul chosen – that honor went to… Jeff Katzenberg in the Sheryl Sandberg raft.
I’m going to skip over the treacherous helicopter ride to the mouth of the Salmon River where our competition would begin.
I’ll also skip over the various high dollar wagers and physical threats that happened before the race and all the X-rated smack that was thrown out between the moguls.
I’m sure one day that will all come out in Meg Whitman’s autobiography – because she’s mainly the one who gave and took the brunt of the abuse.
Moving forward to the actual “race.”
Bezos and Armstrong were so amped up they had the raft in the river long before anyone else – and their violent energy made it vibrate like a Sharper Image chair.
Jeff Bezos: Let’s go, fuckers! What the fuck!
The rest of us on the Bezos team stumbled awkwardly into the raft, finding a seat in the back while Bezos and Armstrong barked orders at us.
Jeff Bezos: If you’re not going to contribute, you’re going overboard. If you don’t contribute in a way that is satisfactory to me, you’re going overboard. There’s very little chance you won’t be going overboard..
Armstrong: LET’S DO THIS!
Armstrong then drained a water bottle filled with a thick red liquid that looked like it could be some form of blood – hopefully not human blood… hopefully not blood at all. He licked the red that dribbled off his chin and his eyes rolled backwards in ecstasy.
The other raft Captains were not as intense.
Really, only GoPro guy (thanks to my assistant Vicky Adler-Modry – she used the internet to find out his name is Nick Woodman – so we’ll call him that for the rest of this story) was the only other Captain that seemed to know what a raft was.
Woodman had the proper gear – a GoPro on his head – of course – but he didn’t have the bloodlust in his eyes that Jeff Bezos and Tim Armstrong had. He was very mellow. Probably stoned.
I really felt this was our competition to lose – not that I care, I’m just regretting that I actually showed up this year.
Bob Iger and Rupert Murdoch were in a heated argument and not paying attention to the whitewater challenge. This was surprising since I thought everything was solid with them since Disney bought Fox.
Sheryl Sandberg was desperately trying to get her group to focus – which was a problem when you have Katzenberg just talking about his Medal of Freedom and Quibi all the time.
Herb Allen stepped to the edge of the raging Salmon River and attempted to get everyone in line.
Herb Allen: The Salmon River is no joke – and you will have no help. If you die… you die. If you’re in trouble, no one will help you. After I blow my whistle, I will return to the Sun Valley Lodge to drink dirty martinis from the great Vin Tran until I pass out. Capisce?
We all gave a half-hearted nod.
Herb Allen: The winner will be given the first place prize award by my summer intern, Talia. Good luck. Is everyone ready?
The five rafts holding thirty billionaires were ready to go. The hired Lackeys were straining to hold the enormous weight on the banks until the “go” command was given.
Jeff Bezos: Start this fucker – you mother fucking fucker!
Herb Allen: OK, and… go!
The Lackeys let go of the ropes and the rafts slowly break free, heading aimlessly down the Salmon River.
Herb Allen watched for a moment, then boarded the only remaining helicopter and flew back to the hotel.
We started off in fairly calm water – a very nice, smooth ride.
I had a paddle in my hand and didn’t think I had to do – or should do – anything until I heard–
Jeff Bezos: Khan, could you fucking paddle, you mother fucking Bulgarian asshole?!
I started to paddle, not because he bullied me – but because… I felt he would kill me if I didn’t paddle.
Evan Spiegel, in the back corner, pulled out a ukulele and started playing a song that sounded like “Rainbow Connection” but he didn’t sing.
Marissa Mayer leaned over to me and started talking, but because she hasn’t fixed the nodules in her throat and can barely speak above a whisper, I found it very hard to understand her.
Khan Manka, Jr.: Marissa, I have no idea what you are saying.
Marissa Mayer: (clearing her throat – really scratchy) I said, this seems so like “Deliverance” the movie. Don’t you think?
Khan Manka, Jr.: Manka Bros. made a movie very similar to “Deliverance” and ours came out a year before!. It was called “Plug That Hole” about four men going down a river for the final time. Their boat started to sink and wouldn’t have sunk if they would have “plugged that hole.”
Marissa Mayer: (completely disinterested) Oh, yeah?
Khan Manka, Jr.: Yeah, and ours had hillbillies and butt rape and everything that “Deliverance” had – but no accolades. Where was our parade?
Jeff Bezos looked back at me – noticing that none of us were using the paddles to propel us down the river.
Jeff Bezos: Can you fucking concentrate, Khan? We are trying to win the ultimate prize and you… are dead weight. If any of you fuck up, I will not hesitate to throw you overboard to certain death.
Bezos turns back to concentrate on steering the raft down river.
Evan Spiegel plays a little louder and starts to sing.
Evan Spiegel: “Why are there so many, songs about rainbows…?
The singing put Bezos over the edge. He handed the steering over to Armstrong and moved toward us at the back of the raft. He picked up Evan Spiegel by his high-end REI raft vest and threw him overboard.
Jeff Bezos: There aren’t that many fucking songs about rainbows – you fucking idiot! “Over The Rainbow” and “Rainbow Connection”! That’s it!
Marissa Mayer was horrified to see Evan Spiegel gasping for breath to keep his head above water – but didn’t do anything to help him.
None of us did.
Evan Spiegal and his ukulele struggled in the rapids but finally fought his way safely to the shore.
Barry Diller: Are you just going to leave him there?
Jeff Bezos: Fuck him.
Barry Diller: (shrugging) Who wants an Old Milwaukee?
Diller has cracked open his beer cooler and starts passing around beers Finally, a civilized person has emerged.We started draining Old Milwaukees as fast as we could – to get drunk as fast as we could. Marissa Mayer is my new hero and CEO crush. She probably pounded six beers in six minutes.
As far as the whitewater challenge went, it really wasn’t much of a competition – and the rapids weren’t too bad yet.
We were the lead raft by about twenty yards in front of Nick Woodman’s boat. The rest were much further behind.
And then, a high-pitched SCREAM echoed throughout the canyon.
We all looked back to see–
–Bob Iger, two rafts behind us, holding his leg in agony – an arrow protruding from his thigh – blood gushing everywhere.
In the boat behind Iger, Rupert Murdoch had just fired an arrow from his hunter’s bow. He was attempting to reload when he was tackled by Meg Whitman and easily disarmed.
Meg Whitman: What the fuck, Rupert?! Are you trying to kill him?
Rupert Murdoch: Yes! Mother fucker stole my company!
Bob Iger: (in total agony) We paid you $61 billion!
He then fell back into the raft and was attended to by his team.
Reid Hoffman: We have to sterilize the wound and pull the arrow out.
Shari Redstone grabbed a bottle of vodka from her purse: “This will work.”
She poured the vodka over the wound.
Reid Hoffman: Bob, you might want to bite down on something.
Bob Iger: (through gritted teeth) Just pull it out.
Hoffman braced himself against the side of the raft for leverage and pulled out the arrow with a mighty tug. Iger’s face barely changed expression.
Shari Redstone: That was bad ass, Bob. You’re a tough son of a bitch.
For the next few minutes, there was chaos on the river.
After the drama died down a bit, the whitewater challenge was down to two rafts – Bezos and Sandberg.
Iger and Murdoch’s rafts were now, basically, a crime scene – so they, effectively, stopped competing.
And Woodman’s raft appeared to stop moving. From my vantage, it looked like a floating yoga studio with Reed Hastings and Tim Cook in the lotus position.
In the same raft, Randall Stephenson of AT&T and John Legere and T-Mobile were staring at each other’s phones – apparently, comparing the number of reception bars – or some such shit.
We maintained a fairly healthy lead – though we would soon be reaching the most dangerous part of the river – with terrifying whitewater rapids and waterfalls.
Sheryl Sandberg was shouting out commands to her crew – trying to close the gap.
Sheryl Sandberg: Thiel! Get your Trump-loving in ass in gear. A little more effort and little less Instagram!
Peter Thiel rolled his eyes, flipped her off and paddled a little until she turned around.
Katzenberg sidled up next to Sandberg and whispered something to her. He then pointed at my raft and made a motion of a boat sinking.
Khan Manka, Jr.: (shouting) What are you planning, Katzenberg?
Jeff Katzenberg: None of your bees-wax, Manka. All I know is you’re going to down.
Jeff Bezos: Shut up, Katzenberg!
Jeff Katzenberg: No problem.
He then gave a little Cheshire Cat grin and patted his Medal of Honor.
Jeff Bezos: (shouting) Waterfall coming up on the right! Push to the left or we are fucked!
We all leaned to the left as though that would do something for the raft. None of us knew how to do any of it – and, frankly, don’t ever want to know.
Bezos and Armstrong wedged their paddles against large rocks and pushed our raft to the left. On the right side about twenty yards away was what appeared to be a straight drop-off down a waterfall.
Marissa Mayer: That’s got to be a hundred foot drop.
Tim Armstrong: (snarky) That’s why we don’t want to go down it, Marissa.
Sandberg’s raft closed the gap on our raft and was now only a few feet away. Katzenberg leaned over the side trying to grab our boat but was still barely out of reach.
Diller smacked Katzenberg’s hand with his paddle.
Barry Diller: What are you doing, Katzenberg? You’re gonna fall out for Christ’s sake.
Jeff Katzenberg: THIS is what I’m doing! Quibi says ‘hello’!
With a SCREECH, Katzenberg grabbed his Medal of Honor and forcefully brought down the sharp edge of it into our raft – puncturing a hole in the side.
Jeff Bezos: The fuck, Jeff!
Armstrong moves to punch Katzenberg in the face. Katzenberg SCREAMS like a hyena and tries to get back in his raft.
Armstrong lunged after him and was able to grab the Medal of Freedom dangling from Katzenberg’s neck – pulling him backwards.
Jeff Katzenberg: Let go of my Medal of Freedom, you Frankenstein freak!
Tim Armstrong: Fine.
With that, Armstrong flipped it up in the air, end-over-end. It flew off Katzenberg’s neck, arcing over the raft and disappeared down the waterfall.
Jeff Katzenberg: My Medal of Freedom!
Not thinking, Katzenberg leaped out of the raft and flew down down down the waterfall.
A beat. Everyone sort of looked at everyone else.
Peter Thiel: That was unexpected.What are we gonna do?
Sheryl Sandberg: Leave him. We’ve got a race to win. He was a pain in my ass.
The Sandberg raft easily maneuvered around our raft as Bezos was frantically trying to plug the hole. But it was no use, the damage was done. We were sinking.
As the Sandberg raft continued up the river–
Sheryl Sandberg: So long, fuckers.
With that, she left us there to die.
Khan Manka, Jr.: Should we try to swim to the shore?
Jeff Bezos: You can try. But you might get swept over the falls.
Evan Spiegel had walked along the shore, shadowing our raft. He was laughing while flipping us off and doing some strange bouncy dance.
As the raft started to take on water, we were quickly becoming submerged – everyone except Bezos, who seemed to be floating zen-like above the water – as though he were some kind of deity.
Jeff Bezos: (at peace) Well… it doesn’t appear to be our day.
With that, he pushed a RED BUTTON on his fitness band.
We sat, sinking, quiet for moment.
Jeff Bezos: So, Khan, any plans for the rest of the weekend?
Khan Manka, Jr.: I’ll be at the house in Malibu then back to the studio at–
Suddenly, zipping through the canyon, banking across the river was a Black Hawk Helicopter – the powerful whirring sound drowning out everything.
Bezos smiled and waved a hand toward it as stopped and hovered a hundred feet over our sinking raft.
I could see it was Lauren Sanchez, Bezos’ new $38 billion girlfriend, piloting the helicopter.
Marissa Mayer was the first to be raised up in the rescue basket. Then Barry Diller. Then me. Then Tim Armstrong.
What followed was something that I will never forget and what most likely should have been from a dream – but we all saw it.
The rescue basket remained in the helicopter and then Bezos just ascended on his own on what can only be described as a blanket of light. He glided effortlessly into the helicopter and gave a loving wink to Lauren Sanchez.
Jeff Bezos: Love you, babe.
Lauren Sanchez: Let’s blow this popsicle stand.
She then banked hard to the left and flew directly toward the sinking sun.
I heard Sheryl Sandberg’s raft took another bad turn and wound up in a cave where they have yet to be found. Jeff Katzenberg is also missing – but I’ve also heard no one has started looking for him.
The winner of the contest? Nick Woodman’s raft – just because they finished.
They received a $25 gift card from Starbucks.