Fanfiction contest winner captures UTD meme culture

Yiyi Ding | Mercury Staff

Thirty seconds before the EROL II writing competition’s initial deadline, biochemistry sophomore Maria Shaikh submitted her fanfiction magnum opus, “Benson takes the rocks in the divorce,” which secured her first place in the contest. Despite being the last to submit, “The Divorce” secured infamy in the world of Temoc storytelling.

EROL II is the second iteration of a Student Government fanfiction writing competition started in 2022 as a way to showcase UTD’s student culture and creativity. Through November and December 2023, UTD subreddit users had a chance to submit stories written about topics related to UTD for a chance to win Student Government merch and a feature in the AMP Magazine. After the win, Redditors flocked to Shaikh’s story with words of support, saying things like “this is so wattpad core (positive),” referring to the popular fanfiction website. Her story presents a satirical commentary on the Spirit Rocks’ removal, depicting a dramatic scene where UTD President Richard Benson and Temoc get divorced with a custodial dispute over the Spirit Rocks.

“I thought that my angle would be more interesting because there were plain and simple obituaries and stuff,” Shaikh said. “And while I really enjoyed reading them, I didn’t think that they took the concept of humanizing and dramatizing the Spirit Rocks far enough. I do think that I was able to write something interesting and intriguing and that left a lot of open ends.”

Giana Abraham, neuroscience sophomore and the communications chair for SG, said the name “EROL” was chosen to reference UTD’s unofficial tradition of spelling names backwards, as it stands for “lore.” Abraham said she sees the competition as a valuable outlet for self-expression.

“A lot of people here, especially on Reddit, I guess love to story tell and love to share little stories,” Abraham said. “EROL, at least, was an outlet for that, because there’s not many writing competitions on campus.

In “The Divorce,” Temoc confronts his lover, Benson, expressing his disbelief and hurt as the UTD president takes away their “children,” the Spirit Rocks.

“I like your ideas when they’re about engineering,” [Benson] growls, canines gleaming in the low light. “Not social justice. Over twenty years and you still couldn’t get that through your head — that’s why it’s come to this. Now sign the papers and get out of here.”

Originally written for the first deadline in December, Shaikh completed her submission in a whirlwind writing session, starting at 11:15 pm with the deadline looming at 11:59 pm that same day. She described her approach as a sprint to get as many words down as possible, followed by a swift editing process. Shaikh’s love for fanfiction showed in “The Divorce”, with comments on her story noting its resemblance to content typically found on platforms like AO3 or Wattpad. Shaikh said she wanted to depict the protagonist, Temoc, immersed in a heart-wrenching confrontation with his partner as their relationship crumbles before his eyes.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic that I got to win, that people thought my silly divorce story was compelling enough to declare a winner,” Shaikh said. “But to the authors of the other stories, I absolutely love your work and next time you’ll get that win. I’m confident.”

Shaikh, though not officially declared, is working towards a history minor, with a special interest in Chinese history, gender dynamics and imperial conflicts. Describing her daily routine, Shaikh said she spends her days engrossed in reading, writing and art, which fuels her passion for the esoteric and strange.

“My passion in my head is the sciences, but my passion in my heart is the humanities,” Shaikh said. “I just love weird things.”

Shaikh said she was inspired to write the story by Benson’s controversial decision to remove the Spirit Rocks on Nov. 20. The winning story was chosen through Reddit upvotes on Student Government’s voting thread, where Shaikh’s piece beat out the two submissions, “The final moments of TIRPS SKCOR” and “The obituary of beloved Tirips Skcor.”

“The Spirit Rocks were one of our bastions of community culture, and they symbolized free speech,” Shaikh said. “When that was taken away, a lot of people felt like they were being silenced. I really tried to portray Benson as this heartless, cruel monster who was indiscriminately causing the most pain he could … I hope that people are able to read that and feel vindicated in their anger towards Benson.”

Abraham said that while the submission for the EROL competition was small this year, with only three stories, SG has been working on planning more initiatives this year to give back to the student body and provide more outlets for creative expression.

“I really hope to see this contest grow. We didn’t have that many submissions … I really hope as the semesters go on, it becomes a cemented part of UTD culture, the way the Sex Bowl and iWeek and all those things are,” Shaikh said. “I hope next time I’m competing among 30 people instead of just three.”

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