Recap: 'The Amazing Race' - 'Ali Baba in a Suit'
A trip to Oman leads one player to make a very important life decision
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With its perplexingly absent Speed Bump and its Leg-determining litany of penalties, last week's episode of "The Amazing Race" left more than a few viewers scratching their heads in confusion or annoyance.
Sunday (Nov. 14) night's "Amazing Race" may also have perplexed a few fans.
This week's "The Amazing Race" was preempted so that CBS could bring you "Extreme Relationship Makeover: Chad & Stephanie" edition or, perhaps, the Hallmark Original Movie "The Most Wonderful Day of Stephanie's Life."
Click through for a full recap of Sunday's vaguely romantic, but not even slightly suspenseful, "Amazing Race"...
The "Amazing Race" editors were left with a challenge this week: What do you do when despite multiple equalizers and a Detour so apparently one-sided in its presentation that all six teams made the same choice without hesitation, the entire fate of the episode hinges entirely on a directional mistake within the Leg's opening segment?
Answer: You throw drama out the window and restructure the episode as a rags-to-riches love-story.
Chad & Stephanie began the leg as a team most of us actively disliked and not in a love-to-hate way. It was more in a "Wow, Stephanie. You really want take your pixie haircut and your dimples and you want to to break up with this tool as soon as the Race is done" way.
So Sunday's episode began with the teams leaving St. Petersburg and heading off to Oman -- not to be confused, as my notes do on several occasions, with Iman. Only one problem? Chad & Stephanie, who already began the leg in a deep hole, decided to sleep in by nearly two hours. Normally, this would be a chilling way to start a leg. Fortunately for Chad & Stephanie, not only did the paucity of flights serve to somewhat equalize the teams, but the teams were equalized even more by an arbitrary staggering at the first route marker in Oman, a staggering that reduced the lead for the first two teams from multiple hours down to 15 or 30 minutes at most.
Then, while waiting for the staggering to take place, Chad took Stephanie aside and got down on one knee and proposed. We've all hated Chad. and why wouldn't you? He's bullying, slightly verbally abusive and he has blamed nearly every misstep along the way on Stephanie. But you can't say he didn't do his proposal right. Sunrise, by a bay in Oman, with his late mother's ring? The boy's got proposal moves. And Stephanie, perhaps forgetful of everything that had occurred in the days earlier, didn't hesitated. Because how can you hesitate at dawn in Oman with the cameras rolling and five other teams watching your every move and already covering their faces in anticipatory exuberance?
And how could we hate Chad after that moment? What would be the point? Sure, he's a tool, but he's the first tool in my "Amazing Race" memory to propose marriage in the middle of a Leg in the middle of the Race. [I seem to vaguely recall at least one, possibly two, post-elimination proposals, but I'm trying to write this recap quickly and I really can't be bothered to go check on this.] So Chad looked happy. Stephanie looked happy. And from there? What was the point in rooting against them, at least for the remainder of the episode?
Chad & Stephanie and Jill & Thomas went back and forth for the entire episode, but Jill & Thomas pulled into the lead in the end and it looked as if that final piece in Chad & Stephanie's storybook Leg was going to fall just short. Then Phil Keoghan told Jill & Thomas that they'd broken a rule by hiring a cab to lead them from one point to another, incurring a 30 minute penalty. While Phil emphasized that the clue was abundantly clear on that point, I don't know if I remember hearing it said on-air. And even if it was, such behavior is frequently encouraged. In this instance? It was a capital crime and that 30 minutes was more than enough time for Chad & Stephanie to rush in and claim first, allowing Phil to present the couple with a five-day honeymoon trip to Belize.
"It was pretty much a perfect day," Stephanie gloated, as Thomas & Jill sat on a set of steps, head in their hands, Jill probably wondering when Thomas would use his Notre Dame education to realize that she might like a dawn proposal herself.
And, almost as an afterthought, farewell to Gary & Mallory. Yes, we were asked to spend the episode growing to love (or trying to love) a team we'd previously detested and then a team I actually liked got sent home with almost no suspense. Gary & Mallory trusted a map to guide them from the first route marker to the Roadblock. That was the wrong choice. Somehow, with no explanation at all, Gary & Mallory got so lost before they asked for help that they never caught up. A little editing trickery suggested that things got close at the end with Gary & Mallory and Nat & Kat, who made an similar directional error, but I'm skeptical. Gary & Mallory were very sweet and content at their departure. They were one of the stronger parent-child teams that the show has had and it was hard not to like the dynamic between the two of them.
The episode was dominated by the Chad & Stephanie relationship stuff and its result was determined by cartographical dysfunction.
So what of the leg's two tasks?
The Roadblock was gorgeously photogenic, asking one player from each team to rappel down 500 feet into a canyon and find a ring within one of dozens (hundreds?) of magic lamps. It wasn't a bad needle-in-a-haystack task, except that at no point were two players ever rappelling at the same time and only briefly were two players search for the ring at the same time. Because there was no side-by-side competition, we got no inkling of who completed the task quickly (Jill, maybe?) and who completed the task slowly (Kat, I guess?). Nobody had trouble with the rappelling. Nobody had extreme difficulty with the finding of the ring. The task was mostly notable for a gorgeous backdrop.
The Detour offered the choice between Water Table or Wedding Table. In Water Table, the teams had to fill a water truck and make a delivery to a residential neighborhood. In Wedding Table, the teams had to collect 25 frozen chickens and the ingredients for a traditional wedding soup and deliver it to a happy couple.
Somehow, the teams got the impression that they were being asked to cook the soup. I don't think that was a part of the clue. I think they were going to bring the ingredients to a chef, who would then give them the soup to take to the wedding. Or that's how it sounded to me. To the contestants, it sounded as if they had to do some kind of elaborate preparation and that they'd then face an Omani version of the "Top Chef" judging table. Was it any surprise, then, that none of the teams gave even an iota of consideration to doing Wedding Table? You know my feeling on this subject, dear readers: A perfect Detour is one in which half of the teams pick one task and half pick the other. That offers variation in setting and activity for the editors to cut between. So any Detour in which only one task is even slightly appealing must be a failure.
Indeed, Water Table was not especially dynamic. There was no challenge to filling the trucks and only minimal challenge to the delivery. Jill & Thomas got a brief and minor advantage when they asked a random civilian to help them find their destination and discovered they'd recruited the cousin of their delivery recipient. But that advantage was minor. Very little time was lost or gained with all six teams doing the same thing. Similarly, a follow-up task with teams delivering spices to dude named Ali Baba at the local Souq amounted to nothing other than an episode title with Nick & Vicki mishearing and asking around for "Ali Baba in a Suit."
Some other thoughts on Sunday's episode:
*** Yes. It was an episode of rings, between the one Chad gave to Stephanie and the ones hidden in the lamps on the Roadblock. Somebody in the "Amazing Race" production office probably enjoyed that synchronicity.
*** Moments in bad editing: Nick and Vicki stop for directions and are told they're going the right way. Team Watermelon comes up behind them at a gas station and Vicki confirms to Claire that they're on target. Nick gets outraged and insults Vicki repeatedly, the lessons of Ghana long since filtered out of his head. He yells, "They're probably laughing at your dumb ass right now." Then we cut over to practically half a shot of Brook & Claire laughing. At something. Almost certainly not at Vicki. Because why would they care? LAME editing.
*** I just want to rant again about the double-equalizer. Why not reward last week's top two teams -- Nat & Kat and Team Watermelon -- by giving them the meaningful advantage of a flight leaving early. Instead, not only did they get no advantage, but Chad & Stephanie suffered no punishment for two hours of extra sleep and for failing to get on either the first *or* second flight out of St. Petersburg. "The Amazing Race" needs rewards and punishments.
*** When Gary & Mallory finally made it to the Roadblock, Mallory said that they'd been driving for 9 hours. That's obviously an overstatement, but how long do we really think that drive required? The teams started that leg early in the morning and it was well past dark by the time the last couple teams finished. And neither task seemed to take *that* much time. So it's a fair supposition that there was a ton of driving that had to be done during the Leg, making for strange architecture. Because of the amount of driving that had to be done, advantages were gained and lost through driving in ways that the editors just didn't bother to show us. So we had strange things like the way Nick & Vicki moved ahead of Team Watermelon going to the Detour despite a pause to change a flat tire and the back-and-forths going to and from the Detour to the souq.
*** Odd moment: Yes, it appeared that a goat ate part of Nick & Vicki's clue at the Roadblock.
*** Omanis are nice, helpful folks. That was a key lesson we learned this week. At every turn, the teams found locals willing and able to assist them. It looks as if next week will feature one of those "Oh, these people are so poor and smelly" Legs. It was good to have a complimentary location for a couple hours.
What'd you think of the Leg? Are you happy for Chad & Stephanie? Or do you hope she eventually comes to her senses? And are you sad to see Gary & Mallory go?