Every season, while watching "The Amazing Race," I continue to put together my list of things I'd want to make sure I was comfortable with doing before coming face-to-face with Phil Keoghan.

I'd want to learn how to drive a stick shift. That's a no-brainer. I'd want to learn, "Drive faster please" in at least 15 or 20 languages. I'd probably go try a moderate bungee jump.

I'd do that last one because even though I'm not necessarily afraid of heights, it's something I've never done before and I'd really want to make sure that's a fear that wouldn't come out of nowhere to cripple me on national TV.

The odds of "The Amazing Race" asking you to bungee or sky-dive are pretty high, but still probably less likely than the chances you're going to find yourself submerged in the water at some point in your journey. 

I'm just saying that probably Jen wanted to have that whole "Fear of the Water" thing at least partially under control, because that's too obvious a handicap to have it prevent you from winning a million bucks.

[Recap of Sunday (April 26) night's "The Amazing Race," titled "Having a Baby's Gotta Be Easier Than This," after the break...]

As cultural stereotypes go, the one that says that African-Americans can't swim is both prevalent and also ridiculous, though reality television hasn't helped matters. I've lost count of the number of black contestants on "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" who have had aquatic meltdowns of varying scales. Just as African-American females on shows that aren't "America's Next Top Model" can pretty much count on being edited into the next Omarosa, Jen and Kisha got to live out one of reality TV's most familiar tropes on Sunday night.

I'd talk about stereotyping some more, but what would be the point? End of the day, Jen couldn't swim because Jen couldn't swim, nothing more. The sense of deja vu surrounding her struggles is a different issue.

Jen's problems came up during Sunday's Detour in Beijing, Sync or Swim. As tasks go, this one probably should have been a no-brainer. Sync required a very precise synchronized jump which, when all is said and done, was completely and totally about luck. If you're a synchronized diver, you can develop that synchronicity with your partner over years of practice. If you're an American tourist on a reality show, the only way you're going to splash into the water at the same time is by accident. Tammy and Victor spent a long time attempting to match their splashes only to eventually give up.

They never should have bothered trying.

The Swim task wasn't physically easy, but it didn't require any skill. You just had to swim alternating legs of a 400 meter freestyle relay. While the complaints were ample, that's not really so much swimming. The only thing keeping the task amusing, from a televisual standpoint, was the hilarious notion that they were competing against Michael Phelps' world record time in the 400 meter. That meant that the Racers were in the pool very temporarily going head-to-head with that imaginary green line representing Phelps' time. It was a confusing and arbitrary joke, since I think they were going against Phelps' individual medley record in the 400, even though they they were swimming freestyle and in a relay. But that's neither here nor there. 

The Sync task could have taken forever. The judges were taking their jobs seriously and you either could have finished in one lucky shot, or you could have gone on and on. For all of the moaning and groaning, the Swim task took just over eight minutes for the fastest team (Margie and Luke) and just over 18 minutes for the slowest team (Jen and Kisha, on their second time through). That's a finite time period and not a long one. 

Oh and it turned out not to matter, because nobody was eliminated on this week's "Amazing Race." No, it wasn't an unexpected Non-Elimination Leg, but it was one of those times where the teams arrived at the Pit Stop and were told that the leg wasn't really over. 

That rip-off resulted in a cruel tease of Jaime and Cara, which I'd guess was really amusing for the multitudes who hate the former cheerleaders. Me, I felt sorry for them, because all Jaime wanted to do was finish first for once in this Race. As they went toward the Pit Stop, she was on edge, nearly crying, not because she was afraid of elimination, but because she didn't want to finish second or third again. And then for Phil to greet them at the mat as Team #1, only to give them their next clue? That was just cruel.

Every time I mention that I don't hate Jaime as much as is apparently socially mandated, people say, "But she's racist!" And I say, "No, she isn't!" And people go, "OK. Fine. She just hates foreigners!" I tend to respond, "Actually, she hates people, which isn't the same thing." It just happens that the only people we've seen her exposed to are foreigners (not to themselves, they're all locals to themselves, but to Jaime). 

Want to know what it actually looks like to be racist and to hate foreigners? I'd direct you to Jen and Kisha talking about how the Chinese people have patented "that dumb look," followed by Kisha's declaration, "They should at least be able to say 'Me No Speak English.'"

Gee, Kisha. Can you at least say "Me no speakee Chinee" in Mandarin? 

This isn't to say that I'm utterly disgusted by Jen and Kisha and that I'd say they're racist, just to say that at no point has Jaime done anything to blatantly xenophobic. Jaime's more prone to say that foreign cabbies all suck, while either Jen or Kisha observed that they all look alike.

This really wasn't a good episode of "The Amazing Race" if you were looking for people to like. I was clearly Team Jen/Kisha in last week's clash with Team Margie/Luke, but I know that there were some people who were Team Margie/Luke after last week's show. Is anybody still on that side? Really? Even after Jen and Kisha were all conciliatory and talking about how what happened last week was in the past and Margie and Luke were all vengeful vowing to crush them? How about after Margie got self-rightenous at the ticket counter at the Guilin airport? They were in line, Margie and Luke first, followed by Kisha and Jen. Margie and Luke were told the needed to go over to another counter to pay with their credit card and while they were expressing their confusion, Jen and Kisha just walked over to the other counter. Margie then walked up behind them and made snide comments about how she guessed they weren't honoring places in line anymore. That's not Margie being a Mama Bear protecting Luke. That's just Margie being a twit.

That, I guess, leaves Tammy and Victor if I'm looking for teams I like. But there really is something disquieting about the fact that next week will be their third consecutive episode in a foreign country in which only they speak the language, have traveled the streets and know the customs. It doesn't even matter whether or not they've had an actual advantage -- speaking the language didn't keep their cabbie from getting lost going from the Beijing airport to the Roadblock clue box, for example -- they still think they have an advantage and the other teams agree, so the perception becomes the reality.

The only reason why it felt acceptable for Michigan State to be playing in the Final Four in Detroit, basically their own backyard, was that the home court advantage counteracted a clear deficiency in talent. The home court was an equalizer for the underdogs. Tammy and Victor were never underdogs. They've been favorites since Day One, so having them in China has just made them unnecessarily smug.

But don't mind me. I'm still rooting for Mel and Mike.

Recapping episodes where nobody went home is hard because there's no real cause and effect, which was extra true in an episode where the teams all travelled together and then did a Roadblock with a very finite time. 

The Roadblock just required one contestant per team to get a foot massage, but not just any foot massage, some sort of mega-powerful, super-intense foot massage that left everybody but Tammy either bawling or biting articles of their clothing to keep from crying. The clue said that the massage "walks the fine line between pleasure and pain," but nobody gave any indication that they were on the "pleasure" side of that imaginary line. Maybe Tammy was enjoying it and just didn't want to let on? Yes, everybody -- especially Cara -- doing the Roadblock had a hard time of it, but the massage lasted exactly 10 minutes and assuming that nobody cried "Uncle" (and nobody did), the task would take the exact same amount of time for every competitor. 

The result was that all of the teams arrived at the Detour within minutes of each other and even if you somehow imagine that Jen's tunnel tantrum and Kisha's patient, sisterly encouragement, took maybe 10 or 20 minutes, the teams will all probably arrive at the Fake Pit Stop within 20 or 30 minutes of each other. And since the last place team at the start of the leg (that'd be Jaime and Cara, going worst to first) started 20 minutes minutes behind the pack, it basically means that nothing that happened in Sunday's hour made a lick of difference.

Other thoughts on Sunday's episode...

*** How long do we really think Victor's leg cramp lasted? The editing meant to have us fear that he was in the midst of a 20-minute cramp, preventing him from pulling his leg into a cab. Do we assume he really just said "Ouch," stretched his leg out and was done with the drama in 30 seconds? A minute, tops? That's my guess.

*** The editing this episode was, in general, all about prolonging time, rather than speeding things along. We were meant to think that Tammy and Victor had been trying and failing at the Sync challenge forever when it couldn't have been longer than 10 minutes before they gave up and just did the swimming. 

*** Wanna know what I mean about Tammy and Victor and their cockiness on the semi-native soil? That whole gambit to get placement at the front of the plane, moving everybody to the back? I know there's an advantage to that, but it's a pointless and petty amuse of linguistic power.

*** Oh and another example of Margie just not being a very nice person? Gloating at Jen and Kisha seemingly going home, she said, "They're tough on land, but in the water, they're nothing." The tasks at the pool were very close together, so Margie would have seen Jen's terror. If it isn't nice to call the deaf kid "bitch," it isn't nice to make fun of people with an incapacitating fear of water. As the mother of a deaf kid, I'd expect her to understand that.

*** Go Mike and Mel!

Thoughts on this tease of an episode?

 

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