There's been some debate in the past few days as to whether or not the recently completed Celtics-Bulls series was the best NBA postseason series of all-time. The answer, obviously, is "No." A first round series can't be the best postseason series of all-time, nor can it be the best postseason series if the only reason it was close was because the winning team was missing a future Hall of Famer. But it was still an outrageously exciting basketball series. Can't that just be enough?
Similarly, I'm not completely sure if the ending of Sunday (May 3) night's "Amazing Race" was necessarily the greatest ending in the show's history. There have been some tight final legs and there have also been several classic legs were likable teams soared past clear villains at the last second. Sepinwall's already given me several legs that he thought had better endings.
But can we all agree that the ending to Sunday's episode was pretty outrageously exciting? Can't that just be enough?
[Full recap of Sunday's episode, "He Made Me Look Like Alice Cooper," after the break...]
Before going into the ending, it's best to dispatch with Tammy and Victor, who won the leg.
We're now at our third consecutive leg (well, second leg, third episode) largely in China and our third consecutive leg (or episode) only in Mandarin-speaking China. I simply can't accept that they didn't have an substantial advantage, especially given that one of Detour choices this week hinged completely and totally on successful articulation of Mandarin verbiage.
The Detour choices were Beijing Opera or Chinese Waiter.
Beijing Opera, which the other three teams chose to do, required the pairs to make each other up in the traditional cosmetics and garb of a prince and princess from the Chinese Opera. Other than Margie's truly annoying objections to Luke's makeup technique, it still required very little effort and it didn't look as if the judges' standards were all that high.
Chinese Waiter asked the teams to take dinner orders from a table of customers and them properly recite the orders to a chef. For three of the four teams, the task would have required utterly flawless phonetics to avoid getting mocked by the "Amazing Race" editors, much less the chef. For Tammy and Victor, they just had to write down the orders and read them back to the chef. Even with their fluency in the language, Victor still blundered what is presumably a miniscule difference in nuance between "Fish" and "Squid," though that error probably set them back no more than a minute or two.
A task that we later saw cause extensive (though not insurmountable) problems for Jen and Kisha -- Tammy and Victor U-Turned the sisters, calling them the most athletic team remaining in the Race -- was a doodle for Tammy and Victor because they had language skills unique to the competition.
I'm not saying their advantage was unfair, per se, especially given how strong they were in countries where they didn't have an advantage, but they definitely got their trip to the Galapagos from the kindness of the "Amazing Race" producers.
Next week's leg appears to be in Hawaii, so we'll be back on even footing, which is the way it should be.
So let's go through the last half of the race and what happened with Jen and Kisha and Jaime and Kara, because Luke and Margie finished an easy second and are, thus, irrelevant to the awesomeness of the ending.
The sisters and the cheerleaders were blundering around after the Detour, having walked right past the clue box. The sisters gave up first and went back to the beginning, the right decision, only to see that they'd been U-Turned. It was like Mel and Mike all over again, as Jaime and Cara kept asking one person after another for directions and they kept getting pointed the correct way. Granted that nobody took them by the hand and walked them to the cluebox, but they were doing the best they could. It's hard to place blame. Jaime kept telling Cara that they needed to go back to the beginning, while Cara insisted on getting directions, but Jaime wasn't very encouraging to the people who told them that they had to go back where they started. Jaime, not encouraging? Imagine that.
Despite the U-Turn and despite their questionable grasp of phonetic Mandarin, Jen and Kisha finished the second Detour task before the cheerleaders made it back to the clue and arrived at the Roadblock with a substantial advantage. The Roadblock required eating all manner of vaguely icky delicacies deep-fried and on skewers, including larva, grasshoppers and a particularly fibrous starfish. Victor had minimal trouble with the task and Margie roared through it as well.
Jen's strategy? Not an inherently bad on. She was basically taking little pieces and downing them with big gulps of water. It got the job done, but not quickly, as the cheerleaders finally arrived and Cara fell on the skewers like a locust on a field of wheat. The pressure caused Jen to speed up and accelerate her drinking as well, leading to what's known in the competitive dining world as a Reversal of Fortune. It didn't matter, Jen finished first and the sisters were off to the Beijing Bird's Nest, home of ample Communist propaganda at last summer's Olympics. Bladder about to burst, though, Jen had to pause at the stadium, as Jaime and Cara arrived and rushed to the finish line, just seconds ahead of the sisters.
The editing of the sequence was absolutely masterful. We saw close-ups of every sip of water going into Jen's mouth. We heard Kisha urging Jen not to drink so much. We heard Kisha mention her need to use the bathroom first casually and then with greater and greater insistence. Each time she said it, our ears pricked up more and more. After the second or third mention, viewers started going, "She isn't really going to stop to use the bathroom?" After the fourth or fifth, it became, "Oh geez, please let her be a fast whizzer!" As she ducked into the Port-a-John, we all started looking at our watches as we cut back and forth to Jaime and Cara's utter amazement at getting their first fully engaged cabbie of the Race. As Jen left the john, I typed in my notes, "This can't *really* be happening, can it?" As Jen and Kisha, bladders voided, resumed their search and Jaime and Cara were waylaid at a ticket line, I temporarily got confused by who I was rooting for. And as Jaime and Cara reached Phil first, I let out a laugh.
I was, I'll confess, just about ready to be done with Jaime and Cara, which is saying a lot, since you'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger Jaime defender on the Internet than I've been this season. I could tolerate her rudeness to cabbies and even her declaration that China "sucks." But all of those people in the streets of Beijing were trying to help them. You can be rude and intolerant, but don't be *stupid*.
Jaime was a good cheerleader for Cara at the eating challenge and her happiness with their competitive and exception cabbie was very real. I can't say this enough: She isn't racist. She isn't xenophobic. She's just hostile and impatient. The scenes from last week's episode indicate that she's going to be just as bad to a cabbie who's an American citizen and speaks English. And the part where they demonstrated to the cabbie that they wanted to go to the opera by singing was just funny, extra funny since he took them to the National Opera instead of the Beijing Opera by accident.
Other thoughts on this week's episode:
*** How much bladder discomfort could you stand for a million dollars? Would you soil yourself in public in a foreign land for a million dollars? Just pondering...
*** U-Turns always concern me, because the strategy behind using it is sometimes off. I didn't really think Tammy and Victor needed to U-Turn Jen and Kisha this week, but I guess that in the Final Four, if you're the first team, you have to use the U-Turn on somebody. Anything to claim an extra advantage to guarantee your position in the Finals. And, end of the day, it was that U-Turn and not Jen's bladder than caused their elimination. So as a Jaime/Cara fan, "Thanks Tammy and Victor." Luke and Margie would have U-Turned Jen and Kisha anyway. Somebody had to do it.
*** Despite their advantage this week, I think I'm rooting for Tammy and Victor in the finale. They had several of this week's best lines, including Tammy staring at the starfish and declaring, "That actually looks like it might be tasty" and Victor's well-delivered rejoinder, "It is not." I'll be glad to have them back in a country where they don't need to keep talking about shaming their family.
*** Best line of the episode: "I can't believe I'm carrying a purse and a doll." - Victor. I suspect several viewers had sarcastic responses.
*** Are you honestly going to tell me that Jaime did anything this episode more annoying than Margie's backseat makeup direction for Luke? Where she kept yelling and him and twisting around in the seat criticizing him? I'd be OK with either Jaime and Cara or Tammy and Victor. I'd also be happy with Mel and Mike making a stunning return. I just don't want Luke and Margie to win. That doesn't mean that they wouldn't be deserving enough winners.
So, good ending, right? Or are you just blinded by your pure hatred for Jaime and Cara?