Sunday (November 28) night represented another speedbump in an already rough season for "The Amazing Race."
 
It's been a season characterized by less-than-appealing contestants and less-than-intriguing challenges. And it's been a season where the most memorable episode was the one that left much of the fanbase confused and alienated by an in-game rule change that could have easily been explained, but was instead left a mystery.
 
But I don't think I've ended an episode this season at totally frustrated and annoyed as I was as the credits rolled on Sunday's hour, titled "I Hate Chinese Food."
 
Full recap after the break, or as much of a full recap as I can muster the enthusiasm for. After all, why should *I* bother finishing?
 
The reality is that fans of "The Amazing Race" already knew that Sunday's episode was a Non-Elimination Leg. As no-brainers go, this was pretty high on the list. The finale was slated for Sunday, December 12 and that meant that there were still three episodes remaining. Barring an odd NEL at the Top 3, that meant that Sunday's episode was almost certain to be either an NEL or one of those, "You've reached the Pit Stop, but this is not the end of this leg..." twists.
 
Never for a single second did I believe a team was going home this week, which dampened my enthusiasm for a leg which, at times, might otherwise have been fairly entertaining. 
 
But when the last team got to Phil Keoghan at the pit stop and he told them what I already knew, I wanted Phil to say a little bit more. 
 
I wanted Phil to say, "This was *supposed* to be a Non-Elimination Leg, but Non-Elimination Legs aren't for quitters. They aren't for bitchy whiners who can't find inspiration in the fact that they're a few lucky breaks away from a million dollar prize, enough inspiration to FINISH A FREAKIN' LEG. So here's my deal for you: If you want to quit, we'll eat this Non-Elimination Leg, because our producers are clever and we can find a way to fiddle with the next leg accordingly. Otherwise, get your sorry butts back out there in the harbor and find a way to finish our Detour, knowing that as long as it takes, you won't be sent home."
 
Yes, that would have been a little harsh to half of the team, the half who battled asthma and puked her guts out trying to complete a Roadblock. But in "The Amazing Race," you're only as good as your partner. That's the way the game is played and if you choose to partner yourself with a surly, defeatist, passive-agressive, active-agressive tool? Well, that's just a bad sign.
 
Instead, Nick & Vicki quit a task and were saved by a Non-Elimination Leg. I don't care if their penalty ends up being 20 hours because there are only two options for what will come next: Either the "Amazing Race" producers will impose an equalizer early in the next leg, which will piss me off. Or Nick & Vicki will be behind for the duration of the next leg -- they're a minimum of six hours behind, but possibly two or three more -- and they'll be eliminated at the end of an episode that lacks all drama. I can't decide if either of those counts as a "best case scenario."
 
Blurg. It's really time to wipe the slate clean and hope that next season is a bounce-back for "The Amazing Race."
 
Sunday's episode already started in a hole when Jill & Thomas started off with a 5.5 hour advantage over Nick & Vicki and 7.5 hour advantage over Nat & Kat only to reach a travel agency and realize that they were all going to end up on the same flight from Bangladesh. Stupid equalizers. I wonder if they were told the teams had to all be on the same flight, because with that much of a time advantage and more than 15 hours before their flight, I'd have been inclined to go to an airport and hop on the first available flight heading *anywhere* near the same direction and attempted to find my way to Hong Kong via whatever means were necessary. Jill & Thomas just sucked it up and accepted the equalizer.
 
Once in Hong Kong, there was a strange opening task that made teams catch a ferry to a nearby island only to be told to ferry back to land for the next task. Yes. Lame. And not just lame, but the dummy task ended up serving only one purpose: Vicki's asthma acted up in the sprint to the ferry, causing Nick & Vicki to miss the first ferry, causing Nick to get frustrated with his girlfriend and setting the groundwork for Nick's increasingly hostile attitude for the rest of the leg. An episode that began with Nick calling Vicki a blessing as he cried about how much better a man she'd made him ended with viewers wondering what kind of horrid puppy strangler he must have been before.
 
After the circular ferry ride, the teams rushed off to Majesty Chinese Restaurant for an amusingly devilish Roadblock, the first of three potential needle-in-a-haystack tasks on the leg. At the restaurant players were told that Hong Kong was famous for lavish buffets and also for ultra-realistic replica food-stuffs that could be displayed in windows. One player from each team had to go through a huge mostly seafood buffet and find one of *five* fake pieces. They were given chopsticks and could apparently poke and prod the food as much as they wanted, but anything they actually picked up (or anything they took to the judge and misidentified as fake) they had to eat. 
 
As I've already mentioned once this season, and will mention again in the future I'm sure, just once I'd like for somebody to be pleased with an eating challenge, to look at a vast array of glistening salmon, perfectly cut squid and colorful whole shrimp and say, "Nice. I haven't eaten a good meal in weeks and if I came to this restaurant, I'd probably pay a lot of money for access to this bounty." Instead, Claire complained that she's a picky eater. Vicki complained that she hates Chinese food. Thomas and Nat just ate and went through the task with the necessary diligence. Anybody wanna guess which two contestants finished first? Indeed. With loud karaoke music, and even louder Brook, in the background, first Nat and then Thomas found their fugazi foods and rushed along. Claire suffered the first Reversal of Fortune -- competition eating slang for barfing -- but then nailed a fake mussel before eating another bite. Vicki had her Reversal and then went back even though Nick was already urging her to quit and take the penalty. She finished and deserves credit, since at that point, there were only two fake pieces left and the buffet hadn't really be ransacked.
 
[Interesting note: Nick & Vicki knew they'd face a two-hour penalty for failure to complete the Roadblock and six hours for failure to complete the Detour. Have teams known this information and mentioned it out loud previously? Rob & Amber pioneered the rarely repeated Take the Penalty strategy, but it's only a strategy if you're electing to take the penalty at a time you know other teams are behind you or equally unlikely to complete the task. Otherwise? You're just quitting.]
 
Like I already said, the two Detour options were also needle-in-a-haystack choices. The choice? Ding Ding or Sampan.
 
In Ding Ding, teams had to ride a local tourist tram and correctly isolate three signs leading to the pit stop, three signs from the whole neon-filtered backdrop of Hong Kong.
 
In Sampan, teams had to collect two parakeets, hop on a sampan and go out into the harbor, where they had to find a boat with a proper serial number and deliver the parakeets. The numbers were long and small, at night, the task was pretty hard.
 
Both tasks had potential to be nightmarish. Ding Ding was probably faster, but only if you were able to pick up on the correct signs. If you didn't get all three -- "Pit Stop," "Statue" and "Square" -- the first time around, you had to go again. Certainly when the "Amazing Race" cameramen showed the signs in isolation, they looked easy enough to spot, but Jill and Thomas weren't able to spot any of them before quitting.
 
The other three teams decided to do Sampan off the bat, probably the right choice. This Detour was hard, but I guess I'm a fan of Detours that reward specific "better" ways of doing the task and penalize specific "worse" ways. In this case, you just had to be out in the harbor looking at numbers and hoping you saw the right one at the right time. There was a side task about entertaining the parakeets, but that was silly.
 
Even after trying Ding Ding first, quitting and moving on to Sampan, Jill & Thomas find their boat seconds before Nat & Kat did, but Nat & Kat found a taxi to the pit stop first and finished first for the leg. Jill & Thomas were second. And Team Watermelon finished third.
 
That left Nick & Vicki. Because of the Vicki's asthma, they were last to the Roadblock. And because of Vicki's Reversal of Fortune, they were last out of the Roadblock. Let it be noted that Nick & Vicki were absolutely in last place at that point because of Vicki, but Nick hadn't actually done anything during the leg. But Nick wasn't happy with the Detour and left no doubt that he wasn't enjoying playing "Hide-and-go seek in the damn dark for a number that's not even in order." He complained about being tired. He complained about being hungry. He expressed a desire to choke somebody and another instinct to toss the parakeets overboard. Finally, he announced, "I don't care if you don't like to quit. It's over. I'm done." At that point, he tossed his bag down on the deck and took a nap, leaving Vicki looking for numbers alone in the dark. Then, probably uncomfortable in his resting place, he stood up again, mocked Vicki for refusing to quit and finally whined her into submission, forcing her to take the penalty.
 
Go Nick!
 
And for that performance, Nick & Vicki were rewarded with a Non-Elimination Leg.
 
I'm serious about the need for a rule change. It's just a little bit of fine print. "Contestants are only eligible for Non-Elimination Legs after the completion of the required tasks." 
 
I just don't think a reality show with a million dollar prize should be rescuing quitters.
 
 
Anyway... A few other thoughts on this week's episode:
 
*** It was hard to tell if Team Watermelon was seriously being annoyed with Thomas & Jill for the U-Turning or if they just enjoyed watching Thomas squirm. Either way, Team Watermelon's logic that Nat & Kat are the bigger threat was somewhat validated by Nat & Kat's strong performance on this leg.
 
*** Speaking of Team Watermelon, how happy were the "Amazing Race" editors to have an excuse to run the watermelon-in-the-face incident again? I assume we'll see it again in the finale. I hope so. Claire really does have a gift for misinterpreting Roadblock clues. At least she tried here. Tried and puked. But she tried. Similarly, Vicki tried. I feel bad tearing into Nick & Vicki for things that are only Nick's fault. But there you go...
 
*** Line of the episode: Kat reflecting on their sluggish parakeets by observing, "Were they even live?" That's not so funny on its own, but it lets me link to this Monty Python classic.
 
*** Other classic Nick quotes from this episode: "I'm not waiting for your asthma ever again." "I wish we would have never came." "I'm sick of you being sorry..." "It's supposed to be fun. This isn't fun." Actually, I take it back. I hope the producers equalize the next leg, give Nick & Vicki the latest easy Speed-Bump and they somehow win. Then next season, "The Amazing Race" can adopt the new slogan, "It's supposed to be fun. This isn't fun." 
 
*** That's a lie. I'll be equally happy with ANY of the other three teams winning. I just know who to root against.
 
What were your thoughts on this week's episode?