I'm not really sure what to do with Sunday (November 7) night's "Amazing Race."
 
There was a difficult and intriguing Detour. There was effective use of Russian geography and architecture. There was a dramatic ending.
 
But the dramatic ending was fueled almost entirely by a trio of rules violations, as two teams both hit the mat with penalties and the "winner" was the team with the fewest penalties. 
 
And looming over the entire episode was a confusing absence that the "Amazing Race" producers somehow felt that they had no responsibility to explain to even faithful and devoted viewers. What the heck, guys?
 
In the end, Sunday's "Amazing Race" episode was so full of frustrations and annoyances that I couldn't enjoy it at all. There are pleasurable ways of tearing your hair out during a TV show. Sunday's episode was of the unpleasurable sort.
 
Full recap of the Sunday's headache of an episode after the break...
 
Let's get this out of the way: As the episode progressed, if you're like me -- or like anybody who actually watches the show with a modicum of dedication -- you kept seeing Nick & Vicki clowning their way through St. Petersburg and you kept wondering, "So when is the Speed-Bump going to pop up?" Fans know the rules. If you finish last in a non-elimination leg, you get a Speed-Bump. It's not complicated and the Speed-Bumps are easy. But Nick & Vicki kept going. They did the Detour. They did the Roadblock. They rushed to Phil Keoghan at the pit stop. He told them they were third and that was that.
 
Ummm... What?
 
So I went to the official "Amazing Race" website on CBS.com and a quick search turned up no information. I went to the show's official Facebook page. Neither basic search gave me any indication at all regarding what had happened to the established structure and rules of the game. Finally I went to the IMDB messageboards and somebody there had posted that Nick had posted on his personal Facebook page that in the Classical Music Detour in the previous leg, there'd been a judging error. Apparently they'd been giving a correct answer, but a judge had been telling them that they were wrong. When was this taking place? Before they quit the Classical Music task the first time and went to the Classic Cinema task and quit that one before returning to Classical Music? I have no idea. Apparently because of the judging error, the producers ruled that rather than give the Speed-Bump penalty, Nick & Vicki would just be allowed to continue with the game as if nothing happened.
 
But that wasn't explained to viewers. It would have required literally 10 seconds of voiceover at the beginning of the episode. Less than 10 seconds. "Because of a judging error in the previous leg, Nick & Vicki will no longer face a Speed-Bump." Wow. Wasn't that EASY? They would have had to do far more exhaustive explanation if the last leg *hadn't* been a Non-Elimination Leg and if Nick & Vicki had been eliminated and then randomly reintroduced into the game. So why not do the viewers the courtesy and the respect of giving an explanation in this case, rather than sending countless viewers scurrying to their rewind buttons to see if they somehow missed the lamest Speed-Bump since the last Speed-Bump? Why not let us in on a part of the process that directly impacts our viewership and enjoyment of the game and its particular brand of eccentric rules? 
 
[The "Scenes from last week's 'Amazing Race'..." teaser still acknowledged that Nick & Vicki had been saved by the Non-Elimination Leg, but trimmed around Phil mentioning the Speed-Bump. Does that mean that the episode still counted as a Non-Elimination Leg? Probably in terms of the show's pacing, it has to, even though no team was *actually* saved by a NEL and no team had to face a Speed-Bump penalty. See? It's all a mess. Plus, because we have no idea how early into the Detour the judging error took place, we have no idea if Nick & Vicki still were headed for last or if we were denied a Speed-Bump/elimination for a different team.]
 
In this instance, "The Amazing Race" decided to punish and annoy its most passionate viewers, the ones who actually pay attention and remember things from previous legs. 
 
I don't know if it rises to the level of "irony" that this contempt for the observant audience was displayed in an episode that punished several teams for failure to properly observe Race rules, but it sure stood out.
 
The Leg was practically designed to make teams screw up, with a somewhat strange back-and-forth policy on when teams had to walk from location to location and when they were allowed to drive. [I know nothing about the layout of St. Petersburg, but I'm guessing that the entire leg took place in a contained mile or two of the city?] Of the seven teams, three of them made some sort of error involving when they could or couldn't take taxis. 
 
Kevin & Michael were this week's eliminated team because not only did they get a cab to lead them from one Route Marker to the next, but they then took that cab from an observation tower to the Church on Spilled Blood. Chad & Stephanie took a 30 minute penalty for taking a cab to the church, but since the teams were so bunched up at the end, it was as simple as 60 minutes trumping 30 minutes, penalty-wise. 
 
The third team to make a mistake was Team Watermelon, Brook & Claire, who took the cab from the tower to the church and were on their way from the church to the next route marker when they realized their error, had the cab turn around, did the proper walking and continued on their way. In many/most "Amazing Race" legs, I'm pretty sure that Team Watermelon did the wrong thing in backtracking and fixing their mistake. If you don't know how far away you're headed, how difficult the next task will be and how close the pit stop is, it almost *has* to be smarter to keep moving forward, accept the penalty and hope that it doesn't cost you the leg. "Amazing Race" logic says don't backtrack if you aren't required to backtrack. But in this one instance, Brook & Claire made the right choice, because the walk was so short and the various distances were so small. Thanks to Brook's excellent performance in the Roadblock, Team Watermelon finished second behind only Nat & Kat. Yay, Team Watermelon!
 
[Recap Detour: I can't be the only one now rooting fairly heavily for both Nat & Kat and Brook & Claire, can I? They're the teams I like best and it's also well-past-time for "The Amazing Race" to have an all-female team win.]
 
I was distracted and annoyed by the absent Speed-Bump.
 
I was distracted and annoyed by trying to keep track in my notes of which team were clearly breaking rules, which teams might have been breaking rules and which teams appeared to be cleverly observing the letter of the law.
 
But I *did* enjoy the episode-opening (and equalizing) Detour, which offered the choice between Circus Clowns and Circus Band.
 
In Circus Band, the teams had to learn to play the Russian folk song "Korobeiniki" on the accordion, which not a single team excitedly identified as Musical Option #1 from Tetris. What's wrong with these people?
 
In Circus Clowns, teams had to learn plate-spinning and had to get 10 plates simultaneously spinning for 10 seconds. 
 
Both tasks were photogenic. Both tasks were difficult. Neither task presented a clear advantage or disadvantage for any sort of contestant. They were both just hard challenges. Nat & Kat succeeded at Circus Band quickly because of a numeric substitution system, the equivalent of the Suzuki Method for Accordions, which worked out well, since they weren't required to play "Korobeiniki" well, just hit the general notes. The Circus Clowns task, meanwhile, just required teams to have the patience to figure out the mechanics of the plate spinning, which must not have been that hard. Either way, there were circus performers juggling and bending all around them, plus a dude in a bear suit being driven around in a motorcycle sidecar. The whole thing looked fun.
 
As for the Roadblock? It was just a Russian form of bowling with contestants throwing sticks at other sticks in different formations. It was less telegenic, even with a demonstration that featured Phil falling on his butt and several angles where the pins came smashing into the camera. Michael was really the only contestant to struggle at the Roadblock, but with the teams bunched the way they were, I doubt his failures would have been dramatic enough to overcome that extra 30 minute penalty.
 
Other thoughts on this week's episode:
 
*** I wonder if the leg architecture was rearranged when the producers realized they had to push Nick & Vicki, surely quite far behind otherwise, back to the field. The opening of the Circus was surely arbitrary and allowed all seven teams to be back on equal footing. You'll notice that we weren't told what time the last four teams left, nor the time the circus was opened. I'll call shenanigans on the whole thing.
 
*** On one hand, I guess Chad deserves credit for not verbally abusing Stephanie when she initially had trouble with the Roadblock. On the other hand, he was predictably Chad-ian when she was unable to pull off the Tower task -- contestants had to notice a tiny model of the church and figure out that was where they were supposed to go. "It was right in front of your freakin' face," he bellowed. To which Stephanie told the camera, "God, I love it when he rubs it in." I really, really, really hope this Race has convinced her that she can do better.
 
*** I liked Jill & Thomas giving up on Circus Clowns and then bailing on Circus Band when they realized how much music they had to learn. A frustrated Thomas, he of the weekly boasts about his college degree, whined "There was way too much to learn." I hope Notre Dame uses that as a new motto.
 
*** Kevin was just a pill this week, making it so that nobody is likely to feel bad about his elimination. I was confused by his self-righteousness at Nick's attempt to trick him and then irked by his impatience with his father at the Roadblock. Regarding Nick, surely Kevin should have been impressed that Nick was even capable of attempted subterfuge.
 
*** Nick had the line of the episode when he recalled his grandmother's clown room growing up. But then he also got frustrated with Vicki and called her a moron. What did we learn in Ghana, Nick?
 
*** Lots of cab drama as well, since multiple teams ran out of rubles and had to pay their cabbies in American money. It's always interesting to see which teams get pissed off when their cabbies are less-than-pleased about being short-changed by spoiled tourists. It's also always interesting to see which cabbies think that being uber-dramatic is a great way to get television exposure.
 
Anyway... What'd you think of this week's episode? Were you as annoyed as I was by the producers and that piece of information they didn't bother to share? And does an episode determined by penalties lose luster for you?