On the Sunday Nov. 29th episode of “The Amazing Race,” one team stopped racing and instead started playing the game.
Before tonight’s episode of “The Amazing Race,” where a team had a Speed Bump that I thought would be erased by bunching within the first ten minutes, I expected to be writing thoughts on how annoying I found the manipulation of the race in terms of controlling competition.
However, through a strange and unthinkable series of circumstances, I am instead writing about how one of the racers was so convinced of this sort of producer intervention that they risked the entire race on being able to predict their next move.
They bet zig, the race zagged, and the final three was set in stone after only thirty five minutes of a frustrating, if fascinating, hour of television.
[Recap of Sunday's "The Amazing Race" after the break...]
The Kafka Roadblock is an example of a task that is, in actuality, all style over substance. There’s a room full of phones, yes, and they’re incessantly ringing, but in reality the task is quite simple. No team had trouble finding the letters (which five of the phones spit out), and once they had them the task was your basic word scramble. Meghan went through the task alone, and was able to use a mnemonic (word association, to be specific) to remember the letters and (as far as we saw) got Franz (for Kafka, of course) on her second try. This indicates that this task wasn’t actually challenging, since Meghan is intelligent but not precisely a super genius.
However, you realize when Big Easy and Dan get to the challenge that what’s hard about it is getting into your mind that it isn’t actually difficult. The incessantly ringing phones were not likely overly helpful, but the task was more about being able to quietly consider the problem in front of you and see the solution than it was actually completing the fairly simple scramble. They were so convinced it was hard that they agreed to work together, which only confirmed (in their own minds) that the task was a huge undertaking.
So when Dan finishes the task faster than he expected, he realizes what we knew from the beginning: it wasn’t that hard. And more importantly, he realizes that Big Easy isn’t any closer to figuring it out, and that since last week defined them as the “villain” team there’s no reason to remain in an alliance when the final leg is at stake. And so he leaves him there, convincing Big Easy that the task is now even more challenging: not only is he struggling with the task, but now his temporary partner has abandoned him. To watch Brian blow by him by simply visualizing the word without much difficulty was the final straw, driving Big Easy to literally throw the task away and decide to take a four-hour penalty.
If you didn’t watch the episode, this is the point of the race where you stop reading and ask whether I am in fact telling the truth. Yes, Big Easy chose to take a four-hour penalty as opposed to completing a simple five-letter word scramble. In fact, he took a four-hour penalty as opposed to completing a simple four-letter word scramble, considering that Dan (as the episode title indicated) actually gave him the first letter out of charity (thinking that it would still give them a bit of a head start). But Big Easy was so convinced the challenge was impossible, or more accurately that he wasn’t capable of finishing it, that he chose to make perhaps the biggest gamble in the history of the race.
Now, the race has seen a number of stupid decisions in the past, such as the epic trainwreck in Season 1 where the Guidos chose to take a bus to save money (which put them about 14 hours behind) only to have Nancy and Emily choose to give up on a task and end up receiving a 24-hour penalty that took them out of the race. However, while that will always be the stupidest overall leg, this was unquestionably the dumbest decision in Race history for two key reasons.
1) The only logic in the decision was that the teams were about to run into either a train ride or an hours of operation bunch, which is certainly common during every race season. However, the Globetrotters should have realized that the leg had clearly been organized to start at this particular time, as the leg went beyond the normal 12-hour waiting period in order for the leg to begin at the time it did. While they were trying to predict the producers’ strategy, they failed to analyze the leg carefully enough to be able to discern that this was going to be a plane/train-free leg (or that a museum wouldn’t be open in the dead of night unless the producers wanted it to be, and that further locations would likely follow suit).
2) It would actually take less than hour hours to try every single combination starting with the letter F of those five letters. If I wasn’t working on a deadline, I’d see how long it would take me right now, but I know it’s less than four hours. As a result, to choose to actually take the penalty as opposed to using that time to TRY to complete the task earlier (even if you chose to take an hour-long break before diving back into it to stop going crazy) is downright insane.
When the Globetrotters began the leg, they were talking about how proud they were of how they ran the race, and how they knew that at some point their true personalities would emerge in the midst of all of this chaos. And for Big Easy, although not in the most flattering of ways, Roadblocks proved to be his undoing. He was the only person to struggle with the briefcase challenge in Dubai, there only saved by Mika’s own stupidity (which was, at least, informed by about a dozen intense phobias), and here he was unwilling to suffer for another minute the horrid task of rearranging letters to form a five letter word.
When Maria and Tiffany quit the race without completing the leg, they did so because they felt it was physically impossible (which it may well have been, considering the weather conditions). When Toni and Dallas lost their passports and money in Russia, they tried to run the race with money begged off of strangers rather than quit then and there. These are teams that kept fighting until they had no more fight left, whereas Big Easy threw away the race based on his frustration with a simple word puzzle. Two and a half hours or no, giving away four hours and risking everything on a poorly formed hunch is the epitome of a terrible judgment call, and one that sent a competitive team home halfway through the leg.
It resulted in an unfortunately suspense-free hour of television, as there was simply no way the Globetrotters would be able to catch up once that four hour break began. The Cryogenic Chamber offered no suspense regardless of where the teams stood at that point (although it’s more challenging than a Sauna, I guess), but the Detour (Legend, moulding/wheeling a giant clay monster across town or Lager, transporting beer through a busy city block) would have been a barn burner if the teams had actually been close together. Cheyne’s whining led to Meghan tearing him a new one, Dan’s whining led to an obnoxious amount of yelling over clay monster, and Brian and Ericka struggled with the Prague nightlife as they tried to deliver beer on precariously perched trays as the bars were closing and drunk revelers desired a free night cap. But since there was no way the Globetrotters were ever going to catch up, it was like one giant Kafka-esque experiment where the teams were transporting giant clay men through the city for no reason whatsoever.
Meghan and Cheyne had enough of a lead that they were going to finish first with no bunching, and they lived up to that task. Sam and Dan, meanwhile, got lucky by not being called out for their broken giant (it appeared they did a patch job before getting to the task, but even if they had been penalized they probably had enough time to run back and make an entirely new one and get back before the Globetrotters finished their penalty, really), and similarly breezed into the final leg. These two teams have been near the top since the middle of the race, and both have a weird combination of weak teamwork yet strong physical/mental prowess that has made them formidable competitors.
And yet, if there’s a team to root for here, it’s Brian and Ericka. Yes, their Speed Bump was perhaps even more ridiculous than the Saunabus (considering that Brian got to ogle attractive women and it amounted to them lighting stuff on fire and getting drunk on absinthe), but they are by far the most enjoyable team to watch at the moment. For all of Ericka’s complaining during the Detour, she completely owned her cattiness to the various passerbys, and her threatening to punch drunk women in the face if they touch their alcohol was immensely entertaining. While the show has wrapped Sam and Dan in drama over their status as the show’s villains, and Meghan and Cheyne have become the "frontrunners" and are thus denied any further characterization in fear of humanizing the “enemy,” Brian and Ericka offer quippy one-liners (“There were girls in there?”) and the sort of underdog spirit that results in Brian nearly launching Ericka into the stratosphere when they found out that they were, in fact, in third place despite checking in after daybreak.
In some ways, I’ll miss the Globetrotters in the final leg, as on occasion they were an immensely fun team to watch and after Zev and Justin left were probably my “favourite.” However, in one fell swoop they went from a team which overcame a sense of “celebrity status” to enter America’s hearts only to make a mistake so bone-headed that they’ll enter Race history in the worst possible of ways. I think we’ll still see an exciting finale with some legitimate competition, which is what matters in the end, but the fact that they effectively chose not to compete in it is a sour note on which to go into the finale.
Some further thoughts on the leg? Why not!
*** As you may have noted, I am not in fact Daniel Fienberg (who was indisposed this evening). We pondered not mentioning this, to see if our remarkably similar TAR recap styles would prove interchangeable, but decided against it. It’s too bad: I had a great Mika phobia (phones, obviously) lined up and everything.
*** I enjoyed that Phil noted that the Czech Republic “suffered under Soviet rule” but still managed to have a bright and vibrant culture. I know that the U.S.S.R. was bad and all, but I think we could have gone with “struggled” (especially since we need to save a term for the Nazis in this recounting of the country’s history).
*** The next time Big Easy sprains his ankle, is he going to put himself on the 20-day D.L. even when the doctor indicates it’s a fairly simple recovery time? (I felt bad for not using more sports metaphors for the team all season, so there’s one for the road). Either way, it’s clear why he wasn’t able to play for a real basketball team with this attitude.
*** If Flight Time remains true to his word, he’ll never return to the Czech Republic, as Big Easy never did figure out that word scramble. As such, I await news of the Globetrotters’ next European tour, and hope he skips the game in Prague out of protest.
*** A pretty substantial leg in terms of attractive women on the race: not only did they go to what appeared to be the Prague-equivalent to Coyote Ugly’s, the mat greeter was what appeared to be some sort of model, and one team even had an attractive female cab driver on their way to the pit stop. Combine with Meghan and Ericka in their skivvies at the Cryogenic chamber, and you have quite the episode.
*** Couldn’t help but pick on Ericka when she suggested she hated every minute of the Cryogenic Chamber: all two of them?
*** The Ekotechnické Museum offered some cool visuals, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the Tragically Hip’s “My Music at Work” video. Which is what happens when you let Canadians recap television: obscure pop culture references.
*** I know I’ve been hard on the Globetrotters, but I felt terrible for them every time we cut to them sadly sitting on the steps rationalizing their decision while the clock slowly ticked down to their eventual elimination. They were tough to watch, especially for a team who were once a favorite of mine.
Who are you rooting for out of the Top Three? And what'd you think of this penultimate leg?