I'm not saying that the creative team on "The Amazing Race" would ever actively root for a physical and verbal altercation between two teams, a showdown with all manner of unsettling undertones, but if ever there were an episode where they might feel grateful that that sort of incident occurred, it would be Sunday (April 19) night's.

[Spoilers for Sunday night's "Amazing Race" episode, titled "Our Parents Will Cry Themselves to Death," after the break....]

Sunday's "The Amazing Race" could have been an absolute disaster. 

Mark and Michael, after getting penalized for the second straight week, but escaping thanks to a non-elimination leg, began the episode four hours behind and, for reasons we never saw, were unable to catch up with the other teams at any of the possible equalizing points. After they left the point of origin, we never got any time-related update on their progress. We never heard what time they flew from Bangkok to Guangzhou, China nor the time they left Guangzhou to Guilin. They were never at any challenge point at the same time as even the slowest of rival teams. For all we know, they were a full day behind. Heck, they could have been weeks behind. Their Speed Bump -- washing and rinsing the hair of two older women -- wasn't regionally specific or taxing and it probably had nothing to do with their inevitable and well-deserved elimination. They were never in the leg at all.

This is hardly the first time a team has faced an insurmountable challenge from the opening credits and it's normally a circumstance in which the editors have to contrive to create drama out of nothing, cross-cutting like maniacs to produce the illusion that the teams were closer than they actually were.

On Sunday, they didn't even bother. They cared so little about the mystery of the results that last episode's "Scenes from the Next 'Amazing Race'..." actively spoiled the teams that reached the Pit Stop first, as did this week's superfluous "Tonight on 'The Amazing Race'..." tease. They didn't care if we knew Mark and Michael were done, just so long as we were anxiously waiting to see what, exactly, transpired between Luke and Margie and LaKisha and Jen at the mat.

The only background you need: Last week, when Jen and Kisha were simultaneously lost in their cab with Margie and Luke,  Margie successfully secured directions to their destination and asked that those directions not get relayed long to Jen and Kisha's cab. Karmically speaking, it wasn't the nicest and sweetest thing Margie could do, but this is one of those instances where I buy the "It's a Race, duh" rationale for a little low-level deceit. Jen and Kisha, as the team deceived, didn't take it so kindly, so they were already grumbling as this episode began.

Rushing to the first clue box in China, Jen and Luke arrived nearly simultaneously. OK. That's a lie. Luke arrived first and Jen came in next and tried to go over Luke's shoulder to grab the clue. Luke, in the process of grabbing his clue and clearing out his personal space, made a gesture that strongly resembled throwing an elbow in Jen's direction. Does that seem like a charitable description of what transpired? It's all cause and effect, right? So, with the elbow flying at her face, either intended or not, Jen proceeded to call Luke a "bitch," mostly to herself. Remaining charitable here, I'll say that this probably wasn't the most polite thing Jen could have called Luke, but that in the heat of the moment, she was just expressing frustration at a flying elbow and she didn't express it in a manner that CBS had to censor. She also didn't stare him down and yell it at him. It was something she said as both teams were heading in their own directions. 

Margie, in the cab with Luke, was less accepting, making sure her son understood what had been said about him.

"Calling the deaf guy a bitch is not nice," Luke declared.

Here, I'm afraid, is where you have to take a side. Team Jen/Kisha or Team Luke/Margie. I'm going Team Jen/Kisha all the way, since from what I could gather, what Jen said had everything to do with getting shoved aside by a larger man in a competitive race and nothing to do with anybody being able to hear or not being able to hear. Jen isn't exactly tiny. She's a college athlete, we hear. But Luke occupies a good deal more space and, without any question (though he denied it) used his size advantage on her in an aggressive or defensive manner. Just as I don't think Jen calling him a bitch had a thing to do with his deafness, I don't think she needed to restrain herself from calling him a bitch because of his deafness. It isn't nice calling *anybody* a bitch. In this context, calling the deaf guy a bitch was no better or worse. She wasn't angling for a fight, just expressing frustration.

Then at the next clue box, Luke was in the lead running to the box, Jen jostled past him and some shoving ensued. Again, I'm not interested in saying who did what, since both Luke and Jen were being physical. Tensions simmered until the Pit Stop, where host Phil Keoghan had been urged to ask the teams about whether things were heating up as the Race nears its end.

This led to a recounting of the episode's events with neither team making any effort to apologize or tone down the rhetoric, eventually leading to Luke storming off and then coming back at Phil's urging to try to explain himself.

Here things get even stickier. As Luke was trying to sign, Kisha and Jen seemed to be smiling. It was a moment based on editing and I don't know what they were laughing at, but my first impression was that, yes, they were laughing at Luke. You know who doesn't stand for that nonsense, though? Phil. And Phil attempted to defend Jen and Kisha when Margie got all Mama Bear on them, protecting her son. Does anybody else agree with me that we trust Phil's sense of decency and that if he'd thought Kisha and Jen were laughing Luke, he'd have turned on them? 

Margie couldn't be reasoned with.

Finally, she resorted to "You should understand the pressure, because you're black and lived with it."

This is where I need one of those sound effects with the needle being scratched abruptly across a record. Did Margie actually play that card? This is a mother who has spent 20-something years protecting her son against bullies targeting him for his disability. And good for her! But in my opinion, she exacerbated every inch of the situation in this episode. Margie has been awesome on the race, constantly picking up slack for her son, but this didn't feel like her finest moment to me.

Team Luke/Margie will disagree and they'll paint Jen and Kisha as laughing thugs. 

But anyway, that's what happened.

That whole kerfuffle dominated the episode and took away from what could have been a bigger debate: Did Tammy and Victor have an unfair advantage in an episode set in China and will they continue to hold that advantage as long as the race stays in China? This isn't the first time teams have got to countries where one contestant or another had a distinct language advantage, though you kinda got Luke's sadness when Margie relayed, "He'd like to go to a country where all of the people are deaf."

In China, Tammy and Victor were able to speak the language, but that didn't mean they necessarily were able to pick the one cabbie capable of driving them to their destination quickly and without getting lost.

As Tammy put it, "All it means is that we understand him when he says he doesn't know where he's going."

And being able to speak the language didn't help Tammy at the Roadblock, where she was stuck with an unwieldy cormorant that wouldn't deliver the required fish.

At the Detour, Tammy and Victor actually played their advantage incorrectly, if you ask me. The choice was between Calligraphy and Choreography and other than the two cheerleaders (and the irrelevant Team Tweedle), everybody chose Calligraphy. While we were warned that the art was precise, nobody had any problems with the characters, so the three teams were bunched through all four stations. Tammy and Victor kept showing up first, finishing first and asking the judges to approve them first, but by going first, all that did was allow the other two teams to follow them everywhere. Think Tammy and Victor might have been better served letting the other teams finish first and go off on their own and then sneak back past them with their language skills. As it was, it was a three-way jog to the Pitt Stop and Jen and Kisha won.

So there's your drama for a week of "Amazing Race" which otherwise might have been excitement-free.

Other quick thoughts:

*** I need to backtrack for a last comment on the week's general nonsense: I completely get why Margie was protecting Luke and why she got so offended so easily. That is her instinct and it has probably been the correct one for most of his life. It's just that she was wrong in this case, if you ask me, and she made things worse rather than better. End of the day? It was a heat-of-the-moment thing that the "Amazing Race" producers made into an international incident to fill time and space, saving an otherwise moribund episode. Both teams looked pretty weak, really.

*** I desperately don't want to get into this side of things, because I don't think it matters, but would this information add another level of discomfort to the episode's conflict?

*** Another thing that might have added drama to the episode, but didn't, was the flight situation out of Thailand, where somehow Jen and Kisha found a travel agent who gave them a later flight than any of the other teams. That could have been a disadvantage. But then that earlier flight, with the other teams, was delayed and Jen and Kisha were suddenly ahead. But that didn't matter. But for a brief moment, the airplane intrigue excited me.

*** More vintage impatience from Jaime, who I like more each week. From what I can tell, most people on the Interwebs who aren't me hate Jaime and will continue to rip her, but wouldn't you have gotten frustrated if you learned a long and complicated dance routine, were told it wasn't right, but didn't have anybody around capable of telling you what you'd done wrong? Exactly. Jaime also had the episode's best line, marveling at how the cormorants don't eat the fish, saying "I know if somebody tossed filet mignon in my mouth, I do not believe I'd give it back." [The answer, I believe, involves bands around their throats.]

*** Luke getting nipped by a cormorant -- Funny or not funny? My vote? Funny. But it it weren't funny, it would be unfunny because the bird drew blood and not because he's deaf.

Sound off on this week's conflict...

 

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