Penalties on "The Amazing Race" are confusing. The show seemingly has a long and convoluted manual of rules and regulations, a "Strunk & White's Elements of Style" for the reality TV world traveler, but we only learn what those rules are if they're broken and even then only occasionally. Teams have been eliminated from the race and subsequently told reporters that they'd been penalized previously, but since that penalty hadn't impacted that particular leg, it never made it onto TV.

So much ethically questionable behavior takes place during the course of the Race that viewers are often left puzzled about which behaviors raise Phil Keoghan's hackles. Heck, contestants are often left unable to understand why some things generate penalties and others are allowed to pass. Do they not get the rule book? Do they not read the rule book? Reading has, as we know, often been a handicap for various pairs. 

Somewhere Bertram van Munster is serving as the final arbiter, but it'd be good to know what he was basing decisions on.

Sunday (April 12) night's episode, titled "Rooting Around in People's Mouths Could Be Unpleasant" included multiple penalties and I'm guessing that the show's various online fan hubs will be full of viewers trying to make sense of what went down.

[A discussion of said penalties, and a full recap, after the break...]

As beautiful as Bangkok is it wasn't a great episode.

The Roadblock was as dull as they come. Attach a propeller to a pole? That's it? Which skills, exactly, were required to succeed? Yeah, Margie finished quickly, but Margie's a warrior and every week she shows new ways to carry her increasingly useless son. And yeah, Victor finished slowly, but did anybody really expect Victor to be good with mechanical things? Also, how much time did Victor and Tammy lose after their propellor failed to work even iafter his handiwork had been approved of by the Clue Master? That's not Victor's fault, is it? 

Then the Detour was a choice between Fun For Them (but not for us) and Gross For Everybody. Actually the choice was Broken Teeth or Broken Record. In Broken Teeth, the teams had to weed through a pile of dentures and insert them into the toothless maws of some elderly yokels. It was a task that required both ickiness and a certain measure of luck. Meanwhile, Broken Record just asked the teams to pick up a group of Thai trannies (some were, some weren't, I'd guess) and drive a five-mile course singing karaoke. You didn't have to sing it well or understand anything you were singing. The teams were literally just along for the ride.

Margie and Luke were the only team to do Broken Teeth and I had a technical glitch as they made the choice. Was it just about Luke's deafness and their sense that because he wouldn't be able to hear the music or vocalize the words that he couldn't perform the task? Did the producers tell Luke that he couldn't viably do a singing challenge? I wonder. To my mind, Broke Record was a no-brainer, but Luke and Margie went a different way and the finished first, so it's hard to question them. This isn't like when Stupid Mark and Stupid Michael did the Detour nobody in their right minds would do and nearly were eliminated for it. Margie's nursing background came in handy and we all just had to imagine all of the halitosis in the room. 

So Margie and Luke won the leg, their third stage win, tying them with Tammy and Victor. They are, in fact, the only two teams left in the race who have won legs. Jamie and Cara finished second, followed by Tammy and Victor. Because the tasks were so boring, nothing that happened in accomplishing them was really meaningful. 

The suspense at the end was because of a strange lapse in common sense from Kisha and Jen and a predictable lapse in common sense from Mark and Michael.

At the end of the Roadblock, teams had to take the boats with the propeller they'd assembled and they had to take the boats down the river to their next clue. That's pretty simple, right? The clue didn't say anything about taking your bags with you or not taking your bags with you, but three of the five teams made the assumption that if they were progressing along by boat, they may want to have their stuff (including money) with them. That's just common sense.

Jen and Kisha didn't just forget their bags, though. They also forgot the pack containing their money and travel documents, a fact that Jen realized as they were half-way to the clue on the river. She asked if they could go back, but her sister, in a move reminiscent of Victor's stubbornness in Transylvania, refused to let them turn back. They decided to complete the Detour without their things and then headed straight to the Pit Stop where they actually finished third, just ahead of Tammy and Victor.

This is where things get dicey. At the mat, Phil told them that he couldn't check them in without their travel documents. So if Jen had remembered her little pack with the passports and other vital information, would they have been allowed to check in, take their third place finish and then, during the mandatory rest period, take a cab back to the docks to collect their bags? Is that in keeping with the rules? Or if they'd had their documents, but not their bags, would Phil have told them he couldn't check them in without their bags? Or would he have told them he couldn't check them in while they still owed money to the cabbie waiting at the docks with their stuff? Is the point that without their clothing and whatnot, they still could have continued in the race, but without their passports they'd be stranded in Thailand? I don't know. 

That was the first of the bag-leaving blunders and the first of the episode's penalties.

Mark and Michael responded to their missing luggage in a different way. They got to the clue without their stuff and, rather than completing the Detour, they decided to take a cab back to their first cab, get their stuff and then go on to the detour. In this case, Michael was the one who wanted to go back, while Mark protested that in a race for a million dollars, you can't get sentimental about things you may have left behind. I'd be inclined to agree with Mark, except that Mark was also the one who thought it would be a clever idea to sabotage the other teams in last episode's rickshaw challenge, nearly killing Margie and incurring a 30-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct (they got another penalty in that episode for a transportational violation). 

The back-and-forth aspect of their journey left them with insufficient funds to pay several cabbies, who they in turn bartered with, giving them a variety of worthless trash. None of the cabbies seems indignant, which may just speak to the state of the post-tsunami economies in that part of the world. Mark and Michael arrived at the mat in fourth, but a vintage sneering Phil instructed them that they're picked up four hours in penalties, two for each of the cabbies them bartered with.

Since when is bartering not allowed? I'd thought that the rule was you can't just split on a cabbie, leaving him compensated, but I'd always thought that trading for goods and services was a viable way to make up for any shortcomings in the amount you're given at the start of each leg of the race. Is this new? Or was there something about what they bartered and when they did the bartering? Phil didn't explain. He also didn't explain how bartering was unacceptable, but it was fine for Kisha and Jen to have received a lengthy cab ride (possibly two) gratis, much less to have abandoned their cabbie for a long stretch at the dock, hopefully with the meter running.

I'm assuming that Kisha and Jen didn't incur a penalty for their free cab ride because they were up-front and sought out a cabbie willing to transport them in exchange for looking like a generous saint on an American TV show. This is then confusing, because Mark and Michael informed multiple cabbies in advance that they'd be paid partially with money and partially with goodies. None of it was well enough explained by Phil, though the host said that the specific crime was bartering with "personal possessions." Would previous barterers have bartered with non-personal possessions?

Fortunately, it didn't matter. This was a non-elimination leg. 

So Mark and Michael are fine. Again. How many times can those guy cheat "Amazing Race" death? And how lame is it that this week was a non-elimination leg, but last week Mel and Mike went home with nary a whimper? 

Boo, says I. Send Mark and Michael home.

Other thoughts on this week's episode:

*** Mark and Michael face not only a Speed Bump next leg, but also the last three hours of their penalty. That means that we're bound to have an equalizer early on.

*** The title, "Rooting Around in People's Mouths Could Be Unpleasant," came from Phil's very funny walk-through on the Broken Teeth Detour. How often has a Phil scripted bit given an episode its title? It was a good moment for Phil. I'm also appreciative that Phil isn't really trying to cover up his contempt for Mark and Michael. His glower as Michael tried justifying their behavior by invoking The Buddha and karma was priceless.

*** My pick for the episode title quote? "Oh my gosh, it's Muy Thai Trannies," courtesy of Tammy.

*** Jaime and Cara were very spirited and amusing during the karaoke, but I assume that most viewers still hate them. Not me!

Thoughts on the logics of the various penalties?