With a World Series game on one channel, a reasonably good Sunday Night Football game getting ready to start on a different channel and the annual Late October Costuming & Candy Beggary Festival taking place outside, Sunday's (October 31) installment of "The Amazing Race" was always going to have to struggle to find an audience.
 
The producers probably couldn't have anticipated that this particular leg would line up with Halloween Night and its myriad entertainment alternatives, but the timing was fortuitous. 
 
[Full recap of Sunday's "Amazing Race" after the break...]
 
It says a lot about how epically bad last week's "Amazing Race" episode was that even though Sunday was a Non-Elimination Leg (and a drama-free Non-Elimination Leg at that), it was still a clearly better hour of television.
 
Nick & Vicki finished last in this leg and if the position of the sun was any indication, they finished way at the rear of the pack. Last week, I'd gladly have rooted for Nick & Vicki to go home. Their Fast-Forward stupidity was just the latest intellectual boner to befall these two Vegas free spirits. And yet this week? I was content to have them survive. They'd gotten the "dumb" edit all season long, but this week they got a very sympathetic edit and I was willing to pat them on their not-so-book-smart heads and wish them good luck next leg, when they'll have to face the most devilish task the producers can think up for a Road Block. Since they're in Russia, I'm thinking they'll have to go to a bar and do a shot of vodka. Or maybe the producers will ask them to touch their toes. How ever will they make up that time?!?
 
Like I said, I'd have booted Nick & Vicki last week (and in several previous legs), but this episode was edited to only make you want one team gone, namely Chad and The Slightly Less Icky Person Chad Is Partnered With. Now, Chad isn't abusive in the same way a Colin was abusive back when he verbally assaulted Christie across the world. No, Chad is just an innocuous, low-grade tool. I've generally suspected he was able to resist being truly hostile to Stephanie because of the probably correct supposition that, push come to shove, she could beat him up. And I'd actually quite liked Stephanie before she made a couple moves this week that were needlessly obnoxious. Yeah, if somehow Chad & Stephanie had finished last, I'd have been annoyed by the NEL.
 
So why was this episode such an improvement over last week?
 
Simple. Two words: Great Detour.
 
After a journey to St. Petersburg, Russia, a travel equalizer ending Nat & Kat's two-week grip on the top spot, the teams were given this choice: Classical Music or Classical Cinema.
 
In Classical Music, the teams went to a concert hall and had to listen to gramophones playing Tchaikovsky's "Troika," Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherazade" and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Then they had to enter a performance space in which a dozen pianists were all practicing compositions at the same time and isolate which three pianists were playing the three pieces. 
 
All three pieces of music are iconic classics and for a certain type of competitor -- if my father were running the Race, for example -- no gramophone studying would have been necessary. My dad probably could have finished this Detour in five minutes and there's a definite subset of classical music aficionados who could have done the same. Nobody on this Race fit that bill. And if you're not a classical music fan, the task was devilishly difficult. That's why although a majority of teams at least attempted to do the task, every team quit. 
 
Well, every team quit except for Chad & Stephanie. Stephanie was determined to finish what they started and Chad was determined to complain his way through whatever choice his girlfriend made. Because Chad is a tool. Eventually, after many threats about quitting, Chad & Stephanie somehow finished. I don't really know what they did or who was responsible for their success and I didn't care. It turned out that it didn't negatively impact them, because the other task was just as hard, if you didn't figure out the trick.
 
In Classical Cinema, the teams went to an facility where Sergei Eisenstein's "October" was being projected on a screen. All around, there were towering piles of blackened celluloid. Their task was to go through the countless strands of film and find the strands that corresponded to what was being shown on screen. It *appeared* that the scene they were watching started with a title card in Russian and the only trick was to find pieces of film that also began with white text on a black background. But if you didn't pay attention to where the loop began or ended, this task was also devilishly difficult. The set itself was wonderfully evocative, as was the snooty Russian projectionist who kept saying "Nyet, Nyet, Nyet" until teams had done enough to deserve a "Da."
 
Classical Cinema was so hard that Nick & Vicki, after quitting Classical Music, had to quit this one as well and return to the pianos. Once there, they decided to concentrate on successfully identifying one piece and player at a time. You wouldn't have thought that strategy was so complicated to begin with, but there you go. Along the way, Nick announced his determination to take "a little piece of Ghana," referring to his vow to better control his temper after blowing up at Vicki in Africa. And, indeed, Nick didn't show any frustration with his parter. I like people who attempt to improve throughout the Race and unlike Chad, Nick may be truly having his eyes opened. If so, I can root for them to stick around.
 
The Roadblock (after a confusing reference to a Russian drag race) required one player to dress up like a Russian Babushka, accumulate the tools necessary to plant 50 potatoes -- wheelbarrow, manure, tubers -- and then plant those 50 potatoes. It wasn't all that exciting. Jill and Kevin proved to be very good at the task. Stephanie first refused to team up with Mallory and then purposely threw the one shovel onto the top of a pile of dung to make life just a bit harder for the diminutive Mallory. Now Mallory's a wee bit of a ditz, but she's not the type of gal who's going to let a pile of manure inconvenience her quest for a million bucks. That's part of why I like her. So Stephanie was all proud of how much trouble she'd caused for Mallory, cackling away with her tool of a boyfriend, but the placement of the shovel didn't slow Mallory down at all.  Thus? In your face, Stephanie. Meanwhile, Nick's response to doing the Roadblock -- "I was thinkin' 'drag race.' It was a little bit of race and a whole lotta drag." -- was funny and likable enough, even if they were so far behind that we had to figure it was a Non-Elimination Leg, else probably Phil would have come and told them not to bother.
 
 
A few other highlights of Sunday's leg:
 
*** Stephanie's shovel ploy didn't hurt Mallory, but her refusal to partner up with her nearly led to the Mallory being abducted by gregarious, vodka-offering Russians. I had shades of Gary having to become like Liam Neeson in "Taken" in order to rescue her.
 
*** Somebody in the editing room had fun with this: So Nick is getting frustrated and finally gives up on the Classic Cinema task, abandoning the Eisenstein, the Father of Montage. Nick mutters, "I can't deal with this crap anymore." Hard-cut to the Roadblock and it steaming heap of crap. Oh the magic of editing!
 
*** Want more of Chad being a tool? He's all pleased with his girlfriend in costume and he leers, "Lookin' good in that babushka outfit." And you think, "Oh. He's got a Russian Peasant fetish. Fair enough." Instead, he follows that up with, "I have to take you home and have you clean the house in that." Chad, you are a true catch.
 
*** First place for the leg went to Jill & Thomas. Thomas was very proud of how well his girlfriend planted potatoes, so proud he didn't mention his Notre Dame degree. They were followed by Brook & Claire and Michael & Kevin.
 
Not much else to say. What'd you think of this week's leg? And let's make some guesses on what Nick & Vicki will have to do for their Speed Bump. Put on a furry coat and stand for five minutes?