I reckon I probably ought to begin my recap of Sunday (Feb. 28) night's "The Amazing Race" by noting the sad timing of an hour that found the contestants departing Chile after spending parts of three episodes in the nation that now finds itself coping with a horrible natural disaster.
 
The episode was preceded by a CBS Cares PSA featuring Phil Keoghan and it makes sense to precede this recap with an obligatory link to the Red Cross home page where, as one might imagine, they're mobilizing donations for relief efforts in Chile (as well as Haiti where, as you might be shocked to learn, the infrastructure hasn't magically become repaired).
 
With that out of the way, click through for thoughts on Sunday's "Amazing Race"...
 
There's a structural flaw to "The Amazing Race," one which may need to be repaired or taken into consideration at some point: 
 
There is a finite subset of teams that are even capable of winning and, as a result, seasons often tend to play out in very familiar ways, particularly in the beginning. 
 
"Amazing Race 16" began with a bit of misdirection, as the premiere saw Dana & Adrian eliminated. Since then, we saw the elimination of the team with the oldest competitor (Jody & Shannon) and, this week, the elimination of the first of two all-female teams. No all-female team has ever won the American "Amazing Race" and this season's only remaining hope is Carol & Brandy, who are so annoying and unappealing that if they're booted next, guaranteeing a 16th straight season with at least one male winner, I won't have even the slightest lament. From there, we'll just need to lose poor Steve & Allie and then we'll just settle in to an amazingly homogenous and familiar surviving group of contestants. And it seems like that happens every season.
 
That's neither here nor there, but as much as I love "The Amazing Race," one thing I don't love is the inevitability. 
 
Unlike last season, when the Poker Girls ran into a set of tasks they were too physically slight to do and were eliminated, the booting of tonight's all-female team wasn't about any inherent lack of capability. Monique & Shawne just struggled at the wrong times, made a dumb choice or two and they were eliminated. Their loss on Sunday had nothing to do with weakness and everything to do with Shawne not being able to lasso a bale of hay without Jesus' help and a foolish choice at the Detour. I didn't care one way or the other about Monique & Shawne and I'll confess that their over-the-top praying at the lassoing Roadblock didn't warm me up at all. [Though Shawne stunk before asking Jesus for help and then, through the magic of editing, seemed to instantly succeed, so God wanted the Momtrepreneurs to finish the Roadblock, but didn't much care about them surviving to see another leg of the Race. Divine beings are fickle, I guess, when they bother to pay attention to reality TV shows.]
 
You'll notice I mentioned a Roadblock requiring one contestants to lasso a bale of hay (with an attached steer-head) and presumably your reaction was: Dude, the Cowboys must have rocked that!
 
And indeed they did. 
 
For the second straight week, I'm going to have to apologize for making fun of the stupid Cowboys in Week One. They may not be Book Smart, but they're clever and funny and amazingly likable and they're pretty clearly my favorite team in the competition at this point, except for those endearing moments in which Jordan looks at Jeff like a Golden God when he performs a remarkable task like reading a clue.
 
The Roadblock came at a good moment for the Cowboys. The episode began with a six-hour bus trip out of Chile and into Argentina, where they had to find a bar associated with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Once there, they had to play a had of poker against the Travelocity Gnome. It was a slightly silly task. While Joe & Heidi and Carol & Brandy both won quickly with high-cards or low-pairs, the Cowboys kept losing with pretty good hands. 
 
"The gnome has got a poker face out of this world. I could never tell if he was bluffing or a straight shooter," Cord cracked.
 
The editing made it look as if there was some spacing that occurred between the first two teams and the cowboys, but it's my assumption that Jet probably only had a deficit of two or three minutes when he got to the Roadblock and lassoed the bale on his second shot.
 
"I can't believe I missed it on the first try. I'm gonna hear it about that," Jet lamented. 
 
From there, the Cowboys rushed off and completed the Detour with ease, winning their second consecutive leg. I remain certain that they've got a big mental blunder ahead of them, one that will knock them down a few pegs. But for now? They're just rolling along, making me wonder why we don't see more strong teams with their particular skill-set, which is to say that they're experienced with animals and comfortable with a wide variety of rural experiences, from cow-milking to lassoing. I guess the show prefers to have city slickers failing at rural tasks than to have farmer-types confused by urban tasks? Dunno. Go Cowboys, though.
 
Avoiding mental errors is everything and while the Cowboys were clean, plenty of other teams made head-scratching "Amazing Race: All-Stupids"-style gaffes at the Detour.
 
The choice was Horse Power or Horse Sense. In Horse Power, teams had to go and, using a polo trailing horse (just a heavy-ish wooden horse they had to lug around), hit a ball across a field in nine shots. In Horse Sense, teams had to use a map and a signpost compass to walk off a certain number of paces, collect a bag of loot and then deliver said bag of loot to the lead bandit at a nearby station.
 
Horse Power required a tiny bit of effort, but no mental acumen. Horse Sense seemed to require intelligence, but it actually didn't. You just had to avoid doing mind-bogglingly dumb things, which could be prevented by... you know... reading the task clue.
 
Several teams, however, had problems with that.
 
Initially, the compass-based precision seemed like the hard part, but then Jordan & Jeff did it that part with ease, proving that even a small child could have done it. That made it even more ridiculous that Brandy & Carol tried, fought for a few minutes and then gave up. Jordan & Jeff, though, ignored the part of the clue requiring them to go to a station and give the bag to the bandit. Instead, they tried several times to give it to the gaucho who gave them the clue in the first place. Had they read the clue in the first place, they could have finished the leg in second. They didn't. 
 
"We definitely shouldn't reproduce," Jeff said, realizing what they had done. Cut to Jordan looking confused and possibly hurt that her adorable DNA would be unwanted.
 
Jordan & Jeff did the "hard" part of the task right, but blew the easy part. Joe & Heidi blew the "hard" part and gave up. Even though the clue clearly said teams should use the signpost compass to orient themselves, Joe decided to be clever and use the compass on his watch, starting at a completely arbitrary point a few steps from the clue-giving gaucho. When that failed, they gave up and did Horse Sense, never realizing what they did wrong. As we saw from the Cowboys, Steve & Allie and even Jeff & Jordan in their wrongness, both Detour tasks could be done very quickly, if you just did them right.
 
Monique & Shawne struggled with Horse Sense for physical reason, but they took too long to realize they needed to change. That's basically why there were eliminated. Meh.
 
Other thoughts on this week's "Amazing Race"...
 
*** It took food poisoning to do the trick, but I became incredibly sympathetic towards Caite & Brent during this leg of the Race. They started off puking and had to go to a Chilean emergency room to take fluids. At no point did they ever look even slightly healthy, but they went along doing the best they could, both miserable. Brent was a bit of a rock star, practically carrying Caite through the leg. She was too weak to even be pleased when they succeeded at things. But for all of that, their complaints were minimal and their bickering was less than it could have been. I just wanted them to make it to the pit stop without passing out.
 
*** The episode's title was actually "Run Like Scalded Dogs," a piece of colorful verbiage from one of the Cowboys. For whatever reason, My Time-Warner cable listings called the episode "Run like Scaled Dogs," which is differently colorful and far more peculiar.
 
*** If the Cowboys have moved out of my "Jury's Still Out" group into my pack of "Favorites" and Caite & Brent have moved from my "Dislike" group to somewhere in the middle, Dan & Jordan and Carol & Brandy keep falling lower and lower. It's time for one of those annoyances to go home. 
 
*** Meanwhile, remember Brent on "Survivor: Samoa"? He didn't do anything for 90 percent of the season and then came within one challenge of probably winning the whole thing? Steve & Allie are on the verge of becoming the Brent of this "Amazing Race" season. They hardly appeared in last week's episode. And this week, Steve fell down. Is it possible that they've collectively gone two straight episodes without a single quote to the camera?
 
*** We still haven't seen Joe's vaunted temper. But he did flip over on his training pony several times, which was funny. Meanwhile, each and every team expressed disappointment that they weren't getting the chance to ride a real horse for the task, raising the question: Why weren't they riding real horses for the task? The distance they were required to hit the polo ball could have been reduced, perhaps? 
 
*** This is the second time this season that an "Amazing Race" first place prize has corresponded with a recent tragedy. In the premiere, Jeff & Jordan won the chance to go for a test run on the Whistler course that had just killed an Olympic luger. Tonight, Jet & Cord won a trip that included a return trip to Santiago, Chile.
 
*** Line of the night, whichever Cowboy looked at the picture from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and observed, ""I don't remember the gnome being in the movie." At the start of the season, I'd have assumed that one of them might have said something like that in earnestness, but he was kidding. They had several other funny lines and they were also responsible for the episode title.
 
*** Exchange of the night: When Jeff and Jordan reached the pit stop, coming in fifth, Jordan stared at Phil Keoghan for a bit and observed, "I can't even read you. You scare me," to which Phil responded, "I scare me too." Jordan is like a child, but it's true that Phil's unreadability is one of his great attributes.
 

What'd you think of Sunday's "Amazing Race" Are you totally Team Cowboy? Are you going to notice that the Moms are gone?