Recap: 'The Amazing Race' -- 'Sean Penn Cambodia Here We Come'
You can identify scarves and walk like a monkey, but without a passport, you can't race around the world
Follow HitFix: Follow @hitfix
If tragedy is good television drama -- and "Brothers & Sisters" keeps trying to pretend it is -- then Sunday's (Oct. 11) episode of "The Amazing Race" was a very fine hour of TV.
If, however, you watch "The Amazing Race" for the teams you want to root for, or if you think that "tragedy" is much, much too strong a word for what transpired on Sunday's episode, then it was just a slightly sad and disappointing episode.
Sunday's episode was the second consecutive week in which both the Roadblock and the Detour were easy enough that neither task actually impacted placement for the leg, which means that in the absence of the final twist, it might have been one of the show's dullest episodes to date, so the producers are probably relieved at The Really Bad Thing That Happened, because at least it gave them something to promote.
[Thoughts on Sunday's "Amazing Race" episode, with spoilers, after the break...]
From the very first week, I said that Zev & Justin were my favorites and nothing they did in subsequent episodes did anything to change my mind. They were smart, funny and tried hard and, best of all, they were a pair of male friends who just seemed to like spending time together, without any bluster or bravado or frat boy antics. Every year there seems to be a team like this, usually a couple misfits. Team Aspy fit the bill.
I was being distracted by all of the sporting events on my TV and I may possibly have missed a detail or two. If so, please remind me in polite fashion...
Team Aspy was eliminated on Sunday night because Zev's passport went missing. That caused them to get the boot after a leg they actually won, making things even worse. I may have missed it, but despite the ongoing presence of the show's cameras, I don't think we ever saw what happened to Zev's passport. So Zev wasn't sure if he had had it and lost it, so he took responsibility. And Justin wasn't sure if Zev had handed him his passport for safe-keeping, so he took responsibility. Probably there was footage that contained the answer, but the "Amazing Race" producers held it back, perhaps to keep the issue of "blame" off the table. Or at least the producers downplayed what happened. I thought I saw Zev drop something as the team got into their cab after the Roadblock, but it may just have been his hat and he may also have picked it up. Either way, the camera didn't linger on the loss of the passport and it wasn't an event accompanied by portentous music.
"It was just a freak thing that happened," Zev said, as Justin was blaming himself. And that's the way "The Amazing Race" treated it.
The worst part was host Phil Keoghan's Emmy-worthy sadness at their plight. First he was so very happy to welcome them to the mat. Then his smile went away, as they showed up back at the mat, confused and despondent. He was useless, of course, doing that awful thing where he told them to recheck their bags, as if they hadn't just been turning their bags upside-down. But when they showed back again, hours later, with empty hands, there was nothing he could do. You can almost imagine Phil consulting with Bertram van Munster to see if this could be retrofitted into a non-elimination if Team Aspy made it back, lost passport resecured, only to be thwarted.
If Zev & Justin did anything to set their elimination in motion on a cosmic level, I missed it. But it may have happened. On one of their first cab rights in Phnom Penh, heading over to the Detour, they jokingly asked their cabbie Thierry about the karmic ramifications of steering a team in the wrong direction. Did they do that? There was a lot of chaos as the teams left the Foreign Correspondents' Club trying to find the source of a picture of Jackie O and it's possible that I missed their misdirection amidst the shouting of place names. But even if they did tell a team the wrong place to go, elimination would be harsh karmic retribution for such a minimal infraction.
Otherwise, how can you explain Team Meathead -- Lance and Keri's -- ability to keep going in the game despite being nearly epic twits. Zev & Justin may have given the episode its name by calling Phnom Penh "Sean Penn," but that was somehow less offensive than Keri's mispronunciation. I hope *that* wasn't why the "Amazing Race" Karma Gods eliminated Team Aspy.
Anyway, the bottom line is that this was a spectacularly lame way for my favorite "Amazing Race" team of the season to go out, but I don't know what else to say about the episode.
For the second straight week, the Detour was a one-sided waste.
The choice was between Cover or Wrap.
Wrap required the teams to go to the Russian Market, pick up a scarf at a stall and search the market for a woman wearing the same scarf.
Cover asked the teams to take four scooter helmets and sell them to a family of four for $10.
Just as last week, every team but one went with the logical choice, Wrap. And their reasons were logical as well, as even Mika was smart enough to recognize that Cover had too many variables that were out of their control.
It turned out that Cover wasn't so hard and it also wasn't very telegenic. Only Team Meathead picked that task and they completed it... How, exactly? They asked a couple people and then somebody bought their helmets. I'm not sure what the producers were expecting with that one, but it wasn't pretty and it wasn't entertaining.
The producers also ran into trouble with Wrap, which was set in a tight marketplace, given both the teams and the camera limited mobility. While several Racers said that the market was large, it's a fair guess that "The Amazing Race" mostly shut down the market, because it wasn't like there were throngs of people, just a few random tourists and and some women with colorful scarves. The flaw in the randomness was exposed when Team Miss AmEricka got lucky and had their scarf-woman walk behind them the second they got their scarf, allowing them to leapfrog two or three teams that had gotten there earlier. But I just don't like Team Miss AmEricka (more on that later).
Then the Roadblock ended up flat, despite a tremendous amount of potential.
With the question, "Who's ready to go bananas?" the Roadblock told us that in Cambodia, monkeys are so revered that there's a Royal Money Master and that people dress up like monkeys and perform money tricks and monkey dances. Now those of you who know me know that I'm a sucker for monkeys. From "Dunston Checks In" to "Ed" to "Badtime for Bonzo," if you throw in a monkey, I'm on-board. The Roadblock, though? Yawn. The teams had to learn three simple tasks and they weren't even adequately judged on performing those monkey tasks. This wasn't nearly as great as the Luchador challenge a couple seasons back or even last season's gymnastics challenge. The contestants had to walk down a balance beam three times. Even though Zev's back caused him problems and Maria's coordination caused her problems and Keri's Keriness caused her problems, how long do we really think it took any of the teams to finish that Roadblock? Five minutes? And other than Team Gay Brothers -- Sam & Dan -- temporarily moving ahead of Team Aspy, did anybody else gain or lose position? Not really.
We're now up to two straight poor episodes. Color me a bit concerned.
Other thoughts on this week's episode:
*** Sam and Dan ended up winning the leg, I guess. Was it a coincidence that this was the first time this season that a leg winner didn't receive a prize?
*** Did anybody else get stuck watching "60 Minutes" before the show because of NFL overrun? How annoyed were you that CBS' promo department totally gave away that Team Aspy was the team without a passport? Grrrr...
*** I wanted the joke to be that the teams arrived at the Foreign Correspondents' Club and then were unable to find an assignment editor because most newspapers have fired their foreign correspondents and their assignment edits. Ha. That would have been funny. But no. The joke was just that Canaan attempted to ask several editors for their next "task" instead of their next "assignment" and was repeatedly rebuffed.
*** I don't know if you know this, but Team Miss AmEricka? They're an interracial couple. It's progressive and a great sign to have them on the show, but why must every week include the two of them making a joke about it. Last week, they carried a zebra. Get it? This week, they referred to themselves as Team Jungle Love. I get it.
*** Also getting tired? Gary & Matt's "Well, we're from Montana, so we're used to this sort of thing" schtick. Yes, Matt was pretty good at directing ducks in the premiere, but his VCR deconstruction skills weren't an advantage last week and their hunting experience didn't do anything on the Detour this week. But Gary was admirably limber in the Roadblock. So there's that.
*** Stupid "Amazing Race" contestants annoy me. Or, rather, ignorant ones. Last season, I got frustrated in the task where 80 percent of the competing teams had no idea of who Chekhov was. Tonight it was the picture of Jackie O, who only half of the teams were correctly able to identify as Jackie O. I wish things had been a bit tougher so that there was some disadvantage to not recognizing her. But I do like the textless clues they've started doing again this season, with the stamp last week and the Jackie O picture this week. That harkens back to the show's early seasons.
So, did I miss the loss of the passport? Or some additional karmic violation from Zev & Justin? Are you as sad as I am to see them go?