Nat & Kat of 'The Amazing Race'
Chances are that unless you're at least an amateur film scholar, you've never heard of Edwin Stanton Porter. When it comes to legendary early silent film pioneers, George Melies or the Lumiere Brothers seem to steal all of the love.
Porter worked for Thomas Edison's film company at the turn of the 20th Century and he's credited with being one of the creators of the editing dissolve. Fortunately, he did not create the star-wipe. He's also credited with pioneering the use of cross-cutting to create tension. [Thanks to the awesomeness of YouTube, you can check out 1903's "The Great Train Robbery"
in its entirety.] It's one of the most important innovations in the history of cinematic grammar.
I bring Edwin Porter up for two reasons:
1) I'm pretentious.
2) Sunday (Nov. 21) night's episode of "The Amazing Race
" was probably my favorite episode of the entire season -- Two Two, to be sure -- and it was nearly undone by some of the most poorly matched cross-cutting I've ever seen. "The Amazing Race" is a show that's rarely any less than exemplary in its technical crafting, so this was notably weak and annoying.
Really, this was a great episode. There was travel fun. Mind-blowing hubris and gaffes. A well-depicted location. Challenges that were difficult, if not necessarily fun and creative. A U-Turn that impacted the results. A seemingly close ending. And, finally, the triumphant elimination of a team that most of us have been eager to see leave for weeks.
We start at the beginning on Oman, where teams discovered that they were being sent off to Bangladesh. As the first two teams to the airport, Chad & Stephanie and Jill & Thomas both discovered that the first flight wouldn't get the teams into Dhaka until noon.
It's here that there are two response... Chad said, "I want a blizzard and a cheeseburger." Jill & Thomas said, "Let's go to a different airline and see if there's a flight that could possibly get us in earlier." To their credit, Chad & Stephanie wanted lunch and they were successful in acquiring lunch. The assumption that they desired anything more than that out of this leg of the race is pure conjecture. So, giving them the benefit of the doubt, "Mission accomplished, Chad & Stephanie." Jill & Thomas, meanwhile, got tickets on a flight that arrived in Bangladesh a full seven hours early, the sort of advantage that almost implies that the producers didn't do their research properly, because it's almost unheard-of for them them allow that kind of a lead this late in the race. There's going to be a heck of an annoying equalizer coming up, because as it stands now, we can only assume that Jill & Thomas are in first place by many hours, three or four hours ahead of the second place team and maybe even more than seven hours ahead of the trailing pair.
I'm not a huge Jill & Thomas fan, but they were smart enough to look for that earlier flight and why shouldn't they have? Functionally, they were the first team to the pit stop last week (they finished second because of a penalty) and the top two teams had an episode-opening advantage of 90 minutes over Nick & Vicki, so why shouldn't they be rewarded? In terms of actual performance within the task, they got the job done, with Jill seemingly performing the Assemble a Rickshaw Roadblock with only minor delays. Jill's still a little bit dumb -- "extremities" and "bolts" were two two words she seemingly didn't know this week -- but not oppressively so. And Thomas is a bit of a snob, but he *did* go to Notre Dame, so how can you blame him? But I like them.
Want to know why I like them? The first thing the teams had to do in Bangladesh was squeeze out a mug of frothy sugar cane juice and down the mug. Thomas drank the mug without hesitation or complaint. That's fine. More impressive? Jill was the only non-chugger on any of the teams who was curious enough to pour herself a glass of the juice. I'm just a fan of players who are interested in the "Amazing Race" experience and who don't want to let any piece of that experience slip by if they can avoid it. Go Jill! And go Jill & Thomas! It's gonna really tick me off when the game bends over backwards to bring them back to the field.
I mentioned above that Jill & Thomas and Chad & Stephanie had a 90 minute lead starting the leg. Given that advantage, though, not only did Chad & Stephanie eschew the opportunity to get on the flight with the seven-hour advantage, but their desire for a cheeseburger and blizzard also kept them from getting on a second earlier flight, one that arrived at 8:40 a.m. Nick & Vicki were more than happy to take that flight. That's how Nick & Vicki ended up second in the leg and all signs point to them maintaining something close to that prohibitive advantage over the rest of the pack.
That left three teams on that last flight (with Nat & Kat arriving via a different connecting flight, at least making an attempt to pull a little travel trickery, even if they failed). That left three teams on that last flight knowing that a double U-Turn awaited, meaning that at least two of those three teams could possibly be forced to do multiple Detour options.
The Detours were only so-so in terms of overall construction. The choice was Balanced Meals or Balanced Bricks.
In Balanced Meals, the teams had to deliver 30 snack containers to a barge, hoist them up onto the barge and bring back 10 empties. Expect for the apparent smell of the food, it wasn't really hard, unless you happened to be Chad & Stephanie and you weren't able to find your way to the correct market stall to pick up the food in the first place. When all is said and done, Chad & Stephanie really were eliminated because they got lost finding the food and then they got lost after returning from the Detour. There wasn't much more to it than that.
In Balanced Bricks, teams had to deliver 100 bricks from a brick boat to a vendor in special baskets that fit on their heads. It's here that I note something interesting about the composition of the Top 5: Yes, it's unusual that there are two all-female teams competing as hard as Nat & Kat and Team Watermelon are competing, but it may be even more unusual that we've reached the Top 5 without a single all-male team. The Balanced Bricks task was almost certainly the faster task, but only if you had two very strong contestants capable of zipping through it. [Trivia: Want to know the last time a Top 5 had two all-female teams and no all-male teams? That would be Season 5, with Linda & Karen and Kami & Karli.]
It wasn't especially surprising, then, that of the five teams, only Jill & Thomas chose Balanced Bricks. Thanks to the Double U-Turn, two teams weren't lucky enough to have the choice. Despite their prohibitive lead, Jill & Thomas opted to U-Turn Team Watermelon. Nick & Vicki, because they're weird, decided not to use the U-Turn. And of the three remaining teams, Nat & Kat were ahead after the Detour and they elected to use the U-Turn on Chad & Stephanie. Brook expressed some frustration that Thomas chose to U-Turn them. I guess you can quibble that Nat & Kat have won three legs (compared to the one for Team Watermelon) and were the team more deserving of U-Turning from that position, but Team Watermelon had been reliably finishing ahead of Chad & Stephanie until the last leg, so I don't think I have any serious issues. You're trying to knock a tough team out behind you. There was no question that Nat & Kat had to U-Turn Chad & Stephanie and that definitely played a key roll in getting the icky engaged couple out of the game.
But how key? Well, we'll never exactly know, because the editing in this episode was as wonky as I've ever seen on "The Amazing Race."
What? You thought I was going to forget Edwin Porter?
Jill & Thomas had a seven-hour lead over the three-teams in the back of the pack and yet if you trust the editing, that Roadblock and that Detour somehow took over seven hours to do, because Jill & Thomas were still on the course when the other teams got to the sugar cane. I guess I can understand why the editors wouldn't want to have the first 20 minutes be 100 percent Jill & Thomas, have them finish before the half-hour mark and have to backtrack and I wouldn't complain except for the other editing silliness.
Yes, Nat & Kat got to the Roadblock far ahead of the last two teams, but we were led to believe that Nat wasn't going quickly. The ongoing checklist, in fact, made it look as if all three teams were neck-and-neck. Nat & Kat finish and go rushing off. The other two teams appeared to finish very soon after. Nat & Kat reach the mat in third and it's verging on dusk, but the sky is still bright. Cut to... a time-lapse image of the sun rapidly setting and suddenly it's nearly dark. I can't tell where the editing cheat was here. Was the distance between the Detour and pit stop further than initially indicated? Did the two last teams get lost? And then they're running frantically and it looks as if Chad & Stephanie might overtake Team Watermelon... But Team Watermelon reached the mat in first with at least some color in the darkening sky, while Chad & Stephanie arrived in total darkness.
The continuity was a mess and, as a result, I never bought that anything in the last half of the show.
Farewell to Chad & Stephanie, who became sympathetic for one week when Chad proposed and Stephanie inexplicably said "Yes." This week, Chad was back to his boorish self, right down to his Detour trash-talking to Nat ("Nat. You should be able to do this easy. How's that PHD helping you?"). Blech. Farewell to you.
Other quick thoughts on this episode:
*** I guess the episode wasn't as characterized by bad editing as my intro made it sound, but I liked the idea of leading with Edwin Porter. It happens... Because the first three teams had big advantages leaving the Detour, we lost a realistic sense of how far away the pit stop was and that also played into the editing confusion.
*** This episode may have set a record for most contestants complaining about the smell of their foreign country. Jill, Nick and Chad all made big declarations of stinkiness, while Claire mentioned it in passing. I'm pretty sure that Nat & Kat were the only team not to mention the aroma in any way. Good for them.
*** I think the $15,000 Discovery card was the biggest money-type prize a winning team has gotten at the end of a leg, right? We've had a couple of $5,000 apiece prizes and lots of random jet-skis and trips. This seemed like a big prize.
*** Jill & Thomas wasted their Express Pass. I somehow hope they make better use of what is now the second biggest advantage of the season.
*** It was interesting to see Brook aggressively pushing Claire on the brick Detour. She never got abusive, but she definitely got pushy and apologized for it afterwards. I still understand the sentiment, since I'd have expected Chad and Stephanie to do that task faster, making every second precious. Still, Brook should be more patient with Claire. She did take a watermelon to the face.
Did you enjoy this leg? Are you glad to see Chad & Stephanie gone? Did you notice the editing weirdness? And what do you think of Jill & Thomas using the U-Turn?