Following Sunday (May 2) night's installment of "The Amazing Race
," we're down to only three teams with a hope of winning the million dollar prize on next week's finale.
And, all things considered, this isn't that far from the Final Three you probably would have predicted from looking at the original cast list, much less after watching the first episode or two.
A few more words on the Top Three, plus a brief recap of Sunday's slightly frustrating and occasionally confusing episode of "The Amazing Race," after the break...
Looking at the original cast list, you could immediately have eliminated (or at least signficiantly downgraded expectations for) Carol & Brandy, Jody & Shannon, Monique & Shawne and Steve & Allie. No all-female team has ever won "The Amazing Race" and there's been a pretty sturdy age class ceiling as well. One glimpse of Adrian attempting to run in the premiere would have led me to cross Dana & Adrian off my list and, if I'm being honest, I probably would have used the same logic to cross Louie & Mike off, not that Louie's conditioning ended up costing them in the slightest. That's six teams out of 11 that you could have preemptively eliminated based only on the sorts of teams that have historically won on "The Amazing Race." You probably wouldn't have guessed that Joe & Heidi would experience their kryptonite -- Morse Code, go figure -- fairly early, but the idea that Jeff & Jordan would be felled due to questionable intellect and questionable motivation wouldn't have shocked anybody who watched "Big Brother" last summer.
So with one episode to go, we find ourselves with three predictable and probably deserving teams.
There's Jet & Cord, siblings and cowboys. They've made more than a couple costly mental errors, but what they've sometimes lacked in worldliness, they've more than made up for it in enthusiasm and physical proficiency. We've had a full season to watch them and I don't recall any disagreements at all between the two and they've never ceased to be optimistic and confident. They've been the season's most reliable source of one-liners and amazed reaction shots. Wanna know who I'm rooting for next week? That'd be the Cowboys.
There's Dan & Jordan, also siblings. Dan said from the beginning that he doesn't like traveling and that he's just doing the show because it's Jordan's dream, but in recent weeks we've seen Dan decide that he wouldn't mind winning. They've bickered at times, but worked out their differences. They've also made mental errors and occasionally gotten frustrated by tasks or by foreigners and confusing locations. They're not exactly a mighty team, but they have enough speed and strength to stick around. Probably they're my least favorite of the three teams.
And finally, we have Brent & Caite, filling this season's obligatory "Dating Models" slot. Despite Caite's reputation for stupidity coming into the season, most of their blunders have been things I'd describe as "childish" or "sheltered," rather than "dumb." They've been competitive, often enthusiastic and pretty reliably immature. They've also bickered but rarely for long and they're a good match, if only because their kids would have good genes. In a scene with very little hostility or aggressiveness between teams, they had rivals (Carol & Brandy) and they vanquished them, which is all you can ask.
"The Amazing Race" isn't exclusively a young person's game, but Jet's the oldest remaining competitor and he's 30.
Yup. That means that Mike & Louie, both in their mid-40s, were sent packing on Sunday's episode. That result wasn't surprising, since Mike & Louie also finished last in last Sunday's episode, though they were spared by a pre-finale non-elimination leg.
But you can't say that Dan & Jordan didn't try desperately to keep Mike & Louie in the race. Part of why I was frustrated by Sunday's episode is that there's a degree of stupidity I can tolerate in teams that survive on "The Amazing Race" Dan & Jordan exceeded it on Sunday.
Sunday's episode began with teams being sent to Shanghai's Garden Bridge. They weren't told the local name for the bridge, which proved to be a real impediment, because even the occasional locals with English skills didn't have a clue what that "Garden Bridge" actually was.
The Cowboys and The Models started the episode in first and second and they were eventually able to figure out where the Garden Bridge was, with Caite & Brent getting particularly lucky in finding a young woman with a smart phone. They built a fairly large lead over the other teams and it's a safe bet that they got to the Pit Stop a long time ahead of Dan & Jordan. The won't matter, because the finale is sure to begin with an equalizer, but I still want Dan & Jordan to be punished in some way.
Because Dan & Jordan wandered around failing to find the Garden Bridge and getting frustrated with the locals and then finally they decided to give up and wait and join forces with Mike & Louie, on the grounds that they wanted to keep an eye on at least one other team, especially one facing a Speed Bump. What that meant, though, was that Dan & Jordan squandered an advantage of over an hour just to have some awareness of where the Detectives were, rather than just figuring out the clue and going forward. To me, that's inexcusable, voluntarily punting on a lead of more than an hour just because you lack the resources to find a single location. Counting on a Speed Bump to give you back your advantage is even sillier given how pathetically easy Speed Bumps have been in recent seasons.
[The allowance I'll give Dan & Jordan is this: I have to assume they didn't know *exactly* how far The Detectives were behind them. If they suspected The Detectives may have only been 15 minutes behind or something, I can see the advantage to letting them equalize. If that was the case, I can imagine them being very frustrated to discover that they'd allowed over an hour to tick away while they half-heartedly pretended to find the Garden Bridge. If they actually *knew* The Detectives were starting over an hour behind them, their choice was beyond pathetic.]
Tonight's Speed Bump? The Detectives had to each throw a coin into an incense burner. Period. Two coins. Tall incense burner. They didn't even have to travel any distance to do the Speed Bump. It was immediately adjacent to the Roadblock. I've said it before, but the "Amazing Race" Non-Elimination punishment system needs overhauling nearly as badly as the Poorly Hidden Immunity Idol system on "Survivor." This may not have been as cushy as the Sauna Bus Speed Bump, but it definitely took less time.
The Roadblock was yet another counting challenge. We've had a couple of these now this season. One player had to go into a temple and count golden statues. There were 523 and the minor trick was that you might have guessed you were only supposed to count the golden Buddhas, but you were also supposed to do the not-Buddha statues as well. Although Caite was determined to prove her brains, she had to count four different time, taking a 10-minute penalty after each failure. Louie counted twice. The other two teams only needed one shot apiece. The thing I'll give Caite credit for is that despite her stumbles and despite knowing that she blew a big advantage over the Cowboys, she never got even slightly frustrated. She just kept going back and counting over and over again.
The Detour was a little odder. The choice: Pork Chops or Pork Buns.
In Pork Chops, teams learned that "chops" referred to ornately carved stamps. They had to find an art store and look under hundreds of stamps to find chops with their names and a pig etched on the bottom. It was a vintage needle-in-a-haystack challenge.
In Pork Buns, the teams had to get and deliver 10 pork buns. If there was an added complexity to the task, it didn't come through in Phil Keoghan's description.
Given those two options? I'm probably taking Pork Buns, personally. I'm not even sure why I'd consider taking Pork Chops.
Instead, all four teams did Pork Chops, a task that proved exhausting and a little bit frustrating for the easily frustrated Jordan.
Nobody had a harder time with the Detour than Brent.
I've said all season long that Brent & Caite are like a pair of first graders and it was stunning to see them arrive at the Detour and for Brent to refuse to search for stamps because his bladder was too full for him to concentrate. And it was almost even more stunning still for Caite to refuse to stop her search to allow her partner to hit the head. It had the feeling of a Jen & Kisha moment, except that Brent & Caite and The Cowboys were so far ahead of the other two teams, that they could have filled and emptied their bladders five times over and still reached the finish line ahead of The Detectives.
So as we start the finale, Brent & Caite are in first (even though The Cowboys completed the Detour in the lead), The Cowboys are in second and Dan & Jordan are in third. The equalizing will happen early, so none of that matters.
Other thoughts on Sunday's "Amazing Race" episode:
*** I'll miss The Detectives. They'd have been co-favorites for me if they'd been in the finale. Despite coming into the leg with a big deficit and the impending Speed Bump, they might have survived if Louie hadn't required a second shot at the Roadblock. There wasn't much else separating them from Dan & Jordan.
*** While Brent was responsible for the vaguely xenophobic title of the episode, "They Don't Even Understand Their Own Language
," Dan & Jordan guaranteed my antipathy with their cab performance going to the first clue. If the cab driver doesn't speak English, no amount of yelling "Follow" or "Green" is going to help and the fault isn't with the person in the foreign country who speaks his own language perfectly and never gave you the slightest indication that he knew what you were talking about. The fault is yours.
*** Even if his response wasn't much more advanced than "Foreign cultures are foreign," I still give Brent credit for his attempted introspection watching the worshippers at the Shanghai temple. Too often on this show, players don't even try to internalize those differences and Brent realized that pausing and taking things in was better than waiting nervously for his partner to could to 523.
*** I continue to love Caite's crazy eyes and her vengeful streak. After she and Brent successfully went from the Garden Bridge to the bus and found the proper route to the Roadblock (no easy task without assistant), she proudly gloated, "Obviously I know how to read maps!" adding "People you can go screw yourselves." Proving that you can overcome something as humiliating as that Miss Teen USA faux pas is probably a bit inspirational for a younger generation that's going to become more and more prone to online public humiliation.
Who are you rooting for next week?