More than a few fans -- or at least recappers without the leeway to time shift by several days -- wondered why CBS was bothering to air a new episode of "The Amazing Race" up against ABC's telecast of the Academy Awards on Sunday (March 7) night.
 
This installment of "The Amazing Race" has had a remarkably hard time of it. Two episodes airing versus the Olympics on NBC and now one facing the Oscars? Well that hardly seems fair. If CBS hadn't already ordered a new "Amazing Race" season for next fall, I might worry a bit about it.
 
Presumably Sunday's new "Amazing Race" will get crushed by the "Hurt Locker" Oscar coronation in the ratings, but at least viewers who tuned in for Phil Keoghan and company got a sense of why the network didn't make alternate programming plans.
 
A quick rundown of Sunday's episode, titled "We Are No Longer in the Bible Belt," after the break...
 
Throughout the hour, Sunday's "Amazing Race" had the look and feel of a non-elimination leg and there was very little effort to create tension throughout. As Jeff & Jordan stumbled their way around, partially the victim of a stupid cabdriver and partially victims of their own weaknesses, we never wondered if they were going to find a way to squeak through and the editing hardly endeavored to make us worry. They were last heading toward the pit stop, but we didn't get the usual "Over the course of the Race, here's what I learned..." reflections from either of them and Phil didn't even really tease them. 
 
Indeed, this was a Non-Elimination Leg, so if you happened to prioritize the first hour of the Oscars on the East Coast or the last hour on the West Coast, all you missed was some German debauchery and and a little bit of Hamburg scenery. 
 
Oh. You also missed a teachable moment, courtesy of Jet, from the Cowboys. While Kathryn Bigelow was triumphantly proving that a woman can take the Best Director Oscar, Jet was proving that you can, indeed, wear a cowboy hat while bungee jumping. Bigelow's achievement was greater and more historic (and totally deserved, given the other nominees), but it was also more limited. Women still represent a disturbingly low percentage of working directors in Hollywood film. I'd love to believe that equality is on its way and that within a decade, we'll look at Sunday as a turning point rather than an anomaly, but that isn't the way the industry works. Alas. In contrast, anybody can go out tomorrow, purchase a personally tailored cowboy hat and they can go bungee jumping wearing that hat. And if they followed the steps correctly, it will remain on.
 
"A real cowboy hat never comes off!" Jet said proudly, having proven his point to both a skeptical Mike (of Detectives Louie and Mike) and to the world. 
 
Otherwise? Sunday's "Amazing Race," with its lack of eliminations and several strangely uncompelling tasks, wasn't essential viewing.
 
The bungee jumping came as part of an Intersection/Roadblock that greeted the teams in Hamburg.  Because of the Intersection, the teams had to pair up and one person from each team had to do a 150-foot bungee jump over the Hamburg Harbor.
 
Why was this the right task for an Intersection? Dunno. What did the show or the task gain from the pairing? Absolutely nothing. No awkwardness arose from any of the teams, in part because the Roadblock wasn't collaborative and thus required no new teamwork. The two players were lashed together and did the bungee jump in tandem, but with the exception of Dan's sympathetic assistance of Brandy, no jumper had any concern or trepidation, so it was as simple as getting on the right subway car (too much for Caite and Jordan) taking the plunge and moving on. There was no fear, no drama and because the task was being performed at night, it wasn't even televisually interesting. Dud.
 
The Detour was slightly better, but suffered from a certain nebulousness of purpose. 
 
The choice? Soccer or Sauerkraut. 
 
In Soccer, teams had to go out to an old stadium, change into cleats and shorts and hit five targets. They had no time limit, no apparent restriction other than distance and a really impressive supply of balls. As such, the challenge was pretty negligible. Sure, it helps if you're actually a capable soccer player, but if you put two reasonably physically capable adults on a line and let them pepper a soccer goal for 10 or 15 minutes, just by luck they're eventually going to hit those five targets. There were a variety of handicaps that could have been put on the challenge to make it more complicated but nobody bothered.
 
The Soccer Detour was easy for Jet & Cord, who had never set foot on a soccer field. It wasn't hard for Steve & Allie. Joe & Heidi had to quit, but only because Joe's having knee problems and his attempts to make contact with the ball were humiliating. Caite & Brent also had some difficulty after Caite -- so proud of her years of soccer experience -- experienced a pulled muscle or a cramp or some infirmity that left her temporarily crying and in pain. She recovered. This was so dull and easy a challenge that it actually had me remembering the game of soccer that the contestants played against a local all-star team on "The Mole" whenever that last aired. This whole episode would have been better if the teams had remained intersected past the Roadblock and been forced to work together in some challenge against soccer-playing German kids. No dice.
 
In Sauerkraut, teams had to go to a restaurant and eat a heaping plate of sauerkraut in the time it took to play a single polka. How long was the polka? Nobody was able to say. How much sauerkraut? Nobody bothered to say.  So was it hard? One plate? Two people? A pretty fair amount of time? Mike did it nearly on his own. Carol & Brandy, not a team I think of as being predisposed to consumption-based task, had no trouble. Joe & Heidi, after their failure at Soccer, came and did the Sauerkraut without pause.
 
Only Jordan & Jeff had trouble, but they aren't the two I'd want to count on to tolerate "exotic" food and "exotic" music. They barely made a dent when the music stopped. They were already in trouble by that point, because they'd given the required address to their cabbie and he'd driven them off into the German countryside somewhere. By then, they were probably out of the leg even though the editors tried to make it look as if Caite's phantom pain or Caite & Brent's lack of direction might make it a sprint. I don't buy that.
 
So Jordan & Jeff failed at Sauerkraut but succeeded at Soccer.
 
As Jeff put it, "I'm athletic. I should have just picked soccer right away. Now I'm burping up sauerkraut."
 
Post Detour, the teams all had to go to a bar and drink a boot of beer, though again they were allowed to share and again we weren't given an exact quantity. Did the "Amazing Race" producers think that we couldn't handle the metric system or something? It did appear to be a lot of beer. And the locals at the beer were pretty amused. But nobody told us how long any team spent at the bar, so I don't know who chugged swiftly and who nursed their suds.
 
The beer part of the leg confirmed the awesome, for one week at least, teamwork between Louie and Mike. Don't ask me how the Detectives moved from last place and got on the fastest flight from Argentina to Germany, joined only by the Cowboys. But once the episode got to Germany, it was as consistently in their wheelhouse as last week's episode was matched for the Cowboys. Mike was a warrior on the sauerkraut, with Louie lagging a little, and then Louie turned around and roared through the beer. Each one picked up the other's slack and I was happy to see them win the leg. 
 
And I was happy that Jeff & Jordan weren't eliminated for their leg. It wasn't Jordan's fault that she's "special" and she followed Caite willingly on the subway and they went the wrong way (a detour that barely cost them at all). And it wasn't either of their faults that their driver blew the GPS instructions. It was too weak a leg for anybody to have deserved to go home, especially with no audience watching to care.
 
 
Other thoughts on this week's episode:
 
*** How did the Detectives end up on that first plane with the Cowboys after starting the leg in first? Was there some travel jockeying that nobody thought we needed to see? I liked how happy Phil was at Mike & Louie's happiness, especially at Louie's insistence that they've now gone from sheep to wolves.
 
*** Another travel question: Why did the Detectives take a cab to the Kaiser's statue, but the Cowboys thought taking the subway was a better bet? It obviously wasn't and that ended up being the difference between second and fourth for them. Weird.
 
*** Jeff spent a summer in the "Big Brother" house eating slop much of the time. Jordan did as well. How could Jeff not have made the Sauerkraut challenge his own? Weak. Was the correct way to play that challenge to not touch the pickled cabbage for the first chorus of the polka? Get a sense of the time before subjecting yourself to large quantities of kraut? That way, you know both the eating quantity and the duration and you can plan accordingly? That's just me mulling strategy...
 
*** Caite's kinda a hoot. It helps that she's a cutie, but I'm also amused by how broadly she plays every emotion, almost like a child. So she's constantly swinging from extreme to extreme, as she did on the soccer field. Again, like a bipolar child. And how could you not laugh at her wide array of faces stemming from the horrifying idea of being made to drink beer. Brent puking? Weak, though I'm guessing he drank more than any other individual contestant except possibly for Jet.
 
*** When it comes to Dan & Jordan, I still dislike Jordan, but Dan's good people. He was amazingly tolerant of Brandy during the bungee jumping and there's something sweet about the idea that he hates to travel, but did this show because he knew it was Jordan's dream.
 
*** The Beatles stuff at the end of the leg, including using the Indra Club as the pit stop, was a good touch.
 
 
What'd you think of Sunday's "Amazing Race"? Were you pleased it was a non-elimination leg? Or did you feel like the whole leg was designed so as not to be essential for people who watched the Oscars instead?