This season of "The Amazing Race" started last month with The Watermelon Incident, which took an otherwise so-so leg and made it awesome.
That was followed up by two dismal legs with poorly motivated challenges, bad editing and almost no drama, particularly with last week's Non-Elimination anti-climax.
But on Sunday (Oct. 17) night, "The Amazing Race" finally delivered the season's first truly excellent leg, an action-packed hour that included airport drama, difficult tasks, tough choices and a somewhat sad elimination, all set against the backdrop of a location I've always wanted to visit.
More thoughts on this week's reversal-of-fortune leg after the break...
How good "We Should Have Brought Gloves and Butt Pads"? I loved the episode even though it reenforced something that I've been saying in these recaps since the innovation was introduced: I understand the need to have Non-Elimination Legs. They prolong the season. CBS likes the ratings. It's either that or add more teams, which would get chaotic. But if you have to have Non-Elimination Legs, it's time to accept that the Speed Bump concept has been a total failure and to figure out a new post-NEL penalty. 
At the end of last week, Kevin & Michael finished last and Phil Keoghan told them they were being spared and would face a Speed Bump next leg.
At the time, I wrote, "Next leg, they'll have to do a Speed Bump which, knowing the "Amazing Race" producers, will probably ask them to, I dunno, sit and read a book in the shade for 10 minutes or something."
How you like me now?
Kevin & Michael's massive penalty was that they had to sit down on two pieces of ice furniture at the temporary storage for Sweden's Icehotel and kick back in front of a fireplace (possibly fake, I couldn't tell) and chill (pun intended) for 10 minutes. Yes, Kevin was stupidly wearing shorts. Yes, I assume that makes your rear end a little chilly. But 10 minutes sitting on a chair is not a penalty. Even in the notoriously cushy Sauna Bus Speed Bump, the previous record-holder for Lamest Penalty in "Amazing Race" History, the Sauna Bus was down the street and around the corner some place. The team had to find the bus before enjoying a sauna. In this case, Kevin & Michael walked over two feet, plunked down on their frozen thrones and squirmed for a few minutes.
That was an awful Speed-Bump. Why even bother?
And yet I loved the leg, overall.
Part of why I loved the leg was that Kevin & Michael had already done something very smart. The close leaving the starting line in Ghana told the teams that they'd already been booked on a flight through to Kiruna, Sweden, but emphasized that if they found a better option, they could take it. Team Glee, Connor & Jonathan, with their Princeton educations, didn't bother to look into getting a different flight until it was too late. Instead, Kevin & Michael found out about the earlier connection through Frankfurt and then they use Gary & Mallory, especially Mallory's perky blondness, to secure tickets. Kudos to those two. And kudos to Nat & Kat and Team Watermelon, Claire & Brook, for seeking out an Internet cafe and finding the earlier flight as well. All four teams were worried about making a tight one-hour connection window in Frankfurt, but they all succeeded. Travel drama is one of the things I enjoy most on "Amazing Race" and it always disappoints me how rarely teams are able to make the smart travel moves to gain advantages and I even salute the teams that blow the game on gutsy, misjudged travel gambits. If you're going to be rude and bark "Faster! Faster!" at various cabbies in languages they don't understand, you should also be able to take the initiative to use the friendly skies to your advantage.
That's how Kevin & Michael, in last place to start the leg, spent much of the leg in first place, despite having to sit on an ice chair for a whopping 10 minutes.
And that's how Jonathan & Connor, who had an advantage of nearly an hour to start the leg, were in position to finish last on the leg they ran instead of graduate from Princeton. If you have an hour advantage and don't use any of that time to attempt to secure alternative early travel, you deserve anything that comes your way. Actually, Team Glee had even more time than that, because no team looked into earlier flights before Kevin & Michael, who started more than two hours behind Team Glee. I hope that Connor & Jonathan sang some awesome duets with that bonus time they squandered.
So the teams were off to Sweden and to the Icehotel, which I've always figured would be a pretty righteous place to go sometime. And who knew that when it's off-season, the Icehotel is deconstructed and put in cold storage? I wish they could have spent more time at the Icehotel, but I guess the storage set-up isn't typically that TV-friendly.
We followed with a solid Roadblock, with players steering a team of pack-dogs around a temporary course on a temporary sled, showing how those huskies are kept in shape when there isn't snow on the ground. This wasn't one of those tasks that rewarded any particular skills and thus it wasn't totally perfect. But it still offered contestants the chance to gain small advantages for performance, it made everybody spectacularly happy and it featured weird fake bears popping up along the side of the trail, like a Disney attraction. 
The Roadblock gave several players the chance to show personalities they hadn't displayed previously. I loved Michael's joy at the whole ride. I applauded Nick's competitiveness, as he rode up behind Connor and yelled "I'm comin' Connor. I'm comin' baby! I'm gonna get you!" I appreciated that Claire finally got to use the rancher skills she thought she was going to use in the first leg, when she instead ended up getting a watermelon in the face. Nobody really made a mess of the Roadblock, except for Jill & Thomas, who missed an arrow and ran off in a different direction, beginning what would become a problematic domino run of misadventures for them.
It was then off to a ski run for the Detour, which offered the choice between Beds and Sleds. In Sleds, teams had to ride Techsleds down a ski run, completing the run in under 1:58. In Beds, teams had to set up a traditional tent for a group of Scandinavian nomads.
Michael & Kevin got to the Detour first and opted for Beds, because of Kevin's concern that his father wouldn't be able to do Sleds. He was totally right and although it turned out that Sleds was unquestionably the fastest option and allowed Nat & Kat, Gary & Mallory and Team Watermelon to move ahead of them, it was perfect choice given the known variables.
You've got to know all of the variables on "The Amazing Race" and that's why Jill & Thomas ended up squandering the Express Pass, the most powerful tool in Race history. Because they got lost going to the Roadblock, they were in last. They knew this. So they arrived at the Detour and opted to do Beds. It was the wrong choice, but I don't exactly know/remember the timetable of what they could have known. At the cluebox, did they know that every other team had decided to do Sleds? If so, they made a wrong choice willfully. If you're in the position that they were in, you can't choose the task nobody else is at, because you can't chart the progress of your rivals. Jill & Thomas had the Express Pass, but if they'd tried doing Sleds, they'd have seen how many teams ahead of them were failing. Given their athleticism, they'd almost certainly have either completed that task, or they'd have known they had time to go and do Beds at leisure. Instead, they looked around at Beds and, without knowing any of the variables, they made the decision to bold and use the Express Pass. It turns out they could have leisurely done Beds, still finished fifth and held onto the Pass. They didn't know this and they couldn't have known it, but they definitely could have known more about the variables.
For whatever reason, we got a false sense of the ease of Sleds because the three teams from the early flight completed it with semi-ease. They fell down a little and had some discomfort, but they completed it. Of the people on the second flight, am I wrong that only Nick & Vicki successfully finished Sleds? Jill & Thomas didn't bother trying. And Jonathan & Connor, Katie & Rachel and Stephanie & Chad all flamed out hilariously, with Stephanie and Chad capitalizing on quitting first to finish Beds ahead of the other two teams. 
In the end, Jonathan & Connor were sent home. Depending on how you look at it, their undoing was either not realizing Connor's sledding difficulties quickly enough or those two hours they wasted in Ghana without finding a computer and booking a ticket on an earlier flight through Frankfurt. They did a nice duet of "Pomp & Circumstance" at the pit stop and then they did a nice "Good-bye to The Amazing Race" duet, as they completed an unfortunate one-leg journey from first to last.
Oh well.
A couple other thoughts on this very fine leg:
*** Line of the Episode: Mallory's Roadblock squeal of, "I'm gonna hook up our Great Danes and pug at our house and do this."
*** I really hope we get an explanation for why, exactly, Rachel is able to say "Dumb girl," "dumb boy" and "dumb monkey" in Romanian.
*** Chad continues to suck. Stephanie made the effort to do the Sled task because she knew it's what he wanted to do. She didn't mope or cry or try to protest. This wasn't a Mika waterslide situation. She tried, wiped out three times dramatically and then Chad was swearing at her and questioning her effort. He blamed her at the Beds task right up until the other failing teams showed up and he realized they were OK. Boo.
*** Check out the website for the Icehotel and tell me you don't wanna go.
Anyway, what'd you think of this leg? Did Jill & Thomas make a big mistake? Are you going to miss Jonathan & Connor and their singing?