Recap: 'The Amazing Race' - 'We're Good American People'
Would fondue be a fon-don't? And would it pay to have allies?
In an eerily prescient 1624 poem, John Donne wrote, "No 'Amazing Race' team is an island entire of itself."
Now you may be impressed that Donne was able to anticipate the advent of "The Amazing Race," but I find it even more amazing that he was specifically anticipating Sunday (April 24) night's episode. Because for most of the 18 season history of "The Amazing Race," it was actually entirely possible for a team to be highly successful while barely interacting with the other teams along the way. "Survivor" is CBS' social reality show, but "The Amazing Race" requires only that the two people on individual team remain aligned for a few weeks. Anything else is gravy.
But on Sunday night, one "Amazing Race" team finally fell victim to its isolationist stance.
Never send to know for whom the bell tolls... On Sunday night, it tolled for...
[Full "Amazing Race" recap after the break...]
Jet & Cord.
Good-night, sweet cowboys. Who knew it was gonna be so important for you to make friends?
"I don't know if we're outcasts, but their sure hasn't been anybody who's wanted to buddy up with us," Jet observed at the start of Sunday's episode. Then, in a shocking coincidence, those words ended up being important later on!
They came in without friendships or alliances and that nearly led to their being eliminated in the season premiere when the answer to a key puzzle was being passed around like the Dutchie on the left hand side and they were forced to crack a code by themselves. Since that time, though, the Cowboys had at least a couple weeks to make allies, but they went their own way. It's not that Jet and Cord were ever anti-social, but they've been an island for much of this "Amazing Race" season. Sometimes it's been accidental. They've taken wrong turns. They've gotten on wrong flights. But occasionally, it's been willful, like their choice to take a late-arriving flight last week on the hunch -- the incorrect hunch -- that it might be safer than taking a flight with more connections. They've neither helped nor hurt any of the teams around them and usually, a laissez-faire approach to Racing is safe.
The show is called "Amazing Race," not "Amazing Friends" -- to paraphrase Fabio's contention that "Top Chef" is not, in fact, "Top Scallop" -- but sometimes it helps to have friends as the Cowboys discovered on Sunday during what ended up being a Race-deciding Roadblock in Liechtenstein.
The Roadblock task required one person from each team to follow a map and measure the entire length of Liechtenstein, or at least the distance between two cities, travelled on a fun-looking motorized bicycle. The key was basically to properly follow the map or the signs. It may or may not have been difficult. What followed was a daisy chain of legalized cheating. Justin reached the destination, and ski racer Marco Buchel, first and correctly answered that the distance was 22 km. Justin promptly told Jen, who finished close behind him. Flight Time had the wrong distance, but Justin and Jen told Flight Time the right answer. Flight Time then told Gary the right answer. Is it possible that Vyxsin completed the task herself without getting the answer? I don't know. In any case, Jet took a wrong turn on the way to Marco Buchel and gave the answer "35 km," which was way off. He had to return and start again, this time going the right way and answering correctly. By the time he returned, the Cowboys were on a third train to Zermatt in Switzerland.
And that was that.
It should be noted here that the reason why Flight Time was able to help Gary was that the Speed Bump that greeted Gary and Mallory before the start of the Roadblock was the lamest Speed Bump in the history of lame Speed Bumps. If "The Amazing Race" keeps using the Speed Bump punishment for Non-Elimination Legs, there can be only one reason and one reason only: Sheer contempt for viewers, because the producers can't even be bothered to come up with Speed Bumps that are either challenging or even interesting. In this case, Gary and Mallory had to figure out the correct ratio of gas to oil required to fuel the motorized bicycle. For a team with actual mathematical acumen, the Speed Bump might literally have taken seconds -- None of that "Take a 15 minute sauna" or "Sit on an ice chair for 10 minutes" hardship. Mallory's presence may take IQ points way from her poor father, but I still didn't get any indication that the Speed Bump took more than a couple minutes. With a full Roadblock, plus a Detour, plus the possibility of a looming Double U-Turn, there would have been no conceivable way to make the Speed Bump less impactful. Gary and Mallory began the episode 46 minutes behind the Cowboys and that was equalized by travel and then negated by the Speed Bump. I wouldn't describe that as "unfair." But I also wouldn't describe it as "fair."
The passing around of the Roadblock answer was within the rules of the game and if three different players were dumb/friendly enough to cheat/share despite the paucity of remaining teams, that's their business. Sharing answers in Leg One seems like viable strategy to me. You never know when you might want a little help or karma. Sharing answers in Leg Nine? I'd think we'd be at the "Every man/woman for themselves" stage by now.
The sad result was that what could have been a good and competitive Detour leading up to a potential diabolical Double U-Turn ended up being... nothing. There were three different tiers of teams going to Zermatt -- Justin & Zev with Jen & Kisha, then Gary & Mallory, Kent & Vyxsin and the Globetrotters and finally the Cowboys -- and those tiers held up.
The Detour was the choice between Cheese and Wheeze. In Cheese, teams had to go to a restaurant and eat a big pot of cheese fondue before getting their next clue. In Wheeze, players had to collect and deliver 20 pieces of luggage from the train station to at least five different hotels.
It was a second consecutive week with an eating challenge, but I liked the repetition here, because it was almost like the producers were testing the contestants' learned behavior responses. Last week's Eat a Gigantic Portion of Austrian Food in 12 Minutes task *was* diabolical. I'd like to believe that I could have completed my portion, but I have my doubts that Sepinwall -- my hypothetical "Race" partner in Team Firewall & Iceberg -- would have been able to do it. He's a picky eater. Several teams failed that task last week, so it scared them.
Only two teams picked Cheese: Justin & Zev and Kisha & Jen. Kisha & Jen quit quickly because Kisha had already been complaining about her health. Justin & Zev stuck with it, battling through a pot of cheese which, thanks to some kinda wonky editing choices, appeared to get more and less full depending on the shot selection. There was a lot of belching and Justin even experienced a full Reversal of Fortune on the balcony. As with last week, I'm certain that I could have more than pulled my weight on the task, though I still can't speak for Sepinwall. There was a lot of cheese. The task was important because, for the first time this season, Justin was on the verge of quitting and it was Zev who had to coach his friend through. It was a great moment for Zev.
There was a helpful clock and we know that it took Justin and Zev just under an hour to finish their fondue and they reached the Pit Stop in first, just ahead of Jen & Kisha, meaning that the two Detour tasks could be completed in roughly the same amount of time, though Cheese required intestinal fortitude to complete, while Wheeze was just a matter of doing the labor. Regardless, neither task was easy and neither task was fast. That meant that the U-Turn could have been a real Leg-changing punishment this time around, as opposed to its first appearance this season, in which neither Detour task was difficult or time-consuming and the Detour was followed by an equalizing Roadblock.
Instead, once the first four teams went through the U-Turn station and declined to use it, it became a race to see who would get to the U-Turn in second to last. The Globetrotters bungled the Detour a tiny bit and had to deliver two extra suitcases, but they still reached the U-Turn first and used it on the Cowboys, effectively ending the Leg. Jet was pissed off at the Globetrotters, but I don't see why. In a Leg where you don't know how far ahead you may or may not be and where you don't know how far you have to go to the next Pit Stop and whether you might get the world's worst cabbie, of course you U-Turn the one team behind you. That's a no-brainer. You go for the jugular. You do whatever you have to do to make sure you don't get eliminated. Duh.
But I would have loved to see what might have happened if the Leg had become a U-Turn standoff at the Cheese Detour between the Cowboys and Globetrotters. That might have been fun.
Anyway, the Cowboys cheated Death too many times on this Race. It's just a bit disappointing they went home because nobody wanted to cheat with them.
A few other thoughts on this Leg:
*** The ongoing presence of the Goths remains a black eye on this entire season. They should have been penalized, eliminated and sent packing weeks ago when they were spared by equalizing and lenient producers. As a result, we've been treated to multiple additional weeks of Kent's whining. Vyxsin is fine by me. How she tolerates Kent is beyond me. This week, she carted Kent on a luggage cart because he wouldn't stop complaining. She's a trooper. But it's ridiculous they're still in the Race.
*** I loved Phil Keoghan's crazy-eyed "You just make me laugh" response to Mallory's crazy-eyed greeting at the Pit Stop mat. [I also quite liked this week's Swiss Miss Greeter.]
*** It's bad enough when "The Amazing Race" gives a full episode over to a product plug for Snapple or Ford, but must that plug carry over into the following week as well? We got two straight Ford commercials after the pre-credit "Previously on..." sequence and then we still had to be reminded of how excited Justin and Zev were to win a car before the Leg could begin.
*** Thanks to Myles McNutt for spelling me last week when I was home for the start of Passover. He says he wouldn't do well on eating challenges, so he can't be "Amazing Race" teammate.
What'd you think of the Leg? Were we teamed up on the Race, would we have been able to eat the cheese in 30 minutes?