A lot was made going into this week’s episode of “The Amazing Race” about the handicap facing cowboys Jet and Cord, who face a Speed Bump in this week’s trip to Malaysia, but I didn’t really see the concern. My problem, I think, is that the entire race seems to be facing some sort of handicap: Steve and Allie are without their luggage, and if we’re being completely honest some of the other teams aren’t exactly operating with a full toolbox in terms of strategy or general intelligence. Last week’s episode saw the teams living up to our expectation from the premiere that this may be one of the most mistake-prone casts of all time, and so the idea that Jet and Cord’s Speed Bump is a huge disadvantage just doesn’t fly. 

And if you have any doubt of that, I’m pretty sure that this leg more or less sealed the deal. 

Spoilers for this week’s snake-infested episode of “The Amazing Race” after the jump… 

To be fair, this leg was designed for Jet and Cord to be fairly dominant: there was bunching to start the leg (not that they were that far behind Carol and Brandy), the Detour option played well to their physicality, the Speed Bump was a joke (“Smell, and then Serve, Tea”), and the Roadblock was fastest for those who could smash coconuts at a fast pace. So if there was ever a leg for someone to set a new record by coming back from a non-elimination leg to finish in first place in the leg that follows, it was this one. 

However, we have to give Jet and Cord credit in that they made the decisions necessary to get them to that point. They didn’t panic when they lost their cab at the Snake Temple, they picked the right Detour option, and they completed both the Speed Bump and the Roadblock with minimal stress or concern. They are by far the race’s most likeable team at this point, and they’ve always seemed to be having plenty of fun, but they have struggled to stay near the top: however, their problem is mistakes and inconsistency more than capability. They have proven a strong team when the legs have gone their way, and I’m hopeful that they’ve gotten past last week’s mistake and are on their way to competing in the final leg so I have a team to legitimately root for. 

While mistakes have been a key component of this season, I don’t know if it’s fair to say that the other teams in the leg made mistakes that allowed Jet and Cord to get into that position. While you could definitely argue that Dan and Jordan and Steve and Allie’s decision to run as opposed to taking a cab to the Detour put them behind, they would have never had a chance to catch Jet and Cord either way. The leg eventually saw those two teams racing for last place, but no team would have been able to compete for first while completing the Buddhist Tradition Detour option. Rather, Jet and Cord took on the more “challenging” (technique vs. strength/endurance) Detour option and did it well, and so they were able to pass every other team in the process – any mistakes they made after that point simply decided their eventual order, as opposed to contributing to Jet and Cord’s victory. 

It hurts me to say it, since I find Carol and Brandy to be pretty disdainful, but they ran a clean leg: they picked the Detour option they felt they could perform, completed it in third place, and were able to get the right directions to complete the leg in a comfortable second place. They didn’t bicker, they didn’t fall apart, and they stuck to their game plan while also taking time to rest when they felt overwhelmed by the physicality of the Buddhist Temple task. I don’t like the team, and I was sad to see them pull together so well after last week’s mistakes, but you can’t deny that they “deserved” to finish high in this leg. 

Louie and Michael, similarly, worked their way through the leg very efficiently, staying calm in the midst of the traffic jam and making up the lost time in the Detour rather than trying to force it through some heroic cardio (that Louie frankly couldn’t have done, based on his coughing at the Temple). Even Brent and Caite, another team I don’t particularly like that much, ran a pretty clean leg beyond grabbing an unfortunately misguided taxi driver on their way to the Roadblock that put them behind. As Jet and Cord proved, you can use the tasks in order to gain time, and all of these teams let their performance in the Detour and the Roadblock do their talking as opposed to trying to turn transportation into a gain in and of itself. 

I thought, for a while, that Dan and Jordan were doomed, considering that we got a fairly substantial dose of “This is Jordan’s dream, and every week we’re still in the race means we’re one step closer to his dream” in the opening. And they spent too much time in the episode complaining about letting loose their ridiculously good taxi driver, who passed nearly every team on the way to the Snake Temple, for me to think that they had gotten over it. They chose to jump out of that taxi because they were caught up in that mistake, and it would be fitting that complaining about losing a fast taxi driver would eventually be their downfall. However, once they fixed their mistake and got back into a cab, they stuck to the game plan: complete the Detour, complete the Roadblock, and keep Jordan’s dream alive. They made their mistake, and almost let it cost them, but they got back on track. 

By comparison, Steve proved that his Baseball Managerial skills may not quite translate into the race environment. I don’t know much about his career, but I wonder (if you’ll excluse the baseball analogies) if he’s the type of manager who takes out a pitcher as soon as he gives up a few runs. In baseball, you need to be able to adjust your strategy on the fly, but you also need to be willing to stick with a strategy (especially with pitchers) if you want to have something good develop. While a pitcher might be struggling, and a strategy may be failing, you sometimes need to give them a chance to pull it together as opposed to calling in a new pitcher who hasn’t had time to warm up and might do even worse. 

So switching Detours was just a rather terrible strategy (although to their credit, they had no idea that Allie would be so inept at the task), one which cost Steve and Allie enough time that they were effectively eliminated based on that decision. And so as one team goes from last to first even with a significant handicap, another team goes from first to last with a handicap (their lack of luggage) that was a non-issue in Malysia’s hot climate and which was even mitigated by some nice sportsmanship (Read: underwear) from Louie and Michael. It wasn’t fun to watch or anything, though: Allie’s growing sense of panic was difficult to sit through, and Steve demonstrating why “calm and collected” are not necessarily common descriptors for Baseball Managers was perhaps not the side he wanted to show in this sort of environment. 

At the end of the day, I’m not sad to see them go: this was the team that decided to paint the inside of a random person’s house in the very first leg, and a team that showed no sense of personality until last week (at which point we found out Allie was religious and Steve fancied himself a comedian). So while I would have rather seen Carol and Brandy go home, I’m not sad to see some of the season’s dead weight get cut loose, and there might be some value to keep the season’s villains around for a few more legs (but just a few more legs) to keep things interesting. 

 

Other Thoughts 

*** Interesting that they placed the Speed Bump so late in the leg – while the actual “challenge”  of the Speed Bump was embarrassing, I thought the need to drive 5km made this at least more disadvantageous than the “walk a block and take a 5 minute sauna” that we saw recently.

*** Louie and Michael are not afraid to play this game: after U-Turning Joe and Heidi based on a single overly boastful interview on a crowded bus, they are (along with Brent and Caite) gunning after Carol and Brandy with threats of a U-Turn now. I thought it was interesting that they included that in an episode that didn’t actually feature a U-Turn, so clearly that rivalry will be boiling over into next week.

*** Where do we sit on the challenge level of the Roadblock? Was combining a “needle in a haystack”  element with arts and crafts actually something that made sense for such a key task in the leg (if the final two teams had been closer together, at least), or should there have been some greater element of challenge at play?

*** The Snake Temple was one of those examples where you could clearly tell the difference between the B Camera footage, which promised “Snakes on a Cluebox,” and the actual racers’ experience, where a few glances of a snake in the shadows gave Allie the shivers but didn’t seem to affect any of the other teams.

*** I would totally pay to see “Snakes on a Cluebox” starring Phil Keoghan.

 

What'd you think of Sunday's "Amazing Race"?