Maybe it was the emotion of the night, rushing to recap Sunday's (Feb. 22) "The Amazing Race" after five or six hours of writing about Heath Ledger, Sean Penn, Mickey Rourke's dog and those adorable kids (you know, like Freida Pinto) from "Slumdog Millionaire," but the episode left me all emotional and misty-eyed.
Teasingly titled "Your Target Is Your Partner's Face," Sunday's "Amazing Race" was the second consecutive really strong hour to kick off the show's 14th season, a season that already seems to be better cast, better challenged and better arced than the past couple installments.
Thoughts on "The Amazing Race," complete with spoilers, after the bump...
It wasn't the longest of runs for self-described Country Bumpkins Steve and Linda. They fell short of the longevity and fan popularity achieved by the show's last back-woods couple, Kentucky coalminer Dave and his wife Mary, who were the sixth team eliminated on "The Amazing Race 10." Really, in fact, it was a miracle they survived the Race's first leg, last week.
That doesn't mean that there wasn't something extremely touching about watching the two of them, covered in pie from the leg's Detour, hugging and co-mingling tears with authentic Bavarian schlag, the salty and the sweet.
"We did this together," Steve blubbered. "We're deeply in love."
And Linda added "The thing I love about Steve is how much he loves me."
There were times in the first episode where that wasn't quite so clear. In the season premiere, Linda's lack of speed prompted Steve to yell at her, which, in turn, prompted tears and shouting. It turns out that Steve was just right.
Steve and Linda were eliminated on Sunday both because Linda was slow and because of her comically poor sense of direction. In the process of descending from an Alpine mountain during the Roadblock, Linda got so badly turned around that she ended up out on the highway far, far away from where Steve was awaiting her, requiring the assistance of a friendly motorist. They never recovered from that deficit and reached Phil Keoghan and the mat last. That they never found a way to catch up with the other straggling teams was a bit of a relief, because I have to assume the penalty for Linda's failure to complete the Roadblock without hitchhiking would have been prohibitive.
But Steve didn't yell at her for her blunder. He didn't raise his voice. He just kept repeating that there was nobody else he'd rather do The Race with, as if he'd had lots of potential partners and didn't want to look back at his other options lest he turn into a pillar of salt.
It wasn't as sweet as Kate Winslet's father whistling to get his daughter's attention mid-acceptance speech, nor as touching as the teary faces in the crowd following Ma and Pa Ledger's tribute to their son. It was still sweet, if not necessarily inspirational or aspirational.
The pair that ended up being inspirational was Mel and Mike White.
The Roadblock was supposed to be straight-forward. One Racer from each team would paraglide off the mountain with a trainer. The catch was that paragliding is, as one might guess, mighty wind-dependent. If the wind became a problem, the racer could opt to take a long path to the bottom, with an estimated descent of an hour (that's where Linda got lost). The wind became a problem immediately and one team after another opted for the path, starting with Tammy, who sprinted down the hill immediately, much to Victor's pleasure.
Every team decided to run except for Mel and Mike. Mel insisted on doing the paragliding, saying, "I'm old, but I have to do some of these fun challenges." He wanted to glide, but he also couldn't run, thanks to the tweaked groin he sustained in the first leg. That left him standing at the summit cajoling other teams into staying with him, to no avail. With everybody else departed, things looked bleak.
"I can't pray for divine intervention. God has enough to do," Mel observed to his concerned son. On a show where too often teams think God has a personal stake in whether they complete an eating challenge, it's hard not to love his attitude. God agreed and the wind shifted direction. It was almost the very definition of faith, except that true faith probably operates without the mitigating factor of a pulled groin. Whether it was a miracle or just a naturally shifting wind pattern, Mel got a glorious view of the Alps and he and his son jumped back ahead of several teams.
Mel and Mike made up a little more time at a decent Detour. The choice was between Balancing Dolly and Austrian Folly, the first requiring a Segway obstacle course and the second requiring contestants to toss cream pies at each other (hence the title of the episode) in an effort to uncover a cherry dessert. Describing themselves as "Segway pros," Mel and Mike zipped through the course and ended up finishing second for the episode, a decent ways behind Tammy and Victor, but still amazingly high for an episode in which they could have just as easily been eliminated if not for the blessing of the wind.
Other thoughts on the episode:
*** Jodi and Christie are on borrowed time at this point. If not for their ridiculous failure to find the directions to the Pit Stop after completing the Detour, there wouldn't have been any suspense to the ending at all. I couldn't figure out why it was so hard for them to find the wood-cutter. Was it the darkness? Or was it their refusal to just ask somebody where they were supposed to go? Weak. They nearly blew it last week as well. I'm waiting on that insider travel knowledge they claimed to have last week.
*** Jodi and Christie weren't the only team trying to make the ending competitive. Kisha and Jen got lost at least three different times during the episode. By the end of the episode, younger sis Jen was calling this the most frustrating experience of her life. Yikes.
*** There were more functional siblings, though. After dominating the episode from start to finish, getting some lame hybrid go-karts for their trouble, Tammy and Victor discussed how they've had 26 years to establish their dynamic. Mark and Michael remained upbeat as well, despite a mental lapse that caused them to be the only team not to try to acquire plane tickets via phone on the way to the episode, preferring to coast.
*** Through two episodes, Kris and Amanda remain frustratingly likable, despite being young, pretty, athletic and calling each other baby. They got the most pleasure out of the pie-tossing and there was something charming about their happiness after completing the task (Amanda: "This is the first task I've gotten to done." Kris: "Gotten to do?" Amanda: "Yeah, whatever."). It would appear that next week will lead to the couple's first adversity on the race. Maybe then they'll finally start to annoy me.
*** I could have mentioned it above, but the episode's best moment had to be Mike White trying to scale a gate to get to the pit stop. Phil's raised eye-brow was classic, before some guy just came and opened the gate.
*** Line of the episode: Linda's reaction to the pie-throwing, "I never knew throwing things is so much fun. It just relieved so much pressure."
And now, as I've been blogging and tweeting and recapping for nine hours straight... What'd y'all think of the episode?