We're moving into an awkward portion of this "Amazing Race" season, wherein  I watch a really good Leg, featuring difficult challenges and intriguing strategic decisions, and all I can think is this:
 
Any "Amazing Race" Leg that doesn't end with the elimination of Rachel & Brendon is going to be a disappointment to me.
 
Rooting against awful teams and jeering their awfulness is part of the fun of "The Amazing Race" (and any competition reality show), but the level of visceral annoyance caused by the mere presence of Rachel and, to a slightly lesser degree, Brendon is sucking a lot of the pleasure from this season. They aren't a team I love to hate. They're just a team I don't want to have around anymore and I especially don't want to see them, relatively speaking, succeeding. 
 
The longer they last, the more central Brendon & Rachel are going to be to each week's storyline and that can't possibly be a good thing. Putting these two retreads on the show was a huge mistake and I'm having trouble getting past it. 
 
But anyway... Ugly "Big Brother" contestants aside... 
 
Sunday (March 4) night's "Amazing Race" episode was definitely the season's strongest and one of the better episodes in recent installments. People did hard things, made hard choices, staged exciting comebacks, experienced nail-biting suspense and even made determined moral stands. It was a good episode. And yet all I have emblazoned in my mind is Rachel's butt and Rachel hacking and crying her way across the mat. 
 
Sigh...
 
More after the break...
 
We began the Leg with what could have been an equalizer as all of the teams had to catch a flight from Buenos Aires to Paraguay. Instead, four teams --  Rachel & Dave, Art & JJ, Mark & Bopper and Nary & Jamie -- got on an earlier flight, seemingly establishing an impressive two-hour cushion over the other five teams, though that ended up being negated by a time-consuming Detour and a potentially time-consuming Roadblock in Paraguay.
 
The Detour was the choice between Stacked Up and Strung Up.
 
In Stacked Up, teams had to collect loads of watermelons and create precarious pyramids with a 10X10 base. 
 
In Strung Up, teams had to untangle a mass of harp strings -- The harp is the national instrument of Paraguay, we now all know -- and then properly string 36 strings on the harp. 
 
In this instance, Detour Logic 101 says "Stacked Up," since the watermelons would logically be the most photogenic of the two Detour options. "Amazing Race" has a strong history with watermelon-based hijinks and the producers doubtlessly wanted more hijinks to ensue.
 
I have to guess that's why the only team to opt for Strung Up initially was the Twins, Andrew & Elliott. Remember that.
 
We now know that there was a very, very, very strong chance that Strung Up was the smarter, safer and better Detour option. Stacking the watermelons required the acquisition of watermelons and then the careful assembly of the watermelon pyramid. Under the best of circumstances, that would be hard. No matter how close you get to the top, one misplaced melon can cause the entire structure to erode, forcing a complete restart. Add in the excessive heat outdoors and it becomes a task that requires physicality and precision. 
 
While Art & JJ finished Stacked Up in a hurry as part of a rather triumphant Leg, the quitting began almost immediately, with Nary & Jamie and then Team Kentucky and finally Rachel & Dave all quitting. The amount of time wasted on Stacking Up was sufficient that none of the three teams from the first flight who failed with the melons made it to Strung Up before Elliott & Andrew, eliminating the earlier flight advantage for 75 percent of the teams lucky enough to get on standby. But even from the second flight, four of the teams decided to stack and the key became who acknowledged their failure first. Rachel & Brendon knew they were in trouble instantly and so, carping about their utterly inexplicable hatred for Vanessa, they went to Strung Up without even, if memory serves, starting their pyramid, which was a smart move.
 
As for Strung Up? It wasn't very hard. Or at least it wasn't very hard for five of the six teams that decided to do it. Only Elliott and Andrew had difficulties, even going so far as to briefly quit and contemplate stacking before returning. 
 
Having failed at Stacked Up and looking at all of the teams at Strung Up, Rachel & Dave made what could best be described as the questionable decision to squander their Express Pass, which rather than sending them along to the Pit Stop, only got them as far as the Roadblock.
 
In the Roadblock, one player had to do a bottle dance, balancing a breakaway bottle on their head. There were a set number of bottles on each table for each team and if you failed to complete the choreography, you had to take a two-hour penalty.
 
Art & JJ, having finished Stacked Up far ahead of any other team, got to the Roadblock quickly and Art aced it almost immediately. Depending on whether or not we have an equalizer to start the next Leg, there's a chance that Art & JJ could have both a prohibitive lead on the entire field, but also an almost insurmountable lead over the team at the back of the pack.
 
Dave & Rachel were less lucky. Dave did the Roadblock and, as edited, he crashed all of his available bottles with great speed, as Rachel shook her head and counted down to zero, forcing them to sit up and wait with Phil Keoghan and The Smoking Hot Paraguayan Greeter as one team after another -- Rachel & Brendon [Ugh], Dan & Joey "Fitness," Mark & Bopper and Nary & Jamie -- reached the mat.
 
The bleeding finally stopped and Dave & Rachel got to check in in sixth. Phil congratulated them on being the first team to fail to complete a task and still finish a Leg without elimination. I need to get Phil's EXACT words here so that we can launch a semantic discussion on this topic: Boston Rob, in the infamous Meatblock, determined he'd be unable to eat four pounds of meat and took a penalty. Rob was devious enough that he convinced two (right?) additional teams to quit the task and take the penalty, guaranteeing that he and Amber wouldn't be eliminated. In that situation, at least two teams didn't complete the task and yet still survived the leg. Is Phil drawing a distinction between *choosing* not to complete a task and being *unable* to complete a task? Certainly Boston Rob & Amber decided to quit only after Rob realized they wouldn't be able to finish. Regardless, I'm sure there's a way to parse Phil's words so that he was correct, but I'm skeptical. [See comments for an explanation of Phil's exact wording...]
 
I'm also skeptical that Rachel & Dave made the right choice in using the Express Pass. Based on the timing, Rachel & Dave had a clear sense of where the teams from the second flight were and how hard the Stacked Up Detour was.  We can also be pretty confident that if they'd done Strung Up with reasonable speed, even if Dave had still been forced to take the Roadblock penalty, they still would have outlasted the two teams that were dueling for last. But maybe I'm just making that assumption based on the position of the sun and my sense of dusk is false. 
 
In any case, Sunday's episode came down to two teams struggling at two different Detours.
 
Vanessa & Ralph refused to quit Stacked Up. Or, rather, Vanessa refused to quit Stacked Up. I don't know if it was just ornery stubbornness or if she was completely in earnest that she stuck with the task to prove to Ralph's 13-year-old daughter that you should never quit. Either way, she was stubborn and pouty and they kept building that pyramid until it finally help together, well after dark. 
 
Elliott & Andrew just couldn't get Strung Up correctly. And I don't know what they were doing wrong. There was an intimation that Elliott was doing something wrong after initially claiming his background with the guitar might help him string things, but I we didn't see enough to be sure that was really the case. It wasn't like they kept failing and being told they were doing something specific wrong. Instead, a task that five teams aced in seemingly no time, became traumatic for them.
 
At this point, the episode was down to two teams and yet 15 minutes remained, which is really unusual for "The Amazing Race," but not unwelcome. 
 
The Twins got to the Roadblock ahead of Vanessa & Ralph, but again Elliott struggled. Several times it seemed like he was nearly done when the bottle teetered and smashed on him. Ralph, meanwhile, has a ginormous head and finished first, but only barely. That meant that Ralph & Vanessa were running for the mat, slowed by Vanessa's exhaustion, while the two more athletic brothers sprinted. I didn't want Vanessa to go, so I was mighty agitated, but Vanessa & Ralph finished first and the Twins were VERY close behind.
 
It was a good ending. And came after a decent Roadblock, which came after a solid Detour.
 
Yeah. Not a bad Leg at all.
 
 
Other thoughts on the leg:
 
*** I have no idea what Rachel & Brendon have against Vanessa & Ralph except that Rachel & Brendon are just bad people. Vanessa was making a joke about how parts of Rachel's nether-regions were exposed? Grow up, Rachel. You spent two summers exposing every inch of yourself to America three nights a week. You have less modest than you should. We get it. And as for the insult, "Her disgusting smile is painted on just like her overdone makeup," well that doesn't even make any sense. *And* there are elements of black pots and black kettles that come into play.
 
*** I think I've been confusing Dan and Joey "Fitness" for the entire season. Or maybe the difference between them is irrelevant?
 
*** It was another good week for Team Kentucky, highlighted by Mark Bopper singing "Folsom Prison Blues" during the Detour. I'm still not sure Mark can read, but I'm rooting for these two.
 
*** JJ, of Art & JJ, is too aggressive a personality for me to tolerate. I think I like Art. But JJ seems like a horrible meltdown just waiting to happen and when that meltdown comes, I hope nobody gets hurt.
 
*** Vanessa & Ralph both call each other "Angel." Is that because they didn't want to be a "babe" or "honey" couple? It seems weird, regardless. But I like them. Or at least I like Vanessa.
 
*** More of Rachel crying next week. Ugh.
 
Did you enjoy this episode? Is anybody rooting for Rachel & Brendon? And will anybody care that Elliott & Andrew are gone?