I'm visiting my family in New Hampshire for the start of Passover, but that doesn't mean I'm abdicating my recapping responsibilities while I'm away.
Normally, since my parents and I watch very different reality TV
offerings (they prefer series in which people purchase or renovate homes), I slink off to another room to watch my stories, accompanied only by the family German Shepherd, if she's feeling lonely.
On Sunday (April 8) night, though, I forced my parents to watch "The Amazing Race
." As sheer serendipity would have it, Sunday's Leg found the teams getting off to Tanzania, while my parents just returned from two weeks in Tanzania.
That's what I call kismet.
[Full recap, with spoilers, after the break...]
In many ways, Sunday's episode was perfect for the two "Amazing Race" neophytes. They know where to catch charter planes at the Arusha airport. They've hung out with the Masai. They've learned to identify all manner of safari-type fauna. And they've witnessed the beauty of the Ngorongoro Crater. There was a lot of "We were there!" and "We saw that!" outbursts throughout the episode. I was jealous. Mostly when we saw monkeys.
In other ways, Sunday's episode was, I fear, dreadful for the two "Amazing Race" neophytes. If you enjoy asinine people bickering about asinine things in absolutely gorgeous locations, it was a really good hour of TV. If, however, you like difficult challenges, likable contestants and... you know... a Race, there wasn't much to recommend it.
Say what you will about last season's early Non-Elimination Legs -- I know I said my piece -- but at least it was surprising that the producers thought it was a good idea to keep not sending teams home with the season in its opening Legs. The reaction each week was, "Really? Again?!?" but at least it wasn't "Duh-doy." And yes, I know that this is a "Damned if you do/Damned if you don't" situation, but I planned my few days away with absolute confidence that I wouldn't have to do an exit interview tomorrow, because I would have bet good money on it being a Non-Elimination Leg.
And guess what? Nobody went home!
You weren't shocked either, of course, because it was an episode built around two things: The aforementioned icky people being icky and then those same people having an obligatory conversion experience when faced with the primal beauty of Africa. But once you spend 50 minutes on name-calling mixed with slack-jawed declarations of, "Oh my God!" and "It's so beautiful!" there's no time for competition.
Lions and tigers and bores, oh whatever.
The episode started with teams still in Baku, but as soon as the clue said they were heading to Africa, there wasn't any question we'd all be equalized at the airport. In addition to equalizing the teams, the airport proved a fertile teapot for two cumulative tempests to boil over.
First, it was time to somewhat out Jamie & Nary, at least in terms of their professional lives as federal agents of some sort rather than kindergarten teachers. Now you'd have thought that the outing would occur on the basis of some skillset that Nary & Jamie turned out to possess that wouldn't be compatible with their fictional careers. But no. Nary & Jamie haven't had any notably displayed talents at all, much less talents at odds with being kindergarten teachers. As I've written before on several occasions, they're telling a lie that serves no purpose other self-amusing obfuscation. So it was fitting that Art & JJ began to catch on as a result of something as arbitrary as Jamie & Nary being more interested in undercover operations and service time than kindergarten teachers ought to be. And Art & JJ couldn't find anything to do with the fruits of their sleuthing. It wasn't a secret that, once revealed, would change anything, so they let Nary & Jamie know what they knew just because it would stir things up.
The secret was pointless. The revelation was pointless. And even once they were exposed, Nary & Jamie refused to admit to their real occupations, because... whatever. This took 10 minutes and by the end, even my parents were mocking the number of times we had to watch contestants go, "You mean they aren't teachers?" We were told this was a secret that Nary & Jamie were keeping only because of the inevitability of exposure. And we got exposure. Nobody promised us a pay-off. What did you expect?
Meanwhile, things blew up between Rachel & Brendon and... everybody else, or at least Vanessa & Ralph and Art & JJ, even though Art & JJ have only banal reasons to hate Team Big Brother. Everybody has the same banal reasons for hating Team Big Brother: They're annoying. In picking on Team Brother, though, Vanessa & Ralph and Art & JJ became annoying themselves.
And what did this week's big blow-up accomplish? Nothing. Just name-calling. Rachel called Vanessa a meanie and called her "old" (or "38"). Vanessa accurately pointed out that she still looks younger than Rachel and mocked her cosmetic surgery. But so what?
"It's really awesome when everyone talks crap. Learn some humility," Rachel cried, because everything makes Rachel cry. On multiple occasions Rachel and Brendon claimed they'd never said anything bad about any of the other teams, which we know is a lie, but again... so what?
Told she'd made Rachel cry, Vanessa explained, "I didn't make her cry. Her lack of self-esteem made her cry."
She's right. But again... So what? Nobody's winning here. It's not like there's a reason to conclusively say that any of these teams have been especially mature or "in-the-right" on any of this. I take Vanessa & Ralph's side because Vanessa's hot and because I haven't suffered through multiple full summers of being annoyed by her, not because they've looked like adults in any of this.
We were 15 minutes into the episode before my father asked why we'd be rooting for any of these people.
Mom: "I like the teachers. Because I believe they're teachers."
Dad: "They already told you they're not!"
Mom: "I'm pretending I don't know they're not teachers."
I've been watching all season and I didn't have a reason to tell them to root for anybody.
"The Amazing Race" milked its HD set-up for all it was worth once the teams arrived in Africa, particularly on the aerial journey from Arusha to Ngorongoro Crater.
But once we got down to "Amazing Race" business, things were less effective.
We had no Roadblock and the Detour was the choice between Courtship and Marksmanship, both taking place near a Masai village and surrounded by members of the tribe.
In Courtship, teams had to jump up and down for a minute.
In Marksmanship, teams had to learn to throw a weapon and each member of the team had to throw the weapon and break a spinning clay rabbit.
It took my father, who has never watched "Amazing Race," 10 seconds to point out the sort of problem I tend to raise almost every week: "Courtship is clearly easier than Marksmanship," he says. "All you have to do is jump up and down, whereas this requires skill."
He was exactly right. Courtship required one minute of jumping. NOTHING more. It didn't require rhythm or altitude. Just jumping. For one minute. Marksmanship wasn't hard or anything. The targets weren't a great distance away and the available weapons for tossing seemed to be infinite, but no matter how easy it was, it took more than one minute to accomplish and that was enough for it to be the wrong choice. That's not a sign of a good Detour, though all of the teams were very respectful and gracious towards their Masai hosts, which was a welcome relief. If they can't be human to each other, at least they know enough to respect well-dressed representatives of a foreign culture.
As a result of the antiquated, uncomfortable bikes required to reach the Detour, a couple teams gained or lost a little time, mostly meaning that Vanessa fell off her bike and swore a lot. It didn't matter.
It didn't matter because, in lieu of a Roadblock, teams had to set up an elaborate and structural secure tent and bush shower. This was well and truly difficult and required teamwork, but also some amount of physical strength and/or height. That's mostly how Nary & Jamie went from middle-of-the-pack to last place. They just weren't strong enough or coordinated to put together the tent on their own. There was zero chance they were going to be sent home for that, so it was no surprise when Phil told them it was a Non-Elimination Leg. Even Jamie & Nary were apparently expecting to remain safe, as even figuring they were in last heading to the Pit Stop, they paused their Ranger Rover journey to look at elephants.
And if the teams aren't going to care about lending suspense to the end of an episode, why should we care about feeling suspense?
A few other thoughts on the episode:
*** Rachel is totally just messing with Dave at this point. It seems like this is an equilibrium that works for her. So as they were putting together their tent and she started answering all of his bellowing with sarcastic "Yes sirs" and he eventually told her, "Shut your mouth," it ceased to be relevant whether or not they were functional as a couple or not. They won the Leg. They've now surpassed Art & JJ as the season's most successful couple, with four Leg wins. So... whatever works for them, I suppose.
*** One of these Legs, Mark & Bopper will successfully read a clue and pronounce the name of their next destination correctly. Not this Leg. However, they've moved up to second place and they remain functional as a couple, though they bickered a tiny bit in setting up their tent. Also? Enough with the banjos playing every single time Mark & Bopper do anything. We get it.
*** Can I return again to Nary & Jamie and their pointless lie? Jamie thought that Art & JJ finding out would be a chance to prove, "Our agency is better than theirs. Nary can kick their ass." Are Jamie & Nary delusional? We've had seven Legs and Jamie & Nary have finished behind the Border Guards in all seven Legs. They've rarely been close. I don't dislike the Fake Teachers. I just don't see the point in anything they've done.
Not much else to say about this week's episode. Did you have any thoughts?
Everything: The Amazing Race
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