Recap: 'The Amazing Race' - 'It's Speedo Time'
In honor of Jean-Claude Van Damme, teams get greased up in Belgium
I dunno what to say about Sunday (November 20) night's "Amazing Race."
Every week I sit down to recap this show and every week, I write a full recap. Sometimes the recaps are poorly edited. Sorry. Some weeks the recaps are less inspired. Sorry for that as well. But a full recap gets posted every week, complete with a beginning -- intro and lead-up to the break -- a middle -- description of various challenges and whatnot -- and an end -- a few random observations and a bolded question asking what you thought of the episode.
Somehow, this season of "The Amazing Race" has lost all grasp on the beginning-middle-and-end narrative. After delivering the season's best episode last week, "The Amazing Race" limped back into its season-average form with the fourth time in nine episodes that the credits have rolled without a team going home. This week's episode -- not a Non-Elimination Leg, but one of the equally frustrating "Welcome to the Pit Stop, now continue with the Race" non-results -- ended the season's longest streak of episodes featuring an elimination at TWO.
That's just stupid and it has prevented me from getting any sort of emotional momentum in watching the Race. You should be watching every episode going "I hope my favorite teams don't get eliminated this week!" rather than "I wonder if anybody's going to be eliminated at all."
And Sunday's episode felt like an elimination-free Leg from very early on when it quickly became clear that too much time was being spent on too many things that weren't really placement factors, as the hour-mark got closer and closer and closer. I knew with 15 or 20 minutes left that there was no way the teams were all going to reach the Pit Stop by the end of the hour, so I had lots of time to marinate in frustrated anticipation.
[I'll say this again: In isolation, an elimination-free Leg or two might tick me off a little, but my increased ire at this season has been the distribution of such legs. There has to be a better way to do it, because this season's structure has been the worst way to do it. So there's no need to tell me "But they have to do elimination-free episodes to stretch out the season." I know this. Previous seasons have had different scatter patterns for NELs and whatnot. All have been better than this season in that particular respect.]
Click through for my recap of Sunday's "The Amazing Race"...
It's a pity, too, that Sunday's episode ended so inconclusively, because the episode started so very well.
Still in Copenhagen, teams had to go to a famous statue of Hans Christian Andersen and the Leg's Roadblock asked one player to memorize the famous verse from his "The Fairy Tale of My Life."
It's a great line: "To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, To gain all while you give, To roam the roads of lands remote: To travel is to live."
Can you think of any words that more perfectly encapsulate the ethos of "The Amazing Race"? Because I cannot. To travel is to live, indeed.
The participating players then had to follow instructions on their bike wheels, journey to a theater and recite the verse to "a period drama critic." Why a period drama critic when the verse isn't a piece of period drama? I don't know. But it was a perfectly viable task, even if it was our second, similarly presented memorization task of the season and featured many repeated participants from that first challenge.
It turned out that the period drama critic liked his recitations done with a certain amount of gesticulation, which led to failed readings from Sandy and from Tommy. He also liked his recitation done correctly, which led to one failed reading from Cathi. Cathi and Tommy also got lost going to the theater, which handed a bit advantage to Amani, who learned her lines quickly, got to the theater quickly and single-handedly made a one-hour deficit vanish.
Marcus & Amani went from fourth to second, but couldn't come close to catching Ernie & Cindy, who began the leg with a solid 90-minute lead, which they didn't relinquish in the early-going thanks to Cindy's flawless memorization and recitation.
So far so good, right?
Things remained solid for the next step of the Leg.
Teams had to rush off to Legoland, where they had to take a bag of Legos and use them to put together a puzzle showing their next location. The catch? The puzzle had to be completed on a Teacups-style spinning race that left multiple players -- Sandy and Amani in particular -- a bit green about the gills. Ernie & Cindy and then Marcus & Amani finished fast and that order remained intact. Bill & Cathi got lost going to Legoland and fell to fifth. The Snowboarders moved ahead of Jeremy & Sandy in the middle of the pack.
All teams were equalized at the Hamburg train station, where they had to catch a train to Brussels. Y'all know I hate equalizers and I particularly hate equalizers when they seem as totally unnecessary as this one. I just can't accept [even if it's true] that there was no way that Ernie and Cindy, with a massive and relatively well-earned lead, couldn't have made it to Belgium faster via some other form of transport through some other city, rather than being shoehorned through what was apparently the only train that could get people from Hamburg to Brussels the entire day.
Perhaps because we might otherwise have felt pity for Ernie & Cindy over their diminished advantage, they were then thrust into 10 minutes of high drama. Amidst their disappointment at the impending equalizer, somehow Cindy dropped the connecting ticket for their trip Cologne through to Brussels. We've spent a full season watching Ernie's mental gaffes hurt the team, so in this case the blame was placed on Cindy, who felt awful and looked like she might puke her way across the continent. Unable to find any sort of corrective measure, Ernie and Cindy got onto the train in Cologne utterly terrified at how they'd handle the conductor when he inevitably arrived. They went through the usual self-defeating "Oh no, we're out of the Race" nonsense.
No conductor came through, a not-uncommon circumstance as anybody who has ever trained across Europe can vouch.
"The whole lost ticket situation flew out the window," Cindy said, suddenly able to breathe again.
Whew. Glad we spent all of that time on that non-starter. [Let me observe here that I'm not saying that the editors should eschew situations in which there is stress and drama just because things ended up OK, just saying that within the context of this particular episode and given that it had no connection to Race order at all, the stressing over the lost ticket was pure filler and equalizer distraction.]
On to Brussels.
Sometimes "The Amazing Race" does an excellent job of expanding our knowledge of different foreign cultures.
And sometimes "The Amazing Race" gives us a bodybuilding task in Brussels because Jean-Claude Van Damme is arguably the most famous Belgian in the world, at least until the release of the Tintin movie.
So for a group task, all of the teams had to don orange bikinis and banana-hammocks, cover themselves in browning "competition oil" and learn a series of bodybuilding moves meant to accentuate different muscle groups and then demonstrate those moves for a panel of three judges giving scores between 1 and 5, requiring a combined score of 12 to advance.
We spent an astounding amount of time watching our remaining five teams lube each other up and flex and stretch and thrust in Speedos.
Your "eye candy" results may vary.
I first want to give credit to our group of "Amazing Race" contestants for being in reasonably terrific shape, collectively. Grandparents Bill & Cathi are damn healthy. Ernie and Jeremy and Sandy all know their ways around a gym and Cindy's not a disaster. The Snowboarders are Olympians and Marcus, as you may have heard, played in the National Football League. There are definitely people in the world who I'd want to see greased up in skivvies less than this group. But there's also nobody around who I was especially giddy to see participate in this task. Like I said, your results may vary.
Might I have had different feelings if Liz & Marie or The Showgirls were still around?
But this was one of those instances where I felt no regret at watching the episode on East Coast time on a low-def Slingbox, rather than waiting around and watching the bodybuilding in HD. I was surprised at how little pixelation I noticed on my reduced screen -- mostly related to Amani's side-boob, oddly enough -- but I won't be rushing to watch again on my wide-screen.
Regardless, Marcus & Amani had the proper enthusiasm and energy (and muscle groups) and finished first, while Ernie & Cindy recovered from their train debacle and an early low score to get out the door second.
After being told they had won a trip to Panama, Marcus & Amani were handed their next clue.
I guess I'm assuming that whoever gets to the mat in fifth at the start of the next episode will be relieved to know that they're still in the Race.
Any other thoughts on this episode?
*** I was unsure about Marcus' efforts to psyche Amani out and confuse her during the memorization process, but we didn't see her complain and you probably can't argue with the results. I thought Marcus' delirious astonishment at how quickly Amani finished was quite endearing, as was her "You don't know who you're rollin' with." And did you know Marcus was in the NFL, because he was so excited he said, "We just took the opening kickoff and ran it for a touchdown. That is unreal."
*** Was Cathi *always* Debra Jo Rupp from "That '70s Show" or is she just becoming Debra Jo Rupp as the Race progresses?
*** Nobody actually puked on the Teacups. That was disappointing. It was very predictable that the Snowboarders were the only team to give themselves extra Teacups spinning after they completed their puzzle.
*** Jeremy and Sandy struggled with the Teacups, which Sandy called the toughest thing they had to do all Race, but they also got the only "5" thus far from the bodybuilding judges. Kudos, I guess?
*** One last thing on the lack of elimination: If you have to have an episode like this, find a way to do it as a cliffhanger. At least then there's suspense. This was just an incomplete Leg.
*** No Exit Interview this week. Oh well.
It's not like there weren't good things in this Leg. Did you find enough to enjoy before the end?