I guess I should give thanks to Wednesday's baseball rain delay for pushing "The X Factor" to Sunday and allowing me the rare opportunity to check out "The Amazing Race" in HD for the first time this season (and maybe only the second or third time in total).
 
"The Amazing Race" still looks fantastic in HD and I wonder if the HD shift was at least partially responsible for bringing Jerry Bruckheimer back into the winners' column at the Emmys last month. This week's episode included a scratching monkey, beautiful floating cities and fetching (but still indistinguishable) sunburnt Twins Liz and Marie, all in HD. The Detour task with the windblown rainbow umbrellas was also made for high definition.
 
So yeah, either this recap is going to be all about the beauty of "The Amazing Race" in HD, or I'm going to be force to spend a while grumbling, because we've had four episodes this season and only two of them have ended with a team (or teams) going home.
 
Yup. It was another Non-Elimination Leg. Even if it saved a team that I like looking at, you'll have to forgive me if I'm not enthused.
 
Full recap after the break...
 
I was very pleased about last week's "Amazing Race," but this week was back to the litany of normal annoyances.
 
We'll start at the beginning.
 
Snowboarders Andy & Tommy and Adventurers Zac & Laurence had big leads after last week's leg, both well over an hour ahead of Sandy & Jeremy. Both teams rushed to the airport and, for some weird reason, only booked flights as far as Jakarta, but didn't book connecting flights from Jakarta to Phuket, Thailand, their actual destination. All of the subsequent were bunched within 25 minutes and they all booked flights from Jakarta straight through to Phuket. Well, silly Snowboarders and Adventurers, they thought in Jakarta there would be flights to Phuket every 15 minutes or something, but instead they discovered that they were going to have to fly through Bangkok, wasting oodles of precious time. As a result, they squandered their hour+ lead and fell 50 minutes behind all of the rest of the teams. [We were left without a clue whether or not there might have been an earlier Jakarta-to-Phuket direct flight that the first group didn't even look into.] I like it when teams are able to capitalize on their advantages on "The Amazing Race," but I also like when travel intelligence either pays off or bites you in the butt. Instead, all teams went from the Phuket airport to a marina... that didn't open until the next morning.
 
STUPID EQUALIZERS. 
 
I think the only way the equalizer could have been circumvented is if the Snowboarders and Adventurers had booked their full trip initially and if there had been a Jakarta-to-Phuket direct that had allowed them to get into Phuket in late afternoon. But that would have put those two teams almost a day ahead of the others, so it's a safe bet that the producers knew the teams would all be equalized in Phuket. And that, as always, irks me.
 
It's too bad that I have to get annoyed, because  the marina equalizer led to a really good Detour out on a gorgeous tropical island. The choice: Coral Reconstruction or Beach Preparation. In Coral Reconstruction, teams had to build a coral nursery and then kayak out a short distance, plant the nursery and plant the coral. In Beach Preparation, teams had to collect 20 chairs and 10 umbrellas and set them up properly for for a beach club.
 
Smart money says that doing the altruistic or charitable option will almost always be the correct Detour, right? I mean, if Phil Keoghan is going to talk about how Phuket is still recovering from the 2004 tsunami and this task will let teams help the ongoing rebuilding, surely the task that ACTUALLY helps the rebuilding would be the "correct" choice, rather than setting up some cabanas, right?
 
Wrong.
 
The Coral Reconstruction task was fraught with difficulties, starting with the basic construction of the nursery, but continuing to far more serious issues with currents and swimming/paddling strength. Of the eight teams, six chose to do Coral Reconstruction, but only two completed it. The Snowboarders turned out also to be surfers and their understanding of currents let them zip through the difficult underwater part of the task and they easily finished first, on their way to a third consecutive leg win. The only other team to finish Coral Reconstruction? Oddly, it was Justin & Jennifer, who caught a break when their nursery wedged itself under a rock, an accident that accomplished exactly what the snowboarders did intentionally. Justin & Jennifer raced along and finished second and perhaps because of the lack of adversity, they were likable for the first time.
 
That meant that three teams -- Jeremy & Sandy, Marcus & Amani and Bill & Cathi -- attempted to do Coral Reconstruction, but had to quit. [The other team that initially meant to do Coral Reconstruction was Zac & Laurence, but they misread the sign, ended up at Beach Preparation and, rather correctly, realized that they might as well just do it.]
 
But Beach Preparation wasn't all that easy either. As we learned in the finale of last "Amazing Race" season, setting up umbrellas and whatnot looks really easy until exactly the moment the wind starts to blow and then everything stinks, especially if you have very little upper body strength and you're left trying to steady windblown umbrellas that could take you out to sea. This was the challenge that nearly crushed the poor Twins, who just couldn't fight out how to get their umbrellas to stay in place, despite an early announcement that they'd previously been ocean lifeguards. This was also the challenge that finally brought out a little personality from Jeremy & Sandy, though in his case, "personality" only meant that he turned out to be another of those annoying "Amazing Race" boyfriends who begin blaming their girlfriends for mistakes the second anything goes wrong.
 
The Detour led to a navigation challenge that only proved that Ernie & Cindy did extensive preparation for "The Amazing Race," but didn't learn North from South. Ooops. And that progressed to a Roadblock, a rock-climbing challenge that initially looked steep and treacherous, but must not have been, because nobody complained about height or effort in securing the next clue. 
 
We finally ended up at a floating village that included a floating soccer stadium where I now truly want to play. I think the Snowboarders and Justin  & Jennifer probably finished a good way ahead of the other teams. Marcus & Amani reached the floating village in third, but got lost and they were passed by Jeremy & Sandy, the Adventurers and Ernie & Cindy. Bill & Cathi were seventh. 
 
We don't know how far back the Twins were, but my hunch is "a lot." They never spotted other teams at the Roadblock and as they approached the floating city, the editors didn't even try to make it look like they were close to Bill & Cathi. But then the Twins got to Phil and he told them they were the last team to arrive and then he let them ramble for a while about how much this experience meant to them and at home, everybody's going, "Oh geez. Another NEL?!?" And, indeed, they will survive until next week's Temporarily Irritation Penalty.
 
 
Other thoughts on this week's leg...
 
*** It was a strange leg for the Twins from start to finish. They got to Phuket and didn't exchange their Indonesian money? And then their first cab driver gave them a free ride? For being cute, blonde Americans? But then knowing that they'd arrived at the marina far ahead of the 8 a.m. opening, they didn't use some of that extra time to go get money changed? It appears that currency will play a role in next week's episode, which is just annoying. I also felt really sad for the Twins as the evil Thai men laughed at them and their umbrella plight, but I wonder if that laughter was purely a function of editing? 
 
*** Other than the minor differences in size, I still can't tell Liz from Marie. Has anybody else picked up any identifying clues?
 
*** I've disliked Justin & Jennifer for the first three legs of this Race, but then they made consecutive references to "Titanic" (not very impressive) and then to "Goonies" (much better) and now I'm feeling like they're one more good reference away from being lovable goofballs. Yup, all it takes is one One-Eyed Willie reference to get into my good graces.
 
*** Bill's "Chop, chop!" treatment of cabbies: Kinda vaguely racist/xenophobic? Or acceptable because he's kinda an older guy and it's generational?
 
*** I love how most of the teams got the map to the Pit Stop after the Roadblock and basically pointed to the captains and said "Do you know where this is?" and made it easily and then sailors Zac & Laurence attempt to do actual nautical mumbo-jumbo and nearly got lost at sea.
 
*** I still like Amani's tolerance of Marcus' excitability, especially her understanding of his need for motivational catch-phrases like "Go crazy!" I also liked how they made their Detour choice -- the wrong choice, it turned out -- because it went with a nature special they'd been watching with their kids.
 
*** Why have this season's episode titles been so less-than-memorable? This is the fourth straight week I've either barely remembered who said the title or barely remembered the context of the title. Does that reflect lame, quote-starved contestants?
 
What'd you think of this week's leg?