Recap: 'The Amazing Race' - 'This Is Wicked Strange'
Teams head to Azerbaijan for fun with oil and apples and hay
It was only two weeks ago that I mused on the problematic nature of the "Amazing Race" Fast-Forward.
"Fast-Forwards are almost never any good, are they? And the show has structured them so badly that you almost never have two teams competing for the Fast-Forward because everybody knows that the tasks are easy, so the Fast-Forward becomes a reward for the first team to the clue, which is an arbitrary thing to reward."
With Sunday (March 25) night's episode, I was proven both right and wrong, as "The Amazing Race" had its second Fast-Forward of the month.
On one hand, two teams competed for the Fast-Forward, which was exactly what I said didn't happen nearly enough.
On the other hand -- the more practical hand -- not only was it the first two teams to reach the clue who attempted the Fast-Forward, but the Fast-Forward proved to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It was a difficult task, in an episode without a difficult Detour or Roadblock, meaning that the team that completed the Fast-Forward ended up winning the Leg and the team that didn't complete the Fast-Forward ended up going home, because there was no opportunity to make up time by excelling at later challenges.
That meant that we deviated from the Only One Team Attempts the Fast-Forward norm exactly long enough to convince future competing teams that the dice roll that comes from attempting a Fast-Forward you know another team is attempting just isn't worth it. Attempting the Fast-Forward led to a 50 percent chance of winning the Leg and a 50 percent chance of total elimination. Not attempting the Fast-Forward had a 100 percent success rate in terms of not-being-eliminated, which is kinda the goal when you're gunning for a million bucks and not just the week's sponsored prize package.
So when a silly recapper like me dares to question why multiple "Amazing Race" teams rarely go for the same Fast-Forward, we have our cautionary tale in place.
Full recap after the break...
[All action in this leg took place in Baku, Azerbaijan. I had no mental image of Baku, Azerbaijan so the episode was quite enlightening in that respect. The flight from Munich was an equalizer. Stupid equalizers.]
Don't do what Joey "Fitness" & Danny did do. That'll be the lesson. It shouldn't have to be that way. Danny & Joey "Fitness" didn't perform badly on what was an admirably tough Fast-Forward, that asked teams to toss and stack 150 bales of hay in a formation 10 across, three wide and five high. There was a strength component and a structural component and, in the end, it seemed that Dave & Rachel simply did it slightly better. I guess if we're scapegoating, it seemed like Joey "Fitness" was nervous about tossing bales from the edge of the roof for fear that he'd end up jeopardizing his own footing, while Dave seemed not to be worried about his standing position. When Dave & Rachel finished, Joey "Fitness" and Danny were only a few minutes from finishing themselves. They did a good job!
Dave & Rachel's reward? First place and a pair of new Fords. That's a pretty big prize for a Fast-Forward Leg, if you ask me. But we knew this was an especially Ford-y episode because when the teams departed Bavaria and headed to Munich, we had to get close-ups of the logos on each and every one of their cars. Just in case you worried that six of the teams were driving Fords and one team got a lucky Mercedes. Ford: The reward for teams who successfully cut corners!
Joey "Fitness" and Danny's reward for coming close? Inevitable elimination. The structural flaw is beyond easy to see. If you have a Fast-Forward in a Leg in which the other challenges consume little-to-no time, there's no way on Earth a team failing the Fast-Forward can come back. They might just as well quit. On the other hand, if you only put the Fast-Forward in Legs in which either the Detour or the Roadblock is devilishly hard -- thing Unrolling Bales of Hay or an especially grotesque eating challenge -- then you give multiple teams incentive to try for the Fast-Forward both because avoiding the Roadblock/Detour would be a prize in and of itself and because you'd be aware the deficit wouldn't be insurmountable, so why not give it a shot?
On Sunday's episode, both the Roadblock and the Detour had fairly finite timeframes.
In the Roadblock, one Racer from each team had to go in a helicopter simulation capsule and simulate and water crash. They had to capsize, flip, knock out the window and swim to safety.
From the producers' point-of-view, it's a task that's valuable under exactly one circumstance: If you sucker a player with crippling phobias into doing the Roadblock and they FREAK OUT. Lacking a crippling phobia, I don't want to say that the task was "easy," but we didn't see a single contestant have to do it twice. It did not appear to be possible to screw the task up. And, heck, the first three teams to reach the Roadblock even did it in tandem and all finished in the exact same period of time. That's a bad Roadblock. Sorry. The producers' only hope was Vanessa, who claimed to be both claustrophobic and hydrophobic. Yahtzee, right? Vanessa did a little minor hyperventilating and the segment was cut so that we kept seeing her hand against the window as we cut to commercial.
"OH GOD! THEY KILLED VANESSA!" I wrote sarcastically in my notes.
And when we returned from commercial, Ralph was worried something horrible had happened to his girlfriend, but she finished in the same one shot that everybody else took.
Then we had two Detours which both offered chances for photogenic amusement, but neither one of which offered real difficulty.
The choice? Apples or Oil.
In Apples, teams had to go and rummage through old Soviet Era cars stuffed with apples attempting to find one specially marked "Amazing Race" apple in each car. There were green apple cars and red apple cars. I don't get why teams would do a red apple car. "Amazing Race" markers are always red-and-yellow. Red stands out against green. It doesn't stand out against red. But anywho... It was a quintessential needle-in-a-haystack challenge, so quintessential that multiple teams referenced the challenge as a needle-in-a-haystack challenge. You don't voluntarily choose needle-in-a-haystack challenges, y'all. We know this. And yet
In Oil, teams had to go to a spa where Azerbaijani men bath in oil. Teams then had to scrape and wash the oil off of hairy Azerbaijani men. Audience members then had to contemplate a country in which oil is so plentiful people bath in it, while wondering how much we paid for a tank of gas when last we were at the pumps. Ugh.
The Oil Detour was easy and it was just there for teams to make "funny" "jokes" about hairy Azerbaijani men and their oil-covered backs, groins and feet. Art & JJ did most of the joking and finished first. Mark & Bopper were amused and finished second. There wasn't any way to mess up the task and whether you figure it took 10 minutes or 20 minutes to clean one dude, it wasn't arduous.
The Apple Detour was a smidge harder just because of that whole needle-in-a-haystack thing. But it wasn't *that* hard because each car had a magic apple and you can really only fit so many apples in a car and it really only takes so long to take all of the apples out of a car. That meant that even the teams that took a little longer at the cars -- Vanessa & Ralph, for example -- never got frustrated.
The editors made the most half-hearted attempt at tension at the end. Vanessa & Ralph finished the Detour and their cabbie vanished! Uh-oh! Danny & Joey "Fitness" arrived at the Detour and because they did a green apple car, they finished fast. Uh-oh! It looked like Danny & Joey "Fitness" moved into the lead because they got their cab quickly and Ralph and Vanessa were still standing around. Drama! But then one cut later, Ralph & Vanessa were running to the mat. Yawn
As I said last week, Joey "Fitness" and Danny were growing on me a little, with their goofy enthusiasm, goofy hats and general goofiness. I'd much rather have kept them around than The Hated Rachel & Brendon or The Personality-Less Nary & Jamie.
Other highlights from this Leg:
*** When I do my exit interviews, I always ask the teams for their favorite moments that weren't shown on TV, because I always suspect that some of the best cultural moments on the show don't get featured on CBS, because you've gotta give the 43 minutes of episode time to competition, rather than hobnobbing with the locals. That's why I was really glad we saw the teams all dancing at the Temple of Fire in Azerbaijan. It was a rare moment in which everybody was just having fun and being immersed.
*** Art & JJ didn't seem to know the "You can only get one Fast-Forward per Race" rule and so they appeared to deliberate and then decided not to try and then in the cab, one of them had what sounded almost like an ADRed line explaining said rule. Art & JJ almost certainly would have beaten the other two teams at the Fast-Forward, had they attempted it.
*** Mark barfing from travel sickness? Endlessly funny. Apparently. I liked Team Kentucky's excitement at seeing "Azerbaijan," being unable to read "Azerbaijan" and deciding they were off to Africa. Plus, Bopper apparently has a crush on Jamie, which is kinda funny.
*** I also find it funny that Dave's highest praise for Rachel is, ""You're a frickin' workhorse." I don't think he's capable of any kinder words than those. And Rachel & Dave had a functional week this week, which was good, right down to approaching the Pit Stop and Dave's declaration, "I can smell Phil's cologne."
*** Vanessa & Ralph also had a drama-free Leg. I approve of their decision to make "Cheese and Crackers!" into their catch-all substitution for swearing in moments of stress. You'd think my favorite Vanessa moment of the episode would be her announcement that she was going commando, but I preferred when Joey "Fitness" was ranting at Danny (or possibly vice versa) for taking time out to say "Hi" to other contestants and then camera pivoted around to watch Vanessa standing two feet behind it and she gamely said, "Hi!"
*** I look forward to asking Joey "Fitness" and Danny how I was supposed to be able to tell them apart.
*** No new episode next week. Oh well.
Did you enjoy this Leg? Will you miss Danny & Joey "Fitness"?