Lest you think I actually prefer to grumble about "The Amazing Race" and can't enjoy a simple, clear and well-constructed Leg?

I give you Sunday (May 11) night's installment, "Hei Ho Heidi Ho."

Was it perhaps just a bit too dependent on seemingly arbitrary and minor travel misadventures? Well, yes. Both first place and last place for the Leg were determined by very tiny errors of direction. And although there were skill-based elements to the Roadblock, the Detour and a Route Marker task, the advantages gained or time lost ended up being deceptively minor.

But the tasks were fun, regionally specific and they were all designed to showcase the personalities of the contestants and I found myself really liking a few teams for the first time in weeks. These are the things I like in an "Amazing Race" episode, so I have to make sure I underline them whenever they occur.

Also, for the first time in weeks on "The Amazing Race," the competing teams treated the Leg like they were in a race for a million dollars. Nobody helped anybody else. Nobody got into pointless snits about perceived slights that were actually just part of the game.

I enjoyed it.

More after the break...

The Leg began with the mother of all foreshadowing confessionals as Rachel declared, "I'm so proud of myself because I haven't freaked out this entire time."

Now even if CBS hadn't teased Rachel's freak-out after last week's episode and in subsequent promos, we could have all just settled back and waited patiently for the inevitable meltdown. But Rachel did note the key piece of information: Last time she and Brendon competed, she was freaking out in seemingly every Leg, over absolutely nothing. This season, she's been pretty quiet, adhering to Brendon's "smarter not harder" maxim. Because of that relative quiet and because this freak-out was actually fairly well-earned, there was something satisfying about both seeing Rachel go berserk but also -- and this would not have been the case last time -- seeing her pull it together and survive the Leg.

But we'll get to that in a bit.

Sunday's Leg started in Seville and was followed by an equalizer flying to London, though that was followed by long individual drives to Liverpool in a fleet of Ford Foci. I've never quite known what the "Amazing Race" driving restrictions were. I know that obviously you can't drive like a lunatic from place to place, or else you'd have teams treating every bumpy dirt road like the Autobahn. The rule is something about sticking to the laws of the land, but does that mean strict observance of speed limits? Or observance of the social norms of speed limits? Can they drive five or 10 miles over the speed limit, but anything more results in narcing from their cameraman? I don't know. I was just wondering because London to Liverpool isn't a short drive and the difference in, say, 5 mph of driving speed could have been determinative. 

The teams had to go to Anfield, home of Liverpool FC and it was in this moment that I fully put aside my reservations about the Afghanimals. Their joy at being able to get into uniforms and take the turf at a venue that dates back to 1884 was so pure and so exactly what I would have wanted to do under the same circumstances that I became an absolute fan of the Afghanimals. You get me out on that field and I'm going to want to take that moment in just like they did. And none of the other teams had anywhere near that level of jubilation. So Team Afghanimals! [That partisanship didn't really last, sadly.]

The task? Each player had to score two penalty kicks on a pro goalkeeper (not necessarily a Premiere League goaltender, but all of the English football clubs have training rosters and I assume that's where these guys came from). 

This was a task that easily delineated between those who played a little rec soccer (or more) in their youths and those aren't close friends with coordination. Leo & Jamal maybe weren't quite as great as their initial declarations of soccer experience might have teased, but they were good. Brendon & Rachel, who also said they had played some soccer, looked like they'd played some soccer. Jen & Caroline, however? I'd say their goalie eventually stopped trying and that was the only way they were able to complete the task. I think he allowed a couple easy goals to sneak by. Similarly, Connor passing the challenge was a matter of pity more than aptitude. 

That would have been a fun task to perform.

The Roadblock was also terrific. Titled Poetry in Motion, it asked one play from each team to take a 15-minute canal cruise with an instructor during which time they had to learn a brief verse of poetry in Welsh. The language was hard. The judge was exacting. And after more than two weeks of travel and diminished sleep, memorizing anything has to be a major imposition. 

Jamal, Connor, Caroline and Brendon did the Roadblock and meanwhile, their partners stood off to the side and, for whatever reason, nobody fought. It was the damnedest thing.

"There's no reason to be catty, no reason to be anything but nice to one another, but it's tense," said Dave, who took the time in this episode to make several references to his advancing age. 

I enjoyed the spirit with which everybody attacked this task. Reminiscent of his performance in the Vienna Boy's Choir task last season, Jamal emoted, gesticulated and practically became a cartoon character. He was exactly the opposite of Connor, who caught some of the nuances of Welsh, but lacked "Oomph" as the judge put it. I giggled at Caroline's frustrations rolling her r's and chuckled at Brendon's admirable attempts to turn the verse into a song. And I was glad that the judge didn't pass a single contestant on the first time through.

Caroline and Brendon passed on the second attempt, while it took Jamal and Connor five and four attempts respectively.

The Detour then required going to an old manor house and, as Rachel put it, "We're just in Downton Abbey playing some games with the Downton Abbey-ers,"

The choice: Shoot It or Boot It.

In Shoot It, teams had to shoot down 16 clay pigeons with a 12-gauge shotgun. In Boot It, teams had to select a Size 9 and Size 11 Wellington boot, fill them with water and toss them across a great field. After each toss, you had to place a marker, refill your boot and toss it again. 

Shoot It wasn't hard if you could shoot. Boot It was tiring and arduous, but as long as you read the clue, it was hard to do it wrong. 

AS LONG AS YOU READ THE CLUE. 

Rachel & Brendon got to the Detour and decided to do Boot It and, for some reason, they started looking for Size 10 and Size 11 Wellies. Why Size 10, Rachel? Why?!? Here's what I'm talking about in terms of understanding the motivation for the meltdown, because I was practically having a meltdown watching Rachel go for the wrong size boot. They went across the field, grunting and sweating and boot-tossing.

In the process, other teams passed them. Jen, as we know, is John Wayne's granddaughter. Caroline, as we know, is a distant relation to Daniel Boone. Give those two a gun and they know what to do, especially Caroline. Making many references to Annie Oakley as they went, Jen & Caroline reminded me why I found them so appealing before they had to go and start the Not Like Us Alliance. More than any other time this whole season, they were doing a task on their own and completing it with aplomb. The same was true for Dave & Connor, specifically Connor, an Eagle Scout with a shooting merit badge. Connor slowed things down on the football pitch, but he was in control with the shooting. 

Those two teams finished at roughly the same time and they headed off to the Pit Stop without an exact sense of their destination. They got to the end of the long drive up to the manor and they had the choice to turn right or left. Neither team knew where they were going. The Blondes turned right. Dave & Connor turned left. And left was correct. That's how Dave & Connor won the Leg. This was their fifth Leg victory of the season and their third in a row. They're not going equal or top Rachel & Dave, but there's no question they've been the season's top team as we approach the finale. And that's impressive, because Dave is old, old, old, old, old, old.

Meanwhile, back at the Detour, Brendon & Rachel heaved their last boot and got to the end and... They had the wrong size boot! 

"I didn't know. I didn't know. I didn't know. I didn't know," Rachel wailed, going practically catatonic as Brendon resisted blaming her for an error that was very much hers and urged her, with no hostility or abuse, back to the starting line and talked her back into the right mindset to go again.

This was all happening as the Afghanimals arrived late at the Detour. They just didn't know where they were going and couldn't get there. I don't know how they got as lost as they did. So they did Shoot It and probably made things close. In fact, it briefly looked like they might find an advantage. Brendon & Rachel finished first and rushed out without knowing where they were going. Leo & Jamal stopped and asked people associated with the task where to go. Watching, we all wondered, "Will asking be the difference-maker?" 

Nope.

Brendon & Rachel turned left. 

Leo & Jamal turned right.

And that was that.

For the second consecutive season, the Afghanimals went out one Leg before the finale. 

But I liked them by the end of this Leg. 

And surely that's worth a million dollars, right?

A few other thoughts from tonight's Leg:

*** Jen & Caroline were eliminated on this Leg two seasons ago. They've now gone 22 "Amazing Race" Legs without coming in first once. I refuse to look jt up, but surely that's a record, right? It will be very, very, very odd if they win this season. But will it be odder than the Beekman win? The Blondes have six Top 4 finishes this season including two seconds. Before their win, John & Brent had only four Top 4 finishes and hadn't been above third the entire season. 

*** With five Leg wins and no finishes below fourth, Dave & Connor have really overcome Dave's oldness consistently. He would, as you may have heard, be the oldest Race winner ever. As for Brendon & Rachel, they have three Leg wins and a pair of seconds. They would not be undeserving winners either.

*** I'm still kinda giggling at Caroline's football pitch sendoff, "Bye, y'all. Love you long time." The Country Blondes had several good lines this week.

*** Jamal had his knee in a brace this episode after last week's Running With the Ballz incident. That was not what led to their elimination, nor did he blame anything on the injury.

*** I'm rooting for Brendon & Rachel in the finale. And that really confuses me.

*** Mighty Red is a good mascot.

*** Dave is old.

Thoughts on the Leg? Thoughts on the Afghanimals' departure? Who are you rooting for in the finale?