Welcome to Africa... Goats and donkeys.
Last week's episode sucked, but you came back with a new episode immediately.
This week's episode was really solid, so naturally "The Amazing Race" is taking next Sunday off in favor of one of the 75 country music award shows I'm basically convinced are elaborate charades to help Taylor Swift feel better about her various breakups.
To that, I can only say, "Boo."
But regarding tonight's episode? An agreeable, "Yay." Sunday's episode featured some amusing and photogenic nature, some interesting and difficult tasks, some previously unexplored travel miscues, minimal cultural myopia and racism and a reasonably exciting conclusion. When folks say that I judge "The Amazing Race" by too high a standard, I say, "Not true." And this can be a good illustration for a solid, engaging episode of "The Amazing Race."
More after the break. Then I'll take a week off. Except for all of the other things I do.
Until a week or two ago, I don't think I would have expected to be as disappointed as I am to see Pam & Winnie go. The two friends never necessarily developed distinctive individual personalities -- Winnie is taller and that's about all I was able to do and before you cry "Racist!" I can only tell Jen and Caroline apart by the same standard -- but as a duo, they were reliably funny, reliably enthusiastic and reliably strong. And, wouldn't you know it, in convenient reality TV
editing style, they accurately predicted their downfall before they left for this Leg of the Race. If I'm ever on "The Amazing Race," I'm gonna have to put a lot of thought into my pre-Leg confessionals. If you accentuate the positive and say what you've done well, you're inviting ironic humiliation. If you accentuate the negative, you're just giving them foreshadowing fodder. I can't instantly think of how put the whammy on the other teams, or maybe on the production, but I'll give it thought before my first Leg.
As the episode begin, Pam & Winnie were in second place and they announced that so far, their strong suit had been their minds (FUTURE IRONY!), but that they preferred not to necessarily go head to head with any other teams (FORESHADOWING!).
"We race the best when we race alone," Winnie observed.
"This show should just be about us." Pam agreed.
So anyway, we started with a friendly flash of the teams spending a night together at a safari resort and checking out the animals before kicking off a Leg that started with a fair amount of driving and navigation.
Making teams find their way around a strange country is always potentially fun and as Team YouTube observed, with each year, the contestants become less and less capable of reading maps and more and more reliant on GPS to get anywhere in their regular lives. So Team YouTube struggled and got lost trickled from the middle of the pack to the end.
Fortunately for them, some teams were having even worse problems. In another piece of foreshadowing, one of the early teams out on the road observed that there was a speed track in which the limit dropped to 60 kph.
First to fall victim to the speed trap were Caroline & Jennifer, with Caroline getting pulled over for doing 96. Or at least I think it was Caroline? Wait. No. My notes tell me Jennifer. Whatever. The blondes, prone to talking themselves out of speeding tickets -- Apparently the answer to the "What Would Jesus Do If He Got a Speeding Ticket?" eternal question -- tried to negotiate with the local cops, but to no avail. I was wondering why they were wasting time with the half-hearted flirting until it turned out that the 820 pula fine had to be paid immediately and in person at the local police station. I guess the "Amazing Race" rules say that you can't depart a country without paying any outstanding penalties, which means that the Ohio parking ticket I've never paid probably wouldn't be good "Amazing Race" etiquette. The Country Blondes also didn't have any pula, which produced a strange situation in which Caroline entered the police station and wasn't allowed to leave and Jennifer was allowed to leave the station, but wasn't able to go to a money exchange, so she had to hand currency to a stranger and trust he would return with their pula. He did. How nice.
The Country Blondes might have been in trouble, except that they weren't the only teams have having traffic problems.
Masterful backseat driver Katie warned Max that the speed limit was 60 exactly in time for him to get his speed down to 76, which is still enough to get pulled over by the po-po in Botswana. That's probably a valuable lesson for us all and it's definitely cause for Katie to gloat.
"He's supposed to be the man. He can't find the parked car. He gets a speeding ticket," Katie said.
Because Katie & Max got that ticket and had to pay, but because they had pula and didn't require money-changing, but because Max pulled out of the police station and backed into a pole dinging up the back of their vehicle, they arrived in the the vicinity of the next Route Marker exactly in time for Team YouTube to spot them and draft behind all the way to the first task. All for want of a nail, as the expression goes. If not for any of the problems on the way, Max & Katie might have gotten then five minutes earlier and Team YouTube might still be driving lost in the wilderness.
Amusingly, by the time Kate & Max got to the clue box, the Leg was basically over.
Hockey Brothers Bates & Anthony started in first and got to the clue box and opted to do a Fast-Forward that required teams to ski for one mile in a crocodile-infested river. Bates was worried about his ability to get up at all and nobody explained whether or not it was required to be up consecutive for the full mile or if you could periodically fall down. It didn't matter. They got up swiftly and went down the river and coasted to their third Leg victory of the season, including a $15,000 prize. I like Bates & Anthony just fine, so they can continue to win if they want, I guess.
Because the other teams couldn't do the Fast-Forward, they did a Roadblock that asked "Who wants to go up a creek without a paddle?" The Roadblock required one player from each team to transport two goats up-stream in a dugout canoe. Now baby goats are no baby monkeys, but in lieu of baby monkeys, baby goats will do. The animals provided an occasionally adorable and occasionally distracting side to the challenge. I especially liked Caroline running after the goats telling them how much she loved them. Caroline, if you'll recall, previously also announced she always wanted a monkey and, if we trust Jennifer, owned a flying squirrel who lived in her bra and died of loneliness.
I liked this Roadblock, because unlike most of this season's tasks, some people did well, other people did poorly and there was a chance for at least some movement within the ranks. Winnie, for example, proved to be quite excellent at the paddling and did it standing up, in true native style. Wynona, in contrast, wasn't very good, did most of her paddling seated and had to endure Chuck's grumbling. And Caroline, after she was able to corral her stubborn goats -- "I know you don't want to play with me. I get it. I wouldn't want to play with me either." -- proved to be excellent at paddling and briefly the Country Girls passed the Derby Moms.
Paddling decently also allowed Max to keep things close with Team YouTube. Max & Katie faced a Speed-Bump after last week's Non-Elimination Leg and they had to finish beading a traditional dress, get smeared in ceremonial grease and do a seduction dance. They had fun with the Speed-Bump and having fun with things always makes me like teams more. This also was a slightly less egregiously easy Speed-Bump than some we've seen in recent years, so I won't complain about it, even if I don't know how long it took.
Teams were all rushing to a safari lodge and a Detour choice between Brains and Brawn. In Brains, teams had to ride horses around an animal spotting course, noticing 10 animal silhouettes and keeping track of their order before doing a memory task putting tiles featuring those animals in that order. In Brawn, teams had to fill a cart with a load of sticks and then lead a team of donkeys a half-mile.
My own instinct: Never put your fate in the hand/paw/hooves of animals. They can be uncooperative. These seemed to be reasonably agreeable donkeys. Seemed.
Pam & Winnie got to the Detour and chose Brawn, but as they were struggling initially with their donkeys, several other teams arrived and began having more luck. It's here that we remember that the episode began with Pam & Winnie saying they hated the pressure brought on by proximity to other teams. So off they went to Brains, after always slipping from second to the middle.
Brains didn't require *that* much brains. After all, Team Alabama chose to do it. I mock, but it turns out that Chuck, who we already know is an ace hunter and taxidermy enthusiastic, has always dreamed of coming to African and killing a wide assortment of exotic animals, so he was able to recognize and retain many of the animals. And Wynona made a song. They finished Brains on their first shot and even avoided the trick presented by the cutout of a bird atop a hippo, which was only meant to represent the bird.
That tricky cutout somewhat proved to be Pam & Winnie's undoing. They went through the course and missed one of the cutouts, but decided that the hippo-and-bird was meant to be two animals (even though there was no available picture of a hippo, only a rhino). They failed twice and finally went back and did Brawn, which was the faster task, head-to-head, anyway. But it was too late. Pressure from other teams and then a mental error did them in. Oh well.
A few thoughts on this week's episode:
*** Lots of fauna was edited into this episode without interacting with the contestants themselves. Bates & Anthony didn't see a crocodile until the very end of their skiing adventure, but we saw dozens of crocodiles who looked eager to devour a pair of hockey players, if they'd been anywhere even vaguely nearby. Then there were all of the monkeys, including the money who perfectly pantomimed the stick-paddling gesture as the players struggled on the Roadblock.
*** Line of the episode: Pam's not-even-slightly bitter, "Crying is for bitches." I guess that couldn't be the episode title. But who even said the episode title? Was that also Pam? I know that she had the cow-related line of the episode when she looked at the roadside bovines and said, "These don't look like California happy cows."
*** Katie was just EVIL this episode. And not in a bad way. Just in an evil way. She mocked Max's driving, his ticket, his fender-bender and even his grammar and she loved ever second of it.
*** Euphemisms of the episode: "Exchanging pula" definitely sounds dirty, as does Chuck's advice of, "Push hard babe. Run your hand up the pole." Wynona was the only person to complain about the aroma of Africa this week. So there's that.
That's about it for me, especially since I have to go watch "The Walking Dead" finale while I remain unspoiled.... Did you enjoy this Leg? Will you miss Pam & Winnie?
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