It's true in life as on "The Amazing Race" - No matter how down you are, no matter how bad a day or week or month you're having, you should never quit and never give up, because you never know when your personal struggles and failures will come in a Non-Elimination Leg of Life.
 
[Most of the days and weeks and months of my life are Non-Elimination Legs, I must admit. But I'm not really competing for a million dollars in life, so eliminating me would just be petty.]
 
That's just me trying to extrapolate some sort of deep meaning from Sunday's "Amazing Race" episode, because otherwise the lesson is something like, "Just because an option is worded very poorly and complexly doesn't mean that it won't end up being much, much, much easier than the more simply worded option." Brevity of expression does not equate to ease in either life or "The Amazing Race."
 
More after the break...
 
That was pretty much the most inevitable Non-Elimination Leg in "Amazing Race" history, right? Seasons don't start with five straight eliminations ever, do they? [And yes, I've had that "NEL tingle" for two or three straight weeks. I dread Non-Elimination Legs like kids dread the first day of school. I start getting antsy about them two or three weeks before the premiere.]
 
So if you watched the entire episode assuming nobody was going home, you couldn't get too invested in Team Beekman, Josh & Brent, blowing roughly 40 minutes right at the opening bell looking for a marked cab stand, nor in Brent initially announcing his gifts with basic construction and then struggling on a Roadblock, nor a Detour selection mistake leading to a last place finish. We knew they weren't going to go home.
 
Similarly, and this happens semi-frequently on "The Amazing Race," it wasn't easy to feel much excitement about James & Abba winning their second straight Leg, since their Fast-Forward last week put them two hours ahead on Leg which, while unquestionably arduous, required no travel and therefore offered no chance for cab-related blunders. It appeared that the Twins arrived at the Detour just as James & Abba were finishing, but otherwise they didn't see another team the whole Leg. [I'm assuming that the gap between the teams at the front of the pack and the back is many hours at this point and that we'll begin next Leg with an equalizer.]
 
While you couldn't feel "excitement" about James & Abba winning their second straight Leg, "The Amazing Race" made sure that you couldn't help but root for them, beginning the episode by showing James' conversation with his family and his discovery that his father has Stage 4 cancer with no chance of remission. The show decided to show us a long Skype conversation between James and his wife and James' unguarded, crushed reaction. It wasn't the sort of moment "The Amazing Race" traffics in and I'm not completely sure how I feel about it. Usually when we're treated to what a team is doing on a computer before starting a Leg, it's a chance to plug Snapple or Ford or Travelocity and it's a shameless display. This was heartbreaking, but it also felt maybe like something that should have been private. You could sense the "Amazing Race" producers worrying that Lone Wolves James & Abba have been too aloof and separate this season and therefore that they haven't been easy to warm to. It worked. James & Abba are now a team I'll probably be able to root for throughout, but I wonder if every private family conversation of a similar sort would have received that amount of screentime. 
 
James & Abba won last week by a lot and they won this week by a lot and they've already made it a real challenge for Abbie & Ryan to live up to what has apparently been Ryan's lifelong goal (for a month or two, at least) to break Rachel & Dave's record for "Amazing Race" dominance set last season. Ryan & Abbie have won two Legs and finished second twice, but in order to beat Rachel & Dave, they're going to have to pretty much stop not-winning Legs. Of course, Rachel & Dave set the record last season even with Art & JJ winning three straight early Legs last season, so anything's possible.
 
I'm not really sure what to say about Sunday's Leg other than with temperatures running high in Bangladesh (Will & Gary told me in their exit interview that it was over 100 and that's not a shocker), we saw lots of perspiration and effort. I made sure to hydrate just watching the episode.
 
The Roadblock required one contestant to build a scale from scratch and then balance a quantity of wood to equal the weight of four heavy stones. Because of the phrasing of the clue -- "It ain't heavy, it's a Roadblock" -- some teams interpreted "ain't heavy" literally and assumed strength wouldn't be required, while other teams assumed any reference to weight, however confusingly veiled in a Hollies song title, meant that strength *would* be required. That meant there were a lot of players on the sideline saying they wished they'd done the Roadblock instead. The Roadblock gave Nadiya the chance to prove that she and Natalie remain a force even if they're the only remaining girl-girl team and let Jaymes showcase the hereditary skills he picked up from his carpenter father. It proved more difficult for Abbie -- Ryan was the leader of the "I should have done this Roadblock" brigade -- and Kelley and Brent. The knots and ropes and teepee structure confused me and I probably would have sucked at the Roadblock. What I appreciated about it was that while it was never clear which skills were or weren't being validated, the Roadblock caused a little shuffling in the Race standings, leading into a Detour that should have allowed for even more shuffling.
 
The choice was between Straw Dogs and Bamboo Jungle. In Bamboo Jungle, teams had to select 40 assorted bamboo poles and then transport them. In Straw Dogs, teams had to beat jute and transfer it to a factory and it sounded like a bunch of other stuff. 
 
Here's where wording comes into play. The Straw Dogs task was confusing on every level. Why the Peckinpah reference? What the heck is "jute"? Why did it seem like there were so many steps? In contrast, Bamboo Jungle was just "collect and deliver bamboo."
 
Every team but Abbie & Ryan opted for Bamboo Jungle and from what we saw Straw Dogs was definitely the less physically arduous task and the indications were that it was simply the faster and easy task. In Bamboo Jungle, not only was the bamboo heavy, but it was also really hard to navigate and then the biking, which required balancing both the weight and dimensions of the bamboo, seemed to be a pain. Add in the heat and several teams that went with Bamboo Jungle would have been smarter to do Straw Dogs. The Twins, for example, passed Abbie & Ryan at the Roadblock, but slipped behind them on the Detour. And there's at least a possibility that if the Beekmans had done Straw Dogs, as opposed to misinterpreting the clue and assuming Bamboo Jungle would require less effort, they could have passed the Chippendales.
 
Poor Chippendales! This looked like the episode everything was going to come together for them. They began in next-to-last, but Jaymes moved them up to fourth after the Roadblock and they rushed off to Bamboo Jungle saying they'd been looking forward to the chance to lift heavy things. They quickly discovered that there's a difference between being in shape -- nobody would dare say the strippers aren't in shape -- and being smart. Jaymes and James pushed too hard and drank too little and they were both collapsing, even before James miscounted his poles and they left three at the site, biked to the destination and had to go back.
 
"If you're gonna be dumb, you better be tough," James observed. Words to live by. And then Jaymes wiped out stumbling into the Pit Stop. It's hard to figure the Chippendales. Are they the team that has nearly been eliminated three times, usually due to mental errors? Or are they the team that finished a competitive third twice? One could ask the same thing about Trey & Lexi, with their two second place finishes and three middling results. 
 
 
Other thoughts on this week's episode?
 
*** I don't care how much Natalie's cheering annoys you (or Ryan), it was absolutely adorable that she got the Bangladeshi children to join her in cheering "Go Twinie!" And if it feels like Natalie is CONSTANTLY standing on the sidelines yelling "Go Twinie!" it's because Nadiya has done four of six Roadblocks so far. [Rob and Jaymes have also done four, while the other teams are even at three apiece, if you're scoring at home.] This was the fourth Top 4 finish for the Twins in five Legs and one should never forget they've got the Express Pass, should they need it. I'll leave it for you to decide how you feel about the Twins calling Abbie & Ryan "The Goras," which means "The Whites."
 
*** Abbie & Ryan didn't win the Leg, but they're the only team this season with Top 4 finishes in all five Legs. I also think that there was an amusing Jute Force/Pure Jew Force joke during the Detour, but it took me so long to understand that people were saying "jute" that I'm not sure. 
 
*** I really can't tell if the Twins and Abbie & Ryan are having good-natured competition or if we're one or two weeks away from a blow-up. The disagreement over whether Nadiya or Abbie was "dominating" felt right on the edge.
 
*** Rob didn't blame anybody for costing him a million dollars and he was a brute with the bamboo. But he tosses around 750 pound monster truck tires, so... Yeah. He's strong. 
 
*** The Beekmans are reality TV stars already. I feel like they should be more engaging. Am I wrong? They're just not getting their personalities out there very well. So all of that stuff about how they aren't quitters fell flat. The inevitability of the NEL didn't help.
 
*** Another episode in which the title for the episode came from a line that wasn't all that memorable and had nothing really to do with the body of the episode. 
 
Anyway... Do you have any thoughts on Sunday's episode?