I just wish there was a way to avoid the inevitability that plagued Sunday (December 1) night's "Amazing Race."
 
I knew it was a Non-Elimination Leg before we started watching.
 
You knew it was a Non-Elimination Leg before you started watching. 
 
I can't say with absolute certainty that the contestants were able to do the math and know that it was a Non-Elimination Leg, but despite nearly constant references to timing during Sunday's episode, there was no sign that any of the four remaining teams felt an iota of urgency, so I'm guessing that they were reasonably confident on the math. When "Amazing Race" teams feel no urgency or drama, it's hard for people watching the show to feel much urgency or drama. 
 
And that sucks when you have an "Amazing Race" Leg which, under different circumstances, would have been filled with amusing things. Instead, it was just teams shuffling positions ahead of what will be a much more exciting first hour to next weekend's finale. 
 
More after the break...
 
Before the season, when I interviewed the "Amazing Race" contestants in interviews I never ran, but which have kept me informed throughout the fall, I asked Tim & Marie if they had any conspicuous phobias that might come into play this season.
 
"I'm not into eating gross stuff," Marie said without hesitation. "But I'm picky with that, so anything eating related is going to have to be him. I would eat a grasshopper before I'd eat a hot dog, if that makes any sense. It's just kinda what I think. So I hope we don't have to eat anything gross."
 
So I was well-prepared for what ended up being an impressively Marie-heavy episode of "The Amazing Race," an episode which defied our expectations of Marie and also would have both reinforced and defied gender roles, if only it had any interest in consciously addressing gender roles. Actually, there were a lot of things in this episode that set us up for potentially big moments only to fizzle out.
 
We began in Indonesia with the teams rushing off to participate in what they knew was going to be an eating challenge, which inevitably meant a gross-eating challenge, since "Amazing Race" only occasionally just lets teams eat in a culturally normal way. There was that one in Chicago where teams just had to eat a personal-sized deep dish pizza. That wasn't even vaguely a gross challenge and it still had teams complaining.
 
Tonight's gross-eating challenge involved chowing down on some roasted cobra and whining all the way. Yes, the cobra was a bit scaly and boney, but while they had to eat the skin, they didn't have to eat the bones and... Stop moaning and groaning and eat your little chunk of snake for the chance at a million bucks.
 
Amy got excited about the eating challenge. That's why we like Amy. Travis and Nicole were practical about the eating challenge, with Travis observing "Being physicians, we don't get freaked out by animal parts, human parts." That's why we liked Travis & Nicole before we started hating them last week. [For a reminder of that, we had Nicole admitting that she and Travis first fell in love when he was her supervising physician and that he sometimes treats her as a student or a child. Ick.] Leo & Jamal responded to the task exactly like you'd expect, with lots of noise and freaking out, but eventual efficiency, as well as with a couple totally pointless lies to the other teams about how Tim & Marie had already sipped through.
 
Tim & Marie had zipped through nothing. In fact, they went to the wrong entrance to the facility with the cobra-cooking and by the time they realized they'd made a mistake and were able to admit it and correct it, the other three teams had already finished the cobra eating because it's really not such a big deal to eat a chunk of snake meat. 
 
So Tim & Marie finally got to the snake-eating and we were all awaiting some huge blow-up. Marie said she couldn't do it. She threatened to throw up. She looked ready to cry. But eventually, she announced "I can't be the girl who didn't eat the snake" and started swallowing the bits whole with water, which she knew was snake-like. Tim proved to be higher drama and gave us the episode title, but if you were expecting a big Marie melt-down? No dice. 
 
Marie Anti-Climax No. 2 came at the Roadblock, which asked contestants to collect 60 eggs, go on a bumpy moped ride through the jungle to an active volcano and then boil the eggs in a heated basin. For reasons of strange interpretation, we somehow ended up Travis and Jason doing the task, even if Amy and Nicole both sounded more confident about egg boiling. If you were hoping for "Wages of Fear"-meets-slapstick comedy egg hijinks, no dice. Nobody dropped a single darned egg. What's the point?
 
The egg challenge was interesting because there was a way to be successful with absolute certainty: Wait patiently. Easy. You can debate the merit of boiling an egg for eight minutes or 10 minutes or whatever, but those are discussions that matter when you're pondering the creation of a perfect hard-boiled egg in which the white is solid and the yolk is richly yellow and settled, but not overcooked. Screw that. If pulling your egg one minute early can mean that you have to go back and reboil eggs from scratch, why wouldn't you keep your egg in the water for two minutes extra? Or five? Or even 10? Nobody was going to be judged for over-boiling, just under. The answer? Because when you're racing for a million bucks, sometimes you have to devour chunks of cobra and sometimes you decide to cut corners on egg boiling. 
 
So Travis and Jason became convinced they'd boiled their eggs enough and left. Jamal was determined to be more patient, but only slightly more patient and he left seconds earlier. All three men were left with icky runny eggs and they had to go back and start over. The moped ride was eight minutes each way and they must have wasted a lot of time on the egg chopping and going up and down the winding paths. When you can save 30 minutes by spending an extra five minutes on something and guaranteeing you've done it right... Yeah. I know. Easy for me to say.
 
The three leading teams may have goofed the first time and wasted that half-hour, but they all finished on the second time and we were set up perfectly for potential hilarity with Marie, who reached the Roadblock and immediately announced she'd never boiled and egg before. Oh, we were ready for hilarity. Tim was ready for hilarity, predicting that in a task requiring only patience, Marie was ill-suited. And the three guys who did the Roadblock already were ready for hilarity, initially agreeing that they'd attempt to mess Marie up by saying it only took eight minutes to boil the egg. [Jamal & Leo thought that it was hypocritical that Travis seemed to be OK with this lie, but when push came to shove, Travis didn't lie.] Even Marie seemed to be ready for hilarity, repeating her egg-boiling ignorance over and over again, even initially attempting to boil the eggs without submerging them in water. 
 
Inexperience and lack of patience seemed ready to doom Marie to a basket of runny eggs, until Tim got around to mentioning one key detail: "Everything she does cook is always well-done, no matter what."
 
Of Marie's salient characteristics, that last one ended up being the most applicable. We didn't see how it happened, but Marie not only figured out that she needed to put the basket in the water, but she left it in for ample time. I don't know where the patience came from, but Marie finished the task in one shot, which made up for a lot of late time.
 
But time was something teams had to spare on the Detour, which was the choice between Paint Your Partner or Turn Over a New Leaf. In Paint Your Partner, teams had to apply makeup to each other to match a Javan bride. In Turn Over a New Leaf, teams had to roam a field of unharvested tea looking for shears. Paint Your Partner did require some artistry, but Turn Over a New Leaf was a straight-up needle-in-haystack task. Don't do needle-in-haystack tasks when you can avoid them. 
 
Like the Roadblock, Paint Your Partner was a highly gendered task and led to moments of predictable discomfort from the men, but it also feature predictable alacrity from beauty queen Amy. But if we expected that women would be better at this particular task, we got to watch Marie's discomfort at having to be a girly-girl and we also got to watch Nicole's total ineptitude and inability to recognize that she was covering Travis in makeup smudges. However, it was still better than the needle-in-haystack task, which left the Afghanimals wandering a field for hours before they changed Detours only to change back when they realized they'd have to shave to serve as foundations for all of the makeup. 
 
That's why Leo & Jamal face a Speed Bump in the next Leg, but they've survived two U-Turns this season, so they may be OK.
 
A few other thoughts on this Leg:
 
*** Amy & Jason got a much-needed first Leg victory. However, at this stage in the Race, isn't a trip to Cancun pretty weak as a prize? Car? $7500 apiece? Trip to touristy resort? Come on.
 
*** The Paint Your Partner shaving was funny, because the talking head segments earlier in the episode all featured a clean-shaven Tim and Travis and while I'd vaguely registered that they looked different, I didn't fully process it. 
 
*** I just don't know if the commentary on Travis, Tim and Jason in makeup drag rose to the level of homophobia, but it was awkward and uncomfortable. Once again, if I'm willing to eat cobra for a million dollars, you can put some makeup on me as well, but whenever male contestants have to do something like this or anything outside of normative masculine behavior, they almost invariably have to pretend that doing it is an affront to their dignity, just for friends watching at home. See also Danny-in-drag in the dancing incident. So I'm not sure it helps for Phil Keoghan to tell Travis he looked like "an angry showgirl."
 
*** That being said, Jason definitely looked like a "Star Trek" villain in the Javanese makeup.
 
OK. Enough blather for a Non-Elimination Episode. Thoughts?