Sunday (November 25) night's episode of "The Amazing Race" was simultaneously very simple and yet very complicated, wasn't it?
 
None of the tasks completed during the episode were especially difficult, but there were definitely a lot of them. We had a Roadblock and a Detour and a Fast-Forward, plus there was a Double U-Turn. And then, as if that weren't enough, we got several layers of travel drama. 
 
There was such a myriad-assortment of busy-ness that there were three or four majority contributing factors to the week's elimination, even though none of them had to do with success or failure at any challenge. 
 
The result was that this was a third straight week in which "The Amazing Race" delivered a strong episode, despite major structural problems. 
 
Then again, when was the last time "The Amazing Race" delivered three straight episodes of this caliber? 
 
It's been a while, so I guess I won't quibble.
 
[On to the recap after the break. Apologies if any of this is scattered. I'm on an 11-hour flight returning from a vacation and it's already two or three in the morning in my head...]
 
Two weeks ago, "The Amazing Race" had travel madness, taxing challenges and a woefully unsatisfying "To be continued..." climax. Yay! But also... oh well.
 
Last week, "The Amazing Race" had several tasks that brought out entertaining sides to this season's contestants and helped the season dig its way out from an unlikeable beginning. But it was also a Leg in which the losing team was never really on the course with any of the other teams and they spent more time on an ineffective -- and unresolved -- quest for a passport rather than competing. [Big thanks to Myles McNutt for handling recapping duties in my absence!] Yay! But also... oh well.
 
And tonight? Definitely an "oh well," but certainly some "Yay!"
 
First, we will not be getting our first $2 million "Amazing Race" winner.
 
Alas. 
 
It was only a month ago that Abbie & Ryan -- Ryan, mostly -- were suggesting they could make a run at all-time "Amazing Race" supremacy. That was surely bluster, but after finishing first or second in five of the first six legs, they definitely were the favorites to win. They seemed physically capable, mentally sturdy and no matter how many mean things Natalie & Nadiya said about them, they seemed to be sturdy as a couple and, by "Amazing Race" standards, not problematically over-competitive despite that Alpha status.
 
Then things went haywire.
 
A blundered transfer gamble in Frankfurt might have sent them home two weeks ago, except they lucked into a Non-Elimination Leg, Mark & Abba's passport fiasco and, had push come to show, the general weaknesses of Team Beekman.
 
They could just as easily have crashed and burned last week when Ryan had an intellectual meltdown in a Moscow classroom, not that anybody was going to get eliminated with The Rockers meandering around the Former Soviet Union seemingly asking strangers if they'd seen their vital documents.
 
And tonight? Ryan & Abbie were done in by a variety of factors, starting with their old nemesis, Frankfurt. 
 
Seriously, how could one airport be an Achilles Heal multiple times on a Race designed to send teams *around* the world, not back and forth through the same European hubs? A good question, but Ryan and Abbie are just that lucky? 
 
For the second time in three weeks, teams actually got the chance to roll the dice on a variety of options taking them from Moscow to... The capital of a country revealed on a flag that was either France or The Netherlands, depending on your perspective. [Lexi & Trey were absolutely flying to Paris if they hadn't run into their buddies The Chippendales. I don't know how they would have been rescued. They were darned confident on Paris.]
 
So we had five teams taking five different routes from Moscow to Amsterdam, which was at least somewhat a factor of the teams being separated by days. Did I write info down wrong or was there actually 36 hours separating Team Longhorn from The Beekmans? So the travel options ranged from Team Longhorn taking an early flight alone because there weren't seats for anybody else, The Chippendales taking a safe, direct flight, The Twins bullying a ticket agent into letting them take the risk of catching an even earlier flight with a tight window in Rome and Ryan & Abbie doing the unthinkable: They opted to fly through Frankfurt again.
 
There's that favorite cliche that you hear on TV shows or in movies at least a dozen times per year that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but Abbie & Ryan didn't try the same thing over again. The first time they got hosed in Frankfurt, it was by a tight connection window, but this time they played it safe. They booked two different perfectly serviceable flights out of Frankfurt and they were even in position to make the earlier connection. The problem? They bought the ticket, but they didn't check in. Honestly, I don't have a clue how that happens. You get to the airport. You check in. You check in through your final destination. I don't see how you get on the first plane without having a seat on that second plane. They didn't. So first connection they were sent away. Then they got on a second plane and set on the runway and had to leave that plane and change to another plane.
 
It would be hard to tell exactly how much time was squandered with that second flight, but it allowed Ryan & Abbie for find themselves arriving in Amsterdam paired with the Beekmans for the second time in three episodes. That unlikely pairing was a boon to both teams, as they decided to race the Leg in tandem just as they did after the previous Frankfurt fiasco. In that instance, an NEL was inevitable, so I completely understood why Abbie & Ryan felt OK about joining forced. I didn't get it as much on tonight's episode, but it wouldn't have mattered.
 
The Frankfurt Fiasco finished Abbie & Ryan, but the U-Turn did as well and that's where most of the blame will probably go.
 
There was absolutely zero reason for Team Longhorn, The Twins and the Chippendales to invest concern in Ryan & Abbie or The Beekman Boys, at least for purposes of this Leg, but all three of the other teams felt that Ryan & Abbie were a threat worth striking from the game. And I can't necessarily disagree with that logic, which was mostly felt by The Twins, who devised a clean and efficient way to screw Ryan & Abbie, laying down the rules that the first team to reach the U-Turn would U-Turn Ryan & Abbey, while the next team to arrive would U-Turn the first team to arrive, making sure that the Double U-Turn was rendered a single U-Turn, impacting only the threat.
 
The Twins even managed to escape the onus of laying Ryan & Abbie low, not that they would have shied from it. Their Roman gamble paid off, as they made the tight connection without suspense, were the first team to get to Amsterdam and got to eat five herring apiece to complete a Fast-Forward and win the Leg, taking them back into first for the first time since the second Leg. That left poor Jaymes & James as the first time to actually reach the U-Turn, leading to a decision they agonized over for minutes before deciding that they needed the money and it was the smart thing to do. I don't disagree. The three frontrunners were solid and none of them would have been impacted by the U-Turn and what point would there be in getting Brent & Josh out? The Beekmans have had a rather remarkable streak of close shaves. [I'm WAY too lazy to check to see if any team has ever made the "Amazing Race" Top 4 without a single finishing of third or higher.] Hitting Ryan & Abbie with the U-Turn makes sense. It's a part of the game. You're supposed to use it. Ryan seemed to disagree, grumbling extensively about how the decision "speaks volumes about" The Chippendales. I don't know what volumes it speaks. The Chippendales have proven themselves an increasingly respectable team, they're getting stronger as they got and I assume that many/most viewers are still rooting for them after the U-Turn.
 
Because Ryan & Abbie and The Beekmans had become a quartet, the U-Turn was a simple execution. Josh was guilty and suggested a willingness to wait around while Abbie & Ryan did the second Detour, but that would have been silly and Brent correctly told him that.
 
And the Detours and Roadblocks?
 
Meh. 
 
The Roadblock was a repeat of the canal-vaulting classic from a couple seasons back. But while we enjoyed watching the original incarnation, because teams made it look hard, we discovered that when Racers make ditch-vaulting look easy, it's really dull. This isn't like the unroll-the-bales-of-hay task, which could be replayed every season because it seems to kill people. This task needn't return.
 
And the Detour was the choice between Back in Time or Organ Grind.
 
Many people will remember Organ Grind because The Chippendales resorted to disrobing and donning their collars and bowties when the money seemed to be drying up. But mostly, it was a fairly easy version of the standard "Amazing Race" busking task. We'd already seen Lexi use her cheerleading skills to acquire funds. She's peppy. We get it. 
 
Back in Time, which asked teams to make a tableau Vivant of Rembrandt's "The Night Watch," wasn't bad, but after last week's Famous Dead Russian Impersonators Detour, "Amazing Race" can skip any more of this sort of wax museum "challenges" for a while.
 
OK. I've rambled enough and it's nearly 7 a.m. in my head.
 
A few other thoughts on this week's episode:
 
*** Phil Keoghan had a decent episode, particular praising The Chippendales for using the U-Turn and then giving them a classic raised eyebrow when they suggested a church bell ringing meant that God approved.
 
*** If you've ever wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence as a Dutch Girl, I recommend tonight's greeter highly. 
 
*** OK. Fine. I did the research. Andrew & Dan made the Top 4 in Season 13 without previously finishing higher than 4th, though they finished second the next week and third overall. Vanessa & Ralph never finished higher than third last season in finishing fourth. So what the Beekmans have done seems significant in an insignificant way. 
 
*** The last three weeks have salvaged this "Amazing Race" season. The Beekmans don't deserve to win, but after months of personality-free episodes, working with Abbie & Ryan brought out some fire in them. Team Longhorns and The Chippendales were adorable working together last week and I'm probably rooting for Jaymes & James without qualification after all of Jaymes' one-liners and James' injured Russian soldier dancing. And I know there are many reasons to dislike Natalie & Nadiya, but I don't. They're funny and they try hard, even if they also hold random grudges and steal. 
 
Thoughts on this week's episode and on our Top 4?