I was already in the tank for Sunday (March 10) night's episode of "The Amazing Race" before it began. Based on the monkey-heavy teaser and the title "I Love  Monkeys!" there was precious little chance that I would have negative things to say about at least one portion of this Leg, which counts as a major plus in a season that has been initially lackluster.
 
Fortunately, not only did the Leg get off to a very strong start thanks to the promised-and-delivered monkeys, but it also closed well, with a concluding 20 minutes positively glutted with mind-boggling decisions and interpretations that left me yelling at the screen with frustration, confusion and amusement.
 
In the middle? Yes, there was yet another weak Detour that contributed heavily to the end-of-Leg drama, but didn't amount to much as challenges themselves. That wasn't so good. But even if I'd just been ambivalent on the rest of the episode, the end-of-hour Phil-ism would have pushed it into positive territory. In this case, it made a "good" episode "very good."
 
Recap after the break...
 
My first question: That doesn't count as a Non-Elimination Leg, right? Chuck & Wynona reached the Pit Stop in New Zealand and Phil just told them to keep going. There were no penalties or anything. They just kept going. That's a minor disappointment. I would have preferred to get an NEL out of the way. 
 
Anyway, the teams had to go from New Zealand to Bali, our second consecutive season going to Indonesia. I'm not sure how I feel about such swift international repetition, but nobody asks my opinion. Teams that either called ahead to a travel agent or went to a travel agent before going to the airport got a slight advantage.
 
An initial group had a flight that landed in Bali at 8:30 a.m. and that group -- Team Cancer, The Country Blondes, Pam & Winnie and Katie & Max -- did have a big advantage and they ended up finishing as the Leg's Top 4. John & Jessica and Team YouTube made a good connection and arrived in the middle and the other teams arrived later. Based on light at the various Pit Stop appearances, it looks like the early-arriving teams probably will start the next Leg with a huge advantage, so get ready for an Equalizer.
 
The first things teams had to do was go to a Monkey Forest, where they had to set out whole coconuts  and entice one of countless monkeys to eat or otherwise open the coconuts, revealing a capsule containing a clue. Because the monkeys weren't part of a "challenge," this was pretty awesome and all credit to the "Race" producers for the concealed clues. 
 
The monkeys were cute and, of course, the real purpose to the monkeys was the reactions they got from the teams. I didn't think that Joey of Team YouTube's ongoing Monkey Monologue was especially funny, but I endorse ongoing Monkey Monologues. And I adored that Caroline has wanted to own a monkey for her whole life, because I have as well. And as for Jen's story about Caroline owning a flying squirrel who lived in her bra, but died of loneliness? Well, let's just say that that my first exit interview question is likely to involve that poor flying squirrel, regardless of what happens to the Country Blondes for the rest of the Race.
 
Because the Monkey Park wasn't a task, it didn't end up playing a major role in placement, which is for the best. There were enough coconut-hungry monkeys in that park that nobody struggled to find simian assistance and even though it looked like a couple monkeys ran off with coconuts, they didn't go far.
 
The Detour was the choice between Sandy Bottom and Fruity Top. In Sandy Bottom, teams had to go to a river and learn how to scoop up volcanic sand and carry it up a 200-yard hill to fill a pot. In Fruity Top, teams had to assemble a religious offering and carry it to a procession before taking it to a shrine. We've got a lot of relatively physically weak teams this season and, honestly, only one team that I would describe as appreciably strong, so it wasn't slightly surprising that in the original selection process, seven of nine teams went with Fruity Bottom. And my rule is always that if there's an overwhelming majority taking one Detour or the other, the tasks weren't well-devised. And while the Hockey Brothers chose Sandy Bottom and presumably would have been the only team capable of dominating that particular task and gaining a potential advantage, they were hosed by an awful cabbie and they had to do Fruity Bottom anyway.
 
Very little of interest happened most of the teams at the Detour. Pam, it turns out, builds stage sets for a living, so she and Winnie did very well. Team Cancer was relieved there was an option that didn't place any physical trips on hobbled Dave and they also did well. And John & Jessica rushed off to Fruity Bottom figuring that this was a task that would take advantage of John's attention-to-detail and anal-retentive nature. Ummm... Ooops.
 
In the first of several classic moments, John & Jessica rushed off to the Detour, but went to the wrong house. As sheer luck would have it, they found a native man making little flower ornamentations of some sort. The guy had absolutely no clue why these two Gringos showed up at his house with cameras and he didn't speak a word of English. Despite having no visible clue/instructions to follow, no red-and-yellow markets to verify their placement and no other teams visible, John and Jessica set to making whatever it was that their native buddy was making. Because the clue told them they'd have to wear sarongs, they somehow even found some of the old guy's sarongs and put them on. I have no clue how anybody, leaving aside John's claims about his eagle-eye, could have thought that that what they were doing was a Race-sanctioned activity. But that's something to ask about in tomorrow's exit interview! Fortunately, there was more.
 
John & Jessica, with the help of an interpreter, eventually figured out they were next door to the real Detour and they went and, with John continuing to profess his likely expertise at the task, set to work on making the fruit offering. And they failed and tore apart the offering and had to reconstruct it. At this point, having squandered heaven-knows-how-much time, John started talking about trying the other Detour, while Jessica started suggesting that maybe they'd be wise to use the Express Pass. John refused and they quit Fruity Top and went to Sandy Bottom, with John vowing that they were going to be smart about this. Their intelligent approach: If they got to Sandy Bottom and saw another team there, they'd be able to assess the situation and decide whether or not to use the Express Pass. Unfortunately for them, the Derby Moms, the only previous team to make it to Sandy Bottom, finished minutes [in TV-editing time] ahead of them and John and Jessica had no point-of-reference and had to perform the task, which left Jessica complaining of pain for every step.
 
If this had been all that had gone wrong for Team JJ and all that John's attention-to-detail failed them at, they already would have had an all-time classic infuriating Leg. Guess what? Tip of the iceberg!
 
Off to the Roadblock, which was set above a surf beach and asked "Who's Ready to Get Totally Tubular?" One player had to make their way down to a surf shop and find a board with an image featuring somebody they'd encountered previously on the Race. Then they had to run back, get their partner and go to Phil Keoghan at the Pit Stop. In my notes, my initial response was, "This looks much too easy. Sigh." I was wrong.
 
As we learned in the final task of last season, when Racers get to Pit Stops, they don't always pay that much attention. There's a lot of adrenaline and they're exhausted and they don't much care who's there other than Phil. In this case, some of the surfboards featured the priest from Tahiti. If you paid attention, it wasn't that hard. Winnie rushed down, saw and recognized the priest in a hurry. So did several later teams. Some people weren't lucky. Caroline, for example, had an interesting definition of "encounter." It wasn't the *wrong* definition of "encounter," but she was able to convince herself that they'd encountered a variety of things that they hadn't encountered and she didn't have a clue who the priest was. And we'll never know if Connor would have figured out he needed the priest eventually, because even though Winnie didn't want to help him, he snuck a glimpse at her board.
 
It also wasn't so easy to navigate up and down to the surf shop or back up to the other players and Phil. Winnie got her board first, but she got lost trying to find Pam and, as a result, Team Cancer finished first for the second straight Leg and won $5,000 apiece. On one hand, I'm not prepared to call what Connor did "cheating." He didn't figure out the answer himself, but it's not like he beat Winnie up and took her answer. Still, Phil Keoghan was raving that despite Dave's injury and all of that, Team Cancer has miraculously won two straight Legs. They used an Express Pass and successfully circumvented finding the correct answer in another Roadblock. I'm not gonna go with "miraculous" just yet. 
 
Meanwhile, John & Jessica finished Sandy Bottom and headed to the Roadblock. Remember: They still had the Express Pass and could have skipped the Roadblock and just gone to Phil, survived and lived to see another day. Instead, it seemed like they interpreted the clue as suggesting surfing might be involved and John's a surfer, so... Gnarly! Plus, as we mentioned earlier, John has a great attention-to-detail. The only problem? There weren't many priest-boards left, plus John didn't have a clue who he was looking for. Chuck found a board and they didn't show us if it was the right one and they went off to Phil and... FINISHED. 
 
Somehow, John kept insisting he was going to be smart and when Jessica told him all of the other teams had finished, he only responded "That's obviously disappointing" and ran back to keep searching for the board. After over 75 minutes, they finished. "Hey. We completed this Leg of the Race and that's something to be proud of," John said, as Phil eliminated them.
 
Then Phil announced that they were the first team to go home on "The Amazing Race" with an Express Pass in their back pocket. 
 
"I guess that's notable. I don't see the value in looking back with regret," John said before repeating multiple times that he felt no regrets.
 
"I'm feeling just a big huge let-down," Jessica said. 
 
As John walked off still claiming he felt no regret, Phil looked at the camera, shrugged and said, "Oy vey."
 
Oy vey, indeed. I'm sure that other teams have had dumber Legs on "The Amazing Race" and I invite you to list some of them below, but I don't think anybody will dispute that John's performance on this Leg is definitely in the Dumb Top 5. Between Team JJ and Team Dead Ringers, we've lost two of the teams I'd have listed as favorites after the first Leg. And the team with the guy with the torn Achilles is four Top 3 finishes. Weird.
 
Other thoughts on this Leg:
 
*** I'm not sure what to make of Dave & Connor. The way they've won these two Legs doesn't seem miraculous to me. It's impressive. Don't get me wrong. But there have been caveats to rule out "miraculous" both times. Also, I genuinely don't know how long "The Amazing Race" is going to let them go with Dave incapable of doing any Roadblocks. Connor has done four to Dave's one so far. That's not a problem yet, but eventually they're going to have to force Dave to do something he can't do, right?
 
*** Speaking of doing four to his partner's one, Chuck is probably over-carrying Team Alabama and we haven't gotten any evidence Wynona can do much of anything. They're on borrowed time, but I did like Wynona comparing the preparations on the Fruity Top Detour to Chuck's taxidermy. 
 
*** Caroline had a rough time with the Roadblock and had to cry, but at least the Country Blondes got to sing to their Indonesian cabbie. 
 
*** John & Jess's elimination leaves the Anti-Hockey alliance with only two members and it proved beneficial, as YouTube told the Roller Derby Moms which surfboard image to look for. Mona, in turn, had no interest in helping Chuck in a similar fashion. Alliances are nice.
 
Y'all have any thoughts on this week's episode?