That was an exciting, drama-filled episode of "The Amazing Race," but it was also an episode so full of variably noxious self-righteousness and smugness that I ended up strongly disliking a team that had been a favorite previously and cringing through entirely too much of the hour.
 
I'm putting the balance of the episode too far towards "annoyance" for me to call the episode a success and I'm afraid that there's nothing Travis & Nicole will be able to do to work their way back into my rooting graces.
 
Oh well. 
 
I guess I'll recap the episode after the break, though I'm pretty wrung out from the end of that Patriots game.
 
Did Travis & Nicole track down an "Amazing Race" editor last week and, I dunno, squish their puppy? Urinate in their soup? Throw toilet paper in their trees? 
 
It's hard to think of a team that had received such an overwhelmingly positive edit for so long suddenly getting such an awful edit this late in the season. 
 
No. Really. Does anybody have any alternatives they want to propose?
 
For nearly two months, Travis & Nicole have been the Power Parents, the Can-Do Docs. Yes, there was that one time Nicole made a mistake and Travis was down on her and she was apologetic, but that seemed like an aberration. Even last week when they decided to be just a wee bit self-righteous and U-Turn the Afghanimals because the Afghanimals lied to them about U-Turning Brandon & Adam, they didn't seem like the most embraceable of teams, but it was still easy to take their side, since the Afghanimals really had lied for absolutely no reason. I kept talking about how Travis & Nicole were clearly the season's dominant team and the pairing most deservingly heading for a win.
 
But this week? Ugh. It was a disaster from the start, because the editors decided to craft a "hubris" cut for them. Having barely, if ever, mentioned God previously, suddenly Travis & Nicole were warriors for Jesus and they weren't just the nice couple that wanted to set a good example for their children. No. "We want to be a beacon for God's light to show through us," Travis said. 
 
Wow. Those are some big words, T-Dog. 
 
Then Travis got snotty with Leo & Jamal at the airport, which should have been a perfectly viable opportunity for Travis to turn the other cheek, but instead he got snobby with a guy who was somewhat deranged himself at that point. Then Travis was high-and-mighty greeting the Ice Queens on a train in Indonesia, telling them "And you know what? We'll tell you the truth." And then he kept going when the Afghanimals tried lying to get that train moving faster to leave two teams behind -- like two American tourists in the middle of a train have the power to impact its departure time -- and Travis muttered "No need to lie."
 
Ultimately, it was all a set-up so that when we got to the Roadblock and Nicole did one of the most pathetic things in "Amazing Race" history and Travis sat there shaking his head and being holier-than-thou and embarrassed, he was being embarrassed for his wife, but we were being embarrassed for the both of them. Ick.
 
And it wasn't like the episode was trying to take a tough stand against smugness on "The Amazing Race." The entire episode was build as a validation of and vindication for everything that Marie has done all season long, as we begin with her lecturing Tim about how 99 percent of the time she's right and there's no reason why "The Amazing Race" has to be an even partnership and then we ended the Leg with an important lesson on Marie being right all of the time. 
 
In-between? We had some very weird choices, some stupid mistakes and nearly 44 consecutive minutes of Leo & Jamal jumping up and down, shrieking, singing, dancing and ululating. 
 
The teams were separated by 90 minutes at the start of the Leg, but we were Equalized, flying to Indonesia. After a ram-butting introductory task that somehow put Travis & Nicole and Ally & Ashley into the lead, we headed off to Bandung and the Detour. Well, every team but Amy & Jason and Tim & Marie, who missed the train back from the ramming -- in no part because the Afghanimals lied and said something about their pregnant wives in order to get the train moving faster -- and fell an hour behind, which ended up being irrelevant.
 
The Detour was the choice between Feed the Elephants or For the Birds. In Feed the Elephants, teams had to go to a market, collect an assortment of watermelons, sweet potatoes, bananas and sugar cane stalks, take them to a zoo and, as you'd assume, feed the elephants. In For the Birds, you had get two matching love birds, take them to a park and make them sing. 
 
I guess the logic for the elephants task goes like this: Always choose the more photogenic challenge and never choose the challenge in which you have to rely upon animals to do something that may not come naturally. If you think that "eating" comes more naturally to an elephant than "singing" comes to a bird and if you think that elephants are inherently more photogenic than birds, then there was no question that Feed the Elephants was the correct Detour. It was not. Even done with absolutely perfect, Feed the Elephants had a market purchasing component, a driving component, a transportation within the zoo component and a waiting-patiently-for-an-elephant-to-eat component. The birds, it was exactly as simple as the directions. The clue suggested there was a grading component, but we got no indication of what a good or bad piece of avian musicality might be, because Travis & Nicole completed the Detour in no time at all, giving them a big lead going to the Roadblock.
 
Feed the Elephants didn't have to be especially hard, but whatever challenges existed, Ally & Ashley found a way to bring them to the center. Inexplicably the Ice Queens skipped the market, wandered around the zoo looking for a cart to carry fruit they had yet to acquire. Then they realized, having squandered a small lead, that they weren't actually prepared to do the task and then they went to the market and blundered on the second self-made obstacle. Sugar cane stalks are really long and bulky and there's at least a challenge to figuring out how to transport them in a taxi when you have a drive, two passengers and a camera guy. The Afghanimals threaded the cane out the window through the front seat. Jason put his sugar cane on the roof. The Ice Queens decided they couldn't figure out how to do it, left the sugar cane at the market, took everything else to the zoo and then went back to the market. If you're curious how to fritter away a lead of an hour, this was how.
 
Oh and they also fought. I hate it when functional teams have inevitable blow-ups. "The Amazing Race" is a stressful environment. I know that whoever I Raced with, I'd be yelling at them Marie-style before the end of the first Leg. But I still remember when Kandice and Dustin had their blow-up in All-Stars in the final Leg, having been the best of friends for nearly two full seasons of action. That hurt. Similarly, Ally & Ashley had been nothing but lovely to each other and suddenly Ashley's yelling at Ally for insisting they do Elephant when she wanted to do Birds and claiming that all season long they'd been doing only what Ally wanted them to do. Meanness was exchanged on both sides. Granted that by the time they finished feeding the elephant, who Ashley dubbed "Rosie," they were copacetic again, but the scars remain.
 
Anyway... The Roadblock. And the embarrassment. 
 
The task was to assemble an angklung, a musical instrument of bamboo reeds, forming one octave.
 
It was not, if we're being honest, a hard task. If you know what an octave is. If you know that an octave is eight notes in a certain progression, there was a little handiwork and then you were done. Nicole did not, alas, know what an octave is. At all. Even though Travis tried to verify that she knew what an octave was before she departed. She did not. So Nicole had a big lead and the first couple times she assembled the angklung, she was doing four or six notes, which is the kind of disconnect that shows you don't have a clue what you're doing. Well, Leo comes in and after running through the area screaming and chanting and singing, he almost immediately finished (after one brief goof on the angklung stand).
 
At this point Leo yells, "Leo! Destroy your instrument! Don't let no one see!" That seemed needlessly paranoid until the exact moment that Nicole went running to the judging area and started running circles around Leo literally begging him to let her see the angklung. Now even if these teams had had zero relationship on the Race and had never spent a second together, it would have been cringeworthy, but for it to be a member of Team Beacon of Light trying to cheat off of the homework from Team Lying Heathens? Oy. But the amazing part was that it wasn't even Nicole's low point.
 
While this is happening, Tim & Marie arrive at the Roadblock. You may not have noticed, but they've been alternating Roadblocks. This should have been Marie's Roadblock, but she looked at the clue, sensed it was musical and put her foot down and insisted that it be Tim to do it. Why? Tim is musical. Now here's the odd thing: Tim did the Vienna Boy's Choir Roadblock as well, but does anybody remember him being a superstar at it? He wasn't bad or anything. Far from it. But he wasn't presented as this musical savant or anything. Tonight, you'd have thought Tim was like a gigantic baseball-playing Beethoven and Marie was some brilliant strategist to have unloosed Tim on this particular Roadblock. Thanks to his gift, Tim finished the Roadblock in almost no time and allowed his pair to finish a close second and allowed Marie to say, "So I made you do it and I was right." Marie is the Nikki Finke of "Amazing Race" harpies. "TOLDJA!" But she absolutely did.
 
So while this is going on, Nicole remains useless. She would still be in Indonesia today, but she got spared. Amy also finished fast, as anybody with awareness of an "octave" was able to do. She and Jason were about to leave when they remembered that they've been friendly with the Power Parents, so Amy tried to give Nicole some assistance. But Nicole couldn't figure it out. Soon, Amy was literally down on the floor basically doing the task for Nicole as Jason was muttering, "We'll just come in last. Don't worry about it."
 
For all of that, though, Ally & Ashley couldn't catch up. They probably would have caught up if Amy hadn't done the Roadblock for Nicole. But so it goes!
 
Some additional thoughts on Sunday's episode...
 
*** Ally & Ashley, as cute and peppy as they were, never finished better than fifth in any Leg this season. They were a middle-of-the-pack team and they probably benefitted from their alliance with Leo & Jamal, though that alliance didn't help them on this Leg, even though they were on the same train and headed for the Detour at the same time. 
 
*** I can't figure out why Leo & Jamal are so unlikable. But they kinda are. But they shouldn't be. They're enthusiastic. They're loving this experience. And they haven't fought with each other. Those are attributes which, under normal circumstance, usually make me love teams.
 
*** There's no fluke team in the Top 4 this season. Yes, Tim & Marie had a couple rough early Legs after starting the season on top, but in the balance they've been strong. Leo & Jamal and Nicole & Travis have combined to win five Legs. And Jason & Amy have finished second or third six times. They're all reasonable good teams.
 
*** Next week is a guaranteed Non-Elimination, right?
 
*** Who had the episode title? And in what context? I totally missed it.
 
*** Monkey. On. Stilts. How was the whole episode not built around the MONKEY ON STILTS?!?
 
 
Thoughts on Sunday's episode?