A note on "Amazing Race" travel:

If there are two flights to a location getting in an hour or two apart in the mid-morning or early afternoon, it's probably acceptable to worry if you're on the later flight. Those people ahead of you have a solid advantage and if they don't screw up, your chances of moving ahead of them are remote, though probably not nil. 

If, however, there are two flights to a location getting in an hour or two apart late at night, chances are reasonably good that you won't need to sweat it. Yes, there's always the chance, especially if the destination city is considered a night-life hot-spot, that your next task could be at a bar or club -- i.e. Sri Lanka last season -- but precedent suggests you're more likely to follow your clue to a sign telling you to have an unpleasant night's sleep waiting for something or other to open. Maybe you'll find yourself in a later departing group by 10 or 15 minutes, but you're getting into a place before business hours, so you're not going to be required to do very much, most times. 

There are no absolutes to these rules, but I'd say they're 90 percent reliable. I know it. You know it. "The Amazing Race" producers know it.

And if we all know it, what's the point in wasting the first 10 minutes of an episode on whether or not Dentists Misti & Jim made a big mistake in going to the Singapore airport to buy tickets to Manila rather than going to a travel agency and thus ended up on a flight getting in at 11:55 p.m. rather than 11:00?

This has been the case all season long on "The Amazing Race." Nobody's really had the chance to take courageous travel risks. Nobody's really made any idiotic travel blunders. And when there have been minor discrepancies in arrival times for various flights, they've almost always been followed by Equalizers either with additional legs of travel, or just with one of the aforementioned "Gates open at 7:30" signs.

But these are the things that we kill time with on "Amazing Race" Legs when everybody at home is pretty much assuming that a Non-Elimination Leg is coming.

Friday (December 5) night's "Amazing Race" was lackluster and inevitable and the expected NEL managed to spare The Wrestlers, who probably ought to have been heading home after a Leg in which Brooke spent pretty much a full hour complaining about how the Philippines smells. Phil could have raised his eyebrow and said, "You've been eliminated from The Race. Brooke, I bet that REALLY stinks," then he could have put on sunglasses to a musical sting from The Who.

I would have laughed. And cheered.

And yes, you're going to argue that as awful and horrible as Brooke is as a person, this was an episode in which The Wrestlers displayed a certain amount of strength/gumption and even Brooke was at her most take-charge and independent. I don't care. Even in the most odoriferous of lands, if you reference the smell more than once, you're pretty much trash to me.

The Wrestlers were at their best, which was still pretty icky, in the Detour that offered teams the choice between Catch and Coach.

In Coach, teams had to assemble a sidecar and attach it to a motorcycle.

In Catch, teams had to wade out into the bay and fill buckets with fish, return the buckets to land and fill three more buckets with 300 pounds of fish.

This was a rough Detour in terms of selection logic. 

Anything that requires assemblage, if you're not great with bits and pieces or attention to detail can be a struggle and while it appears that Coach wasn't so hard if you just used finished bikes as a model, there was still a lot of compare-contrast involved. 

Catch was straight-forward. You just had to go out there and do what needed to be done. If you had brute strength, it was easy. But even if you didn't, that just meant more time. It was a question of how many trips back-and-forth you had to make.

I don't think the "Amazing Race" producers possibly could have imagined the acquisition and dispensing of 300 pounds of fish would take only four trips, but Brooke & Robbie managed to do it, even with Brooke whining about the smell and Robbie squealing and shrieking about touching fish. I think a weaker, but more gung-ho team could have done the fish-to-barrel part of the task faster, but this side of Bates & Anthony, I don't know how anybody could  have been much more efficient than The Wrestlers with the at-sea part of the task. They moved into first after the Detour and I briefly admired them.

Over at Coach, meanwhile, Jim & Misti had yet another of their detail-based gaffes. I really feel like we're heading toward a finale in which Jim & Misti have a big lead and then blow the entire season by messing up something silly as the cameraman stands, stares and points the camera at whatever blunder they made. In this case, Jim rushed ahead of everybody else celebrating his mechanical prowess and then forgot to attach the shocks to the bike. Now me? I wouldn't begin to know whether or not to attach shocks or how to do it or anything. But I also would never open my mouth to mention expertise. [Actually, I can't imagine "The Amazing Race" ever asking me to do anything I consider myself an expert in. "This Detour choice is Recap or Cat-Nap..." "OH GOD. WHICH ONE TO CHOOSE?!?] Bethany and Adam moved into second here.

That brought us to the much-advertised Switchback, with the return of the Season 5 "My Ox Is Broken" task, asking teams to find clues in big muddy rice fields with the assistance of an inevitably unruly ox.

In this case, we learned an important lesson: This is a great task if one of the Racers is an impatient psychopath or if the oxen in question are extra-ornery. If not, it's just another needle-in-a-haystack task, replacing the haystack with mud and poo, ever-so-much-poo.

So Brooke & Robbie wretched and grumbled about the mud and feces and the directionally challenged ox. I'll give Brooke total credit for taking control, picking a big ox and leading it with authority. But if the four rice ponds were, indeed, of different sizes and Brooke & Robbie did, indeed, have a big advantage arriving at the switchback, if they truly chose the biggest pond? Weak. But even still, if you led your ox to the right place, it was pure luck and if you happened to notice the clue, which seemed to be attached to a rope, that was basically luck. The Dentists had the most luck and, as a result, won the Leg, barely beating out the nearly-as-lucky Food Scientists.

Bethany & Adam and Brooke & Robbie got their clues at nearly the same time, with The Surfers outrunning The Wrestlers to the mat in one of those very rare circumstances in which all four teams finished so close together that they were all hanging out at the mat waiting for the end.

"It would not have been fair to eliminate you today considering how close that was," Phil Keoghan said, as if this were a totally arbitrary thing in which he decided that in the interest of fairness this was the day no pigs would die, rather than a thing the show does to extend seasons a few extra weeks. Sometimes with NELs, you feel like it really is an earned mercy to spare a team. In this case? Meh. The Switchback was an ox-pushed coin-flip and the Detour didn't let anybody take a big advantage. Maybe nobody deserved to go home for any of this, but nobody deserved sparing either.


A couple other thoughts from this episode:

*** Maya is the anti-Brooke and I definitely have grown to root for her enthusiasm and her cultural openness. Brooke sits on transportation plugging her nose and making barfing sounds. Maya celebrates journeying through a foreign city at rush hour and playing a role in the local transportation economy. Between those two approaches to the world, I sure know which one I respect! 

*** I even found Maya's thanking of God during the Detour funny because of Amy's slightly grumpy rejoinder that God probably isn't worried about their "Amazing Race" choices.

*** I can't say anything about the way people involuntarily respond to external environments, so if seeing kids in the street in Manila makes Jim & Misti, as parents, cry... Well, that's what it does. And if Misti wants to gain an appreciation for her own life and her own blessings? Well, that's what she feels. But their reaction made a very definitive, "Our way of life is right and this way of life is sad and wrong" distinction and I'm never a fan of that.

*** From the second I saw the title of the episode, I knew it would be either Robbie or Brooke who would say it. I'd have bet on Brooke, but that would have been a mistake. Robbie's better with words and more prone to colorful language. Brooke just feigns vomiting.

*** And when I saw the title for the episode, I really hoped that it would involve a durian eating challenge, because the spiky fruit, which is native to the Philippines, is often accused by Westerners of smelling like dirty socks. Watching Brooke eat durian would have made me happy. Oh well.

And that's about that for this week's episode. Any thoughts on your end?

A long-time member of the TCA Board and a longer-time blogger of "American Idol," Dan Fienberg writes about TV, except for when he writes about movies or sometimes writes about the Red Sox. But never music. He would sound stupid talking about music.