Egos, ankles, and pants take a beating in a 'unique' Moscow showdown.
[Note: Dan is on vacation, so Myles McNutt is filling in for this week's "The Amazing Race" recap.]
When last week’s “Amazing Race” ended with “To Be Continued,” it was a different ending than we’re used to seeing with that particular phrase: whereas sometimes the show has done this when a leg gets extended (and the “Pit Stop” becomes a halfway point), in this case it was to put off the inevitable conclusion temporarily. Josh and Brent were failing miserably at the Synchronized Swimming Detour after falling behind due to a missed connection, but then James and Abba lost a passport, meaning that it was a race to see whose failure would be most insurmountable.
“We Was Robbed” tells that story and a few others, although they’re also different stories than you may be used to seeing. If you watch “The Amazing Race” to see teams race against one another, you likely enjoyed the first twenty minutes of tonight’s episode. If you watch “The Amazing Race” to see teams race against themselves in a seemingly meaningless march to the finish line, though, you were in for a treat.
To find out who won the race for failure, and who ended up leaving Russia empty-handed, click through for the full recap…
To the producers’ credit, they managed to surprise with how the cliffhanger was resolved (although Dan, for whom I am filling in, called it in last week’s recap). While previews for the episode made it seem as though James and Abba were decidedly eliminated, the opening of the episode gives them hope: a non-elimination leg means that the search for the missing passport can continue into the next leg, which means we finally have a Speed Bump worth getting worked up over (in addition to another terrible official Speed Bump with zero impact on the race). In addition, Josh and Brent aren’t in the clear: while they finish ahead of James and Abba, they’re also assessed a four-hour penalty after the pool’s closure keeps them from completing the Detour, a penalty that puts them even further behind Abbie and Ryan (the other team caught by the missed connection). It creates enough of a mess at the starting line that the producers don’t even give us their departure times, either because they’d give away the inevitable result or because they managed to lose track themselves.
Regardless, Trey and Lexi won the last leg thanks to some steady racing, and are the first to head to the Moscow Agricultural Academy, where Large Chemistry Auditorium #1—Russia is the best at naming things—awaits them. Of course, Trey and Lexi also get a tour of Russia’s seedy underbelly—“Ahhh, a broken bottle! Graffiti!”—and a chain-smoking, pink shirt-wearing cab driver before they arrive at the destination behind Jaymes and James but ahead of the operating hours. After Jaymes decides the sign really says that Beyonce is performing at 8, the two teams discover the Speed Bump and wonder what exactly happened to James and Abba (who, the editors remind us, are packing up their remaining belongings before heading out to make one last ditch effort to scrounge up the latter’s passport).
Before they—or the other three teams yet to start the leg—are able to begin, though, we hid the Roadblock. In this task, racers are given three pieces of information: the time in Moscow, the time zones of Russia, and the geographical location of five cities. They’re then asked to translate the time in Moscow to the time in the other cities, with the catch that the information is only up briefly, and there’s a time limit on their answers. While there is skill involved in the task, it’s primarily an excuse for a stern Russian proctor to find as many ways of saying “Pencils Down” as punctuated by failure sound effects. The task benefits from Jaymes and Lexi as its first participants: Jaymes’ talkativeness gives the challenge a good back-and-forth, as his ability to face his consistent failure with good humor makes for a charming montage of suffering as opposed to the ever-growing frustration one might experience with less jovial contestants (Foreshadowing!). The two work together to reminisce on how they thought they were done with school, and work together in ways that may not be great for competitive racing but work to make their complete failure to understand time zones charming instead of embarrassing (well, mostly charming instead of mostly embarrassing).
They quickly move onto the Detour, in which they’re forced to choose between engaging with two parts of Russian culture. In Movers, teams perform a demanding Russian dance routine; in Shakers, teams have to identify people dressed as famous leaders from Russian history at a cocktail party. So, to be entirely clear: the choice is between learning seemingly complicated choreography, or having some semblance of knowledge regarding what Lenin and Stalin looked like. This isn’t the first time the latter has been tested on the race, as there was that challenge a few years ago where they identified the number of busts of each leader in some sort of monument park. Their lack of faith in the racers’ ability to recognize Russian leaders would be disturbing if the first two teams didn’t immediately pick Movers without a moment’s hesitation.
It’s hard to hold it against the teams, though, when they work to make what seems like a predetermined outcome into something close to entertaining. Jaymes and James’ cab driver loves the novelty of driving around a pair of Americans and a camera crew, so he’s along for the ride and grabbing breakfast pastries. Meanwhile, Trey and Lexi’s struggle for a cab in the rain leads to Jaymes and James lending a hand, ensuring they’re traveling alongside them. While last week’s pact between Josh and Brent and Ryan and Abby felt like resignation, here we see real admiration between the two teams, and I have no objections to this considering that it livens up a potentially dead leg.
Movers becomes a challenge for the Chippendales, perhaps surprisingly: while choreography seems like something they can handle, last week’s water-based choreography hid James’ sprained ankle, which makes the demanding routine—which features multiple moves apparently designed exclusively to injure ankles—that much more painful. Neither team nails it on the first try, and are still struggling when the next team finally reach the roadblock.
That team is Natalie and Nadiya, who unfortunately don’t have Jaymes and James around to persuade them not to use the Express Pass on the Roadblock. They’re so far ahead of the final teams that it doesn’t matter, but it seems hard to imagine the exertion of the Movers side of the Detour being more painful than completing a task that boils down to observational skills and logic. However, this doesn’t seem like the brightest group of frontrunners the race has ever seen, so it’s perhaps not surprising they choose to bypass the Roadblock and move onto the Detour. Either way, the producers have to be disappointed that the Express Pass’ impact on the race was so diluted by the failures in the rest of the pack (although they continue to create these speed bumps, so perhaps this is what they planned for).
Meanwhile, the struggle of the Detour gets condensed due to the entire other race yet to be run: James suffers through his ankle injury while Trey and Lexi move through without much difficulty, giving the episode its first sense of actual racing (although only after Jaymes’ attempt to find a taxi for Trey and Lexi is foiled by their decision to actually try to get one themselves). It’s ultimately Jaymes and James who half-limp their way to the pit stop in a local park and end up Team #1, responding to their trip to Costa Rica with the requisite adrenaline-based enthusiasm. And with that, the actual “race” portion of the episode is over.
Ryan and Abbie’s race begins just as Natalie’s pants meet their end, ripping during the Detour and proving that the Pants Gods are judging them for skipping the Roadblock instead. At this point, the editors have turned the episode into four separate races: Jaymes and James vs. Trey and Lexi for first place, Brent and Josh vs. James and Abba for last place, and then the two middle teams basically racing against themselves (and their pants). Ryan’s war against the Roadblock is particularly satisfying, as smug satisfaction based on his love for brain teasers leads to an overconfident packing job before his failure is revealed. Although I don’t find Ryan and Abbie wholly unpleasant, it’s his worst quality getting mercilessly mocked by the editors, which I appreciate. He eventually—after nearly reaching an emotional breaking point—figures out his math is wrong (making the same mistake as the previous teams by failing to understand that Moscow is not “zero” in this model), but it’s a nice bit of resistance from editorial to make up for the complete lack of resistance from the competitive component of the race.
Ryan and Abbie quickly dance instruct their way through the Detour, coming in fourth place behind Natalie and Nadiya (who snuck into third when you weren’t paying attention). The final two teams have joined the course at this point, and Josh and Brent prove that not every team will avoid tests of intelligence at every turn. Brent completes the Roadblock in a single try, and they blast through the Shakers Detour without a single hesitation (and with a charming attitude), which allows them to efficiently make their way to the Pit Stop in fifth place.
In other words, the editors trying to make this out to be anything close to a race for last place were given an impossible task not dissimilar to James and Abba finding their passports in time. After spending some time trying to get access to their police report to ensure they had done everything they could, they still had to run the leg. But no matter how quickly they completed those tasks—most of which the episode glosses over (implying they may have just skipped them), showing us only a piece of their “Transport a Holy Man in a Limousine” Speed Bump—they would never be able to continue the race. They were dead men walking when the leg began, and nothing in the episode was ever going to change this.
It’s unfortunate that a circumstance outside of the producers’ control shaped the race in this way: the cab driver who drove off with their belongings killed two weeks’ worth of suspense, and has the race heading into its final weeks with a minimal amount of competitive momentum. However, while not ideal, I will say that I personally care a bit more about some of these teams than I did a few weeks ago. Without the competitive element, Jaymes and James were allowed to seem goofy without also seeming aloof, while Trey and Lexi evolved beyond scraping by to proving themselves pleasant, supportive racers in a couple of strong legs both personally and competitively. Natalie and Nadiya seemed less annoying when their “Twinny” shtick wasn’t seemingly aimed at irritating other players, while Ryan’s frustration and eventual self-deprecation were better served by the lack of an audience. I wouldn’t have said a month ago that I’d enjoy seeing these teams go through a meaningless series of tasks with absolutely no stakes, but I nonetheless enjoyed Josh and Brent’s cultured journey through Russia, especially after the hardship they faced in the pool last week.
Either way, though, the episode signals the end of the non-competitive era. From this point forward, the race needs these teams to be fighting one another. After inevitable airport bunching, the race shall begin anew.
Other thoughts on this week’s episode:
*** I appreciated the chance to step in for Dan, as I’ve now bothered to learn who is who in nearly every team, something that doesn’t come as easily when you’re mostly only half watching. It doesn’t help me with the twins, of course, but Jaymes and James are now separate entities in my brain.
*** Given how Jaymes and James’ cab driver took to the “Camera Crew” component of driving around racers, one wonders what would compel James and Abba’s cabbie to take their bags in the way he did. Was it spite? Greed? I’ll be curious to hear more from them in any exit interviews. I also wonder if this is better or worse than other passport-related infractions which have been more based on human error: is it better because it was a mistake of strategy—not releasing the cab—as opposed to simply absent-mindedness? I’m unsure.
*** Dan and his nicknames will be back next week, provided he doesn’t lose his passport in his international travels (although I don’t believe his itinerary is taking him to Russia, so he should be safe).
What’d you think of the not so epic conclusion to last week’s cliffhanger?