Recap: ‘The Amazing Race: All-Stars’ – ‘Baby Bear’s Soup’

03.03.14 4 years ago 24 Comments


This happens every year, so I should stop complaining about it. Every year, it seems that “The Amazing Race” manages to start one week ahead of the Oscars, so it's one ordinary week of recapping responsibilities and then… 
BAM… An evening spent covering the Academy Awards, followed by a late-night “Amazing Race” recap. 

All that means is that I already had most of my soul slurped from my brain by Ellen DeGeneres taking selfies and ordering pizza, John Travolta bumbling Idina Menzel's name, the discovery that Kim Novak is still alive, various “12 Years a Slave” people forgetting to thank each other, Matthew McConaughey's three rules to live by and other bits of Oscar silliness. I'm sleepy.

However, it was an eventful episode of “The Amazing Race” and even if it wasn't a perfect episode, some pretty big things happen and those things need to be discussed, so I'm going to try to stay awake and I'll do my best to knock out the major points after the break…

The way I figure it, there were four notable events in Sunday's (March 2) episode that I want to make sure I talk about before passing out, so I'm abandoning any sort of structure to this recap and I'll try to make sure I cover everything, even while listing. 

1) Mark & Mallory, we hardly knew ye.
Well that was a sad and brief run for Team New Kentucky, Mark & Mallory, who were tossed together in short notice after Bopper's medical difficulties. Many people last week suggested that it might be fun to see teams of strangers or near-strangers compete on “The Amazing Race” and tonight we saw either why it wouldn't be fun or why it would just be a different show.

In last week's exit interview, Nadiya very succinctly summed up the problem with mismatched teams: “It's such a volatile, high tension, stressful situation, I wouldn't be able to rebound.” I think that's what it comes down to and it's what did Mark & Mallory in. Racing in success? Anybody can do it. But trust and patience come into the equation when you have a hiccup and you have to figure out the best way to communicate so that you can bounce back from that hiccup. You have to understand the way the other person thinks and you have to be invested in the proper way to navigate difficult emotional terrain competitively. A lot of Sunday's struggles for all of the teams stemmed from people not being able to find anybody to speak English, but Mark and Mallory weren't speaking the same language either.

And it started so promisingly! The Roadblock asked players to assemble a motorized car, while surrounded by screaming, playful kids and with instructions that came only in the native language. Mark & Mallory arrived right in the middle of the pack, but as soon as they saw the clue saying “Who's the mechanic?” Mark jumped on it and pushed into the lead. It was an impressive performance and Mallory was very proud. The follow-up to the task involved transporting the finished car in a cab and Mark asked Mallory to keep up with his bag and she did, for the most part, except for when she left it behind as they whizzed off in the cab.

Here's where the failure to do anything decisive ultimately did them in. Mark & Mallory realized the bag was missing part-way between the Roadblock and the Detour. They pushed ahead. Why did they not go back at that moment? I'm not exactly sure. Later, they had problems figuring out how to tell a cab to get them back to that first location, but had they just turned around immediately? Yes, it pushes them back into the middle, but there's a pretty universal “Go back where we came from” symbol they could have used. They didn't. They went to the next location and delivered the car. 

The Detour had the choice between Feather-Ball and China-Cup. In Feather-Ball teams had to play hacky-sack in the pack, juggling a shuttlecock 10 times with folks in the park. In China-Cup teams had to… Dunno what, exactly. Teams had to participate in Chinese cupping therapy, which is that thing where you have hot cups applied to your back. It's therapeutic and entirely passive, so I'm mystified why all 10 remaining teams went with Feather-Ball. As I'll always tell you, that's a sign of a bad Detour. In this case, I think there was a failure of explanation, since nobody was so great at hacky-sacking either. 

But back to Mark & Mallory. Having delivered the car, they had a choice to make. Mark wanted to go back to get his bag. Mallory said that because she had Mark's passport and his car-sickness medication, they should keep going. Mallory's theory was that they had a lead, people would lend Mark clothing and she'd be willing to wear the same clothes for three weeks for a million dollars anyway. Mark? Not-so-much. He wanted his stuff, because he doesn't have much stuff. He explained that the backpack didn't belong to him.

“I don't have the means she has,” Mark explained. And you could see the sad reality here. Mallory's perspective on the world was one where tossing aside a few worldly possessions isn't such a big deal if there's a huge prize at the end. She's young and she's not poor. Mark is older and poorer and he didn't feel prepared to abandon his things on a sidewalk in China with no guarantee of seeing them and no guarantee of winning the million. Do I assume that if Mark had been willing to continue sans backpack, the “Amazing Race” team would have grabbed his bag and shipped it back to Kentucky? Yes. But do I understand that Mark's issue was one of personal priorities and not just the simple desire not to lose a borrowed backpack? Also yes. Mallory? She didn't understand so well. And I don't blame her either, per se. Their disagreement wasn't about blame and it wasn't even about priorities. It was about two people with opposing perspectives and neither with an investment in seeing things from the other perspective. And neither knew how to get that perspective across or felt like listening in the middle of an intense moment. Just wanting to do well isn't enough, obviously.

I think Mark & Mallory would have survived if they'd turned around immediately and gone to get the bag. I think they'd have survived if they didn't get the bag at all and just kept going, leaving Mark clothing-limited. I think they'd have survived if Mallory had had a better sense of Mark's pacing and Bopper's grasp on how to inspire Mark and spur him to action. And, of course, they'd have survived if they'd hacky-sacked better or, more likely, if they'd have chosen the other Detour. But better communication was at the root of everything that went on.

All of the other teams waited at the mat for Mark & Mallory's arrival. As I'll mention in a bit, there was a lot of bunching, so this wasn't an awful sacrifice on their part, but it was really a reflection of their warmth for Mark & Mallory in this difficult situation. I don't know if I've ever seen that before. It was emotional. 

On to the next notable thing…

2) The Cowboys give the Country Girls the Express Pass
Somebody tonight made a great point about Jet & Cord: When they get to tasks, they're one of the better teams in “Amazing Race” history. The reason why they're on their third “Amazing Race” shot is that they have so much trouble getting from one challenge to the next.

So tonight, Jet & Cord started with a seven-minute lead, which isn't much, but probably ought to have been enough to carry them. Instead, they kept finishing people who didn't speak English, asking them how far away the Roadblock was and then misunderstanding them. That meant that while every other team figured out that they had to either take a taxi or the subway, Jet & Cord kept running and squandered what was a lead of an hour-plus over the Country Girls, Jennifer & Caroline, who began the Leg in last.

So the Cowboys and Country Girls started the Roadblock at a comparable time. Jet was putting the car together and doing it well. Caroline was freaking out and being helpless and hopeless. So Jennifer started working her mojo on Cord. “Can we have the Express Pass?” She asked. “We're the most unassuming team,” she cajoled. “You don't want to give it to any other good team,” she explained. And when Jet finished and came back and Jen made her case to him, he agreed with little hesitation. And Jen & Caroline used that Express Pass immediately.

“The Blondes literally can't do anything on their own,” Joey complained.

That's false. 

It's just totally wrong. There were times in their season that Bates & Anthony carried Jen & Caroline, but there were also times the Hockey Brothers would have gone home without Jen & Caroline. I get that Joey & Meghan felt like the Cool Kids in their season picked on them and Joey & Meghan aren't wrong, but Jen & Caroline were part of a collective unit in that season and whether it succeeded or failed — It failed, clearly — they weren't just parasites.

And Jen *did* do something on her own. She got Jet & Cord to give up the express pass. Anybody could have asked. Anybody could have cajoled. Jen did and she did it in a moment when she sensed her partner was frustrated and struggling. Jen could do nothing to help Caroline figure out how to put together a Chinese car, so she did what she could. Seems like just about the most proactive thing that any non-participating player could possibly do at a Roadblock. You aren't going to convince me that was doing nothing. Sorry, Joey.

And as for Jet & Cord, they made one of two strategically viable uses of the second Express Pass. You can hold it for leverage at a future opportunity. That's good if you're a socially motivated team and you figure you're likely to be at a challenge where you could use an assist. Jet & Cord aren't that team. They never have been. They work with each other as a contained unit. They aren't alliance-driven. That being the case, they made the second strategically viable use of that Express Pass: They got it the heck out of the game. Immediately. It's gone. There isn't a strange and powerful advantage floating around out there in the future, an advantage that another team could have used to leapfrog them. They let a weaker team burn the Express Pass in a Leg that they weren't worried about surviving themselves. That's not the strategy everybody would use with the Express Pass, but can you imagine Jet or Cord struggling at a challenge and trying to buy assistance from another team in exchange for the Pass? That's not how they operate. Everybody's gotta make do with what they've got.

“As a girl, it's important to do stuff on your own,” grumbled Meghan. 


On to the third notable…

3) Meghan learns not to help people.
After the Express Pass had been given and all of that, it was down to Meghan and John on the Roadblock. Meghan finished. It was a nice victory for her. John was lagging and confused. So what did she do? She helped him. It was a good reminder that in the alliance-heavy Season 22, part of why 
the Hockey Brothers and that alliance managed to grow so powerful was because John & Jessica self-eliminated. They'd been aligned with Meghan & Joey previously. So Meghan helped her former bud.

I'll repeat, “As a girl, it's important to do stuff on your own.” 

But it's OK to help floundering guys? Well sure. That's progressive! Except when there are only two teams left at a Roadblock and you finishes, who stops and helps the other person? In a race for a million dollars? Nobody. 

The episode ended with Meghan realizing how close she'd come to facilitating her own demise. Maybe Team YouTube is about to get competitive?

And finally…

4) Brendon & Rachel win a Leg.
This is a bit less important, because you couldn't actually tell me what Brendon & Rachel did to win this Leg. They had an OK performance at the Roadblock, an OK performance at the Detour and then they outran the other teams to Phil at the Pit Stop, even though Rachel didn't want to. Rachel was content to jog it out, telling Brendon that she knew they weren't running for last, so why bother? Brendon countered that they might be running for first and she acquiesced. For that, they won $2500 apiece, which is kinda small potatoes. This is mostly notable because in their first season, Brendon & Rachel made it to the end without winning a single Leg. That's not hugely significant. Caroline & Jennifer and Joey & Meghan were in the same season together and won zero Legs and, in fact, only finished second once between them. [Why are Caroline & Jennifer and Meghan and Joey All-Stars again? They raced 21 Legs in their first season and combined for that one second and three thirds. That's dismal.]

I may joke about being sick of Brendon & Rachel popping up on my TV, but they were reasonably good in their first season. They finished second or third six times. They had the misfortune of participating in a season in which Rachel & Dave won eight Legs and Art & AJ won three. [The only other team to win a Leg in Season 20? Mark & Bopper, of course.]

Sunday's episode didn't have a thrilling ending, but it did have an unprecedented logjam at the mat. It wasn't just that all of the teams stuck around to say farewell to Mark & Mallory. The first seven teams came rushing at Phil Keoghan so fast that he lost track of their positions, something I've never seen him do before. A travel Equalizer at the start of the next Leg was inevitable, but the teams are basically equalized already, thanks in part to a number of the bumbles and random generosity above.

A few other quick highlights:

*** Mark had the episode-title quote. No clue what it means. But it refers to ease.

*** Big East had the second best line of the night: “Everytime I get out of a taxi, it's like I'm coming out of a birth canal or something.”

*** How did Flight Time know that that adorable Chinese kid was making fun of his sweating? She seemed to be mocking him with weird aggression, but his understanding of it was also weird.

*** Rachel cried two straight episodes about Bopper and then Mark & Mallory. But Brendon still gave her credit for not having cried in that first Leg. He grades on a curve. And Rachel really wants babies.

*** I really want sleep. It's been a long night. I'm sure this is a huge mess. I'll try to edit in the morning.

Thoughts on Sunday's episode?

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