I suppose that certain factors on “The Amazing Race” are out of the control of the producers.
If your teams are in China and you're determined to get them to Malaysian Borneo, if there are only two evening flights, there are only two evening flights. And if there's a three-hour gap between the arrival of the two flights, then there's a three-hour gap between the arrival of the two flights. And if there are only six tickets available on the first flight or perhaps only three tickets available on the second, then that's just what it is.
But if you then design a Leg in which the Roadblock is a straight-forward one-at-a-time task and the Detour includes at least one option that requires basically no effort at all, you've constructed a Leg in which six teams have almost limitless margins-for-error and the other three teams have no margin-for-error at all and could be eliminated based on one silly — albeit pretty big and, apparently, pretty predictable — error.
It took a lot of the drama out of a Leg with lots of really good elements, including the pleasure of watching several unappealing teams nearly drown (but the guiltless relief of knowing that if anybody had actually died, we wouldn't be seeing the season).
I'm probably gonna keep this recap brief, because I want to go watch the “True Detective” finale. Click through…
Farewell to Joey & Meghan.
Not to quibble about the selection process that the “Amazing Race” producers went through on this All-Stars season, but when the cast was announced, more than a few people commented on the number of slightly annoying high-energy teams that really didn't count as “favorites” for most fans. We've had three Legs and we've eliminated two of those teams in very short order and, in the case of both Joey & Meghan and Natalie & Nadiya, they weren't eliminated by any complicated task devised by the “Amazing Race” producers. The fatal wounds were entirely self-inflicted.
Joey & Meghan forgot to tell their cab to stay when they reached the first Roadblock in Borneo. It was just that simple. Eight teams told their cabs to stay. We, in fact, watched nearly all of those teams tell their cabs to stay. I, in fact, wrote in my notes “They're going to get lengths to show us that people are making their cabs stay.” Eight teams did it. One team did not. Farewell, Joey & Meghan. Shades of their first season, when they couldn't find a cab in Switzerland and walked several miles in the show to what turned out to be a Non-Elimination Leg, Joey & Meghan had to hike down the road, get the help of a guy with a cell phone and then wait for a cab. We have no clue how long this process took. It almost might not have made any difference, since Joey & Meghan were already in last at the time. We don't know how far they fell behind. We don't know how much time they made up. Nothing. For all intents and purposes, the decision not to keep the cab was the only meaningful thing that happened in Sunday's Leg.
End of recap!
Joey & Meghan finished in next-to-last in the first Leg, surviving only because Natalie & Nadiya were dysfunctional. They finished next-to-last in the second Leg, surviving only because Mark & Mallory were dysfunctional. This wasn't an elimination-of-karma. Joey & Meghan are and were decent folks! They just ran out of dysfunctional competition.
Of course, had they just managed to make it onto that first flight, none of that would have mattered. All indications are that the advantage between the first group of six and Joey & Meghan, Rachel & Brendon and Jessica & John was so great that if one of those Top 6 teams had let their cab go, they probably could have ordered a new cab, enjoyed a leisurely cocktail, screwed up both sides of the Detour, drowned, been resurrected — “Resurrection”! Premiering tonight on ABC! — and still made it to Phil ahead of the last three.
The tasks were straight-forward.
The Roadblock task was Face the Falls and asked one Racer to rappel 10 stories down an ancient waterfall with the Travelocity Gnome in tow, grabbing a clue on the way down. Because of the dimensions of the waterfall, only one player could descend at a time, meaning that it was 100 percent impossible to gain or lose standing without a big screw-up. Cowboy Cord made a big mistake and overshot the clue. As a result, he had to go back up and try again, losing one position in the pecking order.
I'm sure it was fun. It wasn't a good “Amazing Race” task.
The Detour wasn't much better, but the required activities around the Detour were fantastic.
The Detour? River Delivery or Run Through the Jungle.
In River Delivery, you had to take a box of goods to a local tribal elder. Nothing else. Yes, the box was heavy, but the sole requirement of the task was keeping the delivery box intact and carrying it a short distance.
In Jungle Run, teams had to learn how to shoot a blow-spear and then each player had to successfully nail a stuffed bird. This task was fun, because depending on your luck, you'd either be taught by a sexy jungle warrior woman or a little guy who looked like nothing so much as a Bornean Ron Jeremy. It wasn't hard. But at least you had to do something and there was the remote possibility for error.
The catch was that before going to either Detour, you had to construct a raft of bamboo poles and twine and then navigate the raft down the river to one task or the next.
From what we could see, if you were a strong paddler, the river was pretty smooth. If you kept to the middle or possibly the far side of the river, there were no rapids. If, however, you let yourself be carried by the current, you could get stuck in choppy water and shallows and there was a good chance your raft could become a liability.
The rapids added drama. We saw Margie & Luke get bloody wounds as their raft shattered. We saw the Afghanimals get wedged against a bank. We saw Jen nearly shear her finger off between tightly wedged poles. We saw Brendon swim up against the current to find a lost piece and then repair their raft (as Rachel miraculously avoided bawling).
But as entertaining as that side of things was, how much did it matter?
Dave & Connor managed to float right by the first Detour, arrive at the second Detour much further along, get out and walk the heavy box of supplies back up the river, deliver it, return to their raft and still win the Leg. They made as big a mistake as it was really possible to make within the task — a mistake that wasn't part of either Detour — and lost no time. [Does anybody actually understand how that went down? Dave & Connor overshot the first Detour and kept going. The Afghanimals arrived at the Detour and finished it. The Cowboys arrived, the Afghanimals elected not to lie to them and the Cowboys finished. But then Dave & Connor, despite their extra hiking, completed the Detour first. I'm sure there was an easy answer that I missed while half-watching college basketball.]
So there wasn't much to the Leg. The river added drama. The Detour did not. In the case of each and every team attempting the bird-shooting, the first person nailed the target fast. A couple of the second shooters took a little longer, but nobody took so long that frustration set in. John got to complain that Jessica was Pocahontas and he was John Smith and John Smith needed a gun, but that was just blather, not real duress.
Joey & Meghan went down with grace. In their first run, they freaked out when they took their Switzerland hike and in several other situations. This time, having realized their taxi mistake, they were utterly calm. No tears. No shrill noises. They did what was necessary to correct the mistake and even though they never saw another team, they never freaked out. Perhaps they learned something from that first experience about handling adversity?
Couple other thoughts on Sunday's Leg:
*** Country Girl quote-of-the-episode: “Just shoving it in the breast. It's a good spot for everything, really,” said Caroline as Jen grabbed the clue and tucked it in her chest doing the Roadblock. It's not an especially great quote until you recall the story of Joey the Flying Squirrel, who Caroline kept in her shirt. Joey, if you'll recall, died of loneliness. “Her boobs were not enough,” Jennifer lamented in their exit interview from their season. Suddenly, you see how this is a life motto for Caroline. And that makes me laugh.
*** Country Girl second-place quote-of-the-episode: “We're like Huck Finn and Oliver Twist,” creating the Twain/Dickens literary mash-up you never knew you needed. I also liked that Jennifer's speed with the dart-shooting allowed Caroline to compare her to John Wayne, allowing Jennifer to remind us that The Duke was her grandfather. That's wicked cool, even if Jennifer is too young to have ever met him.
*** Random xenophobia-of-the-episode: “When you don't speak Chinese, just make random noises.” Good, Jamal. Come on, man. Even if you think something that ignorant, don't say it when you have a camera sticking in your face. And don't look PROUD of it.
*** Big Easy was too big to do the rappelling Roadblock. I feel like it's always worth mentioning that even though Flight Time and Big Easy are professional athletes (kinda), this Race is very hard on people as big as Big Easy. They continue to be as likable as team as you could ever hope for.
*** Brendon & Rachel got a bum deal. They started the Leg in first, got a cab immediately and their cabbie took them to the airport via the worst possible route, as they fell from the lead into seventh, exactly far enough to end up on the second flight. I'd be happy to mock them if they'd done anything even slightly wrong, but this was not their problem at all. On the other hand? Rachel doing the Roadblock in her underwear to avoid messing up her sequin shorts? That was just a cruel, cruel thing to do to the “Amazing Race” intern in charge of pixelation.
OK. “True Detective” time. Thoughts on the Leg? Thoughts on the departure of Joey & Meghan?