In its lesser moments, “The Amazing Race” has been prone to being geographically irrelevant. All too often, teams fly thousands of miles around the globe, arrive at one of the world’s most remote, most exotic locations and then teams are asked to bungee jump or to swim a few laps in a pool. They’re asked to do things that could pretty much be done anywhere on Earth without any variation in the task or the outcome.
Recap: ‘The Amazing Race — ‘Cathy Drone?’
Perhaps that’s why I’m tolerant, even excited, about an episode like Sunday’s (March 21) “Amazing Race.” Normally, I wouldn’t exactly be pleased by an hour that ended and began with the same team in first and the same team in last and only a little minor shuffling in the middle. But “Cathy Drone?” was a lovely celebration of French Champagne Country, awash in important life (and “Race”) lessons and, in some ways, a clever counter to traditional “Amazing Race” strategy.
Full recap of Sunday’s “Race” after the break…
Let us begin by saying farewell to Jeff & Jordan, who began Sunday night’s leg a full 40 minutes behind Brent & Caite and did little to make up that distance. A faster team or a smarter team might have had opportunities to make up time in Sunday’s episode, but Jeff & Jordan were neither faster nor smarter and thus, they’re now finished, with only Jordan’s “Big Brother” winnings to console them. They started the leg in last and when they finally managed to catch up in precisely the one place they could have made up time, they instead made a stupid choice which sealed their fate. But more on that in a bit.
It was another episode of dumbness on “The Amazing Race: All-Stupids Edition,” though presumably there will be some collective IQ elevation with Jeff & Jordan’s departure. The episode launched with the teams being sent to Reims, which they all pronounced as if it were the birthplace of porn star Harry Reems, rather than a French city with a lovely cathedral and a statue of Joan of Arc.
You all know Joan of Arc, right?
“He carried all of the animals,” observed Jordan.
Yes. She was confusing Joan *of* Arc with Noah who built *an* Ark, but she apparently wasn’t the only one with a little perplexity. Caite later looked at an unrelated statue, said that it had to be the right statue, because of all of the animals and because, “Joan of Arc is a guy.”
Sigh. Next to the statue of Joan, the teams met a singing saw player — Because Joan of Arc was a great lover of the singing saw? — and were handed a champagne cork. Here, for some reason, the Jet & Cord decided the only important part of the cork was that it came from champagne and so they set off for the town of the same name (without any indications of where they were supposed to go once there), while every other team went off to the specific location printed on the cork. Oh, Cowboys!
The Roadblock? Not hard, but fun. One player from each team had to rappel down a 100 foot tunnel into a cave of champagne, find one of several marked bottles of the fizzy stuff and saber-open the bottle. It looked as if the long walls of champagne bottles might yield some needle-in-haystack pressures. Instead, the teams had to line up to rappel down the tunnel and in no case was there a single instance in which two Racers were going through the bottles at the same time, meaning that the searching time was even less than the rappelling time.
What followed was the episode’s only minor differentiator. The clue, hidden within the champagne bottles, told the teams to go to Taittinger La Marquetterie. None of the teams thought to go rogue like the Cowboys and try to find the location themselves. They went to an assortment of locals and also to several nearby tourist information centers or travel bureaus. Strangely, they got two answers.
One group of helpful Frenchmen saw only the “Taittinger” part of the clue and sent teams to Harry Reims, home of the Taittinger headquarters and public facilities. The teams sent to Harry Reims included Dan & Jordan, Steve & Allie, the Cowboys and Jeff & Jordan.
The other group of genuinely helpful Frenchmen read the “La Marquetterie” piece of the clue and sent those teams to Pierry. The luckiest of those teams was Louie & Mike, who got two natives to escort them to the proper location and to the Detour.
The Detour featured another champagne-based task: Tower or Terra (or “Tiara” as the ever-annoying Brandy read it).
On the surface, this looked like one of the most diabolical Detour choices I can remember. On one hand, you had Terra, a classic needle-in-a-haystack task, with teams asked to find one of several bunches of carefully marked grapes scattered through a square kilometer field of vines. Yikes. On the other hand, you had Tower, in which contestants had to take 680 champagne glasses, make a pyramid 15 levels high and then do that kitschy thing where you pour a Balthazar (or possibly a Nabuchadnezzar) or champagne across the pyramid, creating a bubbly cascade.
You could not have paid me enough to take the Tower option. I’d have preferred to walk a quarter mile across a road paved with broken champagne bottles than to attempt to stack 680 of anything in any way that would be stable enough to pour any quantity of anything over them.
And yet I understand the choice that Dan & Jordan made in selecting Tower: As I think Dan explained, on “The Amazing Race,” you’re almost always better off picking the task that requires skill over the one that requires luck. At least 8 times out of 10 on this show, if you follow that course of action, you’re going to be right. This, however, was one of the two. Dan & Jordan were admirably successful in their stacking and careful pouring, using knowledge accumulated at many bar mitzvahs over the years. [I too have been to many bar mitzvahs over the years, but I’ve never been to a single bar mitzvah with a champagne pyramid, owing largely to bar mitzvah’s being celebrations for 13-year-olds.] As well as Dan & Jordan did, they got passed by a number of teams that went the Terra route. They were also the only team to succeed at the Tower, right?
Caite & Brent started with Terra, with Caite pouting, dragging her feet and complaining the whole way. Brent finally got sick of Caite’s complaining and they went and did Tower, where he complained the whole way and where their tower toppled with a sickening and costly crash. They promptly went back out to Terra, with Caite resuming her whining as if nothing had changed.
It was here that Jeff & Jordan arrived. They got to the Detour and saw that Caite & Brent were doing Terra and decided their best course of action would be to go do Tower. Wrong choice. And I can’t see any logic to that choice. Were Jeff & Jordan to run out to the rows of grapes, they would have been absolutely equal with their rivals, since teams were walking by marked bunches left and right. It wasn’t a task that took anybody else that long, one that the Cowboys practically did at a sprint. If I get there and I see Brent & Caite, the first time they saw another team all leg, there’s no chance I’m taking my eyes off of the only team I know I might beat. I’m sprinting to Terra and even if it’s pure luck, I’m hoping I find the correct grapes first and can then know that I’m heading to the pit stop in the lead. Or even if Brent & Caite finish before me, I know exactly how far ahead they are and if there’s any chance of catching them driving. Instead, Jeff & Jordan went and did tower, they nearly completed their stack and it came crashing down. They then went back to Terra and knew that Brent & Caite were done and that they had almost certainly been eliminated.
Oh well. Jeff & Jordan were both very cute and very up-beat about being sent home.
Other thoughts on Sunday’s episode:
*** Jeff was on a tear as he and Jordan reached the endm knowing elimination was neigh. “What are we doing this for? To teach kids to stay in school?” he pondered as they went through grapes. Then, noting the darkness, he observed, “How pissed do you think Phil is?”
*** Phil wasn’t pissed. How *could* you be pissed if you’re getting to hang out for hours with a French mime. But what a waste of the mime! All he had to do was point at a sign telling the teams they’d reached the Pit Stop. Even Phil got to do more miming in showing the teams what number they are.
*** The Detectives finished first for the third straight leg. There was a brief period where they fell behind first Steve & Allie and then Dan & Jordan, but after getting the helpful (and correct) directions to the Detour, they finished Terra in no time, with Mike getting the line of the night when he barked, “If I can find crack in someone’s rear end, I can find grapes in a vineyard.” Go Detectives! Note that this level of wire-to-wire dominance is why “Amazing Race” utilizes so many travel-based equalizers.
*** Last week, a commenter wanted to try telling me that Brent & Caite aren’t stupid, they’re just young. And they most *certainly* are young. Caite dragging her feet up and down the rows of vines complaining that Brent always gets his way was a vintage 4-year-old move and Brent’s subsequent behavior wasn’t much better. But this was also the second consecutive episode in which Brent & Caite proved incapable of asking for directions and somehow ended up at the Pit Stop having skipped a required step of the race. That’s just… not clever. As long as they were trying hard and being upbeat, I still was happy to root for Brent & Caite, but if they’re both going to be pouty infants, I can’t work with that.
*** Well, at least Allie & Steve got a little more screentime this week, but it came at a cost, with Steve damaging the front bumper of their car on a curb and then doing emergency roadside repairs with a roll of duct tape. The end of their anonymity also ended their streak of second place finishes, though they only fell to third.
*** The Cowboys went to the wrong city in the first place and then were sent to Harry Reims in place of the correct Taittinger facility and yet, by completing the Terra Detour in no time, they still finished fourth. That amazes me a bit. It’s like the Cowboys were toying with the competition. And I loved their rationalizing that their day of driving in the French countryside is the kind of thing tourists pay thousands for. Go Cowboys!
*** Dan & Jordan get the Ugly Americans Award for this episode for their “Why don’t foreigners speak better English?” rant after not understanding a slightly accented “Cathedral” from a friendly native. Cathy drone, indeed.
*** Lots of wasted champagne and shattered glass in this episode. I was pleased that Jeff took a swig from the bottle at the Roadblock and pleased that Dan & Jordan toasted at the end of the Detour.
*** If you’ve read my recaps regularly, you know I hate equalizers, but I’d be in favor of one in the next episode. We’ve had too many episodes in a row with stagnant team placements and with tasks that failed to adjust the order at all. Tonight was no exception. Heidi & Joe failed spectacularly at a task last week, but I’d love to see some team succeed spectacularly at a task and go from last to first or something.
Anyway, what’d you think of Sunday’s “Amazing Race”? Happy with the results or disappointed to see Jeff & Jordan gone?