I've been reflecting on Friday (May 1) night's “The Amazing Race” for nearly 20 minutes now and I have to admit this: I have basically nothing to say.
So… Kudos, “The Amazing Race,” for cutting together an episode so full of redundant, deja vu moments that I have very little desire to rant or rave or analyze.
Another episode built around awkwardly wedged in product placement? Sure, why not? Yeah, we've been steadily plugging FitBit all season long, but why not throw in literally the least visually stimulating challenge built around the little fitness bracelets? Yes, tonight's math equation challenge was dull, but it was still less cringeworthy than what “Amazing Race” did with Ford and Travelocity this season. Whatever grace the show once had with product plugs has vanished and now I just cringe whenever a brand name is mentioned. But that's not new. It's been happening all season long.
Another episode built around the amusingly unpleasant interactions between Hayley and Blair? Sure, why not. I don't know how much of it is editing, but you can pretty much take to the bank that every episode is going to have at least one situation in which Blair marches ahead determinedly wrong or stubborn as Hayley runs 10 feet behind him protesting that they went past the correct turn/direction/location previously, with Blair totally ignoring Hayley's yapping and Hayley eventually being vindicated. And Friday's episode started with a vintage passive-aggressive bit of shunning from Blair and the same annoying-but-totally-justified mewling from Hayley. But that's not new. It's been happening all season. [At least Friday's episode also showcased Blair's strengths.]
And another episode in which the team working from the back of the pack never really had a chance to get back into the competition and departed with a drama-free whimper? Yeah, that's happened nearly every week this season. In a season without big, high stakes Detours and Roadblocks, it's been impossible for any pair to either succeed astoundingly at something or fail horrifyingly at something. I assume the producers were going for parity and they achieved it at the top, where three of the four remaining teams have won two Legs apiece and the other team has one Leg, but in negating the chances for excellence, you also negate the chances for failure and you're left without chances for big moves. That's not new. It's been happening all season.
And boy oh boy this all made Friday's Leg a bore.
More after the break…
Farewell, Matt & Ashley. You were likable enough, but you weren't great or awful at anything. So once they fell into last place during the last Leg, it was pretty much predetermined that they'd stay in last and go home and, indeed, Matt & Ashley were in the rear the entire time, never going head-to-head with another team on any task even for a second. They were last to the Roadblock, after the other teams were gone, and they were last to the Detour and although they briefly spotted Tyler & Laura during the Detour, that was only because their cabbie took them to the wrong place. If their cabbie had taken them where they wanted to go, they'd have been alone throughout.
And that's just not good TV.
And the “Amazing Race” producers tried at least somewhat to give Matt & Ashley a break. It just didn't work.
The episode began with semi-equalization as teams took two different flights from Amsterdam to Peru. Silly Tyler & Laura decided to celebrate Laura's birthday with drinks aplenty rather than asking the travel agent if they could get on an earlier flight, so despite a dominating Leg win last episode, they slipped back into a three-team pack with Matt & Ashley and Mike & Rochelle, while Hayley & Blair and Jenny & Jelani, less invested in drinking in Amsterdam and not invited to Laura's mini-party, got on an earlier flight and finished in the lead.
So the producers gave Matt & Ashley a break there and then gave them a break with one of the dumbest Speed-Bumps ever. As cute as it was to say that their task was to “apply for a llama loan,” because “llama loan” is fun to repeat, the task was “Know how to use a typewriter.” Ashley did. It wasn't good TV and it wasn't a difficult task. But even if that Speed-Bump only too five minutes, that was probably enough to get washed out in an episode that offered few other points of differentiation.
The Roadblock asked one player from each pair to use a machete to help clear a portion of a sugar cane field. Nobody was “good” or “bad” at the Roadblock, because there wasn't a specific skill being tested. Definitely men were faster, but the only two women to do the Roadblock were Hayley and Jenny, who began with such a huge advantage by virtue of being on that earlier flight that we didn't get any perspective on how much faster a strong man might have been at the field-clearing. My guess? Some. But not a lot. Several people came away from the Roadblock with an appreciation for manual labor, but that's a flimsy foundation for a task.
Then teams had to do the FitBit challenge which required basic addition and division. Nobody was good or bad at it, because it wasn't intermediate addition and division, plus they had calculators. It was just a chance to keep saying “FitBit” over and over again.
Then the Detour was the choice between Papas and Mamas.
In Papas, players had to separate huge piles of potatoes into four different types, deliver them to a vendor and slot the correct potato types in a stall.
In Mamas, teams had to wander around a market collecting ingredients for a certain kind of Peruvian moonshine and then deliver it to an old woman who Phil Keoghan claims makes the best version of that moonshine, a very random piece of information for Phil to possess.
Mamas was the sort of local immersion task that's extremely complicated when the language is unfamiliar to every team and the markets are vast. in this case, the stores were close together and Spanish is the least foreign of available foreign languages, even if Ashley kept getting frustrated with cabbies for not speaking English. Blair, for example, spoke very good Spanish and people were happy to help in and his confidence with the language was a small part of why Hayley & Blair were able to win their second Leg, picking up the second FitBit fitness pack of the season. And while Mike & Rochelle didn't speak Spanish, they're polite and friendly and the Detour didn't cause them stress either.
Papas required more physical labor and also required distinguishing between four times of potatoes. And when you failed, the vendor upended the stall and the potatoes rolled everywhere, which was disheartening, if nothing else. But each team to do this Detour failed at least once and there was no way to tell if the sort-first-then-carry approach used by Jenny & Jelani and Matt & Ashley was better or worse strategy than Tyler & Laura's carry-and-the-sort approach. It looked like frustration might be possible, but it was only temporary.
If you were quick, Mamas appeared to be the easier task, but I don't know how much easier. If you think it was a ton faster, then maybe you can pretend that if Matt & Ashley had been taken to Mamas as they wanted to be, instead of being driven first to the end of Papas and then the beginning of Papas, maybe that would have let them move ahead of Laura & Tyler.
It didn't happen.
[UPDATE: A couple people are saying that Matt & Ashley were taken to Mamas, but Tyler told them they were in the wrong place. I honestly wasn't sure if that was the case, or if there were two different markets. If they were taken the right place and Tyler told them it was the wrong place, we have to ask either if Tyler was lying to them and trying to screw them up or if he was genuinely unaware. I don't know.]
A few other thoughts from Friday's Leg:
*** Was it Jenny who got the episode title quote? it wasn't memorable. For the second straight week, Laura should have gotten the quote-of-the-episode for the out-of-context dirtiness of “Use your spit.” She did not.
*** Laura and Tyler had their first brief moments of impatience with each other in this episode when their cabbie took them to Papa instead of Mama. It wasn't dramatic. Nothing was.
*** Phil just keeps trying to pretend that the “romance” side of this season wasn't a total washout. “It looks like you're so close, and yet…” he told Hayley & Blair after they celebrated their win with a hug. They insisted they're BFFs. Then he asked Jenny & Jelani if they were disappointed to end up with friendship instead of love and they both agreed they were not. Finally, Phil desperately told Tyler and Laura, “You're compatible,” but they wouldn't take the bait.
Yup. That's it.