Hey! Look at that!
“The Amazing Race” is, indeed, capable of making at least minor corrections.
Last season's penultimate episode was, if you'll recall, a bit of a logical mess.
Brooke & Robbie, who I've mostly forgotten, finished first, but got nothing for their trouble, because it was a “Keep On Racing…” Leg. Amy & Maya finished last and not only were they not eliminated and not only did they not face a Speed-Bump in the next Leg because it was a “Keep On Racing…” Leg rather than a Non-Elimination Leg, but they went on to win, becoming one of the two or three least dominant “Amazing Race” winners ever.
It was stupid. Because the last Leg always begins with travel back to the United States and is usually an Equalizer, Brooke & Robbie didn't win a prize as the winners of the Leg, didn't get a time advantage and basically did a Leg of activities for nothing, while finishing last didn't penalize Amy & Maya in any way and they were even essentially rewarded because the subsequent Equalizer erased whichever deep hole the Food Scientists often found themselves in.
At least Friday (May 8) night's “Amazing Race” episode, featuring the penultimate Leg of this season, corrected a piece of that…
Hayley & Blair got a trip to India!
So at least what Hayley & Blair did to win what was surely the most difficult Leg of the season earned them SOMETHING.
So there's that. “The Amazing Race” made a small improvement, or at least fixed something that irked me last year. I don't believe for a second that I had anything to do with the change, but I'll take it.
Otherwise, everything in Friday's Leg was, in fact, eerily similar.
Mike & Rochelle, while extremely likable, have definitely been this season's weakest team and I don't think anybody would argue. They have one Leg win and two seconds and, therefore, they're much stronger than Amy & Maya, but they've had more struggles than any other remaining pair other than Hayley & Blair in those first two Legs before they locked in. So Mike & Rochelle finished last and while the editing kept things mysterious, I think it was obvious that they finished pretty far back. Every single step of the Leg battered them, including the Roadblock, the Detour and transportation and navigation between steps. This was a Leg that tested a lot of things and Mike & Rochelle struggled with a lot of things and by rights this would have been a fair and earned Leg for them to go home on, but also a Leg where they could point to their determination with pride. Instead, not only did they survive, but they won't be penalized in any way and, in fact, they'll presumably be on the same flight as everybody else.
But at least Hayley & Blair got that trip to India, so the Leg counted for something and last year's penultimate Leg wasn't even a Leg, so it was an hour of TV to no purpose either for viewers or the people participating.
As I was watching Friday's Leg, I thought back to those first two episodes, in which Blair & Hayley bickered their way to eighth and ninth place finishes and a thought came to me that I probably could have realized last week or possibly the week before: What if the first half of the season was completely misdirection. We've been led to believe first that Jenny & Jelani, who won the first two Legs, were a perfect pair. Then Jeff & Jackie did OK and they seemed like a cute couple. And finally Laura & Tyler, with wins in the eight and ninth Legs, seemed like they might be on their way to a million dollars and making attractive babies with strong teeth.
But what if this has been some sort of “Romancing the Stone” thing in which Blair & Hayley were edited to look like the weakest of pairings and the oiliest and wateriest of oil/water combinations and what they actually were were oil and egg yolks and by the time we get to the finale, not only are they going to be an unbeatable “Amazing Race” team, but maybe they're going to be a delicious aioli as a couple? Because I watched Hayley and Blair interacting on different tasks tonight and darned if I didn't start thinking, “Huh. They're kinda sweet together and maybe they really like each other.” I don't mean “like each other” in that desperate way that Phil Keoghan has been trying to ram home all season, but maybe they really have found an understanding and a way of interacting that works for them and maybe Hayley actually is smart and a good cheerleader and Blair is smart and strong and maybe they're a good competitive union? All I know is that heading into Leg 11, Blair & Hayley have three firsts, three seconds and two thirds. Jenny & Jelani and Laura & Tyler both have two wins and six Top 3 finishes. The “Amazing Race” editors have won many Emmys and if the surprise revelation of next Friday's finale is that not only did Hayley & Blair win the million, but they've been dating and they're now engaged, well that might be the show's greatest sleight of hand yet.
Or else Mike & Rochelle going to pull an Amy & Maya and storm back to win as underdogs and at least Mike will get to meet Rochelle's kid and they'll also have enough money to apparently buy their hometown, which is nice.
What actually went down in Friday's tough, but elimination-free, Leg?
Well, it started with a visit to South America's biggest mosaic, where they had to find a tiny sticker clue on one of countless tiny tiles. It would have been a harder challenge if they hadn't gotten pictures showing them a part of the mosaic to search in. It would have been an easier task if they hadn't had to deal with a clown before and after.
For one of the first times this season, things weren't quickly equalized and Blair & Hayley and Jenny & Jelani, who began the Leg with a solid lead, were able to maintain that lead throughout, even with some labor. Mike & Rochelle started in third ahead of Laura & Tyler, who struggled with potatoes last week, but a broken-down cab dropped Mike & Rochelle into last, where they stayed for the rest of the Leg.
Both Detours were tough.
Make Some Bricks asked teams to go to an archeological site and make 12 bricks to the satisfaction of the foreman and then transport 12 more bricks to another, relatively far-off, destination. The effort in the brick-making was surprising and the foreman was exacting, but the distance to transport the very heavy bricks was far further than I would have guessed.
Shake Your Hips was the basic “Learn a local dance and be judged” task. It's a familiar “Amazing Race” fall-back challenge in general and from Japan to Thailand, we've had three different choreography challenges this season, though only the Thai Ladyboy routine was required.
Nobody had an easy time with either task, which meant that the order wasn't able to change.
Over at Make Some Bricks, Hayley & Blair tried to get away with sloppy handiwork the first time around before figuring out that in order to make tight, usable bricks, you had to be assertive. Then they had to make multiple trips with the wheelbarrow and bricks because while Hayley was able to be slightly helpful, she was more helpful in a brief relief capacity. They still did well with the task and, astoundingly, didn't fight at all. Tyler & Laura did better initially with the bricks-making and then in the transporting of the bricks, Tyler put all 12 bricks in the wheelbarrow and delivered them in a single trip, which was the most impressive physical feat I've seen since the Hockey Brothers were carrying barrels up a hill. Tyler then had to put in extra effort when Laura accidentally broke one of the bricks, forcing him to return run back with a single brick.
As for Mike & Rochelle, they got to Make Some Bricks while Tyler & Laura were still brick-making, but they gave up in a hurry. I don't think they would have been able to make up any time had they stayed, but leaving pretty much doomed them to last.
Shake Your Hips? Well, the judges weren't easy and they wanted attitude and spirit and whatnot. So it took Jenny & Jelani a couple attempts and Mike & Rochelle at least five. It wasn't really all that much fun to watch, especially compared to the excruciatingly precise robot-dancing in Japan and the heavily made-up cabaret show in Thailand.
Next year? Fewer choreography challenges and fewer challenges asking people to be waiters and waitresses, eh “The Amazing Race”?
Because of the time separating the teams and the fact that nobody did either task flawlessly, there was no way to tell which Detour side was faster. And I guess I like that. These were two Detours that taxed different attributes and while you chose the side that was more within your comfort zone, it wasn't like we had any professional dancers or masons to skew the competition.
And the Roadblock also was hard, especially since Laura and Rochelle had to do it because their partners had taken a disproportionate number of Roadblocks.
In the Roadblock, both Racers had to carry reed-boats down to the beach and then one contestant had to figure out how to paddle the darned thing through the waves to a buoy. Strength and agility were required, but also balance and having a basic strategy. People did lots of wiping out and near-drowning and Jelani's flat-on-his-back rowing was especially hilarious. But nobody instantly aced it, no matter how athletic they were.
So I liked the Roadblock.
And I liked the Detours (with reservations about the repetitive choreography).
I liked that there wasn't any visible product placement.
And I liked that they corrected at least a small piece of last year's penultimate Leg problem.
See? I'm in a positive mood tonight, so I'd better stop.
A few other thoughts on tonight's Leg:
*** This recap is late in posting because I've had to do three news stories associated with pre-upfronts chaos. Apologies. It's amazing I made it through this recap at all.
*** Why did they go with Tyler's cliched “In It To Win It” as the episode title when they could have used Hayley's “This mural is not kidding” or “I'm becoming a pro at the manual labor”? Or Jenny's “The boat is riding him right now”? Or Laura's “Magic! Yay!” response to the clown as Tyler was rolling his eyes in the background?
*** Watched the episode on my tiny Slingbox screen. When Tyler & Laura zipped by Mike & Rochelle, did Mike & Rochelle wave or flip them off? I couldn't tell. I'm just glad that that really wasn't the determining factor for why Mike & Rochelle finished last. Yes, it squandered their full advantage over Laura & Tyler, but Mike & Rochelle got to the Bricks Detour when Laura & Tyler were in the very earliest stages. The choices they made from there were the choices they made from there, but they still theoretically had most of a Detour and a full Roadblock in which to catch up. They did not.
*** I'm just saying: When Phil announced that Blair & Hayley had won a trio to Goa, Blair wasn't nearly as horrified as he was last time they won a trip together…
Sorry for all the typos that I'm sure are here. It's been a beast of a day.
What'd you think of the episode?