Recap: ‘The Amazing Race’ – ‘It Was Like a Caravan of Idiots’

03.08.09 9 years ago

Sonja Flemming/CBS

Russian playwright Anton Chekhov was born in 1860 and died in 1904. He was also a short story writer and a physician, but his plays include “The Seagull,” “Uncle Vanya” and “The Cherry Orchard.” 

He is, as we say, kind of a big deal.

I only mention this because on Sunday (March 8) night’s episode of “The Amazing Race,” eight players had to unscramble the name of a Russian playwright from a pile of seven letters. For at least six of them, the task was impossible and required total guesswork.

That just makes me a little sad. I understand that awareness of theater is a class-based knowledge, but I’m not convinced that it’s asking too much for a general body of people, most with at least some high school or college education, to be able to name one Russian playwright and if you’re going to know the name of one Russian playwright, it might as well be Chekhov. 

OK. I just had to get that snobbery out of the way. Actually, being able to spell “Chekhov” had almost nothing to do with the way Sunday’s episode broke down.

[Recap after the break…]

After three consecutive absolutely super episodes to start the season, Sunday night’s “Amazing Race” leg was the first semi-dud of the season. There was a lot of stupidity from the teams, very little actual achievement and the tasks left little room for making up or losing time or position.

The episode began with Tammy and Victor well behind after their misadventures in the stomach-churning last leg. The teams were all equalized at the airport, though for reasons that were never explained, the teams ended up on four different flights to Moscow, which caused all but three teams to miss their flight to Siberia. I guess Jodi and Christie was smart (or realistic) enough to correctly gauge connection times, which is why they made it to Siberia with the first group and part of why they were able to win the leg. I like for there to be clear and active choices that the teams make in the airports, leading to gambles like the one Brad and Victoria took last week, sending them home. I’m not a fan of what happened tonight, with a few random connections just missing.

Speaking of choices, the thought process on the week’s Detour was perplexing. The choice was between Stack and Construct. Every single team decided to stack, despite seeing the mammoth and precariously piled mountains of wood. At least four or five teams wasted what we can only guess was an hour or two stacking wood, only to have their piles collapse, forcing them to go to Construct, which only required making some shutters, finding a marked house and delivering them. The explanation for why some piles teetered and other piles remained stable may have involved engineering and careful design, but just as likely it was luck and vagaries of wood shape. In any case, it wasn’t nearly as exciting as the drunk Russian locals, with their accordions and vodka, seemed to think it was.

Then the Roadblock was a total rip-off of a challenge from this summer’s “The Mole,” involving contestants having to simultaneously bobsled rapidly and memorize things. A big deal was made about the participant having to come in at under four minutes, but that seems not to have been a real challenge. Then, with the letters in front of them, most of the teams ended up guessing, randomly tossing together the most stereotypical Russian-sounding name they could. Only Victor looked at the pile of letters and said, “Who doesn’t know who Chekhov is?” [We never saw Mel White’s thought process, but I’m just going to assume he also got Chekhov right off.]

The most dramatic meltdown at the C-H-E-K-H-O-V board came courtesy of Luke, which prompted some rather odd behavior from Margie. Luke, as we all know, is deaf, but that doesn’t have anything to do with his lack of knowledge of Russian literary titans. Just last week Margie was telling us that Luke’s smart and went to college. Kisha also went to college and didn’t know Chekhov, but Jen never tried making a string of excuses for her, musing on how she must not have understood the task or talking about how well she did or didn’t know English. Luke understood the question just fine and his mom’s coddling and condescending wouldn’t have done any good. His problem wasn’t being deaf and it wasn’t not processing the question and it wasn’t even not being aware of the way the Russian language looks or sounds. He just didn’t know the answer.

I wasn’t feeling so great about Luke and Margie in general, since they decided to U-Turn Kris and Amanda. U-Turns are part of the game. I get that. I’d question whether there was a reason for Luke and Margie to use it in this case, especially since they only used it to support another team, cheerleaders Jaime and Cara, which is almost never a worthwhile idea. I also don’t like the new Blind U-Turn. If you’re going to U-Turn another team, own it. Stand by your decision. I wonder if Luke and Margie would have been so quick to U-Turn if they’d figured they could face potential blowback. I question the necessity of the U-Turn, but you can’t argue with the results. 

Kris and Amanda, a pretty young couple who somehow never got annoying, are gone and the U-Turn sealed their fate. It may not have been required, though, since no advantages were gained or lost at the Roadblock and they were already last after the Detour. They didn’t do anything all that wrong at the Detour, so I don’t know how they fell behind, but that’s just the mark of a subpar challenge.

The saddest part? The teaser for next week’s episode indicates there’s a chilly underwear challenge and Amanda missed out. I’m sure she’s disappointed.

Anyway, other thoughts on the episode:

*** Funniest moment? Jaime and Cara phone pranking Mark and Michael in the cabs at the beginning, making the stuntmen think they were talking to an airline agent. I think if the gag had cost Mark and Michael any time, it would have been a problem, but since it was just confusing for the little guys, it was funny.

*** Where did Mark and Michael’s money go? How were they the only team with any trouble paying their cabbie at the pit stop? It’s always been my opinion that if you stiff a cabbie, you should have to pay a harsh penalty, but it looked like Mark and Michael were far enough ahead of Kris and Amanda that it wouldn’t have mattered. Mark and Michael keep doing really stupid things and it annoys me to see teams repeatedly getting away with one mental error after another. Mark and Michael aren’t up to the Dan and Andrew level from last season, but they may be there in a couple weeks.

*** Why was the Construct part of the Detour complicated? Or at least why was it so hard to find the house that needed construction. I understand that Mark and Michael probably can’t read, but I don’t get why everybody else had such a struggle.

*** Line of the episode: Mike White on Mel: “My dad is part Woody Allen, part Billy Graham with a splash of Judy Garland.” Definitely rooting for those two.

Yeah. Not as much to say about this week’s episode as the weeks before. Were you also a little disappointed?

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