Due to live-blogging responsibilities on Sunday (April 14) night’s MTV Movie Awards (plus CBS’ Masters overrun), I wasn’t able to watch “The Amazing Race” in my normal Slingboxed East Coast fashion.
While that will delay tonight’s recap, the work logjam proved serendipitous, because Sunday’s episode wasn’t really about the individual challenges or any real sense of drama. It was about grandeur, courtesy of one of the show’s favorite locations, up in the Swiss Alps. A lot of things that might have annoyed me about Sunday’s Leg got entirely swallowed up in the mountainous expanses which looked far better spread out in HD on my TV than they would have squashed on my computer three hours earlier.
And even though most of the Leg was just dedicated to Racers digging through their mental thesauruses trying to come up with original ways to describe snow and mountains, I guess things got exciting toward the end, though I have some serious questions about all of that.
Plus, somebody went home. It’s odd that I’ve only done four “Amazing Race” exit interviews this season and we’re in mid-April, so at least there’ll be another one tomorrow morning. [The first eliminated team went home in a week in which Monday was a holiday, if you’ll recall, hence no exit interview. And you’re lying if you can remember the names of the two firemen who went home first. Lying.]
So let’s continue with a brief discussion of this Leg. I still have to watch “Mad Men” tonight, so I’m putting a cap on this recap at some point…
One thing that we’ve learned several times when “The Amazing Race” has attempted to use the Alps is that transportation is really complicated in that neck of the woods. In order to get to a few basic central locations, you’re forced to take planes and then multiple trains. And once you’ve set up a journey that requires four or five different connections, you’ve pretty much guaranteed a limited number of tasks and a maximum amount of equalizing hassle.
By my count, Sunday’s episode contained at least three Equalizers before anybody had done anything, task-wise, and the episode also spent nearly half of its length on those various transfers. So the Hockey Brothers may have had a big advantage in Botswana, but everybody came together to fly to Zurich. Then there was temporary drama when two teams missed a train connection in Interlaken, but the teams were equalized again at a church that didn’t open until the following morning. And then there were multiple teams as the episode progressed that transportation delays either allowed slow teams — Chuck & Wynona, basically — to catch up, or prevented fast teams — Bates & Anthony, mostly — from getting too far ahead on their own.
Again, this is the sort of thing that would annoy me normally, except that the Alps are so darned pretty. And then just when the producers realized that the nonstop transportation might get irksome and cease to be good television, they introduced… DOGGIES! So there was one leg of the journey when team had to go and pick up dogs, board the train with those dogs and take the dogs to a different location. There was no actual challenge associated with the dogs and nobody ran any real risk of gaining time due to comfort with animals or losing time due to discomfort, but dogs make for cute TV. Especially when they’re GOOD DOGS, YES THEY ARE. So we got to watch Jen and Caroline make out with dogs, thus getting further with canine Cara than they’ve gotten with Bates and Anthony, and Chuck treat his dog better than his wife. So there’s that.
The Roadblock asked “Who wants to enjoy the sights?” and had one player from each team walking horizontally along a stretch of the Eiger to secure a Travelocity Gnome. The task was much more breathtaking than it was difficult. And, in fact, great effort went into obfuscating exactly what the teams were doing. Unless I’m forgetting, I don’t think we were given an exact altitude at which the task was taking place, nor were we told exactly the distance players had to shimmy. Some people professed to having a fear of heights, but nobody’s fear of heights was crippling and the players looked to be very tightly secured and unless you’re talking about Wynona, nobody had any difficulties performing the task. So it was a lot of sizzle and set-up, but very little steak and its Race impact was only moderate. Because players were going two at once, All three people from one side and the first person from the other side were able to board the same train away from the mountain. It’s a safe bet that if Wynona hadn’t moved at Wynona Pace, all six teams would have been able to finish the Roadblock in the allotted time and they all would have been together. So it was a Roadblock designed with an equalizer at the end.
The assumption, I guess, was that the Switchback would be the differentiating factor for the Leg. It was a variation on the cheese transporting task from the start of Season 14. There were two major differences: One, tonight’s challenge took place in a winter wonderland of snow. And the second? Well, I’ll get to that. Teams had to climb to the top of a hill and transport four 50-pound wheels of cheese to the bottom. Period.
Getting up was probably the hardest part, as there was a steep incline and nobody was especially prepared for that sort of weather. Bates & Anthony basically sprinted up the hill. They’re strong, young and accustomed to winter weather. This was in the bag for them. A couple weeks ago, I wondered why Team YouTube, the Roller Moms and Jessica & John were so determined to knock Bates & Anthony out, since at that point, they’d only been so-so at challenges. Now, of course, they’ve won three straight Legs and four Legs overall. In fact, as circumstances would have it, they’re the only team still racing to have won a single Leg. We’re getting near the end and if you thought the Beekmans were the most underwhelming “Amazing Race” champions ever, if Bates & Anthony don’t win this season, the Beekmans could have real competition. But they won again and in eight Legs, they have seven Top 3 finishes. As a point of comparison, Rachel & Dave only had four wins in the first eight Legs of their season and they only had six Top 3 finishes. Rachel & Dave went on to win the last four Legs.
With Team YouTube and Team Alabama way behind on a different train, the other teams battled it out with no threat of elimination. Katie was slow, but she was at the front of the rope getting folks to the top, behind only Bates & Anthony. Katie’s struggles both guaranteed the Hockey Brothers a Leg they probably would have won anyway and also kept the other teams close. It was the Roller Moms who actually took second, followed by Kate & Max and then the Country Blondes.
It seemed really straight-forward for Team YouTube: Get to the Switchback ahead of Wynona and you automatically make it to the top of the mountain ahead of her and how can you lose? It played out like that, with YouTube seemingly getting to a huge lead after delivering their cheese when… strangeness ensued. Somehow, every other team found cabs and took cabs to the next Pit Stop. Meghan & Joey did not. They walked. Mostly uphill. At high altitudes. With heavy backpacks. As Meghan cried. And as they took their time and meandered, Wynona discovered she was able to roll the cheese wheels down the hill without the sleds they were provided. It wasn’t exactly fast, but it was easy.
Wynona & Chuck finished and, as Team YouTube hiked, they got in cabs and arrived at the Pit Stop in sixth. BUT! The clue had specifically said they had to take the cheese down the hill using the sleds. This is the second difference from the Season 14 task and it’s a big one. In Season 14, you could do anything you needed to do to get the cheese to the bottom of the hill, whether you picked it up or rolled it or dragged it or whatever. In this case, there was one acceptable method and Chuck & Wynona didn’t follow it. For this, they were penalized 30 minutes. I don’t get that. If you’re going to honor a famous Race task, you should keep the same rules as the first time around. Changing the rules is silly. But if you’re going to change the rules, it seems to me like what Chuck & Wynona did was a completely foreign approach to the task, one that ought to have earned more than a tiny half-hour penalty. To me, either they shouldn’t have been penalized at all, or they should have been sent back to do it properly. Anything in-between is dumb. So as they stood and waited, Joey & Meghan finally arrived, with Meghan in tears and blaming herself. Poor Meghan. I never need to hear the sounds that Joey was making as he slid down the mountain ever again, but I felt sorry for Meghan here. And they were prepared to go home and they were spared.
That meant that Chuck & Wynona were sent home, both insisting that even though we saw a lot of fighting and a lot of unpleasant behavior, after 24 years of marriage, this didn’t tear them apart. Oh well.
Other thoughts on this Leg:
*** So, in the Eiger challenge, were you thinking of the Clint Eastwood film “The Eiger Sanction” or were you thinking of The Eyrie from “A Song of Ice and Fire” (or “Game of Thrones,” if you prefer)? I started off thinking about Clint, but by the end, I was yelling, “Make him fly!”
*** It was an episode of passive aggressive behavior between Chuck and Wynona. Best moments? Wynona: “He’s treating the dog better than me.” Chuck: “The dog’s gonna run faster.” Ouch.
*** The Travelocity Gnome didn’t participate much in this episode. He was rescued from the side of the Eiger, “Cliffhanger”-style, but then after they got the clue from his bottom, he was a non-factor. Boo.
*** Due to the altitude and the arduous nature of the climb and the Switchback, I’m sure this is the most deep, ragged breathing I’ve ever heard on an “Amazing Race” Leg. I needed an inhaler just listening to it all.
*** I still can’t tell Beth & Mona apart. And if Jen & Caroline aren’t standing next to each other for scale, they might as well be the same person.
OK. “Mad Men” time. Your thoughts on tonight’s “Amazing Race” Leg?