I liked a lot of Friday (March 13) night's episode of “The Amazing Race,” but maybe I didn't like it as an episode of “The Amazing Race,” if you know what I mean.
I really did find myself getting a kick out of all of the bickering couples, but I may just have been amused by how silly they made this season's twist/theme look.
I enjoyed some of the things the pairs were getting to do, even though they didn't feel like “Amazing Race” kinds of things to do.
And I found myself really rooting for the team that went home, even though I never felt for a second like they had any chance of cheating their fate again…
More after the break…
So for the third consecutive episode, the team that started the Leg in last ended the Leg in last and, for the third consecutive episode, that team never even got close to threatening the next-to-last place team, so there was never any doubt about the verdict. That's not the way that “Amazing Race” structure works best and it's not how the “Amazing Race” editors work best.
When CJ & Libby went home two weeks ago, the editors had to trim out an entire failed Detour plot to craft an illusion that, if the circumstances fell correctly, Team Tuskegee might escape. They didn't.
Last week, Harley & Jonathan were doomed from the beginning by a problematic flight situation that, at least from what we saw, they weren't to blame for. They were never going to catch up and the editors never pretended they could, but they slipped in other doses of drama, including a proposal, to try to make things fun. Then there it was a Non-Elimination Leg and I was pleased, because there's absolutely no good or legitimate reason not to like Jonathan & Harley.
This week, Jonathan & Harley started the Leg far back and they couldn't get on the flight from Phuket to Bangkok that all of the other teams made. They were doomed from there. Nothing else even mattered. They were two hours behind, at a minimum, and they never saw another team en route to their elimination. This episode featured some of the tightest “Amazing Race” editing I've seen in a long time and there were moments when hard, fast cuts between locations almost constructed the illusion of simultaneity, but it was fraudulent. Harley & Jonathan were alone for the duration and were sent home.
This was sad because, in addition to being a New Kid on the Block, Jonathan Knight was one of the most ill-equipped “Amazing Race” contestants ever. In four Legs, I'm not sure we hit a single task that didn't trigger a phobia or a failing. He was afraid of heights, allergic to cats and couldn't do choreography in a season that has emphasized that to a peculiar degree. But with all of these stumbling blocks, Jonathan Knight faced every single task with initial chagrin and then full commitment. In terms of attitude and spirit, you couldn't possibly have asked for more from a Racer. This was a dream of his and even though nothing played into his skillset — we never saw what his skillset was — he didn't face these impediments like they were turning his dream into a nightmare. Harley stood by him, encouraged him and never made a big deal when Jonathan seemed ready to flounder. They enjoyed the travel, they enjoyed the culture, they enjoyed the tasks. In a season dedicated to contrived couplings and soul mates, I watched Jonathan and Harley and thought that was a pretty good version of what love was supposed to look like. I like several of the other teams and couples and, as I've mentioned before, I don't think I hate anybody this season, but I liked Harley and Jonathan for reasons that had nothing to do with Jonathan's star status.
But they never had a chance tonight.
They were so far behind that the editors couldn't even decide whether or not they wanted to make their Speed-Bump look difficult. They had to weave grasshoppers from river reeds. It appeared to take them a little while, but the editors couldn't show why other than… Oh yeah, Jonathan Knight isn't very arts-and-crafts-y (and can't play pool). But Harley announced the task was easy. Whether it took them five minutes or 30 minutes, it didn't matter and there was no tension because none of the other teams were anywhere to be seen.
For the other teams, the episode was largely built around what “The Amazing Race” called a Detour, but which wasn't like any Detour I've ever seen. Perhaps facing the reality that navigating around Bangkok is a challenge, the Detour options were just two different forms of transportation in which teams had no control. The choice? Water or Wheels.
In one case, teams had to travel around Bangkok on a water taxi. In the other case, teams had to travel in tuk-tuks. It was insinuated there were travel advantages, one to the other, but there really weren't, at least not that we saw. So the teams didn't actually make choices. In fact, everybody choice Water, but there were only five water taxis available, so the other teams took the tuk-tuks, but it didn't matter.
In the cases of both modes of transport, teams had to do two tasks that asked almost nothing of them.
The Water Detour participants had to eat one 1000-year-old egg apiece. Everybody complained. Matt & Ashley, the loudest of the complainers, accidentally ate random eggs before eating their black eggs. But no matter how gross you might find a 1000-year-old egg, if you can't eat something egg-sized for the chance to continue in a race for a million bucks, what the heck are you doing? Ashley made lots of barfing sounds. Laura whined for a long while after. But nobody made this their line in the sand, so I don't think it impacted placement. Then teams had to participate in a religious ceremony, which everybody enjoyed and which wasn't judged. The Detour, then, was… Eat an egg and ride on a water taxi. It looked very pleasant, but it wasn't an “Amazing Race” Detour.
The Wheels Detour participants had to go to a snooker hall and sink ONE RED BALL. There's no complication or twist here. They didn't have a certain number of shots. They weren't playing against Thai Fast Eddie Felson. They just had to knock a red ball into a pocket with a cue ball. Remarkably, nobody on this side of the Detour had even a modicum of pool skill, but I refuse to believe it took any of them longer than five minutes. They were then handed a bottle of milk and they had to go to the Caturday Cafe and decant that milk and sit and watch while a diverse assortment of cats came and noshed. Jenny was scared of cats. Jonathan was allergic. But you didn't have to do anything. Put milk out for a cafe full of cats and they'll come and eat the milk. This Detour was… Sinking one pool ball and opening a bottle of milk. The cats were exotic and, if you like that sort of thing, cute, but this wasn't an “Amazing Race” Detour.
And the Roadblock, it was just vague and of limited interest or specificity. In a Bangkok neighborhood allegedly dedicated to used car parts — I don't doubt the existence of this neighborhood, but we got none of the scope — one player from each pair needed to take apart a transmission and find a misplaced screwdriver containing the next clue. For all of the people participating, nobody had even an amateur interest in auto maintenance, so nobody took a skill advantage. People got dirty. People complained. It was fun when Jeff and Jelani were clueless. But really, the task was only semi-validated by Rochelle, who didn't even know what a transmission was, but came to the Roadblock, ignored the confused guys all around her and performed the whole task with speedy aplomb.
Rochelle was awesome at the Roadblock, but her reward was… a sixth place finish.
All of the placement for the end of the Leg and all of the excitement for the Leg was generated by teams struggling to find anybody who could speak enough English to tell them where the Metal Castle was. I don't know what Kurt & Bergen did right, but they weren't from the front pack to win the Leg, all without doing anything all that well. I know that Laura & Tyler got a bad cabbie who took them to the wrong place, but I don't get how they were taken so far afield that they blew a rather prohibitive lead and finished four, prompting Laura to pout fetchingly and say, “I just like being a winner,” incorrectly adding, “If you're not first, you're last.” And I don't know how Matt & Ashley spent over an hour wandering in tight circles finding nobody to help them and producing the ruse that they might squander enough time to give Jonathan & Harley a chance to catch up.
Matt & Ashley ended up on a superfluous and unimpactful end-of-episode row with Jenny & Jelani that seemed to hinge on whether this is “The Amazing Race” or “The Amazing Friends.”
We discovered through this episode that Jenny is very Type-A and Jelani is very laid back. Jelani's casual attitude cased Laura and Tyler to snag the taxi that helped them build their lead coming out of the airport. Jelani's polite conversation with Matt in search of the Metal Castle caused Jenny to break and she kinda filched a cab from Matt & Ashley, with Matt calling her a bad word and highlighting and chill and uncompetitive everybody this season has mostly been. Jenny didn't do anything wrong, but she had to defend herself to Jelani, who tried arguing that they may need Matt & Ashley's friendship later on. Whatever. Jenny & Jelani are not going to be a couple long-term. Despite having the same job, they're not a great match.
We already established that despite looking alike and both being gay, Kurt and Bergen aren't a great match.
And despite having jobs both in the medical profession, Hayley and Blair aren't a good match, which reached several great passive-aggressive and active-aggressive crescendos this week. Blair mocked Hayley's “nipping, nagging, nonsense.” Hayley kept bringing up how often Blair has been wrong the past couple Legs, prompting Blair to announce that Hayley was in control this Leg, control that Hayley immediately ceded, before then leading the pair the wrong direction going to the very first clue box. Because nothing in this episode really required skill or even teamwork, Hayley & Blair finished second and this was the happiest they've seemed together. I continue to hope things go full-on “War of the Roses” by the finale.
Tyler and Laura are completely appealing as a couple and they admit that they're having fun, but then Laura said, “Romantically, I think it just has to be organic,” which was a kind way of saying, “A forced blind date on 'The Amazing Race' is a dumb way to pretend you're looking for love.” But they work decently together.
And I don't know that either Jeff or Jackie possess great depths, but that could mean that they're OK as a couple. The only sign of anything romantic in this episode, though, was Jeff's jealousy or irritation that Jackie kept touching their tuk-tuk driver.
And that's Friday's “The Amazing Race.” Due to the NCAA Tournament, I've got the next two Fridays off, which means that I'll be turning around my “Survivor” interviews for Friday content instead of saving them for Saturday. Gotta feed the beast.
A few other thoughts from Friday's episode:
*** Hayley had the episode title quote. I liked when she went ranting off in one direction with Blair behind her grumbling “I have no idea who you're fighting with right now.” They're a bad couple, but they're not such a bad ex-couple if you just pretend they were married and had a horrible breakup but still decided to go on the Race anyway, think Marie & Tim (“Pinky & No-Brain”) from a couple seasons back.
*** Kurt and Aly agreeing that Steve has a nice ass was a thing that happened in this episode.
*** I liked how basically each guy had a family connection to a mechanic, but none of them knew how to do anything. And I'm pretty sure that with Harley & Jonathan out, I'm rooting for Rochelle & Mike. I want her to get down on one knee at the end of a Leg and promise he's going to meet her daughter.
*** All of my reality recapping next week is screwy. “Idol” is going with two hours on Thursday, but no Wednesday episode. “Survivor” is doing two hours on Wednesday. And “Amazing Race” is taking a break…
What'd you think of this Leg? Will you miss Team New Kids?