Poor Lena & Kristy. They were both mighty cute, but as “Amazing Race” teams go, they’re memorable for one reason and one reason only: They spent 10 hours in a Swedish pasture unrolling bales of hay without ever finding a clue in a treacherous Season Six challenge. And they didn’t even have the most memorable meltdown in the task. They’re only memorable for having failed at the challenge.
That legendary Roadblock made a triumphant return on Sunday (Nov. 8) night’s “The Amazing Race,” producing the requisite exhaustion and tension, but no Lena & Kristy-esque failures.
[Full recap of Sunday night’s “Amazing Race,” complete with discussion of the results, after the break…]
From the second CBS started teasing the return of the Hay Bales Roadblock and from the second I realized that we’ve somehow gotten down to only five times (time flies), I was certain this had to be a non-elimination leg. The timing and Switchback to the potentially devastating challenge made me confident. And, indeed, nobody went home on Sunday night, spoiling what otherwise would have been an intriguingly back-and-forth leg.
All season long on this “Amazing Race,” the teams have been together, sharing the same planes and the same trains and the same busses. There’s one school of “Amazing Race” appreciation that loves keeping the teams bunched at all time, but there’s another that appreciates bringing the vagaries of travel into the mix.
On Sunday, though, things got a little mixed up. Initially, only three teams — Team Tetherball, the Gay Brothers and Team Globetrotter — were able to make it onto the first flight from Amsterdam to Stockholm, seemingly leaving Team Miss AmEricka and Team Pinky and the Brain battling it out to avoid elimination. The flights were two-and-a-half hours apart, a pretty prohibitive distance, especially with a relatively short flight offering fewer chances for delays.
Then, in Stockholm, Team Tetherball and the Gay Brothers both hopped on a train to the city center, leaving Team Globetrotter to struggle with the ticket machine, waiting for the next train. The same thing happened hours later when Team Miss AmEricka caught a train and seeming left Father/Son Gary and Matt in the dust.
Since I like travel fun, I was amused by these separations. They didn’t last very long. At least part of the rebunching came due to one of this season’s major problems: A Detour task that was seemingly so weighted that nobody bothered to even consider one of the choices. The choice was Nobel Dynamite and Viking Alphabet. In Nobel Dynamite, teams had to fill sandbags, build a buffer and then detonate an explosion to collect their next clue. In Viking Alphabet, they had to decode a message based on the Viking alphabet and then get their clue from a dude dressed like a Viking.
Unfortunately, “The Amazing Race” spent perfectly good money to employ some guy to dress up in a Viking suit and then never needed to use him. Nobody chose Viking Alphabet. And why would they? That task seemed to require some level of intellectual inquiry and at this point in a long Race, who wants to worry about that? I would have loved for one team to attempt Viking Alphabet just to see if that task actually turned out to be the closer task or the faster task or the easier task. Instead, everybody picked Nobel Dynamite because it sounded mechanical and uncomplicated. And indeed it was. Only the Gay Brothers figured out that filling their bags with their hands was faster than doing it with the tiny provided shovels and they garnered a minor advantage that way, but I’m guessing nobody gained or lost all that much time doing it. It’s too bad either Brian & Ericka or Gary & Matt didn’t attempt Viking Alphabet, just to see it it was a secret shortcut of some sort.
None of that mattered because, as Lena & Kristy taught us, the needle-in-a-haystack Roadblock was capable of erasing any kind of deficit, however prohibitive. Gary & Matt missed the first flight, missed the first train and got repeatedly lost driving through Sweden, but when they arrived at the hay bales, only one team had finished the task.
My feelings, seeing the hay bales back, were mixed. On one hand, it’s a tremendous task, because it invariably pushes the drama to an extreme and tears teams apart. On the other hand, though, it’s an awful task, because it’s punishing, without rewarding effort. All it rewards is luck, which is a problem for a task so good at breaking teams.
In Season Six, there were 270 hay bales and 20 clues, since it came earlier in the Race. Tonight, there were 186 hay bales and seven clues (right?), meaning the odds were actually worse this time around. At least at first? Were the odds still poorer for Lena and Kristy by the end of that leg? I refuse to do the math on this one, kids.
Nobody had a full-fledged breakdown tonight. But the hay bales did yield great moments.
I loved Sam’s frustration at Dan’s backseat hay unrolling and Dan’s eventual guilt realizing that his shouting was doing nothing to help his brother.
I loved (or hated) Cheyne’s unexpected indecision, which lead to Meghan doing a task that clearly was better suited for her boyfriend.
I loved Big Easy tackling the task as Flight Time told everybody that it was his birthday and he hoped they wouldn’t succeed until after Big Easy found his clue. And, indeed, Big Easy found the clue first, prompting frustration from Sam, who called Team Globetrotter the luckiest team in “The Amazing Race” history, which only proved that he missed Dan & Andrew’s season.
I really loved Meghan, after several bouts of crying and frustration, finding a clue and deciding to surprise Cheyne by running up to him and pretending to give up, a ruse made even better by Meghan’s unintentional pratfall before the big reveal and by how happy the whole thing made Cheyne.
And I really loved Sam completing the task and showing no excitement or joy at all, too exhausted. And then Sam found his energy and raced his brother to the Pit Stop, skipping the last stretch.
Heck, I appreciated Brian finding the clue and doing an exuberant leap over a bale, plus Matt’s pride at his father’s performance, calling him Superman.
It was a solid leg.
A couple other quick observations on the episode:
*** I still hate non-elimination legs if they don’t spare teams I care about. And I’m still sorry we didn’t get to see Mika face either the amusement park Free Fall or the bales, as I can only assume she’s also afraid of hay. And really, even if the Poker Girls hadn’t been hosed by last week’s strength-based Detour options, they probably would have struggled with the hay, so it’s like the “Amazing Race” producers took mercy on them by not making last leg non-elimination, or else we’d have had another Lena & Kristy for sure.
*** Some of the editing in the episode was a little strange and it was unclear how the teams on the second flight were able to catch up. Because Meghan announced that she’d been pushing the hay for two hours, I guess that’s just where we were supposed to assume the time went. Are we heading for another equalizing flight to start the next leg, given that Gary & Matt are two hours (or more) behind to start the next leg? And that’s even before they face their Speed Bump.
*** Team Globetrotter Quote #1: Flight Time on the way to the Amsterday airport — “You wanna stop in the Red Light District? We could head down there and say we wanted to check the Internet.”
*** Team Globetrotter Quote #2: Big Easy facing the 6’4″ height maximum on the Free Fall — “They should just put in the clue ‘Big Easy, you can’t ride the free-fall.'”
What’d you think of the return of the Hay Bales? And were you happy that this was a non-elimination leg?