Recap: ‘The Amazing Race’ – ‘Uglier Than a Mud Rail Fence’

03.18.12 5 years ago 12 Comments


Discussion of The Rule of Chekhov’s Gun has become so pervasive that folks are tempted to attach Chekhov’s name to any instance of what is basically just foreshadowing.
That’s not exactly what Chekhov’s Gun really is about. I mean, it’s close. But that’s not exactly it. The Rule isn’t exactly that if you put a gun early in your story, it needs to be fired by the end. It’s more that you shouldn’t put a gun early in your story if it *isn’t* going to be fired in the end. The real point is that you shouldn’t have anything in your play/movie/novel/recap that’s superfluous. Everything needs to have a point and a purpose. If there’s going to be a gun, fire it. Otherwise? No gun. It’s more about literary economy than about foreshadowing, because there’s already a name for foreshadowing and that’s… um… foreshadowing.
That’s my way of explaining that while it might be tempting to jokingly refer to how Sunday’s (March 18) “Amazing Race” utilized Chekhov’s Random Reference To Navigational Difficulties, that would be just me making an easy joke.
So no, this week’s episode didn’t use Chekhov’s Random Reference To Navigational Difficulties. It was just wicked obvious foreshadowing. Fortunately, it was a good enough episode that it wasn’t undermined by the simplistic decision to substitute said foreshadowing for convincing editing in the last act.
Click through for the full recap…
What does that last paragraph mean?
Cousins Kerri & Stacy were eliminated on Sunday’s “Amazing Race” because they struggled with navigation. We know that because in an early segment of the episode, Kerri mentioned, seemingly apropos of nothing, that she wasn’t good at navigating. That way, when we got to the end of the episode and Kerri & Stacy appeared to have a lead over Nary & Jamie, the editors were able to shorthand Team Mississippi’s downfall to an attempt to ask instructions and then a brief fight. We didn’t see how they got lost or where they got lost. And there was no effective cross-cutting to show the way that their getting lost caused them to lose their advantage. So we don’t know how much of an advantage Team Mississippi had, nor how long they were lost for, nor how far they fell behind Jamie & Nary. I guess the footage just wasn’t there and so, in the editing room, the producers just said, “If we introduce navigational difficulties earlier in the episode, even if it doesn’t matter then, viewers will be able to assume what happened without us actually illustrating.”
The ending to Sunday’s episode was supposed to be surprising, but it was also a little anti-climactic. When I talk to Kerri & Stacy tomorrow, I’ll be able to get the details, but as a starting point I’ll have to say, “So… I guess you got a little lost?” The foreshadowing oversimplified the ending and also made Kerri into the scapegoat, which I guess she probably was anyway, since she struggled on the final Roadblock, albeit less than Nary did.
But all of that aside… It was a well-shot, funny and culturally specific “Amazing Race” Leg and I like all of those things.
We began with the teams going from Italy to Germany, by way of Austria.
Art & JJ began the Leg in first by two-and-a-half hours and they found themselves equalized with Rachel & Dave and Danny & Joey “Fitness.” They other teams found themselves equalized in a second pack behind the leaders, meaning that Mark & Bopper, spared by the Non-Elimination Leg and nearly two hours behind Team Mississippi, got to participate, rather than having a Liz & Marie situation from last season where the NEL was followed by a Leg in which the trailing team never saw another team and was promptly eliminated. I hate equalizers, but if you have to equalize, I at least appreciate tiered equalizing, so that strong performance isn’t instantly devalued. There was a gap of nine hours between Art & JJ and Mark & Bopper last leg and it would have been asinine to let travel brush aside a gap that big.
This was the Travelocity Gnome episode, a piece of regular product placement that “The Amazing Race” usually has a little fun with, as opposed to clunky, obnoxious plugs like last week’s awkward pimping of an American car in Italy’s Motor City.
The Gnome sent teams to a Detour asking them to choose between Fairy Tale and Champion Male.
In Fairy Male, teams had to collect pieces of gingerbread on a trail to a fairy tale-inspired village. Then, after finding the witch’s house, they had to use the gingerbread to decorate the roof of a house. I’m not going to quibble with the confabulation of multiple fairy tales into a confusing uber-narrative, because it was a nice task, especially since it required journeying through the snowy Bavarian woods. It was photogenic.
And yet it was less amusing and photogenic than Champion Male, in which teams had to select a Bearding Enthusiast and use a variety of implements and products to shape his facial hair into a variety of tonsorial wonders that will be familiar to fans of the freestyle competing depicted in “Whisker Wars.” Awesome challenge.
Yup. As a VERY amateur bearding enthusiast myself, I applauded the Champion Male challenge and all signs pointed to it being the faster challenge or, at the very least, the warmer challenge. It also showcased some amusing skill-sets from our teams.
Art & JJ, after falling into third heading to the Detour, seemed like they might have struggles with beard sculpting, until we discovered that JJ has a previously concealed vanity and that he knows his way around styling product. The Border Guards went from third to first and didn’t relinquish their hold from there, as they went on to their third straight Leg victory. 
Danny & Joey “Fitness,” on the other hand, greeted the challenge with enthusiasm because of their own enjoyment of product, but they made a key error in selecting the beard model with the longest beard, which also meant the most complicated style. They only slipped to third and there’s no question they got hosed with what ended up being a tougher Detour.
As for the Fairy Tale Detour, it was only selected by Team Kentucky, Team Mississippi and Team “Big Brother” and other than minor variations — Team Kentucky found their basket first, but Team Mississippi finished their roof-decorating first — there wasn’t any way to do anything wrong on the task.
Oh and speaking of Team Kentucky: Mark & Bopper had to learn to yodel for their Speed-Bump. As Speed-Bumps go, this wasn’t a bad one. It required changing costume and singing and the judge at least made them do it twice and while it was obvious that the standard for success wasn’t very rigorous, a certain amount of time had to be allotted. Because Mark & Bopper are good people, they had fun with the yodeling and so the Speed-Bump made them look good.
A disproportionate — but not necessarily in a bad way — chunk of the episode was dedicated to something that wasn’t even a challenge, but rather a journey to one destination to get a clue to another destination. Sometimes tasks like that can feel like thumb-twiddling, but this one wasn’t bad.
Teams had to go to Ludwig II’s 19th Century retreat Neuschwanstein Castle, which was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Gorgeous. But also problematic, because Neuschwanstein is in the exact same neighborhood as three other castles, including the somewhat less grandiose Hohenschwangau Castle. The first groups of teams all went to the right place, with the second group getting variably waylaid at the wrong location, with Nary & Jamie and Rachel & Dave going so far as to stand and wait outside of Hohenschwangau and take a tour around the castle, only to realize they were at the wrong place midway through the tour. Right castle or wrong castle, it didn’t have much to do with anything, position-wise, but the approach to Neuschwanstein was a little steep and treacherous, causing amusing tensions between Vanessa and Ralph, which I’ll discuss very soon.
The Neuschwanstein clue just sent teams to a hockey and curling arena, where they had to use their Travelocity Gnome for a game of shuffleboard, sliding him across the ice and landing him in a bulls-eye. No brooms were used, so it wasn’t curling.
The Roadblock wasn’t hard, but it allowed for many dizzying shows from Gnome-cam, which was kinda fun. And I say it wasn’t hard, but it was quite hard for Nary and for Kerri. Nary arrived first and after 180+ tosses, she finished, but only after Kerri finished after 70-ish tosses. That was how we ended up with that final rush to Phil Keoghan, a rush determined by Team Mississippi’s navigational struggles. Apparently.
So Art & JJ remain in first. Nary & Jamie are in last now. And Kerri & Stacy are out of the Race, which is probably OK. They were a team I was neutral on, so… whatever. I was very pleased Mark & Bopper didn’t just survive the Leg, but even moved up from 8th to 6th. Go Team Kentucky.
Some other thoughts on this Leg:
*** I hate couples who bicker on “The Amazing Race,” but I’m perfectly happy with Vanessa & Ralph’s behavior on this Leg. It helps that I continue to have a crush on the very funny Vanessa, who walks into a bar and announces “Oh, it smells like heaven in here” and left the Champion Male Detour singing, “Taking forever on my hair, finally paid off!” But unlike Dave threatening Rachel or Brendon becoming frustrated with *his* bawling Rachel, the fight between Vanessa and Ralph on the hill felt like a genuinely loving sort of bickering, in which I never got the sense that either partner was being abused and that they were both just enjoying the fight. Ralph forcing Vanessa to walk up the hill didn’t seem cruel and for his troubles, he had his grammar corrected and she called him “a juiced-up hothead.” And he obviously enjoyed it, because he cackled, “The little devil inside of me was laughing, because I knew that her legs were on fire.” And, at the end, when Vanessa said, “We’re really good at just letting stuff go. But if this all starts again, I’ll just kill him,” it seemed affectionate. It really felt like a loving form of fighting, rather than a bullying sort of fighting. Am I wrong?
*** Brendon slipping on manure running to the mat? Awesome. But what was up with Rachel in this Leg? She’s never been smart on any of her three reality seasons, but she was getting off some corkers in this episode that sounded like her brain was in a totally different place. It was one space cadet line after another, ranging from “Whatever happened to going to Bolivia?” (when the clue said “Bavaria) and “I don’t even know what a beard is” (when choosing the Detour). And she cried again.
*** Credit to Bopper for the episode quote. He told the cauldron-stirring witch that she was looking good and then told us, “I told her how pretty she was and she was uglier than a mud rail fence.” I was actually terrified that the confusion between castles would do Team Kentucky in, what with their general illiteracy. Fortunately, they asked for help very quickly.
*** It turns out that I’ve been confusing Joey “Fitness” and Danny for the first five legs. I still can’t tell them apart, personality-wise, but I’ll admit that I’m disliking them less these days. When they aren’t objectifying women in creepy ways, they’re just two goofs having fun on The Race.
*** Eventually Nary & Jamie’s real background as federal agents is going to be helpful somewhere, isn’t it? They’ve yet to prove to be particularly intelligent or physically gifted at anything. I yearn for them to have language skills or… anything. Jamie praised Nary for being good with targets before she proved to be anything but good at gnome-shuffleboard, but really… they’re just very average. It kinda makes you wonder why they’ve bothered with the “We’re teachers” lie.
Did you enjoy this week’s episode? Any particularly interesting thoughts?

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