Oh, come on.
We’re all fans of “The Amazing Race” here, right?
I hope so. I recap the show because I’m a fan. I assume you read the recaps because you’re a fan.
So, fan-to-fan… Level with me: Is there anybody out there who is happy with the structural choices made for this season’s “Amazing Race”?
Click through, cuz there’s gonna be grumbling.
We’re six episodes into the “Amazing Race” season and after Sunday (October 30) night’s episode, we’ve now had THREE Non-Elimination Legs. To put things in a different way, we’ve had a month-and-a-half of episodes and as many episodes have ended with no team going home than have ended with eliminations.
Who thought this was a good idea?
There’s no “Amazing Race” precedent for that, is there? Maybe if I were accustomed to “The Amazing Race” being a show that sometimes eliminates people and sometimes doesn’t, this wouldn’t be irksome, but I’m accustomed to “The Amazing Race” being a show that usually eliminates teams, but occasionally utilizes a Non-Elimination Leg as a surprise. Instead, tonight’s episode got to Phil Keoghan addressing the seventh place team and he said, “You were the last team to arrive…” and he paused and then went into a conversation and my eyes just rolled back into my head.
I’ve been yelling at my TV all weekend. That’s what comes from being a USC football fan and watching your school suffer through a triple-overtime loss and being a New England Patriots fan and watching your team go down in flames to a hated rival. You become accustomed to yelling at the TV. And I’m sure my neighbors heard a very loud, “Seriously? AGAIN?”
There’s little doubt that I’m hypocritical in many aspects of my life, but my policy on Non-Elimination Legs is very consistent. I don’t like them when they spare teams I think are cute — Farewell, Liz & Marie — and I don’t like them when they spare teams that I’m rooting for.
Just minutes earlier, I’d been yelling “Run! Run! Run!” at my TV, as it seemed like there was a chance that Marcus & Amani, my favorite team currently competing, might survive a snake-bitten leg because Bill & Cathi, not my favorite team, failed to pay their final truckdriver. I was rooting HARD for Marcus & Amani and I was tangibly disappointed when Bill & Cathi zipped around them and finished sixth, leaving the former NFL player and his wife in last. But sadness at the elimination of a favorite team, especially in a difficult leg, is a part of “Amazing Race” fandom and I personally would have rather been unhappy at seeing Marcus & Amani dispatched than a repeat of the unresolved sensation that comes from Non-Elimination Legs.
And this was a leg I was prepared to have reservations about, but one that mostly proved to be reasonably competitive and exciting.
Then? NEL. Can we safely assume that’s it for Non-Elimination Legs or will there still be one more snake in the grass waiting to pounce and neutralize the Race with its stagnating venom?
I really wasn’t even going to complain about the leg-opening equalizer as the teams flew from Bangkok to Malawi in Africa. I’m a little irked that we didn’t get more insight into how Jeremy & Sandy put themselves in a two-hour hole to start the leg and it doesn’t quite seem right that the only thing teams did in Bangkok was feed fish and leave, but no matter.
In Malawi, the teams had to rush off to a tobacco factory for a truly difficult Roadblock that asked one player from each pair to don an orange jumper and a floppy hat and then use a dolly to cart 10 massive bales of tobacco to an assigned shoot.
It was a devilishly physical task, but it was also a great televisual task, in part because of the funny uniforms, but also because of the factory workers who hopped and skipped atop giant mountains of tobacco to follow the individual contestants, singing and dancing and goading and taunting them as they went along.
My only reservation? For five of the remaining seven teams, the Roadblock was performed by exactly the Racer you’d expect/want to do a physical task, meaning that in all five of the remaining male-female teams, it was the male contestant who did the task. With the Snowboarders, I haven’t found the way that one is superior to the other and they assign their task responsibilities based on rock-paper-scissors anyway. With Laurence & Zac, Laurence did the task, while Zac’s slightly fresher legs might have been a good idea. There are two downsides to this level of predictability: The first is that if you only have the best suited people doing each task, there isn’t much chance for one team to gain or lose much time on a task like this and, indeed, the teams mostly finished in the order they arrived and nobody spectacularly excelled. The second downside is that although I don’t have the exact numbers, I’m pretty sure that a couple of teams have reached the sixth leg with large Roadblock disparities that either will or won’t become problems later. Sandy and Cathi have been especially willing to let their stronger partners do a disproportionate number of Roadblocks so far and that ought to mean that down the home-stretch, we’re going to have to see Jeremy and Bill sitting out a lot of Roadblocks.
Even before reaching the Roadblock, Marcus & Amani and Bill & Cathi had fallen behind thanks to sluggish cabbies leaving the airport, with Marcus & Amani dipping even further behind after their cab driver took them to the wrong entrance to the tobacco factory.
The leg’s Detour was the choice between All Sewn Up and Not Grown Up. In All Sewn Up, teams had to go to a local design shop and use old-fashioned sewing machines to complete alterations on a customer’s suit pants and jacket. In Not Grown Up, teams had to go to a local school and use materials — milk cartons, bottle caps, string, nails — to construct toy trucks. I guess there was a pretty clear effort to follow the physical Roadblock with a Detour that required less exertion. Going with my “Always Take The Altruistic Detour” theory, the choice was easy: Not Grown Up. The equally popular “Always Take the More Photogenic Detour” theory also favored Not Grown Up, since the crowded sewing show wasn’t bad, but it was no match for smiling, happy, singing and dancing school children.
Indeed, Not Grown Up was fairly certainly the faster of the two tasks, since the trucks weren’t complicated to assemble and the children weren’t especially picky when it came to the exact degree of awesomeness for their make-shift toys. It’s not that All Sewn Up was hard. Nobody cared about the quality of seamstress work and only one of the potentially rickety sewing machines malfunctioned in any way. It was just a bit slower.
But really, neither Detour was a differentiator between the teams as they rushed to the conclusion, which required them to go to a furniture store and collect two beds, take the beds to a village via truck and then carry the beds to Phil, where they were greeted by still more smiling, singing and dancing African natives. The catch came if teams failed to pay their trucks. Justin & Jennifer initially finished first, but they had to go back and pay, giving the Snowboarders their fourth leg win and their third leg win in which they weren’t actually the first team to the mat, which had to be another Race record.
Marcus & Amani, who were trailing the entire leg, looked to be doomed but when Bill asked Cathi if they needed to pay the truck, Cathi said they didn’t need to pay if the driver didn’t ask for it. So with Marcus & Amani going towards the village with beds on their backs, Bill & Cathi passed them going the other way to pay, giving me hope that Marcus & Amani would have an epic comeback. Instead, it turned out that walking with the beds was far slower than just jogging along the path and Bill & Cathi paid and then raced back to the mat, setting up the Non-Elimination anti-climax.
Other thoughts on the leg…
*** The Snowboarders didn’t say anything offensive this week, therefore, they’re back in my good graces. But be careful, guys!
*** Laurence, in contrast, had his second straight week as a grumpy old man and I’m now rooting pretty solidly against him. Last week, it was Laurence blaming Zac for not remembering the design of the Buddhist shrine after rejecting Zac’s suggesting to take notes. This week, Laurence saw the two Detour choices and announced, “This is where the ladies zip past us.” Hmmm… Then, Laurence got to the Not Grown Up task, took one look at Sandy and quipped, “I thought you’d have gone to the sewing machine my dear.” Sandy didn’t know what to say. She’s a nurse and she grumbled, “I can sew a body, but I can’t sew a shirt,” but Laurence warned Jeremy on the dangers of marrying a woman who can’t sew. Sigh.
*** Then again, Cathi saw the two Detour options and announced, “I’m a really good seamstress” and she was. Cindy also was a good seamstress. But with Marcus & Amani, it was the former tight end who announced that his grandmother and mother were both seamstresses and set to convincing work. Sounds like Laurence needs to have somebody read “My Dog Is a Plumber” to him.
*** I just think the Roadblock would have been much more interesting if Cathi and Sandy had been required to do it. We already knew that Bill’s an awesome old guy. I think we saw during the race to the mat that Cathi’s a good deal stronger than Sandy and that would have been interesting to see in motion on that heavy-lifting task.
*** I forgot to mention that Marcus & Amani also had a broken down cab on the leg. So really, it was mighty unlucky for them and I’m glad that they’re still around, even if I’d have preferred that their survival was based on achievement, rather than production contrivance. They seem like good folks.
*** Speaking of good folks, the producers clearly determined this wouldn’t be one of those African legs in which the spoiled white contestants drove through lower income neighborhoods and complained about the smell and the poverty. It was one task with smiling, singing, dancing natives after another. Wee bit stereotypical? Yes! Better than having me hate teams for intolerant attitudes? Yup!
So, where do you stand on the 50% Elimination season of “The Amazing Race”? Are you getting sick of Non-Elimination Legs? Or are you all, “The more episodes that don’t include people going home the better”?