Can we just skip to next week and the triumphant return of the “My Ox Is Broken” task?
I kinda wish that “Amazing Race” recycled the most difficult of challenges more frequently. Like the hay bale challenge from Season 6 and Season 15? That one could totally be done every five seasons.
And if next week's ox return is triumphant, aren't we going to be annoyed that the show waited 20 full seasons before giving somebody else the chance to try to top Colin's Season 5 meltdown? I sure will be.
Fine. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Friday (November 28) night's “Amazing Race” was probably the most purely entertaining Leg of the season. It had an exciting decision process on the Fast-Forward, an impressively photogenic Roadblock and a Detour that rewarded fans who like their Detours noisy and will probably infuriate anybody who stops to think about it for more than a second. And then we had extensive drama involving a final task and a Double U-Turn that will surely reward fans who like the pure good/evil binary applied by The Wrestlers and will probably frustrate viewers who like “The Amazing Race” to be played with thought and strategy and aren't particularly engaged by cartoonishly ignorant evil.
So was this actually a good episode of “The Amazing Race”? I… don't know. I really just can't tell with this show anymore. But there were definitely a lot of moving pieces in this episode and moving pieces keep episodes entertaining.
The first thing I liked about this episode was that it didn't begin with an Equalizer, but rather with the illusion of an Equalizer, an illusion that screwed up two teams who just complacently assumed that every “Amazing Race” Leg now begins with an Equalizer and there's no point in looking for alternatives.
The travel clue told teams that they were going from Malta to Singapore. They were booked as far as Paris and then on their own from there, but they were also told that they could take a different path if they found something more advantageous.
So that meant that leaders Adam & Bethany started out with an advantage and went to a travel agent and requested the fasted flight to Singapore through Paris and got a flight arriving in Singapore at 6:40. The Dentists, determined to stick with their U-Turn The Bikers Alliance, walked in minutes later and asked for the same thing. The Bikers came in and just requested the fasted ticket to Singapore and got something through Rome that got in 40 minutes earlier. Ooops. It's here that we learned a new “Amazing Race” rule that once you've booked your flight, you can't change it if you find something better, proving that cancellation prices on airlines have gotten ridiculous. The Bikers lured the other two teams into taking the flight with them, just to keep an eye on the competition. This left The Dentists and The Surfers looking silly on a delayed flight, but one could argue that it also was the cause for The Bikers' elimination.
Three teams got to the first marker in Singapore and they were offered the chance to go after a Fast-Forward. The Fast-Forward asked teams to do some sort of faux-surfing on something called The Flow Rider. The Food Scientists and The Wrestlers knew it wasn't a good idea to take the risk, so they didn't bother. But The Bikers are daredevils and they figured with a time advantage, they might as well go for the risk.
Without that time advantage, would they have considered doing the Fast-Forward? Of course not, because if a Fast-Forward requires surfing skills and one of the competing teams contains two professional surfers, you just chalk this up to the “Amazing Race” producers wanting to push the Heroic Bethany narrative and you move on. Fast-Forwards only occasionally are all that complicated, or at least they so substantially reward the team to get there first that most teams don't bother trying to go if they know another team has left first. But if you're Adam & Bethany arriving a little bit behind the leaders and you know that the Fast-Forward task requires you to do the thing that you do professionally and none of the other teams do even on an amateur basis? You've gotta try.
So I like both of the motivations when it came to the Fast-Forward. If you're Alli & Kym and you think the Fast-Forward task is one that you ought to be able to plausibly do and you have a lead? You've gotta try, right? You can't cede the Leg to Adam & Bethany just because of the resumes, can you? That's not in the spirit of “The Amazing Race.” And if you're Adam & Bethany? This is just a pure no-guts-no-glory decision. You're behind. You want to get ahead fast? You've gotta try. And if the Race offers you a chance to do the thing that you're presumably best at in the world, you don't wanna go home having skipped the opportunity to do it. If you're Bethany & Adam, yes it would suck to go to the Fast-Forward, watch Alli & Kym cruise through the surfing and then get eliminated, but it'd be even worse to linger in last, get eliminated and then watch the episode and find out it took Kym & Alli 30 minutes to master something you could have mastered in two.
And the drama at the Fast-Forward made for interesting tension because it played against viewer expectations. All season long, we've watched Bethany and cheered her ability to do things that maybe we didn't expect from her. But you know what we've always been sure Bethany could do? Surf. We've seen the movie. So for a brief moment, Adam & Bethany were the bullies and Kym & Alli were the underdogs. The show has trained me to root for Bethany & Adam and I've been a willing participant, but during the Fast-Forward this week, part of me recognized that Kym & Alli succeeding was the better story here, especially when Adam initially struggled and made up an excuse — a totally viable excuse, I have to assume — that the discipline here was more like snowboarding and less like actual surfing. Adam fell down and The Bikers got another chance. In that second, my allegiance shifted. Bethany & Adam coming in late, sweeping past The Bikers and grabbing the Fast-Forward felt like the foregone conclusion and thus the less satisfying result. So they did, indeed, nail the Fast-Forward on their second time, which probably should have seemed badass, but I just felt disappointed and wished Alli would stop whining about how it was Kym's idea to try the Fast-Forward, when it was the right move, even if it was the wrong move.
That was really it for Kym & Alli right there, which is part of why this episode maybe wasn't as good as it felt in the moment. Kym & Alli tried to go for first place by gambling on a time advantage and a skill they stood a reasonably solid chance at being good at, they proved to be reasonably good at it, but they still lost the Leg because they were less good at it than two people who did that thing professionally. So the lesson learned here is “Don't bother trying something that could benefit you if you already know you're competing against people who are better than you at that thing”? That's sad and I think it puts a damper on the Leg. The Hockey Players won The Race without a single slapshot challenge. If The Dentists win, it'll be by comparing nearly every task to dentistry, but without actually having to fill a cavity. Bethany & Adam won a trip and an “Amazing Race” Leg by doing what they do for a living.
[Caveat: Adam Dirks is not listed as a professional surfer on his “Amazing Race” bio. He's a “professional husband.” He only lists surfing as a hobby. You can decide if that matters. Bethany is just straight-up a championship surfer.]
Kym & Alli couldn't come back because the rest of the Leg was wonky and that they came as vaguely close as they did was only because other contestants — Brooke & Robbie, really — are wonky.
The Roadblock asked one player from each team to do a tightrope walk between buildings at a height of 600 feet above the ground. Racers were well-and-truly harnessed in, so when Jim slipped and fell, it made for striking imagery, but he just dangled from the rope and got tugged over and started again. He didn't fall to his death. Or even fall any distance at all. The shot of the plane flying seemingly directly behind Brooke was much prettier. But most of the contestants talked a bit about how exciting or scary the task was and then did it. There was no real fear and no real hesitation. Brooke stood in the window rooting for Maya to fall, but she probably only meant it a little.
I've decided I don't hate Brooke anymore, because this episode pushed Brooke & Robbie so far into the Wrestling Bad Guys realm that I couldn't take their stupidity or their wickedness seriously. Once Brooke starts moaning and complaining about being asked to drink coconut water, you just go, “OK. You've reached the point at which your script said, 'Complain about everything' and you don't even believe it.” There was no sincerity or genuinely repulsion to Brooke not wanting to drink the coconut milk. She just decided her character was going to find everything on The Race unpleasant and this was another thing on The Race. She didn't really want Maya to fall from the tightrope, but she said she did because she knew that's what The Bad Girl would say. “The Amazing Race” has had plenty of truly hateable, awful people over the years, but I'm not going to lower myself to rooting against people who are in villain-face. They're gaming the game and I can't endorse it. They're the Jonny Fairplays of “The Amazing Race” and just as I never took Jonny Fairplay seriously as a villain, I'm done pretending I care about Brooke & Robbie. Real villains may not care if you like them, but they almost never want you to hate them. That's just desperate. Brooke & Robbie are desperate, bad actors. But they aren't villains. They're nothing. And “The Amazing Race” is better than this.
“The Amazing Race” is also better than the Detour, which was China Cups or Chili Crabs, a Lady or the Tiger choice in which nothing was behind either door.
In Chili Crabs, teams had to separate two pounds of crab from the shell. What was the catch? the crabs were hot and there were annoying people playing annoying music behind you. If you waited a couple minutes for the crab to cook, it wasn't hard at all. And if you didn't get enough crab from the first shells, you just ordered more. Yes, you had to wait another couple minutes for the new crab to cool, but normally “The Amazing Race” doesn't do challenges in which “waiting” really is the hardest part.
But waiting is practically an active process. It's the restraint to avoid doing anything.
In China Cups, you didn't have to wait for anything. The only thing you had to do was avoid quitting. It was a task of attrition. If you didn't quit and dealt with some period of discomfort, you finished the task. And the discomfort was being done unto you as you did nothing. You had to lay on your face and experience a deep tissue massage, some painful exfoliations and a hot cupping treatment that people pay good money for. This isn't something that people are punished with. You may not believe in the medicinal applications of hot cupping and its ability to mobilize blood flow and promote healing, but lots of folks do and that was the worst thing that was happening to Amy and Maya and Robbie and Brooke. Based on Amy's screams and squeals, you'd have thought she was being tortured and based on the raw, red dermal abrasions and bruising that we saw, I'm not saying it felt awesome. But they were doing literally nothing other than not leaving.
So the Detour was: Get Very Lightly Abused for 15 Minutes or Wait For Hot Crabs To Cool for 15 Minutes. So not matter how hard you laughed at the overreactions from the Racers or the mocking masseurs — “The foreigners have a low tolerance for pain” — I don't buy that as good Race architecture.
Then we had the problem with the Double U-Turn. At the Detour, Amy & Maya tried to explain to Brooke & Robbie a modified strategy in which one of them would U-Turn The Surfers and the other team would U-Turn The Bikers, so that whichever team failed the Fast-Forward would be eliminated. The Wrestlers didn't get it and while The Food Scientists did their part and wasted a U-Turn on The Surfers, Robbie & Brooke didn't understand/didn't care/were generally oblivious and didn't bother. When The Candy Girls got frustrated with them and tried to explain, Brooke & Robbie got annoyed, lied again about going back to the U-Turn and then lied again in indicating to the girls that the correct location for the last clue — one of five similar statues around the city — had no clue. The Candy Girls inexplicably trusted Brooke & Robbie, didn't bother looking for themselves and ended up nearly eliminating themselves after The Bikers got lucky and guessed the correct location by choosing the one furthest away, another gamble that would have paid off if they weren't so far away.
Alli & Kym went home because they got usurped at the Fast-Forward, just as they would have gone home if Robbie & Brooke had been true to the U-Turn plan. So all of Brooke & Robbie's attempted evilness was just a way to give “Amazing Race” editors plot points.
The Bikers were better than this and they probably deserved to finish ahead of The Wrestlers and The Food Scientists, but they gambled and lost. I suspect they'll get another shot in a future All-Stars season.
A couple more thoughts on tonight's “Amazing Race” Leg…
*** Misti & Jim's dream of being The Best Team In “Amazing Race” History is dead. They won't be able to win more than seven Legs, even if they sweep the last three. Heck, they're being Brooke & Robbie for now. Nobody should be behind Brooke & Robbie. Plus, the first “Amazing Race” Save ended up unused. Oh well. And Adam & Bethany have now won three Legs, though thanks to the Fast-Forward and Express Pass, two of the wins have been for partial participation.
*** We never found out how The Save would have been used in terms of Non-Elimination and whatnot. But we do have one more NEL still to go. Blech.
*** I just wish the crab side of the Detour had been more active. I guess the point was that in one option, you had to sit back, suck up the pain and then you were done, whereas the crab could be done fast if you sucked up the pain and tore into the hot food. That's… not great. Maybe the Detour choice should have read Burn or Abrasion?
*** Total failure on this season's U-Turns. Back to the drawing board, producers!
*** Brooke had the quote of the episode. It wasn't funny. I did like that even when she was in pain herself, she was still able to dig deep to find pleasure in the pain of others.
*** Anyway… I'm just glad we finally got electricity back so that I could do this recap. I'll have a “Survivor” recap tomorrow, even if it's late. This has been an odd holiday week!