Recap: ‘The Amazing Race: All-Stars’ – ‘Down and Dirty’

If you ask me for a preference between Country Blondes Jennifer and Caroline, I'll always go with punchy, pint-sized Caroline, she of the reliable zingers and ace comic timing.

But Jennifer had the smartest observation in Sunday (March 30) night's “Amazing Race.”

Musing on why this season has been difficult, Jennifer noted, “Nobody makes mistakes.”

That's not exactly true. Natalie & Nadiya couldn't find a wedding dress shop in China over several hours and they went home. Mark & Mallory went back to get Mark's bag and they went home. Joey & Meghan didn't tell their driver to stay at a Roadblock and they went home. And last week, Margie & Luke couldn't get tickets for a good flight leaving Kuala Lumpur and they went home. At least in the early-going of this “All-Stars” season, it hasn't been that nobody's been making mistakes, but it's certainly been the case that, generally speaking, it's been nearly impossible to overcome what few mistakes there have been. 

One thing to note about the single mistakes that have led to all four of the season's eliminations: None of them have been related to “Amazing Race” Roadblocks or Detours, which are usually the meat of the game. The Twinnies fumbled on a season-opening general task and then we had two self-inflicted eliminations and the airport strangeness that befell Margie & Luke last week. Performances on the Roadblocks and Detours have been almost completely proficient and uniform.

It's possible that Sunday's episode featured the biggest in-task blunder of the season, but once that gaffe proved to be completely and totally meaningless, despite eating up 10 minutes of screentime, it was already very clear where the hour was going.

[More after the break…]

Yep. Sunday's episode was a Non-Elimination Leg and it was a Non-Elimination Leg that featured two Equalizers. And there isn't much to say about that, even though the Leg also featured a couple reasonably photogenic and amusing tasks.

We began with the first Equalizer, which was inevitable once Dave & Connor left the mat at 2:59 in the morning and were told to go to the Dutch Museum. Dave & Connor had a bit more of an advantage than I'd remembered and the last time we were told was for Leo & Jamal, who left at 3:50. It didn't matter, because the museum didn't open till the time museums open and all seven teams were together for the first time in a while. 

“Brenchel is not in the back, we're part of the pack!” observed Rachel. “Good job rhyming,” Brendon congratulated her. 

The teams all too the same 90-minute train ride to Alawwa in Sri Lanka, where they came to the week's Roadblock. One player from each pair had to select a colored card and then, from a crowded sea of tuk tusk, they had to find four vehicles with their color card in the window and fill them up with three liters of gas. There were hundreds of three-wheeled cabs, seven players trying to wrangle them and only two gas pumps, so it was an interesting air traffic controller sort of task. You had to choose whether to fill cars one-by-one, or line up four correctly colored tuk tusk and try to fill them at once. You had to navigate the tuk tuks around other cars and outmaneuver your  fellow competitors. 

There were some better strategies. Big Easy was able to shove aside offending tuk tuks when required, while Cord took his cars way out wide, where there weren't any cars, and then backed them up to the pump. There were better strategies. “I feel like whoever is most insane under those circumstances is most successful,” John said. But it didn't matter.

There was also one lesser strategy, which came courtesy of Rachel, who inevitably chose green and then, like somebody misinterpreting the lyrics of Dishwalla, she began to count only green cars, rather than cars with green tags in the window. Yelling and haranguing with a Rachelian intensity, Rachel finished the task first, except that she finished it all wrong and might never have figured out her error, except that she was chirping annoyingly in front of John, who pointed out her mistake, if only to shut her up. That didn't matter either. 

As the first three teams finished the Roadblock, they were sent to the train station and purchased billets for a train that was 12 minutes away. Now the Roadblock was loud and bedlam reigned, so one might have gotten the impression it was taking a lot of time to complete. One would have gotten the wrong impression. The difference between teams doing the Roadblock in the best way possible and the team doing the Roadblock in the Racheliest way possible turns out to have been… 12 minutes. Rachel & Brendon ran across the tracks, purchased tickets and the teams were, again, equalized and the first 25 minutes of the episode were totally negated. It's at that point that I wrote down in my notes, “Sigh. NEL.” 

From there, teams had to head to the Millennium Elephant Foundation for the Detour, which offered the choice between Trunks and Sheets.

In Trunks, teams had to actually work with the elephants to chain up three big logs and hoist them onto a truck (while carrying three smaller logs).

In Sheets, teams had to get a wheelbarrow of elephant dung, mix it with scraps of paper to create pulp and then create sheets of new paper from that pulp.

Hmmm… So you're on “The Amazing Race” and you get the choice between playing with elephants or playing with elephant scat. I wonder what choice is the right choice. While putting your trust in the hands of animals on “Amazing Race” is always tough, the “Always choose the most TV-friendly Detour” rule clearly went in favor of Trunks. Also… Elephants! So six of the seven remaining teams immediately decided to do Trunks. The catch: Only four teams at a time could play with the elephants. 

Oh well. That meant that the Cowboys, Afghanimals, John & Jessica and Dave & Connor got to play with elephants and, not surprisingly, they are finished in the Top 4 for the Leg, though whether they finished there because Trunks was a faster Detour or because they got to do the Detour they initially wanted to do and other teams had to waste at least a couple minutes going to the other task is unclear.

Sheets wasn't hard and offered ample opportunity for poo-based mirth.

Flight Time dove into the dung-gathering so aggressively, for example, that Big Easy observed, “If he's gonna put his hand in some doo-doo, I'm gonna put my hands in some doo-doo.”

And later, when it came to scooping the dung-paper-pulp, Caroline got to note, “You have to have the perfect amount of dung. As usual.”

The paper creation was an elaborate process and it wasn't a hard process, but all three of the Sheets teams missed the step where they were supposed to squeeze the extra water from your pulp screen, which eliminated air-bubbles and wrinkles. That caused minor delays, but whatever.

As with the Roadblock, it's my guess that the difference in time between the fasted and slowest completion of the Detour wasn't more than 15 or 20 minutes. Possibly less. The Country Blondes said they were two minutes behind Brendon & Rachel when they left in last and the Country Blondes didn't do anything more incorrect than the other teams doing Sheets, while other than Dave & Connor having temporary difficulties with their chain-tying, nobody made blunders on Trunks either.

We were heading towards a hypothetical elimination in which nobody had really done anything wrong, which always makes for a tough exit interview, because there's only so much you can say beyond, “Oh well. So… Fate?”

But I knew nobody was going home when we had 15 minutes left in the episode and all seven teams were in cabs heading toward the Pit Stop. The pacing was just off in every way.

We did get more than the usual amount of drama running to the Pit Stop.

The Afghanimals and Cowboys were going back-and-forth with their cabs passing each other and then the two teams sprinted to the mat, providing that very rare example of a near-dead-heat to Phil Keoghan. The Afghanimals won and gloated and said nonsensical things about Cowboys and Indians. Jet looked like if he ever loses to Leo & Jamal again, he may suffocate himself inside his black hat. Then you had John & Jessica rushing by Dave & Connor, with Dave grumbling, “Yeah. You'll beat an old man, guys.” John was giddy at beating them, saying they'd been running behind Dave & Connor for both of their seasons. I wanted Phil to remind John that actually they beat Dave & Connor in their very first Leg and got an Express Pass for their trouble. Phil did not. 

Because of taxi confusion, the Globetrotters slipped down to sixth. Brendon & Rachel moved up to fifth. And Jennifer & Caroline, despite not making any mistakes on the Leg, were last, but once Phil kicked things off with a conversational gambit — “Not a bad place to end your race” — rather than an elimination, they should have known they were safe. 

The Country Blondes promised to dig their way out or die trying.

“Promise?” Phil asked.

“Promise it's gonna kill us?” Caroline replied sharply.

And that's why I like Caroline.

Anyway, though… Non-Elimination Leg. Not much else to say. I have to go get ready for the “Walking Dead” finale.

A few other thoughts on Sunday's Leg:

*** We definitely had more than the usual amount of transportation terror this Leg. I liked Dave & Connor's banter with the Globetrotters and the amusement that their drivers were brothers. And I liked Cord's blanched-faced “Be careful man. We don't have life insurance.” You could tell that he'd just as soon finish second rather than die on the road. Jet may have been willing to die on the road to avoid finishing behind the Afghanimals.

*** Flight Time rocking out with the Route Marker musician was excellent. I am, as always, very strongly pro-Globetrotter. Unless you're a Generals fan, there's no excuse not to be.

*** Lots of adorable dogs in this episode. 

*** Elephants are strong.

OK. Enough of this. I'm gonna watch “Bob's Burgers” before “Walking Dead.” Any thoughts on Sunday's Leg?