A couple minor ethical and strategic wrinkles entered the game in Sunday (November 3) night’s episode of “The Amazing Race,” livening up an episode that probably would have been disappointingly flat otherwise.
And you could sense the “Amazing Race” producers feeling the same way, because there’s no way this was how this particular Leg was structurally designed to work. Human drama is fine, but trumped up human drama can only go so far to redeem a Leg that featured an anti-climax of a Fast-Forward, a dud of a Detour and a Roadblock in which the local mentors worked hard to upstage the contestants.
I’m not sure I have much to say about the Leg, even with the ethical and strategic wrinkles included, but whatever I have to say is after the break…
Sunday’s Leg began with a travel Equalizer, as the teams made their way from Gdansk, Poland to Vienna, Austria. The 640 miles between the cities was a relatively short distance by this season’s standards and with over 90 minutes separating the first and last place teams, you might have thought there were opportunities for some travel variation, but you’d have been wrong. There were two different initial trains transporting teams, but they both went through Warsaw, leaving the front pack disappointed by the arrival of the Afghanimals, both because people seem to hate Leo & Jamal, but also because this meant everybody would be clumped together.
Everybody continued to be clumped together because of the rare Detour in which a single choice pitched a shutout. The choice? Light Brigade or Masquerade. In Light Brigade, teams would dress up and assemble an elaborate crystal chandelier to the approval of a funny dude in costume. In Masquerade, teams had to put on masks and then wander through a costumed party trying to find people with the same masks. Nobody even hesitated. The teams all chose Masquerade, a task that required some attention to detail, but absolutely nothing else. They didn’t have to participate in the dancing. They weren’t restricted by any time limitation. They didn’t have to address their mask-doppelgangers in German. Nothing. Yes, the masks had some variations that made it a little cumbersome to make the required matches, but nobody struggled, because it was a simple task and, therefore, it was a failure. And it looked like the Light Brigade Detour had potential, because it seemed to indicate that if the chandeliers weren’t assembled to the expert’s satisfaction, they’d be dropped to the ground, shattering. The Masquerade Detour was the more photogenic choice, but it offered no opportunity for drama, because there were no stakes to the occasional miss. I don’t know what the producers do to themselves when they conceive of a Detour that ends up being this one-sided and this skill-free, but I hope it involved flogging.
I guess they were hoping that the Fast-Forward might inject some urgency, but they already knew there was a flaw to the Fast-Forward. The clue sent teams to a tall tower, but it noted that the task was “weather-dependent” and we had teams discussing the wind early on. Well, Fast-Forwards are an idea the show probably needs to adjust or reconsider. As it stands now, teams are so terrified by the disadvantage that comes from blowing a Fast-Forward that they almost never attempt to go head-to-head, so it becomes a potential reward for the first team to approach a clue-box and nothing else. So Jason & Amy got to the clue-box first, decided they were going to the Fast-Forward and only Travis & Nicole gave any consideration to trying to chase them down and after a brief cab ride, the ER Docs turned around and went to the Detour, barely losing any time, since they were driving to the Detour and other teams chose to walk.
As for the Detour, Jason & Amy reached the tower and saw that they’d have to bungee jump 500 feet. They were both nervous, but prepared. They got to the top of the tower and a guy told them that due to the wind, they could either wait to see if things calmed down, or leave. Jason wanted to go back. Amy wanted to stay and wait. Jason pouted. Amy gave in. They blew maybe 10 or 15 minutes, which was only enough to put them in last for the Detour, because the Detour obviously didn’t take any time for anybody. But Jason & Amy were back with the pack for the Roadblock, meaning that they lost nothing for trying and failing the Fast-Forward. Fast-Forwards have to be structured as a high-risk/high-reward activity. This Fast-Forward didn’t yield a reward, but it offered no eventual risk either. And although there was that strategic choice about waiting out the wind, the deliberation lasted barely any time. Yawn.
It’s too bad the Detour and Fast-Forward were so bad, because I liked the Roadblock a lot. Participants had to learn a German passage from Schubert’s “Die Forelle” and then perform it with some subset of the Vienna Boy’s Choir. They had to achieve some level of proficiency with both the lyrics and the melody and then they had to sing with little smirking Germanic wunderkinds mocking them and with their partners and the competition watching and listening and laughing. It was definitely a tough task.
Unfortunately, the editors didn’t do a great job of demonstrating distinctions between the singers and the criteria on which they were being judged. Everybody failed the first time. The second time through, Travis lowered the piece an octave and sounded like Cookie Monster and while I’d argue that lowering the octave seems like cheating, he sounded good enough and passed. Nicky also passed, though, and she sounded like she had no clue what the tune was, though she claimed her Czech father’s use of German helped her with the language. Shrug. Jamal also passed on his second time through and he seemed to have plenty of spirit, of nothing else.
As for the people who stunk? Well, everybody mocked Tim from Team Oklahoma for having a grasp on neither the words nor the melody, so he kept failing over and over and kept going back to a teacher whose advice suggested more of a desire to be on TV himself than to help his charge. And Ally of the Ice Queens kept failing and I thought she had hints of a decent voice, but I don’t know what she was doing to the words. Ally passed on her fifth attempt and, shortly thereafter, Tim also finished, though I’m thinking he got a pity pass.
When all was said and done, Travis & Nicole won the Leg. They’ve now finished first twice and, in six Legs, they’ve never finished worse than fourth. In addition, they have the lone remaining Express Pass, so they’re the team to beat for the foreseeable future.
And Tim & Danny finished last, which was just a tiny bit sad, because Team Oklahoma was perfectly amiable and it’s perhaps a minor drag for them that after nearly going home last week because they couldn’t do the polka, they went home this week because Tim couldn’t sing opera in German. I’m sure these oil-riggers weren’t pleased at consecutive artsy-fartsy Legs, though that’s what comes from getting bogged down in Europe. It’s a tiny bit notable that we’ve eliminated for straight groups of male buddies, while both groups of female buddies — The Ice Queens and The Baseball Wives — remain. I have no way of explaining that, or of drawing significance from it. But it’s a “thing” and I like noting “things.” Leo & Jamal are the only remaining all-male team, in fact.
The results weren’t even interesting to the producers in the home-stretch. They were much more invested in the High Drama of Marie’s taxi theft, which got a more methodically laid-out narrative than anything else in the episode. The Baseball Wives finished the Roadblock in second and came out. They walked to the cab that had transported Jason & Amy, saw their bags in the backseat and moved on. Then, for unexplained reasons, the cabbie decided to remove the bags and leave them next to the cab. When Tim finished the Roadblock, Marie brazenly announced “Alright. Let’s go steal somebody’s cab” and they went outside and, seeing that Jason & Amy’s bags were no longer in the cab, the proceeded to take the taxi, which was initially fine with the driver, who figured all male-female groups of Americans are the same. Marie explained that their cab had parked in a less advantageous spot. Well, OK. And the show took great pains to show that the bags were removed before Tim & Marie came out, so that we knew that if Tim & Marie had removed the bags from the cab, that would have been a violation of Race Rules. The point was obvious: Marie & Tim did nothing technically wrong and the advantage they gained from the theft? Well, it was just enough for them to take fourth, with Jason & Amy coming up right behind them in fifth. “You guys snuck up on us,” Phil Keoghan observed. “Sneaky, that’s a good word, Phil,” said Jason, who initially requested a penalty, which wasn’t gonna happen because of the pre-removal of the bags. Amy, who said she was prepared to bring out “Providence Amy,” instead mostly cried. Marie kept reminding anyone who would listen that this is a game. Jason puffed himself up and pouted and vowed, “We’re gonna kick their ass. You know we’re a better team.” And Time did and said nothing. The whole saga was slightly amusing, but totally meaningless.
Was there anything else of note in this episode? Hmmm…
*** Tim & Marie may have been more willing to jettison ethics and steal the cab because, after finishing the Detour in first, they slipped to fourth because other teams kept getting cabs ahead of them. Or something.
*** Team Oklahoma showed a bit of spine with their use of the U-Turn last week, but perhaps this week’s struggles were karmic payback for using that broken Race device? Probably not, no.
*** The line of the episode probably came from Oklahoma Tim’s camera-hungry teacher telling him to, “Try to imagine you are Justin Timberlake.”
*** I want to see Providence Amy.
*** The Hedge Labyrinth to get to the last clue before the Pit Stop was another thing with potential that went nowhere.
Yeah. I’ve talked too much about what was clearly, as I thought back over it, not a very good episode. Will you miss Team Oklahoma?