Recap: ‘The Amazing Race’ – ‘Don’t Ruin the Basketball Game’

They sent somebody home on Sunday (March 20) night’s “Amazing Race.”
That doesn’t seem like a big deal until you remember that through the first four episodes of the “Amazing Race” season, two of those episodes ended with nobody being eliminated. That’s a structure that was pretty much guaranteed to tick off many of the show’s most devoted fans. And even though Sunday’s episode may have at least culminated in Phil Keoghan dispatching the last team to arrive at the Pit Stop, it was still a frustratingly failed piece of “Amazing Race” architecture.
If not for the need to do these recaps, I confess that I’d be near my breaking point, because this just isn’t the way “The Amazing Race” is supposed to be designed.
I’m gonna grumble for a bit after the break…
If you’ll recall, we left our teams last week still in the middle of one of those “You’ve reached the Pit Stop, but you have to keep on racing” carry-over legs. That spared Kent and Vyxsin. The dating Goths had run one of the worst legs in “Amazing Race” history, missing planes and buses and even, as last week ended, misplacing their passport-carrying fanny pack. We don’t know exactly how far they fell behind, but the answer can be measured in multiple hours and that’s several hours that they were behind the next-to-last-place team, Justin & Zev, and makes no mention of how far they were behind the bigger pack.
It was bad enough that the Goths weren’t going to be eliminated for that run of ineptitude. It wasn’t like any of their fumblings were bad luck or victimization by outside forces. They fell hours behind because they were absolutely awful at some basic things they were required to do, things like making a three-hour drive to a Japanese airport in under nine hours. They didn’t try to blame anybody else, because there was nobody else to blame. And they should have gone home. Or they should have had to do something excellent to make up that time. They should have had to achieve something to make their epic comeback.
Instead, “The Amazing Race” did all the work for them. 
For bombing out on that first flight from Japan to China, they got a 30 minute penalty. And that’s it. They got no additional penalty for taking a cab to a Chinese destination when every other team took a shuttle, even though presumably a cab would be a faster way to that destination. Nobody even mentioned that rule violation. But surely they had to face some consequence for the leg they had? 
All of the teams were equalized on an overnight train back to Kunming. 
So that leg that the teams ran last week? The Roadblock and the Detour? Both meaningless, because the leg had already been structured so it would have no impact on Race placement other than to give “The Amazing Race” the opportunity to do a bonus Travelocity commercial for the Leg winner. And it wasn’t like it was a short journey the teams took from Kunming or back to Kunming. They did a lot of traveling and multiple tasks and the upshot of all of it was that one team won a trip somewhere and another team had many hours of mistakes boiled down to a 30 minute penalty.
That’s awful, both for the teams that put in a lot of effort to no purpose, but also to viewers.
But we tied up those loose ends fairly early in the episode and the teams headed off to Kunming knowing that a thrilling Double U-Turn was coming. Oooooh. Double U-Turn. Surely that will yield drama galore and forever alter the course of this race.
A U-Turn makes teams have to go back and do the second choice in a Detour, the choice they didn’t want to make. It’s actually a real difference-maker if the Detour follows the Roadblock in the leg or if one Detour option is markedly more difficult than the other.
If, however, both Detours are fairly simple and can be completed with great speed if done correctly? The U-Turn loses a little power. And if the Detour is actually followed by a Roadblock and the Roadblock appears to be a good deal more time-consuming than the Detours? The U-Turn becomes completely worthless.
So why would you design a leg in which a Double U-Turn is attached to a wicked simple pair of Detours and they’re both followed by a potentially diabolical Roadblock? I have no idea. But the result was an episode like Sunday’s, where a lot of time was spent talking about the Double U-Turn, but the Double U-Turn didn’t have an iota to do with the final result of the episode. Yes, one of the U-Turned teams went home, but they went home because they failed at the Roadblock and not because of the U-Turn. That’s just bad.
Let’s look at the Detour options: Honor the Past or Embrace the Future.
In Honor the Past, the teams had to watch a performance featuring 15 people in different costumes and then put 15 dolls wearing those costumes in order based on the order the actors came in. It’s a straight-up memory/attention-to-detail challenge and, as teams quickly realized, it only required that each team member figure out how to remember a sequence of seven (with a random outlier). That’s… not hard.
In Embrace the Future, teams had to carry some solar paneling equipment up to a rooftop and then install it. That’s a task with a hefty physical component and then, if you’re choosing on spec, there’s also the possibility that the installation process might be complicated.
I think the entire Leg was constructed around the idea that teams would take Past over Future. If I were racing, I certainly would have. Under those circumstances, there could have been a possibility that a Ron and Christina might have been forced to do the Future Detour, which might have been crippling for that particular team. 
Ron and Christina were, in fact, the only team we can surmise might have had trouble doing the Future Detour, because several teams who probably ought to have done Past chose future instead and didn’t have any real trouble. I don’t quite get why the Goths and the Cheerleaders picked Future, but they did and it turned out that if you worked in teams, getting the stuff to the roof was easy, while the actual installation didn’t cause any delays for anybody that we saw. Other than Kent whining, that was an easy Detour. It was still the wrong Detour to do, because the teams that did Past finished first and would have reached the U-Turn first except that Ron and Christina’s vaunted Chinese-language skills failed to prevent cab-driver error, causing the first group of three Past finishers to end up behind several Future finishers.
That’s how we ended up with the Goths U-Turning the Cheerleaders. It was an amusing moment because the Cheerleaders were convinced that the Goths were going to U-Turn the Globetrotters, but remembering their U-Turn faux pas in their own season, the Goths elected to U-Turn the one team they knew for sure they were ahead of. The Cheerleaders promptly U-Turned the Globetrotters themselves, which matter for all of the five minutes it seemed to take each team to finish History.
Basically, all of the teams ended up working on the Roadblock at the same time. The Roadblock required one player on each team to construct a rather ambitious life-sized dilophosaurus, using a large number of easily confused component parts. It was a pretty rough task and each team seemed to make multiple errors resulting in Justin and Jaime being the last players standing. Jaime got frustrated due to various mistakes and also the physical component of the task. Justin got frustrated, but still finished.
Thus, Jaime and Cara were sent home. Haters of the Cheerleaders will be happy to see them go. Those who liked the advantages of Jamie stripping off her top or humping the dilophosaurus and who also liked her tart personality will be sad to see them go. But being U-Turned contributed little to their demise. Kent may have gotten off a good line when he said, “Putting a bullet in the Playboy bunny was the only thing that was going to save us,” but that wasn’t really the case.
The Leg’s other major development was that Gary and Mallory arrived at the Roadblock last, saw their deficit and decided they might as well use the Express Pass. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong idea, but they struggled to find a cab leaving the Roadblock and the Cowboys, first to build their dinosaur, got to the Pit Stop first.
Other thoughts on this week’s episode:
*** If you haven’t read the “20 current TV characters we’d partner with on ‘The Amazing Race'” gallery I cobbled together with Sepinwall, go do that! This recap will wait.
*** Not happy with Kynt and Vyxsin and their lack of sufficient penalization for last week, but I’ll give Vyxsin some points for hearing that they were fifth and announcing “Number 5 is alive!” I can always be won over by “Short Circuit” references.
*** Kent and Vyxsin lying about their penalty served its purpose, I suppose. Several teams got to the U-Turn and didn’t U-Turn anybody and I’m guessing one of them would have chosen to put a nail in the Goths’ coffin if they’d known. The most cryptic response to the penalty and the initial lie came from Ron, who observed, “It’s an arranged kabuki dance and kabuki dancers are known for hiding behind their masks.”
*** Seriously. The Double U-Turn was less integral to the result of the leg than Jaime and Cara getting stuck with yet another cabbie in need of gas. When that’s the case, the leg can’t be well designed.
*** And speaking of the total irrelevance of last week’s entire leg, how silly is it that we ended last week with Justin & Zev seemingly horribly lost mid-Detour and we began this leg with them checking in with Phil, as if nothing had happened. Because nothing did happen. Nothing that had a point. Grrrrrr.
*** Impressive to see the Cowboys rock a Roadblock that had no connection to any of their previously established skills. 
*** I’d been prepared to praise Luke for being less annoying than his last time on the Race. He and Margie have basically been personality non-factors this season, which is an improvement. Then I watched the scenes from next week’s episode…
Anyway… I’m hungry and it’s been raining outside all day. Was this actually a great leg and am I wrong to be ticked off?