“The Amazing Race” returned on Friday (April 3) night and while I didn't exactly forget that the Emmy-winning series was back, I realized almost immediately during the pre-credit recap that I barely remembered anything about where we'd left things several weeks back.
Bergen & Kurt won the last Leg? How the heck did that happen?
Was anybody especially good? Was anybody especially bad?
I know CBS had to air the NCAA Tournament, but “The Amazing Race” isn't a hit anymore and this season has been a wobbly, albeit sometimes amusing, experiment. And pulling a struggling show in a unsteady season is a pretty dismal way to maintain momentum.
Fortunately, most of what I was and wasn't liking about the season came back pretty early in Friday's episode, which was funny and entertaining in moments, but also exposed the absolutely worst case scenario for this blind dating season.
[Full recap after the break…]
I suppose one might think that a toxic mismatch would be the season's worst case scenario, but it clearly hasn't been. Blair and Hayley are absolutely a hilarious botch of a couple and the ongoing breaking of Blair's spirit has been great to watch, since as sure as I am that Hayley is unbearable, I'm not convinced that Blair doesn't at least somewhat deserve what he's getting. So Blair's emerging joint horror and resignation has been amply entertaining. As I keep saying, watching Hayley and Blair fight doesn't feel like “The Amazing Race” in the slightest and she's getting one of the cruelest edits in the show's history, but they're only a small percentage of the show, so dropping snippets of a brutal “Blind Date” into an “Amazing Race” episode isn't so bad.
No, the worst case scenario for this season was a desultory mismatch, two people who were paired by a casting department with no interest in finding components of a potentially successful relationship, who realized they were never going to find love and one or both just became a disinterested lump. Kurt and Bergen were matched on the basis of looking similar and being gay and absolutely nothing else and the “Race” producers ought to be at least a little embarrassed at how flimsy their matchmaking attempts were. But once they realized they were useless together, they could have decided, “OK. Let's at least see if we can be functional as partners because a million dollars is a lot of money and getting to see the world is awesome.” Bergen was willing to do that. Kurt was not.
Or at least I think that's how things went. When you cast a couple based only on resemblance, you end up with two people I can only tell apart if I try and if I don't have any reason to want to tell them apart, I don't bother. Sorry, guys. This one's on you.
So Kurt and Bergen turned in one of the most lifeless Legs in “Amazing Race” history and, thankfully, were sent home. I think it was Bergen who at least kept trying and got frustrated at Kurt's apathy, but how much pity am I supposed to have? The core problem that Bergen and Kurt had, the one that was really the whole reason they were eliminated, is that neither of them new how to drive a stick and if you go on “The Amazing Race” without knowing how to drive stick with reasonable confidence, I'm afraid you only get to whine so much about what a dead weight your partner is. If Bergen thought “The Amazing Race” was a cool and worthwhile thing to do, he'd have come prepared in that absolutely basic way and he'd have dragged Kurt along with him kicking and pouting and screaming.
Instead, Kurt & Bergen had the rare ignominy of abandoning a car and taking a penalty in a car commercial episode of “The Amazing Race.” This was an hour-long commercial for Ford and Kurt & Bergen abandoned their Ford in an alley. It's a sign of remarkable restraint that “The Amazing Race” gave them only a two-hour penalty for failing to get the episode's most primal lesson: That Fords are marvelous cars to be loved and cherished in all of their high-tech awesomeness and certainly should not be ditched on the side of the road like a lowly useless Kia. [I kid. I'm sure Kias are fine automobiles. Or whatever.]
And this episode was “The Amazing Race” product whoring at its most blatant. The first task once teams flew from Thailand to Munich and dressed up in Oktoberfest garb for no reason? They had to climb a tower and find their Ford Foci. Then they had to drive to a warehouse where, for no reason, “The Amazing Race” had made a Winter Wonderland set and then back through the set using the rear assist feature. So “The Amazing Race” invented a challenge that had nothing specific to do with the country the teams were in — Was it Oktoberfest or Winter, show? — only to showcase a car and its features and then sent the teams to their next task, while reminding teams to make use of another of the car's features. And the team that dominated the Leg? They were the team that discovered the feature first, so of course they won two Ford Foci for themselves. The next episode will almost certainly begin with Aly & Steve researching Fords online to see how awesome they are, even though tonight's episode was only about how awesome those stupid Fords were.
Aly & Steve won this Leg because they're fairly good at things, they're fairly solid as a couple and they perform well under pressure, as you might expect from Olympic athletes. But they really mostly won because they realized their Ford Focus came with GPS and they were able to use it to go straight to the rear-assist challenge. When the post-rear-assist challenge specifically told teams they could use GPS, I wondered if that was an implication that Aly & Steve had ignored some rule telling them to get to that challenge sans GPS and that they were going to be penalized. It was not. The other teams were just dumb. There was a lot of getting lost going on. But there was also a lot of stick-shift-driving ineptitude going on. And there was a lot of dumb.
Tyler & Laura, who I continue to find largely charming and appealing both as individuals and as a couple, started in Munich with a lead, but they had a minor car screw-up, decided to switch cars and left their fanny pack in the car that would later be occupied by Jeff & Jackie, in the midst of an ugly, but fast-passing fight. Tyler & Laura got to the Ford Commercial Challenge, realized they might be screwed and had to wait for the team and car with their fanny pack to arrive. This was a bit sad and a bit funny, especially when Hayley & Blair showed up and we saw that other teams are watching that dysfunctional pair with the same mockery as viewers at home.
“I'd rather be sitting right here than be with her,” Tyler laughed, making the best of a bad situation.
“I'm just craving conversation from happy people,” Blair tried to explain to Hayley after she yapped at him for trying to figure out what the blazes Laura and Tyler were even doing.
The fanny pack screw up dropped Tyler & Laura from second to fourth.
Other than the Ford Commercial Challenge, what was in this episode?
Well, there was a Detour with the choice between Stein and Stack.
In Stein, teams had to serve 22 sloshing mugs of beer, the season's latest service industry task. In fact, the past couple seasons have been over-reliant on “Serve locals something…” tasks and this was at least the third already this season. Aly & Steve were very good at it, with Aly getting to tout her Wisconsin-bred aptitudes with beer. Hayley & Blair were very bad at it, with Hayley struggling, Blair trying his hand at backseat beer-carrying and Hayley getting impatient. [“Your helping is things I already know. Great observation, Captain Obvious.”]
In Stack, teams had to stack 15 crates of beer, with one player attached to a harness. This was a poorly explained and poorly edited challenge in which i could tell it wasn't easy, but I couldn't tell why it wasn't easy or what teams figured out when they figured out how to do it correctly. So it was a chance to giggle at Racers swinging around in stereotypical German garb on harnesses. That's a thing.
And then there was a Roadblock that had one Racer have to learn a German wooing song and sing it to their partner. If they didn't get words or melody right, they got a bucket of water poured on their head. This task had a problem: The first time a singer got surprisingly doused with water, it was funny. But it seems that the second time, things ceased to be funny. So either EVERY singer who failed once, succeeded the second time, or else the editors stopped showing us failures because they weren't funny. So as it stood, nearly everybody getting splashed once was good for a chuckle, though there were diminishing returns when more than one team was there at the same time and the singers expected the liquid punishment for failing.
In the end, Aly & Steve were first, because they used GPS. Bergen & Kurt were last, because… whatever. Away with them.
Other thoughts on the episode:
*** I don't like the twist, but by not casting awful people for the most part, this is a season full of people I like well enough, which gives “The Amazing Race” an advantage over “Survivor” this season. Jonathan & Harley were my favorites and they're gone, but I like how hard Mike & Rochelle are trying and how supportive they are of each other. As I already said, I think Tyler & Laura have a good energy together, whether they're in the friendship zone or not. Aly & Steve aren't exciting, but their steadiness is growing on me. Matt & Ashley aren't dynamic either, but they're also good together. And as bad as Hayley and Blair are as a couple, they're silly and entertaining TV. The Jeff/Jackie fight was one of those bad fights where neither came away looking good, but they recovered decently and there's at least a chance they might learn from the communication issues and they should be entitled to have a few getting-to-know-you shouting matches.
*** The initial Legs were dominated by the blind-dating couples, but Aly & Steve and Matt & Ashley led tonight, with Ashley suggesting the tide was turning. I don't know if that's true, but I can see how it'd be an object lesson if that were the way things went in terms of the season arc.
*** That was a lot of poor singing tonight. Jackie was the only one who seemed to have a potentially decent voice. And that's why CBS only had the picture of her getting drenched, I assume.
*** Remember that episode in Morocco last season in which my recap mentioned that I had a particular reason for being amused? Hopefully, you read my “Killing Jesus” set visit report and now you understand why.
*** OK. This recap was written after a Passover Seder and it's 1:30 a.m. on the East Coast. I have more to say, but I'm really sleepy. I enjoyed this episode, even though Kurt & Bergen could have been sent home half-way through. I'm so relieved this wasn't a Non-Elimination Leg. I would have been crazy pissed off if Kurt and Bergen, who basically were just waiting for Phil to eliminate them, sitting around a train station, had been spared.
What'd you think?