Recap: ‘The Amazing Race’ – ‘Off To See The Wizard’

Oh, “The Amazing Race.” 
You so crazy! 
And yet… You also so predictable!
Sunday (November 11) night’s episode of “The Amazing Race” was, for the most part, the best episode of the season. By a lot. It featured exactly the sort of travel intrigue that I usually relish, exactly the sort of genuinely challenging, but also amusing, tasks that I normally endorse and, in Moscow, one of those locations that’s probably in my Top 5 of dream destinations. It also included both semi-amusing bickering between teams, but also ample warm-hearted unity between teams.
Total success, right?
And yet. 
And yet…
Comrade-in-arms Andy from RealityBlurred.com tweeted enthusiasm for the episode at 8:40 and I responded, “Unless/Until the episode gets ruined by an NEL, it’s a pretty good Leg so far…”
Darn you, “The Amazing Race,” for making me so distrustful of you, for making me so certain that if there’s an ending to be blundered, you’ll find a way to blunder it. Emmy winning juggernauts shouldn’t have so much difficulty sticking the landing, but “The Amazing Race” does and watching Sunday’s episode, I never felt for a second like there was going to be a satisfying resolution.
Click through for the full recap…
I was wrong about this being a Non-Elimination Leg. Or at least so far I was wrong about it being a Non-Elimination Leg. Not only could I still be right, but I’m counting on still being right. 
Yeah, Sunday night’s episode wasn’t a Non-Elimination Leg, because Sunday night’s episode wasn’t a complete Leg. We ended with a big ol’ “To Be Continued,” with three teams through to the Pit Stop, one team to the Pit Stop but in limbo and two teams still out on the course.
For 55 minutes? “Off To See The Wizard” was a terrific episode of TV.
We began in Istanbul with the teams in a fairly tight bunch and being told to go to Moscow. 
Reasonably fact: There are no direct flights between Istanbul and Moscow. That’s too bad. There are direct flights between Istanbul and Los Angeles. It’s a fairly nice 15-hour jaunt on Turkish Air. I’m looking at my overnight treasure chest from that flight — socks, earplugs, mask — right now. 
Anyway, though, the teams discovered that there were four reasonable alternatives for getting to Moscow. Actually, they didn’t really “discover” this, because none of the teams found all four of the options. There was a flight through Amsterdam that got in at 2 am, a flight through Frankfurt that got in at 3, a flight through Munich getting in at 4 and a flight through Athens getting in at 5. Somehow, only the Chippendales and Rockers found that earlier flight. I have no idea why that is. The flight through Frankfurt had only a one-hour connection window, but Abbie & Ryan decided to go for it anyway. The Beekmans saw both the Frankfurt flight and the Athens flight and elected to flip a coin and ended up joining Abbie & Ryan on the Frankfurt jaunt. And, finally, the Twins and Team Longhorn took the flight through Munich, but based on what we saw, they didn’t know that two earlier flights existed.
It’s here that I pause: If I’m on “The Amazing Race” and the choices are four flights getting in by 5 a.m. the chances are exceptional that nothing happening in the city of my destination will be happening before a reasonable hour of business in the morning. That’s just logic. Yes, there’s the off chance that maybe you fly into the city and you have to immediately head somewhere to catch a bus to a far-flung location and maybe there’s a 2:30 a.m. bus and you gain a ton of time. But if you look at the general history of “The Amazing Race,” this is a circumstance that leaves teams camping out at the gate of… something. The producers explicitly designed this as an equalizer.
I say that, but… Good for the teams that investigated and attempted to take any sort of travel advantage at all. This show doesn’t allow enough wiggle room for smart of risky travel maneuvering and I’m not going to begrudge Abbie & Ryan and the Beekmans for rolling the dice and seeing if they could get an advantage of some sort over somebody. You’ve gotta try!
Unfortunately… Yeah. One hour to make international connections is already a real challenge under the best of circumstances and a one-hour delay in Istanbul made it impossible. The Beekmans and Abbie & Ryan — who really need a nickname — were stranded in Frankfurt and had to get to Moscow through Warsaw, a journey that had them coming in 13 hours after that 2 a.m. flight arrived and 5.5 hours after the other for teams, naturally equalized at the gate of a sculpture garden, were able to start the day’s activities. It’s a little funny that the teasers for this week’s episode only showed Abbie & Ryan in jeopardy, right?
So that put the other four teams in a tight race through Moscow, which began with a Detour offering the choice between Alphabetize or Synchronize. In Alphabetize, you had to get a list of four books at the Russian State Library and find the books in the card catalogue and then find the books in the stacks. Simple, right? Well, I guess it depends on your comfort with Cyrillic.  And in Synchronize, teams had to learn a basic swimming routine from a coach and perform that routine to the satisfaction of the coach/judge.
In this case, that meant we had a Detour in which each task presented clear stumbling blocks and in which each task was moderately telegenic, if only because acres of card catalogue drawers look daunting.
Proving the balance of the Detour, the four teams split.
The Rockers and Team Longhorn took Alphabetize. James & Abba, it turns out, are not so good at shape recognition. Trey & Lexi, however, are better at shape recognition. If you were good at shape recognition, I think it’s clear that Alphabetize was the faster task. You just had to avoid getting frustrated and stare at the Cyrillic characters until the shapes and patterns emerged. Trey and Lexi were able to do it and they finished the Detour in first, finished the Roadblock in first and won their second straight Leg. They’re now tied with Abbie & Ryan, who apparently aren’t going to set any “Amazing Race” records for most Legs won. James & Abba have actually won two Legs as well, but in this case they quit and went to Synchronize.
Synchronize was not easy. The coach was harsh and the swimming itself was a challenge. Jaymes & James initially thought that it was going to be easy and that their stripping background was going to pay off and they initially even attempted to do the task with their stripper bow-ties. No dice. 
After struggling to get a cab, the Twins arrived just as the Chippendales were completing their swim, after several failures based on fumbling parts of the routine or failure to synchronize. The Twins also struggled and they had an extra problem: Their instructor didn’t speak English. I’ve often talked about how inappropriate it is for teams to get outraged when natives of non-English-speaking countries turn out not to speak English and, to their credit, the Twins didn’t get outraged. They just got frustrated. And I don’t even begrudge them that frustration, since Jaymes & James’ instructor appeared to be at least somewhat conversant in English and was able to give them proper counts for the moves. The Twins had an instructor unable to give them anything. I’m not sure if the rules dictated they couldn’t swap after they started? Dunno. As an added complication, they also knew that this was one of their last two Legs in which to use the Express Pass they won for finishing the second Leg in first. They were on the verge of quitting, out of the pool and everything, when Jaymes cheered for them to keep going and correctly pointed out that at least two teams were who-knows-how-far behind. That was good of Jaymes, who hasn’t been immune to making fun of the Twinies. He was exactly right and I can see no real ulterior motive to him rooting the Twins on to finish the Detour. So, good for him. They eventually finished.
The Roadblock wasn’t as good as the Detour, at least difficulty-wise, but I like knowing that the Bridge of Kisses, with trees of locks, exists. 
So it was Team Longhorn, then the Chippendales (their best performance yet) and the Natalie & Nadiya, finishing third for the third time.
What about the poor Rockers? Well, we knew that it was always going to be a sight-gag to have them doing synchronized swimming, complete with their long hair pouring out from around their floral caps, rendering them useless. They spent a long time failing and looking ridiculous doing so before eventually the got the Mark & Bopper Pity Pass and were able to keep going. They went to the Roadblock and then went back to get their stuff from the cab but… Ooops. The cab was gone, complete with all of their stuff. It looked like James had his passport and like they had their money for the Leg, but Abba’s missing passport meant that under Zev & Justin rules, they couldn’t check in. The episode ended with the Rockers standing despondent and Phil Keoghan looking at them like a dunning school marm. This is the same Phil who was tweeting last week that it was completely acceptable for the Twins and Team Longhorn to have stolen the Rockers’ money, because the Rockers “lost” it first. That’s BS and Phil knows it, since the Rockers were still in the room at the time that their misplaced money was appropriated by other contestants. But it’s a lot harder to feel pity for them knowing that they really just aren’t good at keeping track of things. I’m sure there are steps the cab driver could take to reunite the bags with their owners, so we’ll see if that happens or if the Rockers are in serious trouble.
And as for The Beekmans and Team No Nickname, they did an odd thing. Basically, these two teams knew they were screwed, half a day behind everybody else. In that circumstance, there are two reasonable responses: First, if you’re Abbie & Ryan, you can be all, “Well, The Beekmans suck at absolutely everything other than goat-farming, so regardless of that the tasks in Moscow are, we will beat them, just as we’ve beaten them in six Legs so far.” Or second, you can be all, “Well, we’ve been through something bad together, let’s stick it out as a four-person team.” For some reason — human decency is really the only explanation — The Beekmans and Team No Nickname elected to stick it out together. They arrived in Moscow and cabbed in unison. They got to the Detour and, because of timing, they were forced to do Synchronized together. And after Abbie & Ryan finished fast, fueled by Abbie’s dance experience and Ryan’s adrenaline, they elected to stick around and wait for the Beekmans, even though Brent can’t swim especially well and that could end up being a long wait. I’m impressed. I don’t know whether I’d have gone with the “teamwork” approach in the first place and seeing the Beekmans flounder, I’m really not sure if I’d have been able to wait it out at the Detour.
But that’s how the episode ended: Beekmans and No Nickname at the Detour and Rockers wandering Moscow looking for a passport-shaped needle in a haystack.
Lots of good things in the episode. But the bungled end-of-Leg tells me that we’re headed for a Non-Elimination Leg early in the next episode, followed by an elimination in the following Leg at the end of the hour, with the producers seemingly knowing that interesting things happened in this episode, while next episode was less interesting. 
Oh well!
Other thoughts on this week’s episode:
*** Yup. Abbie & Ryan are very competitive. I still feel like we’re missing steps in their rivalry with both the Twins and with Team Longhorn, which came to a bit of a head at the airport in Istanbul. Other than “competitive,” we haven’t seen any truly negative traits from Abbie & Ryan, so I continue not to dislike them, but the other teams dislike them, so who knows?
*** Speaking of Team Longhorn… It was kinda a funny episode for Lexi, who announced “Hopefully there’ll be a ring on my finger pretty soon” in the opening interviews and then found herself staring enviously at the brides on the Bridge of Kisses, all leading up to Phil asking them to rate their love on a scale of 1 to 10. Lexi said “a thousand.” Trey said nothing.
*** Another dumb choice for episode title. Clearly the episode should have been called “We looked like Mama from ‘Mama’s Family,'” from Jaymes’ reaction to the swimming caps, rather than the nothing quote about entering a gate to pick up another clue. I would also accept Nadiya’s “We fight like a married couple, we make up like little kids,” though that’s too long.
*** No matter who gets sent home next week, I will be out of the country, but I’ll be leaving y’all in the extremely capable hands of Myles McNutt. 
What’d you think of this week’s unfinished episode?