The Amazing Race Season 16 – “Episode Five (France)”

“I Think We’re Fighting the Germans, Right?”

March 14th, 2010

It’s been three weeks since I’ve been able to review The Amazing Race, which is pretty unfortunate. It just so happened that one week was the Academy awards, and the week before was the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics. I enjoy this show enough to keep watching it when these sorts of conflicts arise, but blogging about it is another story. There just isn’t enough time in the day, especially when the last few weeks have ultimately been what one would call predictable: there was no doubt that Monique and Shawne were too far behind two weeks ago in Argentina, and last week’s episode smelled like a non-elimination even before the fairly predictable conclusion (even if the nice Beatles touches were pretty enjoyable, and even if I was glad that Jeff and Jordan were not done in by an errant taxi ride that wasn’t their fault).

So, I figure I owe it to the show to put some thoughts on the table in regards to this week’s episode. Thus far, the cast is more or less living up to our early expectations: there are no teams that I abhor (although there are times where Carol/Brandy cut it pretty close), there are no teams I really love, and there are no teams that are running a really intelligent race.

However, there is one team that I like much better than I expected to, and that is running a far better race than I expected them to, and those sorts of underdog stories (See: Hippies) are the sorts of thing which keep my engaged all season long.

Titles like “underdog” are really relative on the race. For example, you could argue that Jeff and Jordan are underdogs in this leg with their Speed Bump, while last week had Louie and Michael as the bottomfeeders rising into first place. However, there are often long-term underdogs like Jet and Cord who just don’t seem like the kind of team who is going to get far in this race, especially considering the fact that they bought Brazilian currency to use in Chile because it was “close” in the first leg. But over the last few legs, they have shown themselves to be really charming and quite effective at the parts of the race unrelated to currency exchange. Last week they made a mistake in terms of taking the subway versus taking a cab, but they remained tight in the pack. In some ways, they are the eternal underdogs: they’re still wide-eyed about their international excursion, and they’re still having fun, but they remain just competitive enough to stay in the pack and remain an enjoyable presence in this race.

They didn’t make any big moves here, but they’re work horses: they’re good at tasks, which means that they are in a position to make up some ground at the Detour that they lost in the midst of the leadup to the challenge. Really, Louie and Michael would have been smart to U-Turn them: it would mean that they would be forced to handle the Morse Code challenge, which might have proven more challenging. Instead, they easily pass up Dan and Jordan and make their way into a respectable third place, exactly the place they want to be. The cowboys are physical threats without being boring robots, capable of powering through physical tasks without seeming like that’s the only reason they’re sticking around. They’re enjoyable and pleasant in a way that I like to see, and I hope they go far: while other teams bicker and fight and let other teams pass them, they seem motivated by each and every mistake and are working hard to win this race.

This leg, a bit light thanks to the lack of a Roadblock but a bit heavy due to the World War I task, was designed for slight movements before teams over big moves. While Carol tried to argue that there was, in some way, a balance between “Physical vs. Needle in a Haystack” in the Detour, that’s just about entirely wrong. The task was about finesse vs. brute strength, the Morse Code task requiring patience and the Crawling task requiring…crawling. There wasn’t anything else to it, really, but the fear of Morse Code (which, as Joe and Heidi discovered, is actually quite challenging at the speed it was playing at) pushed all of the teams to crawl instead. This wasn’t a leg that really allowed any teams to jump from the back of the pack to the front, as we saw both Louie and Michael and Steve and Allie just cruise through the leg without any problems.

The real moves were driven by mistakes or the Blind U-Turn, definitely the most disruptive of the race’s machinations. It’s one thing for a team to get delayed for 15 minutes, but it’s another to make them perform another task, which creates a definite challenge in this instance. The race eventually boils down to three teams struggling to complete the tasks, and you could make legitimate arguments for two of them: Jeff and Jordan were overcoming their deficit from the previous leg, and Brent and Caite were behind thanks to their own silly mistake. By comparison, Joe and Heidi were simply held up by the morse code, so it’s tough to see them lose entirely based on that decision, and to see them eliminated for it is sort of tough to take.

I say “sort of” because I sort of like that we were given a legitimate reason for the U-Turn from Louie and Michael: they were responding to Joe’s hubris during the awkward “bus interviews while other people are listening” period of the episode. And so I liked seeing them go after Joe based on that decision, knowing that his knee would give him problems. Yes, taking out the cripple in a race seems a little bit silly in the long term, so going after him for cockiness feels a little bit misguided, but we were given a clear narrative for the decision that helps define Louie and Michael as a team. They’re willing to go after other teams, even when they end up huddled in a trench wet and sad about their impending elimination, which helps develop the overall narrative of the race at the expense of poor Joe and Heidi (the former of which probably deserved it, since his hubris was not limited to this episode).

I don’t like the U-Turn/Yield part of this game, but it feels like it work well in the long term here: it didn’t take out a team who deserved to go far, it didn’t take out a team that I liked, and while it changed the face of this leg it wasn’t an insurmountable disadvantage and the morse code could have been solved (it’s not like it came down to purely physical undertakings, for example). Louie and Michael are now “gameplayers,” and they even showed some strong teamwork (with Michael encouraging Louie through the Detour), which only helps things moving forward.

Cultural Observations

  • Interesting that they chose to have the teams travel by bus during the pit stop instead of during the leg itself: maybe it was just a scheduling issue, but it made sure they were able to get the leg in during the day, as I’m guessing the war reenactment would have been an issue late in the evening.
  • Plenty of wacky music for both Brent and Caite and Jeff and Jordan: both teams are really struggling with things like directions and basic tasks, so I’m curious to what degree these teams can really stay around when even the editors aren’t taking them seriously as threats.
  • Enjoyed that Jordan ended up being subtitled with “????” after the Baguette challenge – talking with your mouth full will apparently get you some ribbing from the editors.
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2 Comments

Filed under The Amazing Race

2 responses to “The Amazing Race Season 16 – “Episode Five (France)”

  1. Drekab

    *Cough* World War I

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