The Amazing Race Season 14 – “Episode Two – Germany”

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“Your Target is your Partner’s Face”

February 22nd, 2009

When this, the second episode of The Amazing Race’s fourteenth season, begins, there’s a sequence where the teams all start talking about how much they are inspired by Margie and Luke, the latter of whom is the race’s first deaf contestant. To be honest, I was frustrated with this: not because they’re not inspirational, but that we are capable of discerning for ourselves how impressive his work is: in this episode alone, we see Luke making friends with Jamie and Cara (without his mother being present), and even offering his own individual interviews wherein he questioned his mother’s decision making and gave a glimpse into their team dynamic.

This is how you inspire us with Luke: not by shoving down our throats that he’s overcoming diversity, but showing how he is just another contestant in the end, how despite not being able to take part in tasks that require verbal clues he is an active participant in this race. He’s a heck of a lot more observant than some of the other teams in this leg, as massive errors continue to define the bottom section of the racers, and at this point it’s clear that there isn’t another Nick & Starr in the race: no team looks like it will be devoid of mistakes and drama both, and this could lead to some teams’ undoing.

In terms of production, this was a much more subtle change from last week: theme song still bugs me, but the split screen was used more sparingly, and there was one thing that I really enjoyed: at one point they told us that it had been 14 hours since the leg had begun, which was a really interesting statistic that gives you a sense of the kind of killer fatigue that would be settling in for the players. It was also an explanation, or an excuse, for the shoddy gameplay that we saw at the very end.

This week also continued the trend of some fairly solid challenges, in particular the second straight extreme sports roadblock…with a twist. What worked so well about the Roadblock was that there was a pointed risk: with the wind conditions as they were, you had to choose between running down the hill (taking probably 30 to 60 minutes depending on your speed) or waiting to see if you’d be able to jump. It was like its own mini-detour of sorts, and it made for the tension-filled scenario with Mel, who couldn’t choose to walk down the hill if he wanted to thanks to pulling his groin, waiting out the wind while everyone else started running down the hill.

It’s hard not to love Mike and Mel in this episode, actually. Mel’s little speech there was so honest: he couldn’t ask God for the wind to turn, since God was too busy (this is what I always say when racers do this), but he did kind of want the wind to turn so that he wouldn’t disappoint his son. There was just something very heartfelt about it, something that connected well with what I want to see in a good racer. Combine with their strong performance towards the pit stop, moving into second place despite Mel landing in fifth place after the Roadblock, and Mike hilarious proving incapable of opening a gate that required apparently only a slight lift of the handle, and you get a really fun team to watch. Really, any team that results in an eyebrow that big from Phil is going to be in my good books.

I also continue to enjoy what I’m seeing from Amanda and Kris, who really ARE the next Kris and Jon: plenty of babes thrown around, and frustration over missing out on things but very quickly moving onto a more positive outlook on life. While the previews for next week indicate that they could have lost their fanny pack, I still feel like they’re the kind of team that is at the very least inoffensive to watch. Kris is clearly carrying the team in many ways, but as long as they remain charming and don’t start bickering, they’re the better kind of male/female team to be watching right now.

In fact, for the most part, the people who are in relationships are actually getting together pretty well this time around: there’s only a few such teams, but Brad and Victoria are fun to watch and very positive in their outlook, and they’re actually the only two couples left on the race. Otherwise, there’s a lot of family teams, and a couple of groups of friends, and right now the big story is how the family teams are starting to fall apart at the seams.

In this hour, it was Jen and Kisha who were having issues with the “big sister” role playing a major role in Kisha’s treatment of her sister. By the end of the leg, Jen more or less wants nothing to do with her sister, and “every word out of her mouth” is beginning to destroy her inside. It’s a rough place for a relationship to be in, and next week seems to indicate that Tammy and Victor will get there as well. I’ve been waiting for this one: Victory’s constant “Ra-ra!” attitude is grating when I’m just watching on TV, especially his singing, and to have to deal with that AND the big brother attitude we see on occasion, Tammy is going to need a lot of patience. Nick and Starr were apparently a real aberration, because it’s clear that these sibling teams are having some major problems keeping their former relationships from influencing the race.

Margie and Luke, meanwhile, are handling it fine, but I enjoyed how Luke got to mention how he felt like he couldn’t argue with his mother about his desire not to do the Pie detour option because it would take too long. Their relationship, power-wise, must be kind of awkward: she’s been running his life, and he does have to be dependent on her in this race situation, so how does he try to assert himself, and does he have that ability? It’s going to be a really tough thing for him to manage, and while it’s not family dysfunction it does indicate why relatives doing the race together can be tough. But then you have Mel and Mike, who so far have been very compassionate and caring, but then again have a very unique relationship that seems to match their demeanors well.

The episode comes down to, though, the old usual cliche: whose mistakes will end up hurting them more? Jodi and Christie’s mistake is getting on the wrong flight, missing out (along with Mark and Michael) the earlier flight by not calling ahead soon enough (in Jodi and Christie’s case, they just were too far behind to begin with). But then they weren’t very fast with the running part of the roadblock, and then once completing the detour proceeded to pull a Kelly and Christy and take their clue in literal but illogical directions. They actually went into a barn, picked up a piece of wood, and thought that what they needed to do with it was walk it through the finish line to the segway detour. Yes, it was ridiculous to watch, and when they eventually found the woodcutter one of them was quite right to point out that it was quite the blonde moment.

But they ultimately were once again able to sneak by, this time because Linda and Steve were just doomed from the beginning. They had trouble with directions last week, and this week Linda was walking down a hill by herself and missed the arrow at the most important fork in the road. The result was her ending up way off track, actually hitching a ride with a passerby. I’m not sure if that would have gotten them a penalty, but it wouldn’t have made a difference: they were so far behind that, even with Jodi and Christie’s inadequacy, they were just not able to get to the pit stop in time.

Their departure, though, was done in a way that actually felt like they had an arc crammed into these two episodes. Steve was a jerk last week, but he came out here and admitted to being a jerk, and for trying harder. And he did: Linda single-handedly ruined their chances, but he didn’t pick on her, and they even had a very charming moment during the pie throwing competition where any frustration they had was left behind in piles of cream and pastry. They seemed like they could have learned something about their relationship, and if anything that’s something for them to take with them for the rest of their lives.

In terms of the leg itself, there was a lot of visual beauty in the episode, and it was hard to complain about the Austrian view of the Alps when Mike was up there flying by. It’s been a pretty race so far, and the pace has been strong: looking forward to seeing it continue.

Cultural Observations

  • I’m never one to argue with making people drive themselves, especially early in the race: it led several teams to make some crucial driving mistakes, and the more opportunities for mistakes the better in my eyes.
  • The moment with Luke making friends with Jamie and Cara was a really cute moment, and I’ll be curious to see how the other team’s love for the two of them ends up going when things get a bit more competitive.
  • I was glad we saw more of Phil this week: he was present at a couple of the locations, and he got a lot of great pit stop eye rolls. I’m also glad that we’ve cut out some of the forced mat talk in favour of more competition early in the episode.
  • My other favourite moment of the episode: Kris corrected Amanda’s pretty much awful grammar, and it remaining cute and not condescending.
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