“I’m Like Ricky Bobby”
October 18th, 2009
I like to think that this, the fifth episode of The Amazing Race’s fifteenth season, is the reality television equivalent of speed dating. You see, last week, we saw the unfortunate departure of Zev and Justin in the worst of circumstances, the kind of circumstances (a lost passport keeping them from checking into the pit stop) that make you want to stop watching (or, say, dating). And yet, the nature of the my love for The Amazing Race (and people’s desire for personal connection) is such that you can’t abandon it entirely, and you’re left to sort through the remaining options, albeit with a skeptical eye.
As such, “I’m Like Ricky Bobby” is really about a re-evaluation of the remaining teams, avoiding comparing them to the dearly departed Zev and Justin but also not giving them a free pass just because they’re all we have left. In the end, I’d say that they aren’t the worst group of contestants the race has ever seen, and that they are perhaps an even stronger group (if not quite as morbidly entertaining) considering the results of this week’s leg in the United Arab Emirates.
I’m not about to propose to any of them or anything, but I wouldn’t be entirely averse to spending a few minutes chatting with them, and I guess that’s a good enough start to my recovery.
I think the team that impressed me most in this hour is Brian and Ericka, who I’ve always somewhat liked but who have never quite established themselves. What I liked about them here was that they showed that they (beyond their interracial nature) have a sense of duality to them. Brian is very nice, here helping just about every team in his vicinity to the point of questioning whether he knows this is a race, while Ericka admits that her time as Miss America didn’t turn her into Miss Nice. It’s an interesting if not entirely new dynamic, and one that is helped by Ericka’s nature: she’s not prissy so much as she is apprehensive, so while she first resists getting onto the sled to slide down the hill in Ski Dubai, she soon after is roaring down the hill screaming her excitement (while still acknowledging that her butt is very, very cold). The team has a lot of traits that could be annoying if they were dominant (like overselling the tallest building task, which is logical but kind of jerky), but they seem to be there to have fun and get good karma and that makes them enjoyable to watch.
But on the opposite end of the coin you have Mika and Canaan, quickly shooting up the ranks of the most annoying teams on the race. Forgetting for a moment what I saw in the preview for next week, which I think actually counts as physical abuse, the two of them are just insufferable to watch. Canaan has an annoying duality of preachy laid-back dude and competitive psychopath, and the switch seems to be able to turn at any moment. And, unfortunately for both the team and for us as viewers, Mika sets it off quite often by being more than a bit aloof. Her fear of heights (and, next week, her fear of a waterslide) is one thing, but her fascination at driving 120 miles per hour (it was kilometres) and her almost child-like observation that she can see the building through the sunroof are the kinds of things that make Mika treat her like a child when she’s making a turn (why he had her driving considering his typical backseat-driver posture, I have no idea). It’s a bad dynamic to watch, as the team gets more annoying the more they get lost and the more challenging the task at hand.
Which is why some part of me, if not much of it, wishes that they had gone home instead of Lance and Keri, who were highly incompetent but in a humorous fashion. This is a team that fought, sure, but in a self-deprecating fashion which acknowledged they were terrible at this race, and that it would be at some point be their downfall. Lance was a bully, a meathead to the nth degree, and yet he seemed kind of self-aware of that once he actually started failing miserably (in success, of course, he boasted), and this episode was a nice swan song for the team as they made enough directional mistakes for me to certify Keri’s observations of “directionally challenged” as a lifetime condition. With Mika and Canaan, they have that Colin/Christie thing going on where their failures only make us dislike them more; with Lance and Keri, failure actually suits them, so I’d have been glad to see them last another week or two if it meant less distress overall.
As for the rest of the teams, I think that the teams that are proving the most interesting are the ones who are different on paper. Flight Time and Big Easy are fun to watch because it’s two giant basketball players sledding down an indoor snow hill, a novelty which isn’t there with Sam and Dan, a decent team that seems to be “just racing” to the point of having them blend into the background. With Maria and Tiffany, their poker player mentality isn’t really a factor in the race, making them just another all-girl team (who here made a pretty colossal mistake with their car that they never adequately paid for), while Gary and Matt (who finished fourth here after being the first to complete the Detour after switching) have a neat father/son dynamic, a unique Montana perspective, and are more fun to watch because of it.
Yes, Meghan and Cheyne were the winners of this leg of the race, but they might well be the most boring team the race has ever seen. They’re an alpha male/female combo team, which Brian dubbed as Malibu Ken/Barbie, and more importantly I don’t find either of them likeable. Cheyne’s hair bugs me (hey, first impressions count in speed dating), and Meghan’s behaviour at the Fast Forward was fundamentally baffling. I understand that she has issues with not being entirely in control on the race, as that is a normal human response to various scenarios. However, I don’t understand why the Fast Forward in particular would bring this out in her, especially to the point of tears. She was crying when they were the only ones AT the Fast Forward, and her boyfriend was completing a task that looked impossible to screw up twice, yet alone enough times for them to legitimately fall behind. If she was that emotional over the easiest task of life, I can imagine her turning into another variant on Mika very quickly.
As for the episode, I think it was a good way to handle a place like Dubai which is effectively an oasis in the middle of the desert, offering an almost resort-like atmosphere that could come off as one big spectacle. In this instance, the ski hill was a good way for that spectacle to feel still a bit off-putting (as some people are clearly not snow people), and then the roadblock was a way to expose them to the extreme heat that Dubai is known for. Combine with some sightseeing with the construction site of the world’s tallest building, and you have an enjoyable environment in which to meet some teams as if for the first time.
In the end, no one can measure up to Zev and Justin, but no one is going to be able to. Ultimately, I think there are some racers here who I won’t hate seeing make it to the end, and who I’ll put up with until the season ends. That, at least, is a very good sign, so here’s hoping that I don’t have to go back to the well all over again if Brian and Ericka, the Globetrotters and Gary and Matt go down in succession.
- I noted above that they should avoid the resort feel in Dubai, and yet next week has them at the Atlantis resort – I wouldn’t exactly call that testing your limits, as that waterslide is not that terrifying.
- Speaking of Mika, she had my second favourite comment of the evening when considering the detour options. She decided that they couldn’t possibly do the “Find” option because she’s never been on a sled before. It’s a SLED, people, not some sort of mythical beast.
- However, favourite line of the night goes to Lance admitting that the only reason he’s sure their planned wedding will survive the race is unrefundable deposits. Lance is many things, but dishonest is not one of them.
- The logic of no other team going for the Fast Forward is solid, don’t get me wrong, but I really wish that they would make the Fast Forward challenges more of a, well, challenge to encourage competition. The lap task was too easy, making it a race to the race track as opposed to completing the task – if there had been something to it, another team might have risked it. Seeing a team just walk away with 1st place isn’t interesting at all, and did nothing to help me like Meghan and Cheyne more.
- Was glad to see Maria and Tiffany note that they were sorry for how Zev and Justin left the game while commenting about how lucky they are – they put in a solid leg, so I was glad to see they weren’t being terrible human beings in the process. I also loved Tiffany’s description of what happened to the car, complete with anthropomorphic descriptions.
- Usually alliances bring out the worst in racers, but the Sam/Dan and Maria/Tiffany alliance makes me like both teams more even in their relatively boring states: Tiffany’s help with the ladle made it possible for them to complete the Roadblock, and Sam/Dan waiting with them for the car was stupid (it’s a race rule, so waiting won’t make it come faster) but faith restoring.
- Speaking of the car issue: shouldn’t there be a time penalty for being a terrible driver?