“Do it for the Hood! Do it for the Suburbs!”
October 25th, 2009
Every now and then, The Amazing Race turns mean. In most episodes, there is a moment when everything bunches together so that previous mistakes are erased, but in the sixth episode of the show’s fifteenth season throws the teams to the wolves of Dubai in an effort to test both luck and skill in ways that previous legs might not have. Where some other episodes seemed to be decided by pretty major mistakes, in this instance any small mistake is going to fundamentally alter your position in this race in a way that would doom even a good team.
In the end, the episode is a reflection of how both strong alliances and some less than strong relationships are tested when you place them under this kind of pressure, this kind of tension. The result is a really ugly moment, a really unfortunate personal collapse, and a really smart Wal-Mart purchase.
The big moment of this week’s episode plays against type in a way that we’re not used to in reality television. A moment that looked like a piece of false tension, where Mika and Canaan were struggling to complete the final task (sliding down the Leap of Faith waterslide at the Atlantis resort) while the Globetrotters came up behind them, turned into a moment of legitimate tension (unheard of on most reality shows) when Flight Time and Big Easy actually showed up, requiring that Mika (sitting at the top of the waterslide hesitating mightily) go down in two minutes or make way for the other team. It took a moment that was previously uncomfortable, with Canaan being less than kind as he tore into Mika and even attempted to physically force her down the waterslide, and made it even more ugly as Big Easy begins to taunt Mika in a very un-GlobeTrotter like manner about how she shouldn’t risk her life for the sake of the race. It was one big massive pileup of ugliness, ending when Mika runs out of time, and the Globetrotters live to fight another day.
While Phil mentions that this was one of the most exciting (I think that’s the word he used) finishes of all time, I just found it really hard to watch. Overcoming a fear of heights and water simultaneously is a powerful story if she had been able to do it, but as it was the finish was just sort of sad. I feel for Mika, who appears to be a humble Nashville girl who has never RUN before yet alone been in a competitive setting, whose national humiliation is partly her doing (it’s not her first reality TV show). She would eventually be blamed for their loss, Canaan being in peak physical shape and desperately competitive, which was coming any day considering how often they were in the back of the pack. However, for it to happen this way was more than the poor girl deserved. While he claims in interviews that he doesn’t hate her for what she did, his behaviour at the top of that waterslide was the worst sort of teamwork: yes, Big Easy was being the antithesis of a GlobeTrotter, but Canaan was being the antithesis of a boyfriend, teammate and everything else, which is infinitely worse in the context of a team-based race.
What’s interesting is how that one task overshadowed what was an interesting leg in its own right, one without a single instance of bunching and (as a result) a whole bunch of shakeups on the leaderboard. With their Fast Forward lead left entirely intact, giving them two hours on the other teams, Meghan and Cheyne easily cruised through the tasks even after a bit of a stumble at the Detour, finishing in first without much of a challenge. However, everyone else went through some shuffling as we saw two tasks that were all about attention to detail, although in one instance an attention to detail that could be easily fixed and in the other once that no one should have legitimately struggled with.
In the Roadblock, I was waiting for the moment when one of the teams would mess up the combination: the race is intense, and in the insane Dubai heat and with killer fatigue kicking in it makes sense that someone would struggle to get the combination to a briefcase at first. However, six of the seven teams figured out immediately that the watch stuck at 8:35 would indicate a code of 835 for the briefcase, except for one. That one team, the Globetrotters, went from fourth place (already down from 3rd after a shortening of the location to “Yacht Club” got them taken to the wrong spot) to last as Big Easy just could not figure out what was wrong with his attempts to read the watch in a more literal fashion (87?, taking the position while ignoring the time and the lack of a third number, one which could have been possible with a second hand had they planned on that being the solution). It was one of those scenarios where we as the audience cannot fathom how they can’t figure it out, but unlike with Mika (whose moment on the waterslide was a similar armchair Racer moment) it seems unfathomable that after all that time he never once decided on another approach as opposed to presuming that he had the numbers misaligned or something ridiculous like that. It was a strange mistake to make, but one which nearly cost them the race in a tight leg.
Meanwhile, attention to detail continued to play a role in the Detour, albeit in different ways. With the Hookah construction, it was all about the little details: missing pieces that didn’t have a logical place if you only glanced quickly, and the hoses needing the match the pipes for both colour and pattern. However, with the Gold counting, the issue was that the details were constantly changing, and thus the real trick was figuring out that unless your long division is really good and really fast you’re going to need a calculator. And, as it turns out, Sam and Dan were at Wal-Mart before the race and picked one up, a plug for Wal-Mart’s one-stop shopping reputation and a great test of their alliance with Maria and Tiffany. The latter team was quick to figure out what actually needed to be done with the numbers (division is apparently not America’s pastime), and using Sam and Dan’s calculator and yelling between rooms were easily able to leap frog the teams constructing. The result was a breakthrough performance for both teams, leapfrogging Brian and Ericka and Gary and Matt into second and third place, enjoying a Baywatch moment and showing the power of teamwork (and good shopping) in the race.
Legs like this really bring out how small things like that can really sink a team, and how the elements can play a role as well. The heat got more than a few teams down, Matt to the point of having to rest during the Detour out of exhaustion, and it can do things to your head. It made for a really tough leg as everyone was at wit’s end and had tasks thrown at them that encouraged the kind of mistakes that the leg was going to punish. It’s unfortunate that, in the end, it was an unfortunate collapse and a really ugly conclusion where the effects of the leg really came into play, as someone’s struggle to overcome their fears became a sad commentary on the state of her relationship and the charity of novelty basketball teams alike.
- I’m not always in support of legs that have been clearly designed, but when it’s to encourage open racing and without bunching I can’t complain. The teams clearly arrived more than 12 hours before departing, so they were let out at a time that made the tasks possible and which really kept things organized the way the producers wanted.
- Loved that the title quote was actually from the two teams, as Sam and Dan jump up my favourite team scale with their suburbs response to the Globetrotters’ refrain.
- Brian and Ericka had a rough leg with the details part of things, but they continue to have a real sense of honest fun with things. Ericka is prickly, but it’s something that they turn into comedy (the math struggles reflecting on America’s education system, or her fear of the waterslide very clearly done only for him and for no other reason). They have a fun relationship that helps them get through these moments, and their experience at the waterslide was so far away from Mika and Canaan’s that it makes me think that couples should have to have relationship evaluations before going on the race for the sake of their mental health, drama be damned.
- Dubai is an interesting setting to spend two episodes in, and I thought the show did it justice on that front: we saw a lot of diverse settings in the area, and it’s fascinating to know the city effectively didn’t exist during my lifetime. The contrast of old and new, the old feeling more artificial than the new in some ways, is really intriguing to watch.
- The various rowing techniques were a comic highlight, although it was interesting to see how much they all seemed to struggle with it. I can see Big Easy needing to use his arms with the size of the boat, but rowing is about rhythm and only Maria/Tiffany seemed to really pick up on that amongst the later teams.
- Have to wonder if the Globetrotters would have been able to catch them if they had done the Hookah Detour – the gold seemed quicker (especially since apparently the people next door would have given teams a calculator, if their experience was any indication), but the travel distance might have evened it out. Either way, one can never know.