The Amazing Race Season 15 – “Episode 9 (Estonia)”

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“We’re Not Meant For the Swamp”

November 15th, 2009

When you’re down to five teams, all bets are off on The Amazing Race.

This is a sentiment that goes for the teams themselves, certainly, but also for the race producers. This is a stage in the competition where there are no more non-elimination legs, and where a single mistake will cost you the race, so the teams certainly need to be willing to play this game to the fullest. However, for the producers, this is when the creation of race-ending narratives becomes their true goal: now, the teams that go home are largely perfunctory, while the teams that stay are integral for building tension in the finale to come in only a few weeks.

This is why this week’s leg becomes more about what the producers want, and don’t want, us to see than what’s actually happen: the results of the leg are never particularly in doubt, as the producers are worried about viewers spotting something far more…indiscrete than the end of the episode.

In terms of the leg itself, it’s really quite simple: after bunching together and effectively giving Gary and Matt a shot at surviving their Speed Bump, the leg separates into those teams who are capable of completing the tasks and those that aren’t. Gary and Matt are the one team who fall into the latter category, derailed less by a five minute sauna and more by Matt’s inability to identify a candelabra (pronounced, it appears, candle-ah-brah) and discover an all-important final word on his scroll during the roadblock. Combined with the Speed Bump, it was enough to quite easily send them home: none of the other teams saw them once the Roadblock was complete, and as a result that part of the episode’s narrative wasn’t in doubt.

What was clear, however, is that the editors didn’t have to work hard to create a sense of a rivalry between brothers Sam and Dan and the Globetrotters. The preview from last week spoiled that there would be some sort of physical altercation, but you’d swear that the rest of the leg was planned out leading to such an altercation. Usually the editors work in canned inteview footage about the two teams, spurned on by producer questions, to create a sense of suspense, but this legitimately built throughout the episode as if it was scripted. The two teams are literally neck and neck leaving the Roadblock, and then through a disagreement over whether a cab was meant for Sam and Dan end up in the SAME taxi heading to the detour. This creates the scenario where the teams are giving interviews about the other team with that other team sitting directly in front of/behind them, which is just fantastic for the growing tension the episode desires to achieve.

It all leads, of course, to the scenario after the Detour (which I’ll get to in a minute) as Sam and Dan are going the right direction while Flight Time and Big Easy made a mistake and went the wrong way, forced to double back despite finishing the detour first. As such, on a narrow path surrounded by the mud-filled bog, it isn’t easy (nigh impossible) for the Globetrotters to pass, and yet they run directly up to the brothers anyways creating a lot of physical tension. The result, as far as instant replay shows, is Flight Time losing his footing and, in the process of falling, taking Dan down with him. When they reach the top of the platform, however, Big Easy “looks like he wants to punch someone” (astute observation from Phil), as he’s attempting to claim that somehow the physicality was the fault of an elbow thrown by Dan. Now, they don’t have the joy of instant replay or multiple camera angles, but the Globetrotters’ attitude about the whole situation is legitimately bizarre: both teams were running at similar paces, and the nature of the path meant that passing wasn’t easy, so why should Sam and Dan yield, or be punished when your attempt to pass fails? Sam and Dan are ultimately right: unless they plan on beating them up, the trash talk at the mat was just empty threats designed to intimidate people, which to me is the sort of race behaviour that is the antithesis of the Globetrotters’ otherwise enjoyable attitude.

There’s no question that having the Globetrotters on the race creates an image issue, so you have to wonder if there’s been any of this sort of activity in the past (beyond the Mika/Canaan incident) that we haven’t seen. I’m not suggesting that they’re being entirely sheltered, but take for example the claim last week (from Sam and Dan, in fact) that the Globetrotters have an unfair advantage because they are using their fame/recognition to get help throughout the race. Before that comment, we hadn’t really seen any evidence of this, despite the fact that in previous seasons we were shown very quickly that Rob and Amber used that to their advantage. The difference is that the show wanted Rob to be a villain, whereas it wanted the Globetrotters to be fan favourites, and thus we have the dilemma. Here, we finally get to see them playing the card, as Big Easy (who always seems to be the instigator of this boisterousness, such as at the airport in this episode or with Mika) calls out to the crowd that surely somebody wants to get the Harlem Globetrotters a taxi. Personally, I don’t care: the show cast them, they can do whatever they want. But what’s intriguing is that we didn’t see it until the producers wanted us to, implying that perhaps the race narrative from this point on is more cutthroat than it has been before. I don’t think either team is a clear cut hero/villain scenario, both teams having their issues (see: next week’s preview), but this sort of rivalry can fuel the race, and the producers had a gold mine of material here.

However, the producers’ biggest impact on this leg was all about the male anatomy, as both Sam and Dan were subject to some post-production blurring during the roadblock. Now, just to be clear, I understand where they’re coming from, considering that just a few seasons ago on Survivor a contestant had an undetected wardrobe malfunction in the middle of a challenge. As such, I think the word “penis” terrifies CBS censors, especially with reality shows that are largely watched by families. However, there are three levels of censoring. One is when there is actually something exposed, like when a woman’s top falls down on Survivor. Two is when nothing is left to the imagination, like (although we obviously can’t confirm) happened with Dan in his tight-fitting underwear during the detour in this week’s episode. However, the third level is something that makes absolutely no sense, in that Sam’s crotch was blurred even when he was wearing shorts over top of his underwear.

Now, I’ve already spent a paragraph longer than I ever expected to talking about penises, but seriously? The chances of something being seen through two layers of clothing is preposterous, which means that effectively (I can’t believe I’m analyzing it this carefully, but to be fair this theory was first pointed out by Andy Dehnart) the show was censoring an erection (which makes sense considering they took the time to add in Sam’s comment about the “hottie Estonian guys” – makes me wonder if the interview would have then discussed his erection were this less of a family program). As such, they’re largely censoring in order to stop a thought process whereby a particular phenomenon draws attention to Sam’s crotch, and then viewers are forced to think about what they’ve seen in order to determine its cause; nothing is actually being seen so much as it is implied, thus creating the awkward thoughts which follow. However, and forgive me if I’m wrong here, but if it hadn’t been censored I’m fairly certain that people wouldn’t have been paying half as much attention to his crotch. The blurring, by nature of being different than everything else on screen, actually drew attention to his crotch, which raises logical questions about why it was censored, which in turn brings the crotch narrative to the forefront of the episode.

Now, if you’re Sam, this is probably a huge compliment, as the need to censor his crotch indicates that there was, in fact, something to see. However, it’s guaranteed that the percentage of the audience who would have seen it would be much smaller than those who noticed the censoring, and since the logic of there really being anything offensive to see is highly improbable the damage couldn’t have been too great. If the concern is small children asking “what’s that,” this is entirely ineffective, since I’m pretty sure they’re asking about it anyways. I’m not suggesting that crotchorship, as I’m calling it, is ridiculous: it makes total sense for a family show airing in an early timeslot to limit the level of sexualized content in each episode. What I would argue, however, is that the three paragraphs of analysis I just offered would not have existed had there been none at all, and that I simply may have made a note that the decision to instruct teams to complete the task in their underwear perhaps gave the producers more than they bargained for in leaving little to the imagination. Which of these, I ask, is more harmful to the show’s reputation?

No, you probably didn’t need three paragraphs on crotchorship theory, but I think it demonstrates an important point: what happens after the cameras stop rolling on this show is often times as interesting as what’s actually going on during the race.

Cultural Observations

  • As Dan Fienberg points out on Twitter, and so as to rescue my heterosexuality from the grasps of three paragraphs on crotch blur, it really is unfortunate that the women were less willing to take to their underwear in the challenge.
  • I enjoyed Phil building up Sweden as the home of dynamite, the Nobel prize, and Abba – is that in order of importance?
  • I also enjoy Matt putting on the black headband, since it signals that they mean business – Gary and Matt were a charming team that just seemed too tired to be able to pass more physically capable teams (either mentally or physically) at this late stage in the race. I did enjoy that they got one last legitimately hilarious moment, with Gary prattling on about his love of saunas while Matt awkwardly sits there avoiding staring at the hot chick next to him, before leaving.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but the Brotherhood of the Black Edge is officially the least secret secret society ever if they allowed The Amazing Race to come into its secret lair with cameras.
  • My question about the roadblock: was the (red) crayon put there as a red herring? Or was it so that the teams could write the clue once they saw it? Flight Time and Matt might have seemed silly, but a rub is not an illogical first impulse (in other words, Flight Time should have figured out he was wrong sooner, but he was not wrong to guess as such).
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9 Comments

Filed under The Amazing Race

9 responses to “The Amazing Race Season 15 – “Episode 9 (Estonia)”

  1. kevin

    I am glad you wrote about this but what i am trying to figure out is why they only censored the gay men’s crotches and no one elses?

    • I don’t think it had anything to do with sexual orientation, I think it had to do with the level to which the censors deemed it an issue: Cheyne was the only other male to do the task in his underwear, and his were darker and therefore less likely to create the sorts of issues they were trying to avoid in censoring it.

  2. Roland

    Thanks for the posting, I too thought the blurring brought total attention to Sam and Dan’s crotch. As a gay man, I thought that was totally hot, perhaps even hotter than if they didn’t blur it out. I was wondering if I was the only one to notice, found your site Googling Sam and Dan erection…so I wasn’t the only one 😉

  3. Lacy

    I agree. If they hadn’t censored their crotches, I might not have paid any attention to their crotches. However, because there were a giant, blurry bubbles on their crotches I spent a good portion of the challenge trying to see what warranted blurry bubbles.

  4. kingstonguy

    After thinking a good deal about this (and I have thought a good deal about it), it really does make no sense to do the blurring of Sam’s crotch. If, indeed, there was an erection, I doubt that it lasted the entire time (since there was an unblurred shot in there and it looked normal). Therefore, they could have edited the whole thing any way they wanted, showing him from behind, waist up, zooming in. They could have avoided the crotch entirely since they probably played for a good half hour or so. Hype.

  5. Will

    They did have an option 3 – edit the footage so you didn’t see their crotches at all.

  6. TareX

    If they censored the guy with the loose shorts too (and they did) then it’s because there was an erection, and not because of their natural package.

  7. As soon as the show resorted to Keisha+Jen vs. Luke+Margie (Mark II) I figured I was done for the season. The elimination of Gary+Matt just confirmed it.

    There’s no way in the world Meghan+Cheyne aren’t winning this thing. Zzzzzzzz…..

    (ps – I’m a gay man but I find the brothers so annoying I didn’t even notice their crotches)

  8. Zoe

    You are totally right about the crotch stuff, the first thing my coworker asked me after finding out I was caught up on the show was- did you notice they blurred out their groins? Asides from that though, I didn’t really find that episode that interesting, the speed bump was a joke, an attempt to give Gary and Matt one last chance at the race (in combination with the bunching earlier in the episode) when it was clear they were tired and worn out and bound to be eliminated this episode. And at this point, I honestly have no clue who to root for, everyone kinda gets on my nerves in some respect. I need another Luke and Margie.

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