“When the Cow Kicked Me in the Head”
February 21st, 2010
At this early stage of The Amazing Race, there are two primary ways for teams to be eliminated. The first is to make a critical mistake, like when Zev and Justin went out early last season over a missing passport, or when teams drive by the Roadblock convinced that it couldn’t possibly be the right location. The second, meanwhile, is not being willing to take some risks to rise to the front of the pack, choosing to remain complacent and basically non-competitive. There is something tragic about the first example, certainly, but at least it was a mistake that was born out of racing too quickly; the latter point, meanwhile, isn’t actually racing at all, and there’s something about that which I consider to be honourable but, well, crazy.
So it’s telling that, despite a fairly substantial bunching situation mid-leg, this week’s leg ended up coming down to what teams made the least critical mistakes, and more importantly which teams were hungry for victory. In the end, despite fairly big mistakes from a couple of teams, the elimination came down to who wanted to race, and who wanted to enjoy their experience.
And while I have a great deal of respect for those who enjoy their time on the race, and wish more people prescribed to that particular mantra, trying to race solely on that principle is maybe the worst Race strategy I’ve ever seen…and I think they’re probably okay with that.
There are some things in this leg that are very familiar to Amazing Race fans, but there were also some elements that seemed a bit unique. For example, I’ve never quite seen a bus terminal with that many different buses, and with so much room for momentum shifts. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a transportation situation where there’s been a lot of different options where teams really have to search out the best route, and the leg was in many ways decided in that bus station when some teams chose to take the most “direct” route as opposed to seeing how they could get there the fastest. And while the airport sections often get some flack for being pure drama that doesn’t matter in the end thanks to bunching, this had a lot of great moments of intrigue that never overstayed their welcome: the drama about Brandy and Carol moving to the front of the line with Joe and Heidi ended quickly (and put Louie and Michael close to elimination), and Jet and Cord learning that Brent/Caite and Jeff/Jordan would miss their connection before they figured it out, and then their cameraperson catching the other teams just getting out of their taxi as the bus drove off, was one of those indelible Race moments that we don’t get all that often.
Sure, once the race got to the Detour, things went about as you would expect: the Llamas spit at a few people, but most were able to handle the task with ease, and the Condor challenge was great in theory except that the birds didn’t actually fly, which meant it was basically “Jump into freezing cold water and swim to a buoy,” which was somewhat less excited than I would have expected. And while there was the potential for some teams to really botch the Roadblock, in terms of balancing the various items or being able to milk the cow, a couple of kicks to the head from the cow weren’t enough to give the challenge a lot of value (even though the final two teams certainly tried to make it as interesting as possible). The teams that were on the earlier buses stayed ahead (minus Monique and Shawne sneaking past Jeff and Jordan), and the teams that were on the later buses stayed behind.
The real interest, of course, came down to which of the major mistakes would lose the race for either Dan and Jordan (who got lost on their way to the first task upon their arrival and couldn’t drive stick) or Louie and Michael (who drove past the Roadblock to the point that they ran into Jeff and Jordan as they were heading back into the city after already completing it). Both mistakes were purely directional, the former team rushing down the wrong road out of panic and the latter team not reading the sign carefully enough to figure out that it was the right location. And because of this, neither team was actually that disadvantaged: Dan and Jordan didn’t panic when they saw that Jody and Shannon were close by, instead working to complete the Detour quickly and moving onto the Roadblock without further incident. Louie and Michael, meanwhile, were behind when they got to the Roadblock, and despite a rather hilarious spill in the kitchen were able to breeze through the task and easily finish in 9th place.
And yet, if Jody and Shannon were actually interested in racing, one of those two teams would have gone home: Jody and Shannon wouldn’t have settled and ordered tickets on a bus that arrived later than the other teams, they would have worked as hard as they could to finish the Roadblock as quickly as possible (perhaps even allowing Shannon to complete it), and they might well have slid into 9th place or even higher, able to race another day. But, it’s been clear since the moment the race began that, for Jody, she has pretty much done what she came to do: prove that she’s capable of running The Amazing Race. However, not to be too cynical, does this really prove that she is able to run The Amazing Race if she never actually bothered running, or trying to be the least bit competitive? Yes, getting cast proved that she was willing to put herself out there to run the race, and being medically cleared to run the race proves the producers believe she could complete the tasks ahead of her, but does it actually mean anything when you have absolutely no competitive fire in you? When I heard that she runs Triathalons, I was hopeful that this would be an older competitor who had some fire in her, but instead she was just there to have fun, and spend time with her favourite granddaughter, which is really admirable but also really, really confounding, so I’m not particularly sad to see them Philiminated.
So while I’m happy that they’re happy, and that they chose to be optimistic and enjoy the race around them, I can’t help but prefer teams that manage to do that while still being competitive. For example, Jeff and Jordan are growing on me, primarily because they are getting an edit that shows them having lighter moments amidst the chaos. Yes, they only have one bit (Jeff teasing Jordan on not being particularly worldly), but it’s a bit that works well to keep them from taking the race too seriously. They got put behind at the bus station, but their response wasn’t anger: Jordan wasn’t whining, Jeff wasn’t snapping at her, and they simply found a later bus, looked on the bright side, and went back to enjoying the race around them. They are facing an uphill battle to win the race, as Jordan is a “walker” to the point of potentially slowing them down at key junctures of the race, but thus far they remain in my good books.
For the most part, the teams are all showing only small signs of future behaviour: Brent and Joe both threw out some fairly chauvinistic remarks (Brent about being pleased to have his woman chauffeur him around, and Joe deciding that a challenge involving a kitchen was perfect for Heidi), and Brandy and Carol continue to be on the edge of falling into disrepair that seems to be coming up next week based on the previews. But then you have a team like Steve and Allie which has literally done absolutely nothing of value, to the point where no one has an opinion about them, and the only reason they were even featured in the episode at all was that they chose to fly rather than tackle the llamas.
But the highlight here, and the real statement the episode makes, is about Jet and Cord. From the premiere, you knew that these two were there to race: despite getting behind over the money exchange issue, they worked to get a better bus (although they lucked into someone who spoke English helping them out) and made a smart strategic play to stay ahead of the other two teams with the same plan. They then ran a pretty picture perfect race from that point on, establishing them as competitors so long as they don’t have to exchange any money in the process. The leg wasn’t just a simple “No Airplanes” leg that didn’t involve some strategy, and they navigated it really well while remaining as charming as they were before. They were a real surprise here, and it made the episode that much more enjoyable.
- There are some instances where staying in the same country for two legs can seem sort of monotonous, but Chile is a very diverse country geographically, and I thought the race took good advantage of that.
- It was interesting that Brent and Caite were so pleased with themselves for proving that they could live down the reputation of being “not so bright” after a leg where they made a stupid mistake that earned them a penalty which could have technically eliminated them from the race had there been a more competitive field overall. Just because they’re competitive doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily bright, and when push comes to shove first impressions might not be proven entirely false.
- I get that they needed to bunch the teams and all, but the “Marked Path opens at 7:30am” could have been worded differently to seem less arbitrary. Even if they had given a reason (like concerns over darkness on the slick path) it would have seemed a bit less sketchy, but the cheaply printed sign just screamed out “We didn’t expect you to get her until tomorrow morning!”