March 28th, 2010
Most weeks, The Amazing Race is a show which tends to expand rather than create our knowledge of the various locations it visits. The value of the show as a representation f different cultures is always a little bit limited, translated as it is into gimmicky challenges and pit stop stereotypes, but it’s usually just an expansion – rather than the a creation – of knowledge. And so the show is rarely expected to be providing any substantial cultural education, and while I think that we might visit countries vicariously through the race, we don’t necessarily except to learn about them.
However, this week The Amazing Race went to a place that most of the contestants, and many viewers, may have never heard of: the Seychelles, a series of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, was a place that I had no previous knowledge of, and if I were to take the Race’s word for it the islands are defined by a sedentary lifestyle represented by tortoises and stubborn oxen. While the Race richly captures – sadly in standard definition – the beauty of the islands, and drops a mention of a large number of shipwrecks, the hectic nature of the race means that you spend more time with the people who are struggling with their new surroundings than you are with the surroundings themselves.
And while it is possible for this to make some sort of statement, for the players’ struggles to adapt to local customs to tell us something about the challenges facing their populations, this week’s episode was so filled with bone-headed mistakes that I wouldn’t be surprised if the people of La Digue island weren’t considered coconut Nazis by the time the hour is over. Finally living up to the potential indicated in the first episode of the season, this season’s group of racers has officially won the title of “Dumbest Season Ever,” and the poor Seychelles were just the setting for their clown-like farce.
First and foremost, I’m really kind of upset that this was a non-elimination leg, although not as upset as I would have been if Carol and Brandy as opposed to Jet and Cord had finished last. I like the cowboys, so I am glad to see them stay on that subjective level, but objectively speaking someone should have gone home in an episode where every single team but one made a silly mistake. It’s slightly sad that that Dan and Jordan, who made no mistakes, finished in second, but even if they had finished in first that justice would be all but wiped away if the cascading collection of mistakes elsewhere went unpunished other than a Speed Bump, which can often prove to be only small delays rather than any sort of legitimate challenge.
And so it’s helpful that Steve and Allie, despite finishing in first place, were the ones who actually did get punished for their mistake, leaving their packs at the Tortoise detour and eventually choosing to leave them behind (since they kept their money/passports with them). Sure, they were actually rewarded for this decision, earning $7,000 a piece for their sacrifice, but it was still a dumb mistake that shouldn’t have happened. However, it was a lapse in judgment, rushing around without thinking about it, as opposed to a decision based on not reading their clue or something similar. They ran the leg just fine, they were just so focused on getting things done that they forgot about something that you often take for granted (although how they didn’t miss them when they were carrying the bananas is beyond me. I’m curious to see what happens in the future, especially if they get to a cold climate, but we’ll see how voluntarily taking on the old Non-Elimination penalty goes for them.
There were plenty of other teams with one mistake, though. Louie and Michael may have run the leg smoothly once they got to the island, but they were in the second set of helicopters because they chose to eat before checking in for their flight, guaranteeing they would be on the back of the plane. The “everyone gets on the same plane” twist seems like it eliminates competition, but the “take a number” hint indicated very clearly that it only changed the area of competition, and missing that kept them from finishing first in this leg. Meanwhile, while Brent and Caite were smart at that point in the leg, they were the first team to fall victim to a forgotten coconut, which set them behind and led to a third place finish which could have been better.
However, I will give Brent and Caite some credit for their breakdown at the detour: the guy running the fruit stand learned an important lesson in semantics this week, as “you don’t have enough coconuts” is very different (and far more frustrating) than “you didn’t load all your coconuts.” The confusion resulted in Brent’s meltdown, and I don’t think that was an unnatural response in an emotional situation like this, especially with that sort of vague language. By comparison, the other two teams (Jet and Cord, and then Carol and Brandy) were given much clearer instructions, which kept their reactions in check. While Carol and Brandy botched the Tortoise Detour option, I wouldn’t quite call it a mistake, and at least their coconut was under their cart rather than clearly visible on the side of it like the other two teams – I still detest them a little, but they were ultimately not the worst team in this leg.
Alas, that team was easily Jet and Cord: not only did they make the mistake at the Detour despite twice checking and confirming that they hadn’t dropped any, but they also then failed to read their clue and understand the importance of the bottle to the challenge at hand. They had a lot of time on that boat, and they just very clearly did not have the focus to be able to piece things the clues together, yet alone the puzzle inside the object in question. The team has proven more resourceful than the first episode and the money exchange issue indicated, but they were still praying for a place where people speak English earlier in this leg, and instead they got something worse: an episode that relied entirely on their own judgment, with no cab drivers to direct or people to get directions from, which left them almost entirely to their own devices. In that scenario, reading comprehension proved to be their undoing, and while I’m glad they’re sticking around I’m kind of upset that only a short five-minute task likely stands in their way in the next leg.
Like I said above, there was plenty of potential to really explore these islands, and the locales were certainly gorgeous and all. However, I spent so much time slapping my hand against my forehead and shaking my head in shame that I didn’t get to really enjoy any of it. I would have loved if the race had expanded on why the islands had a lot of shipwrecks (trade between Asia and Africa, for example), but the show was so busy pointing out how stupid these people are that they had neither the time nor the interest in doing so. Rather than the Seychelles proving to be a memorable location for a leg of the race, it ended up being the location of some of the stupidest race behaviour, and any chance for the show to educate people about the islands was wiped away once forgotten coconuts and abandoned bottles became the episode’s narrative over any sense of competition. Only Dan and Jordan went through the leg without making some sort of critical mistake that shifted the attention to them, and the result was an hour of television that made you wish you could travel to this location right now if only because it would mean you would no longer be watching these teams embarrassing themselves.
I guess my question is this: if I were to find myself in the Seychelles in the future, would I be thinking about stray coconuts and tortoises during my stay? And if I never travel there, will I push myself to learn more to try to push these connections out of my mind? I don’t really have answers to these questions, but just some thoughts to ruminate on.
- As soon as Steve and Allie got an early interview segment, and we saw Allie pray to God for creating these beautiful islands, I knew they were either finishing first or last – it’s the most personality we’ve seen from them, and the show doesn’t waste that on another mid-level finish.
- A bit turned off by the blatant product placement with the prize this week: combined with the western feel of the resort, it made whatever cultural integration that was achieved early in the episode (not much, considering the helicopter dropping them in) disappear.
- Sad that nobody complained about a broken Ox; the problem with the Race, compared to even Survivor, is that there are rarely “Superfans” on the race, and so you get a lot of models and opportunists rather than people who would take one look at that Ox and scream “Christie, MY OX IS BROKEN” at the top of their lungs.
- At one point, Caite says that the race “is all about luck.” If we redefine luck as “whoever gets away with their mistake the most does better,” then yes, yes it is. Brent and Caite are both fans of misunderstanding words, though, considering Brent’s hilarious title gaffe: a right fine pair these two are.
- Loved that Jet and Cord put their Cowboy hats back on even after swimming out to the boat…the first time they had to do that.
- Speaking of which: they must have known all these teams could swim pretty well (or consistently), as that was a LOT of swimming, more than I’m used to them doing. I wonder if any of the teams already eliminated might have really struggled as a result.