We’ve talked a lot this season about how the Amazing Race‘s editors have cast almost every racer left in the competition in a light that is vastly different from their previous performance. This week, let’s continue this line of thinking, but we’ll try to look past the editing and use what we’ve seen to piece together the ways in which the Racers are controlling their own destinies.
Many a Survivor alum has noted that they returned from the island obsessed with the minutiae of their game, imagining what they’d do differently next time around. It’s one reason returnees tend to go pretty far in the game when they’re up against first-timers. I think Amazing Racers have a little of that in their blood as well. Once you’ve had a little taste of competition, it’s a rare competitor who doesn’t want another chance to reshape their legacy and another shot at the big prize. So how have these racers adjusted their games? As the final five sits out what I hope will be the final non-elimination leg, let’s see what we can glean from what we’ve seen.Jen and Caroline helped the hockey bros.[/caption]
Caroline and Jennifer: We’ve done a lot of comparison and contrast when it comes to the country singers’ alliance-making strategy already, noting that their alliance with Bates and Anthony (and, to a lesser extent, Max and Katie) was a major plot point of the season. But when Jen and Caroline ran their first race, they helped the hockey bros at least as much as the hockey bros helped them. In fact, Bates and Anthony proved to be almost comically inept early on in the race – so much so that I daresay they might have been out early without being able to draft behind alliance partners until they got their bearings.
It seems that Jen and Caroline might have decided to take a cue from the brothers Battaglia on this race. Rather than being focused on what they can do for others, they are focusing on what others can do for them. Unfortunately, they appear to be missing a key component of Bates and Anthony’s winning strategy: the part where you have to also race as hard as you can. Early on, I did praise the country singers’ ability to recruit the right kind of help at the right time, but over time, it seems like they’ve gotten a little too comfortable doing this. They’ve fallen into the habit of letting other teams run their race for them, and as a result they’re starting to prove their detractors right. As soon as they couldn’t get the help they’d come to rely on, they fell to the back of the pack, and they’ve been on the chopping block twice, only to be saved by blind luck. (Which isn’t to say they can’t win. I love the Beekman Boys as people – their baby goat webcam is my favorite thing in the world! – but the invisible third member of their team was Lady Luck, and she’s the one who’s got to take the most credit for winning them that million bucks.)
Leo and Jamal: The Afghanimals have altered their strategy in almost the exact opposite way. Last season, they were in the Brenchel seat – a cadre of racers disliked them for reasons that were never fully explained and banded together to try and get them out.
Knowing they didn’t want to be in that position again, they’ve come back ready to make nice with everyone, and they’ve seemed to bend over backwards to make sure other teams aren’t regarding them as slimy and cutthroat. When faced with a choice to hinder another team’s progress or help them, Afghanimals 2.0 have uniformly chosen to build up rather than tear down. For crying out loud, they are in an alliance with a team that U-Turned them. But they have even come across as the most diplomatic of the Accidental Alliance, and they’re the only ones who haven’t fully stooped to ad hominem attacks.
Dave and Connor: Between all the TARCons and booking racers for the podcast, I estimate that I’ve had some level of interaction with going on 100 racers by this point in my TAR fandom, and I still hold firm that Dave O’Leary is the a-number-one sweetest, most charming, and most sincerely nice Racer I have ever met. Yes, even sweeter than Joe and Bill. Sweeter than Jason and Amy. So it has been a little bit of a shock to see a grouchy, snarky, overly emotionally invested sourpuss wearing Dave’s face on this race. (Maybe that was the real Dave in drag judging the hotel task.) Is some of that editing? Of course it is. But more of it can be chalked up to a change in Dave and Connor’s strategy – one they definitely aren’t steering of their own volition.
Of all the teams left, Dave and Connor have the least Race experience, which means they have the least experience as media personalities. It turns out they’re very good at the racing part, which shouldn’t surprise anybody who saw the way Dave flew through the course. But it also turns out that they aren’t very good at separating their real lives from their race lives, and arguably the least conscious of how their actions will come across on camera. If Dave and Connor fail to win the race, I can almost guarantee it will be because they can’t stop taking the race personally. We’re three full days from the U-Turn at this point and he’s still grousing about how a team was willing to target a 60-year-old cancer survivor, and how the U-Turn is hurtful (even saying this in front of an actual team he U-Turned).
Thing is, Dave has never been in a position on the Amazing Race where he’s had to be judged on his merits. Up to this point, Dave and Connor’s legacy was that one of them ran the Race on crutches, and we all said, “if it hadn’t been for Dave’s injury…” Well, now there IS no injury. I don’t blame him for being a little afraid that Two Legged Dave is not going to measure up to One Legged Dave’s potential. He’s never been tested, not on Race terms, anyway. And I see how putting that kind of pressure on yourself might cause him to feel like any small hiccup is engineered to keep him, personally, from living up to that potential. A U-Turn then becomes a slap in the face, and a rivalry is born.
Brendon and Rachel: Which leads us to Brenchel, arguably the most self-aware team in this or any race. Rachel is hyper-aware of how she comes across, so it’s not surprising that they might watch themselves on television and adjust accordingly upon their return. Sure, it took three seasons of reality TV and a David Tutera special to get them to that point, but here we are now. You can’t deny that they’re working hard at improving their legacy. Rachel, especially, has made great strides as far as keeping a clear head and focusing on the race in front of them. Vitriol directed at them absolutely has been personal, but for the most part they’re not stooping to the Accidentals’ level. (Plus, I think they must have at least a little experience weathering personal attacks by this point. I can’t imagine anything Dave “the sweetest man on TAR” O’Leary could say that would rival some of the stuff I’ve seen directed at Rachel on the Internet.)
I also fully acknowledge, as we mentioned in the podcast last night and as I mentioned above with regard to Dave, that editing probably plays an equal role in Brenchel’s reversal of fortune. Anyone with even the smallest inkling of their reality TV legacy would understand why they aren’t the most popular team on the field, and even not wanting to be their BFFs is a totally understandable feeling. But they are most definitely trying to turn it around this season, and while many anti-Brenchelers have been saying that they haven’t been won over, that’s far from popular sentiment. Editing will certainly give them the underdog status that fans love to see, but fans also love a redemption story, and that’s all down to Brenchel and the race they’re running.
Wait, what’s that you say? We’re actually not at the final four yet? There’s still another team in this? Well, given that Phil himself didn’t even remember their names tonight, instead just calling them “Cowboys,” I think it’s safe to say that Jet and Cord’s new under-the-radar strategy is paying dividends.
Jet and Cord: The Cowboys have always been lone wolves to some extent. But their last time out, the entire rest of the cast seemed to be gunning for them, and it’s made them more cautious. They’ve been very, very quiet on this race, and their under-the-radar strategy is working. Where the entire cast of Season 18 spent the first half of the Race salivating over the prospect of U-Turning them, teams on this season are so busy trash-talking Brenchel that the Cowboys are not even a factor. As the only team who’s not caught up on either end of this alliance bullcrap, it is entirely possible that Jet and Cord could slip past everyone and end up winning the whole thing. Before this race even started, I picked them cynically as my winners, but seriously, I wouldn’t have a problem with that now. Nobody could say they didn’t earn it.