Amazing RaceAmazing Race 22

Overthinking the Express Pass

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Most seasons of The Amazing Race start off a little slow—with 11 teams running around, nobody gets enough air time to win us over, and everyone’s fresh enough that killer mistakes are rare for the first few episodes. For a few weeks, it’s always hard to tell if a season is going to be relatively predictable and boring or if it’s going to live up to its Amazing moniker.

Wonder no more—after last night’s episode, it’s pretty clear that we have all the makings of a great season on our hands. There always seems to be a strong team that goes out way too early, but I for one certainly couldn’t have guessed that the upset team would be John and Jessica, and I wouldn’t have guessed that they’d implode so completely. They were fit, competitive, and they even had an Express Pass—yet the tan, smiley Californians became the James Clement of The Amazing Race when they were eliminated while still holding their pass, and Season 22 finally began in earnest.

Since the Express Pass was introduced in season 17, not only has a team never been eliminated with an unused Express Pass in their possession, prior to this season, a team with an Express Pass has never even failed to make the final four. But I don’t think we should confuse cause and effect—this is not so much due to the fact that an Express Pass is an incredible game-changing advantage so much as the fact that teams who are initially given the pass tend to be strong teams to begin with, given that they finish first on an early leg. Most teams who are given an Express Pass to begin with would probably have made it to the finals whether or not they got a mulligan on one task. John and Jessica certainly didn’t initially seem to be the team to buck that trend. They seemed to be playing to win.

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“Our taxi driver didn’t know the way to the sand so we did fruit.”

I can’t call this the dumbest thing ever done in the history of the show (or, as Rob termed it, the dumbest thing ever done in the history of ANY major network reality show) because I’m not sure “dumb” is the perfect term. Stubborn, most definitely. Missing the forest for the trees, absolutely. But I think it wasn’t necessarily mere stupidity that kept John from using his pass. At a certain point, I think he became paralyzed by the idea of having to burn off the Express Pass so early on, and a little afraid of looking dumb if they got rid of it on a task that they would in fact have been capable of doing easily, especially if it turned out they didn’t even need it. I think maybe John (and I say just John, because clearly Jess was okay with the idea of using the pass) bought into the idea that he was some sort of strategic mastermind set to turn the show on its head, and strategic masterminds don’t wimp out of stacking fruit. He wasn’t simply dumb, he was overthinking.

But if John had been playing a good strategic Amazing Race game instead of trying to secure his alliance and play the villain like some kind of West Coast Boston Rob, he might have seen two key moments where using the Express Pass would have saved them. There is a very simple metric for determining the perfect moment to use an Express Pass. If, after running into some trouble, you arrive at a task and you can prove you are definitely not first, but you can’t prove you’re not in last, suck it up and pull the trigger. Remember last season, when the Twinnies nearly blew their Express Pass on the swimming task? The Chippendales talked them out of it because everyone knew that two other teams were hours behind. Natalie and Nadiya could afford to take their time and get the task done, because there was no way they weren’t going to live to see another leg. And on The Amazing Race, living to see another leg should always be your primary concern. If John reexamines his stance and does realize he has a regret about the whole thing, his failure to make that the number one priority should be it.

Anyway, like I said, John and Jess had two specific moments where the Express Pass should have come into play. Moment #1 – at the point when they switched detours. At this point, they’d eaten up some time going to the wrong house, and they clearly saw at least one other team pass them, so they had to know that any lead they arrived in Bali with was completely gone.

For awhile, John and Jess appeared to be laboring under the delusion that there was another team somewhere far behind them. Now, I might be able to forgive them for thinking this since they seemed to think they were on an earlier flight than some of the other teams, but all of the teams they ran into once they reached the Roadblock had been on other flights. And by the time they arrived at the surfboard task, they knew they were definitely not in first place or even second, based on who they’d seen at the fruit detour and who was still at the Roadblock when they got there.

Which brings me to moment #2 – arriving at the Roadblock to find teams still there. That was clearly their last and most obvious chance to play the pass—if John wanted to be conservative about it, he even had a two-team cushion to give the task a shot and see if he could make up some ground. But the second he realized he wasn’t going to be in and out of the surfboard game, that was definitely the time to pack it in. And he missed it. In the end, I guess it’s ironic that this season’s most strategy-focused racer was done in by a strategic move.

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Pam and Winnie finally encountered some tasks that played to their strengths.

(An aside, because I know someone is going to ask—my favorite dumb TAR moments are, in no particular order: Debbie and Bianca driving three hours in the wrong direction in season 7; Team Guido relaxing with tea instead of trying to find an earlier bus out of India in season 1; the Gutsy Grannies taking a flight that was 12 hours longer than anybody else’s in season 2; Matt from season 15 not knowing what a candelabra was; and Steve and Allie in season 14 painting some random person’s house in Valparaiso—which was satisfyingly echoed tonight when John and Jess ended up in some random Balinese man’s backyard instead of at the Detour. If you have some of your own, please feel free to sound off in the comments!)

Who’s riding a wave of success this week? Duh, Dave and Connor. Can I say anything more than I said last week? It’s amazing that these guys are still in the race, let alone totally crushing it. Given that Connor can only do three more Roadblocks on the entire race, I can’t imagine what their long-term strategy will be, but this is a pretty sweet ride while it lasts. I shudder to think of what a boring competition this would be if these guys were running with four good legs—it wouldn’t even be fair to the other teams.

Pam and Winnie finally encountered some tasks that played to their strengths, and their attention to detail and great memory allowed them to power through everything. These tasks still seemed on the easy side, and we have yet to see a location on this race that would intimidate the average tourist, so it’s hard to tell if they’re going to do well in the long term or if this was just a very lucky leg. I hope the former, though.

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Caroline seemed to get frustrated incredibly easily on her Roadblock.

Who’s headed for a wipeout? Caroline seemed to get frustrated incredibly easily on her Roadblock, and although she had what appeared to be an effective coping strategy in sitting down and allowing herself to be emotional for a minute before getting back to work, it certainly didn’t look good from the outside. To be losing her cool on such a simple Roadblock is a little bit worrisome.

This week’s Roadblock was reminiscent of the tasks they typically give the final three racers on their last leg—in fact, this isn’t even the first surfboard memory task in Race history. Back in Season 14, the final three teams had to find surfboards with images from all of the previous legs and line them up along a fence. So effectively, today’s Roadblock was 1/10th as hard as that task. If Jen and Caroline have their eye on the finals, they’d better get ready to face something much harder than this or their chances at winning are lonelier and deader than the squirrel in Caroline’s bra.

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