Those of us who appreciate The Amazing Race as a travelogue just as much as a reality show might be feeling a little less than compelled as we approach the halfway point of season 22. We’ve had three tropical beach settings, a country where everyone speaks English, and one city with relatively strong infrastructure. Hardly culture-shocking. So I had high hopes for Botswana, a nation TAR has only visited one and a half times over the course of the previous seasons. It’s an incredible setting, and in my opinion, TAR doesn’t go to Africa nearly often enough. They get there every other season if we’re lucky—and they’ve gone as many as five seasons in a row without it.
I had anticipated that once the Race course got off the beaten path, the action might pick up a little. Unfortunately, by going to Botswana, we seem to have overcorrected a little. The setting’s maybe TOO much of a challenge. The problem with legs in such far-flung, forbidding locations is that paradoxically, they end up being far less challenging for the racers. Because lions, scorpions, and who knows what else was out there, the Race relied on bushmen to lead the teams around a relatively small area. And of three tasks this episode, two gave racers very little trouble, and the third was something anybody who’s ever watched Survivor should know to avoid.
The tradeoff is that with little distance to travel, spoonfed flights, and mostly doable tasks, there was really no margin for error. This definitely ups the suspense. Suddenly, fifteen minutes between charter flights really is a lot of time, and something as simple as picking the harder Detour option and having to switch could mean falling to the back of the pack. Which is how Max and Katie, after two very strong legs, now find themselves facing a Speed Bump.
We’ve had mostly task-focused legs on this season, which has meant that teams have been eliminated largely on the basis of their inability to perform Roadblocks and Detours rather than their inability to get to and from said tasks. I’m of two minds on that. On one hand, this gives teams more control over their own destiny and it minimizes those ugly scenes where racers get upset with inept taxi drivers. But this is the Amazing Race, not the Amazing Go to Resorts and Perform Tasks. “Make Your Way” is the opening line of so many clues, but all season, teams have had their way made for them.
I understand why this leg in particular was set up as a non-elimination leg, given that it does give the Speed Bumped team a fighting chance next week, but for the race to be truly Amazing, we need a better mix of travel and obstacles. We don’t look to be leaving Botswana next week, but hopefully as we move toward Europe the race course will become more of a course and less of a series of tasks that happen to be located in different countries.
Who’s on fire this week? Despite the fact that Bates and Anthony were distracted by their budding showmance with the country singers, they didn’t let love get in the way of a strong finish, and were the only team to complete the fire Detour. I find that I don’t mind the hockey/country “alliance,” such as it is, because when it comes time to race, both teams are perfectly okay with actually racing. I can’t see either team waiting around after completing a task to make sure their alliance partners also finish it, like Meghan and Beth did at the Roadblock last week. Minding their slightly forced flirting is another story, but for now it’s just nice to see the hockey bros making an active push for first place instead of drafting behind other teams.
But if we’re talking about improved performance, it’s Alabama whose showing was the strongest. Chuck and Wynona finally woke up to the fact that Chuck is not technically allowed to do the entire race by himself with a spectator, and Wynona finally performed her second Roadblock. Fortunately, the Roadblock amounted to “follow some guys around and watch them do something,” which plays to her strengths. Thanks to some judicious Detour picking, they managed to jump from the back of the pack all the way up to third place. Do I think it’s sustainable? Probably not. But it’s nice to see both of them making an effort to stay out of last place.
Whose performance has been utterly fowl? As I said above, this season the Race appears to be minimizing the opportunity for racers to act like true Ugly Americans, but Max and Katie are still managing. Of course a man who lives off the land in the desert is not going to be in the habit of taking as many hot showers as you do, Katie. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from these two, but given that they don’t waste any opportunity to tell us how educated they are, I didn’t necessarily think they’d be so culturally insensitive. There’s one team every season, I guess. Is this the villainy we’ve been promised? I hope not. That would be a disappointment.
Mona and Beth were largely invisible this leg, except for a brief moment when they seemed to misread their clue and were about to drive to the Pit Stop. That doesn’t bode well for the Derby Moms. It didn’t end up spelling their doom this week, but they certainly can’t get in the habit of skimming over details.