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Making the Grade on The Amazing Race

Amazing Race blogger Jessica Liese gets geeky this week as she analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the remaining pool of racers.

I’m going to let my nerd flag fly high this week as I employ a very strained metaphor to deliver a little racer report card. Indulge me, will you?

In the universe of role-playing games (a universe that encompasses the table-top variety like Dungeons and Dragons, the online variety like World of Warcraft, and a host of other variants and environments), each character is endowed with a specific measure of certain attributes. Dungeons and Dragons, for example, doles out stat points for Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. My own personal favorite, Kingdom of Loathing, has just three – Muscle, Mysticality, and Moxie.

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Max and Katie also seem to be fairly mentally sharp.

As I see it, on The Amazing Race, there are five main categories that encompass all the attributes a racer will need to succeed. In a good season of the race, as the season progresses, we’ll see every team’s main stat come into sharp focus as tasks emerge that play to their strengths and weaknesses. By this point, everyone’s had the opportunity to shine at least once and stumble at least once—and maybe gain a stat point or two along the way.

Mental Acuity – Pam and Winnie got off to a slow start, but they appear to have found their mojo now. Tasks involving memory and detail turn out to be their forte, which helped them cruise into second last week and first this week. Max and Katie also seem to be fairly mentally sharp, as evidenced by their close second-place finish this leg—and, of course, if you asked them they’d tell you themselves how smart they are.

Physical Strength – This one’s kind of a no-brainer, though in my opinion it ends up being unfairly overemphasized. In truth, physical strength is nice, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. The derby moms and hockey bros have both been drawing on their athletic backgrounds to power through the more brute-strength-focused tasks, but we haven’t yet seen a task so physically taxing that any of our remaining teams would find it an obstacle to winning. (well, maybe Wynona.) That will probably change.

Street Smarts – This attribute refers not only to the ability to read people and situations, but also to navigation and handling culture shock. Jen and Caroline are charming as all hell and seem to have a lot of practical intelligence and adaptability that’s helped them overcome the fact that they’re a lot more…emotionally expressive than other teams. Max and Katie, meanwhile, are apparently that team who will stand in the middle of a crowded market screaming “ENGLISH! EEEEENGLIIIIISH!” There’s one every season, you know.

Attitude – Joey and Meghan’s main stat, if we’re not counting “caffeination” as a stat, has got to be their tenacity. Upon discovering they were U-turned this week, Meghan announced to the camera that she’s never been so angry in her entire life—all the while sporting a grin that wouldn’t be out of place on the final mat. At this point, I can’t imagine anything shaking up the YouTubers to the point of meltdown, whereas a stiff breeze, apparently, is all it takes to upset Jen and Caroline.

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Chuck and Wynona are that RPG character who’s managed to roll almost a flat zero in everything but one category.

Luck – Chuck and Wynona are that RPG character who’s managed to roll almost a flat zero in everything but one category. This marks the third straight week that the Alabamans ought to have come in last place. So far they’ve been saved by a surprise superleg, John and Jessica’s hubris, and Dave’s Achilles tendon. I can’t wait to see how the universe conspires to keep them in the game next week.

A winning team is typically a well-balanced team—they don’t necessarily have to have their stats completely evenly distributed, but a team can’t win the Race with just one major strength. Last season, the Beekmans had mental acuity and luck on their side; prior to that, Dave and Rachel had physical strength and both kinds of smarts.

Right now, Rob’s and my sentimental pick to win, Pam and Winnie, are shockingly well-balanced, which I wouldn’t have expected after their lackluster performance in the first few legs. But really, the only team who seems to have totally front-loaded one stat is Chuck and Wynona, who were never contenders anyway. It’s anybody’s game right now—which is, of course, the best kind of Amazing Race season we could ask for.

Who’s on the way to glory for their generation? Chuck is running the Race for two people. He’s managing to perform every roadblock, most of the Detours, and handle being yelled at constantly. AND he’s still rocking amazing hair through all of it. If he had a partner who pulled their weight, he’d probably be winning legs.

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Which categories do the hockey players fit?

Fellow Rob Has a Website correspondent Eric (are you watching his recap videos? You should be!) will be happy to know that my other MVPs for this week are the YouTubers, who managed to stay relatively upbeat in the face of getting U-Turned for no good reason, PLUS having helpful locals sell them the wrong soup ingredients, PLUS getting a bad cab driver on their way to the Pit Stop. Instead of melting down, they kept a clear head, correctly counter-U-Turned, and finished strong.

Who can pho-get about winning? Wynona’s main antagonist is Wynona. I don’t believe she’s letting Chuck carry her because she really is that weak. Weaker racers than Wynona have gone farther and done better. She’s internalized the idea that she’s the weakest racer of the season and it’s keeping her from performing even the smallest action. The one and only time Race rules have compelled her to perform a task, she did just fine, proving she’s not completely useless, but she certainly seems to think otherwise. The only thing that could get Alabama back on track is if Wynona finds a task next week that hits upon a secret strength and she runs with it. It doesn’t seem likely, but hey, their main stat is luck. It could well be on their side as the teams head to Africa.

Jessica Liese

Despite being a seasoned world traveler and diehard reality TV fan, Jessica Liese would be, by her own admission, the worst Amazing Race contestant ever. More From Jessica Liese »


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