After what might have been one of the top 10 best episodes of the Amazing Race EVER last week (and if not ever, at least of the past 3-4 years), I was expecting a little more out of this week’s episode. Think about it — we’re headed for a country that hasn’t been visited by the U.S. version of The Amazing Race in 20 seasons, and that country is so interesting that it actually fields its own edition of the show that doesn’t even leave the country. Not only that, but the Philippines was the site of perhaps the most famous task breakdown in the show’s history, and we’re going to get to see that task again.
We have four entertaining teams left. We have a beautiful location. And we have a photo finish for first place AND last place. Was it just that none of these oxen were broken? Or were we just expecting too much out of a necessary non-elimination leg that followed a dramatic final-five elimination? Or do we just miss Kym and Alli? (I know I sure do.) Whatever it was, this week’s episode was just kind of missing some oomph.Some keys to success courtesy of second-favorite Phil, Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy: KEYp your cool, KEYp informed, and Legwork. Useful when investing in a down market, useful on the Amazing Race.[/caption]
That doesn’t mean I’ve lost faith that we’re going to get a dramatic finish. I think despite a little slump this week, the episode did set up the pieces for an epic final showdown. More crucially, it indicated to us what each team has to do to win — and what might mean their downfall. I don’t really want to talk about the edit this week — we’ve done that to death. Let’s focus instead on the keys to Amazing Race success as we know them, and who’s got what on their keyring.
Robbie and Brooke are the closest thing the final four has to a hot mess. For every task or location Brooke actually enjoys, there are ten she doesn’t, which might just be how she is about everything ever, but it sure doesn’t make the audience want them to pull out the win. What’s more, this team is the most blunder-susceptible, and two of their biggest ones have happened in the past two weeks: last week when they gave bad instructions to Amy and Maya, and this week when they gave up a lead because they couldn’t keep their eye on the prize.
Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with trying to deceive another team. As the great Stephen Fishbach says, if it’s not against the rules, you’d better consider doing it, because chances are, someone else is going to. And granted, their move last week was hardly elegant — it’s basically the Amazing Race equivalent of Judd telling the Survivor: Guatemala contestants that the hidden immunity idol is DEFINITELY on the ground — but it did achieve the desired effect in the moment.
I call it a blunder because of the motive behind it. Had Robbie and Brooke really intended to screw over another team just to get a leg up on them, I think I’d respect that. I’d probably still call it inelegant, but I could understand it, and it wouldn’t be out of character for a competitive team who wants to win at all costs. But that’s not actually why they chose to lie. They did it because they were irritated at Amy and Maya for not providing more assistance earlier, and they were feeling vindictive. A racer who lashes out at people because of a personal beef is liable to act against their own best interests. These are the kinds of racers who U-Turn a team just because they don’t like them, or who ostracize teams because they seem “shady.” It’s too late in the race to hold grudges, or even to think about what the other folks are up to. Just put your head down and go for the home stretch. Take a cue from Anna and Elsa and let it go.
Unfortunately, keeping their eye on the prize is generally not the wrestlers’ strong suit. This week, they made a great move to choose the fish when everyone else chose the motorcycles. (Jim and Misti benefited greatly the same way last week when they did the crabs instead of the far more popular cups. And also back in Morocco when they were one of only two teams to build a tent when everyone else was milking goats.) They hit the Switchback in first place and seemed totally shocked about it — so shocked, in fact, that they immediately stopped thinking clearly, stumbled hard, and wound up in last place. THEY aren’t even comfortable with the idea of winning the Race. Why should we be?
That said, Brooke and Robbie haven’t ever been total bottom-feeders. They’re hardly a Chuck and Wynona kind of team, fumbling around at the back of the pack until the bitter end. They have been more or less in the mix for most of the season. Given a big streak of luck and some tasks that favor their ability to power through physically demanding stuff, we could see them hit the mat first. It certainly doesn’t seem likely given what we know about them so far, but anything’s possible.
Like I said earlier, Jim and Misti have a knack for picking the right tasks, zigging when others zag, and totally nailing things that threaten to destroy other teams. They know the race, they can keep a cool head under pressure, and they’re keenly aware of why they’ve finished in whatever place they’re in. “Definitely some major luck in this one,” Jim told his Facebook followers about their fifth first-place finish this week (or “the thumb,” as he likes to call it). In past legs, they’ve known exactly what went right or wrong, and self-awareness is most certainly a key ingredient to a Race win.
But for a team who’s so totally convinced that they’re the most competitive team left in the race, they’ve made mistakes almost as big as Brooke and Robbie’s, and most of them revolve around the most important rule of Amazing Racing: in the words of legendary Amazing Race philosopher Maya Warren, “attention to frickin’ detail, baby.” (Maya totally reads the JL Rules.)
Jim and Misti have had three really big stumbles: in Copenhagen with the incorrectly-facing flowerpot; in Copenhagen again at the sandwich Roadblock; and again this week when a pretty big missed detail cost them a lot of time at the motorcycle Detour. They know it’s a problem, but they keep doing it anyway. That’s no good. What’s more, they don’t have the flight-fu that past teams have demonstrated. When there are other, earlier flights to be had, they tend to miss out, no matter where they are in the pack. Three times now, racers who’ve begun the leg behind them have wound up on earlier flights. This could be critical in the final legs. There’s no denying they want it as badly as everyone else, and there’s no denying they’ve got the raw materials, but they are not indestructible.
Maya and Amy’s shortcomings are pretty obvious: they will be completely sunk if any future tasks involve lifting and carrying heavy objects or doing wind-sprints. They’re in decent enough shape for regular people, and certainly they came into this race having prepared for it as much as they could, but next to two teams of professional athletes and a guy who’s constantly threatening to Hulk out of his compression shirts, a girl with a leg injury and her five-foot-nothing, 90-pound partner won’t stand a chance if there’s an overly physical Detour.
But boy, do they ever have a can-do attitude. Perpetually keyed-up Maya has never stopped bouncing around for a second this season, and the fact that Amy hasn’t hauled off and smacked her for it yet seems to suggest that she has endless reserves of patience as well as a similarly sunny outlook. Did they know Brooke and Robbie had consciously tried to sabotage them? Maybe, maybe not, but this week was a new leg and with a new leg comes a new chance to turn it all around and work their way up to the front — and that’s exactly what they did. Positive mental attitude alone can’t win you a million dollars, but throw the scientists into an impossible situation next to Brooke and Robbie and let’s see which team gives up first. (Maya is pretty much the anti-Brooke.) As long as they manage to stay with the pack, they’ve got a chance to break out and make a run for the finals.
Which leaves the “oh, yeah, THOSE guys” team of the season (there’s always one): Adam and Bethany. Under the radar doesn’t typically help you on Amazing Race as much as it does on Survivor or Big Brother, but it’s not exactly a hindrance, either. They’re so unassuming and low-key that nobody’s noticed the fact that they’ve won every leg that the dentists and cyclists haven’t won. They are lucky when it counts, they are strong and competitive, and they do everything with the same laid-back, Zen attitude. Bethany doesn’t let her missing arm slow her down; either she compensates or she deftly chooses the best possible tasks to keep her disability from being a hindrance. I picked these guys out two minutes into seeing them step out of their cab in Times Square: they’ve got what it takes to stealth their way to the end. I’m sticking to that pick. If anybody can KEYp their cool, it’s Adam and Bethany.
That said, it’s totally possible that they’ll stumble. They have before; they aren’t immune. Copenhagen wasn’t a great moment for them, and had it not been for the Fast Forward, they’d have been all but guaranteed to be eliminated last week. But like the candy girls, when they DO stumble, it doesn’t destroy them, and that, too, is key.