Amazing Race 26

The Amazing Race 26: Throwback City

With May bearing down on us, and three legs still to come on The Amazing Race, you’re forgiven if you’re feeling a little bit like this season is never going to end. And it doesn’t help matters that it sort of looked like we backtracked a little this week.

Going from Monaco to Namibia and then back up to Amsterdam before heading back down to the Southern Hemisphere next week sure doesn’t seem like a logical route, especially when you consider that the show was here just five seasons ago. But when you factor in logistics beyond sheer mileage, it makes perfect sense. Amsterdam’s Schipol airport is a main hub for nine different airlines, and chances are any route from Windhoek to Lima was going to take them somewhere circuitous and weird. Rather than run the risk of five different teams taking five different routes through any combination of four continents, why not funnel them through an airport hub and, since it’s a pretty cool city and the season is crunched for time, we’ll stop off and run a leg. Amsterdam loves American film crews. It’s a safe, clean city with extensive infrastructure. The fact that it’s so bike-able means that there’s no need for rental cars and minimal taxis. There’s zero downside to this plan beyond a little bit of location fatigue from the fans.

And yes, given that James and Jaymes hawking pancakes and the Twinnies nomming on salted herring are still pretty fresh memories, it did sort of seem like a bit of a retread. (Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that Grandpa Don was vaulting across a muddy ditch.) But shuffleboard and floating hot tubs aren’t things we’ve seen before, and nothing beats a needle-in-a-haystack task to stress teams out.

James and Jaymes Remember these guys?[/caption]

One big reason the season seems to be dragging a little bit is that we have no big rivalries creating tension. Last season, we had the scientists versus the wrestlers and the dentists versus the cyclists. The season before that, we had Dave and Connor and the country singers versus Brenchel. Before that, we had Marie versus Amy, and Jason and Amy and the doctors versus Afghanimals and Ice Cababes. This season, everyone’s friends with everyone. If you didn’t know that already, watching them enjoy a dinner together in the opening minutes of the episode hammered that home. (THANK YOU, Amazing Race, for bringing back Eat/Sleep/Mingle, by the way! If you’re going to mess with the formula by casting blind daters, the least you can do is throw the old-school fans a bone.) Jelani and Jenny should have been irritated with Matt and Ashley, or at least more determined to beat them than ever. But the conversation that followed was basically: “that was business, don’t take it personally.” “Okay, we won’t.”

Sure, Jelani and Jenny said that if there’s another chance to single out a team, Matt and Ashley will be that team, but they seemed pretty lukewarm on the concept (perhaps because they know there probably won’t be another chance).  Laura and Tyler have formed an alliance of sorts with Mashley, but it’s not the sort of partnership that galvanizes them against the rest of the competition (in fact, it might even be over now that the U-Turn is done). Not that I’m saying I want the teams to drag each other through the mud…I just wish they were a little bit less like watching a bunch of good-looking officemates on a corporate retreat. Even Hayley’s been treated fairly kindly by her castmates. She’s been subjected to nothing more severe than some good-natured eye-rolling.

Blair and Hayley

Not even close to a murderous rampage.

Which is one of many reasons I find it incredibly upsetting that the fan response to Hayley has ranged from “I can’t stand her” on the charitable end to “If she were my partner, I would have brutally murdered her by now” in the less savory corners of the Internet. Sure, she’s high-strung, and I’m not saying she’d be in the top five racers I’d want to race with in a Fans and Favorites scenario, but I think she’s a much better racer than she’s been given credit for. She’s annoying, maybe, but she’s not useless. She’s pretty good at navigation, and she has never been unsupportive in her own weird way. Plus, she wants to be there. Blair is not dragging her around the way, say, Zach dragged Flo at the end. He’s even kidding around with her, and while he acts exasperated from time to time, we haven’t seen him lose his temper yet. I’m sure this is how she frequently is in real life, but I do think she’s getting a wretched edit.

(OK, fine, since someone’s going to want to know: top five racers I WOULD want to race with in a Fans and Favorites scenario are: Marie, Ken of Season 3, Brennan, Claire, and Charla. And if we were running in teams of three, I’d want to run with Joe and Bill.)

Rochelle

Steady hands and kind words add up to good shuffling.

Mike and Rochelle are another team who continues to be underestimated. Their weak spot is navigation, it seems, but after Syncing Steps way back on the first leg, there hasn’t been any one task that’s tripped them up in a big way. A key element of their game is the fact that they know how to talk to each other. As Mike anxiously slammed puck after puck onto the shuffleboard course, Rochelle gently told him he should settle down and take his time, and when he didn’t immediately correct his course, she let him finish the round, process her words, and figure it out on his own. That wouldn’t have worked with every teammate, but she knew it would with him. This bodes well for success in the Race…and as a couple.

Matt and Ashley reenacted one of the all-time classic Amazing Race tropes this week: the one task they just can’t crack. For Lena, it was haybales. For Oklahoma Tim, it was German-language art songs. For Big Easy, it was unscrambling a five-letter name. And for Matt, it was the damn shoes. This is something that’s actually been missing from almost every leg of this race: a task being solely responsible for knocking a team out of the running. Steve and Aly were done in by a flat tire and a U-Turn; Jonathan and Harley, bad flight luck; CJ and Libby, zero sense of direction. But almost nobody this season will come away from it saying, “if I never see (random foreign object) again, I can die happy.” (My friend Chris and I call these “saladie moments,” after the time we were knocked out of first place in a local race because he was unable to find the non-word “saladie” printed on one of thousands of ads in an art gallery.) Matt will probably be happy to avoid all wooden clogs for the rest of his life, but the season wouldn’t have been complete without at least one of these moments.

Matt

Matt probably never wants to see another pair of klompen in his life.

I like the hairdressers’ chances next week. They’ve been pretty solid for the past three or four legs before this one, and I don’t believe they were terribly far behind here. I’d quite like to see them do what the other two Speed-Bumped teams this season were unable to: make up some time and avoid last place.

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