In a show with no season-to-season continuity, switchbacks are always a nice shout-out to diehard fans. While we might quibble about whether cheese-moving was really the most memorable task in Race history, we can certainly all agree that it’s a fun one to watch no matter how many times they choose to repeat it. As a super-diehard, I can also quibble that this wasn’t quite a true Switchback—the snow and sleds instead of cheese backpacks and rocky hillsides definitely seemed a lot easier—but it was close enough, and tough enough, to still be pure entertainment.
At the beginning of the episode, Chuck and Wynona claimed they’d finally gotten the hang of racing, and then spent the rest of the episode falling into old Chuck and Wynona ways: bickering, griping, and plodding their way through the race course. Wynona got back into the pattern of believing she was dead weight, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy as Chuck dragged her through the course (not that he was the most helpful or supportive of mates this week). Couple that with Wynona’s perceived need to continue evening out the Roadblock tally, and the Alabamans just crumpled under the pressure.
They read the clue. They’re not idiots. Logically speaking, they should have known that if it were as simple as getting the cheese to the bottom of the hill, everyone could have just used gravity to get their cheese there. By the time they got to the point of ditching their sleds and rolling their cheese, Chuck was out of patience and Wynona was out of energy. So if you want to yell at your television, “read the clue, you idiots!” is less appropriate than, “don’t cut corners and hope nobody will notice, you idiots!”. Even if it doesn’t have quite the same resonance.
So we finally bid adieu to Team Mullet this week, an elimination that’s been at least a month in the making. I think they did get what they wanted out of the Race, because what they wanted wasn’t necessarily the million dollars. Although Chuck and Wynona had a few truly triumphant moments and managed to save themselves from elimination as many times as dumb luck saved them, they were never anybody’s pick to win it all. Their real victory is in being able to make the trip and see the world. Chuck said it in so many words: they’d never have been able to take this kind of trip on their own and were grateful for the experience. Good for them. It’s even more fun to live vicariously through first-time travelers than it is to watch a strong team run a perfect leg.
Who’s doggedly pursuing victory? This leg appeared to reward physical strength, whether it was your own team being physically strong, as with the derby moms and hockey bros, or your team getting helped by a strong team, as with Jen and Caroline. Still, physicality alone doesn’t win races, and it was very nice to see Bates and Anthony finally comfortable with being at the front of the pack on their third consecutive leg win. Whether it’s because they’re finally getting into the rhythm of the race or because they realized winning legs is an easy way to impress girls, I can’t say, but they’re doing everything right. It’s their race to lose now.
Getting back to the cold, snowy climate they’re used to seems to have agreed with Max and Katie, as Katie maintained a surprisingly positive and not at all culturally insensitive outlook this episode. I was particularly charmed with her positivity on the Roadblock. The reason they call this The Amazing Race and not the Sort of Okay Race or something like that is that the racers get to do amazing things—things most people will never have the chance to do. Katie’s awe for the Roadblock was appropriate. Her encouraging words to Wynona were also nice to hear. And their little victory dance at the end of the leg was a cutesy move I might have expected to see from a perkier team like the Youtubers or country singers.
Dare I say it? I actually liked Max and Katie this leg. I should have trusted Race casting a little bit more than I did. Sure, we’ve had a few out-and-out villains on the Race, but never because they go looking for them. The Amazing Race is just not a very evil show. For some real Russell Hantz scorched-earth style villainy, you need to go on another show—one where almost all of your actions really do have the potential to directly hurt people’s feelings and damage their chances at winning. If not Survivor, then shoot for Big Brother. When a team does actively malicious things on The Amazing Race, they might screw with someone’s game, but more frequently they just get in trouble. For example, in season 14, when stuntmen brothers Mark and Michael tampered with task supplies, they were hit with a penalty that cost them first place for that leg. Compare that to Russell hiding machetes and burning socks with zero consequences, and you’ll see that the Survivor/Big Brother models and The Amazing Race model aren’t very compatible in this regard. When there’s ill will on The Amazing Race, you’ll get a penalty, you’ll end up sabotaging your own race, or at the very least, Phil will express his disappointment and try to foster a spirit of reconciliation. When there’s ill will on Survivor, Jeff gets out the popcorn.Â
Thus, Max and Katie’s initial interviews were a little misleading. On the Race, they come off as less like Darth Vader and Palpatine and a little more like Sir Simon and Manservant Hecubus from the “Pit of Ultimate Darkness” sketches on The Kids in the Hall. They’re mostly talk, but the few little acts of evil they HAVE managed to commit are the reality TV equivalent of spoiling movies and crossing against the light. A few insensitive and/or snarky comments aside, they’re not bad people at heart. Turns out they’re just intense and a little prickly. I picked them cynically at the beginning of the season, but now I think I might actually like it if they won.
Who’s on a downhill slide? Joey and Meghan were hit with a hat trick of seriously bad luck this week. First they missed their train from Zurich. Then they got stuck behind Wynona on a Roadblock. Finally, they couldn’t find either a cab or the pit stop, and were saved only by Chuck and Wynona’s penalty. But most of that was out of their control, and it’s not fair to say a team is racing badly when they’re being hit with circumstances beyond their control. What I can fault them for is how they cope with it. Meghan has barely said two words all race, so it’s even more jarring to see her completely lose control over her emotions on the home stretch. When Joey is telling you to calm down, you know you’re being too emotional.