It seems shocking that the last time The Amazing Race visited Scotland was 19 seasons ago, but it’s true. In fact, the U.S. version of the Race has only visited the UK four times in total, and two of those trips barely left London. Given that Scotland inspired so little creativity on the part of the task-planners (seriously, that looked like the product of about 15 seconds of brainstorming, tops), maybe that’s not a bad thing, but for those of us who love all things Scottish, this week’s trip to Edinburgh was a rare treat that left us craving haggis and queueing up bagpipes music on our ipods.
The tasks were pretty perfunctory, and airport drama sucked a lot of the suspense out of this episode. If we hadn’t gotten a U-Turn this episode, I might have been reduced to writing a thousand words about how awesome the hockey bros looked in their kilts. But thankfully, The Amazing Race threw us a bone. The second U-Turn tends to be more interesting than the first one, becaust typically, it’s the last major twist to the game before pure racing takes over. As with the early-stage U-Turn, it’s best used only if your own elimination might be imminent without it, but it takes on a new dimension of importance because it affords you one last chance to throw an active wrench in another team’s plans before the finals. Sure, on its face your smartest bet is to throw a U-Turn at the strongest team left in the hope that they’ll be eliminated before you have to face them in the finals, but there are a lot of outside factors at play with U-Turn II strategy.
The outcry on Twitter was specifically directed at Bates and Anthony for not U-Turning Max and Katie when they had the chance. While that would have been shocking and probably would have maximized the sort of drama the U-Turn is meant to foment, this is short-sighted thinking that fails to account for the specific circumstances of the racers. (In other words, this is how you can tell we’re not watching Survivor.) First of all, the only thing that Bates and Anthony could possibly get out of that strategy is another first-place finish. Another free vacation from Travelocity and a few minutes’ lead in the next leg? Not really worth it. They’d done the other half of Max and Katie’s Detour, so they knew it was a task they’d probably be able to handle (if not with quite the same amount of gusto) well before Mona and Beth even got started. And Mona and Beth, remember, still had a Speed Bump to complete. So given the choice between keeping your friends in the game and getting rid of your adversaries, it seems pretty obvious that if they HAD to use the U-Turn, the hockey bros made the right call.
As for the second half of the U-Turn, that was basically just insurance. Nobody was sure exactly where the derby moms and YouTubers were in relationship to them, just that they were a little bit behind. Could be 30 minutes, could be six hours. Worst case scenario for the Sexy Six? Jen and Caroline run into big trouble, and Mona and Beth have the chance to U-Turn them. It’s a small chance (that proved nonexistent in the end), but it’s better to not leave that U-Turn hanging, and hey, it’s not like there’ll be another chance to use one. True, you miss the chance to sanctimoniously look into the camera and announce that you choose not to U-Turn anybody. But the top three teams can be as sure as possible that the ousted team will be either Joey and Meghan or Mona and Beth.
Mona and Beth might still be in the game in the most technical sense, and there’s about a 75% chance that the Race is going to bunch everyone at the beginning of the next leg anyway, but it hasn’t always happened that way. U-Turning the derby moms actually might have compounded the time they’ll have to make up later on. And you can’t underestimate the role morale plays, either. They have no friends left on the race, and the U-Turn just underscored that. Some teams thrive on adversity, but it could just as easily drag them down.
As we roll into the final leg, it’s gratifying to see that the remaining teams were probably all among the strongest teams out of the gate. Apart from John and Jessica’s wasted Express Pass and Dave and Connor’s disappointing exit, the season has been fairly uninspiring, but it seems like we may be building up to a strong finish. The only team whose win would disappoint me at this point is probably Bates and Anthony, just because it seems like the most predictable, and even then I wouldn’t begrudge them a win. But let’s take one last look at all four of our remaining teams and analyze their chances.
Whose shot at winning is wee? Mona and Beth are now facing a deficit of several hours and three strong competitors who have it out for them. Granted, this is exactly the position the Beekmans found themselves in at this point last season, and we’ve seen teams rebound from worse, but it’s not going to be easy, even if the Race tries to level the playing field. And based on the edit they’ve gotten, I don’t get the sense that the Race cares that much.
Whose shot at winning is not so wee? Jen and Caroline have run a stronger race than I think people give them credit for. Bates and Anthony rode their coattails just as often as the other way around. They’re smart, they’re charming, and they get along well with each other. However, they’ve never finished higher than third, and if Caroline’s meltdown on the bagpipes task is any indicator, they might be getting a little tired. They were in the middle of the pack this week and I think that’s where they’re going to stay, insofar as there can be a “middle of the pack” at the final four or the final three. But if the other teams get stuck on a final-leg task or have to contend with a bad cab driver, it’s not impossible that they could pull it out.
Whose shot at winning is friggin’ huge? It’s either Bates and Anthony’s or Max and Katie’s game to lose. They’ve both got multiple first-place finishes under their belts, and they’ve both hit their stride in the race. Bates and Anthony went from hapless coasters to actual forces to be reckoned with. I can’t tell if this was part of their strategy all along or if they just got better at racing as they went along, but either way they’re in a great spot now. The same can be said for Max and Katie, who came close to elimination in the very first leg but rebounded gradually over time. With the final leg taking place in their home country, it’s less likely that they’ll either snipe at each other or say something culturally insensitive, which have been their biggest failings up until now. If Katie’s as smart as she claims to be, she’ll probably breeze through the final Roadblock, which has traditionally been a memory/logic puzzle. They couldn’t be in a better position.
Next week, I’ll be taking in the season finale from my usual perch at TARcon. If you’re planning on coming, please come find me and say hello! And be sure to tune in to Rob Has a Website next week for my final thoughts on Season 22. As always, it’s been a pleasure serving as your resident Amazing Race expert.