The race leveled up this week as the teams headed to Bangladesh for the second time in the history of the U.S. series. Bangladesh is so drastically different from anything most of the racers are used to, and the combination of culture shock, heat, and insane traffic pushed the teams to new limits. Ryan Danz (of Team Ryan and Abbie) said it best when he described the experience as “overwhelmingly eye opening and sense rattling” on Facebook a few hours before the episode aired. Indeed, everyone seemed to stumble a little at this drastically increased difficulty level as Bangladesh separated the men from the boys (and the women from the girls). Not only was the environment a little less familiar, the tasks were a lot harder. What was once a pack of uniformly strong racers is starting to separate out.
All season so far, Gary and Will have been what Twitter user @AshsDreamboard termed “backpackers”: they managed to hang on through four entire episodes, but always at the back of the pack. We see teams like this every season and none of them end up surviving past the halfway point. So it wasn’t a shock to see Team Big/Little’s luck finally run out. A team that walks into the pit stop instead of running when they have pavement to run on and clean air to breathe is not going to fare well when their path to the pit stop is suddenly full of chaos and debris. Even though the race was clearly much harder than they’d dreamed possible, I do think they got the once-in-a-lifetime experience they’d hoped to have, and on behalf of superfans everywhere, I’m glad they were finally able to have it.
This week also appeared to usher in a new era of competent, exciting Fast Forwards, and for that I’m so excited my enthusiasm might put the Twinnies to shame. A Fast Forward hasn’t well and truly saved a team since roughly season 6, to be sure, but in the last few seasons it hasn’t served as anything other than a reward for the incumbent first-place team—hooray, you’re the first team to open your envelope! You win an even bigger lead! Fast Forwards in recent seasons were never more taxing than “eat a large plate of something sort of gross” or “drive a car around a track,” and there weren’t more than one or two on the whole race, so teams rarely had to give serious thought to whether or not they’d be willing to do them. (The only recent notable exception being Rachel-of-Brenchel’s sheer terror last season at the prospect of sacrificing her $500 hair extensions for a first-place finish.)
Quite honestly, this week’s Fast Forward is the best Fast Forward the Race has put forth in years. Maybe ever. First of all, it was the best by virtue of being the worst. I was never a Fear Factor fan, but running around collecting dead rats seems straight out of Joe Rogan’s playbook. Of the 30 or 40 Fast Forwards that have been shown on the show, this is the only one I really don’t think I could do. Shave my head? Fine. Get a tattoo? Great. Handle dead rats? That is a giant burlap sack of nope. James and Abba have gained my respect for the duration of the race for taking that on. They deserved their first-place finish and then some.
In fact, I was so horrified on behalf of those tasked with completing the Fast Forward that it was almost a relief to see the big bag of dried fish and know that nobody was going to be immune to sticking their hands in a large container of dead things. I can’t imagine what the smell must have been like in that 100-degree heat, surrounded by bags upon bags of dried fish. I still don’t think it was worse than handling dead rats, though. Before the rockers snagged it, several teams skimmed over the Fast Forward before deciding not to bother. Nobody seemed overly grossed out by the rats, but nobody seemed to think it was as worth doing as, say, eating a sheep head.
Team Long Hair doesn’t seem to even be aware that there are other teams in this race most of the time, but everyone else has started to catch up to their individualistic way of thinking. The word “alliance” was barely uttered this week and mostly everyone kept their eyes on their own work, with a singular exception. When Ryan’s sweaty mitts rendered his clue unreadable, he turned to the Chippendales and traded sanding know-how for a glance at their clue. After this exchange of ideas, they went back to running their own race. This sort of short-term quid-pro-quo assistance is the best and smartest use of alliances within this particular game’s framework. Everyone got something they needed, nobody’s race suffered needlessly, everyone’s expectations are the same, and everyone stays friends. I’ve said it before–The Amazing Race is often the warmest, fuzziest reality-tv enterprise this side of the Puppy Bowl.
Whose race is as smooth as putty? Abbie is my MVP this week as she applied her fashion-design-school skills to the mattress-stuffing task and got that thing stuffed and sewn in no time flat. Her superhuman stitching combined with Ryan’s strong showing on the bus Roadblock and a collective unflappability rivaled only by the twinnies to keep them at the front of the pack. Barring any acts of the taxi gods, I suspect they’ll stay there for awhile.
But all of the racers earned at least one gold star this week—their experiences in Dhaka led them to band together to support various health, environmental, and educational causes in Bangladesh through Global Giving, and they quite brilliantly blew up the Twitterverse last night during the show promoting their efforts. It is always gratifying and moving to see racers genuinely affected by what they experience during the race, especially when they seek out a way to give back. The show is really two parts competition and one part experiencing the world and being changed by it. That’s why we love it.
Who’s taking a pounding? Early in the episode, Trey commented that “mistakes will kill you” at this phase of the race. In a bit of ironic foreshadowing, a mistake in fact almost killed Team Texie’s chances at winning when they failed at reading comprehension and took a cab to the pit stop instead of a boat. If other teams hadn’t made the same error, they would have been out for good. These two impressed me early on by rising above their “cute dating couple” typecasting, but there’s still a lot of race left, and it’s only going to get tougher from here on out.
The closest thing to “backpackers” still in the race are the Monster Truckers. They seem to do well in the tasks, but they, too, suffered from a bout of reading comprehension fail this episode, and it wasn’t their first time. Additionally, Rob lost his cool in a very uncool way near the end. High on my list of pet peeves, alongside racers who constantly call each other “babe” and racers who get upset with people who don’t speak English in non-English-speaking countries, are racers who accuse the locals of costing them a million bucks. It just comes off as a little arrogant and entitled, especially when it happens in countries where one buck is a big deal to the person you’re yelling at. I hope Rob starts showing a bit more of this much-vaunted giant heart of his.