Generally speaking, the Amazing Race usually employs one of two tactics to inject suspense into an episode where the eliminated team is a foregone conclusion. They’ll either interject clips of the far-behind team in such a way that implies they’re about to catch up, or they’ll try to make us forget the last-place team exists in an attempt to make the race between the other teams feel more relevant. This week we got a little of both, though I doubt there was a single person out there thinking, “maybe they’ve still got a chance!” At least it was still daylight when Margie and Luke arrived in Galle, which made things easier on the editors.Flight Time showing off his basketball skills.[/caption]
When suspense is utterly absent from an episode, the show frequently uses those legs to showcase some terrific character moments. Is it an entirely fair tradeoff? No, not really, but you have to admit, it was a little bit fun to see Leo joking around with the locals, Caroline and Jen teasing the Cowboys, and Flight Time showing off his basketball skills while he waits for his partner to complete a Roadblock. (Incidentally, how much space must that ball be taking up in his backpack? Do you think he deflates it when he’s not using it?)
This week, instead of waiting on pins and needles for the outcome, we simply got to know the racers a little bit better, and see how some of the strongest personalities in recent Race history interact with one another. The answer: shockingly well, most of the time. It’s like an entire cast full of Dave and Connors. Luke’s meltdown last week is only going to carry the show so far. Someone else has to start freaking out or it’s going to be a long, boring season. Everyone who’s left is being so lovey-dovey and competent that I’ve got nobody to root against.
I might be in the minority on that one, though. This week I’ve been noting a lot of backlash against Caroline and Jen – they’re outclassed, they’re weak, they weren’t good enough to merit a return trip. And I really, really wish the Caroline and Jen abuse would stop. Not necessarily because they’re my favorite team, but because the constant harping on their weakness is rooted in fallacy, not to mention the fact that there’s more than a tinge of misogyny coloring it.
You are fully entitled to not like Caroline and Jen. It’s fine to find their constant chirpy “we’re going to win the Amazing Race” song annoying. Fine to dislike their schtick, their excessive eyeliner, their smarminess. What can’t be disputed, though, is that Caroline and Jen have finished three of five legs at the front of the pack. They must be doing something right.
“But wait!” my hypothetical straw man country-girls-hater is saying. “They couldn’t have gotten this far without help from other teams!” Putting aside the fact that yes, they have, in fact, completed most of the tasks without outside help, I have to point out that nobody’s being forced into helping them. It is a perfectly cromulent Amazing Race skill to be able to recognize when you’re having difficulty finishing a task, identify a team who’ll be able to help you, and convince that team to assist you. Every time they’ve gotten help from another team, that team has had to make the decision to help them. Whether convincing Jet and Cord to give up their Express Pass or getting Connor to team up on the Roadblock, Jen and Caroline have had to make that decision look attractive. There’s a world of difference between convincing a team to help you when it’s convenient and passively allowing another team to run your race for you.
There’s also a world of difference between a team of attractive young women (or men – yes, it’s happened) giggling to the camera that they’re going to flirt their way to the top and a team of attractive young women (or men) actually using their charm to their advantage in any meaningful way. So many teams who say this is what they’re about actually suck at it, which may lead you to the erroneous conclusion that a team who employs their charm to persuade others to do their bidding is always a team that sucks. Not so. Used correctly, it can be a powerful tool. (Just ask Parvati.) Caroline and Jen are definitely using it correctly.
So while I agree that their constant girl-power mantra is a little annoying, especially when their definition of girl power is sometimes a pretty narrow and gender-stereotype-confirming one, I would definitely not make the error of calling Caroline and Jen a weak team. They rode this strategy almost all the way to the end last time, and they could well do it again.
In other task-related news, something interesting happened, shockingly enough, to John and Jessica. While they must surely have been lamenting the fact that they had no Express Pass when they became stymied by the fishing Detour, they found themselves in the position of having to choose whether to fish or cut bait.
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And I think this is a pretty accurate gauge of whether or not it’s time to try the other Detour. If you are chipping away at the Detour and gradually getting a little bit closer to completing it every time you try, then it’s probably worth it to stay where you are. But if you are making zero progress and there’s nothing you can do to improve, get the hell out of there. The fish weren’t biting any more frequently as time went on. It was time to spin plates.
Brenchel also reached a crossroads this week as they had to decide whether to take a huge gamble with a tight connection. The choice was actually not between a tight connection and some other flight, but between certain elimination and a fighting chance at a slight lead. There was no downside to trying to make that connection, and it’s always gratifying to see that kind of thing pay off.
I’ve talked before about this new, more Zen version of Rachel. What’s interesting, though, is that as she’s found her cool, Brendon seems to be losing his. It’s been a fascinating role reversal to watch Rachel as the motivating party while Brendon gets frustrated. I hope they find balance, though – they both need to feel confident that the other person will be able to step up if they start to come unglued, or they will remain stuck at the back of the pack. And in a Race full of teams who all bring different strengths to the table, there is not a lot of room to coast in the back.