Yes, I’m feeling it too. This is not the best and most exciting season of The Amazing Race we’ve ever had. With an astonishing lack of variety in locations, lackluster tasks, and a cast who’d be eaten for lunch by pretty much any previous racers (including the Beekman Boys, Brenchel, and those showgirls who lost their passports at LAX), it’s hard to stay compelled. But this leg, at least, offered some great local color, a lot of cute animals, and some unpredictable order-shuffling. Perhaps things are turning around for Season 22.
None of the teams have seemed like obvious cannon fodder because in any other season, ALL of these teams would be obvious cannon fodder. The hockey bros looked good on paper, but they are terrified of taking initiative. Mona and Beth might be okay racers, but they’re barely getting any screen time. Max and Katie are dysfunctional, Joey and Meghan are histrionics-prone, Jen and Caroline have made a few huge strategic errors, and Chuck and Wynona are Chuck and Wynona. I do hate it when a team like Rachel and Dave or Cheyne and Meghan steamrolls over the competition for 12 straight episodes, but I guess Season 22 goes to show that the Amazing Race requires a lot more than an even playing field to be the exciting show it usually is.
And Winnie and Pam… well, they were fun to watch, but the mistake that cost them the race was the same mistake they made early on: they had trouble confronting failure. In Bora Bora, their less-than-stellar jet-ski navigation skills flustered them for the rest of the leg, and this week, they found themselves unable to piece together the last tricky piece of the memory puzzle Detour. They were so certain they were correct the first time, and so flummoxed at being told they were wrong, that they couldn’t see past the fact that rhinos are not hippos, or that 11 animal tiles are not 10 animal tiles. Regardless, their deadpan humor will be sorely missed, and I’m always sad to see all-female teams go.
Winnie and Pam’s opposite number seems to be Jen and Caroline, who have not let anything, be it daunting tasks or speeding tickets, break their racing stride. They face a problem, confront it, and walk away singing. Whether this is really what’s happening or if they’re getting an incredibly good edit, I can’t say for sure. Astute Twitterers pointed out to me that historically, racers have been shown talking about their faith, and about how blessed they feel, immediately before the Race demonstrates that higher powers of all sorts have zero interest in the outcome of a reality show. Still, their faith hasn’t been shoved down our throats—their relentless optimism has.
The country singers’ faith in humanity is as strong as that other faith, as they demonstrated when they sent a random stranger away with $100 of their money to exchange it for them. It may not have been as big a gamble as it initially looked, since the guy was well aware he was on camera (he’d probably even signed a release by this point), and probably wouldn’t have wanted to risk looking like a thief in front of the entire American television-watching world. Still, it’s more trust than I’d have put in a random guy, and being on television certainly didn’t seem to stop James and Abba’s thieving cab driver last season. But the girls got lucky (or was that divine intervention?) and the day was saved.
Another very lucky team this week? Bates and Anthony. They’ve excelled when they have another team to follow (in their own words “another team to cheat off of”), but when pressed to lead the way, they aren’t so comfortable. Fortunately, a Fast Forward was waiting for them when they opened their first clue, so they could make a competition-free grab for first place. If they hadn’t had one, I wouldn’t have put it past them to wait and see what the next teams to depart were doing, just so they could avoid having to make a decision on their own.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating—the way the Race has structured the Fast Forward is deeply flawed. With only two available on the entire race, and featuring tasks no more challenging than your average Speed Bump, teams don’t usually have to weigh the pros and cons of taking it. If you’re the first to see it, you grab it. If you’re not, you don’t bother. I will go to my grave arguing that there should be a minimum of three Fast Forwards on any given Race, and they should be at least 125% harder than the average Roadblock. At the very least, Race brass ought to put the Fast Forward at the far end of some kind of activity, to give everyone a fighting chance. Why not put racers to work the instant they open their first clue of the leg, and THEN give them the opportunity to try for a Fast Forward once they’ve found a buoy or carried a bag of flour or captured a chicken? It would certainly heighten the suspense. But until CBS comes knocking on my door demanding my expertise, I guess this is what we’re stuck with.
Who’s doing a victory dance this week? Believe me, I wouldn’t have predicted this at the beginning of the season, or even as recently as two episodes ago, but Chuck and Wynona are the stars of the show once again. Between Chuck’s stellar animal identification skills (well, at least when it comes to the ones that would be fun to hunt) and Wynona’s mnemonic mastery, they rocked their Detour. I wish Wynona had been surer of herself in the beginning of the race, but I’m glad to see this new, more capable Wynona now. It’s much more fun to watch a competent racer realize how competent she is than it is to watch dead weight.
Who’s riding the goat boat to nowhere? As Joey and Meghan cruised the back roads of Maun fruitlessly searching for the Roadblock, Meghan proclaimed that she didn’t like driving to places. This seems like an odd choice of reality shows for them if that’s the case. Joey had a good point that GPS navigation has replaced his generation’s innate navigational skills out in the real world, but that’s a fairly flimsy excuse, considering they’re no more than a few years younger than their next-youngest competition, and presumably they were not hand-plucked from YouTube the day before the Race began, with no prior exposure to the show. Complaining about having to navigate on The Amazing Race is like going on Survivor and complaining that you don’t get access to the craft services table.
I’m well aware that none of us would be completely immune to complaining if we were to embark on this show, and I’m similarly sure that the editors specifically flag every single complaint every racer registers and then make sure to highlight it according to that racer’s story arc, but it still hardly endears a racer to me when they’re shown complaining. Which is why Katie also deserves to be called out here, because not only did she seem to do a lot of complaining this leg, but the target of her complaints was frequently Max. I don’t know what she and Max are like at home (or, indeed, in the privacy of their Pit Stop tent), and maybe this works for them, but her critiques of his driving, his navigating, and even his grammar are taking away from their ability to race competently. And to think Max was the one I thought would be insufferable at the beginning of the season. He’s actually quite a bit more easygoing than I’d pegged him to be—which I guess he needs to be if he and Katie are meant to be together forever.