Goats drinking their own milk! Guys playing musical instruments with birds on their heads! Up is down! Right is left! Meh teams are great teams! What is this madness?
We’re at the halfway point, and I have to say, many of my pre-race expectations have been totally subverted, in the best possible way. Going into this race, I picked favorite teams based on little more than the three minutes they spent in Times Square. Two teams I assumed I’d either dislike or not care about have become my fast favorites, and maybe even among the best teams we’ve ever had on the show. And the team I picked on sight to win it all went home just shy of the halfway point in a flurry of bad race decisions and intra-team conflict.A rough way to go out.[/caption]
Going out on a tough task is bad, going out on a U-turn or other screwage-by-other-teams is worse, but going out on a bad navigational decision is arguably one of the worst ways of all to go out, especially when Team #MomDaughter had made a lot of inroads as far as recovering from an argument about directions. Could they have managed to stick around if they’d asked for directions sooner? Maybe, but they were already sitting at the bottom of the pack after the first time they didn’t get pointed the right way soon enough. It’s never a good sign when you have to ask a team who’s finishing a task where you have to go to start it. Amy and Maya and Tim and Te Jay should both count themselves lucky they didn’t wind up making the same wrong turn Shelley and Nici did.
Both the boyfriends and the scientists had similarly rough weeks this week, though they were both on their way to rebounding near the end of the leg. Maya’s milkfat expertise and Te Jay’s expert ability to talk himself through a scary Roadblock (if not his puzzle acumen) showed that both teams are still contenders, albeit dark horses.
In fact, every team left in the Race is one I could see hitting the final mat without feeling a little disappointment in the pit of my stomach. Usually there’s always one bland young dating couple or adversarial wannabe villain team left to stick in my craw, or there’s a whole bunch of teams left that I can’t muster any opinion on…not so here. The expected adversarial wannabe villains (Jim and Misti) are great to each other and having a blast, even when they’re super-intense. The expected bland young dating couple (Bethany and Adam) are funnier than expected and doing so well on tasks you can’t NOT remark on what an inspiration Bethany is. This might be one of the most likable final sixes we’ve ever had.
But let’s take a minute to laud the most likable, at least around these parts: the wrestlers and the cyclists. I know, I’m surprised too! But these two are the ones I find myself looking forward to most each week.
My favorite recurring joke of the season so far is Robbie’s constant search for food. At every food-related task so far, he’s asked if he can have some of the food they’re supposed to be transporting, preparing, or memorizing. And this week he was shown nomming on an apple that appeared at first to be one of the ones they were supposed to be feeding the horses. (There’s a bonus clip that clearly shows Brooke holding two apples while Robbie eats a third, as amazing as it would have been to see them take a penalty for eating food that was supposed to be fed to horses.)
Over the summer, TAR:Australia vs. New Zealand featured a similarly beefy, lovably dense racer named Tyson who was frequently shown either drinking water or searching for a bathroom. At this halfway point, I’m prepared to say that Robbie is the American Tyson. Brooke is not nearly as sunny as Tyson’s partner, Sally, but she, too, has her moments.
How are they racing, though? Well, they could bumble their way to the end on the strength of their…well, strength…but they might be among the longer shots left. Brooke can be a little volatile, and she tends to get bogged down by adversity, while Robbie doesn’t always seem to know exactly how to talk her down. For his part, he’s never not having a good time, but he’s definitely not the sharpest cheddar in the fromagerie.
I can’t say the same for Alli and Kym. These ladies most definitely have the potential to win decisively. They have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with on the comedy front as well as the race course. This week was a rare misstep for them in the latter department (though, thankfully, not the former), if not one with game-ending-potential. Still, switching Detours on this leg was an understandable gamble, even if it didn’t pay off.
Back in the salad days of Amazing Race fandom, the term “Bald Snark” was coined to describe the act of switching Detours. It’s named for Season 3 Detour-switch masters Ken and Gerard, who were, you guessed it, bald and snarky. A rarer sight is the Double Bald Snark or even the Triple Bald Snark, and this week we watched Kym and Alli execute what might have been one of the most successful Double Bald Snarks we’ve ever seen on the show.
Sure, they bled a little time, and they dropped a couple of places in the rankings as a result, but Kym and Alli were never at any real risk of being eliminated. The gamble didn’t exactly pay off — it would have taken less time to finish churning than it would to set up the tent perfectly — but they had the opportunity to possibly leap ahead, and they gave it a shot. The fact that both Detour options were basically in sight of each other meant that they could at least go see what the tents were about before they committed to the option they knew they could finish within 45 minutes or so.
These circumstances do give them a significant advantage over the team who got eliminated last week, who couldn’t see the tea task from the twirl task and therefore couldn’t make an educated decision about whether to switch without walking several blocks; thus, they didn’t decide to abandon Twirl until it was too late. Some Detours are just like that. But if you’ve got the option right there, and you’re not fighting it out for second-to-last, why not take a gander at the other side before you commit?
It is pretty rare, though, to have a situation like Kym and Alli’s, where there’s so little downside. More often than not, double-Detour-switches are instigated out of desperation, and the gamble therein has not always paid off. Let’s take a little trip through time and visit some of the more interesting ones.
Five Great Double Detour Switches in TAR History
Nick and Vicki in Russia: Four years ago last night, we watched Season 17’s Amazing Racers visit St. Petersburg, Russia, choosing between Classical Music (identify three pieces of music played by musicians in a room full of pianos) and Classic Cinema (search through piles of film for a piece that matched the movie that was playing on the screen). Nick and Vicki started with film, switched to music, and then switched back to film. Rumor has it that Nick and Vicki had actually successfully completed the Classical Music detour but a judge incorrectly told them they were wrong. At any rate, production did compensate for an unspecified “production glitch” by waiving their Speed Bump in the next leg.
Kisha and Jen in China: Chief among the things I’ve learned through watching 30-odd seasons of this show is that if you have a crippling phobia, you should probably take some steps to get over it before you go on the show and are compelled to confront it on camera. Jen’s fear of water popped up rather late in Season 14, but pop up it did when an Olympics-themed Detour compelled teams to either complete a synchronized dive or swim 200 m in a Michael Phelps-esque laser suit. The sisters decided that the task that involved being in the water for a few seconds trumped the one that involved being in the water for several minutes, but the dive task proved to be something that even Olympic divers struggle to do well. So they switched from the dive to the swim…and the swim to the dive…and back to the swim, which Jen bravely conquered while holding onto the lane rope and paddling her way across.
It turned out that they were in the first half of a superleg, and while a famously ill-timed pee break was the real reason they were eliminated the next day, the pool Detours sent them from first to last and they never quite recovered. Water going in, water coming out…water’s just not their thing, I guess.
Tiffany and Maria in the Netherlands: Depending on who you ask, Season 15’s most pitiful elimination could well be down to poor leg design. One Detour option, which required teams to do a carnival-style strength test, was so physically taxing that most of the male Racers struggled to hit the mark. The other involved an unwieldy croquet/golf hybrid. The poker players switched back and forth a few times, finding the strength test literally impossible and the weather conditions on the golf course nearly as bad, but they never managed to get through either, resulting in a rare field elimination by Phil.
Leo and Jamal in Indonesia: Forced to choose between wearing elaborate makeup and searching through a tea field for a gardening tool, the Afghanimals picked the one that was a little less threatening to their masculinity. Unfortunately, they failed to read the clue completely and lost a lot of time searching the ground for a tool that was hidden in the leaves. They took a look at the makeup but when they realized they’d also have to shave their beards to complete the task, they took a gamble that they could get lucky in the leaves before they’d manage to de-fuzz their faces and tackle precision painting. Sadly for their many fans, it didn’t pay off.
Flo and Zach in Vietnam: I’ve previously discussed the train wreck that was Flo. A full twenty-two seasons after Flo and Zach’s race around the world, she still remains the gold standard in Amazing Race histrionics. She couldn’t ride a bike loaded down with baskets. She couldn’t paddle a boat across a river. Then she couldn’t ride a bike some more. Then Zach basically paid a guy to tow her across the river and on they went to the final leg, where nobody could have guessed they’d actually end up winning the whole thing.