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TV Recap: The Amazing Race

Apr 4, 2010: The Cowboys stage a comeback in Malaysia, while some confused cabbies turn the race upside down

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The Amazing Race | DADDY/DAUGHTER DAY Steve and Allie had trouble navigating the streets of Penang.
Monty Brinton/CBS

One profession trumps all others in cinema history: the noble art of driving a cab. You’ve got Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the best New York movie ever made, and Michael Mann’s Collateral, the best Los Angeles movie ever made. Bruce Willis had his best role and worst hair playing the air-cabbie protagonist in The Fifth Element. And then, of course, there’s the single most important film to come out of the ’80s: D.C. Cab.

I was meditating on these great films during last night’s episode of The Amazing Race, which formed an hourlong ode to the impressive skill and cruel power of cab drivers. Every team’s performance last night was due, in small and large parts, to how talented their drivers were. Some cabbies knew the quickest route to everywhere in Penang. Some cabbies were loyal. Some cabbies got lost. And one cabbie picked a deeply inappropriate time to stop for gas. Michael put it best: ”One bad cab driver can cost you a million dollars.” Before the night was over, one bad cab driver kind of did.

First, though, let’s take a close look at the comeback kids:

Jet and Cord
Next to Louie and Michael, the Cowboys are probably the most charming team in the Race. And whereas the Detectives are talented at deploying their charm as a weapon, Jet and Cord just seem like a genial pair of dudes. They keep finding themselves in ever-more-exotic environs, and they get by on luck, pluck, and a basic faith in human decency. In France they looked lost, though, and in the Seychelles they started to seem a bit lazy.

Last night proved validating for the Cowbro Faithful, despite a shaky start. Coming off a last-place finish, Jet and Cord seemed just a little bit nervous. On the 21-hour flight through Dubai to Penang, they played Optimist/Pessimist. ”We’re tied for sixth,” said Jet. ”And first,” argued Cord. Cord was proven wrong almost immediately, as the brothers were the last team to find a taxi to the Snake Temple. (Snakes? why did it have to be snakes?) Jet: ”How do you say fast in Malaysian?” Cord: ”Fast.”

At the Snake Temple, teams had a choice between two challenges that emphasized Malaysia’s diverse culture: Buddhist Tradition or Chinese Custom. The Buddhist Tradition was a classic feat of strength: carrying 12 giant incense sticks up 150 steps and lighting them on fire. The Chinese Custom was just the opposite, a classic equilibrium test: Teams would have to balance the tall Chingay flagpoles on their forehead and carry them across an esplanade. (Aside: Phil Keoghan’s accent is always face-meltingly awesome, but there was something especially wonderful about the way he pronounced ”esplanade.”)

Viewers, which challenge would you have chosen? I definitely would’ve gone for the incense sticks, but the Flagpole challenge was a clear spoiler — a challenge that could either take a minute or an hour. When the Cowboys were the only team to make a move for the Flagpoles, I figured it would be their Waterloo. When they couldn’t find a cab (their first driver abandoned them), I got even more anxious.

But then! An older-looking driver picked them up, and while other teams were struggling through traffic (more on them soon), their driver sped them over to the esplanade. Cord carried the Flag across the field like it was his job, and Jet wasn’t too shabby either. The brothers explained that they used to balance brooms on their nose when they were kids. Parents: Next time your kid asks for an Xbox, give them a broom. You’ll be doing them a favor.

That quick finish put the Cowboys in fine position, but they still had a Speed Bump to deal with after their last-place showing. They had to jet over to a tropical spice garden, find a lady preparing spice teas, determine which tea was made from the crushed spice, and then deliver the tea to a meditating guru.

The purposeful slowness of this challenge — tea, meditation, pretty garden, giant swing — could have derailed a lesser team. But the Cowboys have a peculiar ability to keep their emotions in check. Cord’s sinuses were closed, but Jet still figured that he had picked the right tea. The Guru on the Giant Swing shook his head. The brothers didn’t freak — they just ran back down to the lady and picked up another tea. The Guru on the Giant Swing nodded happily. Cord shook his hand. Can Cord be an ambassador to somewhere?

By this point, the Cowboys were several hundred furlongs ahead of the other teams. They polished off a perfect game day with the Road Block, which completed the Diversity Triangle with a Hindu ritual. Jet had to smash up some coconuts to find one with a bright-neon interior. After that, he successfully designed an offering (”This is my first time for arts and crafts,” he explained.)

Cord looked on. He was wearing Jet’s black hat over his own white hat, which seemed to suggest that the Cowboys have found a perfect yin-yang good-evil balance in their approach to the game. (Aside: I acknowledge that Cord’s hat is actually more light-brownish. But it makes more symbolic sense if the hat is white.) (Second Aside: If Jet and Cord win, I think they should be required to fight each other for ultimate victory, just like when you beat Double Dragon with two players.)

Carol and Brandy arrived at Teluk Bahang just in time to see the Cowboys speed off to victory. ”How did they get so far ahead?” they asked. Their reaction reminded me a little bit of the recurring phrase in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: ”Who are those guys?”

The Savage Detectives and The Brainless Beauties vs. Team Haterade
I don’t know how I missed it last week, but the ”Previously On” montage at the start of last night’s episode showed a shudder-inducing fist bump between the Detectives and the Models. Turns out that there’s a genuine Race-crush going on between the two teams. ”They’re good kids, they’re respectful,” said Michael, clearly gone crazy from dehydration. ”I call them the Daddies,” said Caite.

We saw the teams do some bonding. Brent pointed to Louie’s snake tattoo. ”That’s St. Michael killing the devil there,” said Louie. I went to Catholic school growing up, and I well remember learning about the Michael versus Satan grudge match when we learned about the Book of Revelations. Getting really metaphorical, Louie said: ”The serpent is Carol.” Last week, I was a bit surprised to hear the Detectives throw so much vitriol in Carol and Brandy’s direction. But looking through the message boards, it seems like quite a few viewers share Caite’s view of the girlfriends. My heart belongs to Team John Ford, but I have to say that I’m a slight fan of Carol and Brandy. Yes, they’re a bit hoity-toity, but if they’re only real crime is being mean to rude airheads. I say, that is a crime worth applauding! Plus, they’re pretty much the only team left in the Race who actually has any travel experience.

I suspect that the Detectives were playing up the hate to win over Brent and Caite. To the camera, they admitted that they were mostly just anxious about that travel experience: ”Everywhere we go, they speak a little bit of the language.” Really, it just looks like the Detectives are playing the Dating Models like puppets — they’ve got Caite all excited to ”U-Turn the BLEEP out of them.”

The Detectives are playing a smart game — we also saw Michael lend Steve some underwear. But they were caught in a Malaysian traffic jam on the way to the Buddhist Temple. That meant that the first two teams to start carrying incense sticks were Team BC and Team CB. Carol said, adorably: ”How are your eyebrows? They’re about to get singed.” Brandy said, even more adorably: ”Why do I always pick these physical tasks?” Come on, people, what’s not to love?

It was enjoyable how the two rival teams kept passing each other on the stairway without ever looking each other in the eye. Brandy was tired kept taking breaks, so Brent and Caite jumped ahead. When the two teams were about halfway finished, Michael and Louie finally arrived. ”The Daddy Cops are here!” said Caite. ” I wish God would turn on the air conditioning,” said Brent.

Michael managed to carry up three or four sticks at a time. Louie carried one and had some bad-sounding cough fits. ”Cardioman is back!” said Michael cheerfully. ”My cardio,” Louie explained, ”I don’t even want to talk about it.” That’s between you and your doctor, Admiral Mustache.

Several times at the Incense Stick temple, Caite yelled, ”We caught up to the lesbians!” She always makes the word ”lesbians” sound vaguely offensive. The God of Taxi Drivers clearly agrees with me, because karma was instantaneous: although Brent and Caite were the first team to leave the Temple, their cab driver took them to what looked like a dairy farm in the mountains. Caite: ”I think this is the wrong place.” Brent: ”We’re just gonna check and see.” Caite: ”Don’t freak out on me!” Meanwhile, Carol and Brandy surged ahead. Take that, Team Heterosexual!

Carol crushed a few dozen coconuts and finally found one with the bright-colored interior. Louie crushed exactly two coconuts before finding his own. Because the universe demands a balance, that left Caite to crush a few hundred coconuts. And by god, did she crush them. Die, coconuts, die! I’m officially amending my desert-island fantasy: instead of me and Jessica Alba fighting merman zombies with cricket bats, it’s me and Caite crushing coconuts on Brent’s concrete head.

Oh, I kid. As much as I’ve been poking fun at Team Superficial, they clearly possess a kind of idiot-savant genius for this race. After their enemies Brandy and Carol raced off for a second-place finish, and their friends/puppetmasters the Detectives zoomed off for third, Caite finally found a coconut with a neon interior. It was bright pink, the color of her soul. She looked positively serene setting her Hindu offering into the waves.

I keep saying that they’re going to be kicked off, but Caite and Brent keep on surprising us. I can’t really figure out what their secret is. They’re rude to the locals, they can barely speak English, and their teammate chemistry is pretty toxic. But somehow, they make it work. Not to get too heavy with the allusions, but the Dating Models bear a striking resemblance to the titular couple in Roman Polanski’s 1971 version of Macbeth.

Team Brothers vs. Team Bring-Your-Daughter-To-Work-Day
Steve raced one hell of a race. I had a sense of foreboding at the start of the episode, though, when we saw him and Allie enjoying a nice idyll (paid for by 7-Up) on the beach. It looked uncannily like Ben and Kate’s breakfast on the beach from Lost, which fans might recall marked the beginning of the worst story arc on that show.

I’ve given Steve most of the credit for the team’s success, so now I have to lay the blame squarely on his shoulders. He made a whole series of mistakes during last night’s episode, but if you could point to the one decision that really set him on the road to ruin, it was the choice to bow to peer pressure. He initially declared to Allie that they’d go for the Flagpole challenge, but he seemed to get anxious when he noticed that everyone else was heading to the Buddhist Temple. He told his cabbie to follow the Brothers.

I don’t have any feelings either way about the Brothers. Maybe it’s because we haven’t heard very much about them. We know that Jordan loves The Amazing Race, and we know that Jordan is the one with the bandanna, and that’s about it. They seem to me like consummate middle-of-the-pack racers, and sure enough, last night they got caught in a push-pull race-to-the-bottom with Steve and Allie.

When Steve and Allie decided to beat the traffic by walking, Jordan and Dan followed them. That left both teams struggling up the hillside, while the Detectives sped along. Steve had told their cabbie to follow them, which he did. Hooray! JorDaniel followed their cab on foot, which meant that both teams ended up in the wrong place. The Brothers tried to swoop Steve’s cabbie, but the cabbie was loyal.

Unfortunately, the cabbie also had no clue where he was going. And this led to Steve’s second crucial mistake of the day. He opted to make a break for the Flagpole challenge, despite Allie’s protestations. Turns out that Allie was right to be shrill: She couldn’t balance a flagpole to save her life. (In fairness, Steve didn’t seem to have much luck with it, either.) Daddy and Daughter then hopped into another taxi.

Jordan and Dan had a terrible night, too. We’ve seen before that the Brothers have a tendency to be a little bit too hasty, and that tendency was on full display last night. First, the Brothers sent their proclaimed ”Best Driver in Malaysia” away. Later, Jordan forgot to build the floating part of his miniature offering. Dan was upset: ”Read. The. Clue.” Jordan: ”I’m such an idiot.” Listen, the Models have pulled some boneheaded moves, too, but they at least seem to be getting marginally smarter week-to-week.

Despite some last-minute surges by their helpful taxi-man, Steve and Allie came in last. Steve claimed that being on the Race was more important to him than his World Series ring. He also made every woman in the audience cry when he noted of Allie, ”I still look at her as my five-year-old little girl.”

Viewers, I thought last night’s episode was one of the most exciting of the season. The Cowboys had a perfect game. The Detectives are laying the groundwork for some delicious underhanded shenanigans. There’s rivalry between Team BC and Team CB is set to explode at any moment. At this point, I think we’re shaping up for a Cowboys vs. Detectives finale, with Brandy and Carol as possible spoilers. But with only five teams left, I have to ponder: could Team Superficial actually win this thing? And if so, does that indicate that it is actually okay to judge a book by its cover?