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''The Amazing Race'': Rough waters

On ”The Amazing Race,” the teams all freak out during a seemingly simple rowing challenge

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The Amazing Race
Tom and Terry: Robert Voets/CBS

The Amazing Race

TV Show
Reality TV
run date:
Phil Keoghan
Jerry Bruckheimer
Current Status:
In Season

”The Amazing Race”: Rough waters

When the Amazing Race producers sat down to plan this year’s challenges, I’ll bet they never thought that rowing in Vietnam would be the most difficult. After all, Vietnamese rowing is no different from American rowing. It’s not like you sit on the underside of the boat or have to maneuver three oars. No: You sit in a seat, hold two oars, and then row. And yet, thanks to eight teams, none of which spoke the universal language of rowing a frigging boat, we viewers were witness to a harrowing ordeal that felt like watching an Iron Man triathlon… except instead of swimming, biking, and running, the three events were rowing a boat, pulling baskets out of the water, and crying.

The gripping episode started lightheartedly enough: I got a couple of cheap laughs hearing people repeating the words dong and junk. When one beauty queen uttered the phrase ”We’re here to pick up our dong,” followed by her friend saying that the game got their ”competitive juices flowing,” I had to check my cable box to make sure I was watching CBS and not the Spice Channel. I was half-expecting to suddenly see the testi-Phils break out of their khaki prison.

And then things got hard fast. (Hey, now I’m doing it!) It started with a brilliant challenge in which the teams had to try to direct cabdrivers with directions they could only hear and not read. Considering that Rob is the kind of guy who loses his mind when his shoelace gets untied, it’s no surprise that he nearly had a hemorrhage when not one but two cabdrivers took him to the wrong place. ”Dude, I don’t speak your language, dude!” he shouted at one of them. With that double-dudeing, I would caution Rob that he’s not exactly doing that well at English either.

Mary took a different approach, killing her cabdriver with kindness. ”I like you!” she squealed, giving him a hug. It was interesting that the producers subtitle her, too, as if she’s just as unintelligible as those speaking foreign languages. It’s also interesting that Mary seems to be nice to everyone in the world except her own husband, who does everything to make her happy. I had a horrible vision of them someday getting mugged by gunmen; after David leaps in front of a bullet to save her, Mary responds by stepping over his dying body to hug the killers, saying, ”I done never met any real-life criminals before. You guys are so cute in your little ol’ ski masks! Gimme a squeeze and DAMMIT, DAVID, DON’T YOU BLEED ON MY DINGDANG SHOES OR I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO BLEED ABOUT!”

From the cabs it was off to an island to tie everyone to the show’s favorite torture contraption, the ascender. It mixes the fear of plunging 90 feet to the ground with the fun of doing pull-ups. Why was Sarah elected to take on this Roadblock, anyhow? Her artificial leg was malfunctioning, so was that really the time to send her on what promised right in the clue to be a grueling mission?

Has anyone else noticed that Peter never gets to speak to the camera? Their team is all about Sarah’s journey, so we get to hear her confess that she’s annoyed by him, and even complain about him in a dual confessional, but we never get his take. And when they’re together, he just sits blankly with his arms crossed, staring ahead with his Aryan squint. I wonder whether he’s a real person, or an android built by Bertram Van Munster and programmed to be an insufferable prick so as to make Sarah’s Race physically AND emotionally demanding, thereby making it more satisfying for the viewer when Sarah kicks his robot ass to the curb by series end. Peter’s not a man, he’s the Dickbot 3000.

In any other episode, the players’ agonizing ascent would have been the standout challenge. But then came the rowboats. Who knew that a rowboat could ever be involved in anything exciting? Rowing is usually only a means to a more exciting end: You take a rowboat to get you from a dock to a sailboat, and only when you get on that vessel does the fun start. But nothing exciting ever happens on a wide, clunky rowboat; they’re the minivans of watercraft.

But apparently even the dullest vehicles can be made exciting if operated by the clueless and the panicky. Take Rob and Kimberly, who seem to have adopted the methods of their internecine squabbling from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like those two countries, their attitude is to always accuse the other one of being the crazy, unreasonable one. ”Don’t freak out on me!” Kimberly yelled, while clearly freaking out herself. It’s a brilliant tactic, as then it becomes excusable for you to act like a jerk because, hey, the other one started it, you’re only doing what you need to defend yourself.

Meanwhile, in the other boats, Tom and Terry could barely figure out which one was water and which was land; the beauty queens lost their pageant cool when voted Miss Windswept; the Dickbot 3000 — who had earlier been happily cheering on Sarah as she struggled with the ascender — was now threatening to quit (perhaps he was nervous that by nearly capsizing their boat, he almost shorted out his Persnickety chip); and Mary berated David as he tried to steer their boat even though it was both of their first times out on the water. (Mark off another first in the Kentuckians’ checklist. Frankly, other than ”sit on your ass and watch TV,” it’s hard to find anything that Mary has done before. Although I’m kind of hoping her next milestone is ”Wear a different shirt from your husband’s.”)

It was funny at first seeing them all struggle with the oars, but then it became hard to watch, especially Tom and Terry. Poor, poor Tom and Terry. They really are a fascinating new breed of gay reality-show contestant. We’ve seen the buff gym-rat gays before, as well as the bitchy, barb-tossing stylish homosexuals, but what to make of these guys? An editor of mine complained that he cringes to think that these two are the TV emissaries for homosexuals, but I’ll bet that right now there are a bunch of 75-year-old gay retired accountants who think they’re damn fine role models, thank you very much. Just last night they were probably sitting in front of their TVs saying, ”Thank God those two men are proving that balding, fretting homosexuals with brittle bones and the constitutions of asthmatic goats can compete, too! Go Tom and Terry, paddle that meshuggener boat!”

When the teams finally stumbled in, they looked like they’d just fought the Vietnam War, not rowed a Vietnam boat. (The egregious Rob and Kimberly came in first, winning jet skis. Refreshingly, no specific brand was mentioned, which means it wasn’t a plug. Had this been a Mark Burnett show, they would have all been riding Sea-Doos instead of rowboats and instead of screaming at each other, they’d be discussing the Sea-Doo’s great handling over sips of Sierra Mist.) Even the beauty queens lost their poise and began bickering, although in the end they remembered their training and wiped away their mascara and hugged each other. Maybe beauty queens can teach us something about world peace!

Tom and Terry came in last, and looked the worst for it, especially after Tom had to finally leap out of their rowboat and swim it in. Farewell, brave men. Be proud knowing that you never quit, you pushed yourselves to new limits, and that ultimately, you were bested by a boat that was only slightly more hip than you.

What do you think? Will you miss Tom and Terry? And who was really the one freaking out: Rob or Kimberly?