”The Amazing Race”: Suddenly, everything changes
It was appropriate that this episode of The Amazing Race aired on the last night of Passover: During this holiday, Jews sing a song called ”Dayenu,” which translates to ”It would have been enough.” The words are all about how God went beyond the call of duty every step of the way in helping the ancient Hebrews escape from Egypt. To paraphrase: Had he just helped free them from slavery, dayenu. What’s that? You say he also parted the Red Sea? Well that is too generous: Dayenu. Whoa, are you telling me that even after that he fed us with manna? Dayenu! Please, you’re embarrassing us! Etc., etc.
And last night, just one week after I was bemoaning the predictability of this season, everything that had once been repetitive suddenly flipped. Winners became losers, old people acted young, Phil asked more than one question at the finish line. After every new switcheroo, I said, ”Dayenu,” content with one moment of unpredictability in the series. And then another one followed. Please, reality-TV gods, you’re spoiling me! Dayenu!
Let’s go down the list. First came the floundering of the frat guys. From the beginning of the episode, the cocky duo bragged of the approach that had them always coming in first: ”We work harder, we run faster, we get directions better.” How do you do that last one, exactly? Use a solid-gold road map? Cup both ears toward locals who are guiding you instead of just one? Shout ”Where is the highway?” in an even more cartoonish fake-European accent, no matter what the country?
The boys’ navigating skill went to crap this week, though. They got lost twice, trying to drop off their camel after the detour and taking a shortcut to the pit stop. They were humbled long before they arrived in second to last place with nary a wisecrack for Phil. I knew things had changed when they went through an entire camel challenge without once giggling over the word ”hump.”
If this episode had just been about the frat guys learning a little modesty, dayenu. But then there was Ray and Yolanda, who up until this week had been so bland and affectless. Turns out, however, that not only do they have personalities, but they’re completely antithetical to each other’s. Whee!
In the contest for most disagreeable romantic partner on the race, Lake came out of the starting gate loud and obnoxious, while the crafty Ray just hung back, waiting for his opponent to burn himself out. Now that Lake has been bounced, Ray seized his opening with an aggressively passive-aggressive assault on Yolanda that would have had Lake handing over his BDSM wallet restraint out of respect.
Look, I can see how participating in this show would make somebody cranky. Ask anyone who’s traveled with me: I get it. But Ray got himself cranked into a permanent fester, his face frozen into a thousand-yard glare that warned that at any moment he could snap and throw Yolanda off a wonder of the world. What set him off was her not treating him like a ”grown man.” And he sure proved her wrong by giving her the finger behind her back! But if he truly wanted to assert his maturity, why not do it more concisely by standing next to her wearing a T-shirt that says, ”I’m With Stupid”? Subtle and 100 percent cotton.
So if the episode had just been about the frat guys learning modesty and Ray and Yolanda emerging as a surprise hot zone of mutual loathing, dayenu. But wait — what about Mojo?
On the surface, it looked like everything stayed the same with them: They finished in the middle of the pack, Monica went from upbeat and giggly into hiccupy panic as soon as an obstacle appeared, Joseph got irritated with her pessimism. But what made it all worthwhile was their futile surety that this time they could overcome their recurring fate.
”When other teams have better luck, it drives us nuts,” said Monica. Added Joseph, ”Maybe that’s a sign that we should rely on our own destiny.” So what was their game plan? To stop counting on luck and start putting all their eggs in the ”fate” basket? This was like a gambler saying, ”I’m through tossing away all my money on slot machines! I’m going to start investing in lottery tickets.”
At the end of the leg, thrilled that they might finally break out of their also-ran status and land in first, Monica and Joseph got lost on the way to the pit stop, winding up in second. The dejected looks on their faces said, ”Damn you, fate! You’re no better than luck.” In their 12-hour stopover, I’ll bet they huddled up and came up with a strategy that couldn’t possibly fail: When it comes time to decide, always flip a coin.
So if the episode had been just about the modest frat guys, the seething Ray and Yolanda, and the Beckettian hopelessness of Mojo, dayenu. Oh, but here come the hippies.
Even far behind, they seemed unflappable and unstoppable. They started in last place, but the fact that the first clue box was at a giant incense-burner-shaped tower seemed an omen that this would be their leg: Incense is to hippies as spinach is to Popeye. Sure enough, no matter what setback was thrown in their way this week — missing the shuttle bus, getting the silent treatment from the other teams when arriving at the airport, getting on a later flight — they kept catching up to the pack, until they were back in first place on the way up to the hole-digging roadblock.
This whole race, it has been impossible to dampen the hippies’ spirits. Even this episode, when they were far behind everyone else, BJ was joking around with a spot-on Lake impression that lacked only a motion-sickness patch. And when they were crossing a muddy flooded road in trucks with everyone else, Tyler giddily shouted, ”Is this the most awesome chocolate surprise you’ve ever had?” Yes, it means something entirely different in prison, but here it stood for pure exuberance. But once BJ was plunged into 90-degree heat and told to dig for lamb, happy time shockingly ended.
As team after team found the hidden food and moved on, the struggling BJ became grouchy, moaning to Tyler, ”I had to dig for food, I had to dig for gnomes, you get to bungee jump and go swimming.” I like the hippies, and hate to see them eliminated (which is why I was actually thankful this was a non-elimination round and so they got a reprieve), but it was fascinating to see what it takes to get them grumpy. We all learned a fascinating lesson: The sun is hippies’ kryptonite. It makes sense when you think about it: It rained all during Woodstock, and that only made them stronger. And come on, why do you think they like black lights so much?
Okay, with the crushed fratters, the fuming Ray, the hopeless Mojo, and the melting hippies, that’s a definite dayenu. But no. Then came the biggest Passover miracle of all: Fran and Barry came in first.
I know, it didn’t seem right to me either. Even my computer tried to reject it when I just typed it. The spell-check dinged and brought up a warning box that read, ”Did you mean to write ‘Fran and Barry drove into the ocean’?”
At the beginning of the episode, Barry declared, ”We’re through being the genial grandparents,” which is what every older couple always says, and within ten minutes they’re wheezing on a park bench, skimming their phrase books for how to say, ”Does anyone have a Rascal scooter I can borrow?” in the local tongue. But slowly and steadily, with no broken car windows this time, they overtook everyone and hit the mat first. Was it Barry’s floodlike sweating that helped grease their path?
However Fran and Barry did it, they earned their prize from Phil: a trip to Rome that — wondrously — was handed over without a single plug for The Da Vinci Code. Dayenu, indeed.
What do you think? Which switcheroo was the most shocking? Were you also hoping the hippies would benefit from a non-elimination round? And have you changed your pick for the likely winner?