On this season of The Amazing Race, it seems that a Non-Elimination Leg mostly amounts to a one-leg extension. But that’s nothing against the quality of the teams who have been eliminated thus far or who haven’t been able to recover from being at the back of the pack… this has been a particularly hard group to pin down. For instance, I was surprised to realize that the Team Formerly Known as Attractive—aka Team SoCal—had never come in first before when they’ve been the closest to a frontrunner Season 26 has had. And then teams like Truck Stop and Medical, who you just keep thinking couldn’t possibly make it another leg… well, they just keep making it.
Begrudgingly, it was Hayley who best summed up the unforeseeable nature of the TAR experience: “It’s always nice when we’re back in business due to someone else’s errors.” You can only account for yourself, but when other teams have an effect on every single thing you do in the race, there’s no predicting where you’re going to end up. You just have to commit to the ride.
And what a crazy ride that is when the episode is two hours, set in Africa and it’s bring-your-pet-to-Pit-Stop day. The scenery in Namibia was outstanding and Hayley kept her passive aggressive comments to at a medium level (and her aggressive comments to a hushed roar), so other than watching a good team put themselves in a losing situation two different times, this was a very pleasant seventh and eighth leg of The Amazing Race. Well, you know, other than that small Double U-Turn issue, but we’ll get there.
The six remaining teams start out racing from Monaco to Windhoek, Namibia where they then have to take a bush plane to the desert. All of the teams are booked on the same flight, so the race really begins when they’re exiting the plane to race for spots on the departing bush planes. Team Medical end up last because “somebody wanted to be comfortable on the plane.” I imagine Blair sleeping in fetal position, rocking back and forth for the entire 20 hour flight to center himself for the second half of the race, and I do not blame him at all. I think I’m mostly rooting for Team Medical to win at this point because I’m so terrified for Blair of what Hayley will say to him if they’re ever eliminated. Hopefully there will be a hot pilot on hand to appease her then, as well.
Once the planes have dropped them, the teams grab a Ford utility vehicle and have to get themselves to a bushman village for the ROAD BLOCK: STICK AROUND. Along the way, they’re to pick up a salt lick—basically a brick of salt—and take it with them to the next destination. The Olympians arrive to the Road Block first and Aly decides to step up since they’ve been alternating road blocks, only to find that this is building challenge. It involves digging holes and assembling a traditional stick and straw hut, none of which Aly feels she’s particularly skilled in, and she doesn’t stop reminding Steve that he should have done this Road Block until the Road Block is done. And then a few more times after that.
Both Team Medical and Team SoCal didn’t see the salt licks along the way so they have to drive back and get them after arriving at the Road Block. But because Tyler apparently has a knack for hut building, they’re still the first to leave, driving toward the Ranger Headquarters to turn in their salt lick and receive the next clue for their DETOUR: TRACK or PACK. The first three teams to arrive—Team SoCal, the Hairdressers and the Lawyers—choose pack, where they have to carve up enough of a wildebeest to go and feed wild dogs. I really can’t see how this would be preferable to Track, where teams use telemetric trackers to track down a specific elephant, but it does seem to go faster. Also the wild puppies are very cute.
NEXT: Who knew elephants were this big?[pagebreak]
The Olympians and Team Medical have no choice but to Track and the main challenge seems to be controlling the transmitter’s antenna while reading it. Blair just chooses to hold them both while Hayley kind of looks over his shoulder, and Hayley gets annoyed because she feels like she’s not doing anything; but I imagine Blair knows he’ll be blamed if something goes wrong anyway, so he just prefers that it actually be his fault if it does. The Olympians have Steve hold the antenna while Aly reads the transmitter, but Aly keeps getting distracted by the wildlife. This entire hour is basically a countdown to Aly and Steve losing it on each other, but since Steve doesn’t seem to have a temperament above “slightly frustrated with myself, but still mostly chill,” it’s mostly just Aly getting annoyed with Steve.
And that moment comes with flying colors when they’re finally headed toward the Pit Stop—a 215 kilometer drive to Spitzkoppe—in second to last place and Aly tells Steve he’s getting too close to the edge of the road, and then almost immediately after he hits something that busts their tire. There’s not a lot of #sochilove going on at that point, but Steve still apologizes repeatedly and gets down to changing the tire. And even though some of the other teams get turned around, once Blair and Hayley passed them on the side of the road, it was a lost cause…
1: Hairdressers, who give an impressive performance scaling the side of a rock face that Laura was unwilling to climb to get to Phil first. And they’re each rewarded with $5,000!
2: Team SoCal: “She was looking for the stairs.” But they still won their third Date Night in a row.
3: Team Medical: Phil “Chris Harrison” Keoghan wants to know If Blair was jealous of Hayley’s crush on their handsome pilot, but he’s cool “anytime there can be something else to take the focus off of screaming at me.” I love Blair, and I love how comfortable Hayley seems to be with being called annoying.
4: Lawyers—Phil forces them to hug. I think it’s safe to say all love has been lost there.
5: Team Truck Stop: Felling “awesome, awesome, awesome” that they’re not last.
NOT ELIMINATED: Olympians!
Of course, this is a two-hour episode, and the first hour was surely going to be a non-elimination leg, so Aly and Steve live to race another day in the eighth leg of the race…
Where the teams remain in Namibia, this time exploring its German influences. They’re driven in their vehicles to Swakopmund Bookstore where they have to scour the German language newspapers to find their next clue. All of the teams find people to help them translate the clue and figure out they’re headed toward a skydiving facility which they assumes means their ROAD BLOCK will be skydiving, but when they get to AIRDROP, they realize they’re just running around the dessert with the Travelocity gnome. Lame.
In Airdrop, one person from each team heads out into the sandy desert while a plan drops their clue from overhead. They must track the clue and run get it from around a mile away, and then run back to a centrally located hill that’s housing a gnome for them to collect and keep up with. It’s not quite skydiving, but it is running around in the blazing sun, not sure what you’re looking for, all in the name of corporate sponsorship. Oh wait… that’s terrible. But the teams all do it, with Jelani totally smoking it, and Steve heading in the wrong direction for about a mile, only to have to track back to find the clue. But before he can even do that, the Olympians have to do that they have to complete their Speed Bump. Probably my favorite moment of the episode was Aly saying with a certain amount of disgust in her voice, “Why are there children?” (Don’t worry, she ends up having a positive experience with them, building Coke can toys with them and all that.)
NEXT: Never cross a hairdresser…[pagebreak]
The DETOUR options—WORK or PLAY—are about as strenuous as the Road Block was, because I guess that’s just how it goes in the Namibian desert. Oddly, most of the teams go for Work, but it probably ends up being the better choice; they have to attach five huge tires to the back of a truck and then drive up and down a road to smooth out the bumps in the road caused by loose sand. Luckily, this gives Laura an excellent excuse to comment on Tyler’s brute strength for a while… I’ve missed you early-episode Laura. Teams Medical and Truck Stop also go for Work and get through it pretty easily, even though Mike nearly died earlier trying to collect his Travelocity Gnome.
The Hairdressers and Olympians go for Play, but Ashley and Matt don’t find sand skiing a particularly playful affair. I think these two are kind of low-key impressive. They’re a little silly, and definitely too reminiscent of last season’s Wrestlers to get past, but they’re always willing to fight until the last second like Ashley does figuring out how to right herself every time she falls while trying to navigate the uphill skiing course. Aly and Steve obviously find it much less of a challenge, but that doesn’t matter much because…
Double U-Turn ahead: It seems that every team agreed ahead of time that, given the chance, they needed to U-Turn the Lawyers because they had the Express Pass—but the Hairdressers wanted to be the ones to lay down the blow. They’re still angry from when Jenny and Jelani left them in the dust for a cab when they had been racing on foot together. And as the first team to head toward the Pit Stop at Goanikontes Oasis, they get the opportunity for strategic payback. Team SoCal follows up right behind them and decides to go with eliminating who they deem to be the strongest competitors, the Olympians.
The Lawyers use their Express Pass to get through Play, but then have to do Work once they find out they’ve been U-Turned. And the poor Olympians, after racing to get even with the other teams for the entire leg, have to follow up Play with Work. But at least they get the clearly superior of all the Pit Stop animal choices, David the Camel, to lead them to Phil.
1: Team SoCal get their first number one finish with a little help from the very sassy Norah the Zebra.
2: Hairdressers, inching their way toward the top, accompanied by an antelope.
3: Team Medical, led by David the Camel and a solid will to get though anything no matter how much teeth-gritting it takes.
4: Lawyers, who think that Matt and Ashley U-Turned them because they’re intimidated by them.
5: Team Truck Stop—still here!
ELIMINATED: The Olympians
It’s sad to see the Olympians go, and it was nice to get to know them a little more in the last few episodes, but they were also the only team left that I didn’t feel a particular connection toward. The five remaining teams all have personality to spare, whether it’s sunny, funny, or just a little bit uptight.
With so few teams remaining, do you have the winners pegged? Have you found Season 26 as unpredictable as I have?