On ''The Amazing Race,'' teams showed a remarkable lack of respect for the clues, the dictionary -- and each other

By Josh Wolk
Updated February 26, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Amazing Race: Robert Voets/CBS

The Amazing Race: All-Stars

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”The Amazing Race”: Inter-team bickering begins

Remember back in the first season of The Amazing Race, when a nation fell head over heels for Kevin and Drew and their tough-guy bickering? They quarreled around the world and were deemed lovable New Yawk lugs. But now an unappealing truth has been laid bare: A lovable lug is just one bum leg away from a crotchety senior citizen bitching at a waitress because his early-bird tuna salad arrived on wheat instead of white.

We began the episode with Drew hooked up to an oxygen tank. I wondered what was wrong — perhaps he’d broken his hip when he fell out of the car last week. Or maybe it was another illness common in 93-year-olds: the gout, or the vapors, or maybe his prostate just exploded. It turned out to be altitude sickness, but it set the tone for an episode in which he moved only slightly faster than George Burns. George Burns now.

The rest of the teams, however, were full of energy, and it showed: This episode finally captured the frantic spirit that has been missing in the past few seasons. It could be the fact that we already know all the players, so we can skip the early weeks of going, ”Wait, who’s that guy? And is she the same lady who fell off the camel?” There was little doubt that, say, Mirna would eventually panic and alienate every other team. And, by gum, here she was, doing it by the second episode — but I’ll get to that later.

One thing is for certain: Rob and Amber are firmly in control of this game. I’m sure that once again the pro- and anti-Romber forces will be fighting for the message board’s soul, but I’ll say it for what I know won’t be the last time: Who cares if they’ve already won a million dollars — Romber deserve to be here, and they deserve to be winning. Why? Because they play the best game. The NFL doesn’t forbid quarterbacks who’ve won a Super Bowl from playing football ever again, do they? You may hate and resent Romber, but you know what you get when you have reality TV without anyone to detest? You get the first season of Big Brother. And unless you respond to that by exclaiming, ”But I miss Curtis, Josh, Brit, and the gang!” then trust me, I’m right. And if that was your response, well, then you must be Curtis, Josh, Brit, and the gang, because there’s no other explanation.

(Romber is fallible, however. Did you notice how the episode very carefully showed Rob being nixed after begging flight attendants to bring a plane back to the gate for him? I guess the producers want to nip any conspiracy theories in the bud this year. I’m surprised the show didn’t immediately cut to Bertram van Munster saying, ”All right, fans? Do you believe me now that I don’t pick favorites?”)

I expected to see the other teams immediately take a dislike to Rob and Amber, but I never imagined that all the duos would turn against each other so readily, too. A grumpy Drew moved David’s backpack because he thought it wasn’t fair for it to be in first class. (Perhaps Drew was extra irritable after his hemorrhoid doughnut popped on the last flight. Or maybe he had just found out the beverage cart didn’t serve Maalox.) The usually taciturn David fought back, saying something that sounded like, ”dadblamscramdiggitydoocottonpickenbaldy!” and then returned to his alliance with Mirna and Schmirna. Boy, he and Mary sure have a knack for hitching their wagon to the wrong horse, don’t they? No strategic masterminds, those two: When Mary solved the boardroom word scramble first, she undermined her cleverness by announcing it loudly to the security guard so that Kevin — who had gotten it wrong — overheard and changed his answer. I have a feeling playing Monopoly with them goes something like this: ”Park Place? Well, no thank you very much, big spender, I got my eyes on Baltic Avenue, and ain’t nothin’ gonna pry them off.”

The hopeless Mirna and Schmirna-David and Mary alliance quickly hit the skids when the cousins passed the coalminer and his wife on the road. You could tell Mary had had enough when she vowed to go it alone and not count on partners. Mary? Go it alone? I thought for sure that even if she and David found themselves stranded, she would have made a blood pact with one of the giant piles of dirt at the copper mine.

Meanwhile, Rob was alienating the other teams — though it’s all just part of his plan to stir the pot. (Or ”stuh the pawt,” as he put it.) He picked a fight with Eric over a ticket-agent line, and you could tell he was doing an all-star job of being a jerk, because he even irritated Amber. Rob wasn’t pleased that his wife chastised him in public. ”There’s a method to the madness,” he told her. ”There always is, babe.” And that method apparently is ”be a dick”… which isn’t so much a method as a pathology, but let’s not split hairs.

As I mentioned last week, the most fascinating thing about All-Stars is how little the teams have learned from past seasons. Not reading directions carefully is a rookie mistake, but with this group of racers, there’s no reason old hands can’t make it too. In the roadblock, Joyce and Eric couldn’t grasp that they were trying to unscramble a word in the room. They ran to the security guard with their answers: the words ”aquarium” and ”planetarium.” (And Joyce misspelled it ”planitarium,” I might add, which was wrong on so many levels that it nearly made it right.) Not only did this boardroom have neither an aquarium nor a planetarium, but both answers had precious few letters in common with the correct answer, ”Chuquicamata.” Searching for something nice to say about them, I can come up with only this: At least they knew which end of the pen to use.

(I did enjoy watching Uchenna try to push his anger at Joyce’s slowness deep, deep down inside after she finally finished. He wore a weak smile when she said, ”I’m usually good at details,” but you could actually hear him digest his own stomach lining with rage.)

The teams seemed to grow more careless as the race got more tense. Team Guido forgot to have both members operate the backhoe, Mary put half her tire washers on backward, and Kevin and Drew kept driving 40 km/h even when they were on the highway and could have sped up. Charla and Mirna, on the other hand, followed the clues literally, but went against the unspoken rule: Don’t be crazy.

From the copper mine on, it was complete chaos with the cousins, whether it was Charla screeching that she needed a stepstool or Mirna balanced on Charla’s shoulders. But their prime moment came when an unhinged Mirna tried to force all her money on a confused taxi driver she’d hired to lead them, while demanding that the beauty queens either split the tab or leave her alone. . .and it was all done in an unplaceable accent that is the Mirna equivalent of Esperanto. ”Take all our money, we don’t eat tomorrow,” she pleaded, pushing her entire fanny pack at the cab driver. I was expecting her to hand over her keys and say, ”Take car, too, we stay here, just make sure car sees glory of pit stop.”

The beauty queens were rightly confused by this behavior, as all they had been doing to earn the cousins’ ire was sensibly suggesting they all get the driver to draw them a map. Reflecting on this later, when time should have offered perspective, Charla said, ”Beauty is sometimes skin deep; it’s easy to make yourself beautiful with plastic surgery. But to have a pure heart, and to have morals, is not easy to make up.” Wow, pretty strong words from someone who seemed moments away from selling herself into slavery in exchange for good directions.

In the end, after many wrong turns that made it look like the straggling teams were fighting to be in last place, it was the beaten Kevin and Drew who were eliminated. Poor Kevin did everything he could to carry his decrepit friend, including physically yanking their car out of the mud, but it just wasn’t enough. When Drew wandered away from the mat, refusing to entertain Phil’s desire for a goodbye chat, all he lacked was a ”Poor you” for Kevin and he would have been the spitting image of Livia Soprano. But that’s All-Stars for you: They go crazier than the average contestant when they’re racing, and when they fall apart, they go all the way.

What do you think? Will Charla and Mirna find common ground with the beauty queens? Who’s up next for a David and Mary alliance? And will the teams stop making mistakes and get into an All-Star groove?

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The Amazing Race: All-Stars

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