On ''The Amazing Race,'' there were a surprising lack of thrills at the kung fu roadblock and the detour -- but at least the Roaming Gnome got some action

By Josh Wolk
Updated April 16, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Amazing Race: Robert Voets/CBS

The Amazing Race: All-Stars

  • TV Show

”The Amazing Race”: Kung fu fighting

Amazing Race fans didn’t get an elimination. They didn’t get exciting challenges. They didn’t get much suspense. So who did get something out of this hour of mediocre TV? Travelocity, which had more plugs than Nicolas Cage. (What? I’m talking about his large power-strip collection! You didn’t think I was talking about his hair, did you? For shame!)

With all the Travelocity Gnome product placement and general sucking up (oooh, Danny and Oswald won Travelocity’s biggest…prize…ever! Two times the room service! And warm nuts on the plane! Oh, the warmth! Oh, the nuts!), I began to wonder if the producers were becoming a little desperate about their few commercial tie-ins and were going overboard just to make sure the travel company sticks around. Other than Travelocity, AR doesn’t seem to have any marketing deals. There have been a few recent legs when the winners have gotten, say, a motor scooter. No brand name, just ”You’ve won a motor scooter,” and then everyone stands there at the mat awkwardly, as if Phil had just handed them an old broken scooter he found in Bertram van Munster’s basement. If Mark Burnett — the master of cross-promotion — were running this show, every racer’s backpack would be so swaddled in logos they’d look like NASCAR vehicles. Hell, Burnett would find a way to put brand names on the local currency; you’d have racers begging at foreign-exchange desks: ”Please, sir, I need to trade my South African Taco Bell Think Outside the Bun rands for Indian Budweiser King of Beers rupees!”

The lack of promotional partners was doubly noticeable in this week’s ”movie stunt” fast-forward. Phil said that Danny and Oswald would be taking part in a ”real movie stunt!” Isn’t a real movie stunt done for a real movie? I’ve seen a lot of really cheap, crappy action movies in my day, but I’ve never seen one where a car is actually driving around cones. Was this a new Vin Diesel movie set in the high-stakes world of driver’s ed? About six years ago, the Road Rules/Real World Challenge had teams compete by Rollerblading on the set of the remake of Rollerball. Sure, that movie sucked, but at least it was real. All the Amazing Race producers could wrangle was a souped-up minivan, one camera on a tripod, and a fire extinguisher. That is one minivan more than a porn shoot in somebody’s basement.

So the van rolled over, Danny and Oswald shrieked, and then they were all fine. The producers tried to build in some ”are they all right?” suspense, but it was a stunt, for God’s sake. Clearly everyone was going to be all right; the AR people wouldn’t have set this up if there were only a 60 percent chance that a team wouldn’t die. It was anticlimactic, just like the other challenges.

What was it about Hong Kong that sucked all the creativity out of the challenge creators? Perhaps it’s their very narrow view of the city, as evidenced by Phil’s explanation of the detour: ”These are two things that most people associate with Hong Kong: kung fu fighting…and lost in translation.” By ”most people,” does he mean people who don’t know anything about the outside world other than what they see on Flix? Or does he mean people who can’t tell the difference between China and Japan? (Lost in Translation was set in Tokyo.) I guess we should just be happy that the detour wasn’t ”Hong Kong Phooey…or loud gong sound effect.”

What was the point of the kung fu challenge? When climbing the scaffolding, they were in about as much danger from the gymnastic ninjas as Danny and Oswald were in that car. Now, had the flying kung fu masters actually been trying to knock them off, that would have been something. But this was just like trying to climb a ladder during a performance of Stomp.

And the roadblock: kicking down doors? Really? That’s the best they could come up with in Hong Kong? Did the challenge producer have food poisoning this week and hand his duties over to Chip, the low-bar intern? Chip better not get college credit for door kicking.

The only real excitement that came in this episode was from the airport shenanigans in Kuala Lumpur. Danny and Oswald truly outsmarted everyone else with their behind-the-scenes maneuvering at the airline offices. And they did so with Team Schmirna by their side. I tried to look at Schmirna objectively this week: They are crafty, and they do remain in good spirits when on the run. But when Danny and Oswald have fun on challenges, we all cheer them on as perfect specimens of racers. When they outsmart the other teams, we say, ”Good for them!” When Schmirna act chipper and resourceful, we want a ninja to kick them off an 11-story scaffold.

I guess it’s because Danny and Oswald are consistent, whereas Mirna and Charla are utter hypocrites. At the beginning of the episode, they tsk-tsked the beauty queens’ use of the yield on Danielle and Eric. ”There’s really no reason to resort to dirty play,” said Mirna. It’s not dirty play — it’s a rule set in place by the creators of the game. It’s not like they took the yield sign and slashed Eric’s tires with it.

But then, after all their smug dissing of the blondies — including trying to ally everyone against them — Schmirna acted just as questionably. Trying to use Danny and Oswald’s standby status to vault in front of the BQs? Had they not just inveighed against questionable play, it would have been a shrewd, sneaky move. But if you choose to take the high road, you better stay in your own car. Or at least ride on your own Heelys. (This crappy aphorism brought to you by Writing This Column at 12:41 a.m.!)

Ultimately, just as last week there was no suspense because it was so obvious that Uchenna and Joyce were going to be bounced, this week there was no tension because I knew we were due for a non-elimination. Plus, Eric and Danielle were so far back that there was no chance anyone else would end up in last place. With just two episodes left, things should get back to the excitement of a few weeks ago. Otherwise, I’d recommend a new sponsor for The Amazing Race: NoDoz.

What do you think? Why was this episode such a snooze? Are Schmirna talking the high-road talk but not walking the walk? And how sick are you of the Gnome?

The Amazing Race: All-Stars

  • TV Show
  • In Season