In the Republic of China, the four teams perform at their best, but as the hippies overcome their delay and the speed bump, they drive Jen and Nate even crazier
Credit: Robert Voets

All right, all right, CBS: We admit it, we were wrong about there being no non-elimination rounds this season of The Amazing Race. You don’t have to rub it in our faces by doing two in three weeks. And why do you always cram them in at the end of the season? Do you figure we’re too invested at that point to get fed up and tune out? Thank goodness you don’t stall like this on every show. Around April, I’d hate for every third episode of CSI to be about the investigators checking their e-mail and boiling their tweezers.

This was an episode of hinky edits, even by Amazing Race standards. It started off with Rachel talking about how TK has rebuilt her self-confidence; she concluded by saying, ”With TK, I don’t have ears.” She doesn’t have ears? I replayed it again, thinking I misheard, but, yes, she said ”ears.” I can’t imagine what she could possibly have meant. Was it hippie-speak? I flipped through my back issues of Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic books but couldn’t find a reference. Perhaps she was quoting a Donovan lyric. Is ”hurdy-gurdy” slang for ”without ears”?

I assumed it was just the result of a sloppy Frankenbite (that’s when reality producers stitch together a quote out of many unrelated sentences). Maybe they were trying to have her say, ”With TK, I don’t have any fears,” which doesn’t make that much sense either, but hey, it was a non-elimination round — the producers are already on a vacation from caring! But I just shrugged and went on watching the show, not realizing that this was an early symptom of a weird-edit epidemic that would take over the episode.

The teams were headed to Osaka, Japan, from Mumbai. After double- and triple-checking with a ticket agent, TK and Rachel landed a 6:55 p.m. flight with two stops, while everyone else was on an 8:30 flight with one stop. From the moment that the flights took off, TK and Rachel vanished. Though we didn’t see them again until much later, there was repetitive talk of them: First we saw the other teams endlessly ask themselves, ”Where are they? Are they ahead of us? Are they behind us? We have no idea!” (And when TK-Rachel finally reappeared halfway through the show, we got the same thing from their perspective: ”Where are the other teams? Are they ahead of us? Are they behind us? We have no idea!”)

But I was frustrated that the producers never showed us what went wrong. Were their flights held up somewhere? Or did they mess up, concentrating on the earliest departure but not comparing arrival times? But if that was their error, the producers would have done what they normally do: show some sort of close-up shot comparing their arrival times and the other teams’, accompanied by a foreboding ”zing” sound effect. It was all a bit odd and, in light of everything else, a bit suspicious.

Meanwhile, Donald and Nicolas set their tone for the episode by constantly talking about how Donald was old and getting tired. And yet, weary though he may have been, he was still quick with a zinger, joking that backpack-carrying Nicolas was ”like a bitch for me, it’s perfect!” He may have been shuffling along at slow speeds like Tim Conway’s old-man character, but his personality still had the zing of a young Dorf. And I’m talking golf Dorf, not fishing Dorf.

When everyone landed in Osaka, we had another odd edit. As Ronald wondered aloud where TK and Rachel were (it was his turn), we suddenly saw an odd shot of a plane high in the air. But it was clearly a shot taken from another show. Or a movie, rather; it looked like it was on film, as opposed to the Race‘s videotape. It looked to me like TK and Rachel were actually running late because they were now in the film Air Force One. I suppose we should be happy that Bertram van Munster didn’t just toss a shot of a TIE fighter in there.

Then it was time for the roadblock, which involved playing cabbie: One teammate had to drive a couple to a destination five miles away without corralling someone to lead them. We had already heard Christina make the foreshadowing statement that she was happy she didn’t have to drive here, so it was inevitable (and fun) that she’d end up behind the wheel. I enjoyed Christina, Nicolas, and Jen’s frustrations driving (and I found myself reflexively quoting, ”Big Ben! Parliament!” from European Vacation as they all desperately tried to cross traffic), but I mostly found myself thinking about the Japanese couples hired to sit in the back seats. Were they actors? If so, what were they told about their roles? ”Here’s your motivation: You’ve been married for 27 years, and there’s a sadness that hangs over you both. The wife suspects the husband of infidelity, while the husband’s only ‘cheat’ is with the memory of his university sweetheart, whom he has not seen in years but is increasingly obsessed with. Or is it just that he is in love with the memory of his lost youth? Oh, and one more thing: a pinhead from a reality show is giving you a ride and barely knows how to drive. Action!”

Jen made quite an entrance into her cab. Why would someone who speaks of little else but ending a leg in first place begin a challenge by taking time out to admire herself in her cute little cabbie hat? Perhaps after being tortured by dogs, camels, and donkeys on the race, she was gleefully thinking, ”There’s no way the animals of the world will recognize me in this disguise!” I also enjoyed the cut to the put-off couple in the back of her car. Their expressions clearly said, ”You have brought great dishonor to reality TV.”

She and Christina finished the roadblock around the same time, while Nicolas, after attempting to take a shortcut, lost ground. And how did the producers aurally accentuate his defeat? By playing an incredibly predictable knockoff version of ”Turning Japanese,” which I believe they’ve used before when previous seasons have visited Japan. It made me wonder what foreign reality shows use as a go-to musical cue when they visit America. To be as patronizing as ”Turning Japanese,” it would have to be a tune called something like ”Americans Are Adorable When They Poop.”

There was a delightful moment after Jen finished: In the cab on the way to the detour, she was explaining her roadblock travails to Nate, who finally said, ”I’m sorry, it’s hard for me to pay attention when he’s driving….You know what I’m saying?” To which Jen just glared and said, ”No, I don’t.” By the way, for those of you keeping track at home, you should add ”cab drivers” to the big list of ”what distracts Nate.” If you’re ranking the list, I think for Nate cabbies should land somewhere below ”the smell of doughnuts” and above ”thinking about my best miniature-golf score.”

It was ironic that Nate was distracted by his cab driver, considering that it was Christina and Ronald’s driver who was the distracting one. He was wheezing like he was mid-coronary. There was a secondary race going on here: Which would explode first, the cabbie’s heart or Ronald’s hernia?

NEXT: Something smells off

The detour was ”Sense of Touch, or Sense of Smell.” ”Touch” involved making a small robot kick two soccer goals with a cell-phone controller, while for ”Smell,” teams had to find the one real flower in a store full of thousands of fake, odorless ones. (”Teams without a delicate sense of touch might wind up kicking themselves instead of goals,” said Phil. Tortured wordplay like this is the best evidence yet of why the writers’ strike needs to end.)

Nicolas-Donald were the only guys to go with the robots. Because who’s better with cutting-edge technology than a 69-year-old man? Yet they finally got it done, mostly because the other players kept making their Battlebots take dives. Really, with the defense they were playing, they might as well just have thrown a bunch of broken Tamagotchis onto the table and then wandered away.

Meanwhile, the other two teams went to the flowers. Nate and Jen predictably devolved into bickering, though they did finish first. As they dashed into their cab, Jen accused him of pushing her. He denied it, and the producers actually went to the videotape: I found the replay inconclusive, as it wasn’t clear whether he was just nudging her along or shoving her. But here’s what I did find conclusive: These two need to break up — now! I mean, holy frickin’ shnykees, this union is unholy. If they’re not stopped now, I fear he will propose, and she will fly into a rage, snapping at him for trying to break her finger by putting that ring thing on it.

After Jen had found the flower, there was a clip from a post-leg interview in which she sunnily talked about how sniffing all those flowers was like being in a Pink Floyd video. Considering how upbeat she and Nate were, I thought for sure that they’d won the leg. After all, if they’d squandered yet another lead, there was no way she would be able to tamp down her rage enough to seem that happy. And yet, surprisingly, it was Christina and Ronald who finished first, earning themselves the weirdest prize ever: ”an electric vehicle that seats four.” And more oddly, this prize was clearly dubbed in later. Not only did Phil’s voice sound different, but we never even saw his mouth move. In the one shot of him talking about this vague ”electric vehicle,” his head was entirely blocked by Ronald’s. I found this completely mysterious, especially because he not only refused to specify a brand of car, but he didn’t even specify what kind of vehicle it was. Don’t ask questions: It’s a vehicle, and it has a plug. Now get off my mat. I think Ronald and Christina are getting a toaster with four wheels nailed on.

And then things got even weirder. Nate and Jen jogged into the pit stop, looking irritated, during the daytime. We cut to Phil watching them approach, in daytime. But then he started to talk, and as he did, we cut back to Nate and Jen, and behind them it was dusk. Then back to Phil, and it was dusk there, too. I replayed it to make sure I wasn’t crazy, but sure enough, in the first shot of Nate-Jen, there was an unlit Ferris wheel behind them; in the second shot, the lights were on.

Even weirder, in the daytime shot of Nate and Jen, they looked peeved, but in the dusk shot, they actually looked far calmer. What was going on here? Were they called back later for reshoots? And if so, why? In the second shot, where they didn’t look unhappy at all, Phil asked them, ”You guys are bummed right now, right?” It was like he was reminding them to be their usual pissed selves. Had something happened in between to cheer them up? Were they given an electric vehicle, too? It felt as if the show were edited by the guy who did the Watergate tapes.

As I tried to wrap my mind around this, the emotional coda of TK and Rachel’s truncated and tardy leg began. They were more than three hours behind, and we saw them leisurely breeze through all the challenges (poor cleaning man and cab couple, forced to wait hours for them to show up), all the while talking about how much they cared for each other. It had all the hallmarks of a let’s bid adieu to this loving couple montage, and yet after all that, it ended up being non-elimination. Why were we given this farewell tour with them if they were sticking around? This episode raised far more questions than it answered, and damn it, I want answers. Electric answers.

What did you think? Post below!

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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