A season that had so far been promising slows to a halt when the obviously losing team obviously loses

By Josh Wolk
November 26, 2007 at 10:57 PM EST
Robert Voets
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After the first two episodes, I thought that this might be The Amazing Race‘s best season yet. But judging by the last two episodes, it seems that — as hard as it is to believe — sometimes having half-naked geriatric pole vaulters and deranged, compulsive fathers isn’t enough to guarantee a good time. Last episode was anticlimactic, but this week’s was even worse. As hot as it may have been in Africa, the players were probably sweating less than the producers were as they tried to contort this unbalanced leg into drama. It was perversely appropriate that we on the East Coast had to wait nearly a full hour for a show that was in itself an hour-long buildup to nothing.

I normally go through the show chronologically, but this week it seems like I’d be repeating the show’s own mistake in doing so. Why should I make people who didn’t see the show read through an entire article just to reveal the most obvious elimination ever? So here it is: After starting 90 minutes behind the next to last team, Jason and Lorena lost the leg. To sum up: The team with an insurmountable deficit did not surmount their deficit. And — and! — there was 20 minutes of false suspense before that completely predictable result was revealed. Talk about your non-twists: Imagine if in The Crying Game, it turned out that Jaye Davidson’s character was just a woman who had a roll of quarters in her front pocket because she was off to the laundry.

I get it: The producers have to make every episode exciting. So if there’s an entirely predictable outcome, they have to do what they can to give the hour some drama. But there’s a tipping point: The retroactive anger I feel at knowing that I’ve been bamboozled for 20 minutes far outweighs any enjoyment I had for those 20 minutes. If I may force upon you another labored analogy, it was as if, after I finished a delicious meal, the waiter came up to inform me that the chef had ground up a package of laxatives into the sauce. I guarantee you that I would instantly forget how tasty that food had been.

After that introductory grumbling, I should cover what happened before the rage set in. It started on an odd note, when the first-place Azaria noted that his sister Hendekea had some ”physical limitations.” She snorted and said, ”Like I’m a [blank] or something.” The blank was bleeped out, but it sure looked like she had said ”retard.” It was tough to tell because CBS also clouded out her mouth. If that is true (and I played it back many times and always came to the same conclusion), it made me wonder: I know reality-TV contestants shouldn’t say ”retard” on television, but I didn’t know they couldn’t. Is CBS still so scarred by their mammoth Janet Jackson Super Bowl fine that they think that ”retard” is the bare, nipple-clamped breast of the insult world?

The first task for the teams was to go visit a tribal chief and capture and take a chicken with them. While most everyone nervously dithered around his or her chicken, Donald, who last week mentioned that he’d had farm experience, snapped one up and tossed it in his bag as effortlessly as if it were a copy ofCelebrity Skin off of a 7-Eleven rack. That was hardly the end of his talents. Later, at the detour, he opted to pan for gold because ”I’ve done a little bit of mining through my extra years.” He was a farmhand and a prospector? I am dying to see his résumé. Where do his skills end? The detour was a choice between prospecting and dancing, and I’m surprised Donald chose the gold, because I think from the years 1962 to 1965, he was a Rockette.

Many of the other teams picked the dancing challenge over the gold. For this, they had to mimic the local tribal dancers (who were dressed like extras from an old Sid and Marty Krofft special) and then face a panel of three judges. It took until the last team — Jason and Lorena — before anyone made the obviousAmerican Idol reference. The judges were tough and fickle, dismissing many of the teams as ”lacking creativity,” which is apparently the Burkina Faso dancing equivalent of ”being pitchy, dawg.”

If you didn’t succeed with the judges, you got a ten-minute penalty, which didn’t seem that tragic. While Donald and Nicolas appeared to breeze through the mining challenge, it still looked like it would take anyone more than ten minutes. So if you just leaped into the dancing Thunderdome, tanked it, and then sat down for ten minutes, you’d still be ahead of any miners. I’m not sure why Jennifer was so addled when they got their penalty. Although I guess that was a matter of personal pride: Turns out Jen was a dancer for the L.A. Clippers. I’m not sure if I’d want her as a cheerleader, frankly. I picture her storming onto the court during a losing game and tapping out a guard while muttering, ”If you’re not man enough to win this thing, I guess I’ll have to.”

And then came the introduction of the U-turn, which I assume has supplanted the yield as the show twist most likely to have teams getting on their high horse about not using it. While using a yield on another team made them have to wait until an hourglass ran out, a U-turn makes them return to the previous detour and do the task they didn’t choose. Nobody opted for it this time except the blondes; running third to last, they chose Jason and Lorena. Shana said she thought she saw them close behind, so it was wise to build up some more distance. At first I thought she’d just picked the wrong people, as it was TK and Rachel who were right behind them, and I assume Jason and Lorena were quite a way back. But either way, her partner, Jen, didn’t seem convinced they should have used it at all, citing the ”karma’s a bitch” axiom proved by Ari and Staella on the first episode. TK didn’t approve either, disapprovingly shaking his dreads and saying that it put a target on the blondes’ backs. Well, it can’t be any bigger target than the producers have already put on them by editing in comments like one blonde saying, ”That’s a really good picture of us,” after sticking their ID up on the U-turn sign.

As with past seasons’ yields, I don’t understand all the tut-tutting that comes with someone using the U-turn. It’s a part of the game, right? It’s not like they clocked Jason and Lorena on the heads with a tire iron to knock them out for a half hour. Getting pissy about this is the equivalent of Survivor jury members browbeating the two finalists for ”not playing an honest game.” Dishonesty is the game, much as is using a U-turn that the producers took the time to make a pretty yellow and red sign for.

For everyone but Jason and Lorena, it was off to the roadblock, which involved loading up a bike and delivering an eclectic collection of goods (including a goat) to a market. A couple of people apologized to their goats for having to strap them into a bike, although said goats were probably being brought to the slaughter. That’s like a warden profusely apologizing to a prisoner for cinching the straps to the electric chair too tightly.

NEXT: Life lessons

This challenge was toughest for two people, Vyxsin and, once again, Jen. Vyxsin was not only having trouble with the bike but was also profoundly affected by the poverty she’d been seeing in Africa. (Her tears earned her theRace‘s traditional sad-piano accompaniment.) I mocked the Goths at first, but they are turning out to be one of the sturdiest and most rootable teams out there. And I marvel at the resilience of their makeup: If it can survive the African heat without dripping into their fishnets, then hats off to it. Or if not a hat, then whatever headwear Goths wear. Berets? Viking helmets? Pink colanders? I’ll have to check Wikipedia.

Jen, on the other hand, showed she hasn’t lost her way with a superlative by proclaiming the market task ”the worst culture shock ever because I don’t speak a word of French.” When it was all over, Nate tried to hug her in the cab for a job well done, and she flinched. ”I can’t touch,” she said, waving him away, and then acquiesced slightly, saying, ”No, touch me. I’m so hot.” The more I see of them, the more I wonder whether Bertram van Munster hired Edward Albee to punch up their dialogue. Every time I think of the two of them in a bedroom, I get a chill that makes me long for the warming glow of dry ice. Nate always looks terrified of Jan. When they reached the mat, and just missed first place to Azaria and Hendekea, Jen was clearly enraged, and I saw Nate give her a nervous look that read to me as ”Please don’t put me in the cage.”

And speaking of that close call at the finish line, wasn’t it Jen who turned down the U-turn by saying, ”We’re gonna win this race like frickin’ men”? And yet, when dashing for the mat, she yelled to the siblings to take a fall: ”Come on, you guys, you got first three times!” So which frickin’ men was she referring to earlier, the Chicago Black Sox? How dare she mope on the mat about how ”I feel like everybody should get their time, and they’ve already had their time two times before this.” It’s a race! And anyway, I’ve never really understood anyone’s obsession with landing in first for any leg other than the last. You’re still in the game — isn’t that what’s important? So you don’t get a three-wheeled ATV: Take the bus to Clipper practice!

All of this was interspersed with shots of Jason and Lorena optimistically talking about how they were still in it, until the moment came when they were not in it at all. For all of my complaining about this anticlimax, I do have to say that it was appropriate that it happened to Jason. At the end, after Lorena said the Race taught her not to be so anxious to get married, a clearly relieved Jason began a convoluted explanation about how not being married was better. He went around in circles, preaching how ”there’s a confinement to marriage that you can’t have when you’re both free.” I’ve never seen anyone work so hard to rationalize being terrified of getting hitched. It was clear that for all his talk about an epiphany that being unmarried is a ”deeper love,” eventually Lorena was going to lose patience again, and he was going to be just as gun-shy, and all the reality shows in the world weren’t going to help him. Utterly predictable, which made it the perfect end to this episode.

What do you think?

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Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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