As the game heats up, we start to see Aja and Ty grate on each other's nerves, while the frat guys have their own problem

By Josh Wolk
October 20, 2008 at 04:41 AM EDT
Robert Voets/CBS
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The Amazing Race can’t always let a team’s mutual irritation flower slowly and organically. Sometimes it can’t fit a partnership’s growing animosity into the show until one week has some open space and — BAM! — they finally spring it on the audience: instant bickerers!

When this episode began, and the teams made their way to Auckland, we saw a tension between Aja and Ty that we hadn’t seen in previous episodes. Tension like this doesn’t just “begin,” it festers over a series of days; clearly this had been building for the past couple of episodes, we just never saw it. For example, let’s look at Aja’s quote “I swear, if you say ‘bit us in the butt’ one more time, I’m gonna jump off a cliff.” If you looked at the cutting room floor of the last three episodes, I’m assuming you would find a series of scenes in which Ty said “bit us in the butt,” while Aja gradually cringed more and more forcefully. If you put them together in a flip book, it would look like a time-lapse evolution of a grudge.

Regardless of how we got here, now pretty much everything Ty says irks the snippy Aja. She’s become so bossy that Ty called her, “Fidel Castro,” which, as a pet name, leaves a lot to be desired. Start yelling that out in the boudoir, and you’re liable to be hauled in by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. It did look like it broke the tension…at least until Ty bumped the curb and got a flat, which took the air out of his good times with Aja as fast as it did the tire.

With all the romantic/friendly tension going on in this episode, perhaps the first small challenge — untying a giant spherical knot — was meant to be a metaphor: Could the partnerships unravel all their differences, or would they remain — yes! — tied in knots? Or, conversely, were the knots just a result of a challenge producer forgetting to plan ahead and quickly ordering some PAs to snarl some rope to stall the teams while he wrangles some Maori together?

Either way, the game worked, and as the teams busily scratched at the balls, I learned another fun fact about the players: It turns out that Amazing Race teams can be mesmerized in the same way as a common housecat can. Next week, perhaps the roadblock will involve jumping up and batting at the world’s largest windowshade cord.

This week’s roadblock, however, had players facing an army of apoplectic Maori warriors to try to find the one with the facial tattoo that matched a card. Here’s what this challenge taught me about Maori warfare: What it lacks in modern weaponry, it more than makes up in tongue-wagging. Now, if players approached the right warrior, they earned a clue and a nose rub. But if they picked the wrong one, he would snatch away the card and run. Was this also part of Maori military strategy? Is this how their generals negotiated treaties? If the terms were not to their liking, they would grab them and run off into the hills? So the two Maori techniques I learned were: sticking out one’s tongue; and grabbing a possession of your enemy and running away. From this limited lesson, it seems like they share the same tactics as a 5-year-old boy. I’m not familiar with their wartime history: Instead of D-Day, did they have Opposite Day?

NEXT: Kiwi action

This roadblock took place on top of a dormant volcano. Every team drove there (as the clue specified), but the divorcees couldn’t find the road, and thus ran the whole way up the mountain. When Andrew and Dan passed them in their car, and asked, “Why are you walking?” they snapped back, “We decided to walk.” I’m guessing that’s a scene that their ex-husbands will play over and over again on their TiVos. Sometimes the only thing that can ameliorate the pain of writing an alimony check to a woman who has bashed you repeatedly on national TV is watching said woman make a stupid decision on national TV.

The frat guys were also having communication problems: Dan is a know-it-all, apparently, and makes Andrew feel secondary. I wasn’t aware those two were rankable. If you asked me to slot them in order of adventure skills, I would stare back at you as if you’d offered me two rocks and asked me to pick which one I thought was the better pole vaulter. But Andrew proved his mettle in the Maori challenge, even if he did look utterly perplexed when the warrior tried to indicate that they should rub noses. Andrew had a horrified look on his face as if he were about to first rub Purell on the warrior’s nose.

Later, at the detour, after giving up on the task of smashing kiwis to make juice, the frat guys went to Plan B: Build and ride two Blo-karts. (But I barely know karts!) There, Dan kept muttering about how he was not mechanically inclined. The big tip-off came when he tried to attach the wheel to the wind. “Give me sports trivia and I’ll beat everybody!” he said. Yeah, and make awkward conversation an Olympic sport, and you’ll take home more gold medals than Michael Phelps.

Luckily, Andrew knew a thing or two about assembling rudimentary sporting equipment, and he put both Blo-karts together. Afterward, a content Andrew said he would never rub it in Dan’s face, but it was good to know Dan had realized how much he needed Andrew. But did he? It looked like Dan was still in the backseat, muttering to himself about how he would be happy to take on the Blo-kart in a head-to-head match over PGA trivia.

They weren’t the only ones who bailed on the kiwis. Turns out there were jagged rocks on the bottom to help crush the fruits, which caused major foot pain; and to make matters worse, kiwis aren’t that soft. Sarah and Terence, who maintain they are getting along better (as long as Sarah continues to keep Terence calm by reassuring him with head rubs and, presumably, tossing the occasional candy “BE MINE” heart into his mouth), were one of the only teams to finish the task. Probably because this task suited Terence’s ADD: There were so many kiwis in there that if he started thinking, “I should smash that one. No, that one! Whoops, how about that one! No?” then he’d end up being quite thorough and productive.

NEXT: Big Phil checks in

Nick and Starr were one of the teams that dashed over to the Blo-karts, and Starr probably wished she didn’t. She flipped her Blo-Kart twice, and the second time she thought she broke her arm. Back at the kiwis, Kelly and Christy probably felt a disturbance in the Force the moment Starr went down, and it empowered them to smash faster and harder.

Scramble as they all did for first place, it was moot, as Ken and Tina had long ago won the fast forward pass after climbing to the top of New Zealand’s tallest building to fetch a Travelocity gnome. Through all this, Ken talked very enthusiastically about the great strides he and Tina were taking together, communication-wise. And yet it’s hard to get too optimistic, as when he talks about what an incredible wife she is, she just stares up at him as if wondering what his shrunken head would look like on her key chain.

And as there’s always a first team, there’s gotta be a last, and this week it was the Southern Belles. It was no surprise, considering they were confused from the very beginning: They couldn’t find the giant knot, even when it sat right in front of them. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they took turns trying to unsnarl each other’s shoelaces first and then just looked around waiting for a clue to drop from the sky.

Ultimately, they finished their last challenge in the dead of night, arriving tearfully at the mat. There Phil and his surprise mat-mate, his dad, greeted them. (What next, Jeff Probst’s uncle Stan sits in for tribal council?) Seeing the women’s anguish, Big Phil volunteered to give them a big hug. He’s quite the empathizer. Well, either that or he’s a dirty old man. Come to think of it, when you picture Phil’s eyebrow raise, only on a 75-year-old, it’s a bit Benny Hill-ish. It’s the same look you’d give the camera as you use a fishing rod to lift up a nurse’s skirt. And it all made me even more grateful that the frat guys stayed in the game. Look how uncomfortable Andrew was rubbing noses with a Maori. Just imagine how freaked out he’d be if Phil’s dad started bumrushing him for a little game of graba–.

Are you guys happy to see the Southern Belles go? Were you surprised by the tension between Aja and Ty? And, tell the truth, would you hug Phil’s dad?

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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