As Lance declares his jungle supremacy, the Globetrotters take charge in Vietnam

By Josh Wolk
Updated October 06, 2009 at 03:58 AM EDT
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The Amazing Race

S15 E2
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For those who look at the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars and can’t imagine that these countries will ever turn a corner and become lands of peace, tonight should have given you a hint of optimism. Back in 1975, when the Vietnam war ignominiously ended, I would venture that most Americans never wanted to think of the country again and wished it would vanish from a map along with all of its tortured memories. Fast forward to 2009: it’s the site of an American game show in which contestants compete to push giant animals around. Who would have seen that coming in the ’70s? In 2043, will Amazing Race 83 feature a Roadblock in which one teammate has to dance with a camel in Sadr City? We can all dare to dream.

The second night of this season had the teams sweatily dashing all over Vietnam, but dramatically it was less Hamburger Hill than Veggie Burger Valley: a lot of spitting and crackling, but not all that much flavor. Ultimately, the only team we really got a good revealing glimpse at was Lance and Keri, or as I call them, ”The bastard son of Jon Favreau and Richard Kind, and his wife, the voice of Fran Drescher.” It wasn’t a favorable glimpse, but at least it was interesting.

Gary and Matt (who are trying but failing to fulfill their obligation to be the ”father and son who never connected but just might on the Race”) started off with a little bickering, but after Matt admitted that his dad was right in one situation, that strand pretty much faded out. Frankly, I remain less interested in that than in getting a glimpse of the rest of the tattoo on Matt’s chest: through his V-neck tee we got a glimpse of the number ”400” written in the kind of colorful colors you usually see on a discount birthday card. After the first episode, I never thought I’d ever say, ”I hope there’s a swimming challenge so I can see Matt with his shirt off,” but now I’m dying for one so I can see what other ninth-grade-girl’s-notebook-doodle body ink he’s got under there.

We never found out what the tattoo meant, but we did hear personal stories from two other players. Marcy’s dad, an air force general, was shot down over Vietnam but escaped, which made her emotional. Meanwhile, Big Easy’s dad passed away just two days before the Race began, which is very sad, though I wish the producers didn’t seem so gleefully eager to play it up, making him repeat and restate his loss over and over again. (Although maybe they overdid it this week to make up for not mentioning it last week: ”Oops, did your dad die? I didn’t hear you say that, I was too busy trying to get Zev to act all Aspergers-y. We’ll cover it next time, I promise!”) Later in the show, when the Globetrotters were closing in on the pit stop, and getting psyched for their foot race, there was a really poorly stitched together quote, with Big Time randomly saying, ”My dad just passed away…” and then (in a different volume) saying that this was the reason he would run hard. Are they now going to stuff in the phrase ”My dad just passed away…” before everything he says, to make it sound like it’s his motivation for everything? That will be really awkward the next time he has to go to the bathroom.

NEXT: Lance and his lovely fiancée, Damn It Keri!

Oh, sorry, I forgot one other personal fact about the players: Turns out that Lance is a lion! Yep, it’s true! Or at least metaphorically. And, he said, the rest of the teams are ”running like a pack of gazelles, or zebras. We’re gonna take ’em down.” Yes, Lance is king of the jungle…just as soon as he can find the jungle. Wait, is this it, it looks kind jungly…Whoops, it’s just a Rainforest Café. Damn it, Keri, you’ve screwed up again!

Lance is really excelling in the role of hypercompetive jerk who panics so much at every challenge that he can’t see the obvious. Take the first challenge, for instance, in which everyone had to try to snatch a clue out of a water puppet’s mouth. (I was relieved that one of the water puppets wasn’t Willie Tyler and Lester. I know, work is work, but it still would have been painful to see how far he’d fallen.) The clue was just a single bullet; when you unscrewed the top, inside you found a stamp with a picture of the next destination on it. While everyone else quickly figured it out, he stared dumbfounded at the bullet, convinced the real clue had fallen off. He ran around in circles, showing it to everyone around him. Frankly, the way he was walking around showing everyone that bullet, I was a little concerned that he was inadvertently going to start another war, albeit a really unthreatening one.

But what makes him truly irksome is the way that, when anything goes wrong, his default reaction is to blame Keri. Boy, life with him must be an endless parade of warm fuzzies. I’d be curious to do an experiment to determine Keri’s precise range of blame: bad things would be done to Lester, and after every one, Keri would take another step backward, just to see at what point he stops yelling at her. I’m guessing that she’s in the clear once she’s moved out to 28 feet away.

(Just one other note on the water puppet challenge: Why were Canaan and Mika taking turns dancing instead of grabbing at the clue? Did they think the puppets would be so enthralled by their moves that they would just let the clue drop out of their mouths? It’s a water puppet, people. Madame, Lamb Chop, and Peanut might fall for that arts crap, but these are water puppets: they’re professionals.)

NEXT: The deadliest Word Jumble

At the following Detour, the choices were between Child’s Play or Word Play. For Child’s Play, teams had to drag a heavy animal statue on a dolly through a park, picking up balloons on the way. Ron and Marcy were the only ones to go for Word Play, for which they had to go up to a roof and look for six motorcycle drivers below with letters on their cap. Once they’d collected them all, they had to use them as a word jumble to find a Vietnamese word. This ended up being a very time-consuming choice, but I was distracted by empathetic thoughts toward the moped drivers below, undoubtedly carsick from constantly circling that rotary. I couldn’t tell if it was Amazing Race or European Vacation.

I was befuddled by Marcy and Ron’s approach, once they’d collected all their letters. Instead of just grabbing a passerby to help solve the Jumble, they decided that the quickest way to figure this out was to first teach themselves the Vietnamese language. Marcy loves to embrace a challenge, and she also loves to submerge herself in a culture, but perhaps the middle of the Amazing Race is not the time or place to teach yourself how to conjugate verbs simply using the storefront signs around you.

This challenge was their downfall, as everyone else finished the far sweatier Child’s Play task far quicker. I was a little surprised: the ”lug an object through crowded streets” challenges often end in tears, one member threatening to quit, and other variations on someone losing his or her s—. So I would have thought the Jumble challenge quicker. The only stumbling blocks with Child’s Play seemed to be A) picking an unwieldy animal, and B) being Lance.

Really, Justin and Zev: a giraffe? Ever heard about a low center of gravity? What happened, you couldn’t get your first choice: a house of cards erected in the shape of an ostrich? Meanwhile, Lance was again panicking, to the point where he let go of a balloon. Damn you, Keri, for mentally unclenching his hammy fist from the balloon string! After finishing that task, he was laying into Keri so much that she demanded an apology, to which he said, ”All right, well, if that’s the case, I’m sorry.” It was the least convincing apology since the Nuremberg trials.

But for all the sweating and swearing, there were no great upsets in this challenge; and except for the giraffe’s broken neck, all the animals arrived unscathed. No such luck for the VCRs in the following Roadblock, which one teammate had to smash to bits while separating those bits for recycling, which is apparently big in Vietnam. Phil made it sound like Vietnam’s chief export was smashed electronics, which probably frustrated the Vietnam bureau of tourism. ”Oh, great, we just spent all that money on brochures of all of the great bicycling you can do here, and now everyone’s just gonna think we’re Home of the Smashy Smashy.”

NEXT: Grrr! Lance smash VCR!

It was tough to see who was good at the task and who wasn’t; everyone just burned through it, except for Justin, who took it as slowly as if he was defusing a bomb. Tiffany got this season’s inaugural group mocking by local spectators, but quickly got the hang of it. And Lance was finally able to use those muscles he’s been teasing as he physically tore the VCR apart with his bare hands like Frankenstein going through villagers. (”It was the man thing to do,” he said. Wait, is he a man or a lion? So confused.) Keri, forgetting their differences, cheered her fiancee on in a voice that was only slightly less aggravating than having an electric screwdriver drilled into my ear.

The Globetrotters finished first in this leg (it goes out to Big Easy’s dad!), but on the other end, it looked like a three-way dash not to be eliminated between Lance and Keri, Zev and Justin, and Ron and Marcy. However, since it had been established that Ron and Marcy arrived at the Roadblock after everyone else was done, it was obvious that they were nowhere near the other teams, and were destined for elimination. But before that happened, we got a rare jab from Phil (who, I should have mentioned last week, is unfortunately unable to blog for us this season; I tried to hire Browsie, but he has trouble with deadlines). When Lance arrived in second to last place, having just been outrun by Zev and Justin, Phil asked him, ”The lion is still alive…but right now the zebras and gazelles are beating you to the mat.” Responded Lance (before challenging Phil to a wrestling match), ”They can run fast, but they’re gonna wear out soon.” Wait, so is this lion versus gazelle, or turtle versus hare? Until he gets this worked out, I’ll stick with my own wild kingdom analogy: giant ape versus wife. And I don’t think this one will end in his favor.

Anyway, poor Marcy and Dan. They seemed nice enough, but she was too into treating this like an educational vacation. There’s no time for taking it all in if you want to win. I hope she got closure about her dad, and yet I feel bad: She’s now the second person in her family to get shot down in Vietnam.

So what did you think of the second episode? Where does Lance rank amongst the other MVP yellers in Race history? And were you sorry to see Marcy and Ron go??

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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