In Cambodia, teams have to act like monkeys, but one team should have been evolved enough not to lose their passports

By Josh Wolk
Updated October 12, 2009 at 04:02 AM EDT
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From Vietnam to Cambodia, the ”thank goodness they don’t hold a grudge” leg of The Amazing Race continues! Mind you, this show is under no obligation to acknowledge any past horrors that any visited country has dealt with in the past; this is an entertainment show, not a guided tour of atrocities. But it did feel odd to hear Phil announce that the next destination would be Phnom Penh and not note any of the country’s ugliness from the past 40 years, from American bombing to the Khmer Rouge. I could see the producers awkwardly planning this leg: ”So, what’s interesting about Cambodia that we can use? Well, they make one hell of a scarf! Anything else? No…nothing comes to mind. Bombing? Does not ring a bell. And wait, Pol who? Now you’re just making things up! Nope, just scarves!” And was it my imagination, or during the montage intro to the country, was there a shot of a furiously masturbating monkey? Talk about your decoys! If I wanted to distract someone from pondering history, I’d consider trotting out a masturbating monkey, too. Pretty hard to concentrate on the Killing Fields when there’s a monkey pleasuring himself on your TV screen.

Sorry, what was I talking about? All I can think of is monkey porn. Oh yes, episode 3 of The Amazing Race! The teams were all giddy to go as it began, doling out fun facts like:

1) Flight Time just cleaned Big Easy’s underwear. If there’s one thing you learn as a Harlem Globetrotter, it’s that at any moment, someone can pull down your pants, so you’d better be ready with clean underwear.

2) Under the guise of a haphazard metaphor about how many animals they’d seen on the Race, Brian and Ericka called themselves ”Team Jungle Fever.” Yeesh, I haven’t heard a group of people call this much attention to their color since Blue Man Group.

Everyone arrived at the Ho Chi Minh City airport in the early evening, and the first flight to Cambodia left at 12:25pm the next day, so there was going to be a lot of sitting around. Everyone got on the first flight except for Lance and Keri and Justin and Zev, who got seats at the last minute on standby. Justin was so happy he asked the ticket agent for a hug, even though she was wearing a surgical mask. Quick hint, Justin: If someone’s wearing a mask and they’re not in the O.R., odds are they’re not that fond of human contact. Save your hugs for the masturbating monkeys.

Zev and Justin got in a cab with driver Terry, who became their new best friend. He stuck with them through every route marker; Zev had joked with him, ”Don’t leave us, or I’m gonna call your mother.” While on the way to the Vietnam airport, Zev made a similar ”I’ll tell your mother” joke to another cabbie. Zev has said that he has trouble veering from a routine: I had no idea that also applied to his comedy routines. I’d hate to be around when he gets his hands on a knock-knock joke he really likes.

NEXT: Jackie Kennedy? Who the hell is that?

The first stop in Cambodia was the Foreign Correspondents Club, where they had to meet two ”assignment editors” who would give them their next clues. These ”journalists” looked like a casting agent had dressed a couple of actors up by copying a drawing of Roland Hedley. The teams were given two rules for approaching these men: you must whisper, and you must ask for ”your assignment.” Canaan didn’t fulfill the second rule; he kept asking for his ”next task,” and the journalist blanched and ignored him until he got it right. And yet many of the other teams didn’t even approach a whisper and they were handed the envelopes right away. If you want justice in Cambodia, don’t go to an actor pretending to be a journalist.

For their assignment, teams were handed a photo of Jackie Kennedy Onassis on her only official visit to Cambodia, and told to find the hotel suite named after her. It was alarming how few people recognized her. I wonder if The Amazing Race has a side business going surveying American historical knowledge for the U.S. Department of Education. Having discovered last season that most Americans draw a blank on Anton Chekhov, this year they decided to check on a more recent public figure, with Jackie O. Fail again. Maybe next season they’ll move it up yet another notch by going even more current, maybe showing Racers a shot of Jimmy Carter. Or even Janet Reno. But I have a feeling that we will keep seeing blank stares until we finally get to a picture of the Baja Men.

The Detour was ”Cover” or ”Wrap.” For ”Wrap” (which everybody but Lance and Keri picked), teams had to run to a crowded Russian market, find two stalls where they sold ornate scarves, pick one, and then wander the market until they found a woman wearing an identical scarf. ”Cover” involved convincing a family of four to buy motorcycle helmets for $10. When it began, I thought Cover was the obvious choice, because Wrap seemed like the kind of needle-in-a-haystack challenge that can randomly go very, very wrong. But it seemed like everyone finished Wrap with relative ease. Cover, from our sample size of one team, also seemed relatively painless. It also seemed far odder the longer you considered it: It was such a specific task, based on the premise that Cambodian markets are flooded with families of four who all travel on the same motorcycle. What do families of three do, all pile onto a unicycle?

(Incidentally, I have a rule check: Doing ”Wrap,” Zev and Justin got their faithful cabbie Terry to help them find their matching woman. Is that sort of aid illegal? (And others got outsider help, too.) I thought that teams could get directions or be led by others, but not get actual help in a challenge. Can anyone shed light on this?)

From the Detour it was on to the Roadblock: learning how to act like the revered monkeys of Cambodia. Considering how we saw one of those revered monkeys act at the beginning of the show, I was concerned that this was going to get ugly. I didn’t want to see the overexcitable Lance sprain his wrist. Luckily, that wasn’t on the monkey menu. There were only three moves to learn, none of which seemed very extreme. Don’t monkeys scurry up and/or swing from trees? I’d imagine if you were a monkey and saw this, you’d be insulted that your skill set had been reduced to only your horizontal—and least impressive – maneuvers. But on the flip side, I guess I’d be thrilled to see myself represented on TV without a single mention of hurled feces.

NEXT: Damn you, lost passport!

And before I continue, I must chastise Phil for enacting one of my biggest pet peeves: misusing the word ”literally.” As in his Roadblock instructions, ”One person must learn to be a monkey, and quite literally go bananas.” Quite literally? So they have a yellow skin and are filled with potassium? Damn it, Phil, just because you’re abroad doesn’t give you license to break the laws of the English language!

Okay, back to the challenge: Zev and Maria seemed to be the only two people who really struggled with the task, although at least Maria didn’t collapse under the stress. Zev remained stuck on the last monkey trial, a crawling move. ”He kind of has the body of an 80-year-old man,” said Justin. ”And bending over on his hands is really not in his bag of tricks.” I can’t really mock Zev, as I am incredibly inflexible and might well have struggled with it, too. I just think I would have refrained from falling down in despair. I don’t care how hard it is, it’s still humiliating to crumple into a heap from exhaustion because you weren’t able to, quite literally, go bananas.

Still , after being overtaken by Sam and Dan, they were able to finish the Roadblock, pull back ahead, and land first…with an asterisk. Zev had lost his passport. They had teased last week that this would happen to someone in this episode, but I thought it would be Brian. When he and Ericka jumped into a motorcycle cab this week, the footage dragged down to slo-mo when he put his small bag on the dash. I was convinced that this was the producers’ way of making sure we noticed; I thought later he would dash out of the cab, forgetting that very bag. But no, Zev and Justin turned out to be the unhappy losers, and they were told they had to find their passports before the last team arrived, or they’d be eliminated. Personally, I think when this happens, teams should have the chance to look for their passports right up until the next leg begins; the last team would stick around until then, and if Zev hadn’t found his passport before their time to leave, then that last team would be brought back in and allowed to run.

Alas, Zev and Justin weren’t able to find their passports, and Maria and Tiffany, arriving last, dodged a bullet…but not literally. But we got one last glimpse of the never-ending friendship of Zev and Justin, as they both said that neither blamed the other. I always wondered about this: of course teams are compelled to say this about one another for the cameras, but if you woke them out of a deep sleep yelling, ”Do you blame your partner?” would you get a different answer? If Zev gave one, we’d have to call his mother.

What did you think about this week’s episode? Do you think Zev and Justin could have won it all had they not been disqualified, or was it only a matter of time before they got the boot? Which Detour option would you have picked: Cover or Wrap? And did you enjoy this episode more or less, with its minimal footage of Lance? Or was his spastic roundhouse kick at the mat the equivalent of a full hour spent with him?

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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