Teams face heat and cold in the Persian Gulf, while we wonder what's going wrong with the challenges this season

By Josh Wolk
Updated October 19, 2009 at 04:06 AM EDT
Monty Brinton/CBS

The Amazing Race

S15 E4
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I have been cutting The Amazing Race some slack this season, not commenting on its less than stellar challenges. But I can keep my silence no longer: It needs to up its game, and fast. Take tonight: They’re in Dubai, and sent to the tallest building in the world. 124 stories! Oh, the height! We all know what happens when people on The Amazing Race are sent to a high place: It’s over the top you go, whether strapped to a bungee cord, paraglider, or the back of a really exotic local bird. Oh, I thought, this is gonna be great!

And what happened in Dubai? They reached the top….and were told to take the elevator back down, and go to a mall parking lot.

You really have to work to come up with an anticlimax like that. Do you think the producers all sat around brainstorming the complete dramatic opposite of a death-defying leap? Is it doing laundry? No, that might accidentally cause a flicker of tension, when teams struggle to separate colors from brights. What about having them balance a checkbook? Nope, they could bicker over finances, inadvertently sparking intriguing interpersonal dynamics. Hey, what if they go to a mall? Too much potential action: There might be a big one-day-only sale, lots of crowds, people fighting for clearance items. Okay, but what about a mall…parking lot! That’s it! The scenery-free zone where one circles to find a place to leave his car so he can go buy a three-pronged cable from Radio Shack is the apex of banality! Nothing interesting could possibly happen there! I fear that next year will see a theme season where teams will rush to visit every Wonder of the World, and at each of them they will be told to cook a frozen pizza and leaf through a Reader’s Digest.

The only interesting moment at the beginning of the episode was when Sam and Dan were completely befuddled by this ”Persian Gulf” thing they were sent to and had never heard of. Hey, they can’t be expected to keep track of every little region in which their country is mired in an endless war! It reminded me of a line from a recent episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine in which the self-involved Christine is surprised to learn there’s a housing crisis, and says something like, ”Jeez, you miss reading the paper one day…”

When the teams arrived at the giant building, we started to see some fraying around the edges of the gooey-eyed Mika and Canaan’s romance. They were initially presented as the squeaky-clean religious couple — he’s a virgin musician who just wants to sing about closed-mouth kisses! They haven’t been dating long, but in this episode they hit an important development in a relationship: one member’s first icy glare. When Canaan joked about Mika’s fear of heights, it led to her snippily ordering him not to tell her what to do. It seemed like the kind of moment that usually ends with a boyfriend sleeping on the couch, which is especially brutal in a relationship built on cuddling.

We also learned that Brian has a strict strategy, which is to build up good karma with the other teams by helping them to a ridiculous degree. When he arrived at the Phnom Penh airport, he couldn’t wait to tell the other teams that they needed to go to Dubai. Later, when he went out of his way to tell a lost Mika and Canaan the right way to go, he said, ”I’m nice, but I’m not dumb. This game is all about Karma.” No, this game is all about arriving places first, which is often achieved by other teams finishing last. Did no one explain the rules to him before this started? I think he has The Amazing Race confused with going to Hell.

NEXT: Cheyne dominates the Fast Forward like a real man

Lance and Keri began the leg bickering (as usual) with him patronizingly telling her that everything she did was wrong. To kick off the episode, she tried to explain that a glitch at the internet café was the computer’s fault, and not an indication that a flight to Dubai was filling up before their eyes. He would not accept this, and shut her down, citing his vast travel experience. While I don’t like what comes out of his mouth, I’m always pleasantly surprised that they’re full sentences. He really seems like a ”Hulk smash!” kind of guy.

Then, of course, came the horribly anticlimactic tower ascension, followed quickly by the tower descent, with nothing interesting happening in between. On the way down, Brian giggled to those around him that they should all pretend that it was the scariest thing ever to freak out the teams waiting below. How cruel of the producers to rub in this travesty by showing a Racer happily acknowledge that nothing interesting had actually happened. I wonder if the producers of Keeping Up With the Kardashians will take a cue from this show and order Khloe, ”We want you to say to your sisters, ‘When we see Mom, let’s pretend we did something exciting with our day other than text and bitch about really inconsequential stuff!’ It’ll be hilarious!”

The season’s only Fast Forward was available here, and Cheyne and Meghan grabbed it. More than ever, Cheyne looks like every morning he hangs upside down from a pair of anti-gravity boots while Meghan shoots paintballs filled with hair gel at his head. He is also sounding more and more like a motivational speaker. He’s irritatingly confident about everything, and he talks loudly and smugly about Meghan’s lack of impulsiveness in pitying tones usually reserved for the people of Darfur. When he actually did the FF challenge — driving a racing car around a track in less than 45 seconds — she stood on the sidelines weeping, for reasons I assume were related to her fear of not planning ahead. So what was she worried about, that she hadn’t thought to bring a snack for when Cheyne finished? After the couple’s umpteenth variation on ”Meghan needs to learn how to lose control,” my wife asked, ”Is this some sort of code for saying that Meghan’s never had an orgasm?” They were certainly trying to tell us something.

Also, I was surprised that the track found a helmet big enough to fit his big ego-pumped head. He yelled, ”I am the man!” as he rounded a turn. Remember what a turn-off it was when James Cameron yelled, ”I’m king of the world!” after he won his Oscar for Titanic? Well, at least he actually was king of the world back then, having just made the top-grossing movie of all time. Cheyne, you just drove in a circle. Once.

The rest of the teams headed to a desert Roadblock, for which Phil committed another ”literally” foul (two weeks in a row!) when he said, ”Teams will have to literally drink in the landscape.” (For those who are tired of me grinding this axe, sorry. But for everyone else, join my pet-peeve club and be the kind of person who makes the Literally Blog your home page.)

NEXT: Lost in the desert

For this Roadblock, one team member had to wander around the scorching, 120-degree desert, looking for buried urns full of water to fill a bag. This challenge, like the wasabi bomb, was more interesting in theory than in practice. The players were clearly hot, but that doesn’t come off that dramatically at home on its own. In a situation like that you need extra frustration beyond heatstroke. They should have added in a stubborn camel, something to kick up the panic a bit. Beyond the early inability to find an urn, it didn’t seem like anyone was struggling enough here. The only person who would have given us drama would have been Ericka, but she sat it out because, as she said, Chocolate melts! Really, how long until she and Brian start singing, ”Ebony and Ivory”?

Canaan seemed to be most affected by the heat. I enjoyed the moment when he and Mika first arrived, and, in answer to the clue’s question, ”Who thinks they can beat the desert heat?” he said, ”I can’t.” Then he caught a glimpse of Mika’s dead-eyed glare and quickly amended that to, ”I can do it.” I’m gonna go out on a limb and conclude that Mika doesn’t get to make very many decisions for the couple out in the real world. ”We always see the movie you want to see, Mika! Tonight I want to see a real action movie!” (Pause. Glare.) ”Two for Love Happens, please.”

Meanwhile, as every other team finished up and took off (or, in Maria and Tiffany’s case, finished up, totaled their car by driving over a spike, got a new car pretty damn quick, and took off), Lance and Keri just arrived. Earlier in the show, Keri pushed her Boston accent to the max, saying, about her and Lance’s great love story, ”Nothing could tear us apaaaaaaaaaaht.” As a New Englander, I was happy with that, but little did I know that it was just a warm-up to the aligned-stars moment when they arrived at the desert and she read the clue to ”Pahk your cah in the mahked area.” In the absence of Harvard Yard, a retarded barker, or a hard-charging Nomar, a you could ask for no better directive to showcase her talents.

Lance then ended up angrily pacing the desert, muttering deliriously to himself like Chevy Chase in Vacation. Finding an empty urn, he lifted it over his head and threw it on the ground. Urn make Lance angry, Lance crush urn! I’m guessing that in Lane and Keri’s home, there is a giant pile of broken toasters with Lance’s fistprints on them. When he finally finished the Roadblock, he dropped his stuff off with the clue-giving Bedouin, saying, ”Have a spoon, have a ladle, have a nice life” and quickly turned to leave. Gee, Lance, as you’re so close to Iraq, is there any way we can get you on a USO tour, ’cause you’ve got goodwill shooting out of your ass!

NEXT: Snow fun is no fun

From the desert it was off to a giant indoor ski resort, where the Detour was a choice between skiing down a slope on a sled/shovel and then looking for a tiny toy snowman buried in the snow, or trying to build a snowman outside in the blazing heat. Most people first went for the sled/search option, which turned out to be a classic needle-in-haystack upender. Matt and Gary arrived first, but were quickly passed by Brian and Ericka, who found a snowman by dumb luck — which was the only way to find a snowman. Most teams ended up bailing on the search, choosing to go outside for a challenge that ended up not being remotely challenging. Again we had the same problem: It was a game that was fun in theory (What the…?! A snowman in hot weather? Up is down and down is up!), but as a snowman that big couldn’t melt instantaneously, the task ended up being pretty simple.

I was a little appalled at what passed for a snowman in Dubai. Blistering heat does not excuse a pinheaded snowman, people! Everyone passed this pretty quickly. (And back inside, the Globetrotters found their tiny snowman speedily as well. ”That’s how you be a man, baby!” Wait, a real man finds little toy snowmen? I thought they drove in circles! I’m so confused!) But it was clear from pretty early on that Lance and Keri were going to be eliminated. They seemed to know this, too, which is why Lance took time out after the snowman challenge for a little levity. And in Lance’s world, ”levity” means DESTROY KILL DESTROY. When they finished making their snowman, he asked the confused judge if he could kick it before he took his clue. Yeah, you tell him, Lance! Frosty’ll think twice before he messes with you! Now go kick a snow angel in the balls!

Now yet another colorful character is gone, and next week’s coming attraction isn’t encouraging, challenge-wise. Water slides, really? Now we’re just going to amusement parks? I do not want to see these teams play Whack-a-Mole in Namibia. But w’’ll just have to follow along and see what happens. Wait, did someone say ”follow”? Well, you can now follow me on Twitter: @EWJoshWolk. Oh, the tweeting I’ll do! Like, for example, last night I could have written, ”WHO DO I HAVE TO F— TO END THIS FOOTBALL GAME SO I CAN GET TO BED BEFORE 3AM?” Yep, it’ll be gems like that, 24-7. That’s how you be a man, baby.

What did you think of the episode? Was I being too hard on the challenges, or do you think this season is lacking? Were you sorry to see Lance and Keri go? Wait, sorry…were you wicked pissah sorry? And are you distracted with thoughts about how bad a swimmer someone has to be to wear water wings in a water slide?

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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