Mika freaks out on a water slide, and the Globetrotters help her freak out just a little bit more

By Josh Wolk
Updated October 26, 2009 at 04:10 AM EDT
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You know the old cartoon strip, Love is…, with the two naked toddlers who creepily profess their devotion through bromides like ”Love is…remembering to replace the toothpaste cap” and ”Love is…helping her peel the potatoes”? I would like to see one that says, ”Love is…trying to pry your terrified girlfriend’s hands off of a water slide rail so she won’t lose your ass a million bucks.” Though that one may be tough to draw, as you’d really need a crack artist to capture the look of blinding panic and skyrocketing resentment on the boy moppet’s face, but also to make it adorable.

Oh, Amazing Race, I had counted you out last week, but you sure raised your game this time. Sorry to take such joy in one woman’s fear, but that conclusion was one of the most ridiculously mesmerizing moments I’ve ever seen on the show. But much in the same way that Mika and Canaan’s meltdown was teased last week but saved until the end of the show, I’ll wait to delve into it until the end of this recap. Where Bertram Van Munster goes, I follow.

We may get to that moment more quickly than the show did, however, as the first three-quarters of the show wasn’t that striking. It started with a Roadblock, in which one teammate had to paddle a small rubber dinghy out to a yacht to fetch a watch from a rich Arab. The whole thing looked like a low-budget reenactment of a million old Miami Vice drug deals. I kept expecting to see Crockett and Tubbs pull up in a pedal boat to bust itwide open.

Some players were better at rowing than others. Big Easy (whose tiny boat fit him like a hemorrhoid donut) had no idea what to do because, as he said, ”I’m from the projects of New Orleans.” Was that also his excuse for being so stymied by the briefcase code? When the teammates returned with the watch, they had to use it to guess the three-digit combination lock on a briefcase, inside of which was their next clue. The solution was simple: The combination was just the time on the watch, 8:35. But Big Easy overthought it, and kept trying to work the date in there somehow, and every team eventually passed him. As Flight Time said, ”We stay here long enough, Lance and Keri may show up.” Hell, it was taking him so long, I was concerned that Team Guido was going to round the corner.

The episode’s first segment was chock full of foreshadowing. First, Mika commented on how Canaan was the bigger competitor, since she never played team sports. (If she had, she would have known that there is no ”Y” in team, as in ”Whyyyyyyyyy?”, her plaintive wail on the top of the water slide.) Also, we had a merry Ericka talking about how she starts every day ”with makeup and good hair. By the end of the day, it’s all melted off, and it’s a mess, but you gotta start off fresh and clean.” Sure enough, by the time she was despondently freaking out during the hookah challenge, she looked like she’d just finished the Miss America Tilt-a-Whirl competition.

NEXT: The unhappy hookahs

Brian and Ericka’s smiley facades first cracked during the Detour, which was ”Gold vs Glass.” In Gold, teams had to weigh out precisely $500,000 worth of gold, based on a price per ounce that fluctuated about every minute. In Glass, you had to assemble 12 hookahs. Brian and Ericka first attempted Gold, madly scribbling math equations out on a slip of paper…though, as we learned later from the Globetrotters, all you had to do was ask and the proprietors would lend you a calculator. While I love to play armchair quarterback and mock players’ failures, I have a feeling that under this pressure I too would forget every rudimentary math skill I’d ever learned. By the end I’d completely snap and be trying to stack up 500,000 pounds of gold and wondering why the scale had exploded.

After exhausting their patience and their collection of money quips (”I’m much better at spending money than I am at counting and keeping it!” Ba dum bum), they bailed and dashed over to the hookahs. While not a hall of fame game, the hookah challenge did finally have the frustration factor that has been lacking this season. Part of it was the fact that teams had to assemble these pipes under the melting sun. Everyone kept talking about the heat so much that I thought I was watching the opening to the Biloxi Blues trailer. Man, it was hot. How hot was it? It was so hot that Brian burned his arm on the metal part of a hookah! Hello? Is this thing on? Trust me, that joke kills in Dubai.

The other complicating factor in the challenge was that there were so many small pieces to get right. First Cheyne and Meghan couldn’t figure out that they’d left out a few washers, and then Brian and Ericka got rejected time and time again because they had one striped hose in the wrong hookah. Jeez, these judges were picky. I’d like to see them try this challenge again, but in a Colorado College dorm room, just to see how much easier a pipe challenge gets; put out a box of apples and a carton of Bic pens, and watch the R.A. judges just giggle and say, ”Kickass, dude,” no matter what they’re shown.

Gary and Matt arrived and got to work, though Matt started to get woozy from the heat. I was worried we were about to see another touch and go moment like Russell’s on last Thursday’s Survivor. But Matt bounced back. I like this team well enough, I just wish they were more interesting. Everything about them that should render great TV conflict under stress ends up giving us nothing. They’re a father and son who haven’t spent much time together: Oooh, maybe Matt is harboring resentment toward his removed dad or…nope, turns out they get along fine. But wait, the son is kind of a punk, with pink hair. That can’t sit well with his conservative farmer dad, right? Uh, no, seems that dad helped him dye it just the other night. Yeesh, where’s the family drama? This is like if Death of a Salesman were rewritten so Willy met his numbers just fine, and Biff always carried around plenty of his own pens.

As for the other teams, the poker ladies carried Sam and Dan through the gold challenge, borrowing their calculator to do the necessary math. Their alliance was strengthened, and the women celebrated by later barking up the wrong tree again, swooning over how the boys had a Baywatch moment running up to the mat, and…

Oh, enough of this crap! Let’s get to the water slide!

NEXT: The great water slide meltdown of 2009

What I especially liked about this incident was how carefully the producers set it up. Mika separately mentioned that she was scared of water and of heights. It was perversely funny that this last challenge would involve her two great fears stacked on top of each other. If she’d also have been scared of dogs, I wonder if the producers would have made the teams go down the slide with Chihuahuas on their laps.

Now, Canaan could have come off very badly indeed in this challenge. It’s hard to put kicking your girlfriend down a water slide in a good light. But in order not to stack the deck against him, the producers sprinkled the episode with tiny moments of irritatingly pushy Mika behavior that, by the end, had me wishing I could take a turn shoving her down a water slide. The most blatant of these moments came when she yanked a clue out of the clue box, ripped off the top, threw the zip strip on the ground, and said to Canaan, ”Pick that up.” Then, she pulled the clue out of the envelope, tossed the envelope on the ground, and again said to Canaan, ”Pick that up.” Move over, Canaan, it’s pushin’ time!

So I was more on Canaan’s side when they got to the top of the water slide. And then Mika got extra debits for showing up with floaties on. Floaties! She’d be hurtling down a nearly vertical slide in about three inches of water, so how would extra buoyancy help? It was like putting training wheels on a mattress.

I am not insensitive to crippling fears, mind you. I have been paralyzed by them myself. But, to paraphrase Canaan, It’s a million frickin’ dollars! A million! His desperation was palpable; and it was disturbing to watch how his heart wanted to be patient, but everything else in his body wanted to pry her loose with an oar. He said, ”Let’s start by sitting down,” and then, the moment her body resisted, he began wrestling her toward the slide, until she was reaching out to the slide monitor and yelling, ”Help me! Help me!” Can you imagine being that guy? You’re asked to be on TV just doing your job, telling people to cross their legs and arms, and suddenly you’re given the role of the hero in the Perils of Pauline. Do you protect the damsel, or do you just pray that she’ll cross her legs and jump already so it’s the lifeguard below’s problem?

You could feel Mika’s fear, but you could also feel Canaan’s pain, as he said, ”I’m begging you. You are breaking my heart. You will regret it.” I do have some sympathy for Mika, though, because it can’t be easy to see yourself on TV in perhaps the most pathetic pose ever — sitting at the brink of an amusement park ride in water wings, eyes full of tears and moaning, ”Whyyyy, whyyyyy?” And yet it was so riveting. If she can swallow her pride, she and Canaan could spin this off into a hell of a show for the Travel Channel, America’s Greatest Amusement Park Meltdowns. The couple could traverse the country, stopping off at every big ride so Mika can clutch onto the last stanchion and beg not to go on. And every episode would end with Canaan angrily eating cotton candy as Mika softly weeps next to him.

NEXT: The Globetrotters are not your friend, Mika

When we saw the last-place Globetrotters finishing up the Gold Detour and nearing the water park, I thought for sure this was an editing trick meant to make it seem like closer than it was. In reality, I was sure that Mika would have her triumphant moment and go down the slide, and she would later talk about how exhilarating it was to conquer her fears. But no: the Globetrotters arrived on the platform to find Mika still soaking at the top, moaning, ”I hate fear.” The rule then kicked in that she had two minutes to go down, and if she didn’t, it was the Globetrotters’ turn. ”Your life is gonna change in two minutes,” said a weary Canaan. And just when it looked like she was going to rally, Big Easy stepped in with an anti-pep talk: ”Don’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. It’s high. It’s a long way up here…. If you’re scared, come on back and we’ll walk back down with you.” It’s nice to know that even though the Globetrotters’ games are mostly scripted, they can still improvise trash talk when the opportunity arises.

Those guys are so likable that it didn’t seem cruel for a moment, even if Canaan grumbled, ”I thought you were decent, Big Easy. You’re a piece of crap, man.” It was just great strategy, and it worked. Mika crumbled and stepped away, and the basketball players hurled themselves down the slide, past the sharks, who probably saluted them as they sailed by.

A clearly pissed Canaan then gave up and went down himself, in what was perhaps the most joyless amusement park ride ever. Mika made the long descent of shame down the stairs, unable to face the slide. It would have been a nice touch if, to compound the humiliating effect, the slide monitor came up behind her and slowly let the air out of her floaties. ”He’s gonna hate me,” she said, but at the Pit Stop, Canaan mentioned that he doesn’t blame her, and ”There’s freedom in forgiveness.” Yes there is, and good for him if he can pull it off. Yet you know what there’s also freedom in? Getting a million bucks.

What were you thinking when watching the water slide incident? Do you think Canaan was too aggressive in trying to get her to go? Or do you think she should have sucked it up and jumped? And EW’s Annie Barrett emailed me a very provocative question: Which was a dumber way to go out — this, or when Jen and Kisha got eliminated last season after stopping to use a Porta Potti? And while you’re pondering that question for the ages, why not take the time to follow me on Twitter: @EWJoshWolk. What’s the matter, scared?

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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