''The Amazing Race: All-Stars'' loses its biggest stars when Rob and Amber -- who had come in first place the previous three legs -- fall behind Charla and Mirna

By Josh Wolk
Updated March 12, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Amazing Race: Robert Voets/CBS

”The Amazing Race”: A Romber-Schmirna smackdown!

When the last episode of The Amazing Race finished with a teaser proclaiming that this week’s ending would be unbelievable, many people wrote on the message boards that it meant that Rob and Amber would be eliminated. I snorted at these readers’ surety: Have we learned nothing from CBS’ Survivor hyperbole? They’re constantly pitching that series’ next episode as if it will be the one where everyone finally gangs up and eats Jeff Probst, and yet the most interesting thing that happens is someone putting a puzzle piece in backward.

Long story short, I owe those who forecasted the Romber demise an apology. But it does bring up a bigger issue: Some of the people who made the prediction did so by deduction, while others claimed to have inside information. So let’s make a rule on the message boards: You can make all the educated guesses you want, but if you have any actual inside information, please keep it to yourself. No fair leaving little land-mine postings that could ruin the day of any browsing Race fan who likes a surprise.

There are probably a bunch of Romber haters out there who cheered their demise. But I ask you: Is this really how you wanted them to go out, beaten by Charla and Mirna? Even the most passionate of Romberphobes couldn’t possibly have been rooting for a Mirna and Schmirna comeback. That’s like having a barber light your hair on fire to get rid of your lice problem: Are you really gonna give him a big tip?

Everything started going to crap with Romber at the Magellan detour. Frankly, I probably would have picked the signs over the compass, too; with navigation, you’re liable to get lost. Then again, the city seemed to be a grid. When you’re told to just head in one direction, and you’ve got a map, you don’t need a compass. Your head could be 93 percent magnet and you’d still find your way. And Rob was stuck with a big disadvantage: His brilliant strategic mind doesn’t come with spell check.

But still, it seemed like there was no way Romber could lose, especially with Team Bats— — as I dubbed the Schmirnas last week — 90 minutes behind. Mirna seemed to be self-destructing, having begun the leg with a soliloquy about how she was carrying her cousin and does ”as much as any one player has ever had to do on the race, to compensate for any shortcomings Charla has.” First of all, shortcomings? Really, Mirna, that’s the word you wanted to use? Was ”I dwarf her accomplishments” a bit too on the nose?

And then when it came time to pick up their sign supplies, Mirna kept wailing about Charla taking a box, and next thing you knew Charla was balancing a 70-pound post as Mirna ran in circles above her on the stairs. I will give Mirna that: She certainly does as much crazy talk as anyone on the race ever has.

I still didn’t believe that anything bad would happen, because all of this tension around the detour was moot, as we knew that no matter who pulled ahead, they would all end up on the same charter plane anyway. It was like an exhibition game, where only a Team Bats— purist would enjoy Mirna’s hysterics for the art of it, as it meant nothing to regular-season standings.

After the short flight, things continued to go poorly for Romber. Charla and Mirna were like a stubborn piece of toilet paper stuck to their shoe. Whenever they thought they’d pried it away, they’d look behind them, and there it was, trailing them all over again. Romber’s biggest mistake might have been playing slightly dirty with them, by nabbing their cab at the airport and then lying to them about having found the clue. Moral indignation is to the Schmirnas as spinach is to Popeye. When they see the slightest evidence that someone is not as pure of heart as them, they get superstrength. If you ever need your car moved, just let Mirna know you cheated on your SATs; she’ll throw your Toyota into a garage three blocks away.

Then again, lying to Mirna is futile. ”As an attorney, I can tell when someone’s lying,” said the human polygraph. Which was odd, as when Rob called Charla on telling her cousin where to look in the mail-sorting roadblock, Mirna snapped at him, ”Shut the hell up, I told her to pray to our deceased grandmother to help us — you wouldn’t know what that means!” I’m not sure what that means, either. Was her late grandmother’s last name ”Lookoverthere”? I guess it doesn’t count as a lie if it’s just crazy talk, in the same way that a murderer can be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

But the spirit of their dead grandmother did pull them through, and Mirna and Schmirna passed a frustrated Rob, tearing open their angry letter from Lance and Marshall and reminding us all just how many enemies they made in their original season, too. Perhaps the mean note gave them the extra jolt of smugness that carried them to the pit stop. The producers tried to make it seem like Romber were right on their tails — especially as Mirna dragged Charla over tree stumps to get her to the final mat — but it was clear from the way that Rob and Amber were just walking that they knew they were too far back to beat them. If someone as competitive as Rob thought he had a chance to catch up, he would have run.

Romber were very mellow about losing, which was in keeping with the calm way they ran this race. And yet there was something a little too calm about it. In fact, their behavior in this leg of the race made even a fan like me happy they to see them go. Midway through the episode, the couple got in a little spat in the airport, with Amber trying to calm Rob down and wanting him to admit he was pissed they weren’t in first place. You could tell by their demeanors that it was all for show; I was unfortunate enough to watch the first episode of their Fox Reality series, Rob and Amber: Against the Odds. It was a laughably contrived premise about Rob becoming a professional gambler, and since he didn’t have any competitors to psyche out, he and Amber had to squabble to give the show some tension. But it was clearly acted for the cameras. I got the same feeling when I saw them ”fighting” in the airport, especially when it ended with Rob smiling to the camera.

So when they arrived at the mat and calmly accepted their defeat with a pronouncement of love, I realized the problem: They had nothing invested in this. It was all for show. They would have been happy to win, yes, but the money mattered less than continuing their TV career as ”Rob and Amber, cutthroat reality lovebirds.” So all the cool they exhibited in dominating this race was due less to their being great players than to their not caring if they won or lost. I can’t have that in my Amazing Race.

I think most all-stars are lured back as much by the promise of more TV fame as by the million-dollar prize, but at a certain point, the excitement of the game takes over, and they end up acting nutty. And it is those moments that keep me tuning in. So a team like Rob and Amber, who have no freak-out tipping point, are useless to me. Charla and Mirna, on the other hand, are solid gold. So in the end, I guess if someone had to bounce Romber, I’m glad it was the Schmirnas. To paraphrase Mirna, as a television viewer, I can tell when someone’s insane. And that’s why I like keeping them around.

What do you think? Are you happy to see Rob and Amber gone? Who are going to become the new front-runners? And will Mirna and Schmirna’s crazy talk continue working for them?