The Amazing Race recap: Boxing Day
The teams struggle to find a gigantic language decoder, but one duo takes home a cool $5,000 apiece for trusting in Phil Keoghan
“Boxing, Claire! It’s Boxing! Claire! Boxing! Claaaire!” So began last night’s episode of The Amazing Race, an hour of general tomfoolery (never have so many teams so completely missed such an obvious clue) presided over by a contestant I am legally authorized to nickname Babbling Brook. The fair-haired co-captain of Team QVC is thrilled by the universe, viewers, and she wants to make sure everyone knows about it. Working with her must be a lot of fun: “Claire, this coffee! It’s good! It has sugar in it! Sugar! Coffee! Good! Claaaire!”
You can’t deny her enthusiasm. Brook and her silent partner were the first to set off for the Akotoku Boxing Academy on the far side of Accra. In Ghana, boxing is the most popular sport besides soccer, which is reason #4,817 why Ghana is awesome. Unfortunately, the boxing setting was a little bit of a tease: the challenge didn’t involve fighting, just hand-wrapping, a minute of bag-hitting, and a minute of jump-roping. Brook reacted ecstatically to this contest: “Aw, Claire, I’ve got this one, Claire!” (She uses “Claire” as a punctuation mark.) She squared up in a boxing stance like an adorable cartoon mouse who thinks it can box a ferocious cartoon cat. She kissed her trainer on the cheek. She raced through the challenge in no time. As they ran off, Claire said, “We just knocked that one out, no pun intended.” Don’t front, Claire. You intended that pun. Admit it, Claire! Pun! Claire!
Further back in the pack, Team Princeton continued their charm offensive. They actually asked what their cabbie’s name was (Samson) and serenaded him. Being nice will get you everywhere: Samson zip-zipped them past the other teams. “We love you Samson!” they sang. “I love you, too!” he exclaimed. Nobody really had any major issues with the boxing contest. Chad tried to show off how good he was at jump-roping, and in the process just showed how bad he was at jump-roping. (Chad and Stephanie seem like a married-couple on a CBS sitcom: He’s a lovable lunkhead who seems to think he’s a criminal mastermind and an NFL-level athlete, and she’s an ex-beauty queen with infinite patience.)
Great Dismissive-Valkyrie Moment #1: Team Princeton arrived at the Boxing Academy just as the Valkyries were racing onto the next competition. Jonathan, rather sweetly: “Katie, Rachel, what’s going on?” The Valkyries: “Nothing!”
Great Dismissive-Valkyrie Moment #2: Nat and Kat continued their run of bad luck in Africa: Their cabbie got terrifically lost. At one point, they turned around and noticed two of the other teams – Katie/Rachel and Chad/Stephanie – in taxis behind them. Nat/Kat told their cabbie to stop in the middle of the road, blocking the other team’s advance. The Valkyries: “You dumb doctor!”
While the stragglers finished up the boxing-without-boxing tournament, Samson the Taxi-Man took advantage of a passing herd of yaks and raced Team A Cappella into the lead. That meant Connor and Jonathan were the first to arrive at the supply depot. Teams had to load up a pair of wheelbarrows with various supplies (concrete, bricks, shovels, brooms) and carry the supplies to the primary school.
NEXT: It’s time for some low-level inter-team espionage!
Part of the fun of these challenges is seeing how the ticking-clock testosterone of Race invariably leads to screw-ups: Teams don’t read the directions closely enough, or they’re in too much of a hurry to remember one specific set of supplies. Full credit to Connor and Jonathan for getting everything on their first try – later teams wouldn’t be so lucky.
In fact, the team right after them wouldn’t be so lucky: Brook unilaterally declared, “Claire, I’m going to do the wheelbarrow, Claire!” Love the enthusiasm, BabBrook, but you forgot the other wheelbarrow. So, alas, did my favorite competitors, Team YouTube. Great Dismissive-Valkyrie Moment #3: One of the Volleyball Valkyries (Katie?) said, “I don’t think we need two wheelbarrows. They only have one.” Valkyrie B (Rachel) said: “Well, they’re idiots.” I love these women, even if I am just an ant to them. (Although there was a slight karma’s-a-bitch schadenfreude when Team Volleyball were undone by a missing trowel.)
The Valkyries weren’t the only people playing low-level inter-team espionage: As Team QVC walked back to the supply depot, they saw that Kevin and Michael had made the same one-wheelbarrow mistake, and said nothing. Still, of all the people who ran into problems with the Wheelbarrows, no flameout was so utterly disastrous as Nick/Vick’s breakdown. Vicki misread the instructions, which asked for one bag of cement, not two. (It doesn’t seem like that crazy of a mistake: pretty much every other item came in a pair, Noah’s Ark-style.)
Here’s where Nicky goes berserk. “It’s 5th-grade reading,” said Captain Headband, sounding like a man who really enjoys 5th-grade reading. “We had it in the bag. You have no common sense in your whole body.” Vicki offered a quiet apology. “I don’t give a f— about your sorries!” Oh, I hope these crazy kids make it.
Up ahead of them, the Double-Wheelbarrow competition was followed up by a geography quiz. Viewers, be honest: Could you have found Ghana on a map before this episode? Heck, could you have found any African country on a map? (In my case, the answer is: No and no.) Even the Ivy Leaguers were a little bit stumped: Sitting in a classroom with a bunch of adorable-looking grade-schoolers, they kept on dunce-capping it. “We’re in a country that we can’t even pick out on a map,” said Jonathan. “Our friends at Princeton are probably going to grill us for that.”
Team Ivy League still finished off the quiz very far ahead of the other teams – Samson must’ve really been booking it – so they were the first to choose between “Bicycle Parts” and “Language Arts.” The former centered on a children’s game of using a stick to roll a bicycle rim back and forth across a soccer field, which actually looks ridiculously fun and is a good argument against ever buying video games for children. The latter involved the translation of eight highlight phrases from English into the native language of Adinkra.
NEXT: Chad terrorizes the children!
Team Glee opted for Language Arts – “In Phil we trust!” they proclaimed. They found the Decoder poster on the far end of the school building, and quickly found the correct symbols. They made it look easy, and sped off to the pit stop at the home of Awusa Ntso, where Phil granted them $5000 each for their faith. (I seriously think the boys set a record for speeding to first place: They were finished almost before the halfway point of the episode.)
In the geography lesson, Mallory adorably noted the plight of the African schoolchildren: In America, “we don’t know anything different except for freedom and luxury and justice!” (Mallory, you’re adorable, but you seriously need to watch season 4 of The Wire.) Her father Gary, who I’m convinced might be the stealth MVP of the season, picked out Ghana’s correct location on his first try. They sped off to the “Bicycle Parts” challenge, where Gary finished so quickly that you have to imagine “Pushing Bicycle Rims Across A Soccer Field” is one of his 1,200 hobbies. That made Gary and Mallory team number 2 for the day, a great showing for the duo that started off in last place.
There was a big pile-up in the middle of the pack. Team QVC, Team Valkyrie, Team Prince of Darkness, and Team I Can’t Think Of Anything Funny To Nickname Chad/Stephanie all sped through the geography quiz, and all opted to take a pass at Language Arts. That meant we finally got an answer to the eternal question, “How many Amazing Race teams does it take to miss a gigantic one-story-tall Language Decoder?”
It was amateur hour all around. Claire noticed that there were eight bold-word phrases on their slip of paper, and eight African children playing games. “I think we have to circle small African children,” she said. (That watermelon really did a number on her.) So Claire picked up a stick and made a circle around the children. The other teams followed suit. The children looked confused. Then Chad terrorized them further by picking up their textbooks and looking for the Decoder. Oh, it was painful, viewers. Katie and Rachel said, “Where is the Decoder?” while standing right in front of the Decoder. Ow, my brain hurt. One by one, the teams gave up and made for the Bicycle competition.
Kevin picked out Ghana on his first try. The less-geographically-aware Team Tattoo had the single biggest problem with the quiz. Nick and Vicki placed Ghana on the southern tip of Africa. “Are we that stupid?” asked Nick. (Rhetorical?) Nick and Vicki went straight for the bicycle competition. Nick finally proved himself useful when he turned out to be a Bicycle Rim-pushing idiot savant. He then proved himself utterly useless by pouting when Vicki couldn’t do the same. “This is ridiculous,” he mumbled, as his girlfriend’s asthma started acting up.
NEXT: When good hugs go bad.
Chad and Stephanie polished off the Bicycle rims pretty quickly, followed soon after by the Valkyries — third and fourth place, respectively. I was hoping that Michael and Kevin would leapfrog ahead of the other teams by, you know, seeing the giant one-story-tall Language Decoder, but alas, they followed the rest of the teams over to the Bicycle Rims. That meant they were still straggling at the rear of the pack as Team Tattoo and Team QVC raced off for the fifth and sixth spots. (Nick admitted that he felt “kind of crappy” about his general flame-out, which was nice of him to say, although Vicki was staring daggers at him, so look for more fun with those two soon.) My favorite anti-hero, The Prince of Darkness, was mostly quiet last night, except for one cherish-worthy moment: After Jill finally finished off her Rim-run, Thomas said, “Give me a big hug!” He grabbed her and must have hugged too tightly, because Jill said something like, “Aaughhh!”
That left just the Doctors and Team YouTube. Michael was suffering, no question. The 59-year-old was melting in the heat, and even his slow-and-steady approach to rim-rolling couldn’t prevent him from being too tired to continue. They had to call in the Race medical team. Michael even cried in front of his son. It was an incredibly touching moment, all the moreso because Kevin was so quietly but firmly confident in his dad: “You have to at least try!”
The pathos of the Kevin/Michael drama was slightly undercut by the editor’s lame attempt to turn Nat/Kat’s slight direction mishap into a fake who’s-gonna-get-there-first nailbiter. (Did anybody really think the Doctors weren’t a million miles ahead of them?) Still, it was inspiring when Kevin and Michael finally came in last…and, hooray, it’s a non-elimination leg!
Viewers, can you believe that only one team was able to find the Decoder map? Are you warming up to the A Cappella boys as much as I am? Do you love or hate Babbling Brook’s nonstop nattering? And are the Doctors just suffering from a run of bad luck, or is their bad showing the last couple of legs an indication that they’ll be out much sooner than we expected?
TV ADDICTS, STOP WHERE YOU ARE! Embedded below, listen to the second edition of EW.com’s TV Insiders podcast. Dalton Ross, Michael Slezak, Michael Ausiello, Tim Stack (EW’s resident Gleek), and yours truly break down the week in television—specifically Glee, Dancing With the Stars, and Survivor—and present it to you in an easily digestible audio format. Or click here to download TV Insiders to your MP3 player!