Mark and Bopper go chrome dome; Vanessa face-plants; Art and J.J. fume their way through India
Credit: CBS

With one week to go before the two-hour finale of The Amazing Race, I’m starting to feel less convinced that a Rachel-Dave victory is foregone conclusion. I’ve still got my money on them for sure, but Ralph & Vanessa and Rachel & Brendon were surprisingly effective competitors last night. Sadly, I can’t say I care which of the remaining teams wins. Everyone left at this point seems like a pretty unpleasant human being, even by reality TV standards. Although it’s worth remembering that days of exhausting manual labor and sleepless nights tends to bring out the worst in people.

For instance: The scene toward the end where Art and J.J. imitated Dave and Rachel. While their role play was spot on, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. “Shut up, Rachel,” J.J. said to Art, mocking the condescending way Dave speaks to his wife. “You’re my partner now, not my wife. You’re weak!” What he was saying was barely an exaggeration of the derogatory way Dave addresses her, which reflects poorly on Dave. But J.J.’s vitriolic, bitter tone was nothing to be proud of either. It was more true than it was funny, and therefore the whole thing was just sort of sad.

The episode started out with serial first-place finishers Rachel and Dave taking a trip to an Indian temple, where some shirtless religious elders handed them a Race card in exchange for removing their shoes and bowing courteously. (Spoiler alert: All teams managed to accomplish that feat without incident.)

After Rachel and Brendon received their card from the elders, they opted to try the Fast Forward (which Team Army was forced to pass on). The Fast Forward seemed surprisingly easy — find two priests at a temple — but when Team Big Brother arrived, they learned the real challenge was a throwback to Amazing Race 7: They had to lose all their hair if they wanted to skip ahead to the finish mat. The last time this happened, Uchenna and Joyce went under the electric razor and went on to win the season.

Rachel took her invitation to Bald Mountain very poorly: There was whining, crying and face scrunching. “I paid 500 dollars for extensions,” she said. “It would be so sad. I’ve spent years and years trying to get my hair to look good.” I know Brendon is the PhD student in that couple, but you would think she could understand that a shot at one million dollars is worth wasting $500.

I expected it to be a tear-filled ordeal that she’d endure for the money and the glory, but apparently vanity and hair extensions hold a much stronger sway on her that most. She decided hair was more important than competing, which honestly surprised me. Sure, going bald would be humiliating for Rachel, but turning down the early start time you gain from a first-place finish is crazy when you’re so close to the final leg.

Brendon, as usual, was laudably patient and kind with her. Although it was clear he wanted her to go bald, he refrained from trying to sway her and let the decision lie wholly in her lap. As irritating as those two can be, Brendon certainly treats his partner with a lot more kindness than other men on this season.

I totally agree with what Team Border Patrol said about the forfeited Fast Forward later on: “If you don’t want to cut your hair for a million dollars, why are you even here?” I think the answer is pretty apparent: Rachel and Brendon are not in The Amazing Race to win, but to further their reality TV careers. Now I’m not saying every person should be willing to shave their head for a shot at a million dollars, but I am saying that if you volunteer for The Amazing Race and get that far, you should be able to swallow your pride, if only for your partner.

NEXT: Vanessa’s crossdressing boyfriends and tygers, tygers burning bright

So Team Big Brother left the temple and rejoined the other teams — minus Team Kentucky, who remained exhausted at their hotel room — at a facility for spinning rope out of coconuts. Whoever picked last night’s tasks did a bang-up job: I never would have guessed there exists a place where people spin rope out coconut husks, nor would I have imagined a job that like would leave your hands bloody and bruised.

While Dave, Ralph, Art and Brendon turned coconut husks into 40 feet of twine and then spun it around a huge spool — butchering their hands on some nasty nails in the process — we were treated to a series of bizarre quotes from the non-participating teammates.

— Vanessa told a weirded-out Rachel Army, “Ralph is one of my few boyfriends who hasn’t crossdressed.” It’s never too late to start, Ralph.

–Rachel Big Brother explained her unwillingness to go chrome dome: “I need hair to be pretty… I don’t need a big nose and no hair.” Remarkably, that admission of low self-esteem doesn’t make her any more of a sympathetic character.

–While Rachel Army cheered on her husband, Dave shot her down with one of his most frighteningly cold statements yet: “I don’t need positive reinforcement, I appreciate silence.” Let’s just hope part of that million dollars goes toward an anger management therapist. Or a divorce lawyer!

Non-crossdressing Ralph finished his coconut rope first, but while he and Vanessa were running to the next challenge she face-planted on the pavement and hurt her ankle. A dramatic commercial break made it seem more significant than it actually was, though: She managed to limp ahead to their taxi rickshaw at a fairly brisk pace in spite of the fall.

In another dramatic near-miss, J.J. had a half-baked plot to push Rachel back toward the Fast Forward, but her mind had been made up the second that electric razor came out. For her, no million dollar prize is worth looking like the Oscar statuette.

While the four leading teams were leaving the coconut barn, Team Kentucky was just getting started. Even with the Fast Forward still in play, it was pretty clear they were about to come in last for the last time.

For Mark and Bopper’s Speed Bump, we returned to the Puli Kali dancers — the big-bellied men with colorful tiger faces painted on their paunches — glimpsed at the temple. Each one had to paint a tiger face on a dancer’s bare belly in order to move forward. Of course, the perpetually optimistic best buds enjoyed the task immensely, hollerin’ and roarin’ their way through the Speed Bump.

After Mark and Bopper’s immortal hands and eyes framed the tiger’s fearful symmetry, they gambled that the Fast Forward was still in play and headed to the temple. They were elated to learn it was and were completely unfazed at the prospect of shaving their heads. Mark, of course, had nothing to lose in the first place, and Bopper was more than happy to go bald if it meant a shot at helping his sick daughter.

NEXT: Ginger snaps the border patrol boys and the elimination

Even with a Fast Forward to boost them, Team Kentucky was hopelessly behind considering the other teams were well into the final task: Pack a Box or Pachyderm. With Pack a Box, a team had to fill 10 boxes with ginger roots, seal them, stencil a label on and deliver them. For Pachyderm (which is an outdated word for a group of animals including elephants), the teams had to decorate an elephant in a gloriously garish headdress and then shovel and dump 15 wheelbarrows full of elephant dung.

Everyone except for Art and J.J. went Pachyderm. Undoubtedly, the three couples made the right choice — festooning the elephant looked like pure fun and even shoveling that sh… manure… was a straightforward, easy-to-complete challenge.

The ginger packing, however, proved very strenuous, at least for Art and J.J. It probably didn’t help that Art was bleeding and exhausted from the last task while J.J. was fighting a cold. Just four boxes in, they were sluggishly going through the motions and vowing never to put ginger on their sushi again.

After finishing the dung-hauling task a bit earlier than the other two teams, Team Army arrived first at the ferry which would transport them to Phil and the finish mat. But that wasn’t good enough for Dave. Tired of waiting for the ferry to leave and fearing a dash for the finish mat if another team arrived on the boat, Dave bribed the captain into shoving off a touch sooner than usual (or at least it seemed that his bribe worked). Either way, he got his wish — Team Big Brother arrived just as the ferry took off, and that extra time ensured Team Army would achieve their sixth first-place victory.

Phil told them not only had they won $10,000 apiece (money that Rachel could have easily won and put toward a fabulous wig collection had she just gone under the electric razor), but they were one first-place finish away from tying the record on The Amazing Race. Midwestern work ethic wins the day! Well, that and bribery.

Ralph and Vanessa reached the ferry before it departed again, but Rachel and Brendon still managed to beat them on foot to a second-place finish. When the Dating Divorcees came in third, there was some more senseless bickering and an unconvincing truce brokered by Phil.

Vanessa apologized for making cracks about Rachel’s behind and nose, but within the same two-minute conversation she also accused them of cheating on the wheelbarrow task. Which is quite a stupid thing to do if you’re not absolutely certain, since they do have cameras to prove and double check these things. Presumably, this will be answered next week, given that Phil didn’t shoot down or confirm Vanessa’s accusation.

Regardless of the outcome, Vanessa’s barely suppressed pleasure while she cast aspersions on Team Big Brother was so irritating. Righteous indignation is an appropriate response, but relishing the act of tattling is annoying enough coming from a fourth grader — it’s just absurd coming from a woman in her 30s. Again, the people still racing at this point are very hard to root for.

In spite of their exhaustion, Art and J.J. came in fourth. They seem confident they can win the Race, but I have my doubts.

When Bopper and Mark came in last, they did not seem hopeful. That probably explained why their elimination was surprisingly unemotional. After leaving us with the pithy observation that, “The Amazing Race is called The Amazing Race for one reason: Everything about it is absolutely amazing,” Team Kentucky walked off our screens and out of our lives (well, at least until next week, when they get to wait with the other losers at the finish mat to see who wins the million dollars).

I have to say now that Bopper and Mark are out, I don’t actually care who wins. Art and J.J. did an incredible thing when they gave Bopper some of their winnings, but they’ve also been petty and bitter. Vanessa is inexplicably cruel to Rachel, and I don’t need to be the 100,000th person to explain why Rachel is irritating. Dave alternates between “robot” and “raging psycho,” so I guess that means I’m hoping for Team Army to win and Rachel to run away with her half of the million. Reasonably, I think she and Dave will win this season.

How about you? Which team do you think will win, and is it different from which team you would like to win? Am I being too hard on the remaining personalities? Or are you less invested now that Team Kentucky is out, too?

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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