The Amazing Race recap: Pyramid Scheming and Dancing on Broken Glass
The challenges on last night’s episode of The Amazing Race were very much of the slapstick variety when you think about it. Assembling a precarious pyramid of watermelons, stringing harps and balancing a glass bottle on one’s head while dancing all seem like gags taken from an episode of I Love Lucy.
With a million dollars on the line, it’s easy to understand why competitors approach each task with great seriousness, but when you’re sitting at home watching a grown adult twirl around with a water bottle atop his or her head — their eyes burning with the intensity of a neurosurgeon — you have to smirk a little at the incredible hoops Phil & the producers put these people through.
The episode started off with Rachel and Dave — first place winners for the first two episodes — headed to the airport in the middle of the night to catch an early flight to Paraguay. Even though the next plane didn’t leave until 8:45 am, it was nearly full, so all they could do was get on the standby list.
Although all the teams had caught up to Team Army Strong by the time the first plane took off, only three other pairs — Team Border Patrol, Team Kentucky and Team Fed — managed to finagle seats on that plane. The federal agents, incidentally, are still pretending to be school teachers because they think that deception gives them an edge. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were eliminated before they even get the chance to reveal their actual careers.
The other five teams caught a later flight but shockingly one of them actually ended up finishing second. But more on that later. Once in Paraguay, the teams found clue cards in a playground littered with barbecue grills (children and fire — a winning combination!).
As per the Race cards, each team had to choose between Stacked Up and Strung Out. The former involved stacking watermelons in a 10-by-10 pyramid at a fruit market, and the latter required competitors to string a harp in a conservatory, because apparently the harp is the national instrument of Paraguay (I’ll keep that tidbit stored away for bar trivia).
Initially every team except for Team Twins chose Stacked Up, and let’s just say not all people are created equal when it comes to making melon pyramids. The melon-stacking task proved disastrous for several of the romantic couples, including Rachel and Dave, Rachel and Brendon and the dating divorcees, Ralph and Vanessa. All of them ended up bickering as only those in love can. Things got real for a second when Rachel and Dave talked about how they’re not actually used to spending this much time together due to his military deployment. That was an unexpectedly honest moment amid a sea of tumbling watermelons.
Art and J.J. miraculously aced their challenge in no time flat. Apparently border patrol training makes for some seriously skilled melon stackers. Although I’m impressed with the way they work together as a team and support each other, I’m finding myself irritated every time they open their mouths.
They likened their border patrol jobs to Dave’s wartime army service (“we both protect America”) and they talked about “catch[ing] the bad guys and the dopers and the aliens.” Heck, one of the guys even conflated his success as an Amazing Race contestant to Michael Jordan’s dominance. It was all just a bit off-putting.
NEXT: Bopper sings Cash and Art’s fat head
While Team Border Patrol moved on to the next challenge — completing a traditional dance with a bottle of water balanced on one’s head — nearly everyone else struggled with the fruit, building sloppy pyramids that tumbled apart and sent half of the teams into hysterics.
Vanessa of Team Dating Divorcee actually managed to turn Rachel from Big Brother into a sympathetic character. Vanessa started talking some serious smack on Rachel completely out of nowhere, probably because she’s hoping she can make a “name” for herself and end up on another reality series when she inevitably loses this one. I’m sure her incisive comments about Rachel’s butt would have made her the toast of a middle school cafeteria, but they came across as incredibly childish and unwarranted in the context of Amazing Race.
Partially because of that, Team Big Brother decided to switch horses midstream and check out the scene at the conservatory. Team Kentucky and Team Army joined them after struggling at the fruit market, with the latter group opting to use their Express Pass and jump ahead to the next challenge.
But before leaving the fruit market, the deceptively amiable Bopper (I still can’t believe there is a man on this show named “Bopper”) told the Mississippi Cousins, who had just arrived, a tall tale about how easy Stacked Up was in order to grab their taxi. Ouch! Talk about good ole boys gone bad. Mark was proud of him though, saying, “You finally played the game like I told you to.”
Meanwhile Team Twins was failing epically at putting those 37 strings on a harp. I’ll admit it looked harder than I expected — each team started out with a tangled mess of strings that makes the jumble of cords behind my TV look like a beautifully crafted bow — but you would think the musical twin would have managed better. They actually finished after some of the teams who had given up on Stacked Up and switched over.
Incredibly enough, Art and J.J. had made it to the finish mat before any of the others had even made it to the bottle-balancing dance. J.J. offered an explanation for his partner’s ease at that task: “Art’s got a big fat head so this will be perfect for him.”
Team Army didn’t fare so well. Dave was unable to complete the dance without breaking every bottle, and so Team Army was forced to take a two-hour penalty at the finish mat.
Back at the conservatory, Bopper — inspired by the harpists playing around them — gleefully sang Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” because I guess that’s what harp music makes him think of. The Kentuckians completed stringing their harp just after Team Big Brother. Both teams actually managed the bottle dance easily enough. Rachel nailed it after a few tries and Mark completed the choreography — which wraps up with the dancer laying on their belly and mimicking swimming — as if he’d been dancing with bottles on his head all his life. Which for all I know, he has been.
Team Big Brother came in second place, but Rachel still managed an emotional breakdown on the way to the mat. Once she arrived, she collapsed in front of Phil (who was joined by an impossibly lovely woman), crying and choking. If that’s how she responds to victory, I can only imagine there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth if she and Brendon come in last.
NEXT: Twins vs. divorcees in a fight for survival
The Jersey/New York boys, the Kentucky boys and the federal agents all hit the finish mat before Team Army’s two-hour penalty was up. Fortunately for them, the dating divorcees were doing horribly with their watermelon pyramid. They almost switched over to the conservatory, but Ralph decided they had to “finish what they started” in order to set a good example for his daughter. You know, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” and all that jazz.
Similarly, the twins considered switching over to Stacked Up, but realized the insanity of moving to a different task after having already strung up half of their harp. They eventually wrapped that up and hopped on ahead to the bottle-balancing dance, which didn’t go an easier for them.
The dating divorcees were convinced all was lost as they taxied to the second challenge long after the sun had gone down, so they were overjoyed when they realized the twins were still in the game and struggling big time. The long-haired twin — whose lustrous locks were soaking wet — looked incredibly distraught when he realized the divorcees had caught up to them and the whole thing was on his shoulders.
Andrew and Elliot did eventually finish the dance before all the bottles were shattered, but Team Divorcee had just finished minutes before and were racing toward the finish mat. In spite of a valiant attempt to overtake them on foot, the two twins came in last place and were eliminated.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was devastated,” said the long-haired twin. It was pretty depressing when he said he felt he had let down his brother down, but he suspects they’ll laugh about it later. I don’t know about that, but I am still laughing about that one team from the season premiere running away from the finish mat.
The twins have my sympathies, but it is crazy to think they were one of the teams that hadn’t switched tasks and they still came in dead last. Even though they’ve lost Amazing Race 20, the twins can take solace in the fact that they’re both walking Adonises. And Andrew is a professional soccer player still. Life is still pretty awesome for those two guys.
Overall, last night’s episode was full of strange tasks that made the leg unexpectedly competitive. One of the teams from the second flight came in second place! The Express Pass was used and it didn’t even really help them! And seriously, who would think melon stacking would be harder than stringing a harp?
Were you sad to see the twins go? Now that they’re gone, which team is the closest thing this season has to eye candy? Did Art and J.J.’s first place finish endear them to you, or do you find yourself on the fence about Team Border Patrol?
Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.