A close leg of the Race brings tensions, insults and bickering to the forefront

Amazing Race
Credit: CBS

After CBS’ Academy of Country Music Awards detour last Sunday, we returned to Phil Keoghan’s “Rrrrace around the world” yesterday, which picked up right where we left off two weeks ago. Having secured first place in Baku thanks in part to their successful completion of their Fast Forward challenge, Rachel and Dave got a head start on the trip to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa at 19,000 feet above sea level (although last night’s proceedings took place at a more manageable 8,000 feet above sea level).

Last night’s episode found the remaining six teams very close to each other in terms of proximity. Instead of three or four staggered groups, all six teams ended up competing at the final challenge at the same time. Strangely, that didn’t seem to increase any one team’s will to power as much as it increased everyone’s will to whine and undercut each other.

Which sort of makes sense. At this point in the Race, any team left can reasonably imagine that the million dollar prize could be theirs. And when you have one million dollars dangling before your eyes, some racers start looking at their competitors not as human beings but as roadblocks to victory and those sweet, sweet riches.

For instance, Art and J.J. vocalized they were tired of Rachel and Brendon following them around instead of figuring out their own routes. Team Border Patrol is sort of right, and they’re sort of just being paranoid. But when you factor in the possibility that Team Big Brother’s “follow the leader” strategy could cheat the directionally superior team out of a cool mill, it’s easy to understand why Border Patrol was getting on their case.

Throw in the fact that everyone at this point is going on precious few hours of sleep, and it’s a wonder that a season of The Amazing Race hasn’t ended in a Series 7:The Contenders esque bloodbath…yet.

In addition to beefing with Team Big Brother, Team Border Patrol ended up squabbling with Team Feds as well, although that wasn’t really their fault. While J.J. did expose their lie about being school teachers to everyone, it’s hard to understand why Nary and Jamie responded so badly to him calling them on their ruse.

Firstly, Nary and Jamie are wholly responsible for blowing their own cover. We learned via flashback that in Baku Nary and Jamie started asking Art and J.J. about what sort of operations and caseloads they were part of as border patrol agents. They were casually dropping words that kindergarten teachers don’t use in their everyday vernacular, which is basically an admission right there. You can’t start talking in French and then claim you only speak English.

Secondly, they only lied about their jobs because they thought it would be an advantage to be underestimated. Given their poor placements so far, it clearly isn’t helping, so why not just own up to the facade when called on it?

Instead of acknowledging that Art and J.J. had caught them Fed-handed, Nary and Jamie paused like frightened animals for half a minute and then angrily reassured Team Border Patrol they were teachers. Probably not what real kindergarten teachers would have done in their places. Let’s just say acting is not part of their federal job requirements. Their poor lying skills made Rachel’s poor fake-crying skills look downright Emmy-worthy.

NEXT: Vanessa v. Rachel v. Viewers’ Patience

As for the ever-expanding tift between Rachel and Vanessa, we were treated to some more “clever” insults the divorcee hurled at the Big Brother veteran.

After some pushing, shoving and alleged finger-flipping in the airport to Nairobi (the teams’ jumping-off point to Kilimanjaro), Vanessa turned what was a regular ole case of frontin’ into a real nasty exchange. Although Rachel did goad her by bringing up age, Vanessa responded with, “Yes, I’m 38 and I still somehow look younger than you. Get your nose done before you get your boobs done and do everybody a favor next time.”

It’s hard to get an audience on Rachel’s side, but somehow, Vanessa does it every episode. I’m all for a little trash talk on my reality shows, and I hardly empathize with Rachel’s self-entitled whining, but she’s still a human being. Vanessa is treating Rachel like a punching bag (and punch line) to her face for seemingly no reason. Unless the producers are editing out footage of Rachel making out with Ralph every time Vanessa turns her back, I don’t understand why Vanessa always has to say something cruel to Rachel. At this point, I just find the Rachel-Vanessa bickering to be an exhausting blight on a typically b.s.-free reality show.

But all that nonsense aside, let’s get to the meat of the hour: These teams went to Africa, and holy Hemingway, did Kilimanjaro ever look incredible. The shots of that gaping volcano crater surrounded by clouds, the lush Serengeti and the Maasai culture made me want to put Mount Kilimanjaro on my “to visit” list. Only how would I book such a trip? If only a travel agency sponsored a show like this and helped people go on the adventures they see on TV….

After the initial flight, Teams Border Patrol and Big Brother arrived at the second much smaller airstrip before the other teams and scored seats on the first flight to the Kilimanjaro region. Team Army and Team Kentucky arrived next, grabbing a flight that left just a mere 15 minutes later.

After landing driving to a Maasai warrior in a “safari vehicle” (a.k.a. SUV), teams had to choose between competing in the fields of marksmanship or courtship. The marksmanship challenge — which looked way more fun — involved hurling a club-like weapon called a rungu stick at clay animals attached to a spinning bike wheel. The courtship challenge — which seemed shockingly easy — meant each team member had to jump in place for a minute. Not a very memorable first date, honestly, but I suppose it’s cheaper than dinner and a movie.

Although Phil’s voice-over informed us that jumping in place at 8,000 feet above sea level was exhausting, the ease with which every team completed that challenge seemed to indicate the producers might have overestimated the difficulty of that task. Team Kentucky and Team Big Brother each took, well, one minute to jump in place one minute, and none of the four seemed particularly winded afterward.

NEXT: When riding a bike is no longer as easy as riding a bike

The marksmanship challenge took the rest of the teams longer than the minute the courtship task took. Rachel and Dave bickered at each other while finishing it quickly enough, but it took Art much longer than he expected to shatter the clay target. After he finally wrapped that task, he sheepishly assured the camera that he’s much better at shooting guns than he is at throwing sticks. It’s okay, Art. Your secret is safe with us millions of viewers.

They might fail as undercover agents, but Nary and Jamie completed the marksmanship challenge faster than anyone else. But since they were bringing up the rear along with the Dating Divorcees, it didn’t matter too much.

Actually, the most difficult part of that leg seemed to be bicycling around. Competing against the rolling Serengeti, the thin air and sitting on uncomfortably high-seated bikes, a lot of competitors struggled more with the bikes than anything else. Vanessa crashed hers to the ground repeatedly, Rachel from Team Big Brother strained her muscles while Art huffed and puffed his way around Kilimanjaro.

Ditching their bikes for vehicles, the teams then made their way to the final challenge, which involved setting up a very intense-looking safari tent with a metal frame and a working shower.

Team Army started in first and Dave was convinced his army training and OCD would help him rock this challenge in no time. Team Kentucky and Big Brother arrived at the site next, with Team Border Patrol lagging behind because they had gone the wrong direction for a minute which infuriated them to no end.

Fortunately for Art and J.J., everyone was struggling with the tent challenge when they arrived. And since Vanessa chose to walk her bike instead of riding it, the Dating Divorcees were way behind anyway. At one point Ralph snapped at Vanessa and told her “You realize we’re out, right? So enjoy this,” but he soon softened up and assured her, “I’m not upset at you, I just hate losing.”

As the other teams slowly erected their fortress-like tents, Art and J.J. managed to catch up a bit as they breezed through pitching a tent together. Having calmed down from their unnecessary detour, J.J. even took the chance to crack wise at Rachel and Dave fighting, saying, “That’s why we’re not here with our wives.” Couples! They always fight, you know? And airline peanuts. So hard to open. And men. Always leaving the toilet seat up.

Art and J.J. weren’t the only agents with gender politics on their mind last night. Struggling big time with the tent construction, Nary and Jamie explained to the camera that they were behind the other teams (even the Divorcees) because they were the only team without a man to help them handle the tent’s unwieldy, tall frame. They might have been right about their height handicapping them, but it still seemed like an odd excuse to offer up. At the very least, they were lucky the final challenge wasn’t opening a jar of pickles, because they never could have done that without a man.

NEXT: The victors, the last place finishers and the feudin’

In spite of their nails-on-a-chalkboard version of camaraderie, Rachel and Dave aced the challenge first and hit the finish mat with Phil. That gave Team Army their fourth first place finish, a trip to Costa Rica and a much-needed boost to their strained relationship. I get the sense that they’re probably a better couple in daily life when they aren’t competing for a million dollar prize. Still, they could take a page from Team Kentucky’s playbook and chill out a bit.

Speaking of Mark and Bopper, the Kentucky boys snagged their highest showing yet with a second-place finish. They were followed closely by Art and J.J. and a bit later by the Big Brother duo. After having assumed they were out at one point, Ralph and Vanessa managed to finish much earlier than Nary and Jamie and easily took fifth place.

The feds actually took their impending loss with a great deal of dignity. They made a point to finish the task anyway and calmly come to terms with their loss as they drove to the finish mat. And the fact that they stopped off for a moment to marvel at an elephant herd just showed that in spite of their disappointment, they were able to keep things in perspective and enjoy the fact that they were privy to an incredible life experience at the very least.

And then… surprise! Non-elimination round. The federal agents were obviously very happy to be in it one more week at least, although I really wish they would just drop the needless kindergarten teacher facade. It’s almost just embarrassing at this point. Let’s hope they don’t work as undercover agents for their jobs.

The most moving line of night came from Mark:. “I love it man, I always wanted to come here so bad.” he said of being in Africa. “My great, great grandfather was a slave and I think he came from this area. It’s stunning.” Just to be traveling around Africa and realizing that at one point in history, your great-great grandfather was abducted from there and enslaved… that has to be a difficult thought to wrap your head around. It’s easy to forget how cruel history has been, and it’s strange to be reminded of it during The Amazing Race.

The most annoying line was from Vanessa, talking about Rachel and Brendon. “I really have no desire to speak with them.” If that were true, they wouldn’t even be fighting in the first place. “There’s no need for us to be friends within this race.”

What did you think of last night’s non-elimination round? Are you glad Nary and Jamie are still in the race? And what’s your take on Art and J.J. calling out the “undercover” federal agents? Did you think that was out of line, or do the feds need to come clean on their ill-advised ruse?

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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