On ''The Amazing Race,'' the nerds come in last after the hippie team acts nerdy; plus, we learn to love Lake

By Josh Wolk
Updated June 14, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Amazing Race 9: Robert Voets
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”The Amazing Race”: Some fishy behavior

I’d been warming to the hippies over the past couple of episodes. I realized I shouldn’t judge them so harshly for their loosey-goosey attitude toward the game. Hell, it seemed to be working for them; they were always in either first or second place. So what if they acted like their life was one long audition for the road company of Hair? But last night they did something so presumptuous that I put a yield on my respect for them.

It happened with the first clue, when BJ couldn’t pronounce ”Catania.” After a few manglings, he joked — and it pains me to write this — ”Let’s go to the Star Wars Catania.” Hippies, I know the nerds. I’ve watched the nerds. And you, sirs, are no nerds. The Amazing Race works very hard to keep the teams in carefully segregated stereotypes, and when you go and cop a geek reference, it turns the game into chaos. What if the nerds pulled out a Hacky Sack? How would that make you feel? Or if Fran and Barry started grooving to Moby Grape? Oh, you wouldn’t like that, would you? Near the end of the episode, when nerd Dave was about to begin the kayak-polo challenge, Lori said, ”May the force be with you.” But to a viewer at home, it was ”Been there, light-sabered that,” and that’s just not fair.

With that off my chest, I will still begrudgingly admit that the hippies are the strongest players out there. They and the frat guys are so dominant that it’s taking some of the excitement out of the game. It’s like they’re running the professional race, and everyone behind them is doing a Fun Run for charity where ”everybody’s a winner!”

Take the fish challenge, for example. These two teams got the swordfish, carried the swordfish, dropped off the swordfish. It was so efficient that it was more like watching people help a friend move than a challenge. (There was one nice surprise: When they picked up their fish from that gravelly voiced monger, I thought, ”I didn’t know Max from Hart to Hart had been reincarnated in Italy!”)

But behind them, no one seemed to be able to find the guy they were supposed to drop the fish off to. It was as if for those teams, the producers had removed one of the route markers. Monica — who was so merry when she was first handed her fish — had a Flo-worthy meltdown in the middle of the market. ”This is the worst thing I’ve ever done,” wailed Lady Hyperbole, which points to either an unprecedentedly smooth life up until now or a shocking lack of perspective.

And then there were the ever-lost Fran and Barry, the couple who would make a GPS weep. When Barry mentioned that he was a Vietnam vet, I felt a bit bad for all the mocking I’d thrown his way. So what if he’s got teeth the size of Oliver Stone — the man served his country! But after they got lost yet again driving to Siracusa, I had to wonder if Barry actually had been in Vietnam, or if he had unknowingly got on the wrong flight and spent his tour of duty in the Philippines wondering why everything was so quiet. I was pleasantly surprised they were able to count all the heads around the Anfiteatro, though. I expected to see them wandering in circles, saying, ”I don’t see any heads! Let’s stop and regroup a minute. I’m just going to lean up against this weird face-like fencepost to catch my breath. Let’s do that 41 times until we can find those damn heads.”

I can’t figure out Ray and Yolanda. They’re perfectly sweet people, and it’s uplifting to see how in love they are, but they seem to exist only to be the people who come in right before the losers. They never get too worked up, and they never run into real troubles. (Except this week, when Ray fell out of his kayak and the producers exaggerated it to look like he’d fallen into hot lava.) I’m never quite sure why they end up sucking, but they always do; they just suck slightly less than one other team.

And what of Lake and Michelle? I’ll admit it: I’m warming to them. I’ve come to think that Lake isn’t cruel to Michelle; his personality is just a disorienting mix of competitiveness and ADD. Yeah, he’s arrogant and cocky, but Michelle just lets it roll off her back. She essentially treats him like a big, loyal dog: Yeah, he’s kind of a dope, and every once in a while you need to yank on his leash before he does something dumb like sniff at his own feces, but he’ll always try to help you out. When Lake hilariously mistook a stranger for a race official and got a high-five instead of a clue, it’s not like he swore and punched the guy: He just gave his Gomer Pyle guffaw and tore off down the road, looking for a new spot of lawn to dig up looking for a bone. He looks so happy about competing and gets so worked up about everything (like when they got the last clue and he yelled out with glee both, ”Pit stop!” and ”On foot!”) that it’s infectious.

What really drove this home for me was when Michelle was trying to give Lake directions and he wasn’t listening, and suddenly he saw the right road sign and said, ”Boy, did we ever get lucky with that!” She didn’t react like the beaten, ignored wife I thought she was: She just rolled her eyes and made a joke. When you’re calling to your giant Saint Bernard from outside and pointing to the open door, and instead he gallops through a window, tearing out the screen, do you get mad? No, you roll your eyes and pet him. Yeah, he’s a dope, but he just wanted to get from point A to point B.

(I do have a question for everybody: What was that little black case that both Lake and Michelle had strapped to their chests during the end of the run? At first I thought they were microphones, since Lake was shirtless, but then why would Michelle have one, since she wasn’t? Were they a variation on the fanny pack? Religious talismans? Lake’s medication?)

Sadly, we must end this TV Watch as we began: with the nerds. Maybe it was foreshadowing when the hippies stole their act, a sign that our Luke and Leia would not be with us for much longer. Their love, which seemed so fragile just last week, was stronger than ever right up to their elimination (barring one navigation squabble). Nerds everywhere would be wise to adopt Dave as an role model. Look at his gallantry, as he offered to clean Lori’s fish-blood-stained shirt if they were saved by a non-elimination round. Look at his sensitivity, as he vowed at the beginning of the episode to never snap at her again. And…look, let’s cut to the chase: He may not have a million dollars, but he has a freakin’ girlfriend. And no hippies can take that away from him. Nerds, meet your new god.

What do you think? Which teams have grown on you? Which do you feel you still don’t know? And which would you be happy to see eliminated?

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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