''The Amazing Race'': Twice as inappropriate
There is an infamous unreleased 1972 Jerry Lewis film called The Day the Clown Cried, in which Lewis directed himself playing a World War II-era clown forced to entertain Jewish children on their way to a Nazi gas chamber. For 35 years, the very idea of the manic Lewis pratfalling his way through a concentration camp has remained the gold standard for showbiz exploitation of the Holocaust, keeping its title even over the strong challenger Life Is Beautiful.
Last night on The Amazing Race, though, in the space of one hour, we were taken from a solemn pilgrimage to Auschwitz to a vomiting little person doing face plants in a suit of armor. I’m sorry, Mr. Lewis: Your long reign is over.
But no, let’s not climax too soon by getting into that. (Sorry, I’ve still got sausage double entendres running through my head, but more on that later, too.) Let’s begin at the beginning. With the Guidos starting out 15 hours behind the first-place team, I had déjà vu from their season 1 finale, when they found themselves 24 hours behind the two other teams. But last night it was announced that the show’s producers had reserved seats for all teams on one flight from Zanzibar to Warsaw, and it was the next morning. At first this seemed like a transparent manipulation to allow everyone to catch up, but considering how much trouble they all had trying to find an alternative flight, I had to admit it made sense.
Seven hours at a travel agent? What the hell was going on over there? The travel-agency industry has been devastated by Orbitz and Priceline and the like, and this was exactly the kind of publicity that won’t help their attempts to rebound one bit. But then again, if you were a Zanzibari ticket agent and a loud, pushy American like Mirna came in and started barking orders at you in an oddly Kazakhstani accent and calling you ”my sister,” maybe infuriating her by dragging her request out for seven hours would be a fine and rewarding way to spend the day.
Eric and Danielle quickly gave up and took the default flight, which they ended up on with Team Guido. I was awestruck by one of Danielle’s remarks upon hearing they were headed to Poland: Gesturing to her blond hair, she said, ”I look like a little Polish girl.” What a meta moment: She thought all Polish people were blond (which they’re not, really) because she’d heard so many Polish jokes, but confused them with ”blondes are dumb” jokes. This after already proving how dumb she is by wondering if Warsaw was in Zanzibar. That was moronic on so many levels that I think it might actually be smart. I tried to sketch out the concentric circles of idiocy involved in her statement, but my pencil burst into tears.
Her partnership with Eric is yet another Amazing Race bit in which you don’t know who to root for. Ninety-three percent of what comes out of her mouth is imbecile, but Eric is such a jerk to her that you end up pitying her. Is he angry that by being the dumb one, she is stealing his act? How dare she force him into the role of the ”smart partner”? That’s like Tubbs making Crockett be the black cop.
It was shortly after this point in the show when my DVR went on the fritz, randomly snipping out around 30 minutes just as the Guidos and Eric and Danielle were arguing to get on their departing plane in Kilimanjaro. My video suddenly jumped from them running onto the tarmac to them riding in cabs in Warsaw. (Hey, Time Warner Cable: High prices and crappy service? Throw in the occasional punch in the face and I’ll marry you!) My editor relayed what I missed, and from what I understand, there were two salient points:
1. Dustin’s beauty-pageant talent — playing the piano — came in handy when she and Kandice ran away with the piano-tuning challenge. To think that I always found the talent portions of pageants insipid; turns out they have real-life relevance, at least in game shows. Perhaps next season on Survivor, we’ll see Miss North Dakota demonstrate how to light a fire by Irish step dancing.
2. Apparently everyone in Poland hated Charla and Mirna. Each cab driver glared at them, and nobody in the street wanted to help them. I am part Polish, but I never really felt connected to that ancestry. Until now.
How glad was I that my DVR malfunctioned in the first hour and not the second? That was when the craziness really happened. Let’s begin with the field trip to Auschwitz. The show has scheduled serious, heartbreaking stops before, like at Nelson Mandela’s old cell, or at an infamous slave-ship port. I never like them; the producers bend over backwards to slow down the action and make sure to show everyone upset, shaken, and moved. But eventually that soul-searching has to end, and they all go back to running around the world for a million dollars, which is kind of like putting a human skull in one of the Deal or No Deal briefcases so when it opens, Howie can lead everyone in a moment of silence over the evils of Pol Pot…and then get back to that dastardly banker!
The switch to the Auschwitz scene was jarring; one minute everyone was joking around, getting on the charter bus, and then suddenly, a sad violin started playing and everyone got introspective. They arrived at the camp and lit candles and reflected, and then the producers did their best to try to wean the audience back into the game, an impossible feat. I’m not saying that the contestants weren’t suitably moved…well, except for Eric, who said the experience put his and Danielle’s bickering in perspective. That goofball shouldn’t flatter himself: An episode of Hannah Montana could put their bickering in perspective; Auschwitz should knock him out for a month. If you’ve ever been to a Holocaust museum — and that’s just a museum, not even an actual concentration camp — you know that it’s such a wrenching experience that you can barely drive home afterward, let alone go treasure hunting for clues.
But treasure-hunt they did. Uchenna, Joyce, Danny, and Oswald teamed up for the simple stair-counting fast forward, forcing the beauty queens to wait hours for the trailing second charter bus and pair up with Charla and Mirna. Then off they dashed to the sausage challenge — because what better way to follow up a trip to Auschwitz then with a pork-gorging competition, right? And on the night before Passover, no less. What, no Mel Gibson cameo?
The teams first had to make their own sausage, which I think was Bertram van Munster’s way of celebrating being out of the family hour of 8 to 9. If you closed your eyes, you would have thought you were watching butcher-shop porn. ”I say eat the kielbasa!” crowed Bill. ”That’s so much bigger than I ever thought,” oohed Mirna. ”Just make it really long, like he did,” said Joe. There wasn’t a line in this whole section that wouldn’t have led perfectly into the phrase, ”That’s what she said!”
And then came the eating: two feet of sausage per person. Dustin finished first and celebrated by throwing it all up. (”Ladies and gentlemen, Miss California!” said Eric, taking a rare break from not being funny.) And then came Charla. Keep in mind she was being asked to eat more than half her height in sausage, so it’s no wonder it backed up on her. And then — with an oddly unfazed expression — she took a knife handle, stuck it down her throat, and made herself vomit to make room to finish. I gotta say, I was impressed. Disgusted, but impressed. When she did it, her whole rear section convulsed like a donkey kicking. The nauseated expressions on everyone else’s faces were priceless. When she was taking her last bite, Charla said, ”Please, God, take it down.” (That’s what she sa…hey, wait a minute, that’s blasphemy!) I know I’ve complained before about people who pray to win the race, but this was one place where I approved. I too found myself asking God to ”please drop everything for a minute and help Charla fit one more bite, because I don’t want to see what she’ll do with a soup ladle to get the job done.”
At this point, with the last four teams running largely neck and neck, there was no real suspense as to who would lose, since the Guidos had a 30-minute penalty coming. But after all the chaos and upchucking, seeing who won was beside the point. ”How can they top this?” I thought to myself — and then Mirna went crazy on some cab drivers. ”You think I’m made of money, I’m a young girl, I don’t have hundred dollars!” she screamed at the cabbies she wanted to lead her. Mirna needs to realize that it’s pretty hard to come off as needy, helpless, and frail when you’re being trailed by a camera crew.
And then the big finish: the suit-of-armor roadblock. I’ll say this with no sarcasm whatsoever: Charla may be only slightly less nuts than her cousin, but she is a damn good sport. You just know that when the producers laid out a suit of armor for her, they were praying, ”Oh, please let Charla take this roadblock,” because they knew it would look silly. And she knew it would look silly. (”She looks like a dressed-up rat,” said Bill, in a comment I’ll bet he now wishes he had saved for a moment when he wasn’t miked.) But she did it. She was visibly ill, and she’d just endured her wack-job cousin screaming at her and blaming her for everything on the whole car trip, but she still put on the metal suit. Even with two magnificent face-plants (if they’re not on YouTube by this afternoon, I’ll be very disappointed with today’s teens), she still ended up in fourth place, and she never once looked embarrassed, just determined. And the Guidos, who finished right before Eric and Danielle, were eliminated because of their penalty.
Tonight, when I finally go to sleep, I will be thinking about Charla dropping like a bag of rocks in that armor, or filling a bucket with prechewed sausage. And I won’t be thinking about the Holocaust. The fact that Auschwitz could be bumped as a take-home visual by Charla’s escapades is all the more reason to leave the world’s tragedies out of The Amazing Race.
What do you think? Should the show stop sending contestants to tragic sites? Were you sad to see the Guidos go? And what eye-popping scenario would you like to see Charla in next?
Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.