In Thailand, who is more vicious: the trainer-mauling tiger, or Jaime?

By Josh Wolk
March 31, 2009 at 03:30 AM EDT
Sonja Flemming/CBS
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For those of you who don’t know, the Parents Television Council is a family values group that cites all arguably ”adult” content in every TV show, so sensitive parents can know what their kids shouldn’t be watching. Currently on their site they say that the only major issue on this season of The Amazing Race is language: ”The first episode featured a moderate amount of foul language.” Well, PTC, I think it’s time to update your site, and add to your language warning, ”…and a future episode included scenes of elephant date rape.”

Seriously, what kind of circus act was that? Phil said it was a ”typical Thai performance,” but what happens next? Does the elephant blow some dollar bills out of its trunk and trumpet, ”Now pick up your clothes and get a cab home.” And how do the Racers explain what happened when they get home and their loved ones say, ”Welcome back, Sweetie, tell me all about the Race and…hey, why do your underpants smell like peanuts?”

So much to say about the Phuket Zoo, but I’ll get back to it in a minute. (That’s what they call a ”tease” in the recap business. In the Thailand zoo, however, a ”tease” is what they call an orangutan who dry-humps your leg and then claims it has a headache.) Last night’s leg started with the teams leaving India for what seemed like the only hotter spot on Earth: Thailand. Speaking of the PTC, I’ll bet they had their FCC complaints already stamped and ready to go in anticipation of someone mispronouncing ”Phuket.” Alas, the only person who did that was Kisha, who called it, ”Fikoot.”

Tammy and Victor left the pit stop first, and we got another glance into the fun, repressive world of their family. Tammy said she had been to Thailand before on a family vacation, but ”Mommy and Daddy” wouldn’t even let her go to the beach. Apparently, she recounted, her parents favored Victor, and always thought he was right; this didn’t really explain why she was treated like a skittish puppy, however. Unless they were overprotective of Tammy on Victor’s orders. Man, that guy really does call the shots. Later in the episode, Tammy and Victor ended up winning this leg, and they received a trip to Oahu. Hopefully Victor will allow her to visit the beaches, although he may make her do it in a burqa.

Lovable Mel and Mike left in second place. When they first got into the cab to the airport, they had this interchange: Mike: ”Do you speak any Thai, Dad?” Mel: ”Yeah, mai tai!”

It was so oddly formal a question that it sounded like Mike was setting his father up with a straight line, an oddly vaudevillian move for a nuanced screenwriter. But I quickly realize it was unscripted when Mike didn’t react at all to the joke: It looked like he was doing his best to hold in a deep sigh. Finally, after the longest silence in reality-TV history, Mel said, ”That was a pun,” to which a weary-sounding Mike said, ”I know.” It seems like whenever Mel makes a goofy joke, Mike just stares off into the middle distance, presumably going to his Happy Place. We all know that Mel is a loving, unsinkably upbeat dad, and a delight to watch, but it just goes to show that even when everyone else thinks your dad is the coolest guy in the world, he’ll always drive you crazy. (Except for you, Dad Wolk, you’re A-Okay! P.S. Okay, I think my dad’s gone now. Recap readers, let’s meet out back by the EW.com dumpsters and I’ll tell you some stories.)

NEXT: Jaime screams at yet another country

The beginning of this episode was filled with foreshadowing: Mel and Mike saying that they don’t want to be competitive, the stunt brothers being overconfident about their physical stamina, and Marge talking about how signing all day can be exhausting and her arms get tired. Boy, after dragging a rickshaw around in 400-degree heat later in the show, I’ll bet she’d be damn happy to sit in an air-conditioned room debating politics with Luke for six hours straight.

We also had a little scene with Jaime and Cara that was not so much foreshadowing as just reinforcing something we already knew and letting us know that there would be far more of it to come: Jaime being — as Cara put it — ”a witch with a B.” After reminding us how impatient she is, she gave us an example: ”I don’t like foreign languages! I’m so tired of listening to people talk sometimes.” Yes, it is wearying when people are so insensitive as to prattle on in their crazy made-up languages that only they and many millions of other people share, most of whom happen to live in the area where you, Jaime, are right now.

When they jumped in a cab in India, Jaime began barking orders at their cabbie, asking if he had enough gas to get them to the airport, and then telling Cara to check the tank to make sure he wasn’t lying. As irritatingly snappish, snobby, and boorish as Jaime is (Mike called her ”kind of a mean girl”), she doesn’t bug me as much as she should. It’s the tempering effect of Cara: She teases her bossy partner and calls her out on her faults, but doesn’t get mad about it. I find Cara so endearing in that way that it makes Jaime more acceptable by association.

I want to add a small interim note here about something that’s been bugging me before we get to Thailand: When everyone boarded the same flight, did Mark say, ”Lices and germs, welcome to my airline!” I know, he could have been saying ”Ladies and germs,” but I replayed it many times and it always came out ”lices.” If it was, in fact, ”lices and germs,” I would just like to say that that may be the most brilliant way ever to make sure that you get a whole row of seats to yourself.

In Phuket, everyone was given a picture of a gorilla statue and told to find it: Mel and Mike’s cabbie confidently steered toward a beach, while everyone else ran around the city waving the photo at people until they were pointed toward the zoo. Jaime screeched, ”Do you know this monkey?” as if she was pointing to a picture of a kid on the side of a milk carton. She seemed absolutely intent on alienating all of Thailand one person at a time. I wonder if, during her 12 hours at the pit stop, she went scuba diving and screamed at some fish for swimming too loudly.

NEXT: Phuket’s zoo of mangled trainers and horny elephants

At the zoo, the teams were directed to find a tiger and have their picture taken with it. The tiger was handled by a one-armed trainer; the logical conclusion would be that the tiger ripped it off (thereby making him a very bad trainer indeed). But I wonder if it’s an unrelated injury. I’m suspicious of that elephant. Perhaps, in a ”Phuket Zoo After Hours” show, the elephant never heard the trainer say his safe word during some very rough play.

Nah, it must have been the tiger. When people sat down with it, the trainer roughly batted the animal on the side of the head to get it to look at the camera; I guess you could see how a lifetime of this might lead to the occasional limb chomping. If, when I sat down for my high school portrait, the photographer had knocked me about the head with a stick trying to get me to rest my head on my fist, I might have considered ripping off his arm.

Kisha, following the stunt brothers, had a good line when she said that if the tiger didn’t eat the brothers, it wouldn’t eat Kisha and Jen: ”They are bite size…they are about the size of the trainer’s missing arm.” I especially liked it coming from her, because I always get a kick out of seeing one of the brothers running next to Kisha: It looks like one of those forced-perspective shots, the way they made Gandalf look so much taller than Frodo in The Lord of the Rings movies. When the show’s over, will they reveal that Mark and Michael are, in fact, six foot three and it’s all been camera trickery?

From the tiger photo op, the teams ran to the elephants, where the players had to lie on the ground while an elephant stepped on their rear ends and then crouched down and air-humped the last person. It reminded me of that time when MTV’s The Grind got desperate for ratings and did a special episode at the Bronx Zoo. I’ll never forget the sight of a toucan freaking Eric Nies. Okay, so I made all that up: It was really a lemur and Downtown Julie Brown.

All of this zoo frenzy was interspersed with shots of Mike and Mel at the beach and realizing that their cabbie did not in fact know where he was going. Perhaps he just saw the picture of a gorilla and thought, logically, that the beach would be the best place to look. If they’d showed him a picture of a fish, would he have brought them to the Thailand Air and Space Museum? It was funny watching Mel in denial of just how far off track they were: When they got out of the cab to show the gorilla picture to passersby, one said, ”Phuket Zoo?” and Mel said, ”Oh no,” as if he’d just heard the ravings of a crazy person. Finally they got enough of a consensus from the locals that they decided to try the zoo. ”If it’s not at the zoo, then we gotta go somewhere else,” said Mike. Replied Mel, goonily, ”Let’s stop for a Thai massage!” And then the fourteenth awkward silence of the day settled over the cab.

NEXT: The great herb-shop crapshoot of 2009

The next task involved entering an herb shop and having the owner open one of his 99 drawers at a time until he found one with a clue envelope. Jaime and Cara arrived first, and — surprise! — Jaime was a mite impatient with the owner. ”The guy was most frustrating because I don’t think he spoke a lick of English,” she said. I’ll bet when the producers approached the shop owner about being on their show, they made it seem very exciting and glamorous, and didn’t mention how he’d have to spend the day in his own store being shouted at in a foreign language by people demanding he open every one of his 99 drawers over and over again and then getting angry that he wasn’t doing it fast enough.

It was, however, hilarious watching every team bypass the ex-cheerleaders, who could not find an envelope at all. Considering how arbitrary it all was, it was odd how specific they were in telling him which to pick: ”That one! No, not that one, that one! No, the one under it!” I did get the feeling that he was messing with them after a while, always grabbing the one they didn’t want. And bravo to him if I’m right.

From there, teams ran to the Detour, where they could either take turns schlepping each other in a rickshaw for two miles, or go to a fishing boat and haul some barrels while filling the others with drinking water. The stunt brothers, now solidly in first place, opted for the rickshaw. They had been bragging about their physical stamina for the whole episode (the ex-cheerleaders nicknamed them the Tweedles because of their height and cartoonish loquaciousness) and it was all leading up to this potential show of strength. When they arrived, after pumping up their tires, Mark got a bit devilish and dumped all the pumps into one box so other teams would either overlook them or think they were too much trouble. It turned out that the other teams that took this Detour option (Tammy and Victor, Marge and Luke, and the ex-cheerleaders) didn’t seem to even notice that their tires were flat, so never actually looked for a pump. So I suppose that Mark and Michael can take solace in the fact that at least they’re not directly responsible for Marge nearly keeling over from heatstroke.

Mark took hold of the rickshaw first. Some people like to warm up for a two-mile run with a little stretching, perhaps a motivational speech. But Mark prefers to get in the mood with some olde tyme racism. ”How are ya? I feel velly fine! Hachee chachee chachee!” he yelled, as he took off with the rickshaw. Eeps. This was either really uncomfortable, or just a horribly misunderstood shout-out to Scott Baio’s Happy Days years.

Karma got the Tweedles: When they arrived at the mat, they were given two 30-minute penalties, one for messing with the pumps, and one for paying their cab driver to lead them to the mat. They couldn’t have played more into Phil’s hands. When they arrived, he said they were team number one, and Mark instantly slid into talk of how, ”I told you, it’s optimism, optimism!” Then, confident that the brothers had made a fool of themselves, Phil dropped the bomb with a mighty Browsie. The two brothers then had to ignominiously shuffle off to sit under a tree for an hour. Don’t those two know that nothing grows in the shade? (What, they can say ”velly fine,” and I can’t say that joke?)

NEXT: Down goes Marge!

Tammy and Victor then took the brothers’ number one spot. Victor had insisted on pulling the rickshaw the whole way, even as Tammy offered to take a turn. In a voice-over, he said, ”I didn’t want to take control in a chaotic situation. My tendency is to take everything away from her and want to do it.” Was he rationalizing his hogging of the rickshaw by saying that he didn’t want to take Tammy’s driver’s seat away from her? Wow, that makes no sense. That’s like him saying that the reason he didn’t stop leading her wrongly through the mountains of Transylvania was because he didn’t want to deprive her of her great view of his ass as he tromped ahead.

Cara and Jaime were behind them, with Jaime shouting for directions at every passerby. Cara had earlier pointed out that Jaime talks to everyone like they’re a child, but in this case she spoke to one guy like he was a dog, yelling, ”Come here. Come here!” Meanwhile, Marge and Luke were running into trouble, in that when she was riding in the back, she couldn’t get her son’s attention when he was nearly dumping her out of her seat. Oh, Marge, don’t you know that that’s what tossed bricks are for? Instead, she took over the rickshaw, and nearly killed herself in the process.

After dropping off their contraption, she got in a cab and complained that her fingers and mouth were numb. At the mat, Phil really stretched out his news that they were still in the race. It was excruciating to watch him play it out, knowing as a viewer that she was about to pass out. And just after he declared, ”The bionic woman has done it!” down she went. (Perhaps this was karmic payback to him after he negated the Tweedles’ bragging about their own strength). It looked like Marge might have been in worse shape than they showed us, because when she was on the ground and Phil was holding her, there was a pile of what looked like vomit next to her. (I’m assuming it was hers and not Phil’s.)

Here’s a question that I hope Phil addresses on his blog: We never really saw a medic, all we saw was Phil right next to Marge, pouring water on her head and shirt. Is Phil a host and a healer. It reminded me of Survivor: Micronesia when Jonathan Penner’s knee was gouged, and Jeff Probst jumped right into the middle of the medical consult and began interrogating the doctors. Do all CBS reality hosts have an honorary MD? I just want it on the record that if I ever need my appendix out, I want Julie Chen to do it.

Lagging way behind were Kisha and Jen, who had opted for the fishing boat end of the Detour, which turned out to be far more time consuming than the rickshaw. Since they neglected to multitask, Mel and Mike caught up to them. The men had been happily going through the zoo and herb shop tasks in their usual good moods, even as it became obvious they were way behind. (But some good came out of it: I’m pretty sure that when the elephant squatted on Mel, it magically cured his groin.) Alas, they couldn’t overtake Jen and Kisha, and were eliminated. Mel was allowed one more chance to gush about his son (”Keep it together, Dad,” groaned Mike, clearly knowing what was coming), and gush he did. It was sad to see them go, but at least it seemed like they got a lot out of the Race. After all, they got to experience something that most people never get to: elephant frottage.

Were you sad to see Mel and Mike go? Or do you think it would have been weird if a Hollywood screenwriter took home the million? And what do you think of Jaime and Cara? Am I alone in finding them weirdly entertaining? Don’t forget to check out Phil’s blog: the good news is, if you pass out while reading it, he’ll come to your home and pour water on your head!

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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