The Amazing Race recap: Hurling Nemo
A seafood-eating challenge ends with two players hugging the porcelain throne, plus Noxious Nick flying into a rage
An episode of The Amazing Race that could have been entitled “Upchucking Nemo” gave us a tale of two barfers whose respective upheavals couldn’t have been more different, except for the part where both of them spent time in a Hong Kong toilet stall retching up succulent undersea delights. Team QVC (Brook and Claire) and Team Tattoo (Nick and Vicki) were the last of the four teams remaining in the competitive globetrot to complete the episode’s showcase task, in which one contestant had to find one piece of fake food amid a vast spread of real food, most of it fish.
This wasn’t going to be easy: Hong Kong is really, really good at making fake food. And to ratchet up the difficulty to a truly nauseating level, there was the if-you-touch-it-you-gotta-eat-it rule. Claire and Vicki struggled mightily on behalf of their teams, eating more off the table than their race-shrunken stomachs could support. But whereas Claire benefited from high-energy cheerleading of a super-supportive partner, Vicki was undermined by the energy-sucking black hole that was her King A–hole so-called “boyfriend.” By the end of the evening, the Brook-Claire friendship bond was affirmed. Nick and Vicki’s love connection? Not so much. Yet both teams live to race another week.
The road to upchuckville wasn’t too demanding, yet was taxing enough to push both teams to character-testing, character-revealing breaking points. But first, some housekeeping: Your trusty play-by-play man Darren Franich, the proverbial Joe Buck of Amazing Race reality-sportscasting, couldn’t quite shake off the Tryptophan slumber of his Turkey Day feast. And since he has filled in for me on a couple occasions on The Event, for which I am most thankful, it was only proper that I return the favor for him. (I’ll also be using his nifty team nicknames, because they are so darn nifty, and so you won’t miss him that much.)
We began in Bangladesh, and with this FUN FACT FROM PHIL that put the city’s 100,000 people-per-square mile density in perspective: “It’s the equivalent of taking the entire population of the United States as well as Mexico and packing them into a space the size of Los Angeles.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t need one more reason to never visit Bangladesh, but hey: Thanks! (I nearly chuckle-snorted a snot rocket when Phil attempted to upsell Bangladesh as a city characterized by “old world exotica.”)
The teams were instructed to wing it to Hong Kong, which in the mindscape of Team Doctor’s Nat only previously existed as an enchanted land populated by Asian stereotypes. “Am I going to be taller than anyone?” mused The Lady Gulliver. No jockeying for flight times this week: Everyone had to wait around all day for the next plane out. Brook and Claire relished the prospect of using the time for some in-your-face “Sorry, Suckaz!” gloating around Jill and Thomas, who last week unsuccessfully tried to derail Team QVC by sticking them with a U-Turn. Speaking of Thomas, Claire cackled: “I really think he’s going to poop his pants!” Brook thought this was the funniest thing she had ever heard. “We might really see him poop his pants!” she giggled. In their words: Stay classy, girls.
NEXT: Vicki runs out of breath.
But as far as I could tell, Thomas’ sphincter remained firmly, coolly clenched as he and Jill came upon the spunky hostesses at the airport. He tried to convince them that his act of aggression should have been interpreted as a compliment—as an expression of his respect for the challenge they represent in the race. (Doesn’t Kim Jong-il also use this excuse every time he fires some random rocket at South Korea?) Team QVC were, like, yakkity-yak, and the awkward moment dissipated. “I felt bad about that encounter,” Jill said. And after a well-timed comic beat, Thomas replied: “I don’t.” (I love how Franich refers to Thomas as “The Prince of Darkness”—but given his striking lack of emotion and empathy, I got more of a Christian Bale in American Psycho vibe from him last night. Same difference, I guess?)
In Hong Kong, teams had to catch a ferry to Cheung Chau Island to find clue in a cave. Thomas and Jill got a big jump on their competitors, then waited anxiously on the boat in hopes it would launch before any of them caught up—or in his words, before any of them came “Indiana-Jonesing in.” (Anyone who can turn the name of my favorite movie hero into a verb can’t be all that bad. Also: Nice bandana, dude.) It was here, in the frantic search for the pier, that tensions exploded between already-combustible Nick and too-good-for-him Vicki. Now earlier in the episode, we got a confessional interview from Vicki in which she praised herself for “calming down” her tempestuous beau, as well as a confessional interview from Nick in which he recognized that Vicki was “a blessing” and said: “Before Vicki, I didn’t really care about anyone’s feelings, and Vicki has really opened my eyes… it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Hello, ironic foreshadowing! The drama that ensued put the lie to both their statements, and while the schadenfreude was initially enjoyable, it got just plain depressing the more it went on… and on… and on… as Nick got dinged by despair and then just committed to it, slagging Vicki left and right as he almost willfully spiraled down the drain.
It began during the footrace to the ferry, when a winded Vicki started to lag behind because her tattoos were just too heavy on her—err, I mean, due to her asthma. While Team QVC and Team Doctor managed to bullwhip-and-swing their way onto the boat, Nick and Vicki didn’t, and had to catch a later ferry. “I’m sorry,” Vicki said. “It’s all my fault.” Nick couldn’t agree more. “I’m sick of you being sorry,” he grumped. And then he got toxic. “I’m not waitin’ for your ass ever again,” Nick said, apparently forgetting in his pissyness the rules if not entire premise of the race. “I’m not stopping next time. You gotta suck it up.” Noticing the inexplicable liquid escaping from his girlfriend’s eyes, Nick inquired: “Why are you crying!?” Vicki: “Because you’re just rude!” Nick recoiled, as if he had just been impossibly mistaken for someone that no sane person with functioning sense organs could have mistaken him for. “No I’m not!” he barked, defending himself with I-just-want-to-win sportsmanship. “Quit crying.” He’d get ruder still as the episode wore on, on the ferry, and later, during the final challenge, in which he literally gave up. “This is possibly the worst day ever,” Vicki would say. “I’m on my own.” The cruel twist of it all was still awaiting her at the finish line.
NEXT: Brook entertains the crowd while Claire gets a case of the voms.
Brook and Claire had similar problems during the next stage of this leg, in which teams had to hoof it back to the ferry and then seek it out the Majestic Chinese Restaurant, an allegedly upscale eating establishment. Claire doesn’t run, she walks-and-runs, and she beseeched her fit friend to keep a pace that was more suited to her limitations. Brook fumed. “Heaven forbid you do it at anyone else’s [pace.]” But unlike Nick and Vick, these pals know how to quickly process conflict, to forgive and forget. Brook: “Let’s hug it out.” Claire, so wiped from sucking it up, didn’t hear that right: “We did suck it out.” Brook: “No, hug it out.” They laughed, and a sweaty embrace was exchanged.
Then they came to The Hunt-and-Peck For The Ersatz Inedibles at the Majestic, which had to be executed before a live audience of other patrons and as a cute boy-girl team did karaoke and back-that-thing-up dirty dancing on a stage against a violet-pink curtain. This is upscale? Nat and Thomas blew through the task on behalf of their respective teams, and without blowing chunks. Before they finished, though, Brook and Claire showed up, and that’s when the party really started. As Claire went to work, Brook gave herself over to the club-vibe of the joint, taking to the stage and shanghaiing the show from the booty shaking karaoke girl in cut-offs. She did the cowgirl, she led the crowd in some call-and-response hand-dancing, and if the home shopping hostess had had some cubic zirconium bling or a set of knives on her, her energy could have moved a lot of merchandise.
Nonetheless, Claire struggled. The rules: You could look at the food, but if you touched it, and it wasn’t phony, you had to eat it. And Claire had to eat a lot. Too much. In the bathroom, Brook stood outside the toilet stall and offered sing-song encouragement that recalled Dora’s “Just keep swimming” mantra from Finding Nemo:
Just keep puking
Just keep puking…
Her stomach emptied, Claire returned to the task and found her phony fish, and just in time, too. And the crowd went wild! Team Tattoo had caught up, and valiant Vicki got to munch-hunting. And the crowd mocked her futility! Ice cold! But by the time she, too, was on her and hands in the bathroom, Brook and Claire were gone—and so were most of the patrons. Nick, fuming, watched and spiraled. Still, to his very small credit, when Vicki started heaving (the wet barfing sound effects—ugh), I did detect something like a glimmer of sympathy in him as he suggested that they just bail on this challenge and take the four hour penalty. “You can’t just keep throwing up all night. This is supposed to be fun. This isn’t fun.” But Vicki is no quitter, and so she didn’t.
Could his cynicism and fatalism have been fueled by a hunch that all of it really didn’t matter? Because it was about this time that I began to suspect this was going to be a non-elimination leg of the race. Veteran watchers of the show probably guessed that coming into the episode, so I should have known. But as the prospect of reduced stakes set in, my investment mellowed during the final stage of the episode, in which teams had a choice between two tasks: “Ding Ding!” and “Sampan.”
NEXT: Parakeets in possible peril?!?! (Nah, not really.)
Thomas and Jill initially chose “Ding Ding!” (in which you had to get on a trolly and hunt for pitstop clues among the neon signs on the route). Thomas and Jill assayed this challenge with an impressive cool that either suggested they felt comfortable with their lead, or that they, too, had a hunch it didn’t matter too much. Still, it was a tough task, and they gave up and tackled “Sampan” (in which teams had to take to skiffs and deliver cages of parakeets to moored ships in Hong Kong Harbor—in the dark of the night, no less).
Team Doctor went “Sampan”’ the way. Using flashlights, they found the serial number of the boat they had to locate, dropped off their birds—and yet they still found themselves lagging behind Thomas and Jill, who hustled to make up lost time… then lost it again thanks to that old Amazing Race bugaboo, the Taxi Driver That Won’t Stop For Them. Team Doctor got to the pitstop at Statue Square first—their fourth leg victory in the race. Jill and Thomas arrived minutes later. “We’re very happy,” Thomas declared.
Team QVC was happy, too. They cheerfully delivered their birds—cheerfully chirped with their birds—and finished third. Less happy was the week’s biggest loser. By the time Team Tattoo finished with the food and got to the Sampans, Nick’s toxic attitude had flared anew. Immediately exasperated by the thought of scanning for numbers in the dark, he declared he was giving up. I officially gave up on Nick himself as a human being when he decided to express himself thusly: “God, I just wanna choke somebody—and throw these damn birds overboard, too.” When he laid down to close his eyes, I kinda hoped his consciousness would drift far, far away—and stay there. Or that Vicki would just throw her loathsome honey off the boat. But she didn’t, because she’s a good person—or dare I say it, suffering some kind of battered girlfriend syndrome. Let us agree that she deserves better, and let me say I didn’t blame her when she herself decided to give up.
Valiant Vicki and Noxious Nick trudged to the mat, preparing for the worst. Nick was ready for the axe. He wanted it all to be over. None of this was worth it—even winning. Or so he said. Phil revealed that it was indeed a non-elimination leg. The news pinged off Nick like a bullet off Superman. Bummed? Secretly relieved? Tonight, he just looked numb. Vicki managed to smile. At least she has another chance to go down fighting. Do we dare hope that Nick can get an attitude (and soul) makeover and redeem himself? Can Vicki keep strong and carry on? Just keep swimming guys. Just keep swimming.