Prego! Unexpected kindness and predictable couples' drama abound in Turin

By Joseph Brannigan Lynch
Updated March 12, 2012 at 06:17 AM EDT
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Salami-tasting, rappelling, decapitated statues, a car named “Tin Lizzie”… last night’s episode of The Amazing Race was the most action-stuffed of season 20, and surprisingly, one of the most heartwarming in recent memory (but we’ll get to the emotionally uplifting ending later).

First-place finishers from last week Art and J.J. got a head start on this leg of the Race, which found the remaining eight teams headed to Turin, Italy. But as the first flight didn’t leave until the next morning, every other team had time to catch up to them.

Now, just because every team reasonably should have caught up with them didn’t mean that every team actually managed to do so. Bopper and Mark were so excited to be Italy-bound (“We is going somewhere tropical!” Bopper exclaimed, which is a comment so ludicrous I have nothing to say about it) that they couldn’t even think straight. They headed directly to the airport without stopping by the travel agency for tickets.

Team Border Patrol — already waiting at the airport — tipped them off, but by the time Team Kentucky got to a travel agent, all the tickets for the 10:35 arrival in Italy were gone.

They didn’t realize their misfortune until they compared tickets to the other teams waiting at the terminal and discovered they would be arriving a full hour and fifteen minutes after everyone else. Which pretty much meant that barring a catastrophic accident befalling someone else, they were guaranteed a last-place finish — all because of an easily avoidable error. Understandably, their boisterous personalities were more muted than usual.

After seven teams hit the ground in Turin — a gorgeous city in northern Italy surrounded by the Alps — they raced to the top of the Lingotto Building, a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque complex with a car test track on the roof (it used to be a Fiat factory). Team Border Patrol got a Fast Forward card, which allowed them to skip the other challenges if they successfully completed a helicopter landing.

They were both stoked for the challenge until they realized it involved not an actual helicopter (you do need a license for that), but rather a remote control one. Even worse, whoever wasn’t flying the toy had to sit still with a silly replica of the Lingotto building on their head. The task took a lot longer than they had expected, but of course they finished it eventually and skipped ahead to another first place victory. The reward this time was $5,000 cash apiece, which is a pretty slick reward for landing a toy helicopter on your friend’s head.

The rest of the teams rappelled inside the Lingotto building to grab a Race card dangling at the end of a rope. There was a two-minute time limit, after which they had to rappel to the ground, run back to the top and try it again.

Dave and Rachel — who I used to like — are clearly starting to fracture as a couple. Dave kept cutting down his wife while maintaining an eerily stony exterior, employing a curt tone better suited for soldiers than your soul mate. In spite of that, Rachel aced the challenged immediately while Team Feds and Team Dating Divorcees struggled.

The next challenge sent the teams to the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile, where they had to track down the “Tin Lizzie” (a 1916 Ford Model T) for the next clue. This portion allowed the producers to squeeze in what was essentially an in-episode ad for the automatic parking feature on the new Ford Focus. (It totally worked, BTW — I just bought two of them.)

Much like last week, Brendon and Rachel had a meltdown even though they were one of the leading teams and had every reason to rejoice (or at least be normal). “It’s not even worth a million dollars,” Rachel shouted at Brendon outside the museum. “I will stop right now, I will get last place, you have no right to talk to me like that.” Random observation: Although Rachel is constantly crying and dabbing at her eyes, I can’t seem to recall actual tears on her face. Suspicious…

NEXT: Team Kentucky struggles to regain lost time and Brenchel tackles the “mystery” of the Italian two-cent piece

Surprise, surprise: Rachel wasn’t actually willing to let relationship problems get between her and winning. Brenchel soon located the Tin Lizzie and the coin inside, but they were stymied by the non-explicit clue that every other team seemed to immediately understand.

The clue was a two-cent Italian euro, a coin with the Mole Antonelliana on the back. The implication was merely that they should head to that building, but Team Big Brother desperately over-thought it. At one point they were convinced they need to insert the coin into a hidden slot on the car. Huh? Were they expecting it to turn into a Transformer and tell them where to go next? Incidentally, I’m sort of surprised no one from museum security stopped them when they were just about the tear apart the antique car while looking for further clues.

After numerous other teams left the automotive museum, Brendon and Rachel re-entered the boxing arena. Even though she had just brought up quitting the Race to save their relationship, Rachel tore into Brendon when he suggested the same. “Why would I wanna call it quits, Brendon?” she testily asked. Hmm, maybe because you were the one who first suggested it? “You say that about everything,” she continued. “You’re probably gonna say that about your PhD.” Low blow, Rachel. Even if it is the most honest thing you’ve said in years.

“We’ve hit a brick wall with this whole entire experience,” Brendon shared with the camera, Then, as if they had perfectly scripted the exchange ahead of time, Rachel added, “And our marriage.” It would have been an incredibly dramatic moment if anyone believed a thing these two say.

By this point, Team Kentucky had made it to Turin and was making an admirable attempt to catch up. Usually Bopper offers the forehead-smacking comments, but Mark got one in, too, during this episode. “God, they don’t speak no English either, my brother,” he said regarding the Italians after they stopped for directions.

While Team Kentucky dealt with Italian-speaking Italians and Team Border Patrol cooled their heels on the finish mat, most of the other teams had made it to the top of the Mole Antonelliana — a gorgeous spire-topped building that was originally conceived as a synagogue but now operates as a museum — and received the next challenge.

They had a choice between tasting and correctly identifying 14 types of salami or scrubbing some dirty statues until they were once again as white as the Pillsbury Doughboy. Everyone except Team Big Brother and Team Cousins opted to clean a statue, which is definitely what I would have done — scrubbing dirt might not be glamorous, but stuffing more than a dozen flavors of salami into your flap is just asking for trouble. (Vanessa, who still harbors an unexplained personal hatred toward Rachel, did not miss the chance to make a joke about Rachel and meat in her mouth. Har har. I feel like she’s targeting Rachel just to raise her own reality TV profile.)

In the statue yard, an expert demonstrated to everyone the proper cleaning techniques. In spite of the Statue Master’s watchful eye, Ralph knocked off the head of his statue while hosing it down. The expert reminded him these were “very old statues,” but that’s something he probably should have considered before allowing a bunch of random reality show contestants to blast them with hoses.

“I feel like I should have taken her on a date before I did this,” Danny joked while rubbing down the marmoreal lady. Even though Team Jersey Stereotype has a guy named “Fitness,” I have to say I’m finding them more likable as the season picks up. Then again, it’s just nice to have contestants with personalities. Maybe Team Cousins and Team Feds just haven’t had enough screen time — or maybe they don’t speak in easily edited sound bites — but I still don’t have a strong sense of what Jamie, Nary, Stacy or Kerri are like.

NEXT: A beautiful, heartwarming moment between the first and last place teams After tasting the various meats at Gastonomia Salumeria, Brendon and Rachel had to correctly identify each one at a nearby public market, with one wrong guess sending them back to the Salumeria. I’m no expert, but I would imagine there aren’t 14 wildly distinct flavors of salami, so it was no surprise that they ended up doing a lot of running back and forth. While they agonized over cotto, genoa and ginocchiona, Team Army came in second place, followed by Team Jersey Stereotype and the Dating Divorcees.

After more tear-less crying from Rachel, Dave completed the challenge (with impressive pronunciation ability) and they snagged sixth place. Kerri and Stacy, the only other team to go the salami route, finished that challenge astoundingly fast. Their taste buds must have an incredible sense memory.

In spite of a speedy completion of the statue cleaning (which Mark curiously raved was the most fun he’s had on the Race so far), Team Kentucky came in dead last, arriving at Piazza Castello long after sunset.

The Kentucky boys teared up big time (see Rachel, that’s what tears look like) when Phil broke the bad news. Bopper’s disappointment was tied to the fact that he was competing in TAR to win money for his ailing 7-year-old daughter, who suffers from respiratory problems.

And then something incredible happened. Something more heartwarming than the moment in How the Grinch Stole Christmas where the Whos start singing “Welcome Christmas” in spite of the Grinch’s robbery (yes, that’s my benchmark for touching moments).

Art and J.J. approached the crestfallen Kentuckians and told them that they were going to split their combined $10,000 winnings with Bopper so that his daughter might get better treatment for her problems.

“You’re a good man and you’re working hard for your daughter, you’re our friends for life,” J.J. told a grateful Bopper. I have to say, I was totally wrong about those two guys. Although their braggadocio turned me off last week, what they did in Turin was one of the kindest, most generous things I’ve ever seen on a reality show. Handing over $5,000 to a guy you really don’t know to aid his ailing daughter is a beautiful thing. They might come across as blowhards sometimes, but they clearly have their priorities straight when it comes to matters of the heart.

After that moment of incredible human decency, Phil slyly added that even though Team Kentucky had come in last, this was a non-elimination round and so they were still in the Race. At that point, I felt nearly as overjoyed as they looked — Bopper and Mark are easily my favorite team this season. I know they use the word “baby” as a way to complete nearly every thought, but they seem like two wonderful people. Honestly, the palpable love those two guys share seems stronger than what’s between any of the romantic couples.

At the very least, Army Dave did acknowledge things aren’t going as they should with he and his wife. “It was a complete and utter failure from my vantage point,” he admitted in spite of their second place finish. Now if he can only lighten up a little bit during the challenges, maybe he and Rachel will be fine.

What did you think of last night’s episode? Incredibly touching at the end, right? Did you actually believe Brenchel was considering quitting the Race? And aside from the fact that Rachel is obnoxious, why do you think Vanessa has such a personal (and childish) vendetta against her? And how many of you are planning a trip to Turin right now?

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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