Most of the teams fumble through a Bollywood dance routine, with an overheated Mark very nearly quitting the Race

By Joseph Brannigan Lynch
Updated April 23, 2012 at 06:27 AM EDT
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From an exacting Bollywood dance routine to a cricket batting challenge to a taxi training course, last night’s episode of The Amazing Race was one of the absolute best this season has delivered. The excellently selected tasks were boosted in a big way by the colorful surroundings and breakneck pace of life in Cochin, India. Not to mention the episode’s central drama, which was genuinely moving and thankfully not dependent on emotional breakdowns from Big Brother’s Rachel or irritating playground taunts between her and arch-nemesis Vanessa.

Instead, the battle was between Mark’s exhausted body and his steel will. He resisted exhaustion and even Bopper’s exhortations to throw in the towel when the oppressive Indian sun and a demanding dance choreographer almost broke his will. Almost. But more on that later. Let’s take Fraulein Maria’s advice and start at the very beginning.

Although they would eventually find themselves struggling in last place, Bopper and Mark began last night’s leg of the Race in first place after their victory in Tanzania. A medic stopped by to check out Bopper’s busted knee and told him to put it in a brace, so Team Kentucky was forced to balance “taking it easy” with “pushing to win.”

The first clue card instructed them to head to Cochin, India, and this time they didn’t make the mistake of heading to the airport before the travel agency. Team Kentucky — along with Teams Border Patrol, Army and Big Brother — all nabbed tickets on the same flight to India, but somehow Team Dating Divorcees finagled an earlier arrival out of their travel agent via a stopover in Kenya.

Regardless of that bit of good luck, somehow every other team had caught up to the Dating Divorcees upon landing. In fact, by the time Ralph and Vanessa boarded a bus, they were actually in fourth place… just ahead of the duo handicapped by a knee injury. Divorcee power!

A couple of side notes before we move onto the Bollywood magic:

-Art and J.J. were still pissed about “Major Dave” not following through on their agreement to U-Turn Team Big Brother, as was expected.

-Dave’s take: “If the relationship can be restored, excellent. If not, we’ll continue to race as we have.” Spoken like a true robot.

-Both Bopper and Mark told the cameras that Art and J.J. were “babies.”

Now those first two points make perfect sense to me, but I was shocked to hear Team Kentucky slamming the Border Patrol boys. I even re-watched to make sure I hadn’t imagined it. After all, these are the guys who gave them (or promised to give them) thousands of dollars to help with Bopper’s medical bills for his daughter. That’s pretty disrespectful to publicly diss someone who helped you like that. It made me wonder if there wasn’t some altercation between the two teams that wasn’t caught on camera. Either way, it was a weird choice for the editors to include that bit of info and then not touch on it again. Hopefully, there will be a follow-up at some point.

NEXT: Rachel the “high school dance phenomenon” and J.J. the “fat Elvis”

After the teams endured a harrowing, cacophonous bus ride through the packed streets of Cochin — a sequence that was equal parts Speed and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride — they ended up in a field full of Bollywood extras. The task was to learn, master and perform a Bollywood routine to the liking of an industry dance choreographer. And unlike some other challenges, they really meant it when they said “master.” The Bollywood choreographer was impervious to pity and empathy, remaining unmoved by anything aside from perfection.

Team Army was the first to arrive and Dave triumphantly stated that “Rachel was a high school dance phenomenon.” Although J.J. tried to defer to Art, his bandanna-bedecked partner exclaimed, “No way, man, I did the last dance” (referring to his disastrous dance with water bottles balancing on his head). And so J.J., Rachel, Vanessa, other Rachel and eventually Mark donned the colorful robes of a Bollywood dancer and started learning the routine.

Rachel aced the dance on her first attempt as part of the troupe (and gracefully at that!), so she was all smiles as she grabbed the Race card and moved on to the next challenge. Things went less swimmingly for J.J. He sweated and struggled with the precise dance moves, grousing that he felt like “a fat Elvis.” Art, however, saw his co-worker not so much as a past-his-prime King and more like “a gorilla in chiffon.” Nice.

Ralph opined, “This is a great day to have a female partner on your team,” a loaded statement that Brendon one-upped not long after when he stated, “It’s good to have a girl on your team because they can do things like this, but it’s bad because they can get emotional.” Ah, 1950s gender politics. After failing the routine three times Rachel was, in fact, near hysterics, but that has less to do with her sex and more to do with her reliably unstable personality.

While the others remained “on set,” Dave and Rachel had pulled in to an Indian coffee shop and received the next card, which gave them the choice between two detours: Cricket or Clutch It. With Cricket, each team member was required to bat a ball past a pro cricket player (in the air or on the ground). As for Clutch It, each person had to drive a rickshaw taxi through a training course without hitting any of the poles.

Team Army went the rickshaw route which worked out well for them, some weird relationship stuff aside. After Dave nailed the training course, he turned taskmaster on his wife when she took the wheel. “Can you listen to me when I tell you to turn?” he demanded, and then (jokingly?) shouted “Listen to your frickin’ husband!” from the backseat as she drove through the course. Either way, it was creepy.

NEXT: Mark’s disastrous dance career and Rachel “Jiminy” Cricket

After barfing on the bus ride (naturally) and struggling to fill his lungs with the smog-filled air, Mark was already ill when he began the Bollywood dance routine. Because of his blown-out knee, Bopper had reluctantly ceded the task: “Normally I’m the dance man, but my knee injury has come back to haunt me at the wrong time.”

Vanessa completed the dance on her third attempt, with Rachel fighting back tears to get the completion card after her fourth time. J.J. ended up finishing a lot earlier than he or his teammate expected, and so Team Kentucky was once again left in last place.

After Mark failed his sixth try, the Bollywood choreographer asked him to do it “one more time.” But in the movie industry, “one more time” actually means “countless times,” and after several additional failures Mark was visibly sick. Aside from sweating profusely, he had that exhausted look in his eyes where he couldn’t focus in on anything around him. “It’s one hundred degrees and I can’t move,” Mark said. “But I’m gonna do this or die.”

Always the true friend, Bopper stepped in as the voice of reason. “Wrap up, man. It’s time to go home. To hell with that money, I want my buddy and you got no more to give.” But in spite of that, Mark insisted on continuing. “I got to,” he wheezed.

Meanwhile, the Dating Divorcees had gone the clutch route and Teams Big Brother and Border Patrol faced off against the pro cricket players. Ralph followed in Dave’s backseat driver footsteps, although self-described terrible driver Vanessa was less resistant to taking orders (she did, however, do plenty of that irritating “son of a sea biscuit” faux swearing).

As a sitar played the 104-year-old classic “Take Me Out To the Ballgame,” the Big Brother vets and border patrol agents tried their hands at the four-century-old British sport. J.J. and Brendon managed to bat a ball past the pro catchers and to a target line a considerable distance away (well, I suck at sports, so it seemed far away to me). Art kept whiffing balls while J.J. helpfully chewed him out. Much to their mutual chagrin, Rachel actually managed to complete the cricket task before Art. “I hope it was a good feeling to know they both got beat by a girl,” Rachel gloated to the camera later.

By this point, Team Army had already nabbed their fifth first-place finish and a trip to St. Lucia. “You’re always with gorgeous women,” Dave remarked to Phil when they arrived at the equally-gorgeous Bolgatty Palace. Talking to the cameras, Dave diplomatically noted, “With regard to Art and J.J., we’ll resolve the situation,” to which Rachel added, “If not, we’ll beat them.” The way things are going now, the latter seems more likely than the former.

NEXT: An ending shocker as Team Kentucky almost quits the Race

After completing the cricket challenge, Brendon and Rachel slid into second place followed closely by Team Border Patrol. The Dating Divorcees rolled in later, though still hours ahead of Team Kentucky. After failing his 9th, 10th and 11th attempts, Mark was gasping for air and seriously considering quitting the entire Race. “We gave it everything we’d had, let’s pack up and go home,” Bopper insisted. “We come here friends, we gonna leave friends.”

By that point, Mark was so physically drained that he was legitimately concerned about having a heart attack. “It broke me down,” he said. “I just thought that a million dollars is not worth not walking my kids down the aisle, not going to my youngest’s ball games.” As he changed out of his sweat-drenched robes, one of the Bollywood choreographers tried to talk him out of quitting.

Perhaps motivated by some behind-the-scenes info from the show’s producers, Bopper had also changed his tune at this point and was urging his partner to continue trying even though they were clearly coming in last. “Let’s finish it for our kids,” Bopper said. As always, “kids” is the magic word on The Amazing Race. They serve as an excuse (“I have to raise a family, not risk my life”) or a motivator (“I want to make my kids proud and show them never to give up”), often within the same 10 minutes.

So Mark put on a fresh set of clothes and after 12 tries, they finally gave him the card. His final attempt at the dance wasn’t a noticeable leap forward in technical prowess — it was just as close-but-no-cigars as the 11th effort — but after seeing Mark’s spirit broken, the choreographer seemed contented enough.

A montage showed us Team Kentucky completing the rest of the leg, accompanied by a voice-over from Bopper during which he once again talked about how amazing it was that two boys from Kentucky have even made it this far, etc etc. I’m not minimizing their against-the-odds success, but it’s a speech we’ve heard just about every time they reach the finish mat.

When they finally did get to Phil, Bopper offered up some truly touching words on his best friend, though. “For me, he’s family. Everybody can use some extra money, but you can’t replace this guy.” Shucks. Even typing that makes me choke up.

Ridiculously enough, last night turned out to be another non-elimination round — Keoghan ex machina swooped in to save Team Kentucky. That means for the second time, Mark and Bopper have come in dead-last and lived to race another day. This also means they’ve been the benefactors of two out of season 20’s three non-elimination rounds. That’s some serious luck. Or maybe they have a higher power looking after them. Like the show’s producers? Either way, it was a real Bollywood ending.

Were you surprised when Team Kentucky survived another elimination? And what did you think when they referred to Team Border Patrol as “babies?” And how grating was that Bollywood melody they were dancing to after the 20th time it played?

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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