This season feels breathless, doesn’t it? The deck is simultaneously stacked and constantly shuffling. Even had TAR not decided to go Jokers wild and just throw in a #PartnerSwap or a Head-to-Head every once in a while in season 30, this still would have been a completely unpredictable season. This week there was a fully executed double U-Turn, and both delayed teams managed to make it through two physically draining Detours and an anxiety-inducing Road Block and land on the mat in front of last place, one team getting to stand beside the team that U-Turned them in the first place.
And a personal wakeup call from Phil — what fresh heaven is this?!
Shocking even myself, I actually thought the partner swap was kind of fun. I likely would have hated it if it had gotten a team eliminated or even set them back, but it was really just like one big Road Block and your challenge was working with someone you only know casually (and y’know, have probably slept on the ground with a handful of times at this point). Really, I think it just showed what strengths and weaknesses the OG pairs bring out in each other, in addition to shoring up a few alliances…and maybe one rivalry, which we’ll get to.
In a leg — oh wait, two legs — full of entertainment, surely nothing was better than seeing bunch of people known for their competitive aptitude having to sing and dance for their spot on the mat, and hating every minute of it. I loved that every team had been fearing a singing/dancing challenge the whole race; being highly competitive in nature isn’t exactly something that lends itself to the arts, I guess (though competitiveness surely doesn’t exclude one from the arts or vice versa). These are a bunch of jocks and brainiacs who were briefly asked to be theater kids, and by golly, they did it, and we’re the lucky ones that got to laugh at and/or with them.
Heading into the episode, the teams have a pretty grueling first leg of travel, flying from Prague to Harare, Zimbabwe, then taking a diesel train to Marondera, totaling about 20 hours, per Jen and Kristi. Once at the Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservancy, the teams must successfully pitch a tent — fastest gets a reward, and that reward is not a bed. As Phil informs the six remaining teams when he bangs on a metal pot to wake them up at 4 a.m. the next morning, they’ll be participating in #PartnerSwap — or as I like to call it, #TARSwingers — until “further notice.” The teams who built their tents fastest the day before get to choose which team they’ll be partner-swapping with, so Big Brother chooses Team Xtreme, and the Lifesavers choose the Indy Boys, which leaves Yale and the Twins together.
And since these are a bunch of competitors, everyone just does just fine, and surprisingly, the only new team that has trouble have been two of the strongest racers thus far. First, the newly formed teams have to paddle a makeshift bush raft out onto Imire Lake and spot a clue hanging from a canteen. That clue takes them to their DETOUR: RHINO TRACK vs. BUSH WACK. Brittany and Alex sail in first because Brittany is a national rowing champion and Alex is a fast learner. They further apply their surprisingly dynamic duo powers to Rhino Track, where teams must ride horseback through the bush, looking for evidence of human poachers (campsites, fires, matches, etc.), collecting eight along the way. Once they’ve completed the trail, they find out that they have to place the items on a map, according to where they found them. (Recap continues on page 2)
Brittany and Alex keep very good track of the order in which they found their items, so it’s fairly easy for them to apply that to the trail on the map. Jessica and Kristi sort of know which order they found their items in but have a hard time applying that to the direction of the trail and have failed about five times by the time Evan and Daniel show up. Kristi immediately tells them that the map is really hard, and asks if they want to work together. Given that Evan is very detail oriented and hasn’t even looked at it yet, she says they’re going to take a look first, which is completely reasonable, especially because Evan and Daniel get it on their first try. For some reason though, it particularly bothers Jessica, who I’ve gotten the impression always remembers that this is a competition first. Much like Jessica did last week, Evan didn’t try to harm the other team; she just didn’t help them beat her.
And it’s a good thing, because things weren’t going great for her OG partner Henry over at Bush Whack, where teams had to take a manual jeep off-roading through a bunch of muddy bogs in order to replenish a ranger supply station. Cody and Jen, of course, beast it without getting their jeep stuck once. Lucas and Conor get stuck trying to make it out of a bog, and it takes some winching to get them out of it. Henry and Eric get stuck in the middle of a bog, and it takes quite a bit of winching to get them out of it. But still…
This is a Pit Stop where you can’t move on to the continuing leg of the race until your OG partner is there, so:
Moving on First: Brittany and Alex finish second, while Lucas and Conor finish third, so The Indy Boys and The Lifesavers get a nice head start.
Moving on Second: Evan and Daniel come in third, and Eric and Henry follow up in fourth, putting Team Yale and The Twins in the middle of the pack.
Moving on Third: And even though Cody and Jen were the first to arrive at the mat, their partners are the last, so Big Brother and Team Xtreme are out last, heading to…
The capital city of Harare for their next leg. The last four teams end up neck and neck as they take taxis into the city, so when the frontrunner teams arrive at a Double-U-Turn board, they wisely decide to to keep their lead, with the Lifesavers U-Turning Big Brother and the Indy Boys U-Turning Yale…although I can’t imagine why no one would U-Turn the very strong Team Xtreme. Actually of course I can: Everyone onscreen seems just as in love with Jen and Kristi as everyone offscreen.
I appreciate that neither U-Turn team takes it too personally; they just put their heads down, do the work, and rejoice in the fact that at least another team has been U-Turned so they stand a chance (boy, do they!). And this is not the easiest DETOUR: HANDLE WITH CARE vs. JUST GET IT THERE. Big Brother heads to Handle with Care first where they have to retrieve seven large packages and deliver them all over an insanely designed mall — literally, it was modeled after a termite mound (they’re excellently ventilated, apparently!). Team Yale starts with Just Get It There, where they have to deliver two tires by rolling them for a half mile through an insanely crowded market and onto a delivery truck. It’s pretty straightforward for everyone except Indy Car, who roll those tires all over that damn market. Maybe they just…missed being around tires? (Recap continues on page 3)
Both Yale and Big Brother transition to their second Detour at almost the exact same time, and perfectly timed to ask the last team still at each Detour for some tips. The Indy Boys tell Big Brother exactly where the mechanic shop they looked so long for is, and the Twins kindly point out a few of the businesses Yale will need to deliver their packages to. And those guys are so nice, I bet they don’t even regret doing that. Who could have known…
The ROAD BLOCK: GET DOWN THE ZIMBAB-WAY would be a TAR nightmare. Except, not really, most of the teams seemed to have fun despite their constant failures to stay on rhythm, and all their teachers seemed so nice and supportive. Both members of each team had to learn a popular language in the native language of Shona and perform it in front of an audience to be graded on pronunciation and showmanship — and rhythm, and pace, which seemed to be the toughest things to nail. It would be impossible to choose who was worst at this challenge, but I would be happy to rewatch it 20 times to try.
I’d definitely point out Jen, Jessica, and Brittany as being some of the most rhythmic, though I doubt any of them took home any show choir trophies. Alex was nearly crippled by fear, but Conor’s apparent love of adrenaline-based performing pulled him through. Henry and Evan sounded truly terrible but were able to get through quicker than most because they’re skilled in learning other languages. As one of the final two teams, Cody really seemed like he was going to let his inability to stay on rhythm get the best of him, but then I saw something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before on TAR. Cody was going into full defeatist mode about his multiple failed attempts, and instead of getting angry with him, Jessica just kind of started…kissing him a bunch. All over his face; on his mouth; with tongue, probably, but hard to say.
What I can definitely say is there’s not a doubt in my mind that Cody’s Love Language is “physical touch,” because that man got up on the stage, shuffled and squawked his way through a serviceable performance, and got the hell out of there…just before the Twins. (Okay, if pushed, I could probably choose the two worst singers in the bunch — although I might not be able to tell them apart.)
1: THE LIFESAVERS: They won a second honeymoon to St. Lucia, and ice cream!
2: XTREME: “Now you know our dark little secret: We are not so strong at song and dance.”
3: INDY BOYS: I loved how proud Conor was of Alex, and I loved that Alex said making it through that singing challenge was one of the top achievments of his life, just behind his Formula 1 debut and winning the Indy500.
4: TEAM YALE made it onto the mat just after the team that U-Turned them. That’s almost as badass as the edgy sunglasses Henry is suddenly wearing, and Evan’s…scuba top? I swear, these two are getting a very tiny makeover montage in between each leg.
5: BIG BROTHER: The power of love!
ELIMINATED: THE TWINS never once complained, they never once gave up, they made it about six legs further than I originally assumed they would, and they went out doing what they love best: Daniel making puns and Eric telling him to stop. “We didn’t have rhythm…so now we got the blues.” Nailed it.