'The Amazing Race' recap: There's an elephant in the race
Oh-ho-ho, what’s that I see under the distant Laotian sun? Why, it’s shaaaade. And what’s that smell wafting through the open-air market? Could it be…no…is it?! Oh yes—that IS the scent of freshly brewed hypocrisy!
I kid, I kid; this is The Amazing Race, after all, so we’re still dealing in good, wholesome fun. But with so many reality TV cultures blending together—the trust-no-man nature of Survivor, the breakneck speed of TAR, and the, uh…big personalities…of Big Brother (sorry, still learning about that one)—season 31 is turning out to be quite the elephant ride of emotions. And as if the clash of competitive cultures wasn’t intense enough already, the kind folks at TAR went ahead and added a U-Turn to the second leg of the race. Because apparently this season we are dealing with some messy producers who live for drama…
And I don’t hate it! Shade is normally a descriptor I reserve for my Real Housewives recaps, but even before the U-Turn revealed itself in Leg 2 of this rrrrrace around the world, some of these teams had already started to look at each other sideways. Starting in Tokyo, the teams had to take a taxi to a ticket booking counters to buy their flights to LUANG PRABANG in LAOS. The Afghanimals head out first, followed by Team Torey and Team Zen (updating that name from “Team Med” last week—all other team names stand!). We’re treated to a clip of Colin completely losing his cool 15 years ago on season 5, and it’s hard to believe this is the same person now extolling the benefits of meditation and intention as Christie calmly nods her agreement.
It really is lovely to see how supportive and encouraging each of these season 31 pairings are with one another, even in this high-stress, high-stakes environment. As for the teams getting along with each other…
That’s a slightly different story. And though enemies and alliances are nothing new to The Amazing Race, such strong divides showing up in episode 2 are certainly a little rare. First, SisterSister thinks they might have an ally in Team Fun when they set out searching of the ticket counter in Tokyo, but when Team Fun leaves them behind for Team Vicole, the Sisters quickly move Team Fun closer to their enemy column. Later, Rachel and Elissa will say they U-Turn Team Fun because they’re a strong team, which they are—but these are also clearly two sisters spurned, so why not use that U-Turn to get even?
Once all the teams make it on the same flight from Tokyo to Luang Prabang, they’re to head to a temple to share in the ceremony of giving alms to monks at sunrise. While everyone is on their best behavior for the monks, getting themselves there is a different story. Most of the teams realize they can just walk to the temple, but the Afghanimals and Team TieDye think they need to hop in a tuk tuk. So, being the former Survivors they are, Team Villain realizes if they run in front of the other teams’ tuk tuk, blocking its path, they’re guaranteed to get in line to give alms before them…
And it works! It also makes an enemy of the Afghanimals, a feeling Team Villain is more than willing to make mutual throughout the rest of the episode. Once the alms are given, the lines drawn in the sand, and the clues received it’s on the DETOUR: ABC vs. BBQ.
But first—a U-Turn! I already told you about SisterSister putting Team Fun on the U-Turn board, but I haven’t told you how fun-loving Becca and Floyd handle it: not super great, dude! I mean, they ultimately overcome the U-Turn, but they also act very personally offended that they were U-Turned, calling it a “low blow.” Which is…not my personal favorite response to being U-Turned. I much prefer Team Torey’s approach (who were U-Turned by Team Fun, mind you!), which was to say, we knew this might happen, and we’re just going to have to run a perfect leg now. I hope they’ve been doing as many Leg Days as they’ve been doing Arm Days, if you know what I’m saying. (I’m saying their arms got huge—I am not subtle person!).
At the ABC Detour, the teams must learn the Laotian alphabet and recite it using a diagram in front of a classroom of schoolchildren. This immediately registers as my worst nightmare on account of having an equal fear of new languages, tests, and being laughed at by children. Most of the teams seem to have similar fears because for a long time, only Team Torey show up to this Detour given that they literally have to. They are eventually joined by Team Villain, Team TieDye, and Team Fun because they also literally have to.
But as it turns out—the children are as supportive as they are adorable, and the letters of the Laotian alphabet may sound very similar to the English-speaking ear, but a careful study reveals it’s all about intonation. Or in the case of Corrinne and Eliza, it’s all about one partner coming up with clues to remind the other partner how to make each sound: “Tori Amos makes you cry! You bought a fake purse and you’re happy about it! Now you’re sad about it! The rain falls!” It is absurd, and it somehow works, and I love it.
Things are a little more straight forward over a the BBQ Detour, where teams simply have to roam around what Phil calls, “the most elaborate open-air market I’ve ever seen,” collecting three ducks and eight tilapia fish to then prepare and skewer. It is labor intensive, but most people get it on the first try, and even though it is their second Detour in a row, Team Torey are at an advantage because Korey’s dad is a butcher.
But this leg is really all about the ROAD BLOCK: WHO LIKES TO BE IN COMMAND? Because, really, any time there are elephants on The Amazing Race, it is all about those elephants. It brings new meaning to the phrase “elephant in the room” beyond just their size, and into their sheer beauty—you can’t focus on anything else but the adorable creature with the wise eyes who wants to carry you across this river! Or, in some cases, doesn’t want to carry you across this river.
At the Elephant Conservation Center which ensures quality of life and survival for the beloved elephants of Laos, one member of each team must use Lao commands to “convince a three-ton elephant to cross this river.” I see what you did there, Phil! It seems unlikely that any of these knuckleheads could board an elephant and convince her to do anything, but indeed they do. It seems to be a kind of spiritual experience for many, including rider Nicole, and I loved the way she kissed her elephant and thanked her at the end of a successful journey. (I also loved the way her elephant demanded treats every time she did the right thing—same, girl.)
To the sounds of “pai, pai!” most of the teams make it across the river to find the musician holding their next clue, and then back across the river to their waiting teammate with ease, though it does seem take a while. But it’s clearly a pretty even, if rather slow-paced race considering the closeness with which the teams tumble into the PIT STOP at PRINCE PHETSARATH’S PALACE, even with an additional tuk tuk race, speed boat ride, and two U-Turned teams in the mix…
1: AFGHANIMALS: They may have made a few enemies today, but they also won $2,500 each and logged their second first-place finish of season 31…
2. TEAM VICOLE: And poor Nicole is the learner of a valuable lesson from the Afghanimals who tried to convince her that she and Victor, who were originally headed to the Pit Stop in first place, got off at the wrong spot. That lesson? “When you’re close in the race with someone, they might not be telling the truth.”
4: TEAM ZEN
6: TEAM VILLAIN
7: TEAM TOREY: Overcoming two detours to beat two teams who only did one!
8: THE ODD COUPLE
9: TEAM FUN: Overcoming two detours to beat exactly as many teams as they needed to stay in the game…
ELIMINATED: TEAM TIEDYE, Rupert and Laura, who share some very sweet words about their 21-year marriage, and how “The Amazing Race is just one small adventure in the broad spectrum of our lives together.” That’s the spirit, you two!
Now, what did you think about the Laotian leg of this adventure? Do things stand to get uglier between the Afghanimals and Team Villain who referred to each other as “snakes” and “assholes” respectively in Leg 2? Will Team Fun forgive SisterSister? Do you want Team Zen to sit everyone down in between legs for a little peaceful meditating, or would you rather these tensions continue to bubble? Nothing wrong with some shade as long as you brought your SPF 31 with you, after all.