The Amazing Race recap: A very picky polar bear
Well. Let it never be said that combining the CBS reality forces of Amazing Race, Survivor, and Big Brother didn’t bring a different, uh, energy to season 31. Almost uniformly, every team that exits The Amazing Race leg-by-leg, season-by-season is sad to see their experience come to an end, but proud of how hard they worked, and thankful for the places they’ve been and the people they’ve met…
BUT NOT TONIGHT, PEOPLE! Fair warning, there are earlier spoilers than usual about this leg’s eliminated team ahead:
Eliza and Corinne did not take their loss at the end of Wednesday’s episode with the normal grain of TAR positivity. Especially because they had to stand on the mat with second-to-last-place finishers Elissa and Rachel, whom Team Villain had declared their mortal enemies at the beginning of the leg, with plans to (gasp) unfollow them on social media, and everything. Many teams this episode seemed to note a kind of social hierarchy of the three participating series in season 31 which went, top-to-bottom: TAR, Survivor, Big Brother. Victor and Nicole themselves admitted that they want to earn their stripes as a TAR team, not just a Big Brother team, and Corinne and Eliza simply could not believe that as a Survivor team, they’re consistently beaten by Big Brother teams.
But leg after leg, the teams’ original competition experience doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with how the rankings shake out. (For the record, O.G. TAR teams are very Don Draper about it: We don’t think about you at all.)
But skill level aside, it must be said that Corinne and Eliza certainly brought their uniquely-Survivor mentality to this race: they were endlessly supportive and positive within their own team, and…that’s it. Everyone else was not only their competitor but their enemy. I can’t say I love that attitude infiltrating my TAR safe space, but for one leg of one season, sure, it was an interesting twist on the game. I mean Corinne literally said following Team Villain’s elimination and the declaration that they don’t respect themselves: “I’m not a positive person. I don’t know how to spin this.” That has to be a TAR first.
Plus, it went along swimmingly with the rather overcast tone that followed most of leg 4, which remained within the overwhelming urban confines of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Team Fun were the first to take off in the pouring rain toward Snowtown, an indoor winter activity facility that didn’t open until 6:30 a.m., putting all the teams back on an even playing field.
The rain may have let up a bit throughout the day, but the motorbikes most definitely did not. After sledding down a snowy hill to a polar bear holding their next clue (and sometimes directly into the person wearing the polar bear suit), the teams had to find a cab to take them to the COLLEGE TRANSPORTATION CENTRAL. Which was particularly hard because every street in Ho Chi Minh is swarming with motorbikes. But hopefully all that time spent trying to wave down taxis provided some good observation time, because that could be helpful in the next ROADBLOCK: DRIVE YOURSELF CRAZY.
One member of each team must master a figure-8 motorbike course complete with speedbumps in order to earn a scooter license and their next clue. Certainly, the hardest part of the course is not being able to touch your feet down while driving through the obstacles, which seemed to be everyone’s first inclination (y’know, because of the human instinct not to want to fall over or whatever). Standouts were Colin, who I think completed the course on his first try because, as Christie tells us, he has a dirt bike he rides with their son at home. Victor was also quite good because he said his size helped weigh the bike down and keep it steady. That size discrepancy could explain why Eliza had such a difficult time getting through the course, but it mostly seemed to be nerves and a fear that she wouldn’t be able to do it from the very beginning. She did make it through though, leaping with joy as she got it on her 10th try.
As for the Afghanimals and SisterSister, even though they did quite well on the motorbikes and departed the Roadblock first, they made a classic TAR error in choosing their DETOUR: IRRITATION vs. IRRIGATION.
Both teams chose IRRIGATION wherein they had to construct a simple-enough seeming irrigation wheel made of bamboo and rubber ties that scooped up water from the river and spun around, delivering it into a bucket. The wheel was already halfway constructed when they arrived so I could understand how they thought it wouldn’t be so difficult, but the construction of the wheel not only had to be precise but once built, had to successfully fill up a pretty large bucket before the teams could leave. This was a frustrating wait for the Afghanimals, who got their construction right on the first try, and much, much more frustrating for SisterSister who made a number of mistakes, and…
Had to watch as team after team who had made a much speedier choice in IRRITATION pass them by. Ironically, the less irritating detour, this one was so named because as teams steered circular bamboo boats down a river to retrieve a basket of fish and deliver it to a fishmonger, they were also having to dodge “annoying fisherman” (Phil’s words, not mine) as they got in their way and splashed water into their boats. But even with all that going on, this detour was almost entirely a physical feat, with only one team member being able to paddle, and the other having to mostly provide balance and encouragement.
Once again, Team Zen and Team Vicole were on their athletic game, cruising right to the fish traps and over the bridges they had to traverse along the way. That’s, of course, excluding Team Zen’s one brief mistake where they thought they were just supposed to dump the live fish into their boat with them. But once they went back for their trap, it was smooth sailing, as it was for most of the teams that chose this detour, including the continually delightful Team Odd Couple, whose Detour choice once again baffled me given that they filled up the entire tiny boat. But this time their surprising choice was the right one, and they made up a ton of time, even with having to complete a SPEED BUMP earlier in the leg (collecting 30ish snowballs in a little cooler at Snowtown, so I mean, don’t go shedding any tears for them or anything).
No, the only team that seemed to struggle too much with the Irritation Detour was Team Villain, possibly because they’d just had such a difficult time at the Roadblock, or possibly because they’re at kind of a constant state of irritation as is. Both of those things aside though, it was definitely because they decided they needed to stand up for the entire ride down the river. I understand that they thought they were supposed to stand because the fishermen who were there to mess with them were standing in their boats, but I simply cannot understand how they didn’t realize while riding down the river that it would have been much easier to sit down in that cute little upside down bamboo hat they were riding in.
Who knows if that could have been the difference they needed, but it did ultimately turn into a foot race for last between the two final Detour finishers toward the PIT STOP at TAM VU PARK:
1: TEAM ZEN: For their first TAR 1st place win in 15 years, Colin and Christie won a trip for two to the Dominican Republic.
2: TEAM VICOLE: And for their third 2nd place finish in their short stint on TAR, Victor and Nicole won the keys to my heart because they are just so darn endearing.
3: ODD COUPLE: The same goes for Brett and Chris, whose Friday Night Lights speech at the mat I found quite inspiring: “We needed to make a stand in front of all these people to show them that we are something to be feared!”
4: TEAM FUN
5: TEAM TOREY
6: THE AFGHANIMALS
8: SISTERSISTER: It was a rough leg for the Reilly sisters, and the further into the race we get, the more Rachel’s defeatist tendencies are starting to show up, but you have to admire the way they support each other. And given that they don’t seem to have done anything much worse than be a little annoying from time to time, I don’t support the ire they ultimately received from…
ELIMINATED: TEAM VILLAIN: Of course, I can empathize that it would have been frustrating to walk up to the mat in last place and hear SisterSister saying how “blessed” they are to still be competing. But come on…they are! Eliza says that they did their best, and Corinne says that’s the worst part about it: “When you know you gave it everything you had and you still fail, then you’re like, Oh, what I had wasn’t good enough.” But I’m with the Sisters on this one: I respect Eliza and Corinne for trying and they’re clearly strong competitors. I’d just never, ever want to be on their bad side.
Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.