And now for something a little different. I decided to fill out the long Survivor offseason by taking a break from the show to cover some Survivor-adjacent content. So it’s time for us to watch the Rob and Amber season of The Amazing Race.
Before I get started, I feel like I should present my Amazing Race bonafides, so that you can know what to expect. And frankly, they aren’t that impressive.
I started watching the show with this season, specifically because of Rob and Amber. I enjoyed it enough to stick around for 10-11 more after it (I honestly don’t remember if I watched all of Unfinished Business or not) and even bought the first season on DVD (it was pretty great). So while I’ve seen a lot of Race, I’m not exactly an expert. It’ll be up to others in comments to put things in historical context, if necessary. Instead, this will be a Survivor-watcher perspective of the season, which isn’t inappropriate for this site and community.
However, this season was also my introduction to the online fan community, as I spent the season reading recaps and commenting on Television Without Pity, which was a significant part of the TAR fanbase (teams would comment there and attend their fan conventions). So some of the perspectives I’ll be sharing will be reflective of the fan mood at the time.
With that out of the way, let’s… (eyebrow pop) GO!
Meredith & Gretchen
This is a tough one because on the one hand, you kinda have to admire Gretchen’s pluck and willingness to make racy double-entendres. On the other hand, her constant verbalization of her worries is more than a little annoying. But then that gets me dangerously close to complaining about the shrill pitch of an older woman’s voice… which isn’t cool. This will be the battle for as long as they are on the season.
Susan & Patrick
Susan seems pretty nice, other than for the fact that she raised a whiny man-child (although it’s hard to imagine any dude in his 20s not reverting to whiny baby when around his mom 24 hours a day). For me, Patrick’s highlight is easily him bitchily telling Debbie & Bianca that Rob was “dumb as a rock”… right as Rob and Amber were about to erase the lead the teams had gotten by getting on an earlier flight. In that moment, Patrick became every snide internet commenter who thinks they’ll prove their superiority by taking shots at Boston Rob. There’s a 100% chance Patrick has uttered “Rob took four times to win” in his life.
Uchenna & Joyce
Not a whole lot of them in these episodes, other than Uchenna’s prodigious eating skills and Joyce’s less-than-impressive shoe shine sales ability. What’s interesting is how they are pushing the angle of “having the race help them overcome marital difficulties”, which… do not seem to exist? Which either means, yay! They’re doing it! Or… edit.
Ray & Deana
Holy fuck is Ray awful. Now, speaking of edit, there was a decent explanation for how they were portrayed in exit interviews that I’ll get to when appropriate. But editing or not, what a fucking dick.
Lynn & Alex
It seems pretty clear to me that these guys were CONVINCED that they’d be the stars of this season. Like, as soon as someone put them on TV, they would take the fuck over with their amazing personalities. Then they saw Rob & Amber at the starting line and NEVER got over it. The raw, naked jealousy they have for Rob & Amber is as obvious as it is desperate. And it makes them EASILY the most annoying team to me. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where these two are at a reality contestant charity event and they keep psyching themselves up to tell Rob off, only for him to sign an autograph for them, never realizing he was ever on a season of television with them.
Ron & Kelly
Fun game to play this season: how many dates do you think these two went on before being paired up to run the race together? If I set the over/under at 9.5, what are you taking?
Brian & Greg
I like to think of them as the Jeremy Sisto brothers. Do we think they’ve just been unlucky, or are they not detail-oriented enough to succeed?
Rob & Amber
I’ll have more to say about them in other sections, both because I’m me and because they are prime movers for as long as they’re on the season, with other teams seemingly under the directive of “whenever Poochie’s not on screen, the other characters should ask ‘where’s Poochie?'”. But as for them, I think it’s good to note their dynamic. First off, they’re easily the most affectionate team (not that it’s fair to compare a young, engaged couple with more mature married couples… I certainly wouldn’t want to be in that competition). They’re also really supportive of each other (as are Uchenna & Joyce and Brian & Greg). But the key to their dynamic is that Rob does his Rob things (manipulation, confrontation, casual dismissal of his competitors) and Amber supports him while reeling him in when necessary.
This was also their dynamic in All-Stars, where she was much more of a partner than a lot of people care to give her credit being. A nice underrated moment in these episodes was during Rob’s confrontation with Debbie & Bianca and Lynn & Alex, where Amber lets Rob do his thing for a bit, then gives the patented Amber Tap of Calming when it’s time to reel him in. Look for this all season.
Rob & Amber: Game Changers?
The prevailing wisdom when it comes to Romber’s appearance on The Amazing Race is that they brought Survivor-style tactics to race, shaking things up in the process. Again, I didn’t watch much pre-Romber TAR, so I can’t be the judge of that. Plus, I’m not confident that they actually changed how later teams behaved, as a lot of what happens this season seems unique to them. But that isn’t to say that there isn’t things to talk about.
The big thing they brought to the Race is the idea that you’re not only competing against the Race itself, but also against the other teams. As I understand it, in general teams were relatively co-operative and congenial with each other in past seasons (with some obvious exceptions). And this makes sense. You are competing more against the course than you are against the other racers. As long as you rock your tasks, get to them with relative speed, and get a little luck (or at least avoid bad luck), you should be able to stay our of last place for quite a while, regardless of what other teams are doing. The Amazing Race can be very straight-forward in that sense, which I’m finding makes it very difficult to write about, tbh.
But that’s not enough for Rob. He wants every edge he can get, both to hopefully try enough things that the edges he gets will help counteract the heavy hand that luck plays in the Race and because he’s just a hyper-competitive dude who can’t help himself. We’ll probably talk about whether his little ploys are worth it for as long as Rob and Amber remain on the season, but regardless, they do make the season much more interesting. So let’s get started.
Recruiting tour guides
This was a huge talking point in the fan community, about how Rob and Amber not only got help from locals, they had them travel with them to get help throughout the leg (whereas the standard usage for this help would be location-based only). Some people thought it unfair that they had someone travel with them at all. That the show should make a rule to outlaw it. Which… I mean, if there’s no rule against something, Rob is not going to avoid doing it just to make things more sporting.
The bigger question is how much the celebrity status of Rob and Amber helped them recruit these helpers. It’s a fair question. The guy in the first episode recognized them on the flight. But, while its undeniable that they are more noticeable than their competition, every team is being followed by a camera and sound operator. They all are noticeable and give the impression of some level of fame for gawkers. I’m sure more teams could have locals follow them along if they simply asked. This will be a talking point throughout the season, so feel free to share your take.
Bribing the security guard
This one’s an example of how Rob’s antics can backfire. Maybe if he doesn’t try to get the security guard to keep his secret of the direct bus in the second episode (a secret that was on the sign as “Directo”), the other teams don’t realize that the security guard is hiding something and not all of them buy tickets for that bus after Lynn & Alex and Debbie & Bianca HAVE to tell everyone how they caught him.
Although, I do wonder if getting busted this time helped get it into everyone’s heads that they always have to be paranoid about Rob & Amber, which is not a head space that benefits them all. Other teams are worried about the Race AND Rob & Amber, Rob & Amber are only worried about the Race.
Besides, when one plan fails…
Bribing the bus driver
This is a perfect example of how Rob looks for every little edge to win. How much of a difference could it possibly make to get off the bus a minute or so before the other teams? It’s so small. It almost seems petty. Except… the four teams involved in the bribery finished 1-4 for the leg. So maybe the small things matter?
Also, Rob using everyone’s money but his and Amber’s is the “Rob throwing his clue in the volcano” of the season.
The Meat Block
Ohhhhhh snap. Rob hacking the meat-eating road block in the third episode is probably the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen done on the show. It’s just so brilliant, and the work of a team who has obviously studied every last inch of the rulebook in order to exploit openings.
The calculus is so simple: if the Race gives you a task that will probably take more than four hours to complete… then don’t do it. Sitting around for four hours is probably a better use of your time than vomiting up a bunch of cow parts for four hours. Frankly, the second he quit, they had to know they’d be in the clear, as neither Meredith nor Gretchen (whoever was chosen to do it) would ever complete that task in less than four hours.
But, as stated, Rob isn’t satisfied with just one edge in a competition. So the next step in his master plan was convincing two more teams to quit too. Now he COULDN’T be passed. Superb. (And it should be noted, quitting was the right choice for both of those teams too. Meredith didn’t need to be Joe del Campoing himself there). The only way this move could’ve been more brilliant would have been if he quit sooner than he did.
The impression I’ve gotten from the fan community is that volume eating challenges were a semi-regular thing in the previous six seasons. After Rob hacked this one, I believe they went away. So I’d say that was game changing. And good riddance. Seeing people waste food, sometimes in poor countries, and vomit their way through it is not what I want from TV. And from a pure racing standpoint, I would NOT want to be racing around the day after I ate 4 pounds of red meat. It’s got make it harder for even the most creative teams to execute BMs.
Caution: Yield Ahead
We’ll talk more about Yield decisions and the proper Yield strategy when one is actually deployed, but do you guys really think the rest of the teams planned on yielding Rob & Amber at the first opportunity, or did they just tell Lynn & Alex that to shut them up about it already? Because if they were planning on doing that, the rest of the teams are stupid and deserve everything Rob & Amber do to them.
Best Move of the Episodes
It’s Rob tanking the meat block and it’s not close. But since I already wrote about that and still want this to be a regular segment, I’ll go with another Rob and Amber move (I promise that I don’t intend on making this whole series about them, but they were head and shoulders more interesting than everyone else in these three episodes). Rob’s careful stacking of all 180 books at the Detour proves that he and Amber can outshine teams even without fucking with them. Every other team took two trips to the library (and to be fair to later teams, the earlier teams took the smaller books), but Rob and Amber calmly sorted their stacks and got it all done at once. You get a good sense here why Rob is so good at puzzle challenges.
Runner-up: idk, Meredith & Gretchen with the llamas?
Worst Move of the Episodes
It should be every stupid team who just blindly dug through the closest sandpile for the worst flight time without even bothering to take half a minute to look at the other pile to see if it was a better time. That was infuriating. But… technical difficulties rendered that one moot, so I’ll go with Debbie & Bianca driving two hours to the ocean when they were supposed to be heading the Andes. Good on the edit for highlighting it with their snotty reaction to the tollbooth operator who had no idea of the location they were asking about… because it wasn’t anywhere near them!
Runner-up: Deana for agreeing to go on the Race with Ray.
Ryan & Chuck
They seemed fun. It’s really too bad that we got an extra episode of Megan & Heidi rather than them, but them’s the breaks. Seeing them again does make me think about the difference between 2005 me who really wanted to see more of them cute rednecks and 2017 me who can’t help but think of who they probably voted for and yes that’s completely unfair but still.
Megan & Heidi
Meh. Whatever. Dead to me as soon as they dug into the 7:45 flight time pile because “it was closer and we’re here”. They weren’t even the better eye candy.
Debbie & Bianca
Now this was a loss. Fiesty, at times capable, and I thought they were really cute (especially Debbie), they seemed like they could be real contenders this season. But even in their short time on the Race, you got a glimpse of their fatal flaw: they don’t seem to deal well with pressure. It was not a good look when Debbie could NOT stop complaining about the choice of the llama detour (or when she said “retarded” like, five times. Remember when people did that?). She agreed in the most passive-aggressive way, and was basically quitting before she even gave it a try. (Although, they did finish first that leg, so maybe quitting is just the best technique this season?)
You have to wonder if they still weren’t over the small adversity of losing their cab (when Rob and Amber stole it, which I’m not sure they were aware of) and became too distracted to make the necessary turn on the highway. Maybe they were just front-runners. Or maybe they got over-confident thinking that Bianca’s Spanish-speaking skills would give them an edge in South America. As I understand it, it’s not unusual for teams to falter in places they should have an advantage on The Amazing Race.
It’s also kinda disappointing that we don’t have any all female teams left this early in the Race.
Alright, it’s your turn to sound off on the episodes. As a reminder, we’re keeping these spoiler-free for people who may be watching for the first time. If you want to discuss future events, do so between spoiler tags:
I’ve introduced some conversation topics here, but obviously, anything is fair game. I’m interested in seeing what you’re interested in to help me figure out what to write about in future posts. And I promise: it won’t ALL be Rob and Amber.
Also, head’s up: next week’s three episodes includes a two-hour episode. So four hours of TAR to watch.
Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cook Islands, Palau, The Amazon, Cagayan
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino
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