We continue our offseason re-visit of the most Survivor-y season of The Amazing Race, examining four hours of TAR 7 in three episodes.
A reminder: these recaps are by a Survivor fan who started watching The Amazing Race with this season and hung on for another ten before giving it up.
As Survivor viewers, we’re generally cognizant of the fact that the people we see competing in that physical, emotional, and strategic contest are not doing so in peak conditions. We see them wasting away with no creature comforts, all dirty in their underwear out in the wild, so it’s easier to remember that simple things like thinking clearly is not so simple (in theory, anyway, although we’re probably all guilty at times of lacking empathy for the mistakes made in the comforts of our homes).
Whereas on The Amazing Race, we see teams wearing normal clothes (that they can change!), driving cars, using modern amenities, visiting exotic places. It can be easier to forget how mentally taxing the Race can be. Think of all the times in your life where you’ve been at your worst, mentally. How many of those involved being in airports or public transit? At least on Survivor, you’re only doing a challenge 2 out of every 3 days (if that). In the Race, you’re hustling through customs and out into a foreign city to do challenges right after a 14 hour flight. So mistakes will happen and bickering will occur.
And boy howdy, did we see a lot of that in these episodes. By basically every team. So that’s something to keep in mind throughout everything else we discuss here. And also… it’s only gonna get worse.
Best Episode Ever?
Let’s start with the fifth episode of the season, the double episode in South Africa (and middle of the ones we’ll discuss here). Obviously, my lack of experience with the show prevents me from answering the question posed in the header (but more experienced TAR -heads can feel free to tackle it in comments), but MAN was that a hell of an episode. After a 14-hour flight, the teams arrived in Johannesburg and delivered a whirlwind episode fraught with daring tasks, tear-jerking encounters, fun with locals, harrowing accidents, all capped by a pulse-pounding foot race to the final mat. Good stuff.
Meredith & Gretchen
The internal struggle I had with this team through the first three episodes continues unabated. The longer they’re in the Race, the more Gretchen’s constant pronouncements grate on me. Worse, it can be hard to admire any of their performances in the Race other than how they continue to outperform expectations. They don’t seem to do anything particularly well, but manage to just do enough to stay out of last place*. Which becomes impressive in its own right, until the next episode when they’re back to doddering along making odd choices like “let’s do the more physically demanding task in the middle of the desert… because the other teams are?” Seriously, I guess you can admire the old team willing to do the spelunking and corn crushing, but I’d rather admire a team who smartly chooses to do the easier tasks that WOULDN’T tax their older bodies.
But then Gretchen falls, cracks open her face, and then keeps on going and does a Roadblock with face covered in bandages and dried blood and you can’t help but admire her pluck and his loving support. And then… you remember the most impressive thing they did on the Race was overcoming their own failings and… yeah. Good for them?
You get the impression that if Gretchen worked in your office, you’d simultaneously admire how vibrant and full of life she is, while also steering clear of her in the lunch room for fear of her launching into another one of her stories.
*Also, they didn’t even manage to avoid finishing last every time. More on that later.
Ron & Kelly
Last week, I generously set the over/under on dates these two had been on prior to the Race at 9.5 (losing my shirt on the under on that one). After these episodes, the new question is “how many dates do you think they went on AFTER the Race”? Let’s set the over/under on that at 1.5. Now before you scream “UNDER, UNDER, UNDER”, we’ll probably need a clarification on whether or not “viewing party with friends and family” is considered a date or not.
Now, it’s important to remember the Killer Fatigue I prefaced this article with and remember the effect it probably had on the two and their interactions with each other. However, unlike the bickering we saw from teams like Rob & Amber or Meredith & Gretchen, which felt like run of the mill disagreements/annoyances from grumpy people, Ron & Kelly’s fatigue seemed to highlight how each are realizing how little regard they have for the other. The Race has wiped away the little niceties they came in with and all they’re left with is the Race itself. They even have separate post-leg confessionals! Did that happen with any other team?
It’s also important to remember that they’re trading all these angry barbs and snide remarks with each other while they’re doing exceptionally well. They finished fourth, second, first, and second these legs. So it’s not even the additional stress induced by the fear of elimination like you saw in Susan & Patrick, Rob & Amber, or Ray & Deana. They just don’t like each other. And while I can sometimes see how Kelly can be a little annoying and frivolous, I’m struck more this time around by what a dick he is to her. He has no patience at all for her, then gaslights her when she calls him on it. Sorry that your beauty queen “girlfriend” isn’t as physically fit as an Army pilot, Ron. Maybe you should try and be a little more understanding about it, especially since she’s seemingly doing enough to keep you at the front of the pack. Also… she was right about the books in episode two.
Uchenna & Joyce
I’m still waiting for the set of episodes that lets me say more about U&J than “they seem really nice”. They get along really well, often CRUSH the tasks (particularly Uchenna), and it was nice little grace note that they were still in the Race long enough to participate in the orphanage trip that was almost certainly put in to help tell their story. Joyce in particular had a nice confessional about what it was like to be with the children (even if in reality they barely spent any time there as they were hustling to stay out of last place at that point). They get from place to place (eventually… navigation is not their strong suit. And why is Uchenna often driving AND reading maps), do their tasks, get to the end. And sometimes go back and do it again when they’ve forgotten something (fatigue, man. Fatigue).
Rob & Amber
We got a mix of Romber at their best and their worst in these episodes. For best, they finished first twice and second once. Probably my favourite moment from these episodes (other than perhaps the foot race to end the fifth episode) was Rob & Amber strolling on to the plane while the other teams (led, of course, by Lynn & Alex) crowed about their absence from the first flight. The entire time they gave up for refusing the meat block was erased, allowing them to win the very next leg after they quit.
I think what I particularly liked about that sequence was that it was AMBER who was casually sitting back, gleefully anticipating how much their success would bother the haters. It’s important to remember that while she’s the nicer of the pair, and often helps tame the wild ego of Rob Mariano, Amber is still a highly competitive person herself. While she helps smooth his rough edges, he lets her feel comfortable with her own ambition and competitiveness. It’s almost like they complement each other or something.
I also enjoyed their interactions with everyone who recognized them in South Africa, which, of course, was a controversial fan topic back in the day. We talked about it when they received help from a fan in Peru, but it was even more pronounced here as we saw multiple people come up to them and address them by name. So I ask again, is this an unfair advantage?
Just going from the fifth episode, I have to say that it’s a wash (although it must be noted that I’m heavily biased). The first time we see them recognized is at the clinic they stopped at for directions. They did get the directions they needed, but it’s hard to say that the directions came as a result of their celebrity status, since doing so would require suggesting that the people at the clinic would’ve told other teams to go screw instead of helping them. Instead, stopping to greet a bunch of fans seemed to slow them down.
Then came the marketplace, and that woman DEFINITELY helped them (apparently, she actually saw Rob first while he was waiting on the sidelines, then he sent her to find Amber to help her). But… that wasn’t a particularly difficult task. It was probably really helpful to have a local guide Amber through and help her haggle, but no team seemed to have any difficulty with the task. I’m also sure the local helped them find the orphanage easier, but again, no one seemed to have any difficulty with that. More importantly, Rob & Amber finished the leg almost an hour ahead of Uchenna & Joyce. I don’t see where the help they received in the market makes that much of a difference. So if you’re argument is that Rob & Amber only do well on The Amazing Race because of their fame, I’m not sure the evidence is there to support you. Hater.
So that was the good. But the bad… was bad. The fifth leg was easily their worst of the entire Race, starting with a failed bid at the Fast Forward highlighted with an INCREDIBLY pissed off Amber and a fairly condescending Rob. But they recovered, did really well at the Detour (once again choosing the easier task, albeit mostly due to proximity this time), and finished two hours out of last place in a non-elimination leg.
So that leg showed a chink in their armour. Which is fine. What wasn’t fine was their behaviour in the next leg, when they drove past Brian & Greg’s car crash without even checking in to see if everyone was okay. I may be one of Rob Mariano’s staunchest defenders on the internet, but even I have never had a defence for this behaviour. At the time, other Rob partisans charitably pointed out that Rob & Amber were the only team to happen upon the accident scene while another team (Lynn & Alex) were already stopped to help out. In such an instance, the thinking goes that they saw that there were already helpers on scene and they wouldn’t be needed (whereas later teams showed up after Lynn & Alex had already left).
And there might be something to that… if I could believe for one second that Rob would’ve stopped if he had happened upon the crash before Lynn & Alex did. And… I can’t. I have no reason to from Rob’s reaction and words at the time of the accident and at the mat.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Rob since All-Stars is the way that he properly put these reality shows in perspective. Yes it’s “reality” and yes you’re dealing with people and their feelings and promises and alliances and all of that. But in the end, these are games. And all the manufactured “morality” that people have tried to put into these games since they debuted on TV is more often than not, complete bullshit designed to tailor to the whims of the beholder. It’s no more immoral to lie in Survivor than it is to bluff in poker. It’s no more dirty for Rob to favour his in-game alliance with Amber over his pre-game alliance with Lex than it is for Lex to favour his in-game alliance with Shii-Ann over his pre-exisiting relationship with Ethan. One of the most interesting tensions in All-Stars is how Boston Rob is dragging the game, kicking and screaming, out of that old era of morality plays into the new one against the players most responsible for the older way of thinking. And for much of the early part of this season, the same held true for his turn on The Amazing Race.
But the flip side of “it’s just a game” is to recognize when more important things take priority because… it’s just a game. And one of those more important things is upholding the social contract of checking to see if people (two of whom – the camera and sound operators – are not a part of your little competition, btw) who were just in a life threatening situation are alright. Yeah, sure, you may have recognized that you’re no longer the first responders… but the least you can fucking do is slow down and unroll your fucking window. Rob even half-recognizes this when he says that even though it’s a competition, you don’t want to see that… and then keeps on driving.
Lynn & Alex
First off, full marks to Lynn & Alex for doing the right thing and fully checking in on Brian & Greg (which is one of those things you’d think people wouldn’t need credit for, until Rob & Amber showed otherwise). Lynn & Alex are very self-conscious about being seen as “the good people” on the season, particularly in comparison to their self-imposed nemesis, Rob & Amber, but I wouldn’t even suggest that shaping their narrative was why they stopped. They stopped because it was the right thing to do.
I’ll even allow that they do seem to get along with the non-Romber teams pretty well, even if I can’t be sure that they didn’t just do it to have other sounding boards for their Rob & Amber complaints. So if you use “friendliness with other teams” as your “good person” rubric, then Lynn & Alex easily beat the team that steals cabs, refuses money to competitors, and leaves them for dead. And also, good for Lynn & Alex to deny Rob & Amber use of their cab (and ugh to Rob for being all “no more Mr. Nice Guy, as if he had ever intended to be such).
But… other racers are not the only other people on this show. There’s, you know, a WHOLE WORLD full of people they have to interact with. So if this must be a competition with them and Romber, as Lynn & Alex seemed determined to ensure it must, let’s examine that. On the one side, you have Rob & Amber, who not only graciously thank everyone they encounter (be it someone providing directions, someone at a road block, detour, or mat, or a fan in South Africa), they also frequently shake their hands, ask them their names, even dole out sacred Red Sox caps! I’m not sure any team is as gracious with the people who are just out their living their lives and doing their jobs as has been Rob & Amber.
Lynn & Alex, on the other hand…
On the one hand, Non-Elimination Legs are narrative blue balls and I kind of hate them. However, I get the purpose they serve. First and foremost, they’re a way of getting 12 episodes out of 11 teams (with a finale that needs 3 of them). You can’t just add more teams, because that is exponentially more difficult given the logistics of managing the number of people they already have (although I have no idea if they’ve changed the number of teams in the years since I stopped watching). But also, NELs also help with the drama of the finish (while simultaneously killing it once they actually happen), since they encourage teams that might already know that they’re in last to still hustle to the finish line, enabling the show to edit it together like the result is actually in doubt. Because you never know if its an Non-Elimination Leg, in which case, you don’t want to fall too far behind.
I mean, unless you’re Patrick. Then you just give up.
This season they introduced the extra penalty of losing your stuff along with money, presumably because previous teams would just sell stuff to get money? I’ll say now that I hate both penalties and will talk about more when it comes up again later. I’ll also say that I have no problem with teams that decided to not give their competitors money. What’s the point of having a penalty if it’s up to the teams that could be eliminated by this team to fill in the gap?
Best Move of the Episodes
Uchenna & Joyce ROCKED that balancing things on your head Detour, made more impressive by the fact that Kelly, Rob, Lynn, and Alex all tried it and quickly gave up on it. They did it with such ease that you could almost understand why Lynn said they were “born to do it”.
Runner-up: Ray & Deana at the Fast-Forward. That looked scary as shit.
Worst Move of the Episodes
You know, besides the casual disregard of the sanctity of human life thing I already discussed.
Other than that, the honour goes to every team other than Ron & Kelly and maybe Uchenna & Joyce who chose to pound corn rather than suck and spit water with straws. That Detour was a double whammy: both the obviously more physically taxing task (in the middle of a hot desert, no less), AND one that had a judged component. There’s exceptions to every rule on the Race, but in general, it’s best to avoid Detours that have people judging your output. You don’t need that kind of ambiguity when you’re trying to do something as quickly as possible.
Why am I giving Ron & Kelly a pass? Because they got there first. Teams don’t actually get the entire task explained to them before they choose like we do. Just a quick little clue, then you decide. So I’ll allow that Ron & Kelly didn’t know how much harder their task was in comparison to Rob & Amber’s choice. But every other team had the option of looking at people doing both, and they still chose the one that was so much harder that Brian & Greg were able to overcome a car crash by not choosing it. (Uchenna & Joyce get a maybe pass because Uchenna crushed it, metaphorically and literally).
Sure, you don’t know the details before you choose, but there’s nothing stopping you from changing your mind after you choose other than the sunk cost fallacy. These tasks were right beside each other. There was time to bail and go sip water.
Runner-up: But, for real… what were Meredith & Gretchen doing at the spelunking task anyway?
Susan & Patrick
What a delight Patrick was, huh? Quick to act superior when he thinks he’s ahead, even quicker to give up when he thinks he’s behind. We actually got both in his final episode when he can’t help but gloat about how much better they’re doing than Meredith & Gretchen and Ray & Deana… while on a train that departed after theirs. It takes a special kind of ego to know that you’re sucking yet to still assume that the absence of other teams must mean good things for you. And then there was this (in a game, I remind you, that has Non-Elimination Legs).
Ray & Deana
First off: Ray is awful and I was delighted to see him fail. One of the underrated pleasures of his final hours on the Race was to see Ray become discombobulated at how frequently Meredith & Gretchen were pwning him.
However, last week I promised a bit of talk about editing when it comes to Ray, so here it is: in his post-Race interviews, Ray did a pretty good job of owning his bad behaviour while suggesting that the show intentionally piled on his worst moments. Now, this is straight out of the reality contestant excuse hand book, but his point was that he understood why they did it, because making him unlikeable results in the moment when he’s eliminated by a dramatic come-from-behind victory by the goofy car crash victims being THAT much better TV. And I have to say… he kind’ve has a point. Because that might have been the best moment of the season.
Which isn’t to excuse his behaviour, because they weren’t inventing it. He really was that aggro and it made me cringe. But I will accept that the show wasn’t exactly motivated to show him in a kind light at all. On the other hand, it’s MORE than telling that his solution to get Deana to do better in the gaucho task was “get angrier at it”.
PS – Ray & Deana stayed together, got married (with Romber in attendance, as they were at Romber’s wedding… which of course I saw on television, but because my wife wanted to and I already know you don’t believe that but it’s true), and had a kid. They are no longer married.
Brian & Greg
We’ve already complained in comments about how much bunching there’s been this season, both natural and manufactured, mini and major. End of leg positioning hardly matters when so much is reset at the start of the next. But how much did it suck that when they FINALLY had a leg with no bunching whatsoever, it came at the expense of the brothers?
For my money, Brian & Greg were easily the second-most entertaining team on the Race, and prior to their crash, they were also proving to be pretty competitive racers (after winning their OTHER foot race to the finish to avoid elimination in episode two). Since The Amazing Race looks like it would crazy fun to be on, it’s important to have teams that fight past the stress and fatigue and exude that feeling for us viewers. The brothers did that in spades.
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:
Programming note: The scheduled next three episodes includes a recap/bonus content episode. I will be watching that episode and commenting on its content if I feel it necessary. Feel free to decide whether or not it’s worth your time.
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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