Time to finish our summer coverage of aracearoundtheworld with a controversial finale. I have thoughts.
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.
Hoisted By His Own Petahd
In the very first post of this series, I wrote of 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”. Well, the first of this set of episodes showed the downside to his constant pushing when he needled Gretchen about a (not so mythical) earlier flight.
He explains that he did this for two reasons, 1) to see if they had found an earlier flight (looking for an edge!) and 2) to mess with her (can’t help himself!) And let’s be clear, it’s waaaaay more 2 than 1 (he could’ve just straight up asked her what flight she’s on). Rob was a cat playing with the mouse it just caught, and it blew up in his face as Meredith & Gretchen and Uchenna & Joyce go out and find that better flight rather than settling for the one they had.
The show leaned into Rob’s comeuppance (as they should!) by having him talk about how Uchenna & Joyce have been coasting all game and letting other people decide travel for them… which is kinda true. And it could’ve stayed true if he didn’t go and motivate them to do something for themselves. Rob’s ego and drive to keep pushing giveth and taketh away. (And then it went back to giving in the next leg when he DOES find the better flight, then buying tickets to a lesser one just to lull his competition back into their sense of security. So at least he’s capable of learning from his mistakes).
That said, it’s a good thing that Rob DID mess things up for he and Amber, because if not, that entire leg would’ve been worthless from an entertainment perspective (unless you’re really into Travelocity gnomes). The Turkey leg (heh) was completely straightforward with nothing particularly challenging, provided you’re not a women in her 60s trying to climb up a ladder. Uchenna & Joyce were done before 11:00. I think it took them three hours. (Meredith & Gretchen, on the other hand, lost an hour and a half of their lead to Rob & Amber). At least it was all rendered meaningless with a Non-Elimination!
Caution: Yield Ahead
As promised, it’s time to discuss optimal Yield strategy now that one was actually used in the Race. It was not used correctly.
The goal of any leg in The Amazing Race besides the final leg is “don’t be last”. Rob actually mentions this in the bonus scenes on the recap episode, then seemingly forgets it frequently throughout the Race as his competitiveness focuses on winning each leg instead of not-losing them (which fits with his seeming plan of “get CBS to fund as much of my life as possible”, a plan I fully endorse). Thus, the use of the Yield should be to ensure one does not finish last place.
Rob (and I say Rob because Amber advocated for the correct decision) instead wanted to use the Yield to take a crack at their most dangerous competition, yielding Ron & Kelly. The problem was that Ron & Kelly weren’t that far behind them, having reached London on the same flight (but were delayed when they, like every other team not named Rob & Amber, stupidly chose to take taxis in London freaking England rather than their legendary Underground system). They did this despite KNOWING what time the second flight came in.
Why is this an issue? Because the optimal use of the Yield is to use it on the team you most suspect to be near last place, thereby helping ensure a team that isn’t you should finish in last place. Why put Ron & Kelly 35 minutes behind you when you could put Meredith & Gretchen 2 hours behind you? This shouldn’t be viewed as attempt to gain a slight edge. It should be viewed as insurance in case something goes wrong for you.
Now, I understand wanting to keep M&G in the Race as possible finals opponents, which made Uchenna & Joyce the optimal choice for Yielding in this case. This puts a threatening team (albeit the second most threatening) in a strong position to be eliminated while giving you a large cushion to ensure your survival. If you eliminate U&J, that’s a nice win. If M&G still fail, that means they were so bad that yielding R&K wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe you at least get Uchenna to burn his last Roadblock in a desperate attempt to stay alive. But the main thing Rob and Amber would have done was all but guaranteed that they wouldn’t have been the final team eliminated from the Race. The Yield is tool to keep you in the Race. Not to win it.
What Kind of Bullshittery is This?
Alright, I’ve delayed talking about this long enough: it’s time to skip to the end.
They pulled back a freaking plane. The gate was closed. The walkway had already moved. The Race was over.
It will not surprise you to learn that this moment has inspired some conspiracy theories. And frankly, I get it. That plane was seconds away from taxiing away. Can you imagine getting that level of service from an airline? Particularly when they’ve ALREADY got your money (Uchenna & Joyce actually never bought tickets to the flight they got on; the airline accepted the tickets they had for the next flight). The thinking behind the conspiracy isn’t that CBS or Jerry Bruckheimer Television wanted Uchenna & Joyce to win (or Romber not to win), but that they wanted a competitive final act to their season. And… that’s definitely plausible right? I have no trouble believing that if production could, they would do everything possible to ensure a competitive finish (for example, refer to every other element of the finale).
However, I also don’t believe that a low-rated reality show has enough power to make an airline pull back a flight in Puerto Rico in a matter of minutes. So, it probably wasn’t a conspiracy. Just crazy, crazy luck. Possibly in part inspired by the fact that Uchenna & Joyce had a TV crew with them (thereby making the people working the gate to want to seem more helpful). In fact, I actually do think there WAS a control put in place to ensure a closer finish… but Rob & Amber broke it.
I listened to the DVD commentary for this scene, and apparently the teams were told to buy their tickets from a specific ticketing counter (which is a thing that happens frequently – if you see a Race marker flag at a counter at the airport, it’s been reserved for the Race). And the woman who worked that counter WOULD NOT sell tickets to the earlier flight to Rob & Amber OR Uchenna & Joyce. Rob & Amber followed the letter of that rule by buying tickets from her, and then proceeded to buy other tickets from someone else to get on the earlier flight. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that woman’s job was the funnel the teams (including Ron & Kelly) unto the same later flight. Although… if you want to continue the conspiracy, apparently that woman was ALSO at the gate when the earlier flight was closed (according to Uchenna & Joyce)… so maybe she DID get the flight pulled back after learning Rob & Amber had circumvented her. Holy shit. I may have just talked myself back into it.
But frankly, the airplane drama isn’t even the most bullshit thing about the finale. Basically, all of it was. First off, they save their final NEL for the two-hour finale, making the first hour a pointless exercise. THEN they set up a final leg heavy on taxis, KNOWING that they’ll already have taken a team’s money away from them. THEN they re-bunch the teams after the onion chopping task and subsequent travel, making that pointless as well. THEN they make the entire Miami portion of the finals completely dependent on taxi luck. It’s been 12 years and it still frustrates the hell out of me what a terribly designed leg this was.
And what’s truly annoying is that practically everything that’s wrong with it could have been eliminated with one simple fix: give the teams cars to drive instead of making them take taxis. We would’ve been spared seeing Uchenna & Joyce helplessly beg throughout the final hour (when they discontinued the practice of stripping teams of money in season 10, I hope part of the thinking was “hey, remember that time our lovable black couple was forced to offer to dance a jig for money on TV? That was uncomfortable, right?”), and the teams would have had to actually solve the final clue that contained the season’s only riddle. Plus, you know, navigating the world is a big part of the skill of The Amazing Race, and this finale did its best to eliminate that (the one time they did have them drive, it lead to one of the only moments that actually mattered: Ron & Kelly missing a shot at the earlier flight because of a wrong turn).
So back in the day when the Romber Wars were fought on TWoP, the haters waited all season long to pounce on a chance to explain how Rob actually sucks at competing. And you can bet your ass that they weren’t going let them losing by a miracle stop them from jumping at this opportunity. So the thing they held their hats on was that Rob & Amber were too stupid to solve the riddle that OF COURSE they should’ve been looking for a Spanish-named store in Little Havana. HE’S SO STUPID! That’s why he lost. Planes come back after the jetway is pulled back all the time.
Except… that Rob & Amber were the only team that we saw actually solve the riddle (we have no idea how Ron & Kelly found the shop, or if they were just sent to the final pit stop). It took them a long ass time, but they finally saw the sign of the store and clued in. Uchenna & Joyce, on the other hand, just happened to have a taxi driver who was more comfortable speaking Spanish than English, who happened to ask someone who also spoke Spanish (which isn’t an unusual circumstance given where they were, but still a matter of luck). Their cab driver translated HIS question for directions into Spanish, not because anyone figured out the riddle, but because that was his language of choice.
The entire finale came down to two things and two things only: who got on what flight (and its possible it was never supposed to come down to that either) and who got what cab. You can’t even give U&J credit for beating Romber to the cab: they got theirs second (7 minutes after Romber, according to commentary). Just plain ol’ cab luck. Now of course, cab luck is a big part of The Amazing Race (just ask Lynn & Alex), but you don’t have to make it the dominant feature of your final act. Make the racers race rather than passively sit back and hope.
And, once again because it needs to be said, don’t make people you’ve recently stripped of money take a 30 minute cab ride. I don’t need dramatic begging in my competitive TV shows.
May the Best Team Win?
Gotta preface this, as I regularly do with Survivor, with the obvious: the team that deserves to win The Amazing Race is the team that wins The Amazing Race. Only even more so, as a result doesn’t get more objective than “be the team that crosses the final finish line first”. Moreover, the Race isn’t even one big race. It’s a series of 12 single elimination races (three of which aren’t even elimination-based), culminating in one final winner-takes-all race. Uchenna & Joyce won that final race. They are the winners. That’s all that really matters.
But if we want to talk about who was the best team, I think we can extend that past “who won the final leg”. It’s why I’m not really a fan of single elimination formats in sports. It’s the way that it has to be in football due to the violent nature of the sport, but despite the excitement, I don’t really care for it with NCAA basketball. Because I prefer it when champions are the best their sport has to offer. And the question of who is the best is best proven over a series of contests, not just one. And when you look at the season as a whole, I think it’s pretty clear that Rob & Amber were this season’s best team, and I’m confident that it’s not just my homerism that makes me think that.
Let’s look at the stats. If you count the results from the end of 8th episode (which wasn’t officially a leg, but had all the hallmarks of a leg thus making it useful for comparative purposes), Rob & Amber greeted Phil as the first team 5 out of 13 times, with an average finishing position of 2.3, and were the only team in the entire Race to never come in last. Uchenna & Joyce came in first three times, for an average of 3.15, and of course came in last that one time due to a flat tire. Ron & Kelly came in first twice, for an average finish of 3.07, while coming in last twice.
If you want an even better picture of their average performance, take away each team’s worst and best leg (i.e., one of each team’s first place finishes, along with Romber at the meat block, and U&J and R&K’s first leg). The average finishing positions then become 2.18 for R&A, 2.9 for U&J, and 2.64 for R&K. It’s pretty clear that throughout the entire Race, Rob & Amber were the best team. In fact, it’s fair to question whether or not Uchenna & Joyce were even the second best team.
Meredith & Gretchen
The oldest team ever to make the final four, Meredith & Gretchen were inspiring for their persever… waitasec DID THEY REALLY CHOOSE THE MOST PHYSICAL TASK AGAIN?!?
It was so befuddling that it forced me to try and make sense of it. Then, when juxtaposed with what they had done in the earlier episode, it hit me: as much as a physical task should be difficult for older competitors, maybe the thinking ones were worse. Maybe the stress of the Race addled the brain more than it tired the body, so they chose the tasks that they could at least bear down and finish at their pace over the ones that would require them to be focused. Think of how difficult it is for them to find the clue box in Turkey and it begins to make sense. Sure, the physical tasks were going to be hard, but they probably wouldn’t kill them (note: it almost killed them).
That said, if you’re competing with Uchenna & Joyce to stay alive in the Race, maybe don’t choose the same Detour as them. Even if you think you might be able to do the boats, you have to realize that you’re not going to do it faster than Uchenna. Especially since he’s not allowed to help you (no matter how badly he wants to).
Ron & Kelly
So… that was uncomfortable, right? We got to watch a couple break up in real time, but were still forced to be together afterward and talk about it on camera. And most uncomfortably, at the finish line. Think of any breakup you’ve ever had. Now think about what it would be like to still be with them 24/7, always within camera shot from one another. Shit like that might be so uncomfortable that it would make you say something insane like “you got out of your army commitment by being a P.O.W.”
And also, fuck you Ron. Fuck you for acting like respecting someone’s feeling is wimpy girl shit. Fuck you for “teaching a woman how to drive”. And fuck you for getting captured.
Ahhhhh… shit. I went too far, didn’t I? Stupid girly emotions.
Rob & Amber
This is going to shock you but… I’ve run out of things to say about Rob & Amber. I know. I can’t believe it either. Instead, I’m interested in what you have to say. This whole rewatch came about because I wrote this a month ago:
I think a key to being a Boston Rob fan is having seen him both on Survivor AND The Amazing Race. Because it was his appearance on the latter that clinched my high opinion of him. I hadn’t watched the show before and was blown away by how his ingenuity, creative athleticism, and devil-may-care attitude allowed him to dominate there as well. Plus, having Amber with him full-time really helps take the edge off his domineering personality. Their relationship (despite what many a hater believed at the time) is legit and charming.
So now that you’ve seen it, or rewatched it, what do you think? Did your opinion of Rob and Amber change? Do you see what I’ve been getting at?
Uchenna & Joyce
Obviously, these posts exist because of Rob & Amber’s success in this season. This is a Survivor website after all. But besides them, the next thing I was excited to experience again was Uchenna & Joyce. I remember really liking them and thinking that if Romber couldn’t win (something that became obvious wasn’t going to happen once Lynn & Alex mentioned in their exit interviews that they were very pleased with the outcome of the season), I’d be pretty happy with Uchenna & Joyce doing so (although, frankly, that isn’t saying much given the other options).
So I gotta say, I was kind of surprised by how little they interested me the second time around. They’re still a very sweet couple, with a fun enthusiasm for the adventure they’re on, who frequently beasted tasks (Uchenna more than Joyce, but she did her share). But… they weren’t particularly impressive at all. I feel like I’ve been short-changing them with every write-up (and encourage anyone who has more to say about them to fill in the gaps I’m leaving in comments), but there’s never been much to say about them other than “they seem nice”.
At least this episode showed the first bit of creative thinking from them after Rob goaded them into it. And, to be frank, they didn’t NEED to be creative thinkers to win. Keeping their heads down, focusing on the task at hand, and staying alive to keep competing was exactly what they needed to do. But once you remove the drama of who is going to win (as a re-watch does necessarily), there’s not much more to get excited about with them. They remind me of a standard issue, good natured competitor on Survivor who is good at challenges and/or camp life. Which is exactly the type of player we tend to ignore in our analysis, because there isn’t much else to say other than what’s on screen. They are the Woo of this season.
I will say, back in the day in the Good vs Evil struggle that was the debate about Romber vs everyone, Uchenna scored a lot of points on the boards over two actions in these episodes: trying to help Meredith & Gretchen push their boat and insisting on paying the cab driver rather than going to the finish mat to win the Race. Watching them this time, my reaction to the boat pushing was “oh fuck off Saint Uchenna”.
Like, it genuinely offended me that he did it. You’re competing to stay in the Race at the final elimination leg. Meredith & Gretchen didn’t flip their car over or some shit. They’re doing a physical task that they had every option to not do. The other two teams were on an earlier flight. Cut the shit and beat them in a game show, Uchenna. Moreover, read your fucking clue that tells you that teams aren’t allowed to get help.
As for the cabbie, Uchenna & Joyce weren’t trying to pay him out of the goodness of their hearts. THEY HAD TO DO IT. If they had skipped ahead to the mat, Phil would’ve sent their asses back for failing to complete their task. A rule of The Amazing Race is that you’re not allowed to break any laws while racing. Stealing a cab ride is against the law. You either have to pay them everything they’re owed, or negotiate a price they will accept (which ultimately the dude did for $5 less because waiting around there was also costing him money). In fact, a way that some teams have been able to manage cab fares has been to pre-negotiate a price instead of relying on the meter. I’ve even heard that you can negotiate a per-person price to force the camera and sound person to pay their share (as they would in any other mode of travel). So no extra credit for obeying the law and the rules of the game, please.
But still, good for them. Can you imagine how much worse it would have been if Ron & Kelly had won? Yeesh.
The Finish Line
And that’s all folks. I’m interested in hearing what you thought of this little experiment, both in taking a little Survivor break and slightly expanding the mission statement of the site, and also my style of SUPER long write-ups. Not sure we’ll ever do either again, but feedback is always appreciated.
You’re now free to discuss anything involving this season without spoiler warnings. However, if you want to discuss the events of any other Amazing Race seasons, including the other one featuring Rob & Amber, I ask that you DO put those between spoiler tags:
It’s happening y’all:
Purple Rock Emma and I are going to watch Rob & Amber Get Married and share our thoughts with you next week. Be there.
Co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast and the Canadian of the group, Andy has been watching Survivor continuously since the very beginning and likes to treat that as some kind of virtue to lord over others.
Favourite seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Cagayan, Cook Islands, Palau, Winners at War
Favourite players: Boston Rob, Kim Spradlin, Tony Vlachos, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Yul Kwon, Rob Cesternino