|Sorry for the one day delay in posting a commentary, but I was having a hard time really grasping what had happened in this episode. I mean, what really went on? A giant, prolonged bunching, two truly bizarre challenges, a pointless and out-of-the-blue “feud” between the Trotters and the brothers, and a sauna bus – that’s what we had.
So, I thought about it for a while, and a day passed. Well, I also had a gazillion things going on at work and got home at 8 pm last night, just in time to go through my three-year-old’s latest trend of pretending to be afraid at night and crying like he’s a failed Project Runway contestant. And the prevailing issue that I pulled from this episode is to discuss the concept of the Speed Bump.
If there has been one flaw in the Amazing Race formula over the years, it is the show’s inability to find the perfect way to deal with the non-elimination legs. For the first four seasons, it was just shrugged off. So, you finished last? Meh. Better luck next leg. Once, during Season 2, it was so lackadaisical, that Wil cut in front of Chris and Alex at the last second because they all knew it was a non-elimination leg. No drama. Imagine if something was on the line in that case? Chris would have broken Wil in two.
So, the show decided to mug the last place teams and force them to beg. That led to some fine television. Watching the Bowling Moms ask for money, or the various elderly teams, was just sad to watch. And watching the good looking women flirt with innocent bystanders and airport travelers was demeaning to everyone involved. So what did the show do? They decided to take their stuff too.
This could have been interesting, if teams didn’t find loopholes and ways to make that annoying. BJ/Tyler threatening a Yield to MoJo if they didn’t give them money and clothes. And Yolanda giving BJ pants and shoes, even though he would have been unable to board a plane with no pants and shoes. Let’s not forget the practice of wearing all items of clothes in your bag, like was done on the Family Edition.
So the show regrouped, and came up with the Marked for Elimination rule. If the team didn’t finish first the next leg, then they were given a 30 minute penalty. This had two results – either a boring subsequent episode where for all intents and purposes you knew it would be close to impossible for that team to make it. Or, they put a Fast Forward in play to give that team an out. Again, not much drama.
So we come to the Speed Bump. So far, it is the best of all of the options. And let’s use this episode as the example. First, I have mildly criticized the show for making the Speed Bump rather simple. I take it back. I don’t have a problem with the simple Speed Bump task, as long as they make it a silly, easy task. It’s a Speed “Bump,” not a Speed Traffic Jam. It gives just enough of a penalty to last place teams to give it some urgency, but not too much as to really hamper them.
And it is something to make them overcome. Realize that Gary and Matt’s deficit from the hay bales was wiped away with the gigantic bunching. They arrived at the Roadblock/Speed Bump alongside other teams. The show was edited to show them in the Sauna Bus while the brothers and the Trotters were still in the Roadblock. The Speed Bump clearly was an impediment, no matter what it was. At least it was something silly as public transportation with hot coals and naked people. Perhaps that’s even more fun than a bus that can’t go under 50 mph. Or a Magic Bus. Or even the Wheels on the Bus.
If Gary and Matt had not stumbled after that Speed Bump, perhaps they would have had a fighting chance. Their elimination came from Matt’s inability to understand what a candelabra was (Come on, dude, the word CANDLE is right in there!), and, even more damning, his failure to read the word “Garden” on the hidden clue which led them to search all over the castle and tower instead of heading straight to the garden. Read how they don’t feel like they lost, though, in this interview with TV Guide.
So, in my book, the Speed Bump works. I would prefer that it continues to be something silly and embarrassing from this point on. That is at least fun to watch. Seeing Matt and his dad wearing towels, sitting in a sauna on a bus, next to a gorgeous blonde woman and a portly Finnish couple…that’s comedy gold. Having Gary singing Finnish tunes, was only icing on the proverbial cake.
I’ll leave the rest of my episode thoughts to bullet points….