Within 24 hours we witnessed the death of the Super Committee in Washington and the rebirth of the Super Leg in the Amazing Race. Ending speculation that there was another non-elimination leg before the end, the Show has produced a Super Leg where Phil sends the Racers back on the course and likely on their way to some sleep-deprived mistakes.
This week’s installment produced some high comedy and loads of fun before the Peytons won their trip to Panama and the cold realization that this leg was not yet over. It also produced another bunching point, and I assume at least another one next week. I know some of my brethren have been lamenting the bunching this season, but I ask if there has really been more this season than in past ones. I don’t think so. It is a very tough spot for the producers – plot the course to account for several spots where teams can lose leads and make up deficits, or suffer the fate of Season 1.
The first, and I if may add, incredible season of the Race had within it something that could have been a fatal flaw for the show. The flaw was not as big of a deal that season because the sheer novelty of the Race overshadowed it. As the final stretch began, the Final Five gathered in Thailand and due to some teams’ errors, other teams’ good fortune and stellar planning, and to the layout of the Race, there was a major separation. It led to a couple of episodes where editing had to create tension when there really was none. Two teams were fighting for the win, and the other two (following the sad Thailand elimination) essentially fighting for third place. This carried through to the end, with third place being over a full day behind the leaders.
That can’t happen again, and the only solution is to bunch them up several times. Last week, Magellans lost a huge lead and it led to their demise. This week, Control Freak had a several hour lead that went away on the train. Like Magellan, their own error put them in danger. Unlike Magellan, they got a stroke of luck (or two) to save them from themselves.
I think for full Race enjoyment you have to accept the bunching so we get dramatic moments. Look at the Race this way – you have to get from task to task, never knowing if you are going to make up time. Enjoy each task as presented knowing that the results could be moot – but not always. The Race is then divided into tiny races from task to task and then to the mat. The goal is to get on the plane taking you to the final city. Getting to the final bunching means that you survived. Or think about it in terms of sports – each series of stops leading to a bunching is like a mini-playoffs. You won just by getting there and now all teams start from zero again.
Hey, bottom line, you can get frustrated by the bunching or you can accept and rationalize it. I choose the latter because I like the Race too much to do otherwise.
If it were a scripted show, you would have to say that this week was an Ernie/Cindy-centric episode. They really moved the plot along and had the most happen to them. I fully expect a Flo-like meltdown from Cindy before all is said and done – it’s almost as if the show is leading us down that direction. She had a roller coaster episode. She had the highest of highs as she really rocked the Roadblock, and the duo banged out the Legoland challenge with relative ease. Then she had the lowest of lows as she discovered she was the one who lost their transfer ticket to Brussels. Amazingly enough, and I really don’t want to go the conspiracy route, the conductor on the train to Brussels failed to check tickets and thus crisis averted. I have been on a train where they didn’t check tickets, so I know it is possible, if highly unlikely that this took place.
Cindy did some top-notch panicking and self-torture regarding the loss of the ticket. And as often is the case, when one part of a couple is tightly wound and prone to meltdowns, the other one is cool as a cucumber. I loved the moment on the train as they realize their error was not a killer one where Cindy acknowledged that she was a ball of stress and Ernie knowingly looked at her and us. If a look was worth a 1000 words…
However, my favorite part of this episode was not the Race structure issues, or the Ernie/Cindy dynamic – it was the super, awesome, fun challenges. Next to the exotic travel, the wacky challenges are by far my favorite parts of the Race and I envy anyone whose job it is to come up with these ideas.
Task #1 – One of the most famous Danes is Hans Christian Andersen. Teams had to go to his statue and, as a Roadblock, memorize the plaque and then bike to a theater. The map to the theater was printed on the tire! Once there, they had to recite the poem to the satisfaction of what appeared to be an animatronics representation of what Christopher Reeve would have looked like if he had lived, not had the accident, and was Danish. If overacted well enough, they got a clue.
The poem – “To move, to breathe, to fly, to float. To gain all while you give. To roam the roads of lands remote. To travel is to live.” Great poem, especially for the Race. It led to some hysterically bad performances that would have been appropriate in any of the new sitcoms replacing Community and Cougar Town on the schedule. Yeah, bitter. Only Cindy and Amani did it right the first time. Cathi blew a word, while Tommy and Sandy elected to robotically recite the dialogue, you know, like in Twilight. Cathi’s English teacher past does not help her as she’s the only one to fail in memorization. The three of them had to circle back, not an easy task as Cathi and Tommy got wildly lost the first time, before doing it again.
Task #2 – Legoland. I would fear the army of the Kingdom of Legoland. Once you destroy the soldiers, a few hours later they can be rebuilt. Anyway, the Danes created Lego and for that our children are eternally grateful. Just not our air ducts and other crevices. And our ER doctors would have far fewer cases to work removing Lego pieces from the noses of toddlers.