Monday, March 21, 2011

Amazing Race Round-Up, 18-5

So when last we left Kent and Vyxsin, they were in last place with a second leg coming up and a missing passport. Could they find their passport? Could they make up the missing time on the second half of the double leg? And who would be penalized for breaking Race rules?

As it turned out, the answers were about as anticlimactic as you can get, at least for the first two questions. Kent and Vyxsin found their fanny pack and made it to the Pit Stop, only to find that they were still racing and that the next "task" involved going to a train station where the producers had arranged for some truly spectacular bunching. And I mean truly spectacular. Even Kent and Vyxsin didn't stand a chance of missing this one.

Don't get me wrong, I think that bunching (the practice of giving teams that are behind a chance to catch up by putting everyone on the same train, plane, bus, boat, et cetera; or arranging hours of operation for the location of the next task so that everyone has to wait for the place to open in order to start the task) is necessary sometimes. If you never bunched, you'd have a situation where the really good teams would wind up with an insurmountable lead by the sixth leg or so, to the point where Phil would have to sub-contract eliminations to a second host while he went on ahead to check in the leading teams. But a double-leg is supposed to be a continuation of the previous leg, an endurance test as well as a chance for teams that are behind to make up ground. Starting every double-leg with "go to the train station/airport and wait fifteen hours" turns something that should be difficult into a glorified non-elimination leg, with the added benefit that the last team doesn't get a Speed Bump. I'm actually pretty disappointed in the way this turned out.

That said, Kent and Vyxsin did earn a thirty-minute penalty for taking the wrong flight. (The rule used to be that your penalty was equal to the time saved by taking alternate means of transport. If that had happened here, Kent and Vyxsin would have jumped forward several places due to penalty.) The producers were at least maintaining the pretense of double-legs being challenging, so instead of serving it during the meaningless Pit Stop, they were informed that it would be waiting for them at the end of the next leg.

After an inconsequential-but-adorable sequence of the teams waiting for the train (they played three-on-three, with a Globetrotter on each team and Jaime and Cara acting as cheerleaders) they moved on to the next destination, all nine at once. They then had a second detour, which was a memory challenge on one side and a lift-and-haul-heavy-things-then-assemble-them challenge on the other side. Oh, and there was a Double U-Turn (also known as "the only fair U-Turn") waiting at the other end of this one.

Surprisingly, it wasn't much of a factor. Perhaps this was because several teams got spectacularly lost between the Detour and the Road Block (the two teams that got U-Turned actually wound up in sixth and seventh, ahead of Zev/Justin and Gary/Mallory--they tried to follow Ron/Christina instead of getting directions themselves, and their cab drivers turned out not to be that good at following.) Perhaps it was because the memory challenge didn't throw many teams; I was assuming we were going to see lots of slow, sad head shakes from the guy with the clues, but most teams seemed to get it fairly quickly.

The Road Block, on the other hand, was a major challenge. It involved assembling a giant 3-D dinosaur puzzle (actual dinosaur size, in fact) and all the teams were working at it when the last team arrived. Said last team was Gary/Mallory, who promptly assessed their odds and said "Screw it, we'd rather use the Express Pass than get eliminated." It was a wise idea; even skipping the Road Block, they still wound up in second. (This is a bad sign, actually; when Gary and Mallory got eliminated last time, it was due to major problems with navigation and not any issues with the tasks. If they got lost twice on this leg, it means they haven't gotten rid of that weakness, and they don't have another Express Pass to help them recover.)

In any event, the dinosaur assembly turned out to be harder than expected, mainly because they were all working off of one picture of the finished product and half the teams didn't do a good job checking their work. When it comes to lifesize puzzles made of very big chunks of heavy wood, the last thing you want to find out is that you put the hips on backwards. Lots of teams had problems, but in the end, it was Jaime and Cara whose problems turned out to be insurmountable. They reached the Pit Stop exhausted, grumpy (Jaime actually said that "things never go our way", which is a pretty impressive statement for a team that finished second in their first race and a respectable ninth in their next attempt) and, of course, last. They were Philiminated, meaning that I'll thankfully never have to see another Jaime-tantrum again.

Next week, India, where Luke seems to be having terrible difficulties with the Road Block. Which means, given my theory on Amazing Race trailers, that they are the one team safe from elimination next week. See you then!

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