Amazing Race blog: kids in a lunch line

Madison couple wins ‘The Amazing Race’

When I was young, I was a fairly well-behaved kid and a fairly focused student.

But one day, my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. VanWyngarden pulled me aside to tell me that my behavior and schoolwork were down and that I needed to pull it together.

I wasn’t used to that kind of scolding, and the brief encounter scared me straight for years thereafter. And, frankly, it still resonates.

So when Phil Keoghan gave some Amazing Race contestants a chance to fess up to some very real “nasty words” and very clear “rift between teams” at the end of Sunday night’s non-elimination episode, The Eyebrow was giving the teams behaving badly a chance to straighten themselves out and finish the race as blemish-free as I had finished fifth grade.

Well, you can forget that.

Art and JJ, who are running out of besties after their unseemly behavior on this episode, tried to take the high road, saying they were going to “minimize” their involvement in the childish battles that they themselves were largely responsible for on this leg.

Well, a quick preview of next week’s episode with their impending clash with Team Madison’s Rachel and Dave shows that the border patrol agents aren’t only not about to mend fences with teams they are feuding with, but they’re happy to pick a few new fights. And former alliances be damned!

Vanessa and Ralph also turned a deaf ear to Phil’s attempts to get them to play nice; well, actually Ralph has mostly been a fair and gentlemanly competitor, but Vanessa has just been over-the-top cruel to Team Big Brother’s Rachel, telling her on this episode during a layover at the Kenyan airport that she should have had her “nose done before her boobs done.” When her words made Rachel cry (though admittedly Rachel cries as effortlessly as most people breathe), Vanessa unfeelingly said, “I didn’t make her cry (this week’s episode title). Her lack of self-esteem made her cry.”

Indeed, the teams were fighting so ruthlessly, so persistently, and so babyishly that none other than Team Kentucky had to step in to be the voice of mature reason: “Pitiful,” Mark sagely said. “Like kids in a lunch line.”

It’s a good thing that this episode also featured Mark hocking a huge loogie out a vehicle window (fittingly right after telling a driver in Tanzania that “your place is beautiful, my man,”), Bopper getting giddy with excitement over a travel agent’s stock of free candy, and Mark feeling it necessary to tell Bopper not to “fart on me” during a challenge. Otherwise I would think that the man-children Mark and Bopper were suddenly the most mature team of the six left.

What’s next? Team Madison’s Rachel and Dave getting along for the third leg in a row?

Yeah, that’s not happening.

Though Team Madison were barely visible during the first half of the episode (they were seen and heard from only through their enjoyment of other’s bickering), they made up for it quickly as they struggled to pitch an elaborate tent near the episode’s pit stop. They flung insults at each other so fast and furious and loud (“God, you’re being annoying,” “I’m sick of you just pouting,” “You’re the most negative person I know in this friggin’ universe”) that JJ had to comment, “That’s why we’re not here with our wives.”

That line was undoubtedly Art and JJ’s most endearing moment on the show, since for most of the rest of the hour, they came off as arrogant, whining jerks, perhaps unhappy at how they’ve fallen back to the pack after an earlier and extensive run at the top (episodes 3-5). After sparring needlessly with Team Big Brother (“that they’re even in the same race as us is disgusting”) in Baku because they are “tired of them following us,” they decided since “blood was in the water” to “chum it all up” by publicly calling out Nary and Jamie as the non-teachers they most certainly are.

Here’s my problem with all of that: Since Art and JJ have been first or second basically the whole race up to this point, isn’t it not only good strategy for Brendon and Rachel to follow them but also just logically necessary, since it’s awful tough to lead someone you’re usually running behind? Second, even though they didn’t end the leg as such, Team Big Brother were actually ahead of Art and JJ at several points in this leg, making it just plain wrong to accuse them of always riding their coattails. Third, why call out Nary and Jamie in front of everyone? They’re no threat to win. Mocking their admittedly ill-conceived strategy amounted to nothing more than bullying.

After the ugly war of words early in the episode as the teams made their way from Baku to Tanzania, the episode brightened up significantly with the breathtaking scenery found at their destination point of Kilimanjaro. This was no Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom ride, this was the real deal and it was beautiful. After taking an awe-inspiring charter flight over the area’s three volcanic cones (well, awe-inspiring to everyone but Nary, who fell dead asleep. I mean, with her eyes rolled in back of her head, she looked literally dead), the teams were met with the episode’s Detour, in which contestants were asked to choose between “marksmanship” or “courtship.” In “marksmanship,” teams had to each shatter a rotating clay target with a rounded stick. In “courtship,” teams had to jump for a minute.

Both were relatively easy tasks, perhaps deceptively so. Only Team Big Brother and Team Kentucky – the latter choosing the jumping task after Brendon, who seems desperate for an alliance with Bopper and Mark, wisely told them to – opted for the “courtship” ritual despite the fact that it was, on paper and in practice, crazy simple, and certainly simpler than hitting a moving target. (Although both Nary and Jamie and Art and JJ stated they thought their on-the-job experience of shooting at targets made choosing the “marksmanship” task an obvious choice.) I, for one, was disappointed that Team Madison didn’t take the opportunity to “jump around” on the “courtship” task. I was very ready for a Wisconsin Badgers and/or Camp Randall reference.

What the teams didn’t find so easy was the necessity of riding rickety bicycles on gravel paths to get to the tasks: All the teams struggled and complained to a point (Art: “Glad I had all my kids already!”), but Vanessa had the most trouble and eventually opted to simply walk the bike back and forth. After her vicious tormenting of Rachel earlier in the episode, it was sweet justice to see Vanessa continually fall on her face.

While the “marksmanship” task was the more difficult of the two, it was still not heavily time-consuming, and all teams congregated at the “pitch a tent” challenge at around the same time, with Team Madison – thanks to some smooth safari navigating – leading the pack. While Team Madison bickered excessively throughout the physically demanding challenge – the tent was larger than most New York or Chicago studio apartments and had to be set up and furnished (including a shower) to exacting standards – they eventually were all smiles and hugs again after finishing the challenge – and the leg – in first place, winning a trip to Costa Rica for their trouble.

Following Team Madison to the pit stop in fairly quick succession were Mark and Bopper (who, presumably, did not fart on each other), Art and JJ, and Team Big Brother. Last place was clearly going to belong to either Nary and Jamie or Vanessa and Ralph, but despite the dating divorcees arriving at the task later than the federal agents, it became clear fairly quickly that Nary and Jamie were struggling much more with the physical task than any other team. (They were, they sadly pointed out in the most non-feminist moment of the show, the only all-female team left.)

But despite their struggles, Nary and Jamie’s frowns soon turned upside down by Phil’s revelation that they were being saved by a non-elimination leg. Now, I don’t mind non-elimination legs – they help to lengthen the already-too-short Amazing Race seasons and typically the show is entertaining enough not to have to rely solely on the drama of who will be eliminated. But since TAR was preempted last week due to the Country Academy Music of Music City Awards of Country Awards, it already seemed too long since someone had been knocked out. Now we’ll need to wait another week for Nary and Jamie to suffer their inevitable fate.

So whaddya think? Did their behavior on this episode cause you to start to root against the previously likable border patrol agents? Do you have any sympathy for Team Big Brother’s Rachel or is she simply too annoying to warm to? Did the discovery that Jamie once shot herself in the leg lead you to think she should take a safer job – like being a teacher – for real? Is it a big deal to flip someone off anymore? Did Bopper prove or disprove the theory that white men can’t jump? Weren’t those a herd of tigers down there? And, perhaps most importantly, can Team Madison stay in first place?

Tune in to next week’s episode and come back here on Monday for my blog.

Thanks for reading and travel safe!