Monday, February 27, 2012

Amazing Race recap: 20-2 "You Know I'm Not as Smart as You"

My current series of comic book reviews will resume tomorrow; for now, I'm looking over last night's episode of the Amazing Race; as always, you can catch up on the series at CTV or CBS.

After the previous week spent most of its time introducing the 11 teams, this week we get a better look at the remaining 10 teams, witnessing their personalities and style of game play.

We pick things up in Salta, Argentina as Rachel & Dave are the first team to exit the mandatory 12-hour Pit Stop; the first clue directs them to the town square to receive another clue from a chasqui; teams still have their SUVs from the previous leg to provide transportation. Rachel & Dave fear they might have a target on their back for coming in first, but they hope having the Express Pass and its ability to eliminate one challenge they don't want to face will help keep them in the game; Dave hopes they won't use the Pass unless it's absolutely necessary. In the previous three seasons, I think the Express Pass was only spent in one "necessary" circumstance, but we'll see if they hold to this declaration.

Brendon & Rachel leave before Art & J.J., yet wind up following the border patrol agents, who are evidently better at navigation. This irritates Art & J.J. a little, with J.J. remarking of Brendon "He's a UCLA student, what do you expect?" By now, Rachel & Dave have discovered the chasqui won't arrive until morning, so all ten teams will wind up together in the town square; the 2.5 hour lead which the top six teams had in the first leg is about to be nullified.

Nary & Jamie reveal during the first leg they told other teams they were schoolteachers, believing if they said they were federal agents, it might hurt them. What, unlike the US Army combat pilot and border patrol agents? This is the second time I've seen a team lie about their occupation: it's what professional poker players Maria & Tiffany did in season 15, posing as schoolteachers... except pretty much no one believed their cover story and because they're famous poker players, they were recognized within days of the Race's start. I suppose Nary & Jamie have the advantage of not being famous, but I don't think their occupation would make them enemies and I doubt the extra work it takes to maintain the lie is worth the dubious advantages.

Other teams depart, including Vanessa & Ralph, Elliot & Andrew, Kerry & Stacy and Dave & Cherie; Dave reveals he's beaten Hodgkin's cancer twice and they feel they can beat anything in the Race. Bopper & Mark and Joey "Fitness" & Danny are the last teams to arrive at the town square.

When the chasqui arrives in the morning, all ten teams crowd him, but he takes his time, slowly drawing one clue at a time for the teams. During this tumult, Art & J.J. allege Brendon snatched their clue out of their hands. The chasqui's clues introduce the first Detour of the Race (we only had a Roadblock on leg 1): the options are "Boil My Water" or "Light My Fire." In the former, teams build a solar oven then use it to boil a kettle of water; in the latter, teams collect firewood and clay, load them atop burro, then lead the burro to a potter's home. There was a time when the Detour options were between tasks where one was obviously faster but potentially riskier; gradually, the Detour challenges have been between tasks where the teams can't tell which they'll find easier - they don't get the full instructions on how to perform the task until they arrive at the challenge location. Every team likes the sound of "Boil My Water" except for Art & J.J., who want to take "Light My Fire." Seriously, rather than build something you'd prefer to make a burro cooperate with you? Their justification for this choice is that it's still early in the morning and they think it will take too long for the kettles to boil water on solar power.

"Boil My Water" has three different locations where teams can assemble the oven; Rachel & Dave, Dave & Cherie, Nary & Jamie and Vanessa & Ralph are at the first location, Elliot & Andrew, Kerri & Stacy and Joey "Fitness" & Danny at the second, Bopper & Mark and Brendon & Rachel at the third. Teams quickly realize the oven has to be assembled using the completed picture on the box... well, every team except Dave & Cherie realizes this. As Joey "Fitness"/Danny set to work they're confident they can defeat Kerri & Stacy because "they don't know how to build," unaware Stacy is actually very tool-proficient.

Rachel and Dave have some minor gripes with each other as they build; Art & J.J. are still trying to find the location for "Light My Fire" and it's looking like a bad call all around. Mark really takes charge of the oven-building, comparing it to his son's Legos; Bopper is impressed, saying "You're skills are surprising me here, brother!" Mark, sounding a little embarrassed, replies "Man! Can't believe you talkin' 'bout my skills!" Nearby, Rachel apologizes to Brendon for being "just a girl" as he seemingly does most of the work; Brendon isn't complaining, but if Rachel were in eyesight of Kerri & Stacy or Nary & Jamie, she might check that "just a girl" business.

Art & J.J. completely miss the "Light My Fire" location and have to backtrack, but finally reach the location. Rachel & Dave are just about done their oven, while many teams struggle; some funny lines ensue as Racers try to avoid swearing on camera:

Ralph: "Oh Shi- Nikes! This has to connect somewhere!"

Vanessa: "Oh, son of a monkey's uncle!"

Jamie: "Boy, this is hotter than... shenanigans."

Danny cuts himself while assembling the oven; he and Joey "Fitness" are having trouble so they approach Kerri & Stacy, suggesting they work together; after Stacy explains what they don't understand, the boys run back to their oven; Kerri notices this "alliance" didn't earn them anything - they simply helped the boys. Rachel & Dave finish their oven and wait for their kettle to boil as Dave & Cherie come looking for help; when they find out from Rachel & Dave about the picture on the box they return to their oven, chagrined.

Bopper & Mark are the first team to finish the Detour! The next clue directs teams to travel via bus to Buenos Aires and retrieve a clue from Mercado de Hacienda de Liniers. They have to travel via bus, an eighteen hour trip! Buses are surprisingly good at mixing up teams on the Race; just last season we saw teams catapult ahead of their competition because a later-departing bus arrived sooner at the destination.

Vanessa and Ralph note Art & J.J. completing their Detour while the other teams wait for their kettles to boil.

Vanessa: "They're sweating their asses off."

Ralph: "And their burro."

Art & J.J. wind up finishing the Detour next, with Rachel & Dave soon after them; Art & J.J. drive their SUV past Brendon & Rachel and honk their horn as a childish sort of revenge for the earlier clue-snatching. Joey "Fitness" & Danny wind up boiling their water before Kerri & Stacy; Nary & Jamie are the last team, saying they waited 45 minutes for the kettle to boil.

Teams wind up taking three different buses to Buenos Aires; Bopper/Mark, Rachel/Dave, Art/J.J. & Brendon/Rachel on the first, Dave/Cherie, Vanessa/Ralph, Joey "Fitness"/Danny & Elliot/Andrew on the second; Nary/Jamie & Kerri Stacy on the third bus. The latter bus is a little nervous about their place in the race, but Nary remarks "We're just gonna hope their bus breaks down." It's like she's seen this show before!

In the middle of the night, the bus carrying David/Cherie, Elliot/Andrew, Joey "Fitness"/Danny & Vanessa/Ralph gets into an accident, with something having collided into the side of the vehicle! The bus pulls off the road for some ad-hoc repairs. I had some serious deja vu at this development - it's very much like the bus accident which occurred in season 3's 2nd episode (except the earlier Race was in Mexico at the time). As the four teams fret over the damaged bus, we see the bus carrying Nary/Jamie & Kerri/Stacy drive past; the latter teams don't even notice they've passed their nearest competition, but the other four teams see the bus and realize they're in trouble.

The damaged bus resumes moving, with a few shots of the seats where the windows have been shattered; at first I thought it was good to see no one was using those seats, then I realized they were probably the cameramen's spots.

The first bus arrives in Buenos Aires and teams race in taxis (the first taxis of this Race!) to retrieve their clues from a pouch on a statue of a horse. This leads them to the leg's Roadblock, which declares "Where's the beef?" Teams are supposed to head into the world's largest cattle auction yard, where one team member will have to obtain the weight of a lot of cattle by listening to an auctioneer, then without using a calculator, estimate the average weight of the cattle and present the correct number to a gaucho. It's interesting to note the "no calculator" rule is in effect - earlier seasons had teams solve math problems by bringing calculators on the race, or borrowing them from locals.

As Brendon & Rachel head to the clue location their taxi lets them out far too soon and they run themselves ragged while every other team gets out directly in front of the clue. J.J. sees them running on foot and remarks "We're not gonna follow those two nimrods." The two Rachels, Mark and J.J. are the first four to tackle the Roadblock.

Kerri/Stacy & Nary/Jamie have just arrived in Buenos Aires and are racing with an intensity you'd expect to see from teams in the back of the pack, not the middle. They have no idea where they are in the Race and it's kind of refreshing to see them push themselves so hard. In the last bus, Ralph estimates they lost two hours because of the accident.

Just as Art & Dave worked together on the previous leg's Roadblock, Dave's Rachel winds up allying with J.J. to find the correct number; thus, those two teams finish the Roadblock first. J.J. shrieks out a truly hysterical "Oh! Arthur!" as they run to their taxi cab. J.J. notes how the other Rachel asked him for help, but he says "I'm not going to help her run the race. I mean, I'll help Rachel from Major Dave because we reciprocate. The Big Brother they're tag-alongs, solely. We just blew by her. Sorry sucker, we're out of here! I don't feel bad about that, not one bit." It's weird to see such a heated rivalry appear out of nowhere so early in the Race.

Mark used to work in a cattle yard, but he has some trouble getting the correct figure. Big Brother's Rachel has a lot of trouble with the Roadblock and Mark finally works with her (or, it seems, does all the work and lets her copy). Mark is upset with himself for forgetting to round up the last number; he really beats himself up over this, noting they could have had first place; Bopper doesn't seem to mind, no doubt because going from 9th place to 3rd is still pretty great! As Brendon & Rachel head for a taxi, Rachel's frustration at the Roadblock has seemingly spilled into everything she says; "You know I'm not smart as you!" she whines to Brendon, thus providing the title for this episode (although the producers corrected her grammar). Then this happens:

Brendon: "We only told our taxi to wait five minutes but Rachel wanted to run back and see if he was here and he isn't here."

Rachel: "Please don't blame me! You said you wouldn't blame me! You promised you wouldn't!"

Either we missed something Brendon said earlier, or Rachel is one delicate flower; she's in tears. Brendon quickly apologizes to her, asking her not to cry; as he tries to comfort her she remarks "You have a booger on your nose." Man, why doesn't this happen in more romantic films?

Rachel & Dave reach the Pit Stop at Recoleta first, where Phil waits with a soccer player. Rachel & Dave win a trip to Granada; Rachel again claims they have a target on their backs. Art & J.J. arrive next; J.J. is so upset at not taking first, Phil remarks he looks like he just lost the race! Bopper & Mark take third while Brendon & Rachel are fourth. They declare they'll "move on" from their earlier spat.

Stacy and Nary are well into the Roadblock, still believing they could be fighting for last place. Stacy draws inspiration from her 11-year old child, whose math homework she apparently assists on; this is the second time she's worked through a challenge by invoking her kids. Both teams have finished the Roadblock before the last four teams arrive; Joey "Fitness," Andrew, Dave and Vanessa are the next to tackle the Roadblock.

Kerri & Stacy are astonished to learn they're in fifth place! They do an actual cheer leading cheer to celebrate and it really puts the emotions the teams up front were struggling with into perspective, doesn't it? Nary & Jamie are likewise thrilled to be sixth.

At the Roadblock, Vanessa figures out the math pretty quickly, saying "I'm used to tuning out men." As the noise of the auction seems to be thwarting other teams. Joey "Fitness" and Andrew agree to work together, but outright refuse to help Dave, noting he's self-admittedly bad at math; Cherie notes "We're not making any friends here today." At the Pit Stop, Phil asks Vanessa & Ralph to guess their spot; Vanessa guesses 7th correctly, while Ralph optimistically guesses 5th. At the Roadblock, Cherie again invokes "Tears of a clown" as she watches her husband struggle. Joey "Fitness" & Danny take eighth place and Elliot & Andrew are 9th; Andrew is thrilled to see Phil's Pit Stop greeter, whom he recognizes as a famous soccer player; cut to the two of them kicking the ball around.

Dave finally completes the Roadblock, but the yard looks pretty deserted, suggesting he took quite some time. En route to the Pit Stop, the couple's only hope is that it might be a non-elimination leg; however, arriving at the mat, Phil tells them they've been eliminated. Dave gets a little choked up as he speaks about how much it meant for him to be on the Race after beating his cancer, the couple express their admiration for each other... then they waddle away, doing cartwheels and Chaplin-esque shuffles while circus music plays; hey, it's different from the usual mournful walk-into-the-sunset piece normally found on the Amazing Race!

The preview following this episode promises Rachel & Dave arguing with each other (hooray) and the other Rachel insulting her competition (double hooray). On the bright side, the Race should be moving outside Argentina!

Two episodes in, some of the Racers are starting to shape up; my thoughts on each team thus far:

  1. Rachel & Dave: They've been leading so far and seem very comfortable with each other; based on the previews, they'll encounter some hardship next week and it should be the acid test of how well they really perform.
  2. Art & J.J.: I don't think much of their feud with Brendon & Rachel, but their choice of Detour was surprisingly well considered; they've been at the top consistently and I wouldn't be surprised to see them claim first in the future.
  3. Bopper & Mark: Still easily my favourite team because of their authentic reactions to their surroundings. Seeing Bopper's confidence and Mark's disappointment over the Roadblock helped bring out the strength of their friendship and their underlying determination to win. Win or lose, I want them to race to the end.
  4. Brendon & Rachel: So far from their style of play, I can't tell if they're good racers or lucky racers (what's the old saying? "better lucky than good?"). There are some rough patches in their relationship and an apparent need to snipe at their competition which makes them unpleasant to watch; I'd like to see what their real strengths are, but if the previews are any indication, I'd be happiest to just see them leave.
  5. Kerri & Stacy: Their brief "alliance" with Joey "Fitness" & Danny didn't hurt them, which was nice to see; they're stronger than I first suspected and could go a long way - I hope they do, they're currently my second-favourite team.
  6. Nary & Jamie: I don't care for them lying about their occupation, but they seem to be a pretty decent team; I hope they last long enough to shed their disguises and simply be themselves.
  7. Vanessa & Ralph: I don't have a very good grasp on these two, other than noticing Ralph is very good at describing things to the camera and they've got some decent hustle in their step.
  8. Joey "Fitness" & Danny: A lot of luck has come their way, both good and bad; a little humility would go a long way with these two.
  9. Elliot & Andrew: Wait, you say there's a ninth team? Well, glory be! If they can just get some face time on screen I might develop a fondness for them; siblings are usually among my favourite teams, but these two have been slighted by the cameras. If this team is here to stay, then they're the season's dark horse runners.

Another recap is on the burner for next Monday; tchau 'til then!

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