Monday, March 12, 2012

Amazing Race recap 20-04: "Taste Your Salami"

In brief: a few engaging moments and three teams become a little more likable; unfortunately, two other teams are disintegrating and one of those disintegrations is swallowing up the good things about the Race. Also, my commentary is a little more nasty this time out.

This week, the opening credits have been altered to include a brief clip of each team from an earlier episode of the Race; for some reason, the editors thought the best way to remember the newly-eliminated Elliot & Andrew was with the clip of Andrew angrily hurling his backpack at the sidewalk. Does Andrew owe the editors money?

We resume the Amazing Race in Asuncion, Paraguay. Art & J.J. begin this leg in first place and are still terrifically over-confident about themselves. "We really don't think we should be anything but number one every leg. There is nobody that has the intellect and strength that we do to win." quoth J.J. The first clue directs teams to fly to Turin, Italy, so Art & J.J. head to a travel agency to book their flight. They're a little disappointed to find the next flight to Turin will be the following day, assuming now every team will catch up to them. As they arrive at the airport, J.J. calls out "There's another team!" just to make Art jump.

As Brendon & Rachel depart the Pit Stop, Brendon mentions their impending marriage and describes the Amazing Race as a preview of their honeymoon. As Bopper & Mark leave in 4th place (Mark seems to think Italy is "tropical"), we learn how Bopper's daughter has respiratory problems and he hopes to win the money he needs for her medical bills. Bopper asks Mark how many times he goes to Italy in a year; "three or four times" is the sarcastic reply. While everyone else goes to the travel agency, Bopper & Mark head directly to the airport, thinking they'll find a travel agency there; Jamie actually seems concerned about Bopper & Mark's absence at the agency. Bopper & Mark find Art & J.J., but the airport offices are closed at this hour. Art & J.J. quickly realize they made a mistake, then nicely explain how they should go back to the travel agency to book their flight. Art & J.J. seem to be fond of Bopper & Mark and despite having misgivings about assisting other teams last week, have no reservations about it this time, certain that Bopper & Mark will return the favour somehow.

Bopper and Mark are the last team to arrive at the travel agency and wind up booked on a later flight than the other seven teams - evidently the first flight was already full when they arrived at the agency. Bopper & Mark don't even realize this and assume everyone is on the same flight! However, at the airport as the teams wait together, Joey "Fitness" sees Bopper & Mark's tickets and points out they arrive 1.25 hours after everyone else! They're mortified and try desperately to get on the flight, attempting to be placed on stand-by, but every seat is filled; they have no choice but to continue with the tickets they have.

In Turin, the first seven teams arrive and find a parking garage where a set of Ford Focus automobiles await them, meaning after just one leg of taxis, we're back to teams self-navigating; the great thing about teams driving themselves is that they're much more likely to travel on their own power - teams who are good at navigation will make a good lead, teams who are poor fall to the back; with taxis, it all depends on who finds the savviest taxi driver, which isn't optimal. Teams drive off in their cars, giving Ford a free commercial. However, they all soon find the streets of Turin are a little challenging and the flow of traffic difficult to navigate. Danny talks about an Italian ex-girlfriend so he doesn't trust Italians; Joey "Fitness" has an Italian girlfriend currently, so he disagrees. Kerri & Stacy are having serious trouble driving (specifically, Kerri's having trouble) and wind up switching places in the car, falling far behind the others.

Teams drive to Lingotto Fiere, where they have to run on foot up a spiral driving ramp several stories to find the next clue box. Art & J.J. take the lead and hold it, reaching the clue box first; discovering a Fast Forward clue inside the envelope, they decide to take the Fast Forward, meaning they'll skip all the remaining tasks and head straight to the Pit Stop; considering how much these two want to be first, their decision shouldn't surprise anyone.

Art & J.J.'s challenge is actually to land a toy remote-controlled helicopter upon a toy aircraft carrier which decorates a helmet; J.J. wears the helmet and has to remain in one place while Art guides the helicopter to the landing pad.

The other teams are left to do the next task: it's Roadblock time! One team member has to rappel down the middle of the spiral and retrieve their next clue, which is hanging off the side of the walls. If they don't reach the clue within 2 minutes, they have to head to the ground and run back up to the top to try again. This is a pretty quick challenge... assuming you get it right the first time.

Big Brother's Rachel, Danny, Jamie & Vanessa are the first to tackle the Roadblock. Rachel demonstrates just how easy it is (she's rappelled before), quickly retrieving the clue and heading out, with Danny not far behind. They both head to the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile. Kerri & Stacy are a little uptight as they search fruitlessly for the Lingotto Fiere. Kerri says "inside I'm pukey, but outside I'm tryin' to still be cutesy." Elsewhere, Bopper & Mark have arrived in Turin. Rachel & Dave have only just reached the clue box and Rachel agrees to the Roadblock. However, Dave thinks they should be doing the Fast Forward when he sees it involves landing a helicopter. "Fast Forward is landing a helicopter at a helipad. Hm. Being a helicopter pilot I could potentially be successful at that." is Dave's sarcastic remark when Rachel disagrees; Rachel sagely observes Art & J.J. are nowhere in sight, correctly assuming they're already performing the task and that the helicopter is a toy, not full-size; Dave storms off testily and talks about wanting Rachel to "change her demeanor" while Rachel conquers the Roadblock, overtaking Vanessa & Jamie who fail to finish in 2 minutes and have to redo it.

At Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile, teams have to park their Ford Focus using Active Park, because commercials are fun. As Brendon is using the feature, they get testy with each other, Brendon complaining "talk to me, don't yell at me!" As he finally finishes parking, Rachel backseat driving the whole time, he shakes his hand for emphasis, "will you just, please?" This may sound like a small thing to you, but this hand gesture launches Rachel into a full-on tirade which lasts, oh, pretty much the rest of the episode. And we're only halfway through? Dang.

Rachel: "You just raised your fist at me! I hate you!"

Brendon: "Rachel, stop! I did not raise my fist at you!"

Rachel: "You jerk! You can't talk to me when you get under pressure like that! It's not okay! It's not normal! It's not okay!"

Both of them are freaking out over parking a car! Rachel is freaking out because her boyfriend apparently snapped at her while parking a car; Brendon is freaking out because he can't get his girlfriend to listen to him and calm down. They both start talking about quitting the Race! And the audience saith, "amen." Vanessa & Jamie finish their Roadblocks and head to the auto museum, while Art & J.J. finish the Fast Forward and head to the Pit Stop, Piazza Castello. Kerri & Stacy have only just arrived at Lingotto Fiere, where Stacy takes the Roadblock, even though she's the one afraid of heights (as you may recall from the first episode).

As Vanessa & Ralph park their car at the museum, Vanessa is wowed by the Active Park feature "Just like KITT from Knight Rider! 'Well, Michael, I think you should wear your leather pants today!'" Jamie declares "Go Ford!" after parking. Brendon & Rachel are the first to discover the "Tin Lizzie," a Ford Model T; I have no idea who sponsors these programs! Within the car is a set of tiny clue boxes containing a 2 cent Euro. Teams have to figure out they need to get to the location seen on the coin, Mole Antonelliana; however, Brendon & Rachel have no idea what the coin means, thinking instead it must be used to operate something else. In Amazing Race fandom, there's a lot of clamour for more obscure clues like this one - it used to be a staple of the program in the early years, where the only clue to the teams' next locations would be a place seen on a cigarette lighter and so forth - clues which force the teams to use a little brain power, rather than the formula the series has occasionally fallen into of "have your taxi driver take you here; then take an airplane here; then have your taxi driver bring you here." The other teams seem to understand Amazing Race history, because they start asking people where the building seen on the coin is located. Some of the people giving directions are dressed as Santa Claus... some sort of festival is going on. Before long, Joey "Fitness"/Danny, Nary/Jamie, Rachel/Dave & Vanessa/Ralph have all received directions and departed, while Brendon & Rachel, stymied by the vague clue, fall apart. Rachel starts talking about their marriage being a mistake because Brendon yells at her and acts mean. *sigh*

Rachel & Dave get lost when Dave ignores the directions they were given. Rachel tries to get him to follow the directions, which he thinks is worthy of a dismissive "Do you want to be supportive, or are you want to continue to be the way you've been the whole leg?" Rachel turns out to be right, yet again. Somehow, Dave is just not receptive to her insights; perhaps it's just the way she speaks to him, but I have no idea why Dave needs to be cajoled into accepting common sense ("follow the directions from the people who live here").

Still lost at sea, Brendon & Rachel finally realize they should be looking for the building represented on the coin. Brendon asks Rachel for some help navigating; "I don't know where the building is Brendon, I don't live in Italy. Obviously." She's really throwing in the towel here, even though she's been a consistently good Racer. Elsewhere, Bopper takes on the Roadblock and seems to get it done quickly, potentially giving he and Mark a leg up. Art & J.J. find the Piazza Castello and check in at the Pit Stop in 1st place (with much "heyyyyys!" all around); they win $5,000 each. J.J. says "we won two in a row, the next one we want to win three in a row. And I say that humbly 'cause trust me, the Race is gnarly and it takes you from the highs to the lows and it's rapid."

At the Mole Antonelliana, Joey "Fitness"/Danny take an elevator to the top of the building, where they find clues waiting: it's Detour time, a choice between "Clean That Statue" or "Name That Salami." In the first, teams have to scrub an old statue until it's clean; in the second, teams have to visit a deli, sample 14 different salamis, then journey to a street vendor and correctly identify all 14 salamis by name. As Rachel & Dave arrive at Mole Antonelliana, they remark:

Dave: "We need to remedy this situation."

Rachel: "Stop talking. Let's just have that."

Y'know, if Brendon were running the Race with a different Rachel, I'd be a happier viewer. This Rachel at least sees how unfruitful it is for teams to squabble on the course. As they take their clue, Dave tries to snatch it from Rachel's hands. "Really?" is her comment. As Vanessa & Ralph pull up at the Mole Antonelliana, Ralph uses the Park Assist feature again, even though it's faster to parallel park manually; he gleefully remarks "Are we in a race? I'm sorry, I was playing with my Park Assist!" It's a cute moment and really makes me like Ralph. Joey "Fitness"/Danny, Rachel/Dave, Nary/Jamie & Vanessa & Ralph all elect to try the "Clean That Statue" Detour option; Vanessa vetoes the salami Detour with more of her usual innuendo: "I haven't had that much salami since high school."

Brendon & Rachel are still bickering as they search for Mole Antonelliana:

Brendon: "I don't like giving up, but I don't like fighting and this is obviously causing a huge strain on our relationship and to me it's not worth it, it's not even worth a million dollars. So, if she decides she doesn't want to be with me because of this experience then I guess that's what's gonna happen."

Rachel: "I don't need that either!"

Brendon: "Then why did we even come on the show?"

Rachel: "Because I wanted to go on a trip around the world with my best friend! I thought it would be fun!"

The last remark comes out in a sniffly, sobby voice. What's weird is they're on the same page - they don't want to fight, they want to have fun, their relationship is more important than winning. So, why have they been spatting for about an hour now? Probably because Brendon never apologized for shaking his fist at Rachel, even though he didn't make a fist and he didn't shake it at her. It's interesting in Rachel & Dave's relationship, we see friction because Rachel knows better than Dave in some instances; in Brendon & Rachel, we see friction because Brendon may know better than Rachel, but he has no clue how her mind works.

At least when Brendon & Rachel see Vanessa & Ralph they finally remind themselves there are other people they can hate; Brendon has now dubbed them "the ogre and the triflin' ho. They're disgusting people." Boy, these two are angling to be America's sweethearts, am I right? Brendon & Rachel take the salami detour; Brendon asks "can we call it a truce?" Rachel answers "let's just go." I'm beginning to think Rachel gets adrenaline from this bickering, given her refusal to declare a truce. No truces Brendon, not when there's a chance she'll want to ream you out later.

Kerri & Stacy have only just left the museum, while Bopper & Mark arrive, hoping they're still in the game. "Clean That Statue" turns out to be a pretty simple option, requiring a series of rinses and scrubs until the statue is white; the heads on the statues seem to be set very lightly as nearly every team knocks their heads off; I bet production was hoping this would happen. As they work on their statue, Joey "Fitness" & Danny banter, with the former remarking "she's a dirty girl, but she's not the kind of dirty girl that Danny likes." They swap a few lines about their tastes in women.

Rachel & Dave finish their Detour amidst continual squabbling; they check in at the Pit Stop in 2nd place. Dave describes the leg as "a complete and utter failure from my vantage point." I dunno; 2nd place is as good as they could expect, but I'm sure he means because their quarreling is sapping a lot of energy in unproductive ways. Brendon & Rachel work at the Salami Detour, with Kerri & Stacy arriving too. Kerri says to a deli vendor, "Hi, we need to taste your salami." providing at least the second juvenile salami joke of the night and this episode's title. Rachel is starting to fall apart, having seen another team has caught up to them; Rachel whines about how "nothing is okay" despite Brendon's assurances; she also refuses to hold his hand. Okay, how about your blankey? Your bottle? She also claims she wants to jump in front of a car, which is definitely going to get a bad reaction from certain quarters of the internet. Rachel starts sobbing again as they try to get the salamis right on what's at least their 3rd attempt; "Amazing Race is supposed to be fun and good! I'm not on Big Brother again!" I don't know if she's talking to Brendon or to the show's producers. Big Brother fans, help a brother out: do people win that game by breaking down and crying a lot?

Brendon talks about quitting the Race again, which also upsets Rachel (oy!). So, Brendon, who's admitted he's going for degrees in three different fields of physics, dumbs himself down to her level:

Brendon: "Did you call me your best friend?"

Rachel: "Yeahhh?"

Brendon: "And what happens when best friends fight?"

Rachel: "They make up."

They keep going, even as Joey "Fitness" & Danny seize 3rd place; Rachel remarks "it sucks that all the people who hate us and make fun of us are gonna win." Cue Vanessa & Ralph arriving in 4th place. Well played, editors. Although if making fun of Rachel is a ticket to winning, I want my million dollars. Nary & Jamie take 5th place; Brendon & Rachel are 6th. Rachel greets Phil at the Pit Stop with "Dijorno!" Sorry Rachel, we only accept Ford product placement on this show.

Bopper & Mark are well in the back as they finish their Detour; the man handing out clues asks "You are engaged?" Bopper replies, "Man, you think I'd engage somethin' that ugly?" Even as they leave, Kerri & Stacy have already claimed 7th place.

Bopper & Mark are somber but proud as they pull into Piazza Castello, knowing they're in last place. They admit to having had a lot of fun on this leg. Phil tells the team they're in last place; as Phil starts to mention Bopper's daughter, Bopper tears up speaking of her; at this, Art & J.J. appear; the duo tell Bopper how they've been thinking about his daughter and how much she means to him; they want Bopper to have the $10,000 they won this leg. Wow. Much as I find the border agents' confidence to be unwarranted, I can't deny they're class acts. There's some tearful moments as J.J. declares he and Art will be Bopper's friends for life; and then, the other shoe falls: those of us paying attention have noticed Phil never said "you have been eliminated." This is, in fact, the first non-elimination point of the Race! Bopper & Mark are still in the game; they'll have to complete a Speedbump task in the following leg, a task no other team will have to complete, but they're not done yet! Bopper promises to return the favour to Art & J.J. for surrendering their prize money.

Thoughts on the eight teams:

  1. Art & J.J.: As I said above, giving up their prize to Bopper was a terrific testament to their character; I hope their compassionate sides come out a little more often in the Race with a little less bluster.
  2. Rachel & Dave: For a team who argued most of the time, they did very well during this leg. Dave seems unreasonably stubborn, since Rachel's observations about what they should be doing throughout this leg were pretty well spot-on; he needs to give his ego a check and be a team player... which is a strange thing to criticize an Army man about.
  3. Joey "Fitness" & Danny: I'm amazed to find I'm starting to like these two; early on, I took their behaviour as inauthentic, but as they've managed to stay in the Race, they've shown some of their real selves; they have a good quip here and there and enjoy trading friendly taunts with each other; they're also finally showing they have some chops as Racers, having come in 3rd two legs in a row.
  4. Vanessa & Ralph: These two win the third crown of improvement; I still don't think much of Vanessa's catty remarks and sexual inneundo, but Ralph's delight at parking his Ford Focus and joking about the Race is the right kind of attitude; if they enjoy being themselves and being where they are, I don't see any reason to want them gone.
  5. Nary & Jamie: These two were basically quietly competent this week, making no serious errors. I still have reservations about them pretending to be teachers, but it's dang amusing to see the competition hasn't figured it out.
  6. Brendon & Rachel: Get off my television, please. I've said it all above.
  7. Kerri & Stacy: They seemed to lose a lot of confidence while travelling through Italy - Bopper & Mark's bad flight seems to be the only thing which kept them in the game.
  8. Bopper & Mark: Still my favourite team for however long they endure; I'm pleased to see they've survived, although it's now hard to imagine them surviving to the end of the Race. They were in doggone last place all through this leg but kept joking with each and being supportive to the finish; I only hope they overcome the Speedbump.

In the preview for next week's episode we see the teams racing through snow-covered Germany, a witch appears (?) and Bopper & Mark go yodeling. Okay, the Race has decided to chuck it all and just be goofy; I say, bring it on!

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