Monday, March 5, 2012

Amazing Race Recap: 20-3 "Bust Me Right in the Head With It"

Welcome back to my series of Amazing Race season 20 recaps; you can watch the series at either CTV or CBS.

This week's Amazing Race depicted some teams at their best thus far... while others showed some less-flattering sides of themselves. Let's recap:

We resume the Race in Beunos Aires, Argentina as Rachel & Dave are the first team to depart, learning they'll be traveling to Asuncion, Paraguay! Not only is the Race finally stepping outside of Argentina, this is the first-ever Amazing Race trip to Paraguay! As the duo head to the airport in their taxi, Dave reflects (collectively the third time for their team) how being in first has placed a target on their back. Art & J.J. depart next, excited to be journeying to another Spanish-speaking country where they can use their language skills. J.J. refers to their alliance with Rachel & Dave, noting "...we both do the same thing, we both protect America. We'll stay with Dave and Rachel and we'll both just dominate this whole uh, this whole season of the Amazing Race."

Rachel, Dave, Art & J.J. discover a flight departing for Asuncion at 10:40, but another leaves at 8:45; knowing that in the Amazing Race two hours can be the difference between first and last place, they lobby for seats on the plane, but are warned the flight is full; they place themselves on the stand-by list. As they wait for the flight, the other seven remaining teams arrive at the airport and also try to get on the 8:45. It's interesting to see Nary & Jamie call Bopper & Mark over to a ticket counter to help them out - interesting partly because Bopper & Mark were in 3rd place to Nary & Jamie's 6th, yet somehow arrived later at the counter - but also interesting because Nary & Jamie are still pretending to be "schoolteachers" and tell the cameras they're being friendly with other teams because that's how they'd expect teachers to behave. We all know federal agents aren't friendly, right? And no one competes on the Amazing Race from a desire to overcome stereotypes, surely? And why did Nary & Jamie elect to help Bopper & Mark, of all possible teams? Have they become friends off-camera? Are they not threatened by them? Or were they trying to keep another team from getting on the first flight?

Unbelievably, while Rachel/Dave & Art/J.J. get on the 8:45, so do Nary/Jamie & Bopper/Mark! Nary & Jamie have some serious moxie to have begun the day in 6th place, yet beat out two earlier-departing teams for the earlier flight. This is the first airport drama of the season and it looks like Nary & Jamie must know how to work the ticket desks. These aforementioned four teams are the only ones to make the 8:45; bear in mind that each team needs to get tickets for their cameraman & sound technician, so there were actually at least 16 available seats in the final tally! So much for a "full" flight! Art & J.J. talk to Rachel & Dave about the idea of having targets on their backs; Dave opines "we're strong enough to deal with this." The other five teams take the 10:40. Big Brother's Rachel isn't happy about this, complaining to Brendon, "this is a race and I'm not about to lose it to some doo-heads." Not exactly polite, but at least she self-censors.

Arriving in Asuncion, the top four teams ride taxis to Metal├║rgica Punta de Rieles metal shop. Bopper quotes "drive it like you stole it," which I first head way back in the original Amazing Race and it's recurred a few times since then; is it original to the Race, or is it just something Americanos say? At the metal shop, a ring of children's slides encase an array of outdoor grills. The teams travel down the slides, then search inside the grills to find their next clue; it's Detour time: "Stacked Up" or "Strung Out!" In the former, teams head to Mercado Central de Abasto, a large fruit market, where they have to stack watermelons in a pyramid; the base of the watermelons is 10x10, so if my math is correct, there are 385 watermelons in each pyramid! In the latter Detour, teams visit Universidad Nacional de Asuncion and must string together a harp (national instrument of Paraguay), thereby tuning the instrument.

All four teams decide on "Stacked Up" and before long they're all in the market, trying to assemble their pyramids. They have to load their watermelons out of nearby trucks; at this point, there seem to be plenty of trucks to choose from, but there must be thousands of watermelons there just to accommodate this Detour! As they work, Bopper & Mark say it's "hotter than new love, baby!" Mark throws Bopper a watermelon and hits him in the head, thus creating the episode's quote-title: "Bust Me Right in the Head With It!" Even as they work, the five teams in the back of the pack have arrived in Asuncion; Kerri comments on the heat: "Hot like Mississippi mud!"

Rachel and Dave are starting to argue as they work on the pyramid; at one point Dave complains about Rachel observing instead of working; later, he complains about her working and tells her to stop. Hoo-boy. The other five teams get their Detour clues; everyone decides on "Stacked Up" except for Elliot & Andrew, who pick "Strung Out."

Art & J.J. finally complete their pyramid, easily outpacing the other three teams. Art & J.J.'s next clue directs them to Plaza de la Democracia. "There's no excuse for not finishing first today!" declares J.J., amongst other overly-competitive pronunciations. To his credit, he also says "I love being on the Race! I love it, I love it, I love it!" Some time after the border agents leave, the other three teams each suffer through some terrible collapses in their pyramids. They weigh their options and each team decides to switch Detour tasks, rather than rebuild their pyramids from the ground up. Dave even wants to use the Express Pass rather than switch tasks! Art & J.J. are now the only team continuing to benefit from the 2 hour lead!

Bopper & Mark greet Kerri & Stacy as they arrive at the "Stacked Up" Detour; without actually lying, Bopper & Mark tell the cousins the task is "not real hard," then take the ladies' taxi once they've left. Mark is actually proud of how Bopper treated the situation: "You finally played the game like I told you to!" As soon as Kerri & Stacy enter the market, they realize only one team actually finished the task and decide they'd better switch Detours. They're a little peeved at Bopper & Mark for tricking them out of their taxi. Stacy takes a piece of paper she's written "bets" on and tears it in half, stating "all bets are off."

At Plaza de la Democracia, Art & J.J. find the next clue box: it's time for the Roadblock (natch) and Art agrees to do it; teams must balance a wine bottle filled with water on the top of their head and complete a simple dance routine without losing the bottle; each team has a set amount of bottles set aside for their use - if they break all of their bottles, they'll receive a 2 hour penalty.

Back at the market, Vanessa & Ralph struggle with Brendon & Rachel, apparently there are only so many trucks available to take watermelons from now; as Rachel bends over to get watermelons, Vanessa says she can see something of Rachel's... something censored by the editors. My assumption is Vanessa is saying Rachel's pants are tight in a *ahem* certain place. Rachel loses her cool over this and demands to Brendon they switch tasks. As they relocate to the other Detour, Rachel says of Vanessa: "her disgusting smile is painted on just like her overdone makeup."

At the plaza, Art actually does very well at the Roadblock, losing just a few bottles before finally getting the routine completed and winning the next clue: it directs them to the Pit Stop: Escalinata de Antequera, which is nearby and they must travel there on foot. Naturally, J.J. is pumped as they run what is said to be six blocks to the Pit Stop; Phil awards Art & J.J. first place, plus a trip for two to Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Quoth J.J.: "We really don't think we should be anything but number one, every leg. We're just gonna win." Of course! "Just gonna win!" Why don't more teams adopt this strategy?

At Universidad Nacional de Asuncion we finally see the "Strung Out" Detour as Elliot & Andrew get to work, soon followed by Nary & Jamie, Bopper & Mark, Kerri & Stacy, Brendon & Rachel and Rachel & Dave. It turns out that the harps' strings are all tangled up and have to be de-tangled before they can be strung. Elliot reveals he chose this Detour because of his experience playing guitar, assuming therefore stringing a harp will be similar; good plan! Rachel & Dave balk at the sight of so many teams at the Detour and decide to use the Express Pass, so they collect the next clue and head to the Plaza. Teams who came from the market are relieved to be indoors in an air-conditioned facility. It's surprising to see how easily most of the teams take to the harp stringing - Bopper surprises himself at how well he works. On the other hand, Elliot & Andrew are struggling and beginning to quarrel with each other; if they ever had teamwork before (I wouldn't know - they're almost never on camera), they don't have it now.

Rachel and Dave reach the Roadblock and Rachel elects Dave to perform the task. Dave turns out to be spectacularly bad at it and winds up breaking every single bottle. Ordinarily when a team fails to complete a Roadblock they receive a 4 hour penalty which they wait out at the clue box location. Instead, evidently because the producers prepared for this eventuality and "ran out of materials" is different from "I quit," Rachel & Dave receive their next clue and proceed to the Pit Stop, where Phil assigns the 2 hour penalty and they begin to sit and wait.

At the university, Brendon & Rachel do an excellent job - they actually arrived last at this Detour, but finish first! Rachel dominated the task easily; Bopper & Mark follow. At the market, Joey "Fitness" & Danny are pleased to finally have a task where their strength comes into play; they stack the watermelons with seeming ease and carry on to the Plaza. Vanessa & Ralph are the only team left at the market and their pyramid keeps falling over; Ralph wants to to switch Detours, but Vanessa insists they finish what they've started. Kerri & Stacy and Nary & Jamie finish the Detour and head to the Plaza; Elliot & Andrew and Vanessa & Ralph are the only teams still performing a Detour. Elliot & Andrew finally realize they've been stringing their harp incorrectly and decide to switch Detours; they're pretty upset to have fallen behind everyone else at the Detour.

Elliot & Andrew quickly change their minds, not having found a taxi they decide they may as well go back and redo the harp. Vanessa explains her motivation for completing the pyramid Detour was to keep from sending a message to her children that it was okay to quit.

More teams arrive at the Plaza; Rachel, Joey "Fitness," Mark, Nary and Kerri each take on the Roadblock. Rachel is once again a star player and does a terrific job at the Roadblock; she and Brendon head on foot to the Pit Stop, but Joey "Fitness" finishes next and are in hot pursuit. As Brendon & Rachel near the Pit Stop, Rachel whines, "the Jersey Shore are gonna beat us!" They arrive at the Pit Stop in 2nd place, Rachel crying and apologizing to Brendon, even though Brendon notes she's done a terrific job all day. Joey "Fitness" & Danny take 3rd place; Rachel & Dave still have 30 minutes on their penalty.

Mark and Nary finish the Roadblock and their teams proceed to the Pit Stop, running side-by-side most of the way; Bopper encourages Nary & Jamie, saying "we'll jump on the mat together." The two teams arrive just as Rachel & Dave's penalty elapses; Bopper & Mark are 4th, Nary & Jamie are 5th (Bopper says "You girls rocked today!"), Rachel & Dave are 6th. So, 30 minutes elapsed from when Rachel finished the Roadblock to when Mark & Nary finished? Wow, that's something.

Phil informs Rachel & Dave they are now the first team to have finished a leg without completing any tasks and yet remain in the Race; hey, good for them! They set a new record! Sixth place is a pretty good finish for a team who failed every task - the Amazing Race didn't used to be so forgiving to failure. Failing just one task normally meant you were gone, unless you weren't the only team to screw up.

Kerri & Stacy claim 7th place. Elliot & Andrew and Vanessa & Ralph finish their respective Detours and it's late at night now - very dark skies. Elliot & Andrew arrive at the Plaza and Elliot elects to take the Roadblock and I have no idea where these two think they stand in the Race right now - perhaps they assume they're in last place. Elliot struggles with the task and is repeatedly drenched in water from the bottles; I doubt whether having a wet mop helps keep the bottle steady.

Vanessa & Ralph finally arrive at the Plaza and are stunned to see Elliot & Andrew are still there; now they know there's a chance! Ralph agrees to take the Roadblock and he seems much more at ease than poor Elliot; Ralph finishes the Roadblock seemingly quickly, then he and Vanessa run to the Pit Stop. Elliot appears to finish soon after Ralph and gives chase with Andrew, but apparently it wasn't that close - Vanessa & Ralph reach the Pit Stop first, taking 8th place. Elliot & Andrew arrive what seems to be a few minutes later and are eliminated. Those minutes they spent outside the university looking for a taxi before finally deciding to go back in and finish the Detour probably cost them the Race.

Elliot & Andrew are sad to be eliminated and vouch for their respect for each other, but it's hard to feel anything about their elimination; they've been practically invisible all through these three episodes, only really coming into focus when they choked at the Detour. You'd think a rock star and his pro soccer player twin brother would be an interesting team, but for some reason the show didn't have time to spend on them. I guess we really, really needed to see Rachel sobbing into the camera 'cause who knows how often there'll be such opportunities?

On the plus side, with Elliot & Andrew gone, the remaining eight teams are pretty well-defined at this point:

  1. Art & J.J.: Now that they've won a leg, I hope J.J. dials himself down a few levels; they've been doing very well so far, but J.J.'s intensity about winning isn't very sympathetic this (relatively) early in the game.
  2. Brendon & Rachel: Despite being on the second flight and switching Detours, Brendon & Rachel beat three teams from the first flight and took second! They've finally shown they have some chops as competitors, but Rachel sobbing at the camera is immensely wearying; she's so much stronger than she claims to be.
  3. Joey "Fitness" & Danny: For once, these two didn't benefit from luck, instead moving out of the back of the pack based on their performance and because they made fewer mistakes than their competition. They may be tougher than they first appeared.
  4. Bopper & Mark: Still my favourite team, they don't appear to give in to stress as some Racers are wont to and they don't badmouth their rivals. So far, so good.
  5. Nary & Jamie: I still don't like their plot to masquerade as schoolteachers, but I was amused at their idea to be friendly with others as "camouflage." Hey, if that's what it takes for teams to be civil with each other, maybe other teams should invent new identities.
  6. Rachel & Dave: They quarreled a little bit, basically wasted their Express Pass, failed the Roadblock... it's a pretty poor performance. After being the strongest team for the first two legs they're going to have to prove it wasn't a fluke going in to the fourth leg.
  7. Kerri & Stacy: I enjoyed how their "rivalry" with Bopper & Mark was friendly; they do seem very willing to trust other teams which is definitely not a time-tested winning strategy.
  8. Vanessa & Ralph: Vanessa taunting Rachel may have been a sound piece of trash-talking to unnerve the competition, but it doesn't paint them in a flattering light. Fortunately, their dedication to overcoming the Detour then overtaking the twins at the Roadblock showed them at their best; they did not give up when they were in last place and were rewarded for it.

Previews for next week offer up Italy, meaning the Race is finished with South America and into Europe! Also, Rachel & Dave argue some more (hooray) and Big Brother's Rachel sobs at the camera some more (double hooray). I feel for celebrity millionaires and the emotional turmoil they experience while going on an adventure around the world for another million dollars. <-- sarcasm

Another recap shall follow next Monday!

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