Monday, November 26, 2012

Amazing Race 21-09 recap: "Fishy Kiss"

Last night's Amazing Race featured another round of intense airport drama plus the most protracted waffling over a U-Turn in years!

We resume in Moscow, Russia with Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James in first place. Their first clue provides them with a flag and they have to determine for themselves which country it belongs to, then book a flight to the nation's capital. I love this, it's the type of clue which helps us viewers see how the Racers compare at problem solving. The dancers borrow an ipad from a hotel and using it, quickly learn it's the flag of the Netherlands and they should be booking a flight to Amsterdam. During this, we hear how Jaymes' father has cancer and he wants to win the $1 million to help pay his father's bills. Jaymes/Head they head to the airport in a taxi to begin the search.

Young dating couple Trey/Lexi depart next, close behind the dancers. A man at a hotel guesses the flag is that of France and Lexi excitedly prepares herself to visit Paris. Arriving at the airport, they spy Jaymes/James and the latter team quizzes them: "where do you think we're going?" Lexi replies "Paris," but Jaymes quickly corrects her and provides the correct information. "Thank God y'all saw us," Jaymes declares, having apparently taken these two chicks so well within his folds that he's forgotten they're his competition.

Twins Natalie/Nadiya are more than an hour behind the other teams, so while they seemed to make up some ground last leg when they used their Express Pass, they still hadn't worked off all they lost from two legs ago. Natalie also assumes it's the flag of France, but the staff of the same hotel Jaymes/James visited corrects them. Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi work on getting a flight together, but the earliest flight they find only has enough room for Jaymes/James. Natalie/Nadiya arrive at the airport and learn about an earlier flight which connects through Rome, but has only one hour for the connection. The booking clerk refuses to let them book this flight, but they beg and plead with her until she lets them. Normally on the Amazing Race when someone makes a risky connection, it doesn't pay off. Hm. Because the next flights don't depart until the following morning, the top three teams are in danger of being caught up to by the latter two teams.

Roughly ten hours (!) behind the leaders, dating couple Abbie/Ryan begin the leg and they're not even in last place! Ryan guesses the flag is France, but when Abbie disagrees he guesses it must be the Netherlands. As they head to the airport, we hear how they fear a U-Turn might be coming up and knowing neither Natalie/Nadiya nor Trey/Lexi like them, they might wind up being U-Turned; Jaymes/James are the only team they aren't worried about because they're friends (they worked together on a Roadblock back in leg 4, if you recall). In fact, there's a conversation about the U-Turn between the top three teams at the airport. They note how Abbie/Ryan would probably most wish to U-Turn Natalie/Nadiya and vice versa. This is where Natalie prompts the others on "the plan:" the first team to the U-Turn should strike Abbie/Ryan, while the 2nd team U-Turns the 1st team, thus preventing Abbie/Ryan from using the Double U-Turn to keep at least one team behind them. A cunning strategy, but Jaymes isn't quite down with it. Natalie/Nadiya & Trey/Lexi worry how Jaymes/James "better not be nice guys" and participate in the plan. Because James is more sympathetic to the plan, Natalie demands he be "in charge." Jaymes expresses a desire not to "hurt anybody's feelings," but Natalie retorts, "that was cute when there were eleven of us." Nadiya adds, "get with the program." Jaymes feels while they're a front-running team, they shouldn't have to worry about U-Turns. "Why lose a friend if you don't got to?" Jaymes asks.

Once again, Abbie/Ryan research their flight on their own and Ryan finds a beauty of a flight which connects via Frankfurt. This prompts clips from two episodes ago where they were trapped in Frankfurt for about nine hours after missing a connection there. Despite their past history, they decide on the Frankfurt connection, then book multiple flights in advance to be certain they aren't trapped there.

Finally, more than 12 hours behind the leading team, life partners Josh/Brent begin the leg; we haven't seen a gap like this (especially with multiple teams) since season 11, I think. Josh/Brent started last leg 4 hours behind Abbie/Ryan, yet now are about 2.5 hours behind them; considering they went last leg at a gentle pace, pausing to enjoy themselves, Ryan must have bled a ridiculous amount of time on the leg's Roadblock. Brent correctly identifies the Netherlands flag instantly. Josh believes they should be safe from the other teams because they're not seen as a threat; certainly they've spent most of the Race in the back.

Ultimately, we wind up with five teams on five different flights, which is quite a development. This means some of the teams have only a hint of an idea as to where their competition are located. Amazingly, Natalie/Nadiya's flight arrives in Amsterdam without incident, despite the one hour turn around time. They board a train at the airport and head to the Amsterdam Centraal railway station, where they find the next clue; it includes a Fast Forward clue, so the sisters decide they'll try it. It directs them to find the Van Gogh Cafe and board a bus called the Floating Dutchman. As they set out, Jaymes/James arrive in Amsterdam, about 45 minutes behind the twins.

At the Van Gogh Cafe, the twins board the Floating Dutchman and set off. "I'd eat poo for a Fast Forward," one claims. Elsewhere in Frankfurt, Abbie/Ryan arrive to make their connection, but they're denied entry despite having about 30 minutes leeway because they weren't checked in. They decide to switch to the 2nd flight they booked. "I hate Frankfurt. I hate frankfurters. I hate Frankenstein," Ryan claims. However, the 2nd flight suffers mechanical troubles and is left sitting on the tarmac; the plane can't be fixed and they have to switch planes.

In Amsterdam, the Floating Dutchman reaches the river and drives itself through the water, to the surprise of the twins; the real task of the Fast Forward is now reevaled: they must consume five herrings within seven minutes. Jaymes/James find their next clue and decide to try for the Fast Forward, supposing they might be in the lead; they set out for the Van Gogh Cafe and wait for the bus.

Before the clock runs out, Natalie/Nadiya finish their herring and Nadiya gives their waiter a "Fishy Kiss," thus titling the episode. They are now free to journey on to the Pit Stop: the home of Rembrandt's mistress in Randsdorp. When the bus pulls up at the stop, Jaymes/James see Natalie/Nadiya disembark and the twins confirm the Fast Forward has been completed. While the twins look for a taxi to the Pit Stop, Jaymes/James head on foot to the Amstel river. In Frankfurt, Abbie/Ryan are on their replacement plane, while Trey/Lexi have just arrived in Amsterdam. Jaymes/James find their boat and set down the canal, enjoying the sights as they travel. "Enjoy the calm before the storm," both agree. Trey/Lexi find their next clue and start out to the river.

In Randsdorp, Natalie/Nadiya have already found the Pit Stop; they perform a dance with their shoulders for Phil, explaining to their bemused host that it's a "number one dance." Phil grants the twins first place and a cash prize of $5,000 each. "All the clothes we've wanted," Nadiya remarks.

On the river, Jaymes/James find a marked floating poffertjes stand, whose staff present them with the next clue: it's time for the Detour: "Back in Time" or "Organ to Grind." In the former, teams must journey to a museum, don costumes and arrange themselves and actors in the same pose as Rembrandt's painting the Night Watch, to the satisfaction of an actor dressed as Rembrandt.

In "Organ to Grind," teams must choose an organ on the street and while one member cranks the organ's music, the other must collect money from passerbys until they have 30 Euros. Jaymes/James choose the latter Detour. Noting the "U-Turn ahead" comment on their clue, Jaymes suggest when they find it they should "run right on past it." Trey/Lexi have begun setting down the river themselves. Jaymes/James quickly locate what appears to be a busy corner and set to work, James cranking while Jaymes solicits money. This is obviously the best arrangement, not only because Jaymes is more extroverted, but because having learned of James' wounded ankle last leg, it makes sense that he'd get the less mobile work. Trey/Lexi find the poffertjes stand and also decide on "Organ to Grind;" Lexi worries about whether Jaymes/James will U-Turn Abbie/Ryan: "I will be so mad with them if they didn't," Lexi opines.

When Jaymes reaches 14 Euros, he finds the trade has slowed down; to pick things up, he & James remove their shirts and put on their Chippendales cuffs & collars. This definitely draws a crowd! Some gawkers even stop to photograph Jaymes. Jaymes notes, "It was funny 'cause all the dudes were comin' over..." Finally, a grandmother comes by with her grandchildren and presents Jaymes with 10 Euros, exactly what they needed to finish the Detour! Jaymes/James receive the next clue: travel to the Museum Geelvinck.

At the Amsterdam airport, Abbie/Ryan arrive only just ahead of Josh/Brent, the same team they were tied with two legs ago. "You've still got us behind you," says Brent by way of encouragement; what an odd sentiment to hear from one's rival. Josh is aware of this: "It's an odd thing that Ryan and Abbie and we have been the last two teams and yet, we're not competitive with each other and yet we both know one of us is gonna have to lose." The two teams decide once again to join forces and run the leg together, which might at least help them to power through tasks quicker or find directions faster. Ryan notes, "there's not a threat with them, they seem resigned to the fact that they've gone as far as they realistically could go." Ryan is extremely dour, yet Josh/Brent keep trying to perk him up.

At Museum Geelvinck, Jaymes/James find the U-Turn board waiting for them and it's a Double U-Turn, as the teams expected. "I don't wanna play dirty, I don't wanna play mean," Jaymes objects. Jaymes was even hoping Natalie/Nadiya & Trey/Lexi would reach the U-Turn first and keep them from having to make a painful decision. Ultimately, Jaymes rationalizes, "what means the most to me is to be able to go home after this and take care of my family." Thus, Jaymes agrees to the plan: they U-Turn Abbie/Ryan, declaring "we need it more than you guys do." The next clue directs Jaymes/James to travel by bus to the village of Randsdorp.

Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent find their clue at the station and head for the river together. Trey/Lexi begin the Detour with Trey cranking the organ while Lexi extorts Euros, which unfortunately means hearing Lexi scream an awful lot.

At Ransdorp, Jaymes/James discover it's time for the Roadblock and it's a familiar sight (to series fan Jaymes): this is the season's "Switchback" task, a recent addition where the series revisits popular tasks from the show's past. In this case, it's the season 12 Roadblock where one team member must pole vault across a ditch of water without landing in the water (a clip shows grandfather Donald performing the task, which was easily the most memorable moment of the episode); their next clue is printed on a pair of wooden shoes at the opposite side. Strangely, James volunteers, despite his wounded ankle. James completes the vault in a single try and returns with his shoes, directing he and Jaymes to the Pit Stop.

Trey/Lexi finish the Detour and head to the museum. As Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent travel down the river, Abbie/Ryan talk about how encouraging it's been for them to travel with Josh/Brent, who have brought them out from being "down in the dumps." Jaymes/James arrive at the Pit Stop in 2nd place; as Phil starts talking to them about using the U-Turn and Jaymes starts to react, the nearby church bell begins tolling: "sign from God," Jaymes believes. Jaymes tells Phil he already sent a card to his family saying he'd be coming back with $1 million and he has to "be a man of my word. I'm sorry, but my parents are more important than Abbie & Ryan."

On the river, it's begun to rain in Amsterdam; Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent decide to take the "Back in Time" Detour and finish it together. Seeing the U-Turn warning upsets Abbie/Ryan a little, knowing they're such likely targets; their one hope is to U-Turn their own allies, Josh/Brent. At the museum, Trey/Lexi discover Jaymes/James used the U-Turn, so they use their U-Turn strategically by voting for Jaymes/James, thus denying Abbie/Ryan the opportunity to save themselves. Lexi is pleased to find the other team "stuck to the plan." They set off for the bus to Randsdorp.

Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent walk out of the rain and into a church where "Back in Time" is being hosted; they carefully arrange their models and props. In Randsdorp, Trey takes the Roadblock at Lexi's insistence: "Hurry, I'm cold!" She also extorts him to use his hips to cross the ditch; Trey performs the task right on the first attempt. Back at the Detour, both teams finish the task and continue on to the museum. Trey/Lexi come in 3rd place at the Pit Stop. At the museum, the teams discover the Double U-Turn board and see Abbie/Ryan have been U-Turned, but they can't U-Turn Josh/Brent. "We're done," is heard for about the 150th time. "If it had been Trey & Lexi or the sisters, we would've been, hmm, called it! But these guys? I was blown away," Abbie admits. Josh/Brent give them a goodbye hug as Abbie/Ryan head to the other Detour, but Josh really doesn't want to abandon them; he forces Brent to step aside for a moment to discuss the matter, suggesting they help Abbie/Ryan finish the Detour. "Somebody's gonna have to step on the mat first. Do you think they're gonna say, 'no, you guys go ahead of us?' They're not gonna do that because they're here to play the game." This persaudes Josh.

Abbie/Ryan begin "Organ to Grind," with Ryan cranking the organ while Abbie dances; at least it's another opportunity for Abbie to use her dancing skills... but with the rain falling, she's not too chipper. Because the buses to Randsdorp aren't running, the later teams are allowed to take a taxi, which should be a time saver (but money burner). Josh is still upset about leaving Abbie/Ryan behind.

Josh: "Everybody wants them out of the Race because they want to keep us in the Race because, y'know, we're not the strongest competitors."

Brent: "Well, then we should just prove them wrong, then. Can you prove them wrong?"

At the Detour, Abbie has collected most of the money she needs, when one woman stops to dance alongside her, prompting Abbie to wonder how much she'll receive. In fact the woman declares, "I'm gonna make it so you're done," then presents Abbie with the last 6 Euros she needed to finish. They both hug the woman, then Abbie hugs her a second time, crying. In Randsdorp, Josh takes the Roadblock and, improbably, crosses the ditch on his first attempt (albeit spraining his ankle while crossing the field); perhaps Josh is a strong competitor? They head to the Pit Stop.

Abbie/Ryan return to the museum and receive their next clue, directing them to Randsdorp via taxi. En route, Ryan ponders Jaymes/James' actions: "It speaks volumes about them and how they'll establish relationships and friendships and stab you in the back." Perhaps all this time amongst the gregarious Josh/Brent has skewed Ryan's perspective vis-a-vis the Race. At the Pit Stop, Josh/Brent are given 4th place, but they're pretty glum. "Would you like me to eliminate you...?" Phil begins to ask, but they quickly declare no. "We're going hard all the way to the end," Brent promises.

Abbie/Ryan arrive in Ransdorp, where Ryan takes the Roadblock, still amidst the rain. Surprisingly, Ryan has difficulty with the pole vaulting and it takes multiple efforts for him to succeed; perhaps his heart isn't in it. Obtaining the shoes, he and Abbie head to the Pit Stop, where Phil informs them they've been eliminated. Abbie is too choked up to speak; Ryan finally pipes up and declares, "You never get a chance like this," which unfortunately reminds me Ryan is already a veteran of reality TV; some of us don't get such chances, but Ryan's already on his second chance. Perhaps one day he'll find the right reality TV show? "The Chippendales cost me $2 million. Just thinking about how much money that really is, it is life-changing. It sucks, it's a bad feeling. It was brutal. I don't feel like we accomplished what we set out to accomplish and it just feels wrong, it doesn't feel right." What's really unfortunate is poor Ryan comes off as caring only about the money he lost, not the adventures which have been withheld or the recognition of winning the Race; certainly he cared a lot about winning around leg 4 when 2nd place was emotionally trying for him.

In the past, I've felt teams who considered themselves hard done by whoever U-Turned them as having done a poor job at making friends. However, in this instance it wasn't anything personal - it was a strategic U-Turn, the type of which we've seen many times before. However, the U-Turn is always personal to the one on the receiving end, which Jaymes certainly seemed aware of. I hope it didn't cost him his friendship with Abbie/Ryan - he did it with the best of reasons... albeit, only after two other teams manipulated him into the option.

And thus Abbie/Ryan have gone from starting with a bang to finishing with a whimper. It's strange to see how many of the early strong teams have faltered as the season progresses. From here, the final three teams seem almost a given: Josh/Brent are well behind the leading three teams and have never been a serious threat; next episode is sure to be a non-elimination which will spare Josh/Brent but cause them to fall further behind and be eliminated in the following episode, so the final three were basically decided two legs ago when we still had six teams! Of course, I could be totally wrong - perhaps we'll see a major upset before the climax.

And thus we have our final four teams:

  1. Natalie/Nadiya: I can't muster up the same love I had for them before they stole James/Abba's money, but they're certainly a gutsy team with good heads for strategy even at manipulating other teams to do their dirty work.
  2. Jaymes/James: It's good to see them at the top; I feel they made the right choice U-Turning a powerful team, but admire Jaymes for his mixed feelings. They have good morals, a strong friendship, a terrific sense of humour and a fine spirit for adventure.
  3. Trey/Lexi: These two still seem to muddle along, weighing in near the top despite what seem to be inferior traveling skills.
  4. Josh/Brent: I'd like to see these two make a comeback and race to the end, but it's probably not in the cards. Their willingness to stay by Abbie/Ryan was practically suicidal, but admirable.

Next week: Teams head to Spain, where Josh has trouble playing tennis because of his ankle injury and Lexi appears to injure herself while bullfighting. Clearly, these are the two extremes of the country.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Amazing Race 21-08 recap: "We Was Robbed"

Last night's episode of the Amazing Race was easily the most intense of the season; it presents some new dilemmas for long-time viewers and hints at how these will inhibit future legs. A turning point, let us say.

We resume where last week ended: rock 'n roll industry friends James/Abba lost the taxi containing Abba's passport (with their luggage). Phil refused to check them in at the Pit Stop so they have no choice but to keep trying to find the passport through the police and embassy. Elsewhere, life partners Josh/Brent are still trying to finish last week's Detour, having selected the synchronized swimming task because the other Detour was closed. Dating couple Abbie/Ryan have finished the Detour, but remain to watch Josh/Brent in a show of friendship, believing both teams have fallen so far behind they have little hope of getting back into the Race. Finally, the swimming pool has to close. Josh/Brent are given one last chance, but still don't finish the task; they're given the next clue but informed they have a 4-hour time penalty. Still pledged to aid each other, Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent head out to the next location: the Trees of Love, where the Roadblock awaits.

At the Roadblock, Abbie and Josh choose the task for their teams. Josh learns the trick of finding the right keys to open the locks which have fastened their next clue to the tree, but Abbie struggles. By the time Josh has the task complete, Abbie is lying on the ground in tears; Josh picks her up, hugs her, then shows her how to finish the Roadblock. They all engage in a group hug when the task is complete, Ryan being especially warm to Josh for helping Abbie. Both teams travel to the Pit Stop, the Bolshoi Theatre. At the Pit Stop, Phil informs them neither has been eliminated: Abbie & Ryan are checked in at 4th place, with Josh & Brent in 5th, but will face their penalty at the start of the next leg. The foursome are overjoyed by this, Ryan even kisses Josh on the head. With all the teams checked in, James & Abba are brought back to the Bolshoi, where Phil reveals they're on a non-elimination leg. They're still allowed to continue the Race without Abba's passport, but will have to face a Speed Bump on the next leg and must have a passport for any international travel. "Where there's breath, there's hope," offers Abba.

With the debris of last leg cleared up, we finally begin leg 8, with young dating couple Trey/Lexi in the lead. Their first clue directs them to the Agricultural Academy so they set out in a taxi, but the cab brings them to the wrong location. They obtain a second cab and resume the quest. The second cab driver wears a pinkish shirt, spotted tie and argyle jacket; what a fashion plate! Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James depart next and quickly find a taxi driver who knows the way to the academy. Jaymes/James, having finally reached the top of the heap after spending much of the Race at the back, hope to remain there. Trey/Lexi's 2nd cab brings them to the wrong location; they start searching again. While driving around the rainy streets of Moscow with a window open, they get a good splash in the face from a passing car.

Because of Trey/Lexi's fumbling, Jaymes/James reach the Academy first and discover the doors to the room they need won't open until 8 AM; they're surprised to be the first ones in line, Jaymes noting "We never get to places and can't find anyone because we're first! We get to places and can't find anybody because we're last!" At this point, I notice James is growing a travel 'stache. Jaymes/James ask their cab driver to wait around for them, which he seems happy to do (no doubt intrigued by the cameras); he's a little stunned to learn his fares are "both James." Trey/Lexi head to a hotel and get someone to translate directions to their driver. They finally reach the Academy where they find Jaymes/James waiting. "This is the most miserable morning we've ever had," says Trey; there are at least three teams having a much more miserable time right now.

At 8 AM, the academy finally opens its doors to reveal the Speed Bump sign for James/Abba and that this is a Roadblock: one team member must correctly answer a quiz about the time zones of Russia, using a provided time in Moscow and two maps which display city names and time zone differences. A very sardonic professor will judge their answers and they must have at least five cities correct. Jaymes & Lexi take the Roadblock and sit next to each other to assist one another on the quiz. The information vanishes from the screens so quickly that they don't have time to figure out the answers and have to try again. And again. Etcetera. "This Roadblock is like that nightmare of being in school and you showed up forgot there was a test and you didn't study for it," says the ever-gabby Jaymes. Elsewhere, twin sisters Natalie/Nadiya begin the leg. They still have the Express Pass they won on leg 2 and it expires on this leg, so they know they'll use it.

At the academy, Lexi & Jaymes start sharing information systematically. Lexi finally realizes because Moscow is itself affected by the figures, they should have been adjusting Moscow's time. "I'm so glad I'm doin' this with the smartest person on the Race right now," Jaymes compliments Lexi. On the next attempt - their 12th - they successfully pass the Roadblock together. "I'm really sorry, but you win!" the professor states. The next clue directs teams to the Detours; "Movers" or "Shakers." Both Detours lead to the National Hotel, with "Movers" requiring teams to correctly perform a Russian military dance in unison.

In "Shakers," teams visit a cocktail party populated by actors dressed up as famous figures from Russian history. They must correctly identify how many copies of each person is present at the party, then present their figures to a judge (dressed as Alexander Pushkin). Both teams choose "Movers." Jaymes/James retrieve their taxi driver (who's having coffee & a danish), but Trey/Lexi dismissed theirs. As an act of kindness because of Lexi's help on the Roadblock, Jaymes/James help Trey/Lexi get a cab before continuing on. "Even though it's a race, you can still form friendships," Lexi observes.

Natalie/Nadiya's driver gets a little confused and thinks the twins want to find a McDonald's (possibly because they'd been talking about finding directions). They quickly correct the problem and one twin remarks, "No McDonald's, we're too fat." At the National Hotel, Trey/Lexi & Jaymes/James dress up in military clothing ("Do I look legit or what?" James asks). As a cheerleader, Lexi is suited to the task and promises to help Trey. Obviously, Jaymes/James have an advantage as professional dancers, except we learn back in the first leg, James sprained his ankle and the dance moves cause him no small amount of pain.

James struggles with the practice so they decide to skip ahead to the judging so they spend less time working on it. However, they miss a step and they have to try again. Trey/Lexi also miss a move on their first attempt. Back at the academy, the twins arrive and after seeing the Roadblock, decide to use the Express Pass to save time, allowing them to move ahead to the Detour.

On their 2nd attempt, Jaymes/James complete the dance correctly: the next clue directs them to the Pit Stop: Sokolniki Park! While they get ready for the trip (James still in massive pain), Trey/Lexi finish the Detour. Outside the hotel, Jaymes/James get a taxi then wait to help Trey/Lexi, but the latter couple go wandering off to find their own cab, so Jaymes/James depart (Jaymes: "Guys! We can't help each other if you run off!"). Natalie/Nadiya pull up as Trey/Lexi look for a cab, but the twins naturally refuse to give up their cab. The twins begin to practice dancing, but Natalie splits her pants open... twice! She finally changes her pants.

Elsewhere, Abbie/Ryan are only just beginning the leg! They set out to the academy while Josh/Brent & James/Abba are still waiting to start. En route, we hear from Ryan how much they "appreciate" their position, having flirted with utter elimination. Noting Ryan's strengths, Abbie opines "If this has anything to do with numbers or science, this is, this is my guy today," indicating Ryan.

At Sokolniki Park, Jaymes/James run to the Pit Stop, where Phil awards them first place and a trip for two to Costa Rica. Trey/Lexi arrive at the Pit Stop in 2nd place. At the Detour, Natalie/Nadiya finish the task on the only attempt we're shown; they head to the Pit Stop.

At the academy, Ryan elects to take the Roadblock. When he sees the time zone task, he's immensely confident in himself and quickly turns in his answers, even rising up and starting to walk away; however, he's wrong and has to start over. Soon, he retakes the test again and again, failing to realize his mistake; he tears up his answers at one point when told to submit them for marks.

As Natalie/Nadiya run to the Pit Stop, Nadiya trips and falls over; notwithstanding, they are still in 3rd place. Josh/Brent finally begin the leg and head to the academy. James/Abba begin next, but still have to find Abba's passport so head out to phone the embassy & police for help before beginning the tasks. You'd think during the 12 hour Pit Stop that they'd have made some progress.

At the academy, Ryan keeps getting the quiz wrong; Abbie thinks Ryan is overthinking it and has even guessed how to solve the puzzle, but can't assist him. He even gets upset with the professor after about 22 attempts:

Ryan: "The map is contradictory. It says 'Moscow +4,' yet you're giving me the time in Moscow. It doesn't make sense."

Judge: "Try to relax."

Ryan: "Thank you for your help."

Judge: "I'm on your side."

On attempt #25, Ryan realizes how to solve the puzzle. He yells "I'm so stupid!" a half dozen times, then gets the quiz correct. Ryan gives the judge a hug as he heads out to the Detour with Abbie, having chosen "Movers."

Josh/Brent head to the academy next and Brent takes the quiz; he apparently gets it right on the first attempt, allowing them to make up a little bit of time. They choose "Shakers" and are heartened to realize James/Abba will be delayed by the Speed Bump at the academy. James/Abba have only just given up on locating the passport and resumed racing.

At the hotel, Abbie finally steps into the spotlight and gives Ryan orders, taking advantage of her background as a dance instructor; they appear to get the Detour on their first judging attempt, so she must have some skills. Deciding to enjoy themselves, Josh/Brent head to "Shakers" and begin counting up party guests. They also take the time to dance with the actors and perform in a swordfight! They submit the correct answers to Pushkin then move ahead to the Pit Stop. "Lively, for a dead crowd," says Josh of the actors. Abbie/Ryan arrive at the Pit Stop in 4th place; Josh/Brent arrive in 5th place.

We don't actually get to see James/Abba's 8th leg; there are brief clips of them performing the Speed Bump, which seemed to involve escorting a Russian priest. We don't see their Roadblock or Detour attempts and simply fast forward to them arriving last at the Pit Stop, where, of course, Phil must eliminate them.

James: "It's like the old boxing coach said, 'we was robbed.'"

Abba: "Literally, yeah, we were."

It's disheartening to lose James/Abba as they were the one team who were fiercely competitive yet friendly; they didn't make alliances nor denigrate their opposition. They really ran this Race by themselves and for themselves and while I usually enjoy seeing teams become friends, it's getting a little ridiculous to be at leg 8 and still see teams waiting around for someone else before proceeding. Of course, this looks to change next week...

We are down to just five teams:

  1. Jaymes/James: From near-elimination on the first leg, these two have crept to the top; considering all the problems in the back half of the teams, it's hard to give them credit for being the best, but they do seem to be learning how to run a better Race as they go. They're also immensely fun (and in Jaymes' case, quotable).
  2. Trey/Lexi: Their difficulty at maintaining their lead reminds me how these two aren't great leaders; then again, as they quickly finished the Roadblock and Detour, I was reminded how consistent they are at tasks. I could see these two lasting to the end, although they aren't the most compelling Racers of the year.
  3. Natalie/Nadiya: I was surprised at how little these two had to do this episode; even with an Express Pass, they couldn't close the gap between themselves and the lead teams. They're perhaps the most cunning players of the season, so we'll see where that lands up.
  4. Abbie/Ryan: Although I wasn't especially interested in these two at first, adversity does make them more compelling, especially when seeing Ryan express genuine fondness for his competition. These last two episodes have actually done a lot to make me warm up to them.
  5. Josh/Brent: I'm also very pleased with Josh/Brent for keeping a positive attitude throughout, making a real bond with Abbie/Ryan and stealing a few moments to enjoy the experience of being on the Race. I imagined these two would be canon fodder early on and yet they keep surviving... heck, I'm fine with them reaching the top three.

Next week: The Race heads to the Netherlands! Abbie/Ryan once again miss a flight - could this be a fatal blow? Also, Jaymes/James discuss U-Turning one of their allies. Both developments sound like good reality TV material! And will the gap between the top 3 teams and bottom 2 remain or be demolished at the airport...?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

47 Problems, But a Ronin Ain't One

It's rare to find an editorial which explains the whys and wherefores of a comic book's existence within the title themselves, but 47 Ronin author (and Dark Horse publisher) Mike Richardson offers one in the back matter of 47 Ronin#1. It seems Richardson has spent decades hoping to create a comic book based on the story of the 47 ronin who avenged their dead master, but only recently decided Stan Sakai was the right artist for the project, despite Sakai's long association with Dark Horse.

Unfortunately for fans of Usagi Yojimbo, Sakai has had to take a break from his own series in order to bring this one to life. Fortunately, it does mean fans of Sakai get to see him delving into different (albeit familiar) characters and settings. It's even presented in colour, courtesy of Lovern Kindzierski, while Sakai's work is normally black & white.

47 Ronin recounts a popular tale of Lord Asano, who falls victim to unfortunate politics in 18th century Japan. Asano is devoted to the honour code of bushido, but this is a problem when enemies can manipulate honourable persons by goading them with insults or accusing them of low conduct. I only became familiar with the story after seeing it presented on the Canadian comedy series History Bites, but it's a popular subject in all forms of media, notably the 2005 Image graphic novel Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai.

Sakai's art is ultimately what drew me to the series (while I patiently wait for Usagi Yojimbo to resume). It's the same level of detail and composition seen in his own work and I'd even assuming he were the author if Richardson's name weren't presented so prominently. Despite knowing how the story resolves, I'm enthused to see how Richardson & Sakai craft it. 47 Ronin will run for only 5 issues total and I encourage you to seek it out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: Popeye#7

It's strange to me that while comic books set in the Marvel & DC continuities receive much comment on the internet, where the other publishers are concerned, you're usually lucky to find reviews for first issues, last issues and perhaps a change in creative team. Thus, why not look in on IDW's Popeye again? The most recent issue is #7, featuring "The Beast of Desolation Gulch or, the Case of the Desert Yeti."

In this tale, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl & J. Wellington Wimpy visit an ostrich ranch which is bedeviled by a mysterious hairy monster who lives in the desert. The foreman of the ranch is none other than Ham Gravy, Olive's former fiancee. Since they last met, Ham has picked up his own set of super muscles (courtesy of "Charles Adenoid"), making him a match for Popeye.

As is typical with Langridge, Wimpy is integral to the plot. I'd earlier noticed how Wimpy is similar to Langridge's Snarked protagonist J. Wilberforce Walrus, but while both men are clever con artists, it's worth observing many of Langridge's other protagonists are less-than-clever victims (notably Fred the Clown and Muppet Show's Fozzie Bear).

After collaborating with various artists over the first six issues, this issue features Langridge assuming the writing/art duties (which probably wasn't feasible while he was writing/drawing Snarked during the earlier issues). Langridge is suited to the world of Popeye, but there's something about the way he draws Popeye himself which I don't like; I think it's the lines on Popeye's open mouth, as seen above.

The second feature of the book is "the Cow of Tomorrow," a Professor Watasnozzle story also by Langridge. This character has made frequent appearances in back-up stories during Langridge's Popeye run thus far; Watasnozzle was another creation of Popeye maker E.C. Segar, but not one I was familiar with until this series. Each story follows a similar pattern: eccentric inventor Watasnozzle makes a device to simplify some mundane task, but Sappo & Myrtle, the couple whose home he boards at, find some way to abuse the device; usually something explodes at the climax. In this case, Watasnozzle has invented an electric cow which can do anything a cow can, including fashion its own dairy & meat products (albeit, awful products). I do find these stories repetitive, but each has had enough amusing moments to remain diverting.

I never believed I'd see the day where I was looking forward to Popeye every month, let alone twice a month since the launch of Classic Popeye! Good show, IDW!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Amazing Race 21-07 recap: "Off to See the Wizard"

Last night's Amazing Race episode brought out the season's first intense airport drama, plenty of surprises and even a cliffhanger!

We resume in Istanbul, Turkey at the Savarona yacht, last leg's Pit Stop. Young dating couple Trey & Lexi depart in first place with instructions to fly to Moscow, Russia! As they head to the airport, we hear about how the duo believe the Race is helping their relationship.

Lexi: "Hopefully there'll be a ring on my finger pretty soon! But that's his call!" (laughs)

Trey: "Easy."

As dating couple Abbie & Ryan depart next, they note how the twin sisters Natalie/Nadiya have become friends with Trey/Lexi and believe the teams are conspiring to U-Turn them in the future because Abbie/Ryan are the only team who could win $2 million at the Finish Line. Rock 'n roll professionals James/Abba depart next, pleased to find a new supply of money in the clue envelope (having been robbed by Natalie/Nadiya on the last leg). Abba is a little paranoid about the money now, getting James to confirm it's being kept safe.

At the airport, Trey/Lexi head to the information desk and are recommended to check at the Aeroflot desk; however, Lexi forgets which desk it was and forgot to write it down; after failing to find the right desk a few times, they decide to stop for food instead. The next sound you hear will be that of your palm striking your forehead. Abbie/Ryan begin researching flights on their own and choose one which has a connecting flight in Frankfurt, but only 1 hour between flights; it sounds risky, but they book it. James/Abba learn about an earlier flight from the information desk and one wonders why the other teams haven't learned of it.

As Natalie/Nadiya arrive at the airport, they find their friends Trey/Lexi and are a little stunned to hear they don't have tickets yet; the two teams work together to find the right flight. The flight these four locate isn't as early as James/Abba's. One of the twins claims they want to "get away from all the freaks." Outside of Abbie/Ryan, I'm not sure who they think the "freaks" are now. Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James learn of the same flight James/Abba obtained at the information desk and book it. Trey/Lexi see Abbie/Ryan pass by, but the latter couple snubs them as Abbie bugs her eyes out at them (an odd personality quirk she's done a few times this Race). Trey/Lexi are confused at why Abbie/Ryan don't like them. Lexi refers to Abbie's face as her "crazy eyes."

Ryan: "Did they wait for those chicks?"

Abbie: "Probably."

Ryan: "Babies! Learn to go from point A to point B without someone else's help!"

Once again, it's the season's familiar leaders versus followers ideology; we've seen a lot of teams following each other and only a few are really stepping up to run their own Race. Life parnters Josh/Brent go to a travel agency for help, which is a good idea; the agents recommend the same flight Abbie/Ryan are on, but they're concerned by the 1 hour separation between flights. On a coin toss, they decide to take the risky connecting flight. As it turns out, the flight connecting through Frankfurt is delayed for an hour on the tarmac, demolishing the time both teams need to reach their connecting flight. Thus, James/Abba & Jaymes/James are out in front, Trey/Lexi & Natalie/Nadiya are on a flight about 2 hours behind them and Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent are... in limbo.

In Frankfurt, the two teams run to make their connection, but they don't get it; they're stranded in the airport with no flights to Moscow until the following day! It's actually a little nostalgic for me to see the Frankfurt terminal, having spent quite a bit of time there myself in 2011 (albeit because I had many hours between connecting flights, not because I missed one). In Moscow, James/Abba & Jaymes/James arrive, the latter team noting how rare it is for them to running with the rockers at the front of the pack. Both teams travel in taxis to the Zurab Tsereteli Sculpture Park. In Frankfurt, the lagging teams book a flight via Warsaw for the following day. At the Sculpture Park, James/Abba & Jaymes/James find the park is closed until the morning (which would hearten the teams in the back if they knew). Hours later, Trey/Lexi & Natalie/Nadiya arrive, noting it's the coldest place they've visited thus far; the top four teams all wait outside the park for it to open, noting Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent are MIA. The missing teams are only just flying to Warsaw as Abba jokes to the others that he sees Abbie/Ryan coming; it's clear none of the top four teams are keen to see them.

The park finally opens ("We're Off to See the Wizard!" quotes James, titling this episode) and the top four teams find the next clue: travel to Moskvoretsky Most and locate Ivan the Terrible's guards. James/Abba grab a taxi, but the other three teams are told it's about 25 minutes to walk so they travel together on foot.

James/Abba find the guards first and discover it's time for the Detour: "Alphabetized" or "Synchronized." In the former, teams head to the Russian State Library and using a list of book titles, must find the titles in the card catalog (a truly massive catalog), then locate the books on the shelves using the catalog data. The head librarian will give them their next clue when they present her with four books from the list.

In "Synchronized," teams head to the Trud Sports Complex and must learn how to perform a synchronized swimming routine with female swimmers, moving in time with the music. A coach will judge their performance. Abba isn't sure about what his injured knee can withstand, so he and James decide to try "Alphabetize." Soon after they leave on foot, the other three teams arrive. Lexi seems to want to try the swimming Detour, but Trey isn't keen and suggests "Alphabetize" instead; Natalie/Nadiya & Jaymes/James choose "Synchronize" and the latter two head for taxis. Only Natalie/Nadiya have difficulty obtaining a cab. One of twins believes it's because "we're brown," although Nadiya recalls in Indonesia, they had "V.I.P. service," so I guess what goes around...?

At the library, James/Abba begin searching the catalog, but they're stumped by the cyrllic characters. This is a task I'd actually be very good at, not only as a librarian, but as someone who's had to work in cyrllic at the library. Over at "Synchronize," Jaymes/James switch into tiny bathing suits with their Chippendale collars on, but the judge tells them to remove them. As professional dancers, they quickly start learning the routines, but matching moves in the water is more difficult than on land. "You get a couple of big oafs like us in the water and you don't know what's going to happen!" James says. Natalie/Nadiya finally obtain a cab and Nadiya thinks they've lost an hour. They wonder if they should use their Express Pass this leg to get around one of the tasks, noting it expires after the next leg; it seems unlike most teams in the series history, they really have been waiting to use it as long as possible. They note how it needs to be a "smart" decision, perhaps being familiar with how generally lousy most Express Pass uses have been on the series thus far.

Jaymes/James make a few attempts at the routine in "Synchronize," but a few errors keep holding them back. At the library, James/Abba are joined by Trey/Lexi and warn the younger team, "Run for your lives!" In Warsaw, Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent are waiting for their next flight and estimate they've fallen about 9 hours behind the other teams. "There's really no point in even racing these guys," states the ever-optimistic Ryan. Back at the library, James/Abba decide to give up on the catalog and try the synchronized swimming, but Trey/Lexi have begun to figure out how to locate the cards. Elsewhere, Natalie/Nadiya begin "Synchronized," but their instructor doesn't speak English. Trey/Lexi find four cards then head into the stacks to locate the books themselves. Natalie/Nadiya are struggling with the swimming and decide to use their Express Pass to move on, but Jaymes/James hear about this and convince the twins to keep the Pass, reminding them with two teams gone MIA, there's no threat of elimination. This is genuinely good advice!

As Trey/Lexi find the last of their books in the stacks Lexi declares, "We did not give up on ourselves, that is awesome!" It's a sentiment which describes this episode pretty well - all through we're seeing teams struggle with carrying on. Because they're in a library, Lexi lets out a whispered "Woo! Yay" as the head librarian gives them their next clue: journey to the Luzhkov Most "Trees of Love," which sounds pretty romantic to them. Meanwhile, Jaymes/James finish "Synchronized" and head to the Trees of Love. At said trees, Trey/Lexi discover it's a Roadblock and they must choose a tree which has been marked with an Amazing Race ribbon; it has ten locks attaching it to the tree of locks (symbolizing eternal love) and they must unfasten it with a ring of keys. Their next clue is inside the ribbon. Trey volunteers to take the Roadblock; while he toils, Lexi notes how many wedding parties are meeting in the area to have their photos taken: "Don't be gettin' any ideas, girl!" Trey lovingly chides her.

James/Abba's cab brings them to the wrong swimming pool; they're having a lousy day. In Warsaw, Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent talk over the problem of racing against each other when they're so far behind the others. They agree to form an alliance and race together for this leg, shaking hands to seal the pact. It's surprising to see the normally-competitive Ryan be so gracious, but perhaps they've considered this could be a Non-Elimination leg... or they think the 9 hour gap is too large to be made up before both teams are ultimately eliminated. They finally board their flight to Moscow! At the Roadblock, Jaymes/James arrive and James takes the task. At "Synchronized," Natalie/Nadiya pass the Detour and move on to the Trees of Love. James/Abba finally begin "Synchronized," prompting the judge to declare "I'm already afraid" when she sees how out-of-shape the two men are. Back at the Roadblock, Trey finishes using the keys and opens the ribbon, where he finds a metal vial containing a 100 ruble note. They have to discern this means the Pit Stop is the location seen on the note: the Bolshoi Theater. It's a good ol' fashioned Amazing Race puzzle clue! They quickly learn what the building is and head there in a taxi. Natalie/Nadiya start the Roadblock next and Natalie takes the task. At "Synchronize," James/Abba have a rough time matching the timing with the other swimmers.

At the Bolshoi Theater, Trey/Lexi arrive at the Pit Stop and Phil awards them 1st place and a trip for two to Maui. The couple say they're immensely in love with each other and have realized they're a strong team who could win the $1 million prize. Back at the Roadblock, James finishes the task and they head to the Bolshoi; Natalie struggles a little with the task and Nadiya isn't terribly sympathetic, claiming Natalie "wasted an hour complaining." This is the second time this leg we've heard Nadiya claim they lost an hour. Perhaps she has her own way of measuring time. The two start trading "you're the worst partner ever" insults, seemingly in good fun. Elsewhere, Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent arrive in Moscow and both teams' taxis travel together to the Statue Park, while Jaymes/James arrive in 2nd place, their best finish thus far. James/Abba finally finish "Synchronize" after about 20 attempts. Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent want to work together on the Detour so they choose "Alphabetize," but the library is already closed so they have no choice - they must perform "Synchronize." If editing is to be believed, they aren't too far behind James/Abba now.

At the Roadblock, Natalie finishes the task and they head to the Bolshoi. At "Synchronize," Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent begin learning the routine. Abbie is a dance instructor and has some talent, while Ryan quickly finds his place, but Brent is terribly awkward. Natalie/Nadiya reach the Pit Stop in 3rd place, but are very negative about their performance this leg "despite the position." They're at least pleased to have held on to the Express Pass. James/Abba reach the Roadblock and ask their taxi to wait, but when Abba begins the Roadblock, they decide to go back and release their taxi so it won't run up a large bill. However, the cab is nowhere in sight! Their bags are still inside, along with Abba's passport! Abba begins the Roadblock anyway, hoping the taxi might reappear if the driver was simply moving to another spot. "Don't leave your bags in cabs, kids!" James declares. Abba finishes the task and they figure out where the Pit Stop is, but the taxi is still missing. They have enough money to reach the Pit Stop, but Phil can't check them in unless they have both have their passports.

At "Synchronize," Abbie/Ryan pass the challenge, but decide to stick around and support Josh/Brent. Even though he's trying to be good natured, Ryan can't help but laugh at Brent's clumsy efforts. James/Abba arrive at the Pit Stop but Phil cannot check them in; they have no clue how to proceed. TO BE CONTINUED...

Man, a "to be continued" leg - it's certainly been quite some time since I've seen one on this show. And thus I'm left to consider our last six teams in mid-race:

  1. Trey & Lexi: They've been very good at challenges, but their airport moxie seems fairly awful. They're really fortunate to have kept an alliance with Natalie/Nadiya, we'll see if they've learned enough to hold their own as the endgame lurches into view.
  2. Jaymes & James: They did terrific this week in basically every category; these two could still be in the game to the end.
  3. Natalie & Nadiya: As they noted, they had troubles this leg as they argued with each other and waffled over quitting the Detour. Obviously, next leg should be a major improvement as they'll definitely use the Express Pass.
  4. James & Abba: Now here's a team who struggled more than any; having already lost money last leg, this leg they gave up on a Detour challenge, lost time on the other Detour task, then lost a passport. I really want these two to stick in the game, so hopefully next week will have a good outcome for them.
  5. Abbie & Ryan: After having the wind knocked from his sails, Ryan actually showed some of his integrity, notably in the pact formed with Josh/Brent. They are definitely still the team everyone would like to see gone, but it's not impossible for them to remain in and even win, thanks to James/Abba's own problems.
  6. Josh & Brent: I have a feeling these two are about to say farewell; at least they're gone out in style, fighting to the end, but it's harsh to see how a single coin toss blew their game.

Next week: The Race continues in Russia as James/Abba search desperately for the missing passport, James (of Jaymes/James) wounds his ankle and Abbie/Ryan try to stay in the game. Will there be an elimination within the first few minutes? Whose will it be?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: Star Trek - Romulans Treasury Edition

I don't often wander through my comic shop's licensed property section, but questing for the most recent issue of Godzilla: the Half-Century War led me past their Star Trek display. I just happened to spy the new Star Trek: Romulans Treasury Edition; actually, it's size made it rather difficult to overlook.

It's not the largest comic book I own, but the "treasury edition" format always makes me giddy. In this instance, it led me into buying a Star Trek comic book I would have overlooked if the same material had been sold as a trade paperback (as is, the $9.99 price was cheaper than the cover price of the original material).

This book collects three comic books about Romulans which writer-penciler-inker John Byrne created in 2008. Set in the continuity of the 1960s TV show, it opens immediately prior to "Balance of Terror," the episode which introduced the Romulans. The honorable Romulan commander from that episode is (re)introduced, along with his wife, son and the fanatical leader of the Romulans, the Praetor. At the same time the Romulans have begun using their new cloaking devices to cross the Neutral Zone, they've made new allies: the Klingons. On the surface, the Klingons have come to Romulus to obtain their own cloaking devices, but they actually have a secret plan of their own. Considering the Romulans have a reputation in Star Trek for being the galaxy's most cunning spies, there is schadenfreude to be had in seeing them outwitted by Klingons!

It definitely pays to know your 1960s Star Trek before delving into this book. In addition to "Balance of Terror," I recognized references to "the Trouble With Tribbles," "Errand of Mercy" and "the Deadly Years." Because all of this is told from the perspective of the Romulans (and Klingon allies), the Starfleet characters are only ever glimpsed from a distance (although despite being absent from the cast of characters, one James T. Kirk sets into motion much of the action). If you don't recall how "Balance of Terror" played out, you may be confused by how the Romulan commander is given a great introduction, then dies off-panel in battle with the Enterprise. And while you might recognize the Klingons Koloth & Kor from (respectively) "the Trouble With Tribbles" and "Errand of Mercy," Kor's motivation depends on you being familiar with "Errand of Mercy"'s plot. Essentially, having been forcibly prevented by the all-powerful Organians from attacking the Federation, Kor's great scheme is to manipulate the Romulans into waging war on their behalf. He does refer to the "Organian interference," but it's up to the reader to understand its context.

Being printed at such a large size means when Byrne delves into great detail at rendering the people or starships, you can marvel at his skill. However, it also means when Byrne takes shortcuts with his art, the increased size makes it all the more glaring. Let's call it a draw.

The book would definitely profit from a few endnotes to explain the continuity. For that matter, the story could use captions to help with scene transitions. There are moments where knowing how many days/weeks have passed between scenes would help explain the seemingly drastic changes in situation. Further, one sequence presents the Klingons & Romulans engaged in war games, but because the Romulans have a team of Klingon observers aboard their ship, I had difficulty understanding when the perspective switched between vessels.

This isn't the complete story - Byrne wrote three more comics about the Romulans which will reprinted in a 2nd treasury edition to accompany this. I didn't realize it when I bought this book, but I'll happily add the concluding volume to my collection; Byrne and Star Trek are both fond old friends of mine and it's a pleasure to revisit them.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Amazing Race 21-06 reacp: "Get Your Sexy On"

Last night's Amazing Race was equal parts impressive and maddening. At this point, I'm beginning to receive a better picture of each team's strategies, strengths and weaknesses, with plenty in each category.

We pick up where we left off: Lok Shilpa Jadughar in Sonargaon, Bangladesh. Rock 'n roll professionals James & Abba depart in first place with instructions to fly to Instanbul, Turkey, where Europe meets Asia! As the duo board a taxi to a travel agency, we're reminded how Abba's knees have been bothering him and it's a struggle for him to run at this point.

Abba: "As Sir Barton said 'I am hurt, but I am not slain.'"

James: "My God, this race has taken on Biblical proportions!"

Dating couple Abbie/Ryan begin the leg next; "Goodbye Bangladesh; it's been real, it's been real hot, but it hasn't been real fun," Ryan says. "Next time you're at home and your Samsung 52' starts to go fuzzy on you, don't bitch about it, go to Dhaka," he adds. Twin sisters Natalie/Nadiya depart next; Nadiya states, "We love the fact that Abbie & Ryan are a competitive team, but Ryan rubs everybody the wrong way. I've no animosity, but they just... two weirdos!" Married monster truck drivers Rob/Kelley leave next and take the time to pick out a taxi they like before heading to the travel agency. Rob explains how, "People don't know me; they don't understand that I use the cockiness and the aggressiveness to make myself overcome any obstacles that might be put in front of me. I don't get drive from other people; I make my own drive."

At the travel agency, teams quickly learn there's only one flight to Istanbul so every team is going to be on it. Ryan grouses at having to be around "the two most annoying teams on this race: the rockers and the twisted sisters. Their hair is all the same length. Get them off the race already. I'm tired of them, I'm tired of them all." It was probably more clever inside his head. Note his derision of long hair, for you see Ryan is a manly man.

Young dating couple Trey/Lexi and Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James are the next teams to start the leg. Rob/Kelley arrive at the travel agency just as Abbie/Ryan depart; Ryan doesn't want to stay there with the other teams: "There's nothing they can do; you put those six heads together, you get about three braincells." He'll soon be proven wrong.

Life partners Josh/Brent begin the leg in last place, knowing they're hours behind the others and will have to complete a Speed Bump later in the leg; they liken this to the struggle they faced when they lost their jobs and had to save their farm, a trial which they overcame. At the agency, teams are vying for the use of the computers, when Nadiya sees a wad of money; Natalie quiets her before she can tell others about it and instead the sisters enter into a huddle with their allies Trey/Lexi; Natalie is even asking questions to Nadiya in Sinhalese so others can't eavesdrop. Says Natalie, "I have a good conscience, but when it comes to stuff like this, the drive gets stronger and stronger as you come closer to the Finish Line." I assert you do not have a good conscience if this is how you react when tested. Lexi likes the idea of keeping the money while Trey is against it, but the others hush him up (which couldn't be too difficult - he's usually a reserved, quiet fellow). The four conspirators depart the agency, leaving behind James/Abba, whom they're pretty sure are the ones who lost the money. Sure enough, Abba realizes the money is gone after the teams leave, but he assumes it fell out in a cab. They need money to reach the airport and continue the leg, but now it's all gone. With no other prospects, they head into the streets to start begging for money, heading past genuinely impoverished beggars as they look for "prosperous" folks in the business districts.

At the airport, Natalie feels guilty about taking the money and suggests they split the money between themselves and Trey/Lexi: "That way, the guilt can be split up, half and half. And they're Christians so they'll pray for us." Natalie does "wish it was Abbie & Ryan's" money, which Trey/Lexi agree to. On the streets, James/Abba fortunately find some locals who offer them some money; one man declares, "this is my country, you're my, uh, guest." It's heartwarming, but so unnecessary. At one point, Amazing Race would force teams who came in last on a non-elimination leg to beg for money, but some fans called this "mugging" and objected to seeing otherwise-well-to-do Americans begging for money from people who were often on the poverty line. Now, rather than production enforcing a mugging, it's the teams themselves who are inflicting this on each other! Ultimately, James/Abba lost $100 to Natalie/Nadiya, but the locals donated $100 back to the rockers. "Bangladesh good, not bad," judges the duo's cab driver; they quite agree. With this accomplished, everyone boards the flight to Instanbul.

At Instanbul, teams race out of the airport; everyone grabs a taxi except for Jaymes/James & Rob/Kelley, who both choose the metro, thinking it will be faster than street traffic. The two teams are on the same train and can see each other, but are located in separate cars. All the teams are headed to Beyoglu, a ferry terminal.

James/Abba reach Beyoglu first and their clue welcomes them to Europe... then tells them to return to Asia! They must board a ferry to Uskudar, which will bring them across to the Asian side of Istanbul. The duo are the only Racers on their ferry; "just like being back on tour," says James. Abbie/Ryan, Natalie/Nadiya, Trey/Lexi & Josh/Brent wind up on the 2nd ferry across, while Jaymes/James & Rob/Kelley are still on the metro. On the metro, the Chippendales ask a local about how fast the train is and he observes because it's early in the morning, there isn't much traffic to delay taxis. Realizing the metro is a mistake, Jaymes/James exit at the next stop. Rob/Kelley see this, but Rob opines: "The reason the Chippendale guys got off the metro is 'cause they think they need to group up with the other people, they think the other people took the taxi, I'm sure, because they're followers. We're not followers, we're gonna go our own way."

In Uskudar, James/Abba find the next clue, which directs them to travel by taxi to the Misir Carsisi shops, where they must find stall#14. James notes Abba's leg wrap is coming undone: "you look like a mummy." The next four teams arrive just as James/Abba are boarding their taxi. The four teams are actually being helpful to each other, promising to reveal where the next cluebox is when they find it; when Ryan reaches the box, he actually throws a clue at Natalie before opening his own. As Jaymes/James arrive at Beyoglu and see how many clues are missing from the cluebox, they realize they've fallen behind; "wouldn't be us if we didn't somethin' a little off," notes Jaymes.

James/Abba & Trey/Lexi race into Misir Carsisi together and find stall#14, where Josh/Brent's Speed Bump sign is visible. A clerk hands them their next clue inside a package of Turkish Delight! It's time for the Detour: "Simit" or "Scrub It." In "Simit," teams must deliver simits (a type of bagel) to three locations, carrying a tray of simits on their heads the traditional way.

In "Scrub It," teams must participate in a Turkish bath (much like contestants from last summer's Amazing Race: Australia). Obviously, this is a much easier task, it's just a question of whether teams could power through the simit delivery faster than it would take to lie back and be bathed. Trey/Lexi, demonstrating the "follower" mentality we've seen so much this season, ask James/Abba what to do; the rockers vote "Scrub It," so Trey/Lexi stick with them.

Natalie/Nadiya, Abbie/Ryan & Josh/Brent race into Misir Carsisi at about the same time; while the latter two teams head to "Scrub It," Josh/Brent must perform their Speed Bump: find a marked ice cream vendor stall outside the bazaar and eat two scoops of ice cream (if this sounds lame to you, then you must not be familiar with Speed Bumps - it's pretty typical). The couple begin searching for the ice cream vendor, but head in the wrong direction, ultimately choosing a different vendor stall. It's actually interesting to see how the ice cream is served, as the vendor plays around with the cones, tricking Josh/Brent to grab for cones which are deftly put out of reach or replaced with an empty cone. Jaymes/James arrive in Uskudar and head to Misir Carsisi. Jaymes observes, "We don't got a clue where we are in the race right now. Just look at the bottom of the screen right now, it'll tell you what place we're in, we ain't got a clue." On cue, "Jaymes & James Currently in 6th Place" appears. Rob/Kelley have only just arrived at Beyoglu, but realize they've fallen behind (extra clues in the box keep them from knowing exactly how far). Josh/Brent finish their ice cream and return to stall#14, but learn they didn't do the Speed Bump correctly; they search again for the right vendor.

James/Abba, Trey/Lexi, Abbie/Ryan & Natalie/Nadiya head to the Turkish Bath at about the same time. Ryan laments, "I better not get a dude," in case we forgot Ryan is a manly man. As Abba sits down to begin the bath, he declares "I feel very Baccanalian right now." Wow, I wouldn't have guessed Abba for being the most well-read of this season's Racers, but twice now this episode he's surprised me. "This is horrible. So much torture," James kids, later adding, "I haven't had this done since I was five." As Ryan's attendant washes his feet, Ryan declares "Look at that! Abbie won't do that for me! You gotta gimmie your number, dude." Because Ryan is, uh, manly...? Strangely, the women are all dressed in flesh-toned tops, perhaps because production hoped wandering viewers might think they caught a glimpse of nudity?

Rob/Kelley arrive in Uskudar and head to Misir Carsisi, where Josh/Brent have only just found the right ice cream vendor and have to eat more ice cream: "the second cone is not quite as good as the first," Brent observes. Finishing, they return to stall#14 to receive their clue and Turkish Delight: "Just what we need!" Brent declares upon seeing the candy. Josh thinks the more physical Detour will be the quicker one, so they decide to try "Simit." It's a decent theory as that's normally how Detours work. As they leave, Jaymes/James arrive and decide on "Scrub It." Josh/Brent head to the bakery to begin loading up simits and it does seem as though the bakery is closer to Misir Carsisi than the Turkish Bath is. They head out with Brent carrying the simits on his head while Josh asks for directions, but Josh can't find people who speak English in clear directions. Elsewhere, Rob/Kelley arrive at Misir Carsisi and also decide on "Simit."

Describing the massage portion of the Turkish Bath, James states they "pulled my heart out, showed me it was beating and said, 'here, it's going too slow, here you go.'" Trey/Lexi finish their Turkish Bath first and their next clue directs them to travel by taxi to another bazaar: Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami, where their clue lies near a fountain. Abbie/Ryan & James/Abba are right behind, leaving Natalie/Nadiya with a "private Twinny massage." This whole Turkish Bath Detour is just an excuse to give viewers a chance to gaze at the Racers' sexy bodies. But dang it, for thieves, Natalie/Nadiya are gorgeous thieves. Jaymes/James arrive at the bath as the twins depart; Jaymes seems surprised to discover the Turkish Bath is cold.

Josh/Brent are getting lost as they try to deliver simits and Brent is growing testy. Rob/Kelley begin the Detour (Rob dancing into the bakery when he hears the local musicians) and soon are wandering just as aimlessly. Josh/Brent finally discover someone who speaks English and directs them to their first delivery.

Trey/Lexi reach the fountain in the bazaar and discover it's time for the Roadblock; Lexi takes the challenge, which requires one team member to dress up in a costume (complete with fez) and sell 40 glasses of sherbet to passerbys for 1 lira each. Abbie/Ryan and James/Abba aren't far behind and Ryan & Abba take the task for their teams. "Abba-Dabba, you look fabulous, man!" declares James upon seeing Abba in his outfit. Ryan keeps dropping the lid to his sherbet jug. Lexi is clearly the star player at this contest, although her loud exclamations are just a little piercing.

Back at "Scrub It," James describes the massage as being "like a battle of wills." Jaymes believes the cold water isn't really part of the treatment, just an excuse for the attendants to laugh at them. At "Simit," Josh/Brent help encourage Rob/Kelley as they head to a delivery location. "If I had to do this job every day, I'd quit," shares Rob. Back at the bazaar, the twins begin the Roadblock as Nadiya reads the clue:

Nadiya: "'Who's ready to pour their heart out...?'"

Natalie: "I am."

Nadiya: "...Natalie, because she's single."

Natalie: (laughs) "What?"

Lexi notes "as a cheerleader, you have to be upbeat all the time, you have to attract the crowd," which is just what she does as a sherbet vendor. "I was just being loud and obnoxious like I normally am," Lexi admits. One man pays Lexi for a drink just to make her go away. On the other hand, Ryan observes "I've never sold sherbet. I don't know what the sales technique is." Ah, but does he have any history of selling to customers? He finally asks one man to help him sell sherbet, offering him a commission; I'm not sure how that's supposed to work, but it seems to pan out well for Ryan. Abba is struggling a little.

Lexi finishes the Roadblock and receives the next clue: travel by taxi to the Pit Stop, found next to the Savarona, a famous luxury yacht. Nadiya notes, "I'd rather Texas get it than Abbie & Ryan." Abbie overhears this. Jaymes/James begin the Roadblock with James on the task. Ryan finishes the Roadblock and Abbie gossips about what she heard Nadiya say. "They're so juvenile. They can suck it," is Ryan's manly and mature response. Abba finishes the Roadblock next. At "Simit," Josh/Brent and Rob/Kelley both finish the Detour, while Natalie finishes the Roadblock. Jaymes is a little apprehensive about how long James is taking at selling sherbet.

Trey/Lexi run into the Pit Stop where Phil awards them first place and a trip to Australia. No mention is made of a penalty for sharing in the theft of James/Abba's money. Abbie/Ryan arrive at 2nd place at the Pit Stop; there's no mention of Ryan being put out because he won't be able to match season 20's Rachel/Dave's record of 1st place wins, so I guess he's over that now?

At the Roadblock, Brent takes the task. "I may not be a Chippendale, but I can work a costume," says Brent. Rob/Kelley arrive next with Kelley taking the Roadblock. Jaymes is again unnerved: "You see monster truck, you see Beekman Boys, you know you in the back of the pack, you know you fightin' for last." We see an example of James' technique: "Afternoon, ladies, can I get you a nice cold drink? No? It's the hat, isn't it?" Brent tries to sell one drink by claiming to a customer he made it himself: "You made this, I don't drink," the customer replies. James finally finishes the Roadblock and departs with Jaymes.

James/Abba claim 3rd place at the Pit Stop. Natalie/Nadiya receive 4th place; again, no penalty is brought up. What's up with that? Perhaps they were penalized, but it didn't effect placements so it wasn't aired. I know before I began these recaps I reminded viewers not to demand penalties for any seeming infraction, but surely knowingly taking another team's money is a penalty? We've seen teams penalized for accidentally taking another's vehicle (season 6), knowingly hiding some bicycle pumps (season 14), moving another team's bags (season 18) and taking another team's bags out of a taxi (Australia, season 2). There are penalties for speeding tickets (season 13) but not theft? If this isn't a penalty, I hope there's an explanation offered online.

Brent finishes the Roadblock, but Kelley is seemingly very close behind; both teams start racing to the Pit Stop. Josh/Brent are slowed down by a traffic jam, but instead of waiting it out, they exit their cab and start directing traffic (reminiscent of season 7's Rob), enabling the jam to break up seemingly more quickly. It's good to see them take matters in their own hands rather than blithely bowing to fate. Jaymes/James arrive in 5th place at the Pit Stop, while Josh/Brent arrive in 6th place at the Pit Stop, keeping them in the game. "And we even took time out to eat ice cream, Phil," Brent remarks.

Rob/Kelley finally arrive at the Pit Stop in last place, forcing Phil to eliminate them. Rob is visibly upset by the elimination, practically moved to tears, a rare moment where he ceases being a performer. "I tell you what, without Kelley, I'm nothing. Uh, you might think that I'm this big strong bold guy, but I'm so blessed to have this woman in my life and for someone to love me the way she loves me."

I said last week Rob/Kelley needed to avoid major mistakes... the metro was their one great mistake this week. It's hard to tell how long the Detours took, but the Turkish Bath might have helped them save a few minutes - but the metro was a real killer. It's disappointing to see some teams succeed by being followers while others fail for obeying their own instincts; say what you will about Rob/Kelley, they never went with the crowd.

Thoughts on our six remaining teams:

  1. Trey & Lexi: I don't think much of Lexi worming her way into Natalie/Nadiya's theft, but at least Trey was resistant; it's nice to see them succeed after falling to the back during the last two legs, but their benefiting from the theft leaves a bad taste.
  2. Abbie & Ryan: Ryan's been snarky to other teams before, but this week he's become truly unpleasant about it, insulting teams who have, at times, been better Racers than he & Abbie. Abbie shows no signs of reigning him in, but next week ought to please those of us who want Ryan's ego taken down a peg.
  3. James & Abba: In the face of Abba's knee troubles and being mugged by another team, these two did a fantastic job of staying at the top of the pack. Gradually, these two have become my favourites; for a showman, there's a lot of humility to be found in James, as opposed to the way other teams mug for the cameras. And speaking of muggers...
  4. Natalie & Nadiya: Last week I opined I liked these two "in spite of themselves." Boy, howdy, does the money theft ever challenge my assertion. I love their personalities and competitiveness, but I am equivocally against robbing another team, especially if there's no penalty from production. I don't want them to win now.
  5. Jaymes/James: I can't imagine these two winning a single leg, but they did at least show some good judgment when they left the metro for a cab; despite Rob's assertion, it was the opposite of being "followers," and they were rewarded for rethinking their strategy. Still, their existence in this Race remains precarious.
  6. Josh/Brent: It wasn't until these two were racing to the Pit Stop that I realized I wanted to see more of them - mainly because I was impressed by their maneuvers during the traffic jam. I feel as though their elimination is just a question of time, but I'm glad they survived another leg.

I'm seriously bummed about the mugging, as you can tell. It might be a deal-breaker to me as to whether I'm coming back for season 22.

Next week: The series visits Russia as Josh/Brent & Abbie/Ryan get left behind on a connecting flight, James/Abba lose a taxi which has all of their gear and it looks like there's going to be a lock & key task similar to season 6; a Switchback task, perhaps?