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...?

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