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.

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