Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Amazing Race 21-11 recap: "Take Down That Million"

Last Sunday evening, the season finale of season 21's Amazing Race aired, compressing the last two legs of the Race into a two-hour programming block. After a series of clips which recap the season up until now (notably omitting Natalie & Nadiya stealing James & Abba's money), we launch into leg 11; our final four teams are young dating couple Trey/Lexi, Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James, life partners Josh/Brent & twin sisters Natalie & Nadiya.

We're still in Mallorca, Spain with Trey & Lexi receiving their first clue, directing them to travel back to Barcelona by plane, then travel via train to France's Loire Valley. close behind them are Jaymes/James, who remind viewers about how they hope to win the prize money to help Jaymes' cancer-stricken father and for James' mother who works with special needs children. Josh/Brent depart next and Josh notes he can speak French, granting them an advantage in the upcoming leg. Having been near the bottom of the ranks for so long, the couple acknowledge what a big deal it would be for them to reach the final leg. Natalie/Nadiya, formerly one of the strongest teams, have fallen to the back and have to complete a Speed Bump during this leg. They are at least pleased to be running alongside two friendly teams (Trey/Lexi & Jaymes/James).

During the train ride, Natalie/Nadiya begin a discussion about Josh/Brent with the other two teams, similar in nature to their earlier discussion about working together to eliminate Abbie/Ryan. The twins opine Josh/Brent are "taking up a spot and we want it way more than them." They quiet down when Trey notices Josh/Brent nearby (in fact, Josh/Brent have overheard some of the conversation); Jaymes invites Josh/Brent to join them. Josh/Brent do, but in a later interview Josh discusses how "demoralizing" it is to have "these people who are so nice and really friendly are actively working to get you out of the Race." Josh isn't too wrong in describing this as "high school all over again," at least in the case of season 21.

As the train pulls to a stop, the teams race out to find cars waiting for them: the new Ford Escape. Much like last season's barely-concealed commercial for another Ford product, this time teams are required to use the Escape's kick-activated lift gate to fill the back of their vehicle with eight baskets. The teams quickly set about this and seem to enjoy the kick feature. Jaymes/James description of the feature is virtually a commercial. Next, teams to have journey to Chateau de Villandry and find a stone dog. Josh/Brent decide to simply follow the other three teams since they all require directions. En route, James describes how his mother doesn't have a car and hopes he can win a Ford Escape for her (Amazing Race legs with product placed cars usually award the vehicles to the first place winner). Natalie/Nadiya notice Josh/Brent are simply following them, which they describe as "sneaking from behind." Brent notes, "It's kind of flattering because all this time we've presumed they didn't think we were a threat and boom, all of a sudden we are." Having noticed how anxious the twins can become, Brent hopes they can seize an advantage over them. Natalie remarks, "Nadiya and I masterminded this plan to get rid of Abbie & Ryan, we never thought the gays would be a threat to us." Get used to "the gays" now, because you'll hear it a lot tonight.

When the caravan pauses at one moment to check directions, Natalie calls ahead to the other teams to "lose these boys behind us." Obviously, Josh/Brent can hear them. "At this point, I don't care, I'm willing to be a bitch," saith Natalie. Arriving at Chateau de Villandry, teams begin searching for the stone dog but have difficulty because they don't know the language. Josh startles the other teams when he begins asking for "la chien." They all receive directions at about the same time and wind up running through the vineyard; Brent sticks his arms out to keep one of the twins from passing him, remarking "you startin' to sweat a little bit?" Yes, the head games have begun! Teams are also a little flustered to see how easily Josh manages running, since he injured his ankle two legs ago. The next clue tells teams to find da Vinci's final resting place, but it's up to them to figure out what the clue means (which makes this a very good clue). However, the twins can't proceed to this clue - it's time for their Speed Bump. Brent mocks the twins about the Speed Bump.

Brent: "Hey, if they can dish it, they gotta take it."

Josh: "No, that's not nice."

Natalie & Nadiya must find a woman wearing a traditional 18th century dress and help her don her corset. During the long run back through the vineyards, the twins ask Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi to lose Josh/Brent and not let them follow them, with Josh/Brent present to hear this. "Play nice, don't listen to these bitches," is Brent's counter argument (well, Natalie did claim she was going to be a bitch). Josh thinks Brent is being a poor sport, while the twins think Josh must have faked his ankle injury. "Don't let them ride on your coattails! They're just using you guys!" Thus saith the most manipulative team since... man, Rob & Amber, I think. After the twins loudly claim Josh is faking his injury, Brent has Josh confirm the injury aloud, then Brent calls out "Have fun at the Speed Bump!" as they head back to their cars. The twins' Speed Bump isn't too difficult, but they grouse how the other teams "should have just waited for us," somehow believing Josh/Brent would... just get lost, I guess. It's true, Josh/Brent haven't been great at navigating, but Josh's French skills are a major advantage here, yes?

As it turns out, once Natalie/Nadiya are out of sight, Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi have no qualms about working with Josh/Brent. Together, they discover da Vinci's resting place is the chapel found at Chateau d'Amboise. The teams decide to let Josh lead the caravan now, figuring his French will be a major asset, although Lexi notes they "aren't very good with directions." Elsewhere, Natalie/Nadiya finish the Speed Bump and must return to the stone dog. Josh gets lost and has to stop for new directions, which frustrates the two following teams. Natalie/Nadiya receive the clue at the stone dog and set out again, hoping "the gays have a flat tire." By now, the caravan has promoted Trey/Lexi to leadership; they've certainly come a long way for teams to entrust them so readily! En route, Jaymes accidentally calls Leonardo da Vinci "Leonardo DiCaprio," to James' amusement.

Trey/Lexi park in a different spot near the chapel than Jaymes/James & Josh/Brent. Trey/Lexi turn out to have picked the best parking spot and reach the chapel first: it's time for a Detour: "Chow" or "Plow." In "Chow," teams must carve up scraps of meat to be fed for hunting dogs, removing all bones then measuring out kibble for the meat.

In "Plow," teams must lead a horse-drawn plow and plow four lines through a field. However, only two teams at a time may perform this task. Both Detours are at the same location in Cheverny. Jaymes/James & Josh/Brent arrive at the chapel while Trey/Lexi are still there. Josh/Brent are drawn to "Plow" because of their farm experience, but because of the limited spots choose "Chow." Trey/Lexi also decide on "Chow" so they start out together, but naturally have parked in different places. Jaymes/James head to "Plow." Lexi's competitive side kicks in as they wait for Josh/Brent and she finally decides they should head to the task without the other team. Why, it's almost as though they're in a race!

As the first three teams leave, Natalie/Nadiya reach the chapel. They head to "Chow" because they have experience making meals for dogs. When Trey/Lexi near the Detour, they decide to seize "Plow" instead; "this is why we stay by ourselves, babe: we're rockin' it," Lexi sagely observes. They begin working with the plowhorse with Lexi leading, Trey pushing the plow. Lexi notes "I have horses on my ranch." She's a rancher? Or do all Texans have ranches? Trey tries to keep them in a straight line and also complains about horse farts; the Amazing Race: keeping your entertainment highbrow.

Jaymes/James & Josh/Brent both get lost searching for the Detour and help each other with directions. Natalie/Nadiya reach the Detour location next, having saved themselves a lot of time! They're tempted by "Plow" when they see just Trey/Lexi there, but decide it would be too hard and stay with "Chow." Jaymes/James & Josh/Brent arrive just after the twins and are a little unnerved to see how close the Race is now. Josh/Brent & Natalie/Nadiya work side-by-side to prepare the dog food. "We're competing against goat farmers who use their knives for a living: stabbing people in the back!" declares one of the twins, evidently forgetting which of them is the team who masterminded a theft and a U-Turn strategy. They still refuse to believe Josh's ankle was injured. "The nice gays became the evil gays today." Brent calls them "evil twins" in return, but the twins aren't fazed: "we've always been evil, we've never been nice." The twins explain Josh/Brent became "evil gays" because of Brent's attempt to block them back at the vineyard; Brent explains he did this because of the twins insisting the other teams leave them behind. "Evil gays are going down," one twin predicts.

Jaymes/James begin "Plow," which occasions the start of many statements from James about what a toll this task is on his forearms. At "Chow," we learn Josh/Brent are well ahead of the twins because they have a strategy, placing priority on meat which doesn't need to be deboned . During it all, this conversation erupts:

Josh: "By the way, you guys have the worst poker face in the world."

Natalie: "Why?"

Josh: "Because of the alliances."

Natalie: "Why should we hide alliances?"

Nadiya: "That was an alliance from the start!"

Josh: "I have one question for you, though."

Natalie: "Yeah?"

Josh: "We're like, totally the weakest team so far..."

Natalie: "No! You're not!"

Nadiya: "Weaker than Abbie & Ryan!"

Suddenly, the twins realize amidst this conversation, they've become distracted and haven't cut their meat correctly. Just as Brent predicted, the twins can be flustered; who'd have thought meek little Josh would find the chink in their armours? Eventually the twins realize Josh/Brent are intentionally messing with them and refuse to keep talking to the "evil gays." Their own arsenal has been turned against them! Josh/Brent finish carving their meat and start measuring kibble.

Trey/Lexi finish "Plow" and receive the next clue: travel to la Cave des Roches in Bourre. They're very pleased with their Detour choice, which was indeed the quicker of the two options, as we see when Jaymes/James finish just behind them. Jaymes kisses his horse goodbye as they depart, because he's quirky. Josh/Brent finish preparing their kibble and receive their clue while the hungry dogs make short work of the meal. "The gays bloody beat us," Natalie grouses.

In Bourre, Trey/Lexi discover it's time for a Roadblock: one team member must venture into the caves and fill a basket (from the baskets they loaded into their Ford Escapes) with 10 mushrooms of three different varieties, then present them to the local shop owner. The clue specifies Brent, Jaymes & Lexi must choose the task, which gives you an idea of how many Roadblocks are in the final leg (Natalie/Nadiya have skipped a Roadblock thanks to their Fast Forward). Lexi finds it tricky to recognize the mushrooms in the dark. Jaymes/James arrive right after them and Jaymes joins the hunt. Elsewhere, Josh/Brent are struggling with directions again, while Natalie/Nadiya finish "Chow."

At the Roadblock, Lexi collects her mushrooms but can't find her way out. Jaymes collects mushrooms and exits first, but the shop keeper tells him he made a mistake; after checking the sample pieces of mushrooms, Jaymes heads back to the cave as Lexi heads out. Lexi has the correct mushrooms and receives the next clue, directing her to the Pit Stop: "the Castle of the Ladies," which they must discover is the name of Chateau de Chenonceau. Jaymes gets the Roadblock figured out correctly on the second attempt and departs to the Pit Stop, just barely behind Trey/Lexi. However, Trey/Lexi received some bad directions and wind up at the wrong location.

At the Roadblock, Natalie/Nadiya arrive next with Josh/Brent just behind them, but the twins run well away from where the clues are, placing Josh/Brent ahead of them. Brent heads into the caves as the twins realize their error and head back. Natalie takes the Roadblock.

Jaymes/James reach the Pit Stop first and Phil awards them the two Ford Escape vehicles, just as James had hoped; they are also confirmed as racing in the final leg. James is elated to have won a car for his mother. Trey/Lexi arrive next and are confirmed for the final leg. Trey hopes they don't lose any friends over the final leg.

At the Roadblock, Brent becomes a little anxious as he searches for the mushrooms. Natalie is more focused, for once. Nadiya opines being beaten at the Detour was "adding insult to injury." Natalie finishes the Roadblock first and the twins head to the Pit Stop. Josh keenly notes, "If he comes out soon it's just gonna come down to a race between us and the twins to get to the Pit Stop. If he doesn't come out soon, it's gonna be a leisurely drive back to the Pit Stop." Brent finishes about 10 minutes after the twins, but they remain hopeful something might happen in their favour.

Brent: "Unless they all of a sudden have navigation issues, there's no way we're gonna beat them."

Josh: "They've had navigation issues in the past, though."

Brent: "...But not today. They're on a hot streak."

However, this is exactly what's happened: Natalie/Nadiya have driven in the opposite direction of the Pit Stop and lose a lot of time before turning around! It's still impossible to tell who's leading because there's a road closed and Josh refuses to follow the detour signs, which seems like a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, it's Josh/Brent who arrive at the Pit Stop in third place, giving them a shot at the $1 million prize! "More and more, I believe we can win this race," Josh declares, which is quite a change to see in the man who really felt they were finished two legs ago!

Natalie/Nadiya finally reach the Pit Stop, where Phil eliminates them. Natalie sums up their performance by saying, "If we can take anything from this race it's that we need to harness what we have into a more positive reaction instead of only crazy, y'know?" We're given a quick montage of their adventures through season 21, then the first half concludes with the top three teams psyching themselves up for the final leg: "This leg has to be our first and only win," Josh notes.

The second half opens as Jaymes/James receive a clue telling them to fly to New York, New York. A postcard is included of Coney Island with the words, "wish you were here." They recognize Coney Island, but can only guess what they're looking for when they reach the location. Trey/Lexi depart next and we learn they didn't even know what "customs" was before the race began; babes in the woods, these two. Lexi feels their relationship has been strengthened by the experience, which certainly bucks the usual Amazing Race trend of breaking up couples. Trey is wearing shorts with the U.S. flag design for this leg, which conjures up images of Rocky Balboa. En route to the airport, Jaymes recalls Josh/Brent & Natalie/Nadiya are both New Yorker teams, so regardless of who the 3rd team is, they'll be racing against locals. Josh/Brent depart last and we hear how they hope to win the $1 million so they can pay off the mortgage on their farm. At the airport, Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi are surprised to see Josh/Brent are the last team and greet them with hugs. The atmosphere is certainly lighter without Natalie/Nadiya's barbs. Trey/Lexi don't feel intimidated by Josh/Brent, having been matched with Jaymes/James for several legs now. Before leaving for the USA, Jaymes/James get rid of their bags to spare themselves having to carry them around again, a tactic many teams employ in the final leg. "Someone's gonna end up with some nice, stinky Chippendale's clothes," says Jaymes. Now that the final leg has arrived, the sharing of information which has marked... man, every leg prior to this! has ended and teams are finally standing on their own.

In New York, the teams quickly obtain taxis and head to Coney Island. Jaymes/James reach the Coney Island boardwalk first and start looking for a racing flag, but can't see one. Trey/Lexi arrive with Josh/Brent a little behind them, but they're also stymied by the postcard clue. Jaymes/James & Trey/Lexi both walk through the gate to find a flag and wander about, confused.

Trey/Lexi finally realize the clue is included on one of the posters seen on the Coney Island boardwalk ("the Amazing Houdini") - it directs them to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As they write down the information, Josh/Brent spot them and realize the clue is near, soon discovering it for themselves (not without Brent sniping at Josh, "I told you to look at the signs!"). Both teams run off, leaving Jaymes/James behind, terribly confused as they see the other teams have clearly discovered something. Trey is concerned by Josh/Brent copying them, but Lexi reminds him Jaymes/James are their "real" competition. Jaymes finally spots the poster and they bolt for their taxi. En route, Lexi reveals she doesn't know who Houdini was.

At the Navy Yard, Trey/Lexi find the next clue: Roadblock! One team member must duplicate an old Harry Houdini escape trick by being suspended upside down in a straight jacket. First, they'll have to remove the straight jacket, then the suspension rope will become a bungee cord for one last good fear-based task. Lexi nominates Trey for the challenge, which has to be the right decision, but Trey takes it poorly; for the first time, I noticed his voice crack (Trey has a distinctively mellow voice) as he's a little terrified by heights. On the other hand, Brent isn't afraid of heights so he takes the Roadblock. Jaymes also arrives to take the Roadblock and is actually pumped at the idea.

Lexi tries to encourage Trey: "You get to experience New York in a way no one else has, babe - upside down!" To get out of the straight jacket, it seems you just have to lift your arms over your head, so it's simply a matter of keeping your cool as the blood rushes to your head and you recall the terrifying bungee jump in your future. Trey does manage to complete it and receives the next clue: find New York's first pizzeria, which is yet another very well-designed clue. Of course, by simply asking a local with a smart phone, they learn they're looking for Lombardi's pizzeria and head there in a taxi. Lexi worries she'll have to eat some pizza, perhaps thinking of a task from season 6's final leg.

Brent finishes the Roadblock and he & Josh figure out they need to locate Lombardi's thanks to smart phones. Jaymes finishes the Roadblock, but he and James don't have a taxi waiting; they learn they're headed for Lombardi's, but have to wait for a new taxi to arrive.

At Lombardi's, the owner presents Trey/Lexi with their next clue: deliver ten pizzas to three locations by memorizing the orders - no note taking allowed. Trey/Lexi begin, while Josh/Brent begin the task and use their knowledge of New York to choose the nearest addresses. Elsewhere, Jaymes/James finally have a taxi.

Trey/Lexi finish their deliveries, return to Lombardi's and learn they performed the task correctly; the owner gives them the next clue, which is simply the UN symbol. However, Trey/Lexi have no idea what the symbol is (oy) and have to ask a local. They head to the UN Building via taxi. Jaymes/James arrive and begin the pizza task just as Trey/Lexi leave. Josh/Brent return to Lombardi's only to discover they made two incorrect deliveries and will have to redo them. Brent does not take this well and again snipes at Josh for the errors. As my mother would say, "the important thing is to assign blame." Jaymes/James observe all of this and are at least heartened to realize they could be closer to 2nd place.

En route to the UN, Lexi supposes the task will be a memory-based challenge about the entire journey (usually a staple in final legs). Lexi believes she's ready for such a task. Josh/Brent finish their deliveries and return to Lombardi's, where they receive the next clue. Brent asks for some pizza and the owner promises they can have some when they return. Josh/Brent recognize the UN symbol instantly. However, Brent is still grousing over Josh's mistakes with the pizza, reminding him they couldn't afford any mistakes; Josh apologizes and asks Brent to drop the matter. As they leave, Jaymes/James finish the task and... they have no idea what the UN symbol means. Man, this is why the Amazing Race needs these non-written clues, it really points out the strengths and weaknesses of some teams. After learning they need to find the UN, Jaymes/James head out in a taxi.

At the UN Building, Trey/Lexi find their next clue: it's a second Roadblock. This means season 21 had double Roadblocks for the first and final legs of the year, which definitely increases the overall difficulty. This means Lexi must perform the Roadblock, which is to raise flags containing the words meaning "hello" and "goodbye" beneath the correct country's flag; when all the countries they've visited have the right phrases in the correct order, they may raise the UN flag, which will lower the next clue. Over the years, Racers have learned to pay attention at the Pit Stops because something there is usually involved in the memory-based challenge. In this instance, they did hear the words for "hello" and "goodbye" all season, but none of the teams realized the significance (neither did this viewer). Lexi has to perform this Roadblock and can only really recall the words from France & Spain. For the others, she begins to guess. Fortunately, the judges tell her after each flag, so it doesn't her to guess which flag combinations are right and which are wrong.

Josh is very excited about being able to perform a task at the UN, having lived in New York for so long. Josh begins the Roadblock, but isn't much more confident about which phrases he knows than Lexi. Brent isn't quite as supportive of Josh as Trey is of Lexi, sarcastically remarking, "You know, you are in a race for a million dollars," when he thinks Josh is dawdling. Jaymes/James arrive and James begins the Roadblock; he's about as well-versed as Lexi & Josh are at the task. Jaymes recalls how Phil would explain "that means hello" and "that means goodbye" when the greeters spoke to them at the Pit Stop but, "I just thought they were being cordial!"

Meanwhile, Lexi is growing flustered by the task because she doesn't know the answers and there are too many variables. At one point, a flag drops and hits Lexi in the head (the flags have plastic frames) and she bursts into tears. The tension of knowing they were in first but are now faltering is too much for her: "This is just so crushing," Lexi sobs hysterically. While Lexi is coming undone and Brent squabbles with Josh, Jaymes/James remain super-relaxed.

James: "'Merhaba'"

Jaymes: "That sound like a sandwich. Makin' me hungry."

James: "Can I get a foot long Merhaba, please? On wheat?"

Josh finally comes up with a plan to use math as a means of eliminating the wrong answers. "All right Josh, don't take too much time celebrating," is Brent's ever-joyless reaction. Of the greeters, James recalls, "I remember the person, clear as day, what they were wearing and then they bowed and said soblobblobblob."

After 2.5 hours, the teams are still struggling! Josh finally gets his last one, proving his method works! Lexi congratulates Josh and he replies, "Thank you! Keep goin', hon!" which is a nice reminder of how sweet Josh was to Abbie/Ryan earlier in the Race. Josh raises the UN flag and receives the final clue: travel by taxi to Gotham Hall and run to the Finish Line! "So disappointing!" Lexi sobs, realizing she can't have first place now. Josh and Brent head out to find a taxi, although their driver seems uncertain about Gotham Hall's location.

James finishes the Roadblock soon after Josh and heads out with Jaymes to get a taxi. En route to Gotham Hall, Josh/Brent worry that Jaymes/James might still pass them, "like they did every leg of the race," which isn't quite accurate but... more or less, yes. Jaymes/James are proud to have run the entire race, regardless of how it plays out.

At Gotham Hall, it's Josh/Brent who come running to the Finish Line surrounded by the eight eliminated teams (arranged in order of elimination from Phil's right to left) and you can see their friends Abbie/Ryan flipping out as Ryan leaps in the air.

Phil confirms Josh/Brent have won the Amazing Race and $1 million. They kiss (each other, not Phil). "We were underdogs and what I hope this proves to people is whether they're minorities or they're out of work or losing their house or whatever, if they just keep going and just keep working as hard as they can, people will help and that at some point, you will win," is Josh's speech. They note the race has brought them together again, as they normally work in two different cities. The eight eliminated teams cheer for Josh/Brent's victory.

Jaymes/James arrive and claim second place; they congratulate and hug Josh/Brent. Jaymes does look very sad at the Finish Line, probably because he's thinking of his father. James is still pleased to have at least won a car for his mother. "Maybe the world will have a different view of Chippendale's now. I don't know if it's better or worse..." Jaymes jokes.

We don't see Lexi solve the final Roadblock, so perhaps she was let go from the task when Jaymes/James checked in? She and Trey race into Gotham Hall to receive third place and exchange hugs with the top teams. "I think we are definitely ready for that next step, it's just a matter of when Trey is ready for that next step," is Lexi's cagey way of hinting how badly she wants him to propose to her; I expect we'll hear about it before too long.

All 11 teams and Phil exchange hugs and pleasantries. We also hear from Rob (of Rob/Kelley), who remarks of the winners, "The Beekman Boys changed my life dramatically, opened my eyes to see, hey, look, it's not for me to judge anybody on their lifestyle, or who they are or what they do." I suppose Rob had some prejudices concerning goat farmers to overcome.

With that, we complete season 21 and this series of recaps. When season 22 comes around in early 2013, I will be on an international adventure of my own - living the Amazing Race, if you will - so I won't be covering season 22. I may or may not recap Amazing Race: Australia season 3 in the summer (assuming it airs).

However, I'm also a little embittered towards the program. This season had some decent people, some teams which really surprised me, especially the dark horse winners, Josh/Brent, who were very likeable despite being reality TV stars. However, the breaking point for me was when Natalie/Nadiya stole James/Abba's money. Not only has production downplayed this event (compare to season 14 and how many times we had to rewatch the footage of Luke running into Jen) and didn't penalize them for, you know, taking another team's property, which is against the rules every other time it happens... but Phil didn't so much as raise his eyebrow at them. It isn't behaviour I want to see on this program or any other. If the future of the Amazing Race is to reduce the program to a series of alliances of manipulations, then it's not the program I started out with four years ago - it might as well be Survivor.

I hope you've enjoyed this series of recaps, even if you only came to admire my amateur screencaps. If you return for season 22 then I hope you enjoy the experience!

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