''The Amazing Race'': A day without end
What's the opposite of adrenaline? Because that's exactly what was pumping through me (or sludgily oozing through me, more like it) as I watched tonight's two utterly noncompelling challenges: opening boxes and serving tea. Good Lord, what's less enthralling than that? I hope this does not signal a new, mundanity-oriented direction for the show. Next week I do not want to see Phil introduce a detour as ''Surf . . . or Turf. In Surf, teams will have to sit in front of a television set and change channels until they find a rerun of Home Improvement. In Turf, they will mow producer Bertram Van Munster's lawn. Those who pick Surf will get a comfy chair, but this is digital cable, so there are a lot of channels to get through. Mowing the lawn is strenuous work, but as long as they don't run over a squirrel and jam the blades, they could finish quickly.''
With five teams left, things should be getting more tense, not less. The producers are desperately trying to work up some false drama with Ron and Kelly, otherwise known as the least demonstrative couple since Michael Jackson and Debbie Rowe. (The one shot of physical contact we saw of them was Kelly trying to extricate herself from Ron's hug as if he had just proposed a wife swap with Gretchen and Meredith.) With Ray and Deana gone, the editors need bickerers, and so they've accentuated every disagreement between these two with ominous music and zooms in to Kelly's vaguely furrowed brow. I'm not buying it at all. Kelly has said that she reads the Bible for guidance on her relationship: If you're looking for volatility, you are definitely barking up the wrong tree with her, unless you're willing to count a tense citation from the Book of Ecclesiastes as a lovers' brawl.
Kelly did show a hint just a hint of competitiveness when Ron worried aloud about allying with the hated Rob and Amber: ''Keep your enemies closer,'' she said sneakily, as if she had studied The Art of War back in her pageant days although I suspect she probably quickly tossed it away in frustration when she realized Sun Tzu was not specific enough about whether she should use double-sided tape to keep the bottom of her bathing suit in place. And all of her attempts at devious strategizing fell apart when she and Ron didn't yield Rob and Amber. She actually looked to Rob for advice. Someone should have told her that there are certain times when it's permissible to let the enemies get a little farther away.
Getting back to the challenges, I suppose the producers might have convinced themselves they had a difficult task in the metal-box search because it befuddled Gretchen so, but she's a horrible test case. You could play ''Which hand is the penny in?'' and stymie her. Hell, you could play it with palms open and she'd still be going, ''Ohhhhh, Meredith! Both the hands look so alike!'' I feel like this entire season has been one young producer's rebuttal of this couple's initial statement that age and experience would always triumph over youth and inexperience. ''So they think age is only a state of mind, eh? Ha! By the time I get through with them, they'll be begging for a condo in Boca Raton and a coupon for a 4:30 dinner.''
I've seen seasons of Survivor where contestants don't look as bad as Gretchen does now, and they have no food or shelter. This week she was dashing around with a scraped-up face, carrying all her belongings in a yellow shopping bag until she could finally get a pity knapsack. When will the degradation stop? I'm waiting for them to come in last for the next nonelimination round, when Phil says they can continue, but they will be trailed by a small bully who will yank their pants down every time they stop to read a map on a busy street. (''Ohhhh, for gosh sakes, Meredith, there they go again, down to my shoes!'' ''I know, honey, mine are down there too, let's just hoist 'em up and move on.'') Their one uplifting moment came when throngs of Indian people spontaneously cheered them on, which was either a case of mistaken identity or, judging from the way the locals crowded them, an unfortunate meeting with the Indian Pickpocketers Collective.
And then there was the tea challenge, which was nothing more than turning confused deliverymen with language barriers into a sport. Gee, maybe when my Chinese food arrived 45 minutes late last week and I couldn't get a decent explanation, I was part of a reality show and just didn't realize it. In that case, go, Team Cold Chicken with Cashews!
And here's another question: What exactly does the company that had the racers sicced on them do? Whatever it is, it isn't done efficiently if they can spare a day to have American game-show contestants pester them with drink orders all day. I sure would be annoyed if my boss allowed players on the Indian Amazing Race to dash around my office trying to give me a latte in exchange for a business card. ''It's like I told the last guy, Ramesh: I'm under deadline, I'm lactose intolerant, and Jim from accounting is down the hall!''
And all of this ended with a resounding thud as Rob and Amber arrived at Phil's mat first, only to be told that it was not in fact a pit stop but rather a handoff of another clue. Who are they trying to kid? A cliff-hanger is just a fancy way of disguising a non-elimination round much like climactic music and slowed-down grimaces are just a fancy way of disguising a bland couple.
What do you think? Are the challenges getting tired? Are you praying for Gretchen to sent home for a rest? And are the show's previews too misleading, even by reality-TV standards?