''The Amazing Race'': A new star emerges
Oh, underdogs. How we want you to win The Amazing Race. The joy it would give us to see, say, an older couple or a pair of middle-aged ladies come from behind to overtake a young, athletic duo and grab the million dollars.
But it just doesn't look like it's going to happen this time. The underdogs this year are senior citizens Fran and Barry and brassy sisters Joni and Lisa. Both want to prove the value of older people. Unfortunately, their value is dropping by the minute. The sisters, a.k.a. the Glamazons, have dropped so far that they're out of the race, and at the rate they're going, Fran and Barry look like they'll be pushed through the next leg in matching iron lungs.
After both teams narrowly evaded elimination last week, both talked big games about how they were going to come back this week. And since everyone bottlenecked up waiting for the first clue marker to be available at 8 a.m., they had every chance to do so.
But the dream died for Fran and Barry at the rappelling challenge, when Fran chose to go up the most crowded fire escape and was last in line to come back down the building. I do have to give her some credit, though: Considering how many times last week she walked right past the clue box on the bridge, this week it was impressive that she was able to find the bottom of the building when she rappelled down. I expected to see her hovering three feet above the ground, saying, ''I don't see the street, Barry! Maybe it's up a little higher?'' And then there was the subsequent waterfall rope climb. Fran seemed to have little idea how to use the ascender, and they kept showing her twirling midrope and going nowhere. From a distance, the only way to tell her apart from a chicken hanging in a Chinese-restaurant window was the crash helmet.
But at least they're still in the race, unlike the poor Glamazons, who made for an odd optical illusion: They seemed to be exerting the most energy running and driving everywhere but getting there half as fast. At the finish line, it was sad to see Lisa burst into tears when they were eliminated. I wonder if Phil wanted to cave and let them stay in the race if they would hand over all their money and belongings, but then the producers said, ''No way are they giving us all their stuff. What are we going to do with 12 pairs of matching neon sweat suits?''
For the same reason, I'm sure the producers are also praying that the hippies never finish last in a nonelimination round: They don't want to have to stand around while Vanilla Fudge empties 24 Hacky Sacks out of their pockets. I'm beginning to suspect that these are not actual hippies but rather two people who are forced to act like hippies because they lost a bet. They seem like guys going to a costume party rather than authentic flower people. Like when they got into a VW bug and Tyler said, ''Back to our roots with the VW, right?'' These guys were born in 1980! The only VWs they might have driven were Jettas, and you didn't see many of those at a Dead show.
As for the rest, ''She's my hotty boom-botty with the naughty Pilates,'' said David about Lori at the beginning of the race. And to the producers, they're the nerdy hurdy-gurdies with the Kurdish blurry turdies: It seems like they only get camera time if they're doing something geeky. I think that's why the other half of the waterfall detour was a science project, to distill sugarcane juice into ethanol. It's like the producers are throwing nerdy temptations in their way to bring out their most nerdish tendencies. Next week, will the detour be ''Speedo...or Greedo?'' With Speedo, you have to get in a bathing suit and swim down a river, but with Greedo, you have to get in a room with Harry Knowles and debate who should have shot first in The Empire Strikes Back. [Whoops, I meant the first Star Wars. I am not fit to shine the nerds' +3 longbows.]
But this is all frivolous: In this episode there was a story bigger than all of the teams combined. I'm talking about, of course, the emergence of Phil's eyebrow as its own character. It used to be relegated to the first episode: Phil would raise his arm to start the race, the eyebrow would go up, and then the teams were off, and the eyebrow (or ''Browsie,'' as I've come to name him) would drop down to its normal position, where it would remain for the rest of the season.
But apparently Browsie has gotten a taste of the limelight and has expanded its range. The frat brothers who emerged this episode as leering boobs who have based their entire personalities on what they've learned from Super Bowl beer commercials placed second, and as they ran to the mat, one of them yelled, ''Phil, you know how cranky I am right now? I'm gonna spank you, woman!''
And just when you wondered how Phil would respond to such an affront, he did nothing. He let Browsie do all the work. Browsie crept higher on Phil's forehead than he ever had before, creating an expression that said so much more than just, ''The race is about to begin.'' It said, ''Phil is not a woman.'' It said, ''Please do not spank him.'' And it also said, ''This pit stop is a choice between two tasks: me kicking ass, or me taking names.''
Was this the end of Browsie's repertoire? I think not! Because when Fran and Barry finally stumbled over the mat both of them having celebrated two more birthdays since they'd left the last mat Phil gave his longest pause yet between the sad intoning of a team's name and an excited ''You're team number 9!'' And then Browsie did something astonishing: He did not travel alone. He said, ''Come with me, other eyebrow! And we shall travel to the heights of Phil's forehead together and convey a surprise the likes of which Jeff Probst's eyebrows have never seen!'' And Fran and Barry, though nearly suffering coronaries from Browsie's roller-coaster ride of emotions, felt that much more joy for it. And chest pain. But mostly joy.
Knowing now what Browsie can do, I think he missed an opportunity. When Lisa weeped about being eliminated, why didn't he lean forward and wipe her eyes with his hairy self? It might not be sanitary, but it would certainly win a game-show-host Emmy. I'd like to see Bob Barker's eyebrow try that.
What do you think? Should the series establish a maximum age? How about a minimum IQ? And which of Phil's other body parts would you like to see take center stage?