TV Recap

All Plugged Up

On ''The Amazing Race,'' the tie-ins get out of control; and, Lake and his wife are anything but placid

BITCHIN', MAN The husband and wife team get ''wacked''
Image credit: The Amazing Race 9: Robert Voets
BITCHIN', MAN The husband and wife team get ''wacked''

''Amazing Race'': Product placement overload

Rome! Ground Zero of the Rennaissance! Site of the Hippodrome! Seat of Christianity!

Hollywood-movie tie-in!

Look, Bertram Van Munster, I don't mind the American Airline prizes. I tolerated the Travelocity-gnome challenge. But in sending the Amazing Race teams to Rome for the sole purpose of plugging The Da Vinci Code you, sir, are neck and neck with The Apprentice in the dash to make the most soulless reality show ever, and that is a race that no one wins. What next, a quick side trip to New Jersey where teams have to attend a sneak preview of Clerks 2 and laugh 100 times to receive their next clue?

Oh, Munstie, why couldn't you have just reveled in the historical wonder of the site? You should have been more like Monica, who said, ''To walk in the same places as Caesar and all those other people is just amazing.'' Granted, if you asked her to be more specific than ''other people,'' she would have said, ''uh...Mrs. Caesar? And Caesar Jr?'' but the point still holds. (Later, when Monica got to Greece, she said, ''We're excited to be here; this is where thinking began.'' And Monica's cab was where it ground to a screeching halt. Witness her attempting to get the driver to go faster by saying, ''Vroom vroom!'' Good to see she and Joseph speak the international language of halfwits.)

It was unfortunate that this movie product placement left such an unforgettable stain on what was an exciting and unpredictable episode. (Although the recent string of eliminations makes me nervous that we're in for a spate of non-elimination rounds in the weeks ahead.) When the episode started, I assumed everyone would land in the same order they always did: fratties and hippies up ahead, Ray and Yolanda and Fran and Barry battling it out for last. I was pretty sure Fran and Barry would get the boot after they went for the Fast Forward. Good lord people, haven't you learned that if the word ''fast'' is involved, you people are out of the running?

Things looked very predictable when the frat guys nabbed the Fast Forward. It was a no-brainer, since the plate-breaking challenge involved mindlessly smashing things. A contest couldn't have been more in their wheelhouse if they were told to flirt with the Greek female dancers while sneaking glances at the male dancers' asses.

I figured the bungee jump would seal Fran and Barry's fate, since Fran was so scared and cowered up at the platform, gobbling up time, while everyone else sailed off effortlessly. Only Fran could fall farther behind on a race that involved gravity. I know it's easy to second-guess, but why was Fran so shocked to find out what she'd volunteered for? The Roadblock clue said, ''Who wants to hear the sound of their own scream?'' What did she think it was going to be, a pie-eating contest?

(To be fair, I can't be too dismissive of Fran, and am impressed she made the jump: I am terrified of heights myself, and if I ever did make this leap, it would be only after they tasered me to get my hands to stop clutching the guard rail, and the last thing I would have seen when the cord pulled taut would be my own crap sailing past my head. It irritated me when Phil described it as a ''potentially frightening task.'' Potentially? Why don't you come right out and say it, Mr. No Opportunity Wasted: potentially frightening for pussies. If I wasn't so scared of Browsie I would pop you one, so help me...)

But then, as all the teams raced to the Olympic-challenge Detour, all preconceptions were dashed when the hippies drove an hour in the wrong direction. Their unprecedented misstep was exploited by the producers, who tried to make it look like it created a rift between Happy and Happier: When Tyler apologized for his poor navigation, the show cut to BJ glaring with a Rage of Aquarius. I quickly realized that there was only one cameraman in the car, so Tyler's apology and BJ's silence could not have been happening simultaneously, and I felt much relief: even if they ended up being eliminated, they'd do with the same healthy ''C'est la vie!'' attitude that can only be achieved by years of either therapy or whippets.

Sure enough, when they began their Olympic challenge, the hippies were as enthusiastic as ever. I did notice that the pudgy diapered man in the wrestling ring gave them a harder fight than he had Ray and Yolanda and Joseph and Monica. Perhaps no amount of TV exposure is worth the ignominy of losing to a man wearing a frog hat. (There is a sadness to seeing as historically important a land as Greece, birthplace of modern drama, being used as a game-show location. If the next ''Real World'' is set in Jerusalem, I'm going to cancel my cable bill and start reading more books.)

As far behind as they were, the hippies still managed to overtake Lake and Michelle, who were slowed down by getting lost, incessantly bickering, and Lake's suffering what looked like a complete nervous breakdown. (Didn't the way Michelle comforted a despondent and faraway Lake in the car seem reminiscent of the final scene of ''Midnight Cowboy''?) I can't believe it was just last week when I was saying I found their relationship endearing: One episode later and he's saying, ''Bitch, shut up!'' and ''Dammit, don't be an idiot right now!'' But as Michelle said about their relationship after they were eliminated, ''A lot of people would say we're completely wacked, but it works for us.'' I was touched that for all the shouting, they'd always stand together... Just like the X-Men, in X-Men: The Last Stand, opening in a theater near you May 26!

Damn you, Van Munster, now you've got me putting product placement in my own commentary!

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Originally posted Apr 13, 2006