''The Amazing Race'': See Mongolia and die
What I like most about The Amazing Race is that you're not only entertained (and this episode was more exciting than anything in the previous two seasons) but also educated. As the teams skitter across the planet, viewers come away with fun facts about foreign lands. And here was my takeaway insight for episode 2: Mongolia makes women cry. I'm not sure if that will help Mongolia's Bureau of Tourism, but from the look of the wet, gloomy countryside, they probably weren't getting too many calls anyway.
The episode started so upbeat, too. Well, besides the sound bite from Duke saying he's all for gays and lesbians, as long as they're not his daughter. (This snippet was taken from his pre-race interview, making me wonder how many variations on ''I'm ashamed my daughter's gay'' they made him say that day so they could sprinkle them through the whole series, just to make sure they've properly set him up as homophobic. This way, when he inevitably hugs his daughter at the end of the race and tells her he loves her no matter what, it will qualify as a more dramatic turnaround. Always thinking, that van Munster!)
But after that cringey moment, it was all good vibes for the first ten minutes, with all the teams bonding on the train ride from China. It was less a race than a teen tour. Almost immediately, Duke's comments were forgotten when coal miner David and his wife said they'd never met gays before Tom and Terry but, guldarn it, they like 'em just fine! And these were gays with unfortunate balding patterns: Just think how much they'd love homosexuals with good hair!
But once everyone got into Mongolia, things got cranky fast. It started with Kimberly as all crankiness does as she got sprayed with water through the cab window and wondered if she could get diseases from it. How are the Race casting directors able to find attractive, bitchy, xenophobic women every damn season? Do they just hang around at Starbucks, eavesdropping on customers until they hear some woman hysterically demand to talk to a manager because her decaf latte has too much foam, and then they swoop in: ''Pardon me for interrupting, but I have one question: Do you have a boyfriend who you like to scream at almost as much as he loves screaming at you? Yes? Well, how would you like to scream at him all over the world?''
Kimberly is not the sturdiest of competitors. She was instantly wary of the horse she'd have to ride, and her nervousness proved prescient. In one of the slowest collisions on record, her horse moseyed up to a tree and gently pried her off. Now, the afternoon before watching this episode I went to see Jackass 2, so perhaps my expectations for a collision were unfairly high. But come on: When she hit that branch, she was only going moderately faster than if she had been riding a dead horse.
Dustin and Kandice had a tough time, too, although they handled it better. One of them fell off her horse and got dragged about ten yards. And that looked legitimately scary. It almost gave credence to their claim that they wanted to be the first all-female team to win on The Amazing Race so as to ''break the stereotypes.'' Bad news, ladies: When you're beauty queens named Dustin and Kandice (yes, Kandice with a K), it will take more than a million-dollar check and a full passport to break your stereotypes. Even if you both build a rocket that will take a person to Mars and cure their cancer on the ride up, feminists will still roll their eyes when they see you coming. And to make matters worse, these ladies are even in danger of losing their beauty-queen base, after misplacing a hat they needed to move on from the detour. What kind of self-respecting beauty queen loses a hat? I don't care how big and furry it was, that is an accessory, dammit, and it's just that kind of wardrobe disrespect that a judge will take points off for.
Sarah and Peter started out the episode with some characteristically dubious behavior, as Peter asked bystanders for money to watch Sarah run up and down the street with her hydraulic leg exposed. Because, really, what better way to show the world that handicapped people can do anything than by exploiting them like a carnival sideshow? Oh, sure, it's all fine to try to amaze people in distant lands for monetary gain, but I thought this was going to backfire on them when Sarah was about to get on a horse and asked her helper, ''Is this a problem?'' flashing her metal leg. Being that this was the Mongolian countryside, I'm guessing that the helper was utterly surprised and shocked by this, and I was expecting his response to be ''It is good for you for riding, but bad for you because now we must burn you as a robot witch.''
Bad luck struck this pair later, as they tried both options on the detour and failed at them equally. They couldn't manage to pack the portable hut on a camel, and then when they tried to take that yaklike creature down to the water, it bolted on them. This reduced Sarah to frustrated tears, and Peter snapped, ''Sarah, this is supposed to be fun!'' There's nothing like somebody sternly ordering you to enjoy yourself to really pick up those spirits, is there? ''I'm learning a lot about Peter,'' said Sarah, ''and I'm not always impressed by it.'' Gee, I pretty much learned all I needed to know last week. What's taking her so long?
For all their respective weeping and browbeating, Sarah and Peter were first at the mat, and it was there that Phil asked the incredibly awkward question ''Did you ever imagine you'd be two legs into the race and first?'' Two legs? Come on, Phil, they don't give you many opportunities to improvise on this show: Keep making faux pas like that and you'll be back to raising an eyebrow as your only outlet for free expression.
Other teams were bedeviled by breakdowns, flat tires, getting caught in the mud, and general agonized shrieking (Rob and Kimberly again), and the order of teams kept tensely shifting. Ultimately, it was a race to last place between the single moms and the cheerleaders, starting as both of their cars died in the detour parking lot, making for the show's most exciting nail-biter to ever take place in non-moving cars.
Ultimately, the cheerleaders got their car going first, then got lost, allowing the moms to pull ahead. And then, to add insult to injury, even with no chance to win, the cheerleaders still couldn't hit the target with the fiery arrow. It's always sad when a team is caught at a challenge for enough time to see the sun go down. Maybe to add more humiliation, the producers should put an old man in the background of slow competitors so we can watch his beard grow. Or just put Kimberly riding a horse; both go at about the same speeds.
What do you think? Is it fair when someone loses because of equipment malfunctions? How do Rob and Kimberly stack up against the show's previous dysfunctional couples? And did the episode confirm your stereotypes about cheerleaders?