''The Amazing Race'': A little four-play
When the show teased the new ''intersection'' last week, Amazing Race fans were abuzz. From the split-second montage, it seemed as if the beauty queens and the single moms who are nature's deadliest enemies would be forced to work together. And an entire nation of Race watchers held its breath for this Sunday's episode. What would happen? Would they emerge from a dual challenge understanding each other just a little bit more? Would they fight? Would Karlyn hit the queens over the head with the metric equivalent of a two-by-four? Or...
...was it all a big mislead, and they wouldn't be teamed up at all? Sigh. I guess it was the latter.
All right, so it ended up being the Chos who paired off with the queens. There would be no chilly commingling of pageantry and pissed-offedness. But that didn't end up mattering in an entertaining episode filled with bonus doses of hubris and fanny packs.
We began with an insight into the models' cracking facade. I've always wondered if it was just an editing illusion that James never says anything: His role seemed to be to stand behind Tyler nodding affectlessly during testimonials. He must have been the world's dullest drug addict: When everyone else in the den was on the roof trying to fly, he was the guy in the squat who stayed in, alphabetizing the crack pipes.
His quietness on the race started to irk Tyler, who wanted him to be more aggressive. By the way, there have been many on the message boards who have posited that these two are a gay couple. I don't necessarily agree, but these guys certainly aren't doing much to dissuade doubters with lines like ''I need James to step up and play a more dominant role.''
And then it was off to Madagascar, the place that Mary said she knew nothing about except that she'd seen the movies with all the animals. If she was disappointed by the lack of wisecracking penguins, she didn't let on. Perhaps she'd learned to temper her expectations after the immense letdown that came after going to India and never meeting The Simpsons' Apu.
Then came the intersection. We had been set up for the beauty queens to be ostracized with earlier quotes about how they didn't need any stinkin' alliances and by their gloating over leaving their smashed car for somebody else. And so when they found the intersection for which the teams would have to pair up for the next challenge it was poetic justice that the models and Rob and Kimberly would team up, leaving the women alone and waiting for another team. And yet, as we saw by the outcome, it wasn't nearly poetic enough, but we'll get to that later.
Ultimately, when it became clear that the 'Bama moms and David and Mary would have nothing to do with them, the beauty queens corralled the Chos to team up. While this broke up the loyal Six Pack, it was for the Chos' own good. Yes, it's a trip to the dark side, but better to be in first place next to the dark side than trudging along on the Last-Place Express. Wouldn't we all have forgiven Luke Skywalker for teaming up with Darth Vader if, instead of the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo was driving a Big Wheel?
The detour involved delivering eight foam mattresses through crowded streets. The Chos and the queens did okay, other than getting a little lost. But the 'Bama-miners team didn't fare quite so well. Things looked good at first, when David had the idea of strapping all eight mattresses together with their fanny packs. Batman's utility belt has nothing on the fanny pack. That thing has everything. (Except, one could assume, a toothbrush.) It was just like watching MacGyver, if MacGyver had solved crimes while being screamed at by his wife.
But this invention turned out to be ill-conceived, as the mattresses spilled out in the dirty road. The mattresses (covered with sheets decorated with the Madagascan equivalent of Hello Kitty, called, presumably, ''Good Afternoon, Filthy But Tasty-Lipped Cat'') were grimy by the time they were dropped off. But on the racers charged.
Meanwhile, the team of Rob and Kimberly and the models had sprinted ahead to get a fast forward. It seems like there will always be a fast forward the week after a nonelimination round, which seems like an unfair leg up for those who are ''marked for elimination.'' If they're facing a half-hour penalty by not landing first, why provide a relatively easy option to vault over the entire competition and render the 30-minute delay moot? It's like the old nonelimination penalty, in which teams got their money taken away: The producers kept it that way for many seasons even though teams consistently proved it isn't that hard to round up some cash by begging if you're being tailed by a camera crew. What is it with Bertram Van Munster's refusal to acknowledge giant loopholes?
But I digress. It is one small complaint more than made up for by the fast forwarders' struggles. The challenge: Eat a plate of cows' lips. From a distance, they looked like small shreds of beef, the kind of thing that are easy to eat as long as you can put out of your mind what they actually were. But a close-up revealed they still had hair, fat, and teeth on them. And these were a local delicacy? Can taste buds really differ all that much geographically? On the Madagascar version of The Amazing Race, do viewers gag watching teams stop off in Chicago to eat deep-dish pizza?
But the disgustingness of the food was more than offset by the deliciousness of the clueless hubris on display by the fast forwarders. As Kimberly retched and vomited, the teams joked and crowed about how it was no problem, because they were way ahead, babe! All while we at home watched the other teams catch up. You can tell how much the Race producers love footage that makes their villains look bad, because suddenly it becomes not so important for the show to be fast-paced. They wallow in these moments; I wouldn't be surprised if they released a two-hour bonus DVD filled only with extra footage of Rob saying how ''golden'' they are, dude! And the commentary track would just be the sound of the producers snickering.
This love of bad footage was also evidenced earlier, when all action stopped so we could listen to Rob go on about how lack of protein make Madagascans' brains smaller and lives shorter. Do you think while he was saying all that, the cameraman was whispering into his intercom, ''Tell Bertram to see if he can get an extra hour from CBS for this episode. Screw Cold Case; I've got Rob calling an entire country small-brained.''
Ultimately, the fast forwarders came in second and third, behind the beauty queens, who seem karma-proof. (Throughout this final leg, we all learned an important lesson about traveling in Madagascar: Rent a car and avoid the cabs, which have gas tanks as small as the locals' protein-deficient brains.) Then came the Chos, who managed to break away from the queens and find their way back to the bottom three, where they like to be. Though the miners beat the 'Bama moms, it wasn't by enough, so with their 30-minute penalty, they were eliminated from the race.
And you know what? It was heartbreaking. After Phil announced that the 'Bama moms were in fifth and had bounced the miners out of the game, watching Lyn's face go instantly from relief to empathetic woe was tragic. And if you can listen without choking up to a crying Kentuckian woman talk about how much she loves her kids and wants them to see the world, then you are a hard-hearted viewer indeed. (Which, granted, I usually am, too. Perhaps it was the excess of salt in my food tonight that made me extra sensitive.)
Sure, earlier this very hour we had seen Mary snap at David just for asking for a window seat. But does that make their story any less uplifting? I think not. So we bid them farewell, and good luck. May their future good fortunes be too big for any fanny pack to contain.
What do you think? Do you enjoy food challenges, or do they make you sick? Are the beauty queens unstoppable? And will the Four Pack do any better next week?