''The Amazing Race'': Another big tease
Because not everyone who reads this column has seen last night's Amazing Race episode, I'll reveal something that I wish the producers had at the top of the show: No one was eliminated. Had I known this in advance (and didn't have to write this column, of course), I doubt I would have watched.
Last night wasn't an official non-elimination round; it was just the first of a two-parter, which is the difference between firing and downsizing: You can name it what you want, but somebody is still going to walk away feeling empty inside. Just because the producers ended it with ''to be continued'' didn't make it special: The series is a serial, so every episode is to be continued until the winner gets the check, right? The only difference here with the cliff-hanger is we don't get a dramatically satisfying mini-coda.
What really bugs me about these two-parters was evidenced last night: When the models got the clue, expecting a pit stop, and instead were told to keep racing, we as an audience were meant to gasp with shock at the inhumanity of forcing these competitors to keep going. But this wasn't a death march. I couldn't see visible signs of exhaustion on these people. I heard they had to keep going, and I shrugged and thought, ''Fine, keep going, then.'' They may well have been exhausted and hungry, but the only way to have proved that to me as a viewer was to show, say, Rob hallucinating from fatigue or the beauty queens so famished that they started eating their own lip balm.
I'm not saying this week's challenges didn't look grueling. Trudging through that Helsinki mud as Finnish winter athletes do to train during the summer looked only barely less appealing than eating it. Perhaps the AR producers had a swimming challenge planned but all local swimming pools were being used by Finnish bowling teams, who practice underwater in their off season.
What was maddening about this was how easily the beauty queens sailed through this challenge, just as they've sailed through every challenge. Everyone else was grimacing as they tried to extricate their sinking partners from the muck, and the queens just giggled and tittered as they barely got their clothes dirty: When Dustin did stumble once, she laughed, ''Oh, it's gonna look like I pooped my pants!'' which she could smile at because everyone knows beauty queens don't poop, they just occasionally squat down to let rainbows out of their asses.
How did they stay so clean? Do pageant queens have natural powers to repel filth? Is their skin made of Calphalon? I guess they keep the stains on the inside, on the part of their brain that decides it's cute to call the 'Bama moms ''the sistas.''
At the beginning of the episode, Dustin said that although some people look at them and think everything comes easy to them, ''We sweat, we cry, we fight to win.'' Except for that incident at the beginning of the season when one of them lost a hat, I haven't seen very much sweating, crying, or fighting, just winning. This is not to say they're cheating. It's just frustrating to watch two people so consistently dominate without looking like they're trying at all. I'll bet that after the mud challenge, while everyone else stank, they just happened to walk through a very localized rainstorm that rinsed away the small amount of dirt that actually stuck to them. These girls are the yin to the cartoon character Ziggy's yang. The only thing they can't do is pronounce foreign city names (''Helinski,'' hah!), but if that's what I have to do to win a million bucks, then somebody get me a ticket to Mocsow, Kong Hong, or Saraheyho.
The 'Bama moms complained about the queens' natural advantages. ''They come out of the airport with their boobs hanging out,'' groused Lyn. (Sure enough, at one point, the queens wrangled directions by directing their boobs toward a middle-aged guy in a convertible, a person-car combination that is genetically predisposed to eagerly help blond women in tight pants.)
Even without cleavage showing, though, Lyn and Karlyn managed to talk their way onto a closed flight to catch up with everyone else at the beginning of the show, just by promising not to eat a meal. This made me feel good about karma, and pretty bad about airport security. Granted, it was Air Madagascar, which I don't fly that much. (I'm a Singapore Airlines man myself, lured by their rock-bottom duty-free prices. Some say flying to Cleveland via Changi is inefficient, but tell that to my 75-cent Toblerone bar.) But the idea that all you need is a camera crew, and ticket agents will bend the boarding laws makes me uncomfortable. I would just hope that if any security workers at my local airport see a bunch of people dashing to a plane with a couple of cameramen, claiming to be stars of The Death to America Variety Hour, the fine federal employees will curb their starstruck tendencies and give them an extra pat-down.
Luckily, there isn't a direct correlation between pulchritude and team placement. Rob and Kimberly's haplessness has proven to be of some comfort to the less attractive among us. They're a photogenic couple who can't seem to figure anything out, least of all why they love each other. My favorite interplay was the one that went:
Rob (to a cab driver): Very fast, please, please.
Kimberly: Stop repeating it.
Rob: I will if I want to.
Kimberly: For the sake of our team...
Rob: For the sake of our team, stop telling us what to do.
Boy, that one had it all! Immaturity, petulance, impatience...the list goes on. It was like the opening scene of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in that it immediately told you everything you need to know about these two, which is that you didn't want them as friends at all.
And whither the Chos? Their obsessive dedication to the Six Pack continued as they wore David and Mary's ''Friends in Low Places'' novelty T-shirts in a show of solidarity and stood by the 'Bama moms even as those ladies cut in line to grab a taxi before them. ''Being polite sucks sometimes,'' grumbled Godwin, still under the misconception that The Amazing Race offers a bonus prize for who says the most thank yous. I hope the producers do at least give him a gold star at the end of the race and stick it right to his chest so his family and friends can have a target when they repeatedly jab him, yelling, ''You saps blew it with your stupid Six Pack!''
The episode had two other challenges: one in a mine (ride a bike, crack a rock), and frontward rappelling (which, to someone like me who is terrified of heights, would be appealing only in that I could see the pretty designs that my tears of fear would make as they splashed on the ground below me). And we also got a little attempted emotional manipulation, as, after a blatant AOL plug, the teams received a little video message from home, which moved nobody except the 'Bama single moms. But ultimately, we had an hour that led nowhere. If you made it this far in the article, you can't say I didn't warn you.
What do you think? Should there be a ''no one is eliminated'' warning at the top of an episode like this? Can the beauty queens be stopped? Will the Chos ever wise up?