''The Amazing Race'': Another twisty ending
I remember reading a review of the movie The Sixth Sense that posed the question ''Does a movie that has been entirely mediocre up until the last 10 minutes become a good movie if the ending is fantastic?'' I would pose the inverse of that question in reviewing last night's Amazing Race: How do you rate an exciting, unpredictable 54 minutes of reality show when the last-minute reveal that it's all been a nonelimination round renders all the suspense moot? Imagine if at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis opened the ark and, instead of a face-melting vortex, found chewing gum.
But until those last minutes, there were so many delirious highs and lows, with my villains of choice, the beauty queens, flying back and forth from first place to last. I did find it interesting that the producers peppered the beginning of the show with many comments by Rob disparaging the beauty queens and their loathsome strategies. It was as if he suddenly suffered a crisis of self-image over all his hissy fits and thought he could fix it by acting morally superior to the front-runners. But who would listen to Rob's opinion on what makes a classy player? It's like Ronald McDonald sidling over and telling you what a bastard the Burger King is for making all those people fat.
He also tried a little sneakiness, telling the BQs at the Kiev airport that he and the models had a flight two hours earlier than theirs. The queens looked aghast, which was rewarding, but then he told them he was lying. Boy, he really stuck it to them with that one: Joke's on you, ladies we're still losing!
But meanwhile, the 'Bama moms who everyone had discounted slowly pulled even. Now, a word about Lyn and Karlyn: I realize my cheering for them can be hypocritical. When Lyn asked Karlyn what language people spoke in Morocco, Karlyn said, ''Moroccan?'' They both chortled, and I thought, ''Oh, how refreshing that they can laugh at their own shortcomings!'' And yet if Kandice and Dustin had had the same interchange, I'd have spluttered, ''Those mindless bimbos not only don't know a thing about the rest of the world, but they laugh at their own ignorance! Smite them, O Lord of reality TV, smite them!'' And previously, I made no note of when the 'Bamans cut in the taxi line, screwing over both the Chos and about 15 locals who just wanted to get home from work without having to worry about the dual ignominy of being delayed by a reality show and then having some PA rush up to them with a release form, pestering them to sign for the privilege of having said delay which at this point was only getting longer be broadcast in America.
So, do I recognize my inconsistency? Yes. Am I blinded by being a sucker for the underdog? Probably. Is that fair? No. Can we move on? Sure.
Now, where were we? Oh yeah, how the beauty queens should get what they deserve, those overconfident Barbie dolls!
After the flight with all of them aboard landed in Ouarzazate, the 'Bama mamas immediately fell back behind again. I'll bet if Lyn has one regret, it's that she didn't do more wind sprints before starting the race. Whenever she's running, it looks like someone jogging on a treadmill: Her arms and legs move back and forth, but she doesn't seem to actually be moving forward.
Fortunately, what she lacked in speed she made up for in resourcefulness, as she and Karlyn studied a map before landing in Africa. So while the other three teams sat arguing with cab drivers or, in the queens' case, had their car swarmed by locals in a scene that was at first disconcertingly reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead the 'Bamas cruised right to the next stop, where a yield was said to be waiting.
Didn't it seem like the greatest evidence of karma when Lyn and Karlyn were running unobstructed toward the yield, while the beauty queens dragged in last place? I was so convinced that this was incontrovertible proof that meanies will eventually be punished for their wrongdoings that I instantly assumed it was only a matter of time before everyone who ever wronged me during childhood would end up homeless and alone. In the back of my mind I began rehearsing the lines I'd use if I bumped into them panhandling. (''Hey, guy who said I looked like E.T. in eighth grade: Maybe you should phone homeless!'')
And then the 'Bamas arrived in the middle of the night at Atlas Studios, home of the yield, only to find it closed until 8 a.m. And all the other teams caught up, meaning the rush to the yield would be a footrace, which meant that Lyn would actually make better time if she slept through it. It also meant that there was no such thing as karma, which meant that that guy who said I looked like E.T. may actually have a home, thereby rendering my long-gestating witty comeback moot. Damn you, Van Munster!
Sure enough, after the gates were opened, the 'Bama mamas arrived at the yield last. And insult to injury the beauty queens yielded them. Why the models or Rob and Kimberly didn't yield the queens made no sense; why not try to eliminate your toughest competitor? And even if you suspect it's a nonelimination round (which, mathematically, it had to be), why not at least build yourself some breathing room in advance of the final leg? For all the crap I gave the Six Pack about their self-sabotaging loyalty to an alliance, it looks like these young, white teams are just as idiotic without an alliance.
Just as I was giving up hope for a happy ending, the karma train came back around. Thanks to Rob's flat tire (which confirmed my theory that even machinery commits suicide rather than listen to him), the BQs' getting lost, and James' inability to grab a flag during a chariot race, the 'Bamans caught up at the olive-grinding challenge. So karma wasn't dead; it just liked suspense!
And then came a series of potential highs, each one followed by a diminishing low. For example, at the pit stop, the models were in first, but on their way to the mat, weak-link James realized he'd left his mandatory lucky charm in the car, just as the 'Bamans were pulling in. The single moms looked like they might actually get first place! But no, the models easily lapped them.
Okay, fine, but then the beauty queens overshot the pit-stop turnoff; they started driving back toward it just as Rob and Kimberly approached from the other direction. Hey, maybe they'd arrive at the same time, and Rob's car despondent from having its plan to escape Rob undone by a passerby with a jack could steer itself right into the queens' oncoming auto to end it all! But no, it was just an editing trick, and Rob and Kimberly got there first.
But then it all looked okay: The queens were in last place, their world-peace smiles dampened by the suspicion that it could all be over for them and they'd have to go home with their sashes dragging behind them in defeat and explain to their home states that they had let them down.
And then Phil said it was a nonelimination leg.
''Some people are gonna call this bad karma,'' Kandice had said. ''There's no bad karma in a game; you're here to win.'' And maybe they will. And who knows, maybe next season that guy who called me E.T. will win Survivor. Sigh.
What do you think? Did you feel cheated? Should nonelimination rounds be eliminated? And is the beauty queens' good luck becoming a little implausible?