''The Amazing Race'': Missing the clues
I've been accused of being too negative before, so I'll start on a note of positivity: This is quickly becoming the best season of The Amazing Race since number 7, Uchenna and Joyce's victory year.
How do I count the ways? Well, I count them more accurately than the beauty queens count clues. I am astonished that anyone who has run the race before wouldn't be aware of one cardinal rule: If something seems wrong, it is. If you encounter a kick line of raft guides willing to take you in a boat when you're supposed to be getting a clue, do you (a) turn around and look for the clue, or (b) hop in the boat and assume that you'll find the clue Scotch-taped to a whitecap?
When the beauty queens got to the pit stop, the fourth team to arrive, Phil sent them back to find their overlooked clue. But it's a tribute to the chaos of this season that even with that lost time, they still ended up in fourth place, as all the teams behind them continued to drive around in panicky circles, getting angrier and angrier at each other at every turn.
The first bit of tension came when Team Guido stopped for directions and Eric and Danielle eavesdropped and then sped off with the info before Bill could get back into the car. But you don't cross Bill, no sirree: At the next clue box, he stood in front of Eric's car, not letting him pass. It was the world's gayest game of chicken, and I mean that literally.
Speaking of which, the episode began with Team Guido pronouncing that no one should underestimate them just because they’re gay. But the producers would have no confounding of stereotypes on their watch: They were careful to highlight the duo cooing about wine; they showed Joe crying; and they dressed them both as the supermincing assistant Carmen Ghia from the original movie version of The Producers for an interview. What, were the costumes from To Wong Foo... a little too on the nose?
Perhaps this is because the producers like to concentrate on Danny and Oswald as their homosexual superstars. Calm, cool, and capable, they breeze through nearly every challenge. (Well, except when it came to carrying fish, but you can't have everything.) All that and an odd mix of aggression and politeness: Oswald said about his game plan, ''Sweetheart, if you get in my way, I'm going to run you over. But not in a malicious way.'' I'd like to have seen Bill get in front of his car.
But really, once again the true stars were Charla and Mirna, or as I have come to call them, Team Bats---. Flying through the race on a magic carpet of moral superiority, they have irritated just about every other team. (And it looks like next week they take care of Romber, one of the last holdouts.) At the airport, while everyone waited in line, Charla magically appeared behind the desk at the ticket agent's elbow, doing some sort of pincer maneuver with Mirna, who stood on the other side. She's a sneaky one, isn't she? Perhaps in the next city she'll take it one step further and hollow out a PC monitor, put it on her head so she can look out the screen, stick an extension cord up her ass and sneak up onto an agent's counter. Then she could say, ''Beep beep boop boop I am a computer please get whiny girl with funny accent two tickets on fastest flight beep beep boop.'' The perfect crime!
Charla knows how to avoid getting busted: Just head her accuser off at the pass with a best-defense-is-a-good-offense zinger. When it looked like the beauty queens were about to call her on her ticket-agent sneak attack, she explained herself in a hurt, pedantic tone, ''I can't see over the counter because I'm not as privileged as you are.'' Oucheroo! Mix one part passive-aggressive with two parts political correctness and you've got yourself a strategy!
(On the topic of heightism, was it patronizing that there was a little person at the pit stop, or is it patronizing that I asked that question? It seemed like he might have been put there as bait for someone to say what Oswald said, ''Charla's gonna be in love.'' Or was it actually height-blind casting, and why shouldn't a little person be just as appropriate a playmate for Phil as a six-foot-tall person? Either way, the guy was just lucky Phil wasn't wearing his patented crotch-hugging khakis. There's something you don't want to have in your peripheral vision all day.)
But back to Team Bats---: What of the guy they dragooned into leading them to Petrohué? He tried to tell them he had to go to work, but Mirna wouldn't let him go, paying him $50 to lead them. Perhaps on the cutting-room floor is a scene of Charla sealing the deal by saying, ''Oh, work, huh? You probably have one of those jobs where you don't need a ladder to reach things, right? Yeah, I can't get one of those, which is why I need to do this race. Sigh....''
And then they never let him go! Just when I'd forgotten about him, Charla and Mirna got out of the raft and there he was, wishing someone would take him home. ''I'm sorry I am wearing a bathing suit,'' Mirna apologized to him in her catchall accented English. ''It is very weird.'' And as the guy forlornly got in the back seat with a wet Charla on his lap, it seemed that, for him, things had gone quite a bit past ''weird.''
Wow, I've gotten this far without even mentioning the roadblock, one of the best challenges in recent memory. When the producers try for something that sounds scary, it's always boring, because they can't actually put the competitors at risk. (I'm thinking about last season's challenge to haul a wild crocodile, when the crocodile was basically harnessed by other people.) But this was so simple: Transport a bunch of flatfish that looked like angry, slimy kites. It was perfect icky and exhausting. Danielle and Mirna overreacted exactly as you'd predict, and it was no less delightful for it. Eric kept yelling at Danielle to hold the fish down with her boobs, which was very insensitive. Did he even think what would happen if the roles were reversed and he had to use his boobs? A thrashing flounder might accidentally get snared on his creepy nipple rings, and he would be forced to finish the race with a giant fish carcass attached to his chest.
If he had, David wouldn't have gotten anywhere near him. Apparently you don't get a lot of aquariums in coal country, because David looked more scared of fish than he does of his wife. He rallied, but not enough to overcome his and Mary's fear of making a correct turn, and the fan favorites were eliminated. Phil tried to stretch out a tender moment by asking Mary if she still loves David, and she said yes, while David remained quiet, as usual. But just a few minutes earlier in the episode, there had been a very telling moment during an interview about the rafting. ''If I fall in, to me, that's die,'' said Mary, and at that moment, David flashed the most beatific smile I've ever seen on him. If Rosie O'Donnell gives this couple another gift extravaganza this year, I just hope she doesn't give them a trip to Sea World. Deep down they're a happy couple, but you don't want to tempt David with any water tanks nearby.
What do you think? How many more matching outfits will Team Guido show off? Will Romber put up with Charla and Mirna's antics next week? And have the beauty queens learned their lesson about following directions?