Amazing Race: Robert Voets/CBS
Josh Wolk
March 26, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”The Amazing Race”: Grounded and grumpy

After watching 11 seasons of The Amazing Race, I like to think I know the game. So it was with some degree of expertise that, early in the All-Stars cycle, I declared Rob and Amber and Danny and Oswald always at the top of the pack because they stay cool: No temper tantrums, freaking out, or overreacting; they just treat it like a game and therefore cruise through the race.

But what am I supposed to do with that theory when Charla and Mirna have come in first two weeks in a row? My worldview is shattered. I feel like a horse-racing expert who just watched Yao Ming win the Triple Crown riding a blind mule.

The Schmirnas were out in front from the very beginning, starting this leg 40 minutes ahead of the second-place beauty queens. They were clearly feeling confident, having unveiled their matching ”Too Hot to Handle” T-shirts. This underlined one of the biggest problems of this season: It’s hard to find just one team to feel good about mocking, since the food chain of irritation keeps rearranging. When Mirna first showed up wearing her ”Too Hot” T-shirt, I snickered to myself. And then, just minutes later, the beauty queens made a snide remark about the shirts, and I grumpily thought, ”How dare those snotty queens? Do they think they’re the only ones who qualify as hot?” So I found myself going from attacking to defending the Schmirnas within mere moments.

Who really bugs me the most? It’s so hard to tell. Perhaps I’ll set up a NCAA-tournament-type bracket of annoyance to figure it out. But why stop there? Why not use it to figure out what irritates me most in the entire world? For example, I could pit the beauty queens and Charla and Mirna against each other, and whoever drove me more crazy would face off against the winner of Biting Into a Mealy Apple vs. People Who Still Say ”Too Much Information!”

(And speaking of the NCAA, each week I read the comments posted by people enraged by the fact that they missed most of the show because it had been delayed by basketball or golf. I’ve been surprised by how often this problem is publicly bemoaned, so let me just make a suggestion: Set your VCRs for an extra hour, or set your DVRs to also record Cold Case. It’s not that difficult, and you’ll always be covered. Now that I’ve said that, know this: If you miss the end of the show next week, you will thereby lose your right to ever mock a racer for screwing up a challenge, because they’re a lot harder than anticipating a delayed TV show. Oh, and as for Race fans who gnash their teeth over the fact that their favorite show is sacrificed to sporting events, keep in mind that the Final Four is a cash cow for CBS. The Amazing Race is not. Don’t waste energy complaining, because this show will always lose in TV-scheduling chicken.)

Back to this episode: I’ve never had plans to visit Dar es Salaam, but if I ever do, I’ll know to get my tickets far in advance, at least if I’m traveling from Mozambique. It seemed like every flight was sold out; apparently Maputo to Dar es Salaam is the New York to Boston of Africa.

Charla and Mirna risked a flight through Johannesburg that paid off; they were able to get on a connecting flight on standby, perhaps through their two-pronged approach of Mirna hectoring the ticket agent over the desk while Charla stuck her head through a slot under the airline computer. No matter where the agent looked, she got a face full of Schmirna. I wonder if it scarred her and when she went home and looked at her toaster, she pictured Charla’s face popping out, saying, ”Please, you make-a da top brown, eet not so hard!”

Meanwhile, Ian took control of his team by demanding that they stay overnight at the airport to make sure they didn’t miss the 5:30 airline-ticket-counter opening. He shot down Teri’s suggestion of returning to the hotel, saying he wouldn’t risk getting snarled in morning traffic. At 5 a.m.? Perhaps Ian was taking his cues from that old Mozambican country hit, ”Workin’ 6 to 3.” What a way to make a livin’, indeed.

His ”stay the course” edict didn’t pan out, however. Not only was the flight completely booked, but when the four remaining younger teams skipped upstairs to an airline office to try a different flight, he and the Guidos stayed put, because, as Ian put it, ”Standing in line is the thing to do.” Now there’s a military man for you: All good things come to those who remain in formation. And yet everyone else got tickets, leaving Ian and Teri and Team Guido in last place. (Eric and Danielle still left ahead of them after being mysteriously ejected from their first flight: Apparently there is now a watch list for dopes.)

Even more mysterious than Eric and Danielle’s ejection were the weather conditions that delayed Charla and Mirna’s boat ride an entire day. The boatman told them there was a storm coming; we were then treated to a shot of a cloudy sky that could have been taken anywhere at any time, but we never actually saw a storm. In fact, when everyone else arrived that same night, the streets weren’t even wet. Now, I’m not one to cry conspiracy, but wasn’t it a little convenient that these weather issues allowed three more teams to bunch up with Charla and Mirna, thereby making the leg a little more competitive? Because if the producers had footage of a storm, you know they’d have used it as evidence. Far be it from me to accuse anyone of anything without having all the facts, but let’s just say that if Uchenna and Joyce didn’t owe Bertram van Munster a fruit basket when they won season 7, they owe him a doubly big one now.

If there had been a storm, I’d have hated to see Charla in rough seas. Because the next day, when she finally climbed on board in calm water, she was still ralphing over the side. She may be too hot to handle, but she’s just hot enough to upchuck. Although maybe she wasn’t vomiting, she was just belatedly laughing at the prostitute joke Oswald and Danny told them the night before that neither she nor Mirna got. Perhaps it would have gone over better had Oswald told it in pidgin English in a loud, fake accent; the cousins seem to think everything sounds better that way. This week they settled on Italian for a generic accent; I thought by the end of the episode that, no matter what they wanted from someone, they would have just yelled, ”That’s a spicy meatball!” and hoped the message got through.

Boy, Oswald and Danny were on fire this episode, weren’t they? With their prostitute jokes, their ”We’re gonna trade you for food” joke to Mirna, and Danny’s impromptu Project Runway reference, ”Where’s Andrae?” (props to my cousin Sara for pointing that out to me — Runway references go right over my fashion-free head), it was like they’d hired writers for this leg of the race. Coming in a close second for the best jokester of the episode was Uchenna, who, while riding a boat through an old slave-trade route, told the beauty queens, ”Five hundred years ago they took the slaves on this very same path, ladies. Now it’s your turn.” It sounded like Paul Mooney was under the seat passing him notes.

Neither the detour (a puzzle versus log-hauling choice) nor the roadblock (hurling a stick at a target) was particularly memorable. (Though the bouncing Masai were enough to elicit Phil Keoghan’s first official eyebrow raise of the season. Browsie, we’ve missed you. I was beginning to worry that you had gotten lost in a piece of Phil’s luggage somewhere in Chile.) And Charla and Mirna were so far ahead they were destined to win, even if they didn’t recognize the word catamaran when told it was their prize. Perhaps Phil should have clarified by saying, ”Eet’s-a big-a boat!” Or better yet, ”That’s a spicy sailboat!”

The real focal point of the last quarter of the show was who was going to lose: Teri and Ian or Team Guido. It was another example of finding it impossible to root for someone. It all came down to this: Do you prefer your humorless cranks gay or straight? Ultimately, thanks to their puzzle-solving abilities, the Guidos pulled ahead, and Teri and Ian were sent to wait in lines closer to home. Congrats, Guidos, but now I put this challenge to you: How will you fare against a mealy apple?

What do you think? Was the weather delay a little too convenient? Will Oswald and Danny top their one-liners next week? And will Charla and Mirna hold on to their lead?

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