”The Amazing Race”: A late retirement
At the end of this week, right after Gretchen and Meredith learned they had just been eliminated, they embraced happily at the finish line, and a clearly smitten Meredith declared his wife his ”soul mate.” It was a truly romantic moment, leaving viewers like me teary with the hope that someday, many years from now, they too would have someone by their side whom they loved that much for that long. And then the producers made a very smart editing choice: They ended the show. Because if they made the grave error of letting Gretchen respond in the high-pitched, yammering voice that has made this entire season feel like a long case of tinnitus, Meredith’s life would have looked less like a fairy-tale romance than a prison sentence.
Gretchen and Meredith did seem less annoying this episode; they didn’t look nearly as helpless, and we even saw Meredith give the temporarily bankrupt Ron some money. Perhaps letting them exit on a less irritating note was executive producer Bertram Van Munster’s farewell gift to them. Except for one stint of whining while searching for a flag from the London Ferris wheel, Gretchen largely kept her mouth shut, even when lugging 150-pound boats around. This was hard to believe, as her persistent nattering had gotten so predictable that I had created a Mad Libs template that worked for every task: ”Ohhh, God, Meredith, we have to [verb] this [noun]! Ohhh, and now this goshdarned [roadblock obstacle] won’t [roadblock task]. Ohhh, [quaint 1950-ish profanity substitute]!”
While Gretchedith were ushered out respectfully, Ron and Kelly continued to devolve. The squabbling continued, but as usual, it was hard to tell it was squabbling because these robots never raise their voice or change expressions. When the teaser for next week showed her crying, I worried less about her psychological well-being than about the danger of her rusting. It was like seeing the Terminator cry, if the Terminator had been programmed to win pageants. ”I’ll be back … for the swimsuit competition.”
The problem with Ron and Kelly’s ever-present calm is that sometimes it’s impossible to glean what they really mean. At one point, Ron said, ”She’s really surprised me. I think I’ve seen everything I want to out of her in this race.” Without the clues of inflection, I wondered which way he was going. Did this mean that everything he’d seen proved that she was the one for him? Or that he’d seen more than enough to know that he was better off back in the POW camp than married to her? I needed more clues: For example, does she ever catch him daydreaming happily out the window, and when she asks what he’s thinking about, does he reply, wistfully, ”Shackles and gruel. [Sigh.] Good times, good times”? Because that would be a tip-off.
Look, Ron’s not perfect either. He’s bossy and a sexist. There was no reason he had to brag that he could have driven the double-decker bus much more easily than Kelly. We get it, you’re a supersoldier. On their many Race flights, does he keep banging on the cockpit door, yelling, ”FYI, I would have handled that turbulence a lot differently.” But Kelly just drives me nuts, and it’s becoming clear that the producers aren’t big fans of her, either. Just look at how gleefully they not only captured her begging for lipstick from a ticket agent but then zoomed in to make sure they caught her pimples as she applied it. Hey, vanity, you’ve been punk’d!
Meanwhile, Rob and Amber continue to be favorites. (All together now, Rob haters: Boooo! All together now, Rob lovers: Shut up, Rob haters!) Sure, the editors allow themselves some digs at the couple: They did show Rob calling the dervishes ”deverishes.” But, dammit, these two are CBS’ meal tickets, what with their upcoming sweeps wedding. The producers can only tease them so much. ”Ha, ha, Rob, you mispronounced a word. Heh, heh… . Oh God, we’re sorry! Please take a home-entertainment center with our apologies!” I initially tsk-tsked the conspiracy theories about how Rob and Amber were the only ones to receive prizes for coming in first, but it is starting to seem odd. I wonder if the losing teams will arrive back home to find their houses empty and a Post-It on the door reading, ”Sorry, Rob and Amber needed stuff for their new home. Thought you’d understand, and we’ll be back for the drapes if we find they match their color scheme.”
And then there’s the recurring leg up they get when strangers who recognize them from TV offer them a day of free guiding, à la Stuart the Brit this week. To be fair, others could have found a way to fake this advantage. For example, Gretchen could have convinced passersby that she was the Aflac duck.
Uchenna and Joyce are the only ones who emerge from each episode more sparkling than the one before. This week Uchenna tried to help the struggling Meredith lug his boats, for Pete’s sake. Why doesn’t he just deliver a baby and rescue a kitten on the way to the pit stop? Kelly may be the religious one, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the producers make Uchenna’s next roadblock Loaves … or Fishes?
What do you think? Did you admire the older couple, or had they worn out their welcome? Is the show favoring Rob and Amber? And will Ron and Kelly stay together, whether they win or lose?