Robert Voets
Josh Wolk
November 19, 2007 AT 10:52 PM EST

Boy, that Ronald will do anything to be proven right, won’t he? Sure, we all criticized him last week for telling his daughter, ”You need to lose some weight,” when he was giving her a ride on a bicycle, but he sure showed us, didn’t he? He went and got himself a hernia as proof of just how heavy a load she was. There is a man dedicated to his craft, his craft being criticizing.

After last week’s stellar episode of The Amazing Race, it would be unfair to have expected this week’s to match up. After all, its MVP, Ronald, was playing while injured. So I’m not sure whether this episode was a major letdown on its own or just suffered by comparison.

(Before I get into the rundown, I’d like to get back to Ronald for a moment. I know nothing about hernias, so this next comment may be naive — and I’m sure some helpful readers will tell me just that — but is the best treatment for a hernia really to have a reality-TV doctor just shove it back into your body and hope for the best? What, were they out of duct tape? That seems to me like the medical equivalent of whacking a broken toaster with your hand to get it back to top-browning.)

But back to the episode. Let’s get the first 15 minutes taken care of in one sentence: a bunch of people fretted about airline tickets and yet all got to Burkina Faso at the same time.

That was it. Really. I haven’t seen this much false suspense since The Bachelor‘s 412th Most Shocking Rose Ceremony Ever. The entire first quarter of the show was nothing but manufactured anticlimactic tension. For example, Nate and Jennifer were the only ones to get the first connecting flight to Paris, and the show made it seem as if they had just discovered a time portal that would get them to the next pit stop five days before the race even began. Yet we knew that there was only one flight to Burkina Faso from Paris the entire day, so obviously everyone else would catch up. And then the other teams — who were all on the same flight — wrung their hands about how they had fallen behind. But they were all still tied for second place! The only difference between their placement then and at the game’s starting line was one team.

There was really only one comment worth noting during the whole opening segment. It was when Donald said, ”I’ll be 69 in a couple of months, but I don’t consider myself old. That’s why I’m letting it all hang out, to show what a guy my age can do.” Yeah, he certainly did just that last week. Hey, AARP, looking for a new spokesmodel to sell the idea of growing old gracefully? How about Donald the half-naked, mud-covered, ineffectual pole vaulter? I’ll bet he can even come up with his own slogan: ”Sixty-nine’s not so bad. Come on over here and stand on your head and I’ll show you just how good it is!” I tell you, Donald’s still got it. At the African train station, he was seen ogling sisters Julia and Marianna and calling them feisty, hot, and ”a little bitchy, but…a guy could learn to live with it.” I think he could have scored, too, as long as he didn’t blow it by showing his age with some maudlin old-guy talk like ”When I was a kid, mustache rides were only two cents.”

In Burkina Faso, they all boarded a train to Bingo. (The phonetic spelling, of course, is ”clap, clap, N-G-O,” though even in the local dialect, Bingo is still its name-o.) Shana and Jennifer instantly decided that in case they didn’t win the race, they wanted to at least make sure they grabbed the prize for Ugliest American. At first I gave them the benefit of the doubt: When they were shown snickering about the smell on the train (”What’s that perfume you’re wearing?”) and some clothing (”Hey, is that a new outfit you’re wearing?” ”It’s the Salon d’Afrique”), the cuts over to some Africans on the train made it seem they were mocking the locals, but that could have just been a cruel edit: They might just as easily have been mocking themselves. They had been on the run for a few days and seemingly haven’t changed out of those running tights the whole time. But when Jennifer said, ”These people bring flies,” well, then it became a little harder to defend them. Unless they’re just extremely self-deprecating egotists who like to mock themselves in the third person.

Things certainly picked up at the roadblock when the teams were forced to milk a camel. As soon as someone read, ”Be mindful that camels are sensitive to fast movements and loud noises,” I knew there was going to be trouble. Just that one sentence made it clear that this was an animal completely incompatible with the ways of The Amazing Race: It was like giving Real World housemates jobs in a public library.

It was no surprise that Ronald and Christina did well here; Christina proved herself an animal whisperer in the premiere’s donkey challenge. Donald proclaimed that he’d been around a lot of farm animals in his life, and so it would be a breeze. (Although if you had asked me to predict what remark Donald would have made when faced with a nipple to squeeze, a citation of his agrarian background would not have been my first choice.)

And then there was noted donkey foe Nathan, who once again was having no luck with the animal kingdom as it kept kicking his bowl. ”Nathan, you’ve got to be gentle! You’re handling nipples!” snapped Jennifer in what I fear is the same tone (if not the same words) she uses with him in bed. Do you think every sexual encounter between the two of them ends with her angrily smoking a filterless cigarette and muttering about how she needs to get herself a real man, and him huddled in the corner, mumbling apologies? Because that’s the mental image I got, but perhaps I’m extrapolating too much from a single milking.

NEXT: More squeeze play

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