Monty Brinton/CBS
Josh Wolk
October 19, 2009 AT 04:06 AM EDT

I have been cutting The Amazing Race some slack this season, not commenting on its less than stellar challenges. But I can keep my silence no longer: It needs to up its game, and fast. Take tonight: They’re in Dubai, and sent to the tallest building in the world. 124 stories! Oh, the height! We all know what happens when people on The Amazing Race are sent to a high place: It’s over the top you go, whether strapped to a bungee cord, paraglider, or the back of a really exotic local bird. Oh, I thought, this is gonna be great!

And what happened in Dubai? They reached the top….and were told to take the elevator back down, and go to a mall parking lot.

You really have to work to come up with an anticlimax like that. Do you think the producers all sat around brainstorming the complete dramatic opposite of a death-defying leap? Is it doing laundry? No, that might accidentally cause a flicker of tension, when teams struggle to separate colors from brights. What about having them balance a checkbook? Nope, they could bicker over finances, inadvertently sparking intriguing interpersonal dynamics. Hey, what if they go to a mall? Too much potential action: There might be a big one-day-only sale, lots of crowds, people fighting for clearance items. Okay, but what about a mall…parking lot! That’s it! The scenery-free zone where one circles to find a place to leave his car so he can go buy a three-pronged cable from Radio Shack is the apex of banality! Nothing interesting could possibly happen there! I fear that next year will see a theme season where teams will rush to visit every Wonder of the World, and at each of them they will be told to cook a frozen pizza and leaf through a Reader’s Digest.

The only interesting moment at the beginning of the episode was when Sam and Dan were completely befuddled by this ”Persian Gulf” thing they were sent to and had never heard of. Hey, they can’t be expected to keep track of every little region in which their country is mired in an endless war! It reminded me of a line from a recent episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine in which the self-involved Christine is surprised to learn there’s a housing crisis, and says something like, ”Jeez, you miss reading the paper one day…”

When the teams arrived at the giant building, we started to see some fraying around the edges of the gooey-eyed Mika and Canaan’s romance. They were initially presented as the squeaky-clean religious couple — he’s a virgin musician who just wants to sing about closed-mouth kisses! They haven’t been dating long, but in this episode they hit an important development in a relationship: one member’s first icy glare. When Canaan joked about Mika’s fear of heights, it led to her snippily ordering him not to tell her what to do. It seemed like the kind of moment that usually ends with a boyfriend sleeping on the couch, which is especially brutal in a relationship built on cuddling.

We also learned that Brian has a strict strategy, which is to build up good karma with the other teams by helping them to a ridiculous degree. When he arrived at the Phnom Penh airport, he couldn’t wait to tell the other teams that they needed to go to Dubai. Later, when he went out of his way to tell a lost Mika and Canaan the right way to go, he said, ”I’m nice, but I’m not dumb. This game is all about Karma.” No, this game is all about arriving places first, which is often achieved by other teams finishing last. Did no one explain the rules to him before this started? I think he has The Amazing Race confused with going to Hell.

NEXT: Cheyne dominates the Fast Forward like a real man

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