Monday, March 09, 2009

Amazing Race, "It was like a caravan of idiots": Blockheads with wood blocks

Spoilers for last night's "The Amazing Race" coming up just as soon as I see what Walter Koenig's up to...

Last week, it was clear early on who was going home, but there were enough entertaining things happening (notably Victor's meltdown) that it didn't much matter. This week, Kris and Amanda were more or less goners as soon as they got U-Turned -- given the way the leg was structured and how far along everybody else was, their only chance was if another team just couldn't unscramble "Chekhov" after hours and hours of trying -- and there wasn't enough else of interest to compensate for the lack of suspense.

I'm sorry to see the U-Turn back, by the way -- not because I think it's unfair, but because I get so sick and tired of other teams acting like it is, and getting all self-righteous about it when it's just another element of the game. Making it a blind U-Turn helped limit that, as did the fact that its victims are relatively level-headed and nice(*) and only belly-ached about it a little. But I'm not looking forward to the potential "How dare they?" reflex when it comes up again later in the race.

(*) It's kind of shocking how non-awful Kris and Amanda were, given how that type of team almost always turns out to be made up of one or two d-bags. As they seemed like the team to beat overall, it looks like Margie and Luke made a smart decision on both a micro (ensure that you're not eliminated on this leg) and macro (eliminate the biggest threat to win the million bucks) level.

Couple of other thoughts:

• I hate hate hate the decision to include previews for the episode we're about to watch at the end of the previouslies. I like watching the recap of the previous episodes because it sometimes frames things in ways I didn't notice before, but I'm going to have to either give it up or be real quick on the fast-forward button.

• Mark and Michael seem like nice guys, but they're really, really, colossally dumb.

• I loved the whip-pan from the Caravan of Idiots to the nearby repair sign, and obvious Team Schneebly found the situation funny as well.

• It amazes me that everybody first tried to do the wood stacking challenge, which seemed much trickier and more time-consuming than the construction one. (Though the latter turned out to have its own problems for the Caravan.) It wasn't quite as lopsided a choice as the one in the All-Stars season where almost everyone chose to haul bags of coal instead of giving manicures, but it was still pretty jaw-dropping.

• So far, I think they've done a good job of spending just enough time in the airports to tell us what we need to know. One group chose to connect one way, one group chose the other, and the first group got a huge lead because of that choice, even with the hours-of-operation bunch in Siberia. That's all we need, and no lingering on the annoying stuff.

What did everybody else think?


par3182 said...

trust mike white to come up with the best title quote ever. i hope he and his dad can make it all the way to the end; i'd be crushed if they got eliminated

and what's up with the drunk locals in every town they hit?

BF said...

Didn't Luke tell us he's running the race to show what deaf people are capable of? So now, thanks to TAR, I know that deaf people can be devious backstabbers too. Thanks Luke!!!

I'm a little surprised that Mel/Mike & Mark/Mike teamed up with Kris/Amanda. If they all work together (and there's no U-Turn), A/K are winning the footrace to the mat. Why would the MM & MMs want to keep them alive?

Another thing I liked was that they tinkered with the credit sequence to show us actual race footage in the team intros instead of the contrived "play on the beach"-type b-roll shot before the race.

Alan Sepinwall said...

So now, thanks to TAR, I know that deaf people can be devious backstabbers too. Thanks Luke!!!

This is what I'm talking about. It's not backstabbing! It's a legal part of the game!

Anonymous said...

You are right Alan about the wood stacking taking hours. I believe one of the racers said it would take another "two hours" to stack the wood when his almost finished stack collapsed (how sad was that!).

I don't have a problem with the "blind U-turn" - I just wish they had done it on challenges that did take as long to complete, because knowing that it would take so long to complete the other task took all the suspense out of the outcome. You just knew Amanda and Kris were done for as soon as you saw the challenges. The beauty of TAR is that couples should never give up because things can turn on a dime, but this was pretty obvious.

Anonymous said...

That was challenges that did NOT take as long to complete

Adam said...

There didn't seem to be any problem completing the bobsleigh run in four minutes; it was just about the name-scramble, which might have been unfair to lesser-educated (or non-Star Trek watching) teams.

A blind U-Turn here was poor race planning because the team so-turned was not going to have much time to gain ground, given (a) how time-consuming the detour options were and (b) how little opportunity there was to gain ground since the teams were taking taxis, not driving or using public transportation, during this leg.

Anonymous said...

I think they should have a mandatory 5 hour lecture that all racers have to attend before the season starts entitled "The U-Turn is Part of The Game: Learn it, Live it, Love it" because it is maddening to watch people get on their moral high house about it season after season. "We're not using the U-Turn, we don't want to win that way" -- win what way? By PLAYING THE GAME??? Argh. Makes me crazy.

The wee brothers are incredibly dumb, race-wise at least. Also, pretty laidback for sucking so hard. I'm not looking for Colin "my ox is broken" level intensity but it doesn't seem like many teams have eye of the tiger this season...there's a lot of strolling and ambling. Remember terri and Ian, when her pants were falling down while they were running and he was screaming at her to hurry up? Again, I don't need a Jonathan/Victoria dynamic, but everyone seems a little too chill about things this season, we need some hustle. I like having some over-invested d-bag to root against (like Coach on this season of Survivor). Everyone is too damn nice so far.

Anonymous said...

I hate hate hate the decision to include previews for the episode we're about to watch at the end of the previouslies.

Same here! I hope they drop it soon. Do they seriously not have enough material to fill the "hour"?

I kept hoping for Amanda & Kris's sake that some of the Racers would fail to figure out "Chekhov," but alas, 'twas not to be. They were a good team who treated each other well.

The mini-men are wicked dumb. Either that, or they're insanely tired. Or maybe it's both.

The way Phil says "Mel & Mike" sounds like "Melon Mike," which is what I've been calling them for a couple of eps now. I hope they go far--they're a lot of fun to watch. Looks like Mel's groin is improving, too, phew!

Eric said...

Agreed that the U-Turn is part of the game. Given how consistant the moral posturing is, though, I can't help but think it's encouraged by the Producers.

As far as I'm concerned, it's no more backhanded than sending your opponent's pieces to the Bar in Backgammon, or collecting rent in Monopoly.

I'm just glad that they didn't stick the Yield in a Non-elimination leg, which seems to have been the trend in the last few seasons.

Bobman said...

I'm a newbie to this show, so pretty much everything is new ground to me, and I've tried to resist asking questions and just lettin gthings play out, but one thing I have to ask - what determines a "non-elimination" round? Is it just random? Like, one time, the last team shows up and they say "you are the last team... but you are NOT eliminated!" and that's it? Or is there more to it? Does non-elimination come with some other handicap?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Bobman, there are only one or two non-elimination legs per Race, determined in advance by the producers (so as not to create the illusion that they only use them when teams they like are in danger). They've varied the punishments over the years, but the current one seems the fairest: if you're last on the non-elimination leg, you have to not only finish first on the next leg, but finish 30 minutes ahead of the second place team, in order to avoid being sent home.

Anonymous said...

Mel and Mike certainly don't seem very smart, but they were one of only, what, three teams to know Chekhov right away.

Adam said...

Alan, not quite, IIRC -- when you're "marked for elimination," you don't have to win the leg, but if you don't win the leg there's a 30 minute hold period until you can check in, and if there's anyone behind you you're fine.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Thanks, Adam. You are correct, sir.

Anonymous said...

Also, the non-elimination rounds tend to come at the end of the race. I can't remember a time when they were used to "save" any of the first 6-7 teams eliminated. So I think we have a couple more weeks to go before we get one. They use to take away a team's money as punishment but the teams quickly figured out how easy it was to beg for money and so that was kind of a fail. The time penalty works better.

I may be confused but I thought that the penalty now is that they would have to do an extra task on the next leg?

Anonymous said...

Oh for Pete's sake -- u-turns are part ofteh game! I totally agree Alan! Luke is NOT a backstabber -- he wants to win the race! It's a's like when people get all indignant on Survivor -- "You lied to me!" Uh...duh, if there wasn't lying on Survivor, then half teh winners wouldn't have won. This doesn't mean these people lie or backstab in real life -- this is a game!!!

And Amanda and Kris took accepted their fate with class. I was sorry to see them go -- they were certainly one of the teams to beat.

Those were BRUTAL detours for the U-turn though.

I don't think McSchneebly's dad's groin is better...he's just not bringing it up. Groin injuries take a Loooooooooooooong time to heal.

Anonymous said...

Sure, the U-Turn is part of the game. Its like a hidden immunity idol on Survivor, its a tool that the players are supposed to use to help them in the game. There is nothing unfair or deceptive about it. However, like the hidden idols in Survivor, the U-turn (like the Yield before it) is also specifically designed and intentionally included by the producders to frustrate the hell out of the other players and cause them to get mad and react emotionally. It always works as intended.

BF said...

Just having a little fun, Alan. Their use of the U-Turn/Yield was probably the most strategicly smart use of it since the Beauty Queen blondes used it on the *Lyns. And at the time, the BQs were more or less accused of committing a hate crime.

Bobman, usually the non-eliminations are saved toward the end. It makes sense in a cost-conscious way. Last year, Phil had fun telling Team Superbad after one of their particurlaly awful legs "You are the last team to arrive. I'm sorry to tell you that you are still in the race".

Bobman said...

Thanks for the insight, everyone. :)

floretbroccoli said...

Yes! I was shocked that so few contestants had heard of Anton Chekhov, but even more surprised that we didn't see even one who knew Pavel Chekhov. (Unless I missed something?)

Joe J. said...

I like the concept of the blind U-Turn, but I question whether it's really going to help keep the anonymity of the team that uses it. Really, I don't think it would be that hard for the teams to figure out who used it if they just compared notes as to whether there was a picture up or not at the time they got to it.

Are they back to that 30-minute Pit Stop penalty on non-elimination legs? I would have assumed they stuck with the Speed Bump for this season since they've done that for the last two, although I like the 30-minute one better.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Did they change it again? I didn't watch the last few seasons, and when I left off the series, it was the 30-minute thingee.

Still, anything's an improvement over the old mugging penalty, where contestants lost all their money and had to beg their way through future legs. Really distasteful.

Joe J. said...

Yeah, they changed it yet again. A Speed Bump is an extra task that the last place team needs to do at some point during the next leg that none of the other teams have to do (it shows up with one of their clues, I mean - they don't choose when to do it). Past SB's have been things like running through a gauntlet of fireworks or completing a dance or handing out water to a certain number of people. It's WAY better than the forced begging - that I totally agree with.

Anonymous said...

I can't agree with Alan enough re: the preview clip at the beginning of the show. Recap of the last leg is good, but why do you need to tell us what we're about to see?

Interestingly, I did note this week that the credits have been updated to show clips of the teams in action during the legs that have already aired.

I would have liked to know what happened in Moscow that made some teams miss the first flight. At the very least, get a sense that they were going to and see how they were dealing.

This was a bad place to put the U-Turn, because it took away any chance of the ending having any drama, while having the bottom three teams all fighting it out to race to the finish would have been much more exciting. It was a smart strategic move by Margie and Luke to handicap one of the strongest teams.

The Speed Bump task has one advantage over the Marked for Elimination scenario-- it's much more efficient for Phil to explain to the audience, and leads to more interesting TV with a team at some kind of local task, instead of waiting around at the mat for the other teams to arrive.

Anonymous said...

My favorite moment of the night:

Victor: Who doesn't know Chekhov?

My non-scientific observation from the past few seasons is that the non-elimination legs start when there are 6 left and then come every OTHER week until the finale.

Anonymous said...

I don't think McSchneebly's dad's groin is better...he's just not bringing it up.

You're probably right, but he was moving around better/more, as far as I could tell.

It was a smart strategic move by Margie and Luke to handicap one of the strongest teams.

While I agree, I didn't like that their motivation seemed more to be helping Jamie & Cara than knocking out a team that could beat them (I'm one of those "Run your own Race!" type of fans).

Anonymous said...

To be fair, I think they mentioned both - that it was a strong team that should be sidelined early and that they wanted to help the girls (which I think was more of Luke's comment than Margie's).

Anonymous said...

Kris and Amanda were pleasant enough, but I'm glad that they're gone.

This is the first season I can remember for a while where there isn't a pair of impossibly fast and good-looking "dating models" or "engaged actors" getting in the way of the more interesting, offbeat teams.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised by the not knowing of Chekhov. Was the name spelling out that way on the ride? I recallt he C being first and the V last, but not the rest

fgmerchant said...

I know the U-Turn is a legal part of the game, but I would prefer that when someone gets U-Turned, it is a non elimination leg. That way we get to see some fireworks the next time around. I was quite disappointed that Amanda and Kris got eliminated, especially since they seemed like such nice helpful people.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone that the U-Turn is part of the game. However, if Luke half-did it to save the girls he's crushing on, it's going to bite him on the ass when the girls U-Turn him or just generally turn their back on him and Margie when they are facing elimination sometime down the line. They will be saying "It's part of the game" too.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the U-Turn is best employed on a non-elimination leg, for reasons of fairness (I don't care if it's a rule, it negatively affects the teams not because of their abilities as racers) and maximum dramatic effects .

Unknown said...

The U-Turn and Yield also have the effect of pushing teams even more during the legs, as opposed to just avoiding coming in last; which is all that actually matters except for the final leg.

As for putting them in non-elimination legs only, that would both be more "fair" and "pointless". If all you're really trying to do is manufacture more "drama", then certainly. But sometimes you have to make their usage really count, and knock teams off, otherwise they lose their edge.

I can't remember a time when they were used to "save" any of the first 6-7 teams eliminated

My non-scientific observation from the past few seasons is that the non-elimination legs start when there are 6 left and then come every OTHER week until the finale

I will use my once-a-year plug of my meticulously prepared color-coded progress charts to point out that neither is quite true. At the bottom of the page for each race, you can see when the non-elimination legs were.

Anonymous said...

The issue I have with any kind of blocking feature on TAR, from the Yield to any kind of U-Turn, is that it takes away the pure "get stuff done the fastest" element that makes this the best reality show of all time. And there is NOTHING bad or wrong or mean about using a blocking feature, no matter what whining hypocrite losers like Mirna said; they seem like refugees from SURVIVOR or THE APPRENTICE's game style, and they don't help with the sprint-with-intelligence basic idea that TAR fans love.

K J Gillenwater said...

When the Amazing Race producers decided on putting the U-Turn in this leg of the race, I don't think it necessarily had to be so 'obvious' that whoever ended up U-Turned would go home.

It was possible to bang out that wood stacking challenge. In fact, two teams managed to finish it on the first try. So, if one of those teams had been U-Turned, they had a good chance of finishing in time and not being last.

It's only watching it as observers that we can see how wrong that stacking challenge could go. What got me were the dummies who insisted on pushing and shoving wood into their stacks...are they just completely dumb?

Anyway, I, too was sad to see Kris/Amanda get eliminated. They were one of the 'good' couples who actually probably will stay married forever. But I don't blame Luke and his mother for using the U-Turn option. It was the first time I've seen someone use it in a strategic way. In the past, most people have used it against a team they disliked.

Anonymous said...

Mel and Mike certainly don't seem very smart

Really? Where are you getting that? I think Mel's non-prayer a couple of episodes back established him as one of the smartest players ever on the race, in my book. And as for race performance, they haven't made any major errors yet.

Go Team White!

A-T-G said...

I am very much enjoying this season of TAR. While I do miss the juicy token "villian" this season, it's been a pleasant change to like every single remaining team.

As for the U-Turn, I'm a fan of it and was especially glad to see that using it had real consequence. I was frankly waiting for Phil to tell Kris and Amander that they were NOT eliminated at the mat once the U-Turn was mentioned. It just feels like ages since using such a device caused a "boot".

Of course, everyone will find out who used the U-Turn and then we'll get all the chatter about how wrong it was to use and how "Karma" will bite Luke and his Mom for doing it...etc. I don't understand this logic. I've never claimed that "Karma" will get my pals for making me pay for that Hotel when I land on Boardwalk--even though doing so will bankrupt me and I'll be out. Isn't that the whole point?

That being said, I'm sure that most of the racers believe in the "It's a GAME" logic and only start moralizing when they've lost and need a reason why it happened. It's frustrating to watch but, understandable.

Anonymous said...

My problem with the Blind U-Turn is that BECAUSE everyone takes the moral high ground about not using it, allowing a team to use it without letting the others know it was them encourages racers to be gutless when using it. My point: If you are going to use it, at least have the stones to stand up and say "Yeah, it was us, sorry."