Now THAT was a great episode! For all those who missed Tuesday night’s marathon Amazing Race installment, you sadly were deprived of two hours of pure, unadulterated excitement. Sure, there was a non-elimination round in the middle, but honestly, did anyone expect anything else? It’s pretty much a tradition now that whenever The Amazing Race enters Africa, the first Pit Stop is always non-elimination. That’s okay though. Unlike most viewers, I’m rarely upset by such rounds only because it means we get another week of racing madness, and in the case of this season, that’s a good thing. Tonight’s episode seemed to have it all: an intense Fast Forward, a gaping head wound, a scary car accident, and most importantly, an insanely close finish that easily ranks as one of the very best endings in Race history. So buckle up (Brian and Greg) and attach your hardhat (Gretchen). We’re going to relive it all over again…
Was that cheesy? It felt cheesy. Yeah, it probably was cheesy. Just… I don’ t know. Keep reading.The episode began with our controversial couple, Rob and Amber, leaving the Pit Stop in the wee hours of the morning. They were directed to catch a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa which we’ll assume is what Rob meant when he read “Yohannesburg.” [Editorial note: I'm officially an idiot. As a former student of Modern South Africa, I should have remembered that this was, in fact, the correct pronunciation. I've been living in L.A. too long...] As the two headed off, Rob reflected that “there has been a guardian angel looking out for Amber and I.” I’m not going to play the conspiracy card again, but man, it’s so damn easy.
Next up were the brothers — Greg and Brian. The two happily pointed out that they were the only team left that wasn’t in a relationship. Aren’t you guys overlooking your love affair with Urban Outfitters? Seriously, where would you be without your mandanas? Nevertheless, our friendly siblings arrived at the airport and purchased tickets for Africa. Was it just me or was Lynn pulling double duty as an airline employee? I probably was just seeing things — unless Lynn has a long lost twin who just happens to work at a South American ticketing counter. Talk about a small world!
I’m pretty sure that’s Lynn printing out tickets at the airport.
Ron and Kelly snagged a cab from the Pit Stop and immediately questioned whether or not they should stop at a travel agency. After some minor discussion, Kelly confirmed that they’d be going directly to the airport by patting the cabbie’s right shoulder. Luckily, she also said “Aeroporto” which is good because I’m pretty sure she accidentally tapped his “travel agency” shoulder. Man, doesn’t she know? If you ever want to go to the airport, always tap the cabbie’s LEFT shoulder.
Moments later, Alex and Lynn emerged from the Pit Stop, and after navigating around some unsightly poop (Oh Phil…), they soon joined the other teams at the airport. Sadly, my Lynn/airline employee theory proved to be incorrect, which meant I could toss that idea onto the junk pile of other fallen conjectures (you know, like “Yes, Dear will be off the air after two seasons” and “Paris Hilton might have a brain after all”). One theory I do still stand behind is that Ray and Deana continue to underwhelm in this otherwise colorful cast of characters. As the two piled into their taxi (driven by an enjoyably dressed-up cabbie), Ray continued to bitch and moan about being at the back of the pack and how he just couldn’t lose out to the old people. You know, all this guy does is complain. He doesn’t have that ticking timebomb intensity of Colin or that crazy, over-the-top stupidity of Jonathan Baker. Therefore, he serves no use to us. But at least he can always have a healthy freakshow career as the world’s first talking gorilla.
The last team to leave the starting gate was of course Gretchen and Meredith, our plucky seniors who’ve managed to carve out a niche for themselves as the perennial Amazing Race caboose. Upon hearing they’d be traveling to South Africa, Gretchen let out an excited “WHOA!” that was oddly reminiscent of Joey Lawrence on “Blossom”. You know, now that I think of it, if CBS ever does a celebrity Amazing Race, they should definitely cast Mayim Bialik.
Anyway, all the teams caught up with each other at the airport, and then it was off to Africa! CBS cut to some random stock footage most likely provided by the South African Tourism Board. Lions! Nature! Truth and Reconciliation Hearings! Oh wait, I accidentally flipped over to Frontline. Nevertheless, teams eventually arrived in Johannesburg and found the rare Fast Forward in the next clue box. Anyone antsy to skip ahead could drive to Soweto and traverse a rickety suspension bridge over a cooling tower thirty stories up. Needless to say, it looked like the scariest thing ever done on television. I mean, I know these shows always have people climbing over gorges and dropping from the sky, but there’s something so ominous and dark about crossing a cooling tower. It’s like a giant bottomless pit that’s just begging to swallow you up. I think cooling towers are the new boogeyman.
Anyway, teams not wanting to do the Fast Forward could instead opt for the Detour which was a choice between Tunnels or Tribes. In Tunnels, teams had to go spelunking in some caves (well, I guess that’s redundant. It’s not like you spelunk in a tree) to find the next clue. In Tribes, teams had to go to a cultural village and bring various items to the tribes who live there. Most teams headed off to the caves, but Lynn and Alex decided to hit up the cultural village. As they pulled out of the airport, Lynn remarked “I’m so glad Johannesburg is a real city. I was so afraid it would be chickens and camels and whatever.” I guess Lynn hadn’t been to J-Burg’s famed Chicken and Camel District.
The good news for us viewers was that Ray and Deana decided to go after the Fast Forward. I’m always up for anything that might send Deana to a dark, frightening death. Oh, I shouldn’t say that. I’m sure she’s a lovely woman. Still, it’ll be cool to see her shake like a dry leaf up there. Sweetening the deal was news that Ramber would be going for the Fast Forward as well. Excellent! This means that at least one asshole team will be screwed. Oh, but then again, logic told us that this was just a non-elimination round, so we shouldn’t get our hopes up too high. This of course begs the question: why put a Fast Forward on a non-elimination leg?
While we pondered these questions, Ray and Deana arrived at the cooling towers first, and holy shit this task is scary. I need a safety harness just to watch it. Amazingly, Rob and Amber arrived about ten minutes later and instead of turning around and heading for the Detour, they simply suited up, desperately hoping that Gorilla and Gazelle might give up on the challenge.
I guess you could call this daunting.
Meanwhile, over at the cultural village, Lynn and Alex were having a ball delivering items to the indigenous tribes. Enjoyable awkwardness ensued when a Zulu warrior pretended to stab Lynn and Alex. The two guys recoiled violently before exhaling in relief as they discovered their lives were not, in fact, in danger. It kind of felt like some deleted scene from The Birdcage.
Over at the caves, Ron and Kelly suited up for some groping in the dark. A woman tightened a harness around Ron’s groin, and as he smiled happily, she gave an extra tug, certainly providing him with an insta-wedgie. I suppose it wasn’t that significant of a scene, but anytime someone gets it in the balls, you’ve gotta laugh.
Back at the Fast Forward, Rob and Amber went crazy as they deliberated whether or not to stay or go to the Detour. I was personally amused at the tech crew outfitting the duo with harnesses and helmets. No, Rob didn’t get a wedgie like Ron, but while Amber was talking, some guy shoved a helmet onto her head, causing her hat to smother her face. They might as well have put a bucket over her head. Nevertheless, while Amber adjusted her hat, Rob implored her to make a decision for once: stay or leave? Amber simply looked at her fiancé blankly, as if to say “You do realize I got to where I am now by flying under the radar, right? I don’t do decisions. Tee hee!”
Hey, let’s check back in on the other teams. Let’s see, Ron and Kelly were crawling around in the caves. So were Brian and Gregg. Uchenna and Joyce were lost on the road again, and Lynn and Alex were greeting cows, literaly. Meanwhile, Meredith and Gretchen built a case for age limits on drivers licenses as the two wound up motoring down the wrong side of the road. After a near head-on collision, Gretchen cooed that after this commute, the spelunking would be a walk in the park. Or at least a walk, trip, and head wound in the park. But more on that later.
With Ray and Deana successfully completing the Fast Forward, Ramber was left with no other option than to find the Detour. Unfortunately for them, they became lost; so they stopped by a Soweto hospital to get some directions and hopefully 10cc’s of help from CBS (technically, the conspiracy theory was that CBS wanted to ensure Ramber would be in the first four episodes, so based on that, they’re on their own now — if you believe the rumor at all). Just when we thought Rob and Amber were finally hitting tough times, wouldn’t you know it? All the nurses and doctors recognize them from Survivor and leap to their aid. “These guardian angels along the way helped us so much because they recognize us,” explained Amber. Um, I think it’s less guardian angels and more like star-struck angels. I mean, the whole idea behind “guardian angels” is that some random event happens and you benefit from it. It’s not very random to receive help if you’re the star of a worldwide hit show. And if I may hop on my soapbox for a moment, although Rob and Amber make terrific TV and certainly have added a great element into the mix this season, at the end of the day, they do sort of have an unfair advantage over other teams simply because of their celebrity. Some might argue that their celebrity also makes them the target of animosity, but, well, we’ve yet to see that play a factor. Who knows, maybe a Yield will have me eating my words.
Down in the caves, Brian and Greg slithered through some tight crevasses and took the moment to reflect on some childhood memories. “If you can’t handle me stuffin’ you in a sleeping bag when you were little,” started one of them before trailing off. Man, these guys are such brothers. I kind of feel badly bashing them. They seem so happy and nice, especially with all their brotherly fist bumps. Later, as they emerged from the caves, one of them pointed out the oily gunk on their faces from crawling around underground. “Spelunking war paint,” one said, causing the other to reply “You look like Braveheart, dude.” Yes, he did look like Braveheart, assuming Braveheart had fallen into a cave.
Meanwhile, Lynn and Alex were still running around their tribes. I wasn’t quite sure what was taking them so long, but at least they seemed to be having a good time. Upon arriving at a bright, clean, and colorful tribe, the guys noted that it was like the “Beverly Hills of the villages.” Well, minus all the wealth and opulence. But that’s okay. I can appreciate the analogy.
Meredith and Gretchen finally arrived at the caves, and as our plucky grandma lowered into the abyss, she called out “Goodbye cruel world!” Technically, if we were to take her joke seriously, was she implying that she was going down to hell? Surely I thought she’d be heading to the Pearly Gates, but I guess Gretchen has some skeletons in her closet. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m just gonna say it anyway: double homicide.
While the old fogeys descended to the subterranean depths, Ray and Deana checked in at the Pit Stop, winning two Toyota Rav 4s in the process. Yes, check out your shiny new cars. They’re just over there, next to the impoverished household struggling to put food on the table. Anyway, the two winners seemed quite happy, but I couldn’t help noticing Deana’s Quasimodo-ish stature as she stood hunched over with her right eye half closed and twitching. I half expected her to go running off in search of a church bell to ring.
Ray and the Hunchback of The Amazing Race
Back at the caves, Meredith and Gretchen emerged sans clue. They mistakenly thought that if they had crawled all the way through, they’d receive the clue. But no. The clues were underground. “Imagine if we fell here,” said Meredith cockily before returning to the cave. Yes. Imagine. Well, about two seconds later, we saw Gretchen’s head disappear behind a rock followed by what sounded like a pigeon dying. Turns out Gretchen had taken a nasty spill. Gretchen down! Gretchen down! The paramedics soon swooped in and we saw Gretchen in all her bloody glory. Honestly, she looked like a horror show as blood streamed down her face. “I’ve been wanting a face lift for a long time, ” she said happily, causing Meredith to reply “Face lift? But I thought we agreed you’d do your boobs first, honey. Oh, you were joking? Um, never mind.”
Well, the medics soon wrapped Gretchen up like a mummy and sent her packing. As she and Meredith headed for Soweto, she feared that she wouldn’t be presentable for the market. So self conscious! Just because your head is wrapped in bandages, you’ve got dried blood on your face, and your shirt is covered with grease doesn’t mean that you’ll stick out. Check that. She’ll look like an escaped mental patient. That’s okay. I know how she felt. When I had my wisdom teeth taken out, I went into the pharmacy to get my painkillers, and with dried blood on my lips and cheeks rapidly swelling at an alarming pace, I kind of looked like a cannibal about to blow chunks. Needless to say, talking to the old lady at the pharmacy was incredibly embarrassing.
Meanwhile, Ron and Kelly and Brian and Greg finished up the Roadblock and headed to the orphanage to deliver the goods. The children screamed with delight as teams entered, but they were particularly happy to see Brian and Greg who ran in there as if they were rock stars. It was a sweet moment, even if it was a tad silly on the brothers’ part. Outside the orphanage, Ron and Kelly got directions to the Pit Stop which was by a scenic overlook of… a mangy field and some dilapidated houses? Okay, it wasn’t the prettiest place, but it was the former residence of Nelson Mandela, and that’s got to count for something. Anyway, after getting directions from a local, Kelly raised her hand up in a “gimme five, up high!” gesture that was sadly not returned immediately, causing that awkward moment everyone dreads as your arm just dangles in the air. I half expected Kelly to bark “Come on, bro. Don’t leave me hangin’! Show a sister some love!” Sadly, this didn’t happen, but the guy did put her out of her misery, giving her a lame pity high-five.
High five! High five! Come on, this is getting awkward. High five!
The former beauty queen and POW arrived at the Pit Stop second where Phil chided them by saying “I’ve seen you guys look cleaner.” Sorry PHIL. I guess they forgot to take a shower in between the transatlantic flight and the greasy cave spelunking. Besides, if he wants dirty, all he has to do is wait for Gretchen, aka Mummy Dearest.
Back at the market, dimwitted Amber seemed unable to locate any of the items on her Roadblock list. Yes, it can be so hard to find toys and shirts and towels in a market. They are such rare commodities. Luckily for her, another one of those “guardian angels” found her and offered help. Wow, with all these people offering up their services, you’d almost think these two were already famous. Oh wait…
Anyway, Ramber and their new friend moved on to the orphanage and then the Pit Stop where they came in fifth after Deana and Ray, Ron and Kelly, Brian and Greg, and Lynn and Alex. Rob and Amber were kind enough to share their Pit Stop moment with their guardian angel, but unfortunately, no BoSox hats were doled out as a thank you gesture. We never found out what happened to that random girl, but chances are she went home and was instantly ridiculed.
Hey look, it’s King Tut, and he’s shopping! Oh wait, it’s just Gretchen. Never mind.
Hey, mummies have to shop too.
Remember Uchenna and Joyce? Well, they really didn’t do much that was too remarkable this hour, but we knew the orphanage in South Africa would really hit home for them. Unfortunately, the moment was so rushed, the producers weren’t able to get the full emotional response out of Uchenna and Joyce that they wanted (flashbacks to Gus crying in Africa last season. Wow, I’m already tearing up again). When the couple checked in, Phil was sure to ask Joyce how she felt about the orphanage, and sure enough, we got those waterworks. I could just imagine Phil off camera rubbing his palms together and laughing maniacally “Cry! CRY! LET THE SALT OF YOUR TEARS FEED MY SOUL!”
Anyhoo, Gretchen and Meredith arrived last, but I wasn’t too concerned. This was, after all, the halfway mark on a two hour episode. Surely this would be a non-elimination round. Sure enough, it was. The couple had to hand over all their money, and in a new twist, fork over all their belongings too. Yes, Meredith and Gretchen had to lose everything except their passports and the clothes on their backs. Ouch, that’s gotta hurt. Actually, it might not be that bad. Now they don’t have to worry about heavy bags anymore. I guess it will really only hurt if they move to a cold climate or need to camp out by a door overnight. Yeah, they’re pretty much screwed.
But would they be able to bounce back?
In an effort to not make this post any more of a novel, I’m going to end here and begin Part II of the evening in a new post. This is exciting, right? A blogging cliffhanger of sorts.
To Be Continued…