Sunday (Nov. 23) night’s installment of The Amazing Race showcased why, if you’re going to have three non-elimination legs, they really shouldn’t all be squished into the final third of the season.

[I probably just spoiled the episode for you already. But if I didn’t, you should know that I’m about to.]

If The Amazing Race had any true sense of justice or karma, this would have been the end for DAndrew. They’ve spent a full season carping about being underdogs, carping about their bad luck, carping about being underestimated. I wish that Phil, ever the truth-teller, would pull them aside and tell them that, in reality, they’re just really bad at this game and that their continued perseverance isn’t an admirable trait so much as the byproduct of a flukishness in the structure of this season’s game, a flukishness producers  should work to avoid in the future.

The editors played around as best they could, but it’s my hunch — based mostly on variable sunlight and the amount of time the Roadblock must have taken — that DAndrew finished a distant fourth for the leg.

Normally when Phil Keoghan does his "I’m sorry to tell you… [long pause]… you’re still in the race" in these non-elimination legs, he’s just trying to stir up tension, but on Sunday’s episode, he may genuinely have been sorry. I know I was.

DAndrew kept complaining about their bad luck, but they began the leg more than three hours behind the leaders and over an hour behind the third place team and they got a tremendous break right from the start. The leg kicked off with an equalizer, as the teams all had to share the same flight to Moscow. That’s pretty generous of the producers, right? What more could they want?

But DAndrew squandered that good-faith gesture in every way possible.

They squandered it in terms of failures at the required task.

The Detour offered the choice between Boots (learning a military march and doing one properly executed cycle of a parade ground) and Borscht (serving beet borscht to 75 soldiers).

First DAndrew decided to do Boots because, as Andrew put it, "I have six years of marching band experience under my belt." But all of that experience in marching band didn’t prepare him to properly wrap his feet before putting on his boots. After more than 15 minutes of failing, with Dan hectoring him the whole way, Andrew gave up and they decided to do Borscht. The problem? They got to the kitchen and donned their aprons before realizing that the clue had said they had to wear a military uniform for either task. So they returned to Boots, but Dan couldn’t get the marching rhythm.

"It was very musically and art base and I am not musically and art based," Dan observed. That doesn’t explain why he was goose-stepping out-of-rhythm like a chorus reject from Springtime for Hitler. Kudos to Andrew for not getting frustrated, even as the Russians were mocking his partner and the officer kept saying "Nyet, nyet, nyet." Finally they gave up and did the Borscht. That’s about as inept as it gets.

[Side note: How was everybody’s first instinct on the Detour so very wrong? The Borscht task didn’t require strength, agility or speed. It just required decanting. And, heck, it wasn’t even like they were serving proper borscht. No potato? No sour cream? This, and not anything done by Ronald Reagan, is why the Russians lost the Cold War. DAndrew appeared to do the Borscht task very quickly and if they could do it, anybody could. Then again, the other three teams made short work of the parade as well. It also looks like we’re going to see more Dancing Dan next week. Joy.]

Then they tossed out any hope of karma when they stiffed their cabbie, a surly man who had traveled with them throughout the day.

Dan had correctly gauged the high price of doing business in Moscow, but the team’s decision to buy shoes at the airport in Almaty — their shoes were left at a task the previous day and they were wearing hotel slippers ("We jacked them from the maid," Andrew explained) — left them short on cash, hondling with a man who didn’t speak their language.

I’m of the opinion that there probably ought to be a race penalty for screwing over a perfectly innocent low-paid employee who gave up a day’s worth of fares to transport these two dead-beats, and not a casual penalty. If you cheat, you pay a penalty, but the only people you’re cheating are your fellow competitors. DAndrew cheated a civilian whose only crime was accommodating an American reality show. I really hope the producers stopped the cabbie at the next corner and properly compensated him. One way or the other, rather than penalizing DAndrew, the game gave them the non-elimination reward.

Oh well.

Otherwise, this episode should have been about good feelings for Toni and Dallas, who finally took over first place after spending most of the race in second or third or fourth. They didn’t do anything spectacularly well, but they marched with efficiency and then Dallas was able to plow through the Roadblock, which was one of the rare tasks to rely on nothing but strength and conditioning. More than anything, they got lucky with a cab driver who knew how to take them around the city.

Dallas’ fantasy paramour Starr and her brother Nick weren’t so lucky. At the individual tasks, they didn’t do anything wrong, but they got into three separate cabs with drivers who didn’t know where they were going. That’s beyond bad luck. It’s more like the cosmos needed Nick and Starr to face a little adversity. He passed with flying colors, keeping his head and then delivering on the Roadblock despite skepticism from both Ken ("Nick, he’ll never be able to do that.") and the clue-keeper ("He’s not fit"). Starr freaked out a bit. She cried and whined, but I’ll give her credit for not becoming quite as annoying as many a contestant has been in her position.

Other thoughts on this week’s episode:

  • The Roadblock clue-keeper, a hearty bakery owner, wasn’t quite as great as the handsy Indian with the sewing machine, but she was a character. I liked her taking Dallas to task for failing to properly line up his first two bags and then her Boris-and-Natasha-style congratulations — "So you have finish. Congratulations. And here are the instructions to follow." — were masterfully delivered.
  • Dallas and Starr have advanced to holding hands, which has to be the slowest she’s taken a relationship since second grade. He describes her as "a very cool girl" and she calls him "a pretty incredible man." And even Nick gave his blessing, saying that Dallas might be able to hold his own with Starr. But has anybody asked Toni’s opinion about the cheerleader stealing her boy’s heart? We haven’t heard her say she’d love to have Starr as a daughter-in-law.
  • Line of the episode: Andrew correctly noting, "Dan and I have made more dumb mistakes… A compilation video has to be made." Truer words…
  • This is a self-serving and personal aside, but after nearly six years, I think I’m entitled: This will be my final Zap2it recap for the foreseeable future (never say never, kids). Updates on what’s coming next for me will be posted to my Check the Fien Print blog at some point in the next week, so check occasionally. In any case, thanks for reading and commenting over the years here and I hope y’all do the same at my next stop. Danke and Gracias.

    What’d you think about the episode? And I know it’s happened before, but do you agree with me that hosing an innocent cabbie should be cause for some sort of penalty?

  • Posted by:Daniel Fienberg