delivered its most entertaining hour of the season on Sunday (Oct. 12), though many fans will probably be unhappy about the results.

[Obviously spoilers are coming. Read the instructions and you’ll know to avoid them.]

I’ve always been astounded by the reality show contestants to don’t make an effort to master certain basic skills when they find out that they’ve been accepted on a reality show.

If you’re going on Survivor, you should make sure you can start fire in at least five different ways.

If you’re going on America’s Next Top Model, you ought to spend some time figuring out how to walk in heels.

If you’ve been accepted on Big Brother, you should practice covering yourself with a sheet while having sex.

With The Amazing Race, nobody would deny that learning a half-dozen phrases in a half-dozen languages would be a good idea. It would also be wise, I guess, to make sure that both members of your team can drive a stick-shift.

But maybe, as I’ve now said three weeks in a row, you’d be better served by brushing up on something even more rudimentary: BASIC LITERACY!

I’ve already dubbed this season’s contestants The Gang That Couldn’t Read Straight, but Sunday night’s episode was the first time that illiteracy actually led directly to an elimination. If you had to guess which team would be done in by the English language, you’d probably point at the Southern Belles, or The Ex-NFL Player and His Harpy Wife, or even Terence and Sarah, who misread clues and signs in each of the season’s first two episodes.


I’ve already discussed with a friend whether or not it was ironic that Comic-Con Geeks Bill and Mark were eliminated after a clue clearly instructed them to go to a Detour on foot and they took a cab. My response was that if Mark and Bill had been done in by something intellectual, that would have been ironic. This wasn’t an issue of brains, just sloppiness and the idea of a geek being sloppy isn’t all that shocking at all. Then again, the episode began with Mark and Bill proudly telling the camera that they were prepared to be detail-oriented, even if it cost them time. So yeah, I guess that made it ironic.

And, to be perfectly fair in my mockery, Terence and Sarah made the same error, running their misreading streak to three straight weeks. They just caught themselves in time. Bill and Mark only realized their gaffe as they were driving to the Pit Stop, by which point they’d already fallen behind to the point that there were in jeopardy anyway.

Mark & Bill’s 30-minute "You Can’t Read!" penalty produced the season’s first tense conclusion, as the editor got to go all Edward Scissorhands to make viewers wonder if Kelly & Christy were going to make it to the mat in time, or if this might be a non-elimination leg. Meanwhile, Mark & Bill never would have been in such jeopardy if Mark hadn’t taken an extended oxygen break in the middle of a Roadblock he messed up twice.

Yeah, I’m a little sad to see Mark & Bill go, since they were the team I was probably rooting for, but I may be happier to see Kelly and Christy succeed for a while longer, because I really want to see more blowback from SportsBraGate, the silliest reality TV feud since GranolaGate, when Nicole and Bre almost came to blows over a purloined snack bar on the fifth cycle of America’s Next Top Model.

SportsBraGate flared up during the Pit Stop between episodes when Christy put her bra out on a ledge to dry and it somehow vanished. For reasons never adequately explained, Christy came to believe that Starr (of Nick & Starr) pushed it over the ledge. It’s a little early in the game for that sort of psychological warfare, if you ask me, but Christy was determined to get revenge.

"If she wants to play dirty, she’s going to get something else," the Christy threatened. I doubt this is really about a bra. Perhaps The Former Mr. Christy got all of her undergarments in the divorce settlement?

Anyway, the trumped up rivalry between Nick & Starr and Kelly & Christy is bizarre, but it’s also the first real animosity this season other than the sparks between Terence and Sarah and Terence and Tina, but those don’t really count, because I wouldn’t trust anybody who doesn’t want to throttle Terence.

So Sunday’s episode featured the season’s first exciting finish, the first growing feud and it also included the first really satisfying tasks of the season.

I wasn’t a huge fan, necessarily, of the Detour. Faced with the choice between Musical March and Bumpy Ride, only two teams took the former, while the rest took some bumpy bikes. The only good part of either task came when Christy wiped out at a high speed, nearly plowing into an innocent pedestrian. That’s some great television. Less great television? The U-Turn that nobody used, though Nick & Starr tried to convince Aja and Ty to use it on the Divorcees, which might have taken SportsBraGate to a new level.

The Roadblock, though, was a winner. In Fighting Cholitas, one player had to learn a six-move luchador routine and perform it in the ring with a female wrestler. Not only did the task force contestants to learn the finer points of Taunting, The Duck & Flip and the Slingshot, but there was a clear distinction between the players who were performing well and those who weren’t. Not surprisingly, the athletic Ken and Dallas were superb and their teams took advantage. Even the lackadaisical contestants were entertaining to watch. The only disappointment was that we never saw what caused Kelly to take so long, so we didn’t know how that team got to the brink of elimination.

So yes, I’m going to miss Team Yoda, but this episode was still close to the Amazing Race I love.

Other thoughts on this week’s episode:

  • Another stage win for Ken and Tina. This time the estranged couple got a seven-day vacation that they may need to spend together. I wouldn’t want to have the cabana next to them in Cabo.
  • My favorite line of the episode: Nick trying to make peace with Christy, coddling her with "You’ve got your beliefs and I totally respect that." The last two times I’ve heard those words, the person then attempted to help me find Jesus. No, really.
  • I hate to go back and harp on Mark & Bill’s fatal error, but what would have happened if they had decided to use the U-Turn? Any team they would have used it on would only have been behind them because they cheated. After all, we saw how badly winded Mark got during the wrestling. If he’d walked to the Detour instead of cabbing, who knows how long that would have taken or how winded he would have gotten. So if they’d used the U-Tour, would their penalty have been greater? Would the other team have gotten bonus time added? It would have been chaos, I tell you.
  • And speaking of that U-Turn, from a strategic point of view, Christy and Kelly had the responsibility to use it on Toni and Dallas, didn’t they? You know you had some trouble with the Detour and that you’re in second to last with a potentially stronger team all that stands between you and elimination. You can feel as guilty as you want, but don’t you have to give Toni and Dallas a handicap even if you feel guilty about it later? I know I would have.
  • I’m not a fan of the Southern Belles, but their handling of the Musical March Detour made me remember why I don’t like The Frat Boys. Because Marisa and Brooke were enthusiastic and fun, their band marched with enthusiasm and caught up with Andrew and Dan’s band, which went at a pace that matched Dan’s sour attitude.

    Does this episode have you back on board for the season? Or did you lose the only team you were rooting for? And what’s up with SportsBraGate? Who do you believe?

  • Posted by:Daniel Fienberg