If you are cast on The Amazing Race and are lacking in, shall we say, “book” smarts, the key to getting a good edit is embracing your mental shortcomings. No two teams have ever illustrated the importance of this strategy better than two pairs this season: Jeff and Jordan, and Brent and Caite. Take the first team: Jordan has no idea what a baker’s dozen is, while Jeff has difficulty pronouncing the name of any city he wasn’t born in. They learned on Big Brother that people love their mutual dimwittedness, and so this time they’re slathering it on thick and dopey, making their cluelessness as much their shtick as the cowboy hats. You get the feeling that they say to their traveling cameramen, “You caught that Jordan spelled ‘Jose’ H-O-S-E, right? ‘Cause we can do it again if you think H-O-S-A-Y would work better.” And the producers clearly love them, making sure they come off like lovable, loving ditzes.
Brent and Caite are equally dim, but they come off like utter buffoons. The reasons behind their downfall are twofold: They not only think they are smart, but they make a point of saying they’re going to prove it. That kind of self-delusion just makes Race producers mad, and now they’re out to show viewers just how wrong the models are. For example, reading aloud the Detour clue, Caite pronounced the word “adoration” as “adortion,” making her sound like Ann Coulter with a head cold, and the cameras lingered on her blooper the way an Ace of Cakes camera lingers over butter frosting. And at the end of the show, when she and Brent arrived in fourth place, the producers not only reveled in Brent’s unreciprocated attempt at giving her a high five, but then, after she proudly announced, “I just hope all the teams see I am an intelligent person and you need to stop making fun of me,” they immediately cut to a shot of the couple mirthlessly and vacuously heh-heh-ing to each other like Beavis and Butt-head. Check and mate, producers.
A problem arises for the editors when the models are mocked by someone the production team likes even less: snotty lesbians Carol and Brandy. (They had earned everyone’s enmity by teaming up with Joe and Heidi at the beginning of the leg and using the elementary school “back cuts” rule to nab the only bus tickets on the first coach out of Santiago, Chile.) At the Roadblock, Caite, looking wet and bedraggled, hocked out a giant glob of spit, then shrugged “Sorry” to a visibly appalled Brandy and Joe. In this case, the Amazing Race food chain of villainy dictated that the shunned Caite would emerge as the sympathetic one, and she did. But had Caite spat around Jordan, that loogie would have been played, replayed, and slowed down to one-eighth time and zoomed in on until you could see every strand of Caite’s humiliated DNA.
The producers’ true heroes this season are clearly cowboys Jet and Cord; they’re the only team allotted their own theme music. The editors seem seduced by their paradoxical mix of good ol’ boy innocence (“Oh my gravy!”) and ruthlessness. The gallant Western stereotype should dictate that they would be unable to lie lest it make their mommas weep, and yet when they realized that two other teams (Jeff and Jordan and Brent and Caite, naturally) were at the wrong bus station in Temuco, Chile, the cowboys kept quiet, letting the foursome miss their connection as Jet and Cord drove off on the right bus. (“Those cowboys are the most magical people ever,” said Brent, apparently confusing their cowboy hats for wizard caps.) And the cowboys’ anachronistic politeness even renders Jet’s odd gay panic quaintly forgivable: When Cord mentioned the words “snuggle” and “skinny dipping” on two separate occasions, Jet laughed nervously and moved away both times as if Cord had suggested they share spaghetti à la Lady and the Tramp.
Ultimately, though, no matter what bus anyone took, all teams began the leg’s challenges at largely the same time. The first was a Detour, in which teams could either attempt to drape a blanket over and tie a scarf around a llama, or dress up like a condor and jump into freezing waters. Animal challenges can be standouts if the animals in question are stubborn enough; Race fans have had many delightful moments of schadenfreude watching teams curse and weep at camels, llamas, and donkeys. Unfortunately, other than giving an errant kick and the usual dash away, none of these llamas gave the teams enough trouble to make the trial memorable. (Though the event was accompanied by another Amazing Race staple: the crowd of mocking local spectators. Perhaps this is meant as a we’re-not-so-different-after-all life lesson for viewers: No matter where you go in the world, no matter how primitive or advanced the culture, people always like to laugh at outsiders who try to master their traditions.)
The Condor choice was less a challenge than a practical joke on those who chose it: Teams needed to don a condor suit built for two and run off the end of a dock, trying to reach a floating target. The clue implied that if they actually flapped their cloth wings enough, they would glide to the buoy, when it was actually just a way to get people to jump off a pier in a dopey costume and plummet into the drink. Keep an eye on future weeks when they tell teams to dress up like rockets and jump to the moon.
In the subsequent Roadblock, teams had to dash around a farm, collecting ingredients to make kuchen, a delicacy popular in the area’s large German population. The hardest part of this task was milking the cow for fresh milk. Not just because one nearly kicked Monique in the face, but because cow effluvium was shooting out of orifices in every other corral. It was all carefully pixellated out; oh, to be a fly on the wall when the CBS censors met to debate whether cow shit was permissible in the family hour.
While it looked like brothers Dan and Jordan might be surprise last-placers this week after their horrible navigation skills and difficulties managing a stick shift lost them time, it ended up being a race for last place between detectives Louie and Michael and grandmother/granddaughter Jody and Shannon. The detectives got horribly lost, missing obvious signs for the Roadblock and driving nineteen miles past it, which should give Rhode Island crime victims pause when these two show up asking about their case. But they’d have to have lagged a lot farther behind than nineteen miles to lose to Jody and Shannon. Jody was already working on the cow when Michael arrived; he couldn’t find the pantry where the butter, flour, and sugar were kept, slipped and fell on the kitchen floor, and still lapped her. Sure, she took a brutal cow hoof to the head — which will knock you loopy at any age — but her entire competition style involved far too much talking about the wonderment of the Race and not enough actual racing. She ran like people garden.
She accepted her elimination with grace, saying that she wondered what adventure she and her granddaughter would take on next. She should hope that whatever it is, it takes her far away from the next family event, considering that earlier in the show she had declared, “Of all my grandchildren … [Shannon’s] the one that I think I admire the most.” We’re not sure how many other grandchildren she has, but all of them just put a stop on their “World’s Greatest Grandma” mug orders.