Last week, it seemed like the recession had hit The Amazing Race: The challenges relied on kicking a soccer ball, drinking a beer, and eating sauerkraut. It was as if the entire episode had been put together in one visit to the Hamburg Wal-Mart. But tonight we saw where all the saved money went: this week’s WWI reenactment, complete with explosions, period costumes, and dive-bombing biplanes (or “some sort of flying things” as Brent called them, leading to further suspicion that he is Encino Man). Unfortunately, all of the noise and bluster brought little suspense or thrills; it was more like watching a reenactment on the History Channel. The only real entertainment and excitement from the episode derived from some contestants’ pure idiocy, and you can get that for free.
The beginning of the episode found the teams being driven to a mystery location on a giant bus, otherwise known as the Foreshadowing Express: Joe and Heidi went on and on about how confident they were, while cops Michael and Louie groaned. As if to further underline just how far Joe and Heidi would topple, Heidi proclaimed that they had an advantage no other team had: “unconditional love and patience for each other.” Hear that, other loveless pairs? Your working knees are no match for Joe and Heidi’s devotion! Their strategy, however, has met its match with the brothers’: “We continue to do our game,” said Jordan. “It’s about not getting eliminated.” Wow: true love versus “do not get kicked out of race.” It’s the Ali-Frazier of benign game plans!
The teams debarked in France, with their first clue sending them to a boulangerie. If their only challenge had been to pronounce “boulangerie” correctly, then the episode would still be going on now. Once inside, they needed to ask the baker for a fresh baguette. “When that freakin’ guy hands me that baguette,” salivated Caite, “I’m definitely gonna eat the crap out of it. Just shove it in my throat.” But enough quoting from Julie & Julia! (When she finally did shove it in her throat, she groaned with pleasure, “Oh my God, this baguette is so freakin’ good. I’m really happy it doesn’t have any crazy crap in it.” Sad to see she’s still suffering from PTSD after a harrowing Little Caesar’s incident.)
Everyone discovered the clue with relative ease, except for Jeff and Jordan. Trailing way behind and still facing a Speed Bump, Jeff was dumbfounded when handed the bread but not a clue envelope. Was this the right bakery? Was the bread fresh? Finally, rather than tearing the bread apart, he began trying to eat his way through it from the tip. Jeff may be the only person in the world who wishes the “Rinse, Lather, Repeat” instructions on shampoo bottles weren’t so vague.
Having begun first, the detectives never budged from the top position. It is difficult to feel the same way about this team since the news broke that Louie’s name came up in a Providence police internal affairs investigation about a cocaine ring. Now it hangs over the proceedings every time they cite their law-enforcement experience and how it informs their racing. It’s like that old fortune-cookie game in which you add the words “in bed” to the end of every fortune to hilarious effect, except here, you add the words “…while distributing cocaine.” It’s just like our schedule as policemen, we might sleep, we might not sleep…while distributing cocaine. What a fun party game!
The bread clue brought everyone to the war reenactment Detour. The two choices were “In Trenches” or “Under Fire.” The first had them running into a trench and decoding a message sent in Morse Code, while Under Fire had teams crawling in the mud under barbed wire to receive a message from a poor extra huddled in the mud. Every team wisely chose Under Fire, which served less as a way to test the teams’ mettle in a confounding way than as an excuse to call attention to all the action going on around them. Ultimately, it was just crawling; the explosions had no danger because everyone knew they were blanks. They might as well have just had guys in German uniforms running around them yelling, “Boo!”
Michael and Louie, in first place, dragged a bit as Louie has the cardio stamina of George Wendt. Again, it’s difficult to reconcile their tales of kicking down doors with his inability to crawl ten yards without gasping for breath ( … while distributing cocaine! [allegedly]). But they still finished, and discovered the anonymous Blind U-Turn. Still peeved by Joe’s bus-ride proclamation that he wasn’t scared of any other team, the cops U-Turned them, forcing them to complete both sides of the Detour. Ouch.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, brother Jordan continued a neverending string of irritating patter, and Brandy was disproportionately irritated by the challenge at hand. “This is not what I choose to do,” she spat. “Smart people do Morse Code. Dumb people do this.” So far she’s been surprised to find heights and dirt on the Amazing Race; is she also shocked every week to find Phil Keoghan waiting at the mat for her?
But as much as she struggled, it was nothing compared to Jeff and Jordan, whose elimination seemed a foregone conclusion for the first three-quarters of the episode. Even before reaching the bakery, they could barely get out of their departure town, endlessly circling a rotary; at least Jeff had the self-awareness to quote European Vacation’s “Big Pen, Parliament,” as viewers were all thinking it, too. They arrived at the reenactment while everyone else was finishing up, but they still had the Speed Bump to complete. It was a relatively simple task of buttressing a trench, but it was all complicated by Jordan’s Private Benjamin–like inability to tie her own boots and keep her helmet on.
And yet, they were saved by the U-Turn. Joe and Heidi sat in the trench for what seemed like hours, unable to translate the Morse Code message. Team after team left them behind, crawling their way out of the muck and taking on the final challenge, pedaling four miles on antique bikes while wearing a hat and mustache borrowed from Super Mario Bros.’ Luigi (wrong country!). This was only complicated for Brent and Caite, who had forgotten to pick up one clue and were sent back to fetch it. It’s a wonder they were able to find this route twice, considering earlier Brent, when told to go south, asked, “Was it just south as a direction, or south as in, just go that direction?” Is he putting us on with this stuff? Because right now the only way he could possibly seem dafter would be if he completed the Race with a bucket stuck on his head.
But they traveled twelve miles in all and still finished in the same sixth place while Jeff and Jordan and Joe and Heidi were back in wartime, and that’s where we found the episode’s one true moment of suspense. As Joe and Heidi readied a guess that Joe was sure was correct, Jeff and Jordan finished their Speed Bump and were left to choose a Detour route. Jeff told Jordan to pick it, and viewers knew that if she picked Morse Code, they’d surely lose. She seemed not to care, and could have gone either way, but then she picked crawling, Joe’s guess was dinged, and we knew he and Heidi were done.
When the season began, Joe proclaimed that he was bossy and confrontational. And all season long, we waited for him to begin browbeating Heidi, because that’s what his Race “type” usually does. Yet he never did, and as the couple realized that all was lost, they just embraced and took mutual responsibility for the loss. His bluster was a broken promise, but one we were happy to see broken. They may have lost, but things never went south. The direction south, mind you, not south as in the direction.
Who are you rooting for now? Are the cowboys just biding their time until they fight their way back to the front? Can Louie’s weak heart allow them to stay in the front of the pack … while distributing cocaine? (Allegedly!)