For as much negativity as I’ve talked about The Amazing Race this season, I have to begrudgingly give credit where credit is due. “We Love Your Country Already; It Is Very Spacious”, while still very flawed, may have been the best episode of the show’s 19th season and I was entertained during a vast majority of what went on.
I don’t think the rest of the season had given Sunday night’s episode much in the way of a bar to clear, but still, “We Love Your Country” managed to capture a tiny spark of what makes The Amazing Race such good television when it’s on its game. The challenges were, shockingly enough, not offensively easy, which went a long way toward my enjoyment of the episode. I probably should hate something like Tobacco Bumper Cars (TM), as it was all about physicality and quickness while vaguely hinting at the possibility of puzzledom, but the atmosphere was just too good to decry. The bright colors, the chanting, the dancing – when Marcus finally finished his leg and was surrounded by a crowd of people in turquoise jumpsuits who just wanted to move, I had to grin because I wasn’t worrying about challenges, Express Passes, or time equalizing for the moment. I was experiencing something that was pretty special and it was one of the few “moments” the race has had this season. That type of positivity even spread to the other challenges this episode, at least in how I viewed them, seeing as how the detour and pre-pit stop events weren’t that bad. Would I have liked the detour to be more difficult than sewing or building a truck from bottle caps and milk cartons? Yes. But both were reasonably taxing (within context of what other challenges we’ve seen this season) and provided fun interactions with the locals, so I don’t have too many complaints there. If nothing else, the final bed carrying challenge was rife with teams jockeying for position, something that has been sorely lacking in the increasingly static season 19, which justified its entire existence.
Heck, the goodness of the Malawi people even spread to the racers, as we got to see a little more appreciation for their surroundings than usual, which is always nice. I don’t expect (or want) the show to turn into seven teams gawking at their surroundings for an hour, but seeing several teams acknowledge just where they are and what they’re doing feels right. The race is built on interpersonal drama and time constraints, but when it really shines is dialing back some of the reality elements and showcasing the world we live in all its glory, which “We Love Your Country” managed to do without interfering with the competition elements.
Unfortunately, a few things bugged me about the leg. For one, the we’re-all-on-the-same-plane-hur-hur at the beginning of the episode was frustrating even though, again, I knew it was coming. I can sort of understand it when they pull something like this when the distance between first place and last place seems pretty insurmountable, but teams were only separated by two hours at the beginning of the leg. That seems like a reasonable amount of time to leave between the teams and not time to bring on another one-plane-fits-all twist, no? The double elimination was more reasonable than normal, due to the relatively close race between 6th and 7th, so I can at least swallow the fact that Amani and Marcus are hangin’ on for another leg. I would rather a team that was competitive and almost made it to the mat get another shot, especially if they’ve shown to be a strong team in the past, than someone who will be eliminated in the next leg. But this is the third non-elimination in six legs this season, which is a little excessive. Spread across a season and three non-eliminations isn’t that outrageous, but having them so frequently lowers the stakes of something like The Amazing Race. If there’s a 50/50 shot that nobody’ll be eliminated this leg, why should we care and, more importantly, why should we keep watching?
While the race’s shift to Africa did nothing but good, seemingly re-energizing the contestants (and myself), the biggest thing wrong with “We Love Your Country Already” lied in the mechanics of The Amazing Race. Has the show eliminated someone and somehow managed to avoid going to the “oops, they’re on the same flight” crutch again, this would have been one of the best legs in several seasons, but alas, the show continues getting in its own way. Even though we’re halfway through the race, it still feels like we haven’t really started and I don’t know when that moment will come when things will get serious, especially if we keep hanging on to teams the way we have thus far. I enjoyed “We Love Your Country Already; It Is Very Spacious” for the little flashes of vintage Amazing Race and glimpses of the stunning country of Malawi, but the show is still not where it needs to (or could) be.
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
- “We’re in a madhouse in a warehouse…”
- “When it’s time to cut the hay, it’s time to cut the hay.”
- Final Order: (1) Andy/Tommy (+4), (2) Justin/Jennifer (+2), (3) Jeremy/Sandy (+4), (4) Laurence/Zac (+2), (5) Ernie/Cindy (-2), (6) Bill/Cathi (-4), (7) Amani/Marcus (-6)
- I thought Ernie and Cindy were gone when they made the comment about holding on to their Express Pass until the last minute.
- Is Laurence a chauvinist for his comments about Sandy? (I have my opinion, but I’m curious what you think.) .
- Did anybody else notice the differing rates between the truck drivers? Of the two whose transactions we saw, one charged 7,000 and one charged 10,000; not throwing a conspiracy theory out there or anything, but it just seemed odd, especially since (I assumed) they were from the same company.
- Speaking of money, why don’t teams exchange all of their money for the country they’re in’s currency? This is the second week in a row a team is shoving American money at a driver and I’m not sure why they still have it at this point.
- Next week: Everyone stays in Malawi, teams become bicycling taxi drivers, and Jeremy and Sandy still can’t get along.