I mean, it hasn’t had a whole lot of serious challengers in that regard, but “Release the Brake!” managed to cut down on some of the show’s idiosyncrasies while highlighting what can make an episode of The Amazing Race such good TV. Going into the episode, however, I have to say that I was a little disenchanted with the idea of this being the second part to an unnecessary two-part leg, but once it got going, it more than made up for that fact.
Failing to utilize a time equalizing bit of trans-production interference or brutally simple challenges for one of the first times all season, “Release the Brake!” instead gave us solid tasks, little obvious show interjection, and gorgeous scenery. It was a more mental episode than some of the physicality-focused installments in recent times, though there were physical elements to the car driving and the boat rowing, and that made the show feel a little fresher than it had been feeling. As innovative as The Amazing Race can be, they can get trapped in bad habits and though “Release the Brake!” wasn’t revolutionary television or anything, it felt a little closer to the show’s glory days.
I mean, how could you not enjoy how apathetic Ernie’s instructor was to everything? Or the adorable bond between Bill and Cathi, who have gotten more joy out of this race than everybody else combined? Hell, even the product placement wasn’t as daunting to deal with as past episodes, partly because the stop/slalom/doughnut challenge was so cool and partly because the rest of the episode was interesting enough for it not to stick out. Another major positive, some of my favorite installments of The Amazing Race have seen the detour pretty evenly split between each task and tonight was no exception, with three teams building a raft and two teams selling waffles. Both continue with this season’s dedication to details, as the boat option forced the teams to spot two “half clues” while rowing down a local waterway and the waffle option involved lots of strategically placed fruit that frustrated the whipped cream out of Jeremy and Sandy.
One could argue that challenges like this are misleading and that they aren’t an indication of a team’s true talent, but I think that they test your ability to see the whole picture and value methodical work over the typical chicken-with-its-head-cut-off approach that a lot of racers tend to take whilst frustrated. Of course, too many of them and a season starts becoming redundant, but at least this type of challenge works out discernible skills that a team should have. Other challenges this season have been more time waster, less culling the wheat from the chaff and for next season to take a step up, it needs to focus on the latter and seriously dial down the former.
Capped off by an emotional elimination of grandparents Bill and Cathi, “Release the Brake!” was the first episode of this season of The Amazing Race to actually challenge the contestants; instead of relying on outside forces to provide the drama and have the teams react the entire time, it felt like everyone had to get a little more proactive and that made for a better show all around. It’s almost as if the show isn’t trusting its casting and feels like they have to make their presence more known to keep people interested, but Sunday’s episode showed that not to be the case, as I was actively involved in the drama and not just admiring the sites and sounds of the location this time. There are only two more episodes left in this season of The Amazing Race and it looks like things are finally getting interesting.
But is it too late?
Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:
-“That’s what we call a doughnut here in Belgium.”
-“I don’t know. ‘Cause they’re tall…and we’re not.”
-“We’ll call that waffle Ernie. He farts.”
-Historical Facts of the Episode: Belgium has more castles per square mile than any other country. Also, Belgium is the number one place for pigeon racing. Word to Mike Tyson.
-Andy/Tommy pretty much have this locked up, no? They’re running a Meghan/Cheyne kind of race, having finished first in six of the ten legs.
-What was more annoying: Andy’s whole God spiel about his jealousy over not doing the road block or Marcus’s constant empty sports cliches?
-There are casting spoilers for season 20 floating around the ‘net, if you’re into that kind of thing.
-The teeny clue reminded me of an old Will Ferrell Saturday Night Live sketch with a teeny cell phone/computer. Anybody else?
-Final Order: (1) Andy/Tommy, (2) Jeremy/Sandy, (3) Ernie/Cindy, (4) Amani/Marcus, (5) Bill/Cathi
-Next week on The Amazing Race: As the race heads to Panama, Sandy’s freaking out at a heights challenge and the teams look for clues on dresses. Who will make it to the final three?