Reading is a challenge on 'The Amazing Race'

Terencegerchberg_sarahleshner_amaziSunday (Oct. 5) night's episode reminded viewers that although there are countless ways to lose on The Amazing Race, most teams prefer to do it by simply failing to read their instructions.

I just finished recapping Showtime's Dexter, so I have "theme" and "subtext" floating around in my head. Do seasons of The Amazing Race have themes? If so, this latest installment's contestants might be developing a reputation as The Gang That Couldn't Read Straight.

In last week's premiere, we saw several teams goof on a clearly labeled ticket line at LAX and then we witnessed the already annoying Terence-n-Sarah fall from first after neglecting to follow the instructions on the clue.

One would expect that a Travelocity-prize-blowing gaffe like they had last week really would have taught Terence and Sarah a lesson, but the mismatched duo did it again on Sunday night's episode. The Detour clearly instructed teams to follow a path to taxies after completing their task. Every single team read that part of the clue, saw the sign and easily hopped into a cab, every team but Sarah-n-Terence, who decided to go for a long walk and promptly fell from first place into ninth.

They may not be learning from their mistakes, but at least the blunder taught them another important lesson. As they spun in circles waiting for a cab to magically appear in the small town square, Toni-n-Dallas took pity on them, with the beefy son stopping his cab and telling the bewildered pair to hike back to the cab-stand. Through this act of generosity, Terence discovered that there are advantages to teamwork in this game, not that he apologized to his partner for the browbeating he gave her last week when she decided to make friends.

Kellycrabb_christycook_amazingrace1So Terence-n-Sarah didn't learn from episode-to-episode, but they looked enlightened compared to Sports-Bra-Wearing Divorcees Kelly and Christy, who also got messed about by the Detour clue. Somehow the girls read down from Beach It (the boat-rolling task that every team but one decided to do) to Docket and integrated one part of the Docket clue -- something about an empty container -- into their own challenge. As one team after another rushed by them without a container in sight, Kelly and Christy started digging in the mud looking for the container that wasn't there.

They only noticed their error in the cab after giving up on ever finding an empty container, saying in unison, "We have learned to read the clue." They promptly ignored the clue's instruction to tell the cab to wait and lost several positions as a result.

"Today sucked in the arena of clue-reading," was all Kelly could say. I found myself liking the Gay Divorcees by the end of the episode and not just because I hope Kelly will take Sarah aside at one of the pit stops and tell the story of her failed marriage.

Stephaniekacandes_anthonymarotta_amActually, though, for all of the failures of literacy, the week's results had nothing to do with reading. In fact, for the second straight week, I'd be hard-pressed to explain to you what yielded the result. Anthony and Stephanie started the leg in last and ended up in last. After a taxi snafu, they were last leaving the airport and they were last finishing the Detour. I think they had opportunities to catch up at different points -- they ought to have been strong enough to capitalize during the Detour -- and the editors made an attempt to create tension at the end, but they lost because they were behind every step of the way. That's not the most dramatic of legs.

And the Roadblock that ended the leg may, in fact, be the worst task I've ever seen on The Amazing Race. There were words on a wall and the contestants had to find the right ones, but nothing in host Phil Keoghan's description of the task gave any indication of how it was supposed to be done. They were supposed to resist Brazil's laid-back beach lifestyle? What the blazes does that mean? Ultimately, I don't think a single team completed the task in the way that the producers had intended. Bill came up with the correct cheat right from the beginning, isolating 16 possible answers, writing them all down and reading a list to the clue-bearer. Did anybody succeed in a different way? I felt genuinely sorry for that poor clue-bearer, stuck listening to 10 Americans butcher 16 different locations in his native language.

Does anybody want to explain to me what was ideally supposed to have occurred during the Detour? The teams mostly finished in the order they recognized the cheat, with the exception of Dan and Andrew. The frat boys got a little jobbed, since Andrew had figured out the cheat and Nick told him they had to do it a different way. Eventually Nick got desperate and took the laundry list method, leaving Andrew to backtrack.

Last week I mentioned how I prefer Detours that reward teams who go to the less obvious option. Nine of 10 teams did Beach It, but Comic-Con Nerds Mark and Bill briefly moved into first because they went with Docket, a potentially frustrating task that asked them to find a single storage container in a huge shipping dock. Their lead lasted until Bill -- who won fans by quoting Yoda -- let Tina in on the Roadblock cheat. The ex-football player and his cuckolded wife then outran the nerds to the mat, picking up a set of dune buggies, a far more appropriate gift for a likely-to-divorce couple than a tandem vacation.

Other thoughts on this week's episode:

  • After last week's recap, a few commenters said things like "I can see why Ken cheated on Tina." Now I'm a fan of fidelity, so I don't subscribe to that sortta rhetoric, but after watching Tina's "I got the airline to give us a bigger airplane so that we could all fit. You owe me!" power trip... I may not be able to see why Ken cheated on Tina, but I also can't see why he's so eager to get back together with her either.
  • Why was the episode titled "Do You Like American Candy?" Marisa's plan to win friends and influence people via handfuls of sweets never had much to do with the episode. Instead, we mostly saw how dumb the Southern Belles are. They're no Dustin and Kandice, I can tell you that. They were also the most relentless of the attempted Spanish speakers blundering through Brazil.
  • But I still like them much more than Terence. I'll just ignore Sarah. But Terence whining and begging his girlfriend to blow on his boo-boo was comical, especially followed by his pout-fest with Tina. Ken giving Terence a kiss-on-the-cheek accepting his apology was a nice cherry on top of Terence's tantrum.
  • My pick for the episode title would have bee Anthony's "If they learn how to fix a car, they'd probably make it rich." At least Anthony and Stephanie's pity for the poor Brazilians stopped short of real Ugly Americanism. They were sorry for them, but they weren't afraid of the poverty or disgusted by it.

    What'd you think of this leg? And seriously, what was the point of the Roadblock? I acknowledge that I may have been paying more attention to the Red Sox game...

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