Switchback leads Amazing Race teams to become more functional, not less

I missed The Amazing Race 15 episode last night, as I was driving back to DC with friends from Pittsburgh, where we saw the set of Mister Rogers Neighborhood of Make Believe, which was on display probably for the last time ever in its original studio. After flying home today, I turned on the TV and started watching just when Andy Rooney was finishing his commentary.

Seriously, something more surprising happened: I was expecting that the episode with the infamous hay roll task would be meltdown central, especially after there were literal roadblocks leading up to that task, from late flights to missed trains. There were minor meltdowns, but ultimately the task emphasized what strong relationships all of the remaining teams have with their partners. What the hell is going on here?

  • Before their flight to Sweden, Flight Time suggested a birthday visit to Amsterdam’s red light district. “We could head down there and say we went to use the Internet,” he said. All I could picture was that whistling Globetrotter’s music being used as the soundtrack for bad hotel porn.
  • Sam and Dan, and Meghan and Cheyne, all got on a train just before the doors closed, leading two of them to analyze what had just happened with incredible intelligence and insight. Cheyne said, “We just made this one,” and then Sam said, “We just made this one.”
  • Introducing a task, Phil explained, “Teams will now play a game of roaming gnome ring toss.” And I will play a game of rolling my eyes.
  • Deciding to do the Detour, Meghan declared that they would “blow something up!” I could have sworn that would be foreshadowing, like they were going to blow up their relationship.
  • Hey, did you know two Harlem Globetrotters are on this season of the race? There were two guys wearing t-shirts and the Globetrotters’ theme music played every time they were on screen, causing me to repeatedly stab at the mute button so hard I broke multiple fingers.
  • Before a free-fall ride dropped her straight down, Ericka uttered the best three words of the night: “Aw, hell no!”
  • Brian was dismayed that Ericka won the carnival game to get their gnome. “The guy is supposed win his girl something at the fair, not the other way around,” he said. Thankfully, Ericka took care of smacking that nonsense down, and she did it with just one word: “2009.”
  • Foreshadowing what looks to be like a physical confrontation next week, Sam or Dan said to the Globetrotters when they arrived at the dynamite Detour, “Did you fans help you get here?” Oh, yay, pointless childish taunting! I think I’d like Sam and Dan better if they’d just, like, race. Big Easy said, “Our feelings hurt. Now we’re about to blow you all up.”
  • Meghan told Cheyne, “You’re not working with me.” That was an understatement: He pulled a sandbag away as she threw a shovel full of dirt.
  • Gary and Matt had trouble navigating around Sweden. Matt said, “We’re back where we started,” after the two comically named multiple Swedish town names. For a while, they sounded like they were browsing the aisles at Ikea.
  • The first-ever Switchback brought back what Phil said was “one of the most infamous and daunting challenges in Amazing Race history.” That was during season six, when Lena and Christie spent 10 hours looking through bales of hay for a clue, and never found one; they were eliminated in the field by Phil. This time, Phil emphasized that the teams had to “search thoroughly” through 186 hay bales to find one of seven race flags. Even that sentence makes it sound difficult.
  • Sam and Dan immediately started fighting, with Sam looking at the side of the hay bale, and Dan saying, “No, it unrolls.” Sam insisted, “No, it doesn’t,” but of course it did. Dan said, “I should’ve done this one,” but proved immediately that he shouldn’t have, because he yelled at Sam for actually looking through the hay for the flag. Although Sam told us, “I stopped listening to him about 10 years ago,” the two kept bickering.
  • After he and Ericka finished the dynamite Detour, Brian told Gary and Matt, “It’s a blast. Pardon the pun.” No, we won’t, because that was pretty bad, dang blast it.
  • Meghan asked Cheyne, “me or you,” but her boyfriend stared back with an empty look in his eyes. “I kind of wish he had just said ‘do it,’ but we’re kind of having a bad day,” she said.
  • Eventually, Dan realized, “I probably should have shut my mouth from the very beginning.” Of the race.
  • After sounding defeated, Meghan finally found a flag. “Let me go surprise Cheyne,” she told us, and then whined to him, “Baby, I can’t do it any more.” It was a great moment because he lit up when she revealed the truth, and on the mat, showered her with praise about being a great race and life partner. Though he was aloof this leg, the Switchback task redeemed Cheyne from the sidelines.
  • Dan also found redemption when Sam found a flag. He cried after they checked in, and told Phil, “I was being such a jerk yelling at him. There’s no reason to do that.” Amazing: Another functional relationship.
  • After two hours and 45 minutes, Gary found a flag, and they checked in. Finally, a non-elimination round appeared, saving the father and son, who were also in a good mood despite checking in last. It was truly amazing how all of the stress and anger led to realization and growth rather than meltdowns. And it made good TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.