The Amazing Race forgets to make its challenges actually challenging

Is it possible to be an apologist for The Amazing Race after one of its task–a Speed Bump, no less–is sitting on a chair for 10 minutes? I don’t care that it was made of ice. That’s moronic. Make a chair from ice and then sit in it, maybe.

If that wasn’t enough to make this episode weak, this season’s big twist, the Express Pass, came and went with no drama at all. There was some entertainment with the Detour task, because it’s always fun to watch people fall over in snow, but nothing this week required much skill at all, or at least if it did, that had little impact on the teams.

The challenges aren’t challenging, and neither are the clues, which means the race has pretty much been reduced to people running around as dramatic music plays. At least they did some volunteer work before heading off on last night’s journey to the Arctic Circle, which of course Nick thought was accessible by cab.

  • When they learned they were heading to Sweden, neither Katie or Rachel, members of that team that showed up last week, said, “I do not speak Swedish at all. I can say dumb girl, dumb boy, and dumb monkey in Romanian.” And then they disappeared again.
  • In some actually interesting airport intrigue, Kevin and Michael discovered there was an earlier connecting flight besides the tickets that had been pre-purchased for them. For some reason they decided to share this with Mallory and her silent dad, and then for some other reason, they decided to let her try to get them tickets. After a man helped her out, she said made faces at him and said, “He’s like my best friend in the whole world.” Then she added, “I’m so glad I’ve got blonde hair.” And I am glad I don’t understand what that means.
  • The teams with the earlier connecting flight had to run for it, which Mallory called “the run of our lives.” Kevin and Michael were trapped in an elevator, but were saved by the commercial break and made the flight they’d originally found.
  • Upon learning that three other teams made an earlier flight, Connor or Jonathan said, “We’re now in a five-way sprint to not get last.” As opposed to, what, the eight-way sprint to not get last?
  • At the ice hotel’s storage facility in Sweden, Michael and Kevin learned about their Speed Bump: They had to sit on chairs made of ice for 10 minutes. Kevin said, “This is hard. Harder than I thought.” I hope he meant the ice being firm, because that was the least challenging, lamest challenge ever.
  • For the roadblock, one team member had to mush dogs. That was probably fun for them, but the dogs just pulled the team members around as they grabbed flags. Stephanie said, “They’re doing way more of a race than me right now,” and she was right, because the team members didn’t have to do anything. The most interesting thing for me was occasionally spotting the four-wheel vehicles on which camera operators were riding.
  • When Brook got her clue and asked for a kiss, she informed us that she and Claire “have this kiss count going.” All I could think about was Thursday’s episode of The Office.
  • Jill and Thomas got lost and were behind, so they kept debating use of the express pass they won in the first episode. “Do you want to use the express pass?” Jill asked. Thomas said, “We don’t need to panic yet,” but later said, “we could easily bypass this and just kill everybody.” Jill added, “We don’t want to get eliminated and not use our express pass.” I was convinced all of this chatter meant that they’d wait too long to use it or not use it at all, and be eliminated anyway. As it was, they used it but just landed in the middle of the pack. Drama fail.
  • The detour task was a choice between building a tent and sliding down a mountain on a “tech sled.” That required a bit of skill, or at least, some team members were challenged by it. “Come on Kat,” Nat said, as Kat was lying on the side of the course, having gone off the track. Connor and Jonathan flipped over repeatedly and eventually changed tasks. Chad and Stephanie were told it was fast, and she said, “I’ve never been more scared in my entire life,” and that fear was enough to keep her from trying again after she didn’t make it down fast enough the first time.
  • Connor and Jonathan ultimately came in last place and were eliminated–on the same day their graduation ceremony was being held at Princeton. Of course, they sang pomp and circumstance as they approached Phil, which was amusing. Connor said, “It’s like we graduated from Princeton,” and Jonathan added, “and graduated from the race,” and Connor finished, “all in one day.” Um, no, you flunked out of the race. Metaphor and race fail.

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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.