Russia brings challenging challenges, changes reminiscent of the old Amazing Race

I waited until enough of The Amazing Race 17 had passed to report on my conversation with Phil Keoghan about my disappointment with the show, mostly because I wanted to consider his comments about this season being an improvement. As of last week, I was confident this season was another dud, even with its awesome highlights. While Phil said this season was better, I wasn’t convinced.

A single episode does not make a season, but last night’s episode was by far the best yet, for a number of reasons. One of the suggestions I had in my list of ways to fix The Amazing Race was for the race to slow the fuck down. And it did just that at the start of the episode, showing us time with the contestants on a train, which was reminiscent of the segments when we used to see teams mingle at the pit stop before they took off again. I really would have been content with five or 10 minutes of this footage.

Later, after three–three!–strong challenges, the editors didn’t even try to fake a race to the finish line. Perhaps that was because Nick and Vicki were so far in last place the sun had set and there was no reason to try to fake something, or perhaps it was because they were saved by a non-elimination leg and that was the dramatic moment.

Either way, it was a welcome change. The episode was not particularly intense or stressful to watch, and that’s okay.

  • Boarding a train to Stockholm, Jill asked Thomas if he’d ever slept on a train, and he said, “Yeah, of course.” He’s the most accomplished person in the world, clearly, because he’s always done everything, and likes to point that out to Jill.
  • Some of the more entertaining footage we got of the teams on the train included Brook smelling her compartment mates’ socks. “Where are Kat’s at? I want to smell her’s,” Brook said.
  • Stephanie and Chad were the last to find a taxi, and Chad blew up at Stephanie. Again. “I just think that’s really shady” to blame her, Stephanie told Chad, and he replied, “Shady.” He’s the worst villain ever.
  • Brook said, “We’re in Russia and we’re rushing.” I can’t wait, then, until you go to Shutupville.
  • In Saint Petersburg, Russai, Nick admired the architecture and said, “I like how they keep all their buildings instead of blowing ’em up.” You can’t make this shit up.
  • The Detour challenges were challenging. Teams either had to listen to three songs playing on gramaphones and then identify which piano player, in two rooms full of piano players, was playing the same song, or they had to dig through a huge pile of film strips, literally, to find one with scenes that matched what was playing overhead. While the film one may have been a bit more luck than skill, they seemed evenly matched as challenges, and both were fun to watch, too. Chad said, “It was ridiculous.” And Vicki commented, “It was mentally exhausting.” While I imagine that Vicki would be exhausted reading the menu at Taco Bell, they were challenging.
  • At the music Detour, Chad said, “I just feel like we’re done,” but then revealed he didn’t want to quit, and Stephanie smartly pointed out that we’re “just standing here talking about quitting.” Sometime before he suggested he’d have Stephanie wear the babushka outfit while cleaning the house, he told us in an interview that it’s difficult “sitting back and letting someone take the lead, especially my girlfriend. No offense.” Offense taken, you sexist asswipe.
  • Chad also said, “I’m going to try very hard to remember these lessons,” which is all nice and good, except he hasn’t yet done anything to improve his behavior on the race, so is he just going to defer his growth and cessation of his sexism until after he’s not on TV?
  • At the Roadblock, while Brook stepped in manure and started screeching, babushka-clad Kevin was bonding with this Russian helper. “I think I fell in love a little bit,” he said.
  • Mallory was searching for her equipment to get to the potato-planting Roadblock, and said, “Why is this so hard?” Excellent question. Asking for directions, a man lifted her over a fence, but she quickly realized he wasn’t interested in giving directions. “I just found a new friend,” she said, although the fact that she thought he was speaking Swedish in Russia meant that was a relationship that wasn’t going to last.
  • Nick ran into similar problems, as locals just wanted to take pictures with him, not help him with his clues. One man came over to him, hugged him, and said, “America, friendship!” For The Amazing Race 17, Russia certainly was a great ally.

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