Tears flow in India on Amazing Race, and not just over the sad product placement

For the second time in two weeks, we’ve essentially had a team give up and fall behind. They’ve come short of quitting, but there wasn’t a nail-biting finish, just an inevitable elimination after half the teams checked in simultaneously. (There was more tension from the possibility that one of the teams’ taxis would be hit by another car in the insane traffic.) Perhaps this speaks to the exhaustion the teams face on The Amazing Race, but it’s also familiar.

The next time Margie and Luke appear on we can just call that season “Uncried Tears,” which is perhaps what they should have called last night’s episode. I suppose Luke has been remarkably restrained this season, not breaking down and bawling as much as he did last time, but the frustration of a task flipped that switch. And Luke’s whining started at the beginning when they read that their first clue came in a tea shop: “No, we’re staying in China. Damn it.”

Another equalizer meant every team was even as the challenges began in India, but I’ll forgive it this week because it gave us a great moment of comedy when the other teams told Mallory to keep looking for a clue and she freaked out in her own Mallory way. Mallory can be annoying, but there is something appealing about her endless enthusiasm, especially as a contrast to Luke’s endless frustration. “I already love India,” she said as they emerged into the chaos outside the airport. (Legs of the race in India are always interesting, especially because of the way crowds of people line up at a respectful distance to watch everything from challenges to Phil’s explanations.)

And she doesn’t give up, which is admirable. The Roadblock task was again a search through lots of things, but with a great twist, since it was connected to a tea tasting teams did before leaving China together. Christina asked what kind of tea it is, which we didn’t see any other team do, perhaps due to their inability to speak the same language, or perhaps because it didn’t occur to them. But that didn’t really matter, because, like a Jeopardy clue, the task had a clue embedded in it, as once they were in India, they had to carry a papaya and mango to someone before starting to taste. Ron immediately found the tea thanks to its smell, and others picked up on that. But not Luke.

Luke eventually broke down and started crying, saying, “It’s too hard.” Margie told him, “I know how you’ll feel if you don’t finish.” Even Big Easy encouraged him: “Don’t stop, Luke. Keep going.” Eventually, after the Globetrotters left, all of the men in the tea tasting room started clapping for Luke, and it appeared as though the tea options were reduced down to just a few–maybe he actually drank every other cup on the table, but it seemed like they basically made it easier for him. He finally found the right one, and all of them men clapped for him and then picked him up like he’d just scored a soccer goal.

“I’m so proud of him,” Margie said, and I understand why a mother would say that, but really? From his breakdown to the way they basically made it easy for him to finish, it didn’t seem like his best moment. At the end, after they were eliminated, Luke talked about how being on the race “was a big dream for me” and said, “I had a wonderful time racing with my mom.” That’s great, but they won’t be missed as a team.

But I do understand his tears of frustration, because the episode’s end made me want to cry because of its egregious product placement. It started subtly, with a clue in the form of a label-less bottle of iced tea. That led Jen and Kisha to roam India asking, “do you know where they make the Snapple?” Eventually that changed to shouting “shut the fuck up” when they realized there was a clue with directions in the bottle’s cap.

But by the time Gary and Mallory checked in first, and learned that they’d won the right to be the first people to try Snapple’s new papaya mango Amazing Race iced tea, and then Phil Keogham handed them bottles and had them drink right there before giving them their actual prize, the subtlety had faded along with anyone’s sense of shame.

I have no problem with product placement, especially as a prize, when it makes sense to say the name and show the logo of the prize someone’s won, or to integrate a product into a task on show like The Apprentice. But the Snapple thing was out of control; it seemed laughable, like the segments in The Truman Show that were meant as satire but now are more subtle than what we just saw. At least Snapple didn’t remove Mallory’s reaction to its taste.

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