The Amazing Race 17 lived up to the adjective in its name not because of the race or its elements, but on the strength (of its last-place team) and the stupidity (of most) of its teams. That’s it.
The lameness of this season as a reality competition is becoming very apparent. First, the teams left the pit stop with just 32 minutes separating first and last, suggesting very little difficulty last week despite what the editing and intense music suggest. This episode’s challenges went like this: take a taxi, box and jump rope for one minute, take a taxi, fill two wheelbarrows full of stuff, roll them down a road, roll a bicycle rim across a field or find a series of symbols on a wall. No challenges there.
The patheticness of the tasks as challenges was mitigated only by the fact that there was drama and movement within the pack. And as a nice bonus, instead of blowing through a small village in Ghana, the teams were told by Phil Keoghan that they were going to renovate a school “give something back to the community here.”
- Learning that Roadblock would involve boxing, Brook said, “Claire and I train at a boxing facility.” I had no idea being a home shopping channel host was so brutal.
- “I’m Jonathan. I’m Connor,” the singing college students announced to their cab driver. They did not say “and we’re dorks,” but instead demonstrated that by singing “please drive faster.” Considering how many teams over 17 seasons have been asses to their cab drivers, I’ll take the dorkiness any day.
- The Roadblock was 60 seconds of boxing and 60 seconds of jumping rope. And because of football’s overrun, I had to wait 60 minutes through 60 Minutes to see that.
- Kevin decided to do the Roadblock, telling us, “I thought it’d be very physical” and “my dad would probably be very tired afterwards.” After two minutes of exercise? As we found out later, that probably wasn’t an exaggeration.
- Nat and Kat had an uncooperative cab driver; when they tried to ask for directions, he said, “sit down. I will drive,” and told them “no” when they told him to turn around. Maybe they should have tried singing?
- Phil explained that to get a clue, all the teams had to do was “deliver all the right supplies,” which were helpfully listed on their clue, in English. Yet many teams struggled with this for some unknown reason. Jonathan said, “This is really hard. It’s hot. We got bricks in our wheelbarrows, dirt, potholey road.” You also have lots of whining about your incredibly easy task.
- Katie, who I don’t remember being on the race until now, told her teammate, “Rachel, I don’t think we need two” wheelbarrows. Rachel said, “It says a pair of wheelbarrows.” Katie insisted they didn’t because other teams were only using one. “Well, they’re idiots,” Rachel said. I like her, and I’m glad the producers decided to add them mid-race.
- Nick, who’s kind of an asshole, told Vicki “you have no common sense in your body. … It’s fifth grade reading …. It’s a joke.” I’m not fond of him berating his teammate, but I’m with him about the wheelbarrow task being a joke.
- At the school, teams had to take an African geography quiz. Not a very TV-friendly task, but okay and rather challenging, particularly identifying Ghana on a map. Jonathan and Connor had trouble, and Connor said, “Our friends at Princeton are probably going to grill us for that.” And don’t forget how much fun they’ll make of you for using the phrase “grill us” incorrectly. Meanwhile, Jonathan tried to impress the schoolkids by telling them that Princeton has an African studies major, which is like saying, “We’re extra dumb.”
- Mallory tried to be profound and ended up being, well, not. “It makes you appreciate your way of life,” she said of her contact with people and places in Ghana. “We don’t know anything different except for freedom and luxury and justice.” Yep, the cornerstones of American society.
- Brook and Claire didn’t read the explanation for the Detour, which involved using a decoder to find several symbols, and then circle them in the right order on a huge wall covered with those symbols. “Oh my gosh, I think we have to circle small African children,” Claire said. Yes, her failure to read carefully led her to actually draw a line in the sand around kids who were playing, which other teams copied because they, too, failed to read. “Oh maybe the small African children don’t have anything to do with it,” she finally realized. I’m just glad they didn’t pick the other Detour task and try to roll a kid through a field.
- Some teams opted for that other Detour task, rolling a bicycle rim across a field. When his partner struggled with it, Chad screamed, “Stephanie, get a bigger stick!” If you can’t find one, Stephanie, both Nick and Chad have giant ones up their asses.
- Vicki told Nick, “babe, I can’t breathe,” telling us her asthma kicked in. Nick stopped acting like an asshole at that point. “I felt kinda crappy for treating her the way I did; she didn’t deserve it, she’s a good teammate,” he said of Vicki. That’s nice, but too bad it took her not being able to breathe for him to realize this.
- “Our eyes were, like, deceiving us,” Jill said, as she and Thomas ran right past the giant decoder wall which wasn’t even hidden: it was right there! These are the best TAR moments, when the camera operator points the camera right at something that a team member is searching for.
- Michael, who’s 59, couldn’t do the bicycle rim task, after he and his son switched tasks because they couldn’t find the decoder wall, either. The heat (it was 98 degrees) and dehydration got to Michael, who “had to get medical help,” Kevin explained. His dad said, “I’m disappointed; I am the one to cause us to be in last place.” But Kevin was calm and supportive even as his dad broke down, and walked with him as Michael finished the task after taking a break and getting medical help. Expecting to be eliminated at the mat, they learned from Phil that this was the first non-elimination leg. Kevin said, “No way. Dad, see? That’s why you don’t give up.” And moments like this are why I don’t give up on TAR.