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Amazing Race alliances took out one team. Did they take out another?

On paper, The Amazing 32’s episode looks incredibly simple: shop at a market, take a boat to the site of the season’s first Detour, complete one task, and then check in at the pit stop. In practice, it was far from simple. Instead of being dependent on external factors, like cab drivers, the leg relied on team’s ability to navigate an unfamiliar space where they didn’t speak the language. In many ways, it reminded me of early Amazing Race. But there was some new Amazing Race in the mix, too, in the form of alliances, which basically amounted to some teams helping each other—or actively trying to hurt teams they weren’t aligned with.

The leg began with Phil saying “all teams will now book their flights to Manaus, Brazil, using the fast and easy Travelocity mobile app,” and I perked up: teams on The Amazing Race were booking flights?! It may not have been the same drama as sitting in airport ticket offices trying to get a flight before another team, but I’ll take it!

Alas, it was just an ad: producers forcing the cast to use the Travelocity app, which made for a super-clunky start to the episode. “That was actually really fast,” Chee said, which was either actual incredulity (they told me to say it was fast and it turned out it actually was!) or just some great acting. Even worse, the Travelocity app put them all on the exact same flight to Brazil, completely erasing their standing from the last leg. (Yes, I’m going to blame the Travelocity app.)

Fun fact: I flew into Manaus on my way to cover Survivor: Tocantins, changing planes there for Plamas, which was the closest airport to Jalapão, where the season was filmed.

When teams arrived at the market in Manaus, it was difficult to follow linear progress, because both the teams and the editing were all over the place.

Actually, the editing was a wreck, starting with some out-of-control frankenbiting. That’s when editors create sentences out of clips of audio, essentially making people say things they didn’t actually say—at least not as it appears on TV.

At the start of the episode, James said, “Being a super-fan of the race, I know that it’s important to always be one step ahead the other teams, so I think it’s time to knock some people down on the totem pole.” I listened to that through headphones, and he very clearly did not say all those words, in that order, at the same time; you can hear the changes in audio tone and environment. Perhaps it was obvious how fake that soundbite is; what actual super-fan would attribute their super-fandom to knowing it’s important to be ahead of other teams? That is literally the definition of a race! But still, The Amazing Race needs to be better than this; it shouldn’t need shady editing.

Later, the editors appeared to reuse Frank saying “dammit!” on the boat when he and his dad, Jerry, discovered they’d been U-Turned. The “dammit”s sound identical to me, and one way you can tell that the editors are lying to you is that you don’t actually see a person’s face when you’re hearing them speak, and that was the case for Frank’s alleged second “dammit.”

The task in the market was brilliant in its simplicity: Teams had to shop for items on a list. Some of it was food, like peppers and fruit peels, and some equipment, like gloves and a machete. But the list was in Portuguese, requiring most teams to get help from locals—or each other.

There was a lot of sharing of knowledge in the chaotic passing, and I think that’s the real advantage of “alliances,” though that word still doesn’t seem appropriate for this particular game. Knowing where to go instead of wasting a few minutes is critically important, especially in this era of The Amazing Race’s life, where legs are basically just a few hours long.

What didn’t get shared was perhaps the most important part of the clue: the requirement that they take their purchases with them. Yes, despite the lesson that all teams had at the truck-decorating challenge, most teams neglected to read their clues carefully this week.

One team wasted time looking for a clue: Michelle and Victoria couldn’t find their final clue, which was right next to the U-Turn board. As Michelle explained at the pit stop, “We were in a panic, and we need to slow down and look at everything before we start running. Lesson learned.”

Will and James, who were in first place for most of the leg, had read their clue and were very happy with themselves that they’d followed directions and everyone else did not. But once they got on their boat, they realized not once but twice that they were missing items from the list, and had to go back and find it.

They stayed in first the whole leg, and won a trip for two to Bali complete with “all-inclusive dining and on-site water sports,” and I gather that neither Phil nor Will nor James burst out laughing when Phil said that last part because they are better people than me.

The process of unpacking and getting their items checked by a judge on the beach resulted in a lot of items being left behind and confusion about whose fish was whose, or where a machete went.

After the boat ride, which some teams took multiple times to fetch their bags, they got another clue thanks to a tribe chief who used a blow dart to get their clue out of the tree. I thought the race was going to make teams attempt that, so I was disappointed that it was basically just a demonstration.

Also, when he introduced this part of the leg, Phil Keoghan shared a fun fact: “Ten percent of the 500 indigenous tribes living along the Amazon River have never had contact with the outside world,” he said. Since he immediately introduced the chief after that, it seemed for a moment like he meant that this was one of those tribes, so now an American reality TV show crew and its teams of two racing for $1 million would also be first contact, and that seemed like a bad idea.

The effect of Amazing Race’s alliances

Frank Eaves asks their boat captain to turn around after Frank and Jerry realized they forgot to bring the supplies with them
Frank Eaves asks their boat captain to turn around after Frank and Jerry realized they forgot to bring the supplies with them (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

The recap at the start of The Amazing Race’s third episode reminded us that, in last week’s second leg, Kaylynn and Haley were helped by Alana and Leo, who told them what they were doing wrong at the truck-decorating challenge.

On Twitter, a viewer asked, “is it crazy convenient that Alana and Leo decided to help the only other white team left at the trucks?? ‘We really like them’…sure…that’s what it was.”

Alana replied: “It’s true. Implicit bias is real and I’m ashamed to admit it.”

In another tweet, Alana wrote:

“1. Implicit bias is real and is often unexamined by white women like myself, whose actions/sanctity justify the most heinous forms of racism–something I’ll forever be working on
2. Black lives matter
3. If you don’t agree, go fuck yourself”

I was very impressed by both: her willingness to own her behavior and recognize the potential for implicit, unconscious bias to come into play. And also her willingness to tell the racists to fuck themselves.

It’d be better if that biases didn’t affect other people’s games, of course, but the only way we get there is for all of us white people to start thinking critically about our own actions.

Leo and Alana helping made them a target, at least for Will and James, who directly drew the connection between that assistance and the end of the race for another team. “They helped some other teams during the truck challenge,” Will said. “That caused the Olympians, Kellie and LaVonne, to be eliminated.”

So when Will and James arrived at the first of two U-Turns this season, they used it on Alana and Leo, forcing them to complete the other half of the Detour challenge before going to the pit stop. They were tired and exhausted and not thrilled. “I feel awful, and it’s because of them,” Alana told Phil on the mat.

Fun fact: They are all friends now, and their group text group is titled “U-Turn.”

Since Alana and Leo were in a relatively solid position, the U-Turn affected them but didn’t end their game. But Will and James’ decision reverberated. When Kaylynn and Haley arrived at the U-Turn, they decided to U-Turn Jerry and Frank—just to help Leo and Alana, to give them a team to beat. Their rationale was that Jerry and Frank were already in last place, having had to turn around and go back for their bag of groceries.

By the way: Where did Kaylynn and Haley come from? Because I don’t recall actually seeing them on the race before the end of last week’s episode.

In an interview, Leo said, “They made incredibly brilliant strategic move to help us.” I don’t know if we can call that “brilliant,” “strategic,” or “incredible,” but it was definitely a move—one that returned the favor from last leg.

Update: Leo—who previously posted a thread about “how racism works,” noting that, “You accidentally feel closer, more kinship, to someone who looks like you, you take actions to get closer to them, and you end up helping them out more when they really need it”—tweeted this morning about the events of last night’s episode. He wrote that Kaylynn and Haley “saved us because we’d saved them. They knew Frank & Jerry were the only team behind us, and they u-turned them to give us a fighting chance so we could keep working together. We loved every team, but I wish Riley and Madison had been behind us & gotten sent home.” He added, “Like Alana said: if we take out the strong teams, then WE can be the strong team.”

Jerry and Frank were actually far, far behind, as they were the entire leg: they didn’t immediately find the market in Manaus, spending time looking around the beach first. They didn’t get all the required things. Then they took a boat ride all the way to the Detour before realizing that they, too, were missing their stuff, and had to turn around and go back.

The editing, as always, did its best to suggest that Jerry and Frank, and Alana and Leo, were fighting for last place. But looking carefully, it was clear that Jerry and Frank were the very last team at the cooking Detour task; no one else was around. And by the time they arrived at the other task, Leo and Alana were nowhere to be seen. Leo confirmed this, saying that Jerry and Frank “were still working on the cooking task” when Leo and Alana completed their task.

So even if they hadn’t been U-Turned, Jerry and Frank would probably have been eliminated. But The Amazing Race 32 came awfully close to having two legs in a row with white teams helping each other and causing the season’s only two Black teams to be eliminated—and on the same night that Big Brother 22 ended its season where an alliance of white people dominated by first taking out all the people of color and minorities.

As I tweeted this morning, what’s interesting about both of these is that I have seen no evidence of explicit racism. And many of the actions, individually, may just be good game play! But I do think the pattern is important to note, just as it’s important for us white people to think about our implicit biases and how those might affect either our game play or our response to it.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.