As The Amazing Race 33 revealed at the end of its third episode last week, only five of the nine remaining teams returned after the 1.5 year, COVID-caused break.
But the race restarted in Switzerland with seven teams, because the race brought back the first two eliminated teams: Michael and Moe, and Natalia and Arun.
While I’m not a fan of Survivor’s Edge of Extinction, I think this is a very fair way to proceed. Had the producers brought in brand-new teams, that would have been odd. And had they brought in teams who’d run the race before, that would have created an unfair imbalance.
The return of two eliminated teams doesn’t affect the remaining five teams’ chances in the way it affects the game on Survivor. Considering how the race’s many equalizers restart the race, they’re all starting from the same place.
Plus, Michael and Moe and Natalia and Arun were recently eliminated; it’s not like they were brought back after missing three-quarters of the race, like what happened on Survivor.
The bigger question for me going into this episode was what the new route and tasks would look like, and what the effect of having “a safe plan in place,” as host Phil Keoghan described it, would look like. Can the world be waiting for you during a pandemic?
Phil mentioned a few adjustments, such as the charter plane, no public transportation, and “a lot more self-driving.”
I was curious if they’d be in public spaces, and if so, masked or otherwise isolated from people. That was answered pretty quickly, as they took off running through a town, unmasked. Obviously, that’s fine, but what would happen when they encountered people?
There were, from my perspective as an anxious person who reads a lot about COVID safety, some inconsistent safety measures. The teams were masked on the gondola they all took together, but then when they were waiting for the gondolas, some of them did not have their masks on, even though strangers nearby did.
Meanwhile, we saw Kim and Penn, and Sheri and Akbar, and Natalia and Arun all stop strangers for directions, and they had close, unmasked contact. Talking to someone for a a minute or two outside is probably not a huge risk, relative to other risks, but I was still surprised that wasn’t prohibited, considering just how a single infection could affect the race and its crew. And this was happening during the time of Delta.
Other reality (and scripted) shows have the ability to create a locked-down bubble environment—and some of them still had issues with infections. Here, the cast and crew are moving through the world, which is inherently riskier, and interacting with the public adds to that risk, not just for that team, but for the entire production that’s traveling in close quarters on that charter plane.
My assumption is that all of the people working on tasks, such as the guides for the mountain hike or the people teaching them the flag dance, were tested and vaccinated, basically treated like crew members, so that didn’t worry me.
They began racing in Switzerland, and the beautiful vistas reminded me of The Mole season two, which started there, too.
That also made me miss The Mole’s tasks, because this leg was pretty weak. The leg began with teams racing for one of three busses, which didn’t have any affect since they all ended up riding the same gondola together.
The Roadblock provided the best visuals and drama, with one member of each team running—with a safety guide—along the literal mountaintops.
Sheri volunteered but struggled due to her fear of heights. I was amazed at how fast some of the teams were running across loose gravel at the tops of mountains, and I probably would have been there with Sheri, taking my time.
The biggest surprise of the episode for me was that Akbar and Sheri landed in fifth place—and it surprised them, too! They seemed just too far behind, and their conflict telegraphed a last-place finish. But no! There were two teams behind them, the same two teams who came in last place on the first two legs.
Part of what made the Detour tasks less-than-interesting was that last episode had “Donald Where’s Your Troosers,” and the flag Detour was basically a watered-down version of that—just learning some choreography with flags. I don’t want to suggest that it was easy, but it just didn’t make for really great television comparatively. The other detour, adding bling to belts, didn’t sparkle, either.
What I’d really like to know is what this task was, and why it was cut out of the episode:
CBS has six press photos of teams in a field with these big green balls, but the captions don’t identify the location or the task, alas.
That photo shows Michael and Moe, who came in last place once again, despite having been in first place earlier in the leg. The had trouble navigating, but I do wonder if this mystery task—or travel to or from it—played into creating that gap for them, and closing the gap for Akbar and Sheri.
Other moments I noticed during the episode, along with a little bit of snark:
- When Phil asked the teams about their experiences during the last year and a half, Ryan—who spent a decade in prison after being wrongly convicted for a murder he didn’t commit—joked, “I’m used to being locked down. I just transitioned straight back into prison life.” I’m already impressed by how he’s turned his experience into activism, but to be able to laugh about it like this instead of being (justifiably) bitter or angry is really impressive.
- Natalia got married during the break, and Phil asked her if “your husband was okay with you coming away.” No, Phil, she escaped!
- Dusty said that he and Ryan decided they’d use the break in the race to “polish where we felt like we were weak.” Later, Dusty described one of Ryan’s body parts by saying “they look like a couple of bowling balls stuffed in onion sacks.” He’s just making the jokes too easy.
- “I’ll be better,” Akbar said, and then proceeded to be the same as he was 1.5 years earlier, getting quickly frustrated and annoyed with Sheri. When Akbar told Sheri how to do something with the flag, she said, “Shut up,” and he said, “I thought you said you wasn’t going to say shut up no more.” Sheri said, “Well, you deserve the shut up.” Indeed.
- Phil introduced the Roadblock by saying it was possible to see Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Germany, and Switzerland from one spot, and then said the team members would “get high 8,000 feet above sea level.” That part was apparently cut from the episode, too.
- Sheri said “a plethora of things” slowed her down on the Roadblock, and “plethora” is a word I cannot hear without thinking of this scene in Three Amigos, which is where I first heard it.
- Penn was one of the people zipping around the mountaintop, and as he passed people, he was literally dragging his guide behind him. Kim said that was “so hot.” Coming soon to Only Fans: videos of Penn racing past other people.
- When the teams got into their cars for their first self-driving experience in Switzerland, Arun declared, “It’s not stick, thank god!” But Raquel was disappointed: “I really wanted to showcase my hard-earned stick shift skills like the bad-ass that I am.” Those crafty Amazing Race producers: giving teams 1.5 years to learn how to drive stick shift and then giving them a vehicle with automatic transmission.
- Ryan and Dusty thinking about switching Detours showed them holding up two single-spaced pieces of paper with what I presume are the details and rules about each of the tasks. We typically just see the summary of the task, but the teams can look at the details. Ryan said “you don’t know” what the other task is like, but I do wonder if information on those pages convinced them to not switch.
- Raquel and Cayla, and Lala and Lulu, all arrived at the mat the same time, and Cayla told Phil they were both rooting for each other, because “it’s been a while since an all-female team won.” I did not realize how long it has been: since season 25 in 2014.
- Ryan and Dusty’s prize for arriving first at the mat was $2,500 cash; no trip, no sponsorship. Did COVID-19 take down the Travelocity gnome, too?