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Amazing Race 33 eliminated skill and replaced it with luck

Amazing Race 33 eliminated skill and replaced it with luck
Phil Keoghan with a tiny clue on The Amazing Race 33 episode 9, the season's penultimate episode. (Image via CBS)

The Amazing Race 33’s penultimate leg was compact—a drive, a Roadblock, a clue, a Detour, a Pit Stop—but did deliver a few great moments, like a dog running alongside Ryan and Dusty and some hilarious meta-commentary on the editing.

Other than navigating, which is no small task (just ask Arun and Natalia), there was absolutely no skill involved in this episode: find a rock, smash plates, done.

Oh, excuse me: advertise for Travelocity using a fake app, find a rock, listen to stoned Socrates, smash plates, done.

That makes it a perfect episode for a non-elimination leg; it’d suck for a team to be eliminated simply because they turned over the wrong rocks. But for me, there were still two problems.

First, it was way too obvious that this leg was going to be non-elimination. The finale is next week, yet Phil Keoghan did not tell teams as they checked in that they’d be racing for $1 million. There are just four teams left, and a finale usually has three teams, so that was the first tell.

Phil even refrained from eliminating Ryan and Dusty right away, telling them, “You guys have been the best performers through the race,” which was another neon sign pointing to a non-elimination leg.

The editing did its best to convince us that Arun and Natalia, and Ryan and Dusty, were actually racing against each other, running toward the pit stop at the exact same time, but Nat and Arun were so very far ahead that Ryan and Dusty weren’t at either the Detour or the pit stop while they were there.

My real issue, though, is that since the restart, every other leg has been a non-elimination leg.

That is what I feared when I asked TAR’s producers about that, and I was relieved when they said they figured out a route “without having more non-eliminations.”

I’m grateful that The Amazing Race was able to finish this season, and I have no doubt both producing it and running it was challenging—including this leg! It just hasn’t always made for the best TV.

Cayla Platt, Arun Kumar, Dusty Harris, and Kim Holderness look for gold coins in a field of stones in Thessaloniki, Greece, on The Amazing Race 33 episode 9
Cayla Platt, Arun Kumar, Dusty Harris, and Kim Holderness look for gold coins in a field of stones in Thessaloniki, Greece, on The Amazing Race 33 episode 9. (Image via CBS)

Unlike the last few episodes, however, there was movement in the episode, with Ryan and Dusty dropping into the last departure group thanks to Dusty’s lack of luck in finding the final rock.

The Roadblock was very anxiety-creating, despite being entirely about luck. Okay, mostly about luck. I suppose making sure you don’t flip the same stones twice—or the same stones that other people have flipped—is the strategic part, in addition to not letting the tedium get to you.

Dusty’s frustration did get to him, which is understandable, since he was flipping rocks for more than two and a half hours. That led to a nice moment where Ryan encouraged him to take a break and look around. “I had to let the pressure valve release,” Dusty said, sharing that he used to be much more consumed by anger.

In addition to being frustrated (“I’ve worked so hard for this, and this is what takes me out of The Amazing Race” he said as he flipped rocks left and right) he was also resigned to what was happening. “That’s the race; I’ve watched enough of it,” he said.

Although there was no skill involved, it was a challenge, and challenging. Even before other teams arrived, Kim expressed her frustration. “This is an actual task? This is not a nightmare?” she asked Penn.

She was still so frustrated that when she found the rock, she told Penn, “That was terrible. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” And later, when Penn wanted to sing while smashing plates, she said, “I’m fresh out of patience.”

My absolute favorite moment during the rock-flipping, though, was the editing as Raquel and then Kim missed one of the rocks. Kim literally picked up the right rock but put it down before looking at it.

After the first miss, the editors gave us their usual “it’s right there!” sound effect, and then showed us Kim talking about that very thing.

“There’s like that sound effect when you screw up on the Amazing Race,” she said. “And they show like it’s very obvious what you’re missing.” The editors kept doing that, highlighting the rock and playing the sound effect. It’s hard to summarize but absolutely amazing to watch.

The setting for the rock-finding was pretty great, complete with cosplaying Oracle of Delphi and musicians.

At the Detour, all the teams chose plate smashing, both because the rock-finders had some frustration to get out, and perhaps because they were tired—as I am—of the other option: carrying things up a hill.

Raquel and Cayla finished the leg first, placing them in the first departure group by themselves for next week. (I assume next week’s two-hour finale will basically be two episodes: an elimination leg, followed by an equalizer that starts the final three teams from the same point.)

Arun and Natalia placed third, overcoming their tiresome communication and navigation issues—or maybe just benefitting from how far behind Ryan and Dusty were.

“You’ve had good luck so far, but luck does run out,” Phil Keoghan told them. I did appreciate Arun’s response: “Phil, but it’s not all good luck. We’ve made the best use of what we’ve been given.”

That’s what modern Amazing Race is all about: making the best of what we’ve been given, both as contestants and as viewers.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    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.

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Happy discussing!


Friday 25th of February 2022

In retrospect of course it was a non-elimination round but at the time I was watching I thought, "Dusty and Ryan are toast."

I was also a little miffed because I thought, "that loser team (Arun and Natalie) are going to be in the final three when they don't deserve it."

I hope Dusty and Ryan make it to the final three and Arun and Natalie are the last team cut before the final.


Friday 25th of February 2022

I feel the same way about Arun and Natalie. They shouldn't have gotten to come back to the race after being eliminated before the pandemic. They also shouldn't have gotten to be the beneficiaries of two non elimination legs.

I understand why they had to do it this way post pandemic, however, I hope they go back to harder challenges in the future.


Friday 25th of February 2022

It would have sucked if Dusty and Ryan were eliminated over the father and daughter over rock challenge. It would of been as annoying as the Australian Amazing Race previous season in top 4 when the top footy team were given extra road block cause other three teams voted for them after they won like 7 legs.


Thursday 24th of February 2022

The only thing I know for sure is that Dusty was right about Ryan's legs.


Monday 28th of February 2022

@Chris, I cannot stop staring at the glory of Ryan's body. And neither can Dusty.


Thursday 24th of February 2022

The rock turning task was a version of the what I call "Rich Get Richer" tasks on The Amazing Race.

The first team to get there has the most opportunities to find coins, because all four of them are still in place. That means they're much more likely to find it quicker, likely lengthening their lead as it will (statistically speaking) take longer for each team behind them to find the clue. Generally speaking, I don't like these tasks.

That being said, this one seemed to work out fairly well. The teams were close enough together and there was enough rocks that it would take hours to search them all (and it did), so the first team to get there didn't have the huge advantage they otherwise might.

It was nice to see Dusty 1) acknowledge his anger issues, and 2) work to overcome them, stating that he didn't want his kids to see him lose his cool. Ryan suggesting a break worked out well. I was kind of surprised that - when all four teams were there - someone didn't suggest taking a 10 minute break and have everyone stop. If nobody is looking, nobody is advancing, so nobody is falling behind, and everyone could relax for a bit.


Thursday 24th of February 2022

During the plate smashing, I was shocked the contestants were not required to wear goggles over their eyes. Not that I saw shards flying upwards, but still! And yeah, the editors playing around with the 'missed-it' sound effect during "Leave No Stone Unturned" was brilliant.