Commentary

Episode Two

The hunt for Songwe Museum is a fun trick question, the likes of which we have hardly ever seen again.
The Aussie Review

Second episodes of series tend to be somewhat of a letdown after the brilliance of the premiere, but the second episode of The Amazing Race manages to avoid this trap and is every bit as entertaining as the first. Part of the reason for this lies in the dramatic change in location from the sun-drenched plains of southern Africa to the rainy man-made charms of Paris - an important illustration of the basic concept that the show can take you anywhere on the planet at a moment's notice.

The challenges faced by the teams still remain subtly different from what they would later become. The hunt for Songwe Museum is a fun trick question, the likes of which we have hardly ever seen again. And although the other sequences in Africa may lack the zip and punch of the week before, there's still much fun to be had as the teams go hunting for photographs in the Detour before proceeding to Mukuni Village to be spat on by the chief. Mind you, you'd be hard pressed to realise that there was a Detour, because once again all the teams take the same option. And for those who think that Phil's "A Detour is a choice between two tasks, each with its own pros and cons" is a staple ingredient of every episode should think again, because we still haven't heard it in the first season so far.

Things go somewhat better in Paris, where the use of the instantly recognisable Eiffel Tower to provide the first on-screen Roadblock is a good idea, especially thanks to a patient explanation from Phil of what a Roadblock actually is. Combined with a very thorough evaluation by Team Guido of the task required, the viewer instantly knows exactly what everyone has to do - which leads to a fine feeling of "inside knowledge" as several teams struggle to work things out along the way. Very few subsequent Roadblocks have demonstrated such a clear gap between the strong teams and the weak ones.

Also working in this hour's favour is the incredible pace - there is so much happening here that the whole thing moves like greased lightning, and the action never stops for a single moment all the way through to the end.

Indeed, the big problem here is that the impression is given that the editors simply ran out of time to include all the necessary footage. If any episode of TAR ever needed twice the normal length, it's probably this one. Watching it, there are at least seven basic subplots going on, and the editors try gamely to fit them all in but don't quite make it. These are: the alliance between the three teams at the front, and its slow dissolution; the cracks appearing in Lenny and Karyn's relationship; Pat and Brenda's quest for the Fast Forward; Kevin and Drew's ascension from cannon fodder to genuine contenders; stresses and strains between Nancy and Emily; and the swiftly developed arch-rivalry between Kim and Leslie and Paul and Amie, each of whom in turn have dramas of their own. Phew!

The only team who don't get much of a look-in here are Dave and Margaretta, who regrettably seem to vanish from the narrative completely after their arrival at Mukuni Village. It says something about the notion that the episode is already bursting at the seams that we don't find out what actually happens to them in Paris until the start of the next episode!

But the big loser in this rush to cram in as much as 44 minutes will allow is the show's first big airport sequence. As will soon become tradition, the scramble to get tickets at a moment's notice becomes a huge drama, with phones being slammed down in frustration, strategies being discussed, tears being shed, and desperation setting in. Unfortunately the editors have so much fun showing us all this human interest that they forget to include any information at all about the flights from Johannesburg to Paris themselves! Setting aside the apparent sudden teleportation of the teams straight to the airport from somewhere in Africa, we only see the teams talking generalities with the ticketing staff behind the same counter at different times - not a word about the flights they get, when those flights left, or even what time they all arrive in Paris! This oversight would never be repeated, but that help our understanding of this important segment of the show on this occasion.
Compensating for these problems, though, is the fact that this is still the funniest episode of the show yet.
Compensating for these problems, though, is the fact that this is still the funniest episode of the show yet. Kevin and Drew continue their path of hilarity, Bill provides a classic moment of slapstick as he slips on the mat, and - above all - everything Kim and Leslie do in this episode is pure comedy gold. If anyone ever deserved elimination thanks to their efforts in a leg, it's these two clueless bimbos (not that I'm saying they're really like that off-screen!).

So that's the episode in a nutshell - breathlessly paced, hilariously funny in parts, but suffering from an extreme case of editorial confusion. Somehow this season has an ability to paper over its bad points in a way that the others never do, and I think it all comes down to these original teams. Still, you get the feeling that the best of this season is yet to come.

The Australian's Rating: 8/10
by The Australian


Random Musings

Moments seen through Hindsight-Vision

It's always weird watching older episodes of a reality show. It's odder than doing the same with a scripted drama - with those you are consciously thinking about how such-and-such is good foreshadowing or sloppy consistency. With reality shows, there is no pre-scripted drama - so when contestants manage to correctly predict actions that are still forthcoming, it changes the feeling you had when you first saw the show from that of "man, these people are so full of themselves" to "wow - they sure called that. Oh, and maybe they are still a little over confidant too." The hindsight viewer gets exactly such a moment early in episode two: the site of Rob, Brennan, Frank, Margarita, Bill and Joe all bopping fists together and saying "three of us all the way to the end, baby." I remember when I first saw that scene my eyes did that "oh really" roll and a little "hmph" escaped my lips. On the other hand, today it just made me smile and think, "oh yeah, you got that right."

Sadly, just the opposite happened a little later when hearing Karyn talking about her relationship with Lenny: "At the end of the day, we'll still be together." That felt really nice the first time I heard it. Today, it made me sad because I know I'm about to see a relationship unravel and fall apart - a fate no one should suffer on national TV.

(Okay, so I didn't really watch this episode today - I'm working from notes I took while watching a few days ago. Today, I'm on a very full airplane running late in getting to Santa Cruz because my flight was cancelled. Oh and the guy next to me? Snoring. )

Brennan also says a few complete sentences in this episode. I don't remember being shocked by that the first time I saw it...but now that the legend of Rainman has grown? It had me pointing to my TV, chin somewhere around waist level. I wonder if further eps will reveal the legend to be one of the basically truthful or greatly exaggerated types?
And, while the contestants aren't capable of consciously foreshadowing, the editors certainly are.
And, while the contestants aren't capable of consciously foreshadowing, the editors certainly are. Upon finding the Songwe museum, we hear Karyn say, "How can we get here and not find anything?" Gee, think she or Lenny might have problems like this in the future?

In the fast forward voice over, Phil says that it gives the teams a huge advantage. When I first watched this, I believed him...now it makes me laugh. (Yes, if I had paid more attention to the times the teams were leaving, I wouldn't have believed him then either.) It also struck me how they hadn't found a rhythm for the "Phil explains the show" speeches yet. I kept expecting a certain wording (now ingrained in my memory) only to be thrown by what he actually says.

The moment that caused me to freak out the most in hindsight? Dave letting out a big "hoo-ah" while stepping on the Amazing Bathmat.

Moments of contrast

These are the kinds of moments where I think the editors are really trying to tell us about the teams - about what makes them different from each other and, in the end, will make them successful or not. The footage at the Eiffel Tower is all about how each team deals with the frustration of depending on each other to do something they aren't sure they know how to do. There's very little drama shown in the Rob/Brennan camp - surprise, surprise. They get the job done. The main drama for Frank and Margarita comes in after accomplishing the task as Frank insistently pushes for them to move on. The Guidos carefully and smugly go about their task.

For me, however, the teams that are teaching us the most are Karyn/Lenny, Paul/Amie, and Drew/Kevin. Karyn and Lenny are the poster children for dysfunctional in this lesson. Karyn practically orders that Lenny do the task and then does nothing but berate him about how he goes about doing it. Yes, he did a horrible job and deserved a bit of what he got, but you don't keep haranguing a partner you care for about their failures. You suck it up and move on. This is exactly the way Paul and Amie treat what happens. While Paul seems to be taking forever to find the clue, we see Amie feeling distraught and upset. Once Paul comes down the stairs with the answer, however, Amie is supportive and doesn't take the amount of time it took him to find the clue as a chance to belittle or nag at him. They subsequently move on to the next task in a much more positive manner. Lastly, are Kevin and Drew. Yes, Drew is worried that Kevin won't be able to complete the task or have problems with it. But he expresses his feelings as worry for Kevin - not frustration that their team is falling behind. The friendship he feels for Kevin is obvious in his "he don't see so well" musings. These snippets teach us so much about the relationships these teams have - their strength and/or fragility.

4th Wall Moments

When the Guidos get to the clue box at the Eiffel Tower, who the heck is Bill talking to when saying they came in first? He's looking straight ahead - not at Joe or the camera? Is he talking to another crew person? Another camera? Oh yes. Apparently it is as they are now re-reading the clue and we see them from the other direction.

While running down the steps of the Eiffel Tower, Frank starts yelling at Margarita to get a cab. Once down, he's pushing her and saying, "We got to go, we got to go." Brennan, who's standing right behind them, points to the camera and says, "Hey, we got our cameras and...[can't hear the rest]."

Moments that Made me Smile
Kevin responding to Drew's inquiry about something on the clue table - "It's just a tchotchke" - and Drew's amusement at the statement.
Kevin responding to Drew's inquiry about something on the clue table - "It's just a tchotchke" - and Drew's amusement at the statement. In addition to being laugh out loud funny, it also reiterates the team dynamic we've seen earlier of Kevin wanting to press on while Drew is willing to take a bit more time to make sure things are done right...or in a friendly and affable manner. (Much like later when addressing the Chief. Drew manages to be polite and get in a good joke at the same time.)

The, uh, groin level shot of Rob and Brennan standing up their car so they can look out the sun roof cracked me up. Meanwhile, Frank is looking rather menacing and like he's about the leap from the top of the car at any moment. If I were the animals in that park, I'd be running away.

It was great seeing the role reversal with Momily during the photo safari. By now, Emily has implied a few times that Mom might be a bit weenie while she's more daring. Here, Mom was the one being daring and insisting on leaving the car to take a picture of the Rhino while Emily was nervously telling her to get back into the car.

And, of course, the Guido slip-n-slide. After seeing the team's smugness at being in the lead and hearing them say that teams like Rob and Brennan have nothing to offer them, how can one not enjoy seeing Bill slip and fall on the mat? Heck, even without the smugness, a pratfall that good just about always gets a laugh.

by miri