Commentary

Episode Seven

The Aussie Review

Remember what I said in my review about the first episode – that its impact has been diluted a bit by what has followed? Well that applies to the entire season, really. Looked at objectively, TAR1 is nowhere near as slick or glossy as its successors and as a result the whole thing doesn’t quite have the energy or style we’re now used to. Despite its strengths (the teams, the more down-to-earth feel), it pales in comparison to the rest.
This is one of those legs where every single element within provides solid entertainment – instead of a great task and then some filler.
Except this episode, which is the best of the first season and still one of the very best ever.

This is one of those legs where every single element within provides solid entertainment – instead of a great task and then some filler. Right from the start (well, after yet another pointless whinge about TunisGate) you get the feeling that this show is going to be something very special. The idea of having a Detour right off the bat is another of those unusual moves by the producers which have sadly disappeared of late, much like having the Roadblock dead last the previous week. Despite some silly editing regarding the Guidos’ apparent attempts to “hide” from Nancy and Emily, both tasks have much to offer and are edited brilliantly in contrast with each other. The bicycle ride gets some cool music and some fun moments (Emily careening down a grassy bank while Nancy waits patiently at a pedestrian crossing springs to mind), whilst the glider ride has some humour from the Frats and some aerobatic delight. It’s one of the few times we see Drew in a jolly mood instead of his somewhat more usual cynical disposition, even if he is half-terrified!

Even the seemingly mundane task of catching a train to an airport is made tense and exciting here thanks to Kevin’s interminable wait on the phone and the attempts of the others to “not get on the train” You really do wonder whether he is going to make it or not. In addition, the Guidos get another bum steer thanks to that lady trying to open the door of the train carriage while they get on next to her…I don’t exactly see Esquire rushing to help her either, considering they must be standing just out of shot the entire time!

In a way, the constant moaning has a silver lining when Frank and Margarita opt for the Fast Forward (which is reassuringly still presented as a riddle rather than a “Go here” instruction). Apart from the fun of seeing them bicker like an old married couple in the boat, and the shock of Frank’s sudden heart attack-inducing scream of “OH BOY!!! INDIA!”, this FF is a defining moment in the race. Frank and Marg get an enormous lead, plenty of rest time and are spared the immense stress of what happens to the others. It wasn’t this that got them as far as they went, but from this point on they seem to be a top two team all the way through to the finish.

And then there’s India. Oh yes, India. The common gag at the time these episodes were first shown was that it wasn’t a good advertisement for the Indian Tourist Board. But with its warts-and-all depiction of crowded streets, pollution, child beggars, shady taxi drivers, and inefficient bureaucrats, this version of India certainly comes across as very real rather than an obviously sanitised version. The actual Roadblock and the beautiful view from the pit stop in Agra are very cool indeed – it’s just the rest that seems stressful and even dangerous.
For once, it’s brains that win out in the Indian sequences, as opposed to the athletic brawn that I always think the producers have let win the day most of the time since.
For once, it’s brains that win out in the Indian sequences, as opposed to the athletic brawn that I always think the producers have let win the day most of the time since. For me, TAR should be first and foremost a mental test – harking back to Joe’s comment in the very first episode “You don’t have to be the fittest or the fastest team, but you do have to be the smartest.” Perhaps this is why I still love Team Guido so much in spite of their obvious flaws. Certainly this is their last great moment, with Joe having the presence of mind to look closely at what Mr Ashok Sadev has with him during the Roadblock and knowing instantly that they have to get to Agra. It’s the type of racing that will always warm my heart.

As for the other teams, Rob and Brennan show extraordinary ingratitude that their taxi driver takes them to “only” a tourist office, which is actually the one place they could be sure would know where to send them next! Kevin and Drew at least know something is wrong almost straight away and characteristically just keep asking questions until they get the right response.

And then there are the teams that you know are fragile in the first place. Nancy and Emily are already completely dispirited at the start of this leg (witness their conversation in the taxi), and it only gets worse once they are hit by culture shock and confusion. There’s that heart-breaking moment where the guy looks straight at Nancy and clearly says “Go to Agra” – but she’s so tired, confused and emotional that she doesn’t understand. This is soon followed by a total meltdown in the cab, and you fear that this is the end of the line for them.

Lenny and Karyn don’t fare too much better. Karyn seems chipper at the Roadblock but soon her great fears – feeling helpless and lacking control over the situation – set in and she starts screaming at everyone and everything without a clue what to do next. It’s the first great “who will it be?” elimination and the combination of camerawork, music and circumstance as Nancy and Emily slowly come into focus over that hill will melt even their most strident critic. Lenny and Karyn’s exit is brutal, but AFAIC Lenny gets exactly what he deserves from Karyn for (apparently) being such a dead weight. There isn’t a single word of her final little speech that I disagree with now, shocking though it seemed at the time.

With its superb combination of scenery, team relationships, tasks and colour footage, this is the episode of TAR1 you’ll want to show non-converts to show them how good this season was. The best episodes of The Amazing Race are timeless and withstand any revision you might apply to some of those around them. This mad, disorienting Indian adventure is undoubtedly one of them.

The Australian’s Rating: 10/10
–– by The Australian


Random Musings
And later? India makes everyone tense.
We start the show with a re-cap of GuidoGate and Phil telling us that the competition has gotten ugly. This seems to set up the theme for this episode: tension. First, there's the tension between the Guidos and the other teams. And later? India makes everyone tense.

Right off, we see some examples of how the tension is getting to teams. Frank and Margarita decide to take the Fast Forward. One of the reasons they give for this is the desire to get away from the sturm und drang of the other teams for a while. This turns out to be a good thing for them as I think this has to be one of the hugest Fast Forwards ever. First, they get the clue for it right off – no waiting until later in the leg. Second, they get to go straight to India and skip all the stress that India doles out to the other teams.

Next up, we see Kevin and Drew choose an option that is perhaps slower for them (glide) because they'd rather hang out with Rob and Brennan than Team Guido. While I remember worrying that they were making the wrong decision for all the wrong reasons, I'm grateful for the pure comedy gold that is the Frats gliding. Their time with the gliders provided the episode with its only fun, light-hearted moments – something it desperately needed.
Watching Nancy's breakdown in the market was painful – watching the effect said breakdown had on Emily and their interaction in the cab was even more painful.
Emily's breakdown – yes, it was a very ugly American moment, but one that I find forgivable. She was very upset at seeing her mom so stressed and out of it. The roles were truly reversed in that she was the one responsible for taking care of her mom, as Nancy really wasn't capable of thinking through anything at that point. Watching Nancy's breakdown in the market was painful – watching the effect said breakdown had on Emily and their interaction in the cab was even more painful. The last shot in the cab of Emily holding and hugging her mom and stroking her hair says it all. As difficult as it was watching this sequence, it's also an example of what helps TAR stand apart from other reality shows. Most other reality shows seem to be about throwing strangers together into a contrived situation and seeing what happens. With TAR, we get people with existing relationships – complete with all the love, respect, angst and baggage that come with those relationships.

Very Random Note:
Was this the first time we heard Phil say, "Eat, sleep and mingle" in the opening segment?

Lesson Learned This Week:
Kevin proves, once again, that he is the king of working plane reservations.

Gotta Love Those Editors Moment of the Week:
Kevin miming riding a bike and saying, "This is going to be the Guidos going through town. Drive Billy!" Cut to Bill sticking his head out from under the red rain tarp the Guidos were sitting under at the bike place.

Quotable Frat Moments of the Week:
We get another "Scratch ass" from Kevin when he reads the hours of operation on the first clue.

Drew to Kevin at the airport: "Don't wave, you idiot. They're liable to come down here and think you need something."

Drew, asking about the radio in the glider: "Can you get Howard Stern on there?"

Kevin in the plane: "He's gliding, so god bless him."

Drew: "A piece of string on the windshield is the compass for that airplane. If it's hanging straight, that means you’re going straight and you're going in the right direction. And when we're up there, he goes, ‘Oh, but the string, it don't work now, because it's-a wet.’"

And proving they aren't always the class clowns, talking about the children in India, Drew says, "they have this stare in their eyes. It's like they're looking right through you into your soul."

Worst Moment of the Week:
Nope, it's not the ugly American moments, for me, it was Karyn on the mat. I can forgive her though, because I feel she was speaking the truth as she saw it and was being heartfelt and honest – I'm hoping it had slipped her mind that she was dissing her boyfriend and their relationship on national TV…

Hee! Moments:
Watching Drew trying to fit into the glider. Speaking of which, he was having a total blast on during that flight. I think he probably needed a smoke after that.

Every team (well, except for Lenny and Karyn) being sure they are out of the race at the mat…only be relieved to hear they are still in the race. I was so glad the hell Nancy and Emily went through in the market place wasn't for naught.

Brennan Speech Meter:
We get a bit of a mixed bag from Brennan this week. At first, just about all he gets in are a few "ooohs," "aaahhs," and so forth on the plane. Later, he does manage to get in some complete sentences when trying to get tickets to India – he gets to explain why they went to Rome instead of Milan and then gets a follow up on the bunching situation at Copenhagen. He also complains about how they felt misled by the cab driver in India and then moans about how they were probably in last.
–– by miri