Commentary

Episode Eight

The Aussie Review

After last week demonstrated many reasons why you would never want to travel to India, this episode shows a brighter and more optimistic portrait of the Subcontinent, though its privations and frustrations remain on show too. It’s clever editing if you think about it – last week the racers hit India with a fair degree of vim and vigour but were worn down very quickly by the conditions. This week there’s a great deal more beauty and intrigue surrounding the teams, but now they are so tired and disillusioned with India that they don’t seem enjoy the experience much at all.
The locations and tasks in this leg maintain the high standards set by some of the others so far this season.
The locations and tasks in this leg maintain the high standards set by some of the others so far this season. I think it must be almost impossible to shoot the Taj Mahal not looking gorgeous at any time, but the Palace of the Winds in Jaipur and the various forts in the Detour are also splendid examples of Indian architecture that show the country as a land of huge contrasts. And I really like the inclusion of the Karni Mata Temple – too often in TAR the teams are sent to rather standard churches, shrines and mosques. This place requires them to think outside the square they live in and experience what must really seem like an alien culture. Margarita gives a great voice over to this effect, and I reckon this aspect of the show has been somewhat neglected ever since. One of TAR’s selling points is that it is also a travelogue and even an educational show in addition to being a competition, and I hate to think it might lose this one day soon.

I suppose this is a broader issue than the rats, though. One of the reasons I think this original race is probably still the toughest comes down to transportation. I love Bill’s opening interview when the Guidos’ taxi won’t start – “Real world circumstances are going to prevent us from winning.” As dearly as I love all seasons of the show so far, it is blatantly obvious that the world of mysteriously honking taxi drivers, canny autorickshaw operators, and bizarre trains we see in this episode has moved ever further away from the teams with each passing edition.
Can you see the TAR4 people having the same type of train journey the top three have here?
For me, the scenes set on the first train to Bikaner are a real highlight of this leg. Can you see the TAR4 people having the same type of train journey the top three have here? Maybe it was in the editing, but their Indian train trip seemed far more sanitised and cliquey than Drew’s heart-warming poker classes or Rob’s surreal conversation with the holy man. Maybe it was easier to do this kind of thing in a pre-September 11 environment…but part of me believes the producers might be taking the easy way out a bit too often.

Two other big issues come through in this episode – money and fatigue. The first of these takes an enormous toll on the erstwhile frontrunners, Joe and Bill. At the start of this episode, they’re the same savvy gents whose hubris mixed with undoubted smarts you’ve come to know and I alone seem to love. By the time they hit the mat at Laxmi Niwas Palace, their chances of winning the race have practically been extinguished. The main reason for this? Money, significantly affecting a team for what seems like the only time in the show’s history. Right from when they start fretting at the Taj Mahal, Team Guido is consumed with having almost no money, and the consequences keep piling up until they make their first major blunder of the race and fall behind the lead group by six hours.

In the context of the season, it’s a huge moment – when Guido was in the lead (which they were more often than not until now) there was always someone to hate (you guys) or cheer on enthusiastically (me). With them suddenly not there anymore, some of the dramatic tension that made the early episodes so enjoyable vanishes and only comes back fleetingly from hereon in. More on this in coming reviews.

Of course, it’s not just Joe and Bill who have problems. Everyone seems very affected by what Miss Alli helpfully dubbed “Killer Fatigue” at about this point in her TAR1 recaps. Kevin and Drew’s previously light-hearted verbal banter has begun to get more terse and serious; Rob throws a complete wobbly at the end of the show for no readily apparent, discernible, or adequately explained reason; and Nancy and Emily wander listlessly about, obviously believing themselves to have no chance at all and asking dumb questions like “Are you him?” to the holy man. Interestingly, who seems to be the most charming and relaxed this week? Frank and Margarita of course, coming off a long rest period and showing the material value (as opposed to time gain) of taking the Fast Forward at just this point in the race, when everyone else seems in desperate need of it.

This episode made a more positive impression on me than I remember it did at the time. India is shown to pretty good advantage, there are some more fine character moments from the teams, and the whole thing brings back memories of the days when you actually had to find your way to faraway places rather than drive there in a conveniently provided car. Still, the problems that would blight the ending of the season for me have begun to make themselves felt. Can I look at these familiar closing installments with fresh eyes? Join me in the coming weeks and find out!
–– by The Australian