Commentary

Episode Ten

Exactly how much of the show is a travelogue and how much is a game?
The Aussie Review

Exactly how much of the show is a travelogue and how much is a game? That’s certainly the big question emerging from this week’s leg, which features some of the most beautiful scenery ever seen in the series – but which also rips the last vestiges of multi-team competition from the first season thanks to a bizarre course that seems to have been drawn from a triathlon or something.

I can’t really begrudge the producers for wishing to concentrate a leg of the race on the Andaman Coast of Thailand. On natural beauty alone it simply cannot be faulted – crystal clear water, sandy beaches, a spectacular tropical thunderstorm, tranquil rivers, enticing caves and a relaxed atmosphere predominate in this episode. It’s hardly surprising that Survivor filmed here a short while later. More than most legs in the show’s history, the location is truly the star of the piece and it really makes you want to travel there.

So far, so good. But then there’s the tasks the teams are required to perform here. I actually don’t mind the rock climbing Detour. In this part of the world it forms a big part of the tourist economy, and as Margarita’s experience proves, conquering “Thaiwan Wall” can fill you with a great sense of empowerment. So it fits in nicely with the first season spirit of ordinary people doing extraordinary things on their way around the world.

But then they lose the plot somewhat by tacking on a rather pointless kayaking Roadblock, closely following by a spot of snorkeling off an island that appears to have been named after a chicken. Perhaps it should have been a turkey, because that’s what it brings to mind on this leg biased overwhelmingly in favour of the physically fit and active! Couldn’t they have found anything culturally related for them to do? This is the first time where you really don’t have to use your brain at all during a leg – the clues have now almost completely degenerated to the “go right here” level, and there are no real puzzles to solve or creative challenges that require you to actually think. It’s the worst episode of the season so far.
Of course the other big problem with this episode is the death blow it deals to both Drew and Kevin and Bill and Joe.
Of course the other big problem with this episode is the death blow it deals to both Drew and Kevin and Bill and Joe. As evidenced by the previous episode, their unfortunate predicament is partially their own fault – but matters aren’t helped here by the fact that because the leg relies so heavily upon the largesse of the adventure companies providing the equipment, the racing shuts down when they do. Therefore a bridgeable 5-hour gap becomes an impossible 16 hours because of the way the leg is structured. From this point on, we all know for certain that only Rob and Brennan or Frank and Margarita can win, and the overall effect of this revelation is more like air slowly escaping from a paper bag than an explosive climax to the action.

On a positive note, the four remaining teams do seem to benefit from the relaxed and beautiful surroundings, because for the only time in the season all four come across as three-dimensional personalities in their own right. Rob and Brennan had always been good guys who just didn’t set the screen alight with banter or humour, but just this once they seem to relax a little and have a laugh (Rob’s damaged knuckle notwithstanding). Sadly, it wasn’t to last – but you can’t help watching the sequences in the malfunctioning tuk-tuk or on the malfunctioning boat and wondering what might have been had more of this been included.

Frank has an unfortunate relapse to his initial persona whilst “encouraging” Margarita to climb the rock face, but for the most part these two have come full circle from their dysfunctional relationship at the start and seem more together than ever. And Marg’s playful pratfall on getting into the taxi at Rai Leh Beach sums up their leg perfectly.

Kevin and Drew are understandably annoyed at their slide in fortunes (you don’t need a lip reader to notice Drew’s expletive after reading the Roadblock clue!), but still provide a litany of comedy gems. Witness Kevin’s efforts to get into the boat, and above all their search for the clue while snorkeling. It is here that they come closest to the “Keystone Kops” analogy Drew gave a few episodes ago – treading on sea urchins, referring to the sea bed as “the floor”…and then there’s Kevin’s ill-advised attempt to join Drew in looking, which hysterically makes him look like he’s wearing nothing. As a result it’s a shame that you realise third place is the best they can do.
Uncharacteristically bringing up the rear is Team Guido.
Uncharacteristically bringing up the rear is Team Guido. Never have they seemed so defeated and, because of the nature of the leg, so frail. Can you imagine Joe saying “Detour – oh God help us!” at any point prior to this? However, their display of fortitude in the face of seemingly impossible odds has to be admired, and the little sequence where the Guidos scale the rock face actually shows us more affection and teamwork from a gay couple than Reichen and Chip managed in 13 entire episodes!

So there you have it. If you want some eye candy (both in location and otherwise) and genuine character moments from all the teams, this is the leg from TAR1 you’d have to pick. But it’s badly designed and totally reliant on physical tasks. Coupled with the now inevitable result where only half the teams are in a position to win by the end, the sour just triumphs over the sweet, for me at least.

–– by The Australian