Commentary

Episode Eleven

The Aussie Review

The tension and excitement inherent in the concept of "four into three won't go" was certainly diluted in the case of the first season by the hopeless position the back two teams found themselves in at the conclusion of the previous leg. However, the return to mentally challenging and culturally appropriate tasks, coupled with an extraordinary final 20 minutes or so, help to lift this episode into the collective minds of TARflydom as one of the greats.
The tasks are pleasantly challenging and this is one of the very best legs for gaining a glimpse of another culture that the show has ever had.
Considering all the noise the producers usually make about how expensive it is to obtain permission to film in places such as Japan or Russia, one wonders precisely how they managed to persuade the Chinese government to have them film there! They certainly make the most of it, though, as we are treated to a wonderful snapshot of Beijing - both historic (temples and pavilions) and contemporary (the community centre and the markets). The tasks are pleasantly challenging and this is one of the very best legs for gaining a glimpse of another culture that the show has ever had. There's a new burst of energy that comes from being back in a big city again, too, and the many and varied sights of the Chinese capital really help to maintain the episode's momentum through its unusual two-part structure.

Which is in many respects the only thing wrong with it! Though we got a taste of it with the last leg, this episode proves once and for all that Rob and Brennan and Frank and Margarita simply do not have what it takes to support half an episode all by themselves. Apart from a few glimpses of their new, lighter attitude, Rob and Brennan go straight back to being bland and boring. As ever, their relationship lacks the dynamism and charisma required to make you really root for them. In addition, Brennan's temporary adoption of a goatee for no readily explained reason is something I find very irritating, somehow.

Frank and Margarita have a slightly better time of things creating some drama, with a bizarre mini-meltdown prior to the Roadblock. For a couple who brag at the start that their relationship is pretty much fixed, the cracks don't take long to appear at all. In the end it seems not to matter too much, but where there was once a degree of certainly, doubt has started to creep in again. But there's little meat to any of this opening section, and combined with a somewhat dull Detour option with the table tennis it doesn't fill you with much confidence at all for the last two legs.
As Kevin says, it's "the brawl for it all" - but the "all" is really a racing philosophy rather than money.
But this is all made up for - well, almost - by the sideshow of the battle for third place that occurs in the second half of the episode. In terms of their real chances of winning the race it doesn't matter a jot, but the fact that we all got so caught up in it demonstrates that the whole sequence is the culmination of a storyline that had been building for weeks and weeks. As Margarita rightly points out, the two teams battling to stay alive are the antithesis of each other and this episode represents their final clash where there can only be one winner. As Kevin says, it's "the brawl for it all" - but the "all" is really a racing philosophy rather than money.

Has there ever been something on the show that seems as stupid in retrospect as that rickshaw race? The whole rally Detour is a great idea, even if it does seem to take ages to complete and perhaps finally extinguished any hope of winning these teams might still have harboured. But the low-speed, faintly ridiculous rickshaw finale was incredibly tense at the time, meaning everything to fans of either team. It's still a superbly edited bit, but you can't help but look back and wonder what all the fuss was truly about...there is no advantage to be gained by anyone because of operating hours, therefore rendering the whole thing useless. Entertaining as all get out, but still useless.

Ultimately, of course, it's a battle of the taxis. But Kevin and Drew lose their nerve and bolt prematurely, obviously wanting to trust their usually reliable gut instinct one last time. Harking right back to his very first words on the race, Joe decides to use knowledge rather than good interpersonal skills and bets Team Guido's fate on two words in a travel guide. Just as it always should on this show (but rarely has since!), the smart triumph over the brawny. Drew's tears are suitably gut-wrenching and everyone is sad to see he and Kevin go, but for the Guidophile that moment represents a sort of supreme vindication of Joe and Bill's entire race strategy and is immensely satisfying. Sure, they've screwed their chances of winning by this point - but in spite of everything that happened, they always had what it takes.

So ultimately this last elimination leg remains a curious mixture. The interest in the overall result of the race completely slackens off by this stage, but there's still a battle to be fought up the back and a fascinating location for the leg to take place in. Only this show could pull something like that off - the core idea of the show has been superseded by the individual parts, but nobody seems to mind very much. By this stage in the season, TAR was our favourite show and we just wanted to experience it - and remembrance of those happy times is easily rekindled by this episode.

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