Commentary

Episode Twelve

The Aussie Review

The dilemma of how to put together the penultimate leg of the race has always been a vexing one for the producers. More than even the non-elimination legs that have occurred in the race to this point, the twelfth episode is very conscious of its position as a filler before the final race to the finish line. In four tries they've never really managed to make this leg truly engaging and exciting - everyone knows that nobody can be eliminated anymore, and there's a fair chance that everyone will still be close together going into the finale. You can compensate for this a little by having dynamic interaction between the remaining teams, interesting scenery, and challenging tasks. Sadly, Episode 12 of the first season fails to provide much in any of these areas, and in my opinion is the weakest episode of TAR1 by a considerable margin.

There are some good points here, as there are in every episode. The Great Wall of China is a wonderful location for the show to visit, and you can't say that the snowy wastes of Alaska don't make for a good contrast with the rather hot environments seen in the latter part of the race. There's also some enjoyably tense moments at Beijing Airport as Rob and Brennan try to gain the jump on Frank and Margarita, and later Danza contemplate a totally different routing to Alaska via LA instead of San Francisco. It's enough to suggest that the race still has some spark in it, but the rest of the episode effectively blankets this.
The Detour in particular is astonishingly perfunctory and makes nowhere near enough of the cultural and historical significance of the Great Wall for my liking.
All of the challenges in this episode are extremely dull and mundane. The Detour in particular is astonishingly perfunctory and makes nowhere near enough of the cultural and historical significance of the Great Wall for my liking. It really could have been held anywhere. Likewise, apart from the rather fun-looking native Alaskan blanket toss, you'd hardly list anything the teams have to do here as memorable. There's a lot of snow and a lot of driving, but hardly any interest is generated in comparison with the earlier portions of the race. Rarely has a show so dynamic and full of energy seemed so dull and - I hate to say it - boring. Everything that makes TAR special seems lacking here.

It doesn't help that the result of the race seems pretty insignificant. Team Guido barely appear in this episode, getting no more than five minutes on screen, and some of that includes some travel tips in a hotel room before they even start! Much as those who hated them might like to jeer at their tired retreads of what the others did the day before, it frankly is uninteresting viewing and almost seems like padding to demonstrate that there is actually a third team involved. And even the potentially exciting two-horse race seems flat in this episode. Much as the editors try to create some tension and excitement out of some pretty slim pickings, it is blatantly obvious that the front runners will be locked together all the way to the end, and the result is 40 minutes of TV that battles hard to come to life.

Rob and Brennan, being the blandest team of the entire eleven, don't excite or inspire a terrible lot here. Indeed, their portrayal ranges from the jockish (the infamous "Let's boogie!", and also their football-esque conversation in the taxi about how much they want to win) to the snippy (Rob's ill-advised snapping at their slow cabbie), and one wonders whether the editors might be surreptitiously trying to set them up as figures to root against when it comes to the finale.
On the other hand, you wouldn't necessarily want to root for Frank and Margarita either, if their appearance here is any guide.
On the other hand, you wouldn't necessarily want to root for Frank and Margarita either, if their appearance here is any guide. From bragging about their new connectivity and togetherness in the previous episode, their relationship takes a dramatic turn for the worse as soon as they depart the pit stop. Though there is great comedy value in seeing both them (and by extension their poor, poor crew!) jump over a million fences at the Great Wall, the viewer shares Margarita's bewilderment at what has happened. Despite resolving their differences, a curious fog of neutrality, verging on unlikability, descends on both of the front two teams in the episode. The overall effect of this is not good, with little opportunity for casual viewers to invest emotionally in anyone, even for the short term.

In the end, this leg really suffers because of its lack of exciting incident in order to draw attention away from its status as the ultimate filler episode. When neither the teams nor the locations inspire you to a great degree, there is a tendency for the show to demonstrate its dull and mechanical side. Much of TAR4 has a similar feeling about it, but the routine nature of this episode is possibly even worse. Just when you should be working yourself up into a frenzy for the finale, something like this will never cut it. It's still enjoyable if you're a TARfly, but I'm not so sure you'd ever attract new fans by showing them this one. Despite some good points, in the end this must be considered the worst of the four penultimate legs, and one of the weakest installments in the entire history of The Amazing Race.

The Australian's Rating: 5/10
by The Australian