Commentary

Racer Mechanics: From Chicago to Grindavik, Iceland to Voss, Norway

Unlike recent seasons, teams were required to do a substantial amount of driving and self-navigation from the time they arrived in the first country, Iceland, to their arrival at the pit stop in Norway.
TAR 6 opened with two well-balanced legs that tested most racer skills, as teams went from the starting point at Buckingham Fountain in downtown Chicago to the Blue Lagoon resort in Grindavik, Iceland, then on to the Nesheimstunet Village, a traditional farm near Voss, Norway. Unlike recent seasons, teams were required to do a substantial amount of driving and self-navigation from the time they arrived in the first country, Iceland, to their arrival at the pit stop in Norway. Teams were also required to show physical skills and mental agility, analyze their options in performing detours and roadblocks, and communicate with locals to find locations and routes. Teams were forced to evaluate their initial producer-provided flight options from Chicago to Iceland, with two tropical cyclones affecting air traffic patterns for connecting airports on the east coast. Just as significantly, these first two legs provided an opportunity to see and hear how members of each team interacted with one another and with others as they performed each task. In addition, it provided an opportunity to see how teams dealt with the problems, impediments, and adversities that are always factors in the Race. And there were quite a few of those! (Teams are listed in the order of their average team placement in the first two legs.)

Kris and Jon (average placement 1.50) — Kris and Jon are the team that appears to work best together and communicate most effectively with each other. They also appear to have a good sense of allocating tasks, and seem well-balanced in performing the tasks thus far. In that sense, they remind me of the team that served as a model of ruthless efficiency in TAR Classic, Rob and Brennan. Kris and Jon also have the uncanny and important ability to work back ahead of slower teams when circumstances require. Of course, the major test will come when teams have to research and find their own flights to the next destination; we’ve yet to have an airline or train trip this season that required racers to find and evaluate their travel options. But it is to their credit that Kris and Jon were one of the teams whose quick thinking lead them to borrow a cell phone on the train to O’Hare Airport in Chicago to check on the three flight options out of Chicago, and take into account the weather issues that existed — perhaps the best racer move of the first leg.

Hayden and Aaron (2.50) — This team had very few problems in the first leg. However, the leg in Norway presented adversity for the team. In Iceland, the team appears to have led another team astray after leaving the waterfall, forcing that team to fall more than three hours behind the leading teams. Hayden and Aaron also seem to have strong teamwork skills. As have most of the teams, Hayden and Aaron have had occasional navigation problems; however, the difference for this team in the first two legs appears to be their decision to follow through on their detour choice in the Norway leg. Aaron had problems maintaining his balance on roller skis; most of the teams that seriously considered that option chose to switch to the other detour option of three traditional Viking games.
Watching Jonathan and Victoria “communicate” with one another is painful, just painful.
Jonathan and Victoria (3.50) — Watching Jonathan and Victoria “communicate” with one another is painful, just painful. The team has had problems navigating, but whether that is a communication problem between the teammates, or a problem of a lack of skills on Victoria’s part really isn’t clear. One does get the impression that Jonathan feels that he alone has all of the necessary skills to win the Race on his own. However, other teams already seem to have identified Jonathan as a racer with whom not to cooperate. That the team finished the second leg in third place seems to be more the result of other teams’ errors and mishaps than the combined skills of Jonathan and Victoria. It may well be a question of how long Jonathan can carry his team doing everything on his own before a mistake catches up and causes this team to be eliminated.

Lori and Bolo (5.50) — Lori and Bolo are literally a middle-of-the pack team, having finished at approximately the same order among the teams in both legs. They’ve had problems navigating themselves from place to place in both Iceland and Norway, and their physical strength has not been as strong a factor for them as one would have expected for a team of professional wrestlers. However, they seem to communicate more effectively than, say, Jonathan and Victoria, so they do have a degree of teamwork and communication working in their favor.

Freddy and Kendra (6.00) -- Freddy and Kendra are another middle-of-the-pack team. They do have problems in self-navigation; they have lost good starts once they had to drive themselves after leaving locations where other forms of transportation were used and the teams were bunched together more than once in the first two legs. They seem to have good communication skills, and seem to function as a team that has a balance in their skills. But map-reading and driving have not worked in their favor at all. Then they earned an announced 30-minute penalty at the pit stop after Freddy lost a clue earlier in the leg, and retrieved a second envelope from a clue box. As a result of the 30-minute penalty, which dropped them by two placements in the second leg, their average placement for these two legs fell from 5.00 to 6.00. The penalty also allowed two other teams to place ahead of them in the second leg.

Lena and Kristy (6.00) — After a strong start in the first leg, which continued into the first half of the second leg, Lena and Kristy ran into all sorts of problems toward the end of the second leg. They missed a second place finish in Iceland when they inexplicably made a wrong turn in a sprint to the finish mat against Kris and Jon. While they had the benefit of a local as a guide for the first day in Norway that kept them at the front of the pack (reminiscent of Fern, who helped Oswald and Danny in Bangkok in TAR 2), that assistance wasn’t available once Lena and Kristy reached the detour task in the latter part of the second leg. The time required to complete the roller skiing option, as well as a wrong turn on the highway that led to the pit stop (a significant navigational error), brought the team on the verge of elimination at the end of the second leg.

Gus and Hera (6.50) — Gus and Hera had the obverse experience of Lena and Kristy in the two legs. Their leg in Iceland came close to bringing about their elimination. In Iceland, the team had all sorts of problems that involved teamwork, communication, and navigation, and engaged in an ill-conceived arrangement to form an alliance on the subway train from downtown Chicago to the airport. Their decision to use back roads to the pit stop from the detour task in Iceland and head to the wrong area of the pit stop location would have eliminated them, except for the fact that another team that made the same mistakes and took longer to realize their error. In the Norway leg, Gus and Hera benefitted from their decision to perform a less difficult detour task, and the fact that they completed that task before any of the other teams. However, their navigation problems on their way to the pit stop delayed their arrival, and that delay allowed two other teams to arrive first and second ahead of them.
The question for Adam and Rebecca is whether they can do a better job in rebounding from adversity, and whether they can quit arguing about Adam’s sunglasses and pay attention to what they are doing.
Adam and Rebecca (6.50) — Maybe it’s the communication problem between them, but Adam and Rebecca are one of the teams having problems and are basically stranded in the lower half of the Racer pack. They, like most of the teams, have had navigation problems. While they completed what generally has been the faster detour option, they finished just ahead of the lower-placed teams. Of course, they were not helped by instances of bad luck, such as ending up on the later departing shuttles in Iceland and the time delay created by Don and Mary Jean in taking their assigned vehicle in leaving the Norway detour task, but how much of a time difference it made was unclear. Nor were they helped by their lack of attention to detail, such as putting gasoline in their diesel-fueled vehicle in Iceland. The question for Adam and Rebecca is whether they can do a better job in rebounding from adversity, and whether they can quit arguing about Adam’s sunglasses and pay attention to what they are doing.

Don and Mary Jean (8.00) — The married grandparents are having their moments, and their problems. But for other teams’ mistakes, they might have been eliminated in either of the first two legs. They didn’t help themselves by initially taking the wrong vehicle to drive to the Norway pit stop, but they showed a unique advantage in money management in purchasing tickets for the train to Voss by asking for the “senior discount.” While Don and Mary Jean haven’t been prevented from completing the physical tasks so far, they have had a few mental mistakes. As an example, during the Accuracy detour task in Norway, Don had Mary Jean handle the bow and arrow task, having forgotten that while Mary Jean had tried shooting the bow and arrow in college, she hadn’t been very good at it. Don also elected to perform the drop line roadblock at the ski jump near Olso even though it involved heights, and even though the team had agreed that Mary Jean would perform such tasks because they did not require physical strength. In both legs, Don and Mary Jean finished near the back of the pack, and it’s not clear that this team possesses enough skills to compensate for their age. At this point, they are the weakest remaining team, so the outlook for Don and Mary Jean is not good.

Meredith and Maria (9.00) (eliminated in second leg) — It’s not a surprise to me that Meredith and Maria have already been eliminated. They had a number of weaknesses as a team that were fatal to their chances in the Race. They were a team that had navigation problems, were badly lost by hours on several occasions, and while the inability of either team member to be able to drive a stick shift wasn’t a problem in Iceland, it was their undoing in Norway. What is hard to understand is that the Race application form is very specific about the need for each team to have at least one member who can drive a standard transmission vehicle.

Joe and Avi (11.00) — (eliminated in first leg) — Hey guys, we hardly knew ya. A number of major mistakes on the second day of the Iceland leg directly led to Joe and Avi’s elimination. They selected the slower detour task; coupled with their decision to use back roads to drive several hundred miles back to the southwest coast of Iceland to the pit stop, and their failure to recognize that they had made a wrong turn to the wrong area of the lagoon where the pit stop was located, Joe and Avi were doomed to be the first eliminated team.
There were some particularly good and bad instances of Racer skills in these first two legs.
There were some particularly good and bad instances of Racer skills in these first two legs. The best moves included several teams who checked for the weather conditions at the connecting cities for the three available flight options from Chicago to Iceland by borrowing cell phones on the subway trains to O’Hare Airport, as well as Don and Mary Jean’s making an inquiry for a senior discount for the train tickets to Voss in Norway (that’s good money management). The worst moves of the first two legs included the decision by both Joe and Avi, and Gus and Hera, in which they took the back roads to drive to the pit stop because it seemed to be a more direct route, and Don and Mary Jean’s costly time mistake when they took Adam and Rebecca’s vehicle to drive to the pit stop.

It seems that teams are already sorting themselves out into top, middle, and bottom tiers. It’s still early in the Race, however. Last season, Colin and Christie didn’t begin their remarkable string of first and second place finishes until the third leg. So any of the teams still have an opportunity to show an ability to learn from their mistakes in the early legs of the Race, and minimize their mistakes. If the pattern of recent seasons continues, it will still be a leg or two before racers have to demonstrate whether they have the skills to find the quickest airline tickets to a destination.