Commentary

Racer Mechanics: From Ile de Gorée, Senegal to Berlin, Germany to Budapest, Hungary

Endless bunching and random luck played a role in the last one-and-a-major fraction legs of TAR 6. The only real constant was the fact that the three teams that had been averaging the lowest placements continued that trend. Although teams had arrived at the Senegal pit stop spread out over a five hour period, that time spread was rendered meaningless as a result of a planned tribute at the House of Slave on Ile de Gorée before teams could depart on the fifth leg. Teams were then directed to fly to Berlin, Germany. While there apparently was more than one flight that teams could use for their departure from Dakar, they all connected onto the same flight from Paris to Berlin. Upon their return to Dakar from the island, four teams proceeded to a travel agency, and the other four teams proceeded to the airport to purchase of their tickets.
The detour tasks appeared to be reasonably balanced between the skills required for the task and the travel required to reach either location.
After their arrival in Berlin, teams had to obtain information on the correct train to reach the Berlin Wall. Teams that learned about the express surface train arrived at the Wall before teams that were directed to the underground subway train. At the Wall, teams were directed to a sculpture outside a church and once again had to decide whether to take another train or a taxi. Teams also had to determine whether a taxi or a train was the quickest way to arrive at either of the detour options in the Berlin leg. The detour tasks appeared to be reasonably balanced between the skills required for the task and the travel required to reach either location. Teams then had to take taxis or trains to reach Teufelsberg, the location of the roadblock, which involved racing soap box derby carts. Then teams had to navigate themselves and drive to the pit stop, the Brandenburg Gate.

Teams departed the Brandenburg Gate on the next leg and could walk or take a taxi to Checkpoint Charlie, a Cold War era passage between the formerly divided halves of Berlin, and then on to Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, where teams had to sign up in their order of arrival at the stadium. Teams encountered a roadblock that involved a form of bungee jumping with a crane on the stadium field before they received a clue that directed them to fly to Budapest, Hungary.

Teams appeared to get the earliest arriving flights to Budapest they could. One team went to a travel agent instead of the Malev airline ticket counter and managed to bounce another team onto a later flight. Once teams arrived in Hungary, teams had to select a producer-supplied Trabant, a inexpensive automobile with a lawn-mower sized engine, to drive to a medieval castle in Eger. Randomness and luck played a role as to which teams had problems driving to Eger, and teams had to either solicit repair assistance from locals who drove by or wait for replacement vehicles. In Eger, teams encountered a detour that involved randomness in one task (using a catapult to throw melons to bust open a wooden crate) or strength (moving a cannon and 55 cannonballs). Teams were then directed to take a train back to Budapest and locate the Net Café, an internet café, which had operating hours that began at 10:00pm. At that time, six of the seven teams had made it to the café, while one team was awaiting a early morning train from Eger to Budapest.
In the Berlin leg, the most significant movement in placement was generated by choices teams made upon arrival in the city.
In the Berlin leg, the most significant movement in placement was generated by choices teams made upon arrival in the city. Freddy and Kendra quickly made the correct transportation choice, and benefited as well from errors by other teams. This allowed them to move into first place for the balance of the leg (and for the sixth leg that moved the teams into Hungary). Kris and Jon were given incorrect train information at least once, and also chose to use trains elsewhere in Berlin on a couple of occasions when a taxi would have been faster. This caused them to drop to fourth place for much of the Berlin leg, and they were in fifth place for much of the Hungary leg so far thereafter. In the incomplete leg, which had most of the remaining teams entering the café, the problems some teams had with the Trabants were neutralized by the cafe’s hours of operation. However, Lori and Bolo had still failed to arrive at the Eger train station in time to take a train that evening back to Budapest.

As to the individual teams, in order of average placement for the leg from Senegal to Berlin, and the incomplete leg that had most of the remaining seven teams in Budapest:

Freddy and Kendra (average placement 1.00; 4.16 overall) – Freddy and Kendra were fortunate enough to have good luck once they arrived in Berlin, and were able to maintain a lead for the remainder of that leg, and the majority of the leg in Hungary. They didn’t make any mistakes, made sound choices at every opportunity, and just plain raced well. However, it’s clear that these two teammate have differences in personality and temperament that are reminiscent of Flo and Zach. They have argued about money issues, and they’ve disagreed about how to use their down time waiting out hours of operation.
If Jonathan could communicate and work with his wife and teammate, then this team might have led the entire Race to date.
Jonathan and Victoria (average placement 2.50; 3.00 overall) – If Jonathan could communicate and work with his wife and teammate, then this team might have led the entire Race to date. Clearly, this team’s inability to communicate and work well with each other has become apparent to the other teams, especially in the aftermath of the “incident” when the team arrived at the Brandenburg Gate pit stop. I still expect the lack of teamwork to catch up with this team, especially as the stress and fatigue of the latter half of the Race builds up and affects all of the remaining teams to one extent or another. Jonathan hasn’t just vented on Victoria, he’s vented on some locals and on other teams, and he hasn’t seemed to care that his verbal assaults on Victoria have been in front of other teams, in front of Phil, and in public.

Hayden and Aaron (average placement 3.50; 2.86 overall) – This is a hard team to figure out. They race consistently well (they haven’t finished worse than fourth in any leg so far) but they seem to be missing something; it’s hard to say exactly what, though. There are times the teammates are not operating on the same wavelength, the argument they had on the side of the highway in Hungary after they ran out of fuel for their Trabant being a primary example. Aaron literally did not have the words to explain to Hayden exactly what and why he had proceeded the way he did to arrange for a passerby to get a tank can of fuel for them. Aaron’s reaction was a bit strange; he started pushing the vehicle down the right of way. It’s hard to tell whether they’re starting to show signs of killer fatigue or whether some other odd dynamic is at work.

Gus and Hera (average placement 3.50; 3.50 overall) – Except perhaps for Gus’ attraction to beer, this team basically raced in place from Gorée Island to Budapest. Gus still shows a tendency at times to forget that he is in a RACE, and repeatedly chooses slow over fast, but this was one of the few teams that did not have a problem with the Trabants in Hungary. Makes one wonder if his past employment in intelligence had anything to do with that. Sooner or later, this team is going to encounter a task that is likely to eliminate them, either because of Gus’ overprotective choices or because of his physical condition; after all it sure seemed as if he barely fit himself into the Trabant at the airport in Budapest. Gus does get points from me for recognizing Jonathan for what he is back in Chicago when the teams were taking trains to O’Hare International Airport.
This team hasn’t been able to keep to the very front of the pack, but it hasn’t made a fundamental difference.
Kris and Jon (average placement 4.50; 2.50 overall) – This team hasn’t been able to keep to the very front of the pack, but it hasn’t made a fundamental difference. They haven’t really had much of an opportunity to bounce back to the front of the pack from the time they arrived in Berlin until they reached the Internet café in Budapest. But it has become clearer that this team has a excellent balance of personalities, skills, and temperament, and they’ve understood the importance of appreciating the opportunity and challenges the Race presents on the way. The clip of Kris and Jon frolicking in the water with local children while at the Gorée Island pit stop, as well as their doing a Flintstones routine dealing with their car problems with the Trabant are two of my favorite scenes of this Race; together both illustrate many of the things that make them wonderful racers.

Lori and Bolo (average placement 5.86; 7.00 overall) – At times this team can seem competent, and at other times they have problems in getting from place to place and completing tasks. In Germany, they made mistakes in getting around Berlin that cost them time. Without a doubt, their problems in Hungary with their Trabant put them in a precarious position, hours behind all of the other teams. And then, there’s the clip of Lori and Bolo deceiving a customs agent in Iceland by acting as if Bolo was a “special needs” person in order to try to gain an advantage over the other teams to clear customs and proceed to the first cluebox in Iceland. This team is capable of racing well, the question is whether they are capable of racing well consistently.
This team has a basic difficulty that first became apparent with the label of “formerly dating.”
Adam and Rebecca (average placement 6.00; 6.00 overall) – This team has a basic difficulty that first became apparent with the label of “formerly dating.” They haven’t decided what exactly the fundamental nature of their relationship happens to be, and until they do, they won’t have a chance of improving. Adam and Rebecca continue to show poor communication skills, and they make mistakes in the Race because of it. This team is just about at the back of the pack; however, they did show signs in the last leg or so of being capable of performing better. As an example, they were one of the first teams out of the Berlin airport, and one of the first teams to reach the East Side Gallery in Berlin, but then they faded again. It might be a difficult call for some, but to me, Rebecca is more a source of the team’s problems than is Adam; Adam’s dependency may be more apparent on the surface, but I suspect Rebecca has the deeper level of dependency based upon her flirting for food on the train in Sweden.

Don and Mary Jean (average placement 8.00; 8.00 overall – eliminated leg 5) – Yes, they are wonderful people, but the killer fatigue that often shows up later in the Race caught up with Don and Mary Jean in Sweden, and they were never able to work themselves out of the back of the pack thereafter. Good bye, Don and Mary Jean. At least you have the experience of Racing!

The best move by a Racer team during this segment of the Race appears to belong to Kris and Jon who earned goodwill from Gus and Hera and saved money in sharing a taxicab they hired as a guide to drive to the Brandenburg Gate pit stop. A tie goes to Gus and Hera for using a travel agency in Berlin to outmaneuver Jonathan and Victoria off the first flight from Berlin to Budapest. The worse move by a Racer team during this segment of the Race belongs to who else? Jonathan and Victoria......their behavior in Berlin defies explanation (or more accurately, Jonathan’s behavior defies explanation), and this doesn’t just refer to “the shove.” Jonathan’s egotistical behavior at the Berlin Olympic Stadium says more about how Jonathan perceives himself and his teammate on the Race than anything else he has done.

Hopefully, in the next segment of the Race from Budapest to wherever the Race is headed, there will be some tasks and route marker directions and clues that will allow the teams to show their Racer skills more than they got to do during the legs in Senegal, Germany, and Hungary.

What exactly does the “to be continued” mean? The answer to that is, obviously, “to be continued.”