Greetings, Race enthusiasts! Scott Von Doviak, your usual host at this pop stand, is out somewhere having the time of his life at SXSW, so I, being the only person in Texas between the ages of 10 and 70 who has no life, have naturally been given the honor of filling in for him. Let me say right now, I thought this was going to be an easy gig. It can't be like summarizing Berlin Alexanderplatz, right? But it turns out that 10 years spent watching the show does not fully prepare one for the experience of actually trying to keep track of everything that's happening on a typical episode, without the luxury of zoning out when someone especially boring is onscreen and just assuming that you'll figure out how things went for them when they arrive at the finish line and are greeted with some variation of Phil's smiley face, his sad face, or his frown face. (“You are the second team to arrive. However, because you murdered your taxi driver in a fit of rage and threw his body on a compost heap before taking the wheel yourself, you have incurred a 30-minute penalty…”) By the end, I felt like Glenn Beck, scribbling on my blackboard and wishing for another pair of hands.
Let's get to it. The next stop is Turin, Italy, so with Team Border Patrol in the lead, everybody wishes Paraguay a fond farewell and lights out for a travel agency. Everybody, that is, except for the Kentucky boys, Mark and Boomer, who head straight to the airport. They might be there still, if Art and J. J. didn't take pity on them and urge them to leave the air-conditioned comfort of the waiting area and get back on the road so they can obtain tickets. The end result is that Mark and Boo Boo are shut out of the flight everyone else is on and will arrive in Italy an hour and change after their competitors have all resumed amazing racing. No way is this enough to put a dent in Booger's upbeat, can-do spirit. He's just thrilled, he says, to be goin' somewhere tropical.
Being a trouper and reality-TV veteran, Rachel, of Brendon and Rachel, waits until the teams have arrived at their new destination and are tooling around Turin in their Ford Focuses before calling Brendon an idiot. It doesn't seem like much, but before long, this moment will seem like a subtle piece of foreshadowing on par with Lady Macbeth pointing out to her husband that the last time she saw Duncan, he sure did look obscenely healthy to her. By contrast, the Rachel of Dave and Rachel and her opposite number waste no time in getting all passive-aggressive and snippy with each other. For their first trick, she gets behind the wheel and asks him to help figure out where the hell they're going, and when he counters that he can't see where the hell they're going because she has the sun visor down, she blows a gasket and stops the car so he can drive. Later, she will so badly irritate him with her complaints about his reluctance to take direction from the presumably well-informed locals that he has a hissy fit and asks why she doesn't switch seats with him again and drive, what with her being the second coming of Shirley Muldowney and all. The funny thing is, for all their bitching at each other, they're a pretty effective team, and they ultimately come in second. This, for my money, is the great recurring paradox of The Amazing Race. Nice, understanding couples go down early, and the long-distance champions often turn out to be the ones who are auditioning for a community theater production of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
Team Border Patrol opt to go for the Fast Forward, which means landing a helicopter on top of a building, When they learn that this actually means that one of them has to park a remote-controlled toy helicopter on a flat-top helmet that the other one has to wear on his head, their disappointment is palpable. It takes them forever to get it done, but in the end it's worth it, and they pull off a second-straight first place finish. The players who are eating their dust have to rappel down inside a tall building to collect their clues. Joey Fitness of Team Jersey Shore shoots the camera a look and says, “I've never rappelled in my life,” causing thousands of viewers to start to say something before deciding that that one's too easy.
The clues send the racers to the local automotive museum, where they are first required to participate in a brief product placement demonstrating the wonders of their Ford Focus magical no-hands parking doohickeys and then go inside to find a Tin Lizzie. Inside the car is a coin, and the racers are meant to infer that they their next stop is the Mole Antonelliana, the landmark pictured on its surface. I was surprised at how easily everyone except for Rachel and Brendon were able to make this mental leap. As for Team Big Brother, they distinguish themselves by looking all over the car, trying to find a slot into which they might insert the coin. When they don't find one, Rachel starts to unravel fast. She cries, she wails that the experience of traveling around the world with her best friend with a camera crew in tow and the stress of knowing that you might be publicly humiliated by being beaten in a race by two Kentucky hillbillies isn't as much fun as she'd expected, and then, in the ultimate blasphemy, she dares to doubt that Brendon will complete his Ph.D. Sounding like a kid who's found dog shit waiting for her in her Christmas stocking, she howls, “The Amazing Race is supposed to be fun and good!” Then she mutters something about wishing she could return to that bastion of fun and goodness, Big Brother. It's at this point that Bertram von Munster's head explodes.
While Rachel is re-evaluating her life choices, Mark and Boogaloo are struggling to get back into the game, and Kerri and Stacey seem to be idly taking in the sights and getting in a few wardrobe changes between commercials, everyone else is struggling to decide between a challenge that requires them to either hose down some dingy statues and be graded on their work by a guy who looked like Jim Jarmusch after the holidays, or go to some salami joint, sample 14 different varieties of salami, then march to some other location and correctly identify what they'd sampled. Whoever thought that many people wouldn't immediately go with the statue-washing challenge must have both overestimated how badly the contestants would want to make ribald salami jokes on-camera, and how much mileage the eternal 9-year-olds in the race would be able to get out of scrubbing a statue while going on and on about what a “dirty girl” the statue was. Team Jersey Shore is exemplary in this area. Someone also gets off a hot one about how they're finally done polishing the head.
The guidos come in third, followed by Vanessa and Ralph, who only get enough air time tonight to confirm that she's still a bitch, though she does manage to get through the hour without loudly making cruel sport of anyone's gynecological region, and then the federal agents who are posing as teachers for reasons that have yet to yield a payoff. Brendon and Rachel come in fifth, and Rachel grosses Phil out a little with her apparently non-ironic greeting cry of “Di Giorno!” By the time Keri and Stacey remember they're racing somebody somewhere and politely swing by the finish line, Phil and the guy standing next to him who used to come around my apartment once a month back when I lived in the Bronx and replace the rat traps shock the bejesus out of them by informing them that they're not the last to arrive.
That honor, of course, goes to Mark and Bocephus. They screwed up, they're late, and they're tired and a little sad, but they're friends who've never turned on each other, and they're determined to go down with their heads held high. Phil, who has told them they're the last to arrive but pointedly hasn't gotten around to saying that they've been eliminated (and who, just as pointedly, used the magic word “may” earlier when reminding us that whoever comes in last tonight may, as opposed to will, be eliminated from the race), informs that he has good news: Team Border Patrol is so impressed by Team Holler's determination and awesome bro-ness that they want to split the $10,000 they won for coming in first tonight. Only then does Phil confirm that, yes, this is a non-elimination leg and that the Kentuckians are still in it to win it, and if I were Mark and Bo Peep, I'd have preferred it if, instead of turning to the border patrolmen and asking how it felt to give money to guys who are still his competitors, he'd actually waited until after the check had cleared. So this episode ended with two momentous events: a startling and, I'm pretty sure, unprecedented act of generosity, and the most unconscionably prolonged leave-'em-hanging moment in Phil Keoghan history.
- While the federal agents were executing their product placement with the self-parking car, one of them said, in prissy-talking-car voice a la Knight Rider, “Well, Michael, I think you should wear your leather pants today.” My wife laughed at this, and I thought I'd just mention that, since the feds didn't really do anything else of note.
- Rachel: “It sucks that all these people that hate us and make fun of us are going to win.” Yes it does, girl! You hang onto that insight and let it power you to the finish line. What do you think keeps Carrot Top from opening a vein?