September 26, 2010

Amazing Race recap: Storming The Castle

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With another signature eyebrow arch from host Phil Keoghan, 11 new teams were sent off on a race around the world. As always, the stars of the show are the teams themselves, so let’s start with some all-important first impressions.Brook and Claire: Home Shopping Television hosts & friends

Stephanie and Chad: Dating 

There is always a team on the Amazing Race that consists primarily of two Caucasian people, the male component of which has a temper problem and the female counterpart not extremely intellectually astute, both of whom have extremely American names. In season 17, they are called Stephanie and Chad. To call him angry would be like to call Lady Gaga simply strange. As soon as they get in the car, Stephanie says “Oh my gawd, this is so cool!” in a manner that most people would use when mocking someone. The troubling aspect was that I’m really unsure as if she was being serious or not, and the even more troubling aspect being the more I watch the replay, I’m pretty sure she was being serious. Anyways, these two will be high on the entertainment factor, but their overemotional nature and tendency to make rash mistakes will be a major problem.

Katie and Rachel: Beach Volleyball Players/Friends 

These two may exist solely for the sake of the 18-31 male audience. Their intro, complete with gratuitous shots of multiple female body parts, did little to counteract that image. To be honest, I’m undecided about these two, both in likeability and probable success. They kind of flew under the radar in the first episode, and I’m also still not sure which one is which. One is blonde. Oh wait, so is the other one. Thanks, Amazing Race (although I say this with sarcasm, the 18-31 male audience says this with genuine gratitude).

Connor and Jonathan: Ivy League A Cappella Singers/Friends 

Oh dear. I really do not know where to begin on this one. Upon first sight, they are your stereotypical Ivy League nerds. And it really doesn’t change much from there. When I first heard Ivy League, I was glad we were getting some repping on TV, hopefully maybe showcasing a streetsmart and athletic side to shed the perpetuating stereotypes cast upon us. Those hopes were dashed within 4/5 of a second upon hearing the words a cappella, hearing them singing Amazing Grace, seeing their faces, and furthermore hearing them call themselves both “badass” and “the manliest…in the a cappella world.” Please, people, I urge you to go onto CBS’s Amazing Race website and read their bio pages. It’s painful ,yet gratuitously satisfying in a weird way. Among the gems I found include the ditty about their biggest challenge being “staying in harmony,” and Jonathan’s main passion being “tweezin’ the old unibrow.” You will also be glad to learn that Dalmatians are born without spots, courtesy of Connor, and that Jonathan would buy a pony if he won the million dollars. Ivy Leaguers, brace for impact (and by that I mean incessant mocking and taunting) in the real world. I’m not sure whether I want them to do well and continue appearing on the show or to fail but perhaps make the entire Ivy League look bad by being literal losers. But despite all of the above, I must say that I really love this team.

Nat and Kat: Doctors/Friends 

On paper, these two are perfect. In real life, they still are. Two attractive, fit, young, smart women used to dealing with traumatic situations. Though I usually don’t root for the “strong teams,” I can’t help but like the determination, affability, and unpretentious nature. I hope and have a feeling they will do well in the competition, and barring some serious bad luck, I can see these two making it to the top five for sure.

Michael and Kevin: Internet Entertainers/Father and Son 

Though their official title of “internet entertainers” sounds unnecessarily dirty and sketchy, this pair is undeniably the one with the most hype coming into the race, due to Kevjumba’s fame on Youtube. Being a huge Kevjumba fan, I was extremely excited about seeing him and his dad do the Amazing Race, and to be honest, seeing them out of the context of a Youtube video and in real life (well, relatively speaking) was a little strange, as they just seemed like the average Asian kid with his even more Asian dad. I’m not sure how athletic Kevin is (I’m not inclined to give him too much credit in that area) and his dad is certainly no mature Bruce Lee, but I was disappointed with their initial appearance. They didn’t light up the show with witty quips as I had expected, and their only funny moment came as they unintentionally repeatedly fell into the water, but perhaps it was a case of first episode jitters, because they did not appear on camera much, actually, after all the editing was done. If they learn to use their strength, which I can only say would be being clever and crafty, they may do pretty well, but so far they are not looking like potential top three material.

Nick and Vicki: Dating

Oh, where to begin with these two? They are a tattooed, motorcycle-riding couple who don’t want people to judge a book by its cover. I would like to declare that I will refrain from calling them dumb in this post, and instead allow their actions to speak for themselves in the recap, so please, read there to get a more complete idea of who these two are like, because they are worth knowing. Though they seem to be slightly lacking intellectually, they seem like kind people with whom I would actually trust my cat. There, I was nice.

Ron & Tony: Best Friends

I was pretty confused about these two, actually. They met in a musical production, which is…quaint. They strike me as the type of couple you would need to see in a few episodes to form a decent identity of, because there is definitely more than meets the eye, evident when Tony revealed he has a Stanford degree and when the two soared out to an unexpected lead.

Thomas & Jill: Dating

The man is evidently very proud of his Notre Dame degree, so far as using it as a token of superiority over his girlfriend, who constantly feels the need to assert the fact (to herself, most of the time) that though she doesn’t have a college education, she is not inferior to Thomas. Thomas, on the other hand, talks frequently about how he thinks his Notre Dame education will help him a lot in the race. Dude. Do you understand how much of a douche you seem right now? Nevertheless, these two seem calm most of the time and could be a force to be reckoned with if they can maintain consistency and stay composed.

Gary & Mallory: Father and daughter

Here we have a dad who looks like he loves to fish and drink beer, with his reigning Miss Kentucky daughter, the perfect slice of the perfect American family. And really, they seem pleasant enough, though Mallory’s assertion that they want to show how “being a good person can get you far” seemed a bit contradictory to her saying “when I want something I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get it.”

Andie & Jenna: Birth mom and daughter

I actually thought this was a really sweet pairing; Andie gave up Jenna for adoption and now after 21 years they are meeting; it was revealed that this first leg of the race was actually only their third meeting in total. Despite the soap opera-ish feel of this pairing, I do like their story and they both feel very genuine. I was surprised, however, to find out on Andie’s info page that she actually has 10 children (not including Jenna), ranging in age from 18 months to 18 years. Make of that what you will, but I, for one, am surprised this lady can still run.

This year the teams set off from quaint Gloucester, Massachusetts, a contrast from the usual big cities the show typically starts and ends with. Before the start of the race, everyone’s favourite host with the ambiguous accent and an eyebrow with a life of its own, Phil Keoghan, revealed to them a special incentive dangling at the end of this leg; it’s called an Express Pass, and reality show gimmick as it may be, it’s actually quite a clever concept- the team that finishes first gets this pass that they can use to bypass any challenge at any point in the race. Phil also revealed right off the bat that there were two separate flights departing, one 30 minutes earlier than the other, but could only accommodate 3 teams. The first destination is London (some hyperventilating from myself as I discover they are headed to my favorite city in the world), and teams were evidently revved up as they headed to their extremely compact cars, Smart cars designed, I presume, to keep with this leg’s theme of being small (small town, small car). At this point the show felt compelled to caption Mallory’s Kentucky accent when she said “These cars are like my size!” The Princeton seniors are having a tough time navigating to the point of one of them saying “I hope we get out of America,” as I literally feel the collective street cred of students across eight institutions deflate.  Out of the gate, it’s Brook and Claire, surprisingly, who take the lead, and at the airport it’s Ron and Tony, Jill and Thomas, and Steph and Thomas who get on the first flight out to London. Despite Katie’s urging of the bus driver to go “as far as your little feet can drive us,” they are the fourth team to arrive and miss the first flight, though there was some anticipation built up as Chad and Steph, in the first of many similar brain farts to come, decide to wait in some random line as Katie and Rachel come dangerously close to passing them.

Cut to Team Glee singing a capella while lost in their car and lamenting some more about their “bad navigational skills.” Out of the airport in London, the teams are instructed to go to Stonehenge, and it’s Jill and Thomas who lead the way. Ron and Tony, who had earlier made a big deal and had a feel-good session about bringing a compass, now make a point of stopping to buy a map. Despite this, they go on to subsequently drive the wrong way about 47 times. Chad displays some of his chivalric conduct, yelling at Stephanie in what I can only describe as a piggish manner. On a side note, the weather is dreary and cloudy in England. I will file that under “things assumed”.  

At this point, we really start to see how navigational skills become a big factor; Nat and Kat, who were actually on the second flight to London, actually end up arriving first at Stonehenge and pick up their clue to go to Eastnor Castle. Trouble with driving a stick shift also becomes a prevalent issue, especially on the difficult English terrain, or as Katie so eloquently puts it, they were “having trouble on a hill, like a hill…an England hill.” At this point, Ron and Tony go the wrong way for the 48th time and are needless to say extremely lost and have fallen pretty far from first. The teams then arrive at the extremely English-looking Eastnor castle with Jill and Thomas in first place. Their task is to climb a ladder up the wall of the castle, which is “guarded” by a bunch of rowdy-looking peasants (meaning they will dump ice cold, tremendously disgusting-looking water on the teams as they make their way up the wall), then grab a medieval flag and cross the moat in a boat that looks more like a dilapidated flying saucer made of straw. A close-up of one of the peasants’ extremely yellow teeth, or at least what’s left of it, follows the description of the detour.

Meanwhile, Gary and Mallory are plagued with a flat tire. As was the case when Andie and Jenna’s car stalled in the middle of the road before, Connor and Jonathan are right there with them, and once again proceed to ponder whether or not to help the other team before alerting them that they would ,in fact, not help them and leave. Typical Princetonians. Back at Eastnor Catle, all the teams appear to have trouble using their straw saucer-boat, most proceeding to sink immediately after getting on. Finally, they seem to get the hang of it and slowly make their way across the moat by hanging on to a rope suspended across the murky-looking water. Ron and Tony are still lost.

Their roadblock is to fire watermelons from a trebuchet-like device at a “knight in shining armour” 50 feet away until they can hit it and, subsequently, dismember said knight. The home shopping hosts, whose voices at this point the viewers have become accustomed to due to their seemingly incessant running commentary of everything going on, have some initial trouble, despite being one of the first to get there. It accumulates in Claire’s watermelon literally bouncing straight back and smack into her face, exploding only like a watermelon would upon whacking a face. This was, clearly, the highlight of the show for most, and I must admit to having many conflicting emotions about this moment. I did not know whether to laugh or feel really bad for her. In the end, I ended up doing both while I laughed really hard at her but felt pretty bad doing it. I blame it completely on the slow-motion replay that was shown many times. There is something so spectacularly blunt about that watermelon exploding in her face that it becomes slapstick gold. Amazingly, however, though Claire repeatedly lets us know that she can’t feel her face, she proceeds to get straight back up hit the knight with her second watermelon, or as she put it, “I made it my bitch.” The Ivy League boys are also one of the first to get to the roadblock, and at this point I am realizing just how Ivy League they look. It’s not just the thick-rimmed glasses, the unkempt eyebrows, the puke green shirt, the narrative singing, the lack of directional skills, Connor saying “I’m not a runner” (again, thanks). It’s all of those things combined. And because of all this, I will root for this team until the very end.

Jill and Thomas complete the task pretty easily and arrive first at the pit stop, the Eastnor Catle Meadow, and winning the Express Pass. Nat and Kat wind up second (yay!) and somehow, despite the impression I had that they were lagging the whole entire race, Connor and Jonathan end up third. Chad and Stephanie should have been fourth, but instead wandered around the castle for seemingly hours while Chad said things like “this is the dumbest freaking crap ever,” and let four teams bypass them before finishing eighth. Nick and Vicki finally arrive at the castle, and it took them a while to find the medieval flag…which was write in front of them the whole time. Vicki, and I stress the fact that Vicki said it, not me, laments “oh my god, we’re so dumb.” Their troubles continue while looking for the boat, which was also right in front of them the whole time. Vicki, once again the voice of America, says “God, we’re dummies.” And giggles. At the pit stop, Phil asks them which country they are in. Vicki answers London. “The country of London. That’s right,” replies the host.  This is why I love Phil Keoghan. Luckily for Nick and Vicki, Ron and Tony are still lost somewhere in England at this point and so they survive to race another week.

Final Results:1st: Thomas and Jill2nd: Nat and Kat3rd: Connor and Jonathan4th: Brook and Claire5th: Katie and Rachel6th: Gary and Mallory7th: Kevin and Michael (would they have preferred 8th?)8th: Chad and Stephanie 9th: Andie and Jenna10th: Nick and VickiEliminated: Ron and Tony

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Original Author: Minnia Feng