I’m going to say right off the bat–this episode was great. It’s a Race-themed political thriller that has the seamless thematic unity of a Greek tragedy; we’ve got our hubris, our hamartia, our anagnorisis, and all in a story about two douchey fratboys who see a chance at a million bucks. This is the Race at its finest. Let’s kick it off, shall we?
We begin with a brief recap, in which Phil reminds us that the Douchebros won the Express Pass in Leg One, and made a deal with the Reporters to U-Turn the Green Team should they ever get the chance. And as Phil reminded us, that chance is coming. (Oh yes, and Ernest and Jin were eliminated, which sucked.)
We pick up with Josh and Tanner explaining their plan to the Reporters. And it’s actually a reasonably good one, albeit one that puts their hubris on full display. They know that a Double U-Turn is coming. They have the Express Pass and have to use it this leg. They plan to use the Express Pass immediately on hitting the Detour, skipping them past the challenge and getting them to the U-Turn. They will then U-Turn Justin and Diana. The Reporters, on getting through the Detour (and this is why they chose the Reporters to scheme with, because they are also perennially at the front of the pack) will U-Turn Josh and Tanner, which will have no effect because they will already be past the U-Turn, and that will lock the U-Turn off so that Justin and Diana can’t use it to sink another team. In a perfect world, this will result in Justin and Diana doing both halves of the Detour, getting behind everyone else, and being eliminated.
The plan is structurally sound, as far as it goes, but the fact that neither team seems to recognize any potential snags is what makes it a perfect example of the overconfidence that is the Douchebros’ fatal flaw. They assume that both they and the Reporters can stay ahead of Justin and Diana the entire time (which is certainly going to be easier for Josh and Tanner, since they’re going to use the Express Pass, but isn’t guaranteed for either team), so that Justin and Diana can’t just use the second half of the U-Turn. They also assume that Justin and Diana won’t be able to clear the second half of the Detour before the other five teams check in, which is a necessary evil in this plan because Josh and Tanner have to use the Express Pass this leg or lose it, but which is by no means guaranteed given how badly some of the teams at the back of the pack have performed. And lastly, they assume it’s an elimination leg, which is of course guaranteed only once per season and this ain’t that time.
Still, the plan is not actually terrible, and I will give the boys some kudos for coming up with it. Plus, it’s pretty much zero risk, because the only things they’re expending here are the Express Pass, which they have to use anyway, and the chance to U-Turn later, which is of middling importance for a team that has had no problems staying near the front. So, with that all worked out, everyone gets ready to get their clues and head out!
Specifically, to Zambia and Victoria Falls, by way of heading back by bus to Buenos Aires. Everyone books tickets, with Josh and Tanner, Kelsey and Joey, Jazmine and Danielle and Justin and Diana heading out on the first flight together. Logan and Chris, meanwhile, attempt to distinguish themselves from the pack by starting a slow, smouldering bicker that starts with arguing over the clue and the map (but not, strangely enough, Chris’ pronunciation as “ZamBIA”) and proceeds to unfold into a full, rolling feud over the course of the episode. It’d almost be impressive, if Hayley and Blair hadn’t set the bar for arguing violently over insignificant shit last season and set it motherfucking high.
Everyone else books tickets and hangs out at the bus station back to Buenos Aires, where they sit around and chat gleefully about how excited they are to hear that the long knives are out for Justin and Diana. Which can be taken in one of two ways–either Justin is even more annoying than he seems in the footage we see on screen, which is admittedly possible, or everyone is simply exulting in the thought of seeing one of the strongest teams get taken out early and oh by the way having a leg where they don’t have to feel so nervous about coming in last. Either way, they all go by bus and then plane to Zambia!
From there, they all go by taxi to Makuni Village, with the Texans and the Reporters running just a little bit ahead of the pack and the Green Team understandably nervous about it. We pass a bunch of gorgeous B-roll footage…seriously, being on the Amazing Race camera crew has to be the best job in television…and then get to the village, where the Reporters get a ceremonial greeting from the village elder. This involves her swigging a mouthful of water and spitting it out onto their chests. The Douchebros show up shortly after, and get their water right in the face. I like to think that the village elder saw the first three episodes.
Justin and Diana get their water in the chest as well, as do Jazmine and Danielle, and all four teams get sent to the Batoka Aerodrome to get their Roadblocks. The Roadblock involves taking an air tour on a quite frankly terrifying machine that looks like a cross between a motorcycle and a hang-glider over Batoka Gorge, which was used all the way back in the very first Race, and looking for a bridge across Victoria Falls. Kelsey takes the Roadblock for her team, and…
And here’s the hamartia. Josh and Tanner, flush with confidence that their plan is so good that it doesn’t matter where they use the Express Pass and wanting to avoid height-based challenges, use the Express Pass to skip the Roadblock instead of the Detour.
It’s a huge, obvious mistake. The Roadblock is a fairly minor time sink on the face of it–unless you’re careless or incredibly near-sighted, you are not going to miss the giant red-and-yellow flag on the bridge. Further, it’s a time sink that hits all teams roughly equally–the flights are planned tours of a fixed duration, so Josh and Tanner can only make up the amount of time one leg takes. Even without yet knowing what the Detour is, there is no way that this is going to save them as much time as they would save if they used the Pass later to skip the Detour, and their entire plan absolutely relies on them getting to the Detour first first first. This is sloppy Racing, and it is going to come back and bite them impressively hard. But for now, they’re in first, crossing the border to Zimbabwe to find a backpackers’ lodge called “Shoestrings Backpackers”.
Diana takes the Roadblock in third, and Justin takes the opportunity to chat with Joey about how dumb the decision to use the Express Pass was, and to mention that it may be better to ally with a smarter, more Race-savvy team. Like, say, Justin and Diana. Joey tries to suggest he’s playing both sides against the middle, but given that he’s gotten absolutely nothing out of either alliance just yet, I’m not sure he’s quite “puppet-mastering” the way he claims. Sorry, “#PuppetMastering”. Meanwhile, the second flight gets to the village. Cindy and Rick get their spit low, while Tennessee Williams and his mom get it right in the face. (I am convinced there is a pattern here. The fact that Logan and Chris and the cheerleaders were hit in the face as well does nothing to disprove this.) Oh, and Jazmine takes the Roadblock in fourth.
All four of the first teams find their flag no problem and head for the footbridge. Rick flies out in fifth, while Cindy and Danielle dish about how incompetent the Douchebros are. I have to imagine that this is what it’s like to sit around during a Roadblock all the time, with everyone gossiping like crazy about each other’s strategies. It’s got to be funny as heck. Jazmine gets down safe, but misdescribes the location to the taxi driver and winds up heading to Zimbabwe a little early. Logan takes the Roadblock for her team (while apparently escalating to physical violence? Chris says at one point, “You’re hurting me”, but it’s not clear what she did), and Denise for hers. Krista takes the Roadblock in last.
Interestingly, we get a little speech from Cindy here that puts the Race into a little perspective. She says that the reason the boys should have used the Express Pass on the Detour is because a Detour usually takes “an hour and a half”. Assuming she’s a reasonably good estimator of time, that gives us a nice idea of how much Amazing Editing goes on during the Detour sequences.
The Green Team and the Reporters cross the footbridge, which is absolutely gorgeous and awe-inspiring and damn, this is the reason they call it the AMAZING Race, and get their clues to head to Shoestrings. Jazmine and Danielle cross to Zimbabwe, complete with getting their passports stamped, before realizing they’re in the wrong motherfucking country. I think that may be a Race first. They head back as everyone else gets back down on the ground. Cindy conveys to Rick the news about the boys’ misuse of the Express Pass, and says, “This could mess up our whole plan to take out Justin and Diana.” Um. “Our plan”? Apparently their part is mostly just moral support.
And then we get our first big moment of anagnorisis. Josh and Tanner race to Shoestrings, still actively saying, “We think our plan is flawless,” only to find…that it’s a hostel. Where they will be staying for the night. And leaving at one of four predetermined times, ten minutes apart. Meaning that by using the Express Pass early, they squandered a potentially huge lead in a giant Hours of Operation bunch, one that will probably due to placement of the teams going into the Roadblock give them no more than a ten minute head start. And that they will hit the Detour the same time as everyone else, give or take a few minutes, with no Express Pass to give them a boost to the U-Turn and the one-hit knockout they’ve been craving this whole episode. To say that they’re a bit crestfallen is like saying that Queen Victoria had a little difficulty working through the five stages of grief.
Oh, and Justin and Diana get a little taxi luck and get the other 8 AM departure time. So they have wasted the Express Pass for literally no advantage at all over their hated rivals. Who are now pretty fully aware of how hated they are, because teams gossip, and are gunning for the Douchebros the same way the Douchebros are gunning for them. And best of all, Josh and Tanner have a whole night to stew in their frustration.
In the morning, just before the departure, the Green Team and the Texans both agree not to U-Turn each other. Both suspect the other is lying. Both are thinking about reneging on their promise. It’s awesome.
They then set out for the two Detour options. The first, which is called “Co-Op” in the clue but “Wood” onscreen, involves staining and polishing a wooden animal sculpture made at a local arts co-op. It’s easy, but self-evidently time-consuming. The second, “Croquet” (both onscreen and in the clue) involves playing a game of–what else? Cricket. No, seriously, it’s croquet. They have to score five goals against some local players before they can move on. It’s tricky, but has the potential to be very fast if you have any skill with the game. Or know the rules. Or understand what the fuck they’re doing even a little bit, which I don’t, so this part of the recap could get fun, okay?
Both the first two teams take Croquet. Cindy and Rick and the Reporters, who are in the second flight, split up–the Chac family (again, not using that nickname) go to paint a giraffe, while Kelsey and Joey take croquet because Joey says, “I played some croquet back in the day” in the same approximate tone of voice that someone uses to mention that they played a little college basketball…with MICHAEL JORDAN! The last four teams all take Co-Op, with the exception of Denise and James Earl. Denise also has a good bit of confidence about her croquet skills, which I imagine she played when she was a debutante entertaining gentleman callers. The croquet players change into old-timey clothes and start whacking their balls with mallets.
Later, they play croquet. (Oh, but I kid!)
The Chacs get their giraffe sculpture and begin staining it with a toothbrush. They make several jokes in a row about Cindy’s chosen profession as a dentist that lead to one of the locals giving them a death glare so strong that it appears as if their bad jokes have transcended language and incurred upon them some sort of blood oath for revenge. Seriously, if you can look up the clip, this goes by in less than a second but you will swear that there is murder in this person’s eyes. The other Co-Op teams show up, and much frantic giraffe-brushing ensues.
Justin and Diana and the Douchebros both roughly get to four goals at the same time. Kelsey hits the local players in the balls so that Joey can score his wickets, which you’d think would incur a huge penalty or something. Justin and Diana, though, score their fifth goal first and head for the Pit Stop, an orphanage named Rose of Charity which will hopefully get a huge boost in donations from all this exposure. They start looking for a taxi with Josh and Tanner not far behind.
Rick and Cindy get their staining done, only to find out that the stain has to dry before they can polish. So yes, I suppose this sequence is as exciting as watching paint dry, but it’s competitive paint drying. Everyone starts waving cardboard at their giraffes to try to speed the paint along, and it’s here that we see the solid camaraderie between Logan and Chris as they argue about which one of them has the best giraffe-fanning technique.
Denise and James Earl turn out to have mad croquet skills, as promised, and gain a march on the Reporters. They leave in third and fourth, respectively.
And then we reach the denouement, the climax of this episode’s perfect tragedy. Justin and Diana get to the U-Turn first. They don’t bother U-Turning anyone–why would they? There’s no advantage to be gained from it. They go to the mat, donate every dollar they have to the orphanage (admittedly they’re told it’s required, but they’re pretty sincere about being glad to do it), and are told they’re still racing. The next leg starts now. And the Texans get to the U-Turn to see that all their scheming, all their planning, everything they did the entire leg was for nothing. They came in second and their Express Pass advantage is gone, and then Phil tells them that even if everything had come out perfectly, they would have failed because they are still racing. Oh and by the way, he needs them to decide now about that Express Pass, because it has to go to someone. If the series had ended on their agonized indecision it would be remembered as a masterpiece of ambiguity on a par with ‘Inception’.
Instead, we get shots of next episode’s lions and crocodiles and death-defying plunges into gorges. Pretty much everything the Race does best! See ya then!