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The Amazing Race 5: Thinking Smart in Episode 5by Jeffrey Clinard -- 08/06/2004
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It's not often that my musings from one article flow so smoothly into the next, but this is exactly what happened this time around. In this leg, travel agents and hours of operation came into play as well as the importance of making smart decisions. Compare the top finishing team this week with the last place team for an example of both ends of the “thinking smart” spectrum. The first place team did everything right while the last place team did almost everything wrong. Is there any wonder they are approximately twelve hours apart? The gap might be closer to eighteen hours if not for the hours of operation on the Tower of Cairo.
The first thing I want to refer back to is travel agents – suggesting they are such a great resource that teams should seriously consider getting to the nearest travel agent instead of the closest airport. Every team in the race should know about this by now. The four teams in the last leg grabbed tickets in advance and the others knew what they were doing. Still, on this leg, only two teams headed to the nearest travel agent instead of the airport. One grabbed first place by a huge margin. The other team did no better than the others (and worse than most due to other reasons), but proved that they have learned something. There is, of course, a downside to using a travel agent – that of missing out on a plane by minutes by not going directly to the airport. Still, they must find the airlines and stand in line to get tickets and, even then they may find out that the flight is fully booked.
Hours of operation came into play during this leg, and are quite likely to do so during the next leg as well. The preview showed another fight over a cab (this time between Charla / Mirna and Colin / Christie) and, coming after a Fast Forward leg, it is likely the entire time advantage will be eaten up by hours of operation of the next leg. Put it this way, if the first attraction opens at 8:00 a.m., Colin and Christie’s huge lead will be completely gone. However, this is a part of the race and always has been. Producers always want to keep it tight enough so that every team has a chance.
Interestingly, the Roadblock was a mental test, not a physical one. Armed only with the puzzle pieces and the map, teams had to figure out the location of the next clue. Some teams had an easier time with this than others. In fact, one team didn't figure it out at all. The Detour option was only an option for one team. Which was faster? I don't know, but I believe riding the horse and leading the camel to the rug merchant was the best option. It certainly required less labor and work. However, the hours of operation came into play here, leaving only moving the stone blocks as a viable option for most team. What is more important here was how directly time advantage came into play. All the evidence indicates that small amounts of time savings earlier in the leg would directly lead to better options.
Finally, we have to address the penalty for entering a non-elimination leg in last place to be left penniless in the next leg. I wrote a bit about this after Episode 1 and found two of my three speculations to be correct (this is a record for me, folks). The last-place team is both stripped of cash and denied cash for the next leg. It's a hard blow, but better than elimination, from which there is NO recovery. In any case, teams faced with bankruptcy have options. The first is to sell anything and everything they think they won't need. This includes clothes, jewelry, and anything they can grab during the pit stop (like food). The second is begging. Teams have done it before and can do it again. As a side-note, teams can also beg for services instead of money. This often generates a more sympathetic response since money is sometimes suspect as it can be used for drugs, booze, or other vices while a service is seen as a true act of charity.
Teams could also beg other teams for funds, but I have to say that this isn't likely to get much response even at high interest rates. Teams that are bankrupt are poor credit candidates. First of all, they have limited resources to repay a team. Second, a team that loans them money is banking on the team gaining at least one rank in position in the leg (not landing in last place again), and is deprived of their own money, which they might need for expenses on the leg. Finally, it is an advantage teams have over the bankrupt team – if they leave them strapped for cash, the team will lose even more time begging, selling, or otherwise figuring out how to proceed without funds.
As teams traveled from one continent to another and from the Russian winter to the Egyptian desert, which teams were thinking smart in Episode 5?
Colin and Christie: This team is in first place once again and for the best of reasons! They were smart enough to go to a travel agent first and ended up with a unique way to Cairo, ahead of all the other teams. But, once in Paris, they weren't content with a small advantage. Instead, they went for a BIG advantage and got it! Once in first place, they found themselves with the option of snagging one of the two Fast-Forwards in the whole race and grabbed it. I agreed with the decision completely. My Thinking Smart Before the Race article needs a revision, because if Fast-Forwards aren't a part of the race in every leg, the whole theory behind their use gets tossed out the window. With only two of them, teams should grab them when they think they are in the lead in order to seal their advantage as well as to minimize the downside risk if somebody is actually ahead of them and grabs it first. In any case, this team is screaming THREAT at this point. While it is likely that the next leg will eliminate their current time advantage, the fact they could get such a huge one to begin with shows just how smart they are racing.1 2 Next-->
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