The Amazing Race 4: Thinking Smart Before the Raceby Jeffrey Clinard -- 05/27/2003
On the last three series of The Amazing Race, I wrote up articles each week on how to think smart to remain in the game, and ultimately win. Some teams did well because they thought things out; others did poorly because they refused to use their heads. So what does thinking smart mean in The Amazing Race? What should the twelve teams be thinking of doing even before they leave Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles?
1) Follow Instructions. It seems obvious, but several teams have ignored instructions, and it came back to bite them. Nancy and Emily ignored the instruction on either taking a bus or a van, and suffered a 24-hour time penalty, which ended up costing them the race. If they had followed the instructions, they would have beaten Joe and Bill at that checkpoint and remained in the race. Other teams were given time penalties for not following instructions, like Dave and Margaretta, who didn't climb the Eiffel Tower, or Joe and Bill, who ignored the "take a train" instruction. Blake and Wil both failed to follow instructions to complete ALL tasks before returning to their partners in Australia, and wound up having to re-perform some of the tasks. Heather and Eve failed to walk to the pit stop and it cost them the race (and even provided a Reality TV Hall of Shame Moment). Read carefully and follow the instructions.
2) Look for Loopholes. All that said about following instructions, if the task is open-ended, look for ways to get there faster. For example, getting to Tunisia required a boat trip. All of the players took the same ship, but going on a cargo ship or chartering a vessel would have fulfilled the requirements. The train in France was another example; the instructions only said to get to a point, not how to get there. The smarter teams took the local's shortcut. This is the edge that can help teams avoid elimination.
3) Know When Minutes Save Hours. When the last race began, the teams had their choice of three flights (with limited seating). The smart teams raced to the airport to claim the direct flights and gained hours. Other teams tried to call or otherwise get information, and suffered for it. Matt and Anna were in this group, and while it wasn't the only reason they lost, it was one of the big reasons they were eliminated first. Gary and Dave lost a first-place position in Las Vegas because they tried to save a few minutes in violating airport security about abandoning their car at the airport. Instead, they got on the last flight because they chose minutes over hours.
4) If Something Isn't Working Out, Cut Your Losses. Searching for the vans in India wasted a lot of time for several teams. If faced with a choice like that, give yourself 15 or 30 minutes, and then cut out and go for the sure thing. The working moms also faced this problem when they went to the wrong pendulum. After 30 minutes or so, they should have cut their losses and rang Quasimodo's Bell. However, there is always the converse to be considered. Gary and Dave abandoned their detour tasks twice, and the second time it cost them. When there are fewer teams, you can't cut losses so easily. It's better to stick it out and hope for the best than take the risk that the travel time plus the task time will make up for the time needed for the detour choice.
5) Know When to Use a Fast Forward. Since teams can only use that option once, it's important they play that card at the right time. Rob and Brennan should NOT have used it on the first leg, since they were hours ahead of the trailing teams. They won anyway, but it wasn't smart thinking. Joe and Bill raced Nancy and Emily for it because both of them were six hours behind and desperate to stay in the race. That was thinking smart (for both teams). Peach and Mary tried for the Fast Forward twice, both times with good reasons. They lost because a team that shouldn't have used it did, and they just got that much further behind. Ken and Gerard knew it was a 1 in 3 chance of elimination if they didn't go for the Fast Forward early, and beat out the twins to the first Fast Forward and stayed in the race, a good move. Dennis and Andrew used it as a desperation measure in England, but still ended up losing because they just couldn't make up the time. It's a delicate balancing act, but it comes down to asking if the Fast Forward will save a LOT of hours, or be the difference between being in the race or being eliminated. If the answer to both is NO, don't go for it.
6) NEVER Get Overconfident. Joe and Bill assumed their knowledge of Paris would breeze them through the tasks there. They got a rude shock when they found out most of the other teams had beaten them to the sewers. They also assumed with their Fast Forward they'd beat other teams to the next checkpoint. Surprise! They were the last ones there, but because Nancy and Emily blew it, they remained in the race.
7) Spend Money Wisely. One of the main reasons Joe and Bill lost is because they got the late train in India (along with Nancy and Emily). This was because they had taken cheap transportation on this leg. I assume it was a money issue. At this point, everything compounded, and they eventually found themselves 24 hours behind the leaders. Money should be spent to get places FASTER, not on luxuries. This isn't to say that spending money on a place to sleep during dead hours (checkpoints, or time before a task place opens) is a bad idea. Just go to Motel 6 instead of the Ritz. It wasn't worth the extra time for Flo and Zach to find cheaper lodgings at one point in the third race. In this case, the time was worth the money (and the bickering, but that was another matter). Remember, fatigue screws up both the mind and the body.
8) Don't be Penny-Wise, Pound Foolish. The teacher team made this mistake in Paris when they argued over a few dollars or cents with their cabbie. It was a race to the checkpoint, and the time spent fighting was not worth the extra francs. Zach and Flo bickered over the amount of money they should spend on a hotel room.
9) Try to Communicate with the Locals. English is a widely spoken language, but it's by no means universal. Lenny and Karyn might have done better if they had told their Taxi driver "Taj Mahal." This team had other problems (indeed, they got lucky several times), but this is what finally killed them. English-to-whatever dictionaries are a wise investment. Better still are local guides. Ask The Mole 2 players how much help a local boy was in getting them a win in the Pizza Game, or Danny and Oswald how much their native guide and local professional travel agents helped them.
10) Help Only the Weak Competition. The Frat boys helped Nancy and Emily several times. It was a smart move, because Nancy and Emily were a weak team. If things had gone a bit differently, they'd have gotten the Fast Forward in India and beaten out the much strong Team Guido. On the other hand, Emily made a HUGE mistake at the Eiffel Tower when she pointed out the flag on the Arc to Lenny. The competition was tight at that point, and it could have cost them everything that early in the race. However, Flo and Zach cleverly gave help to Ken and Gerard, which enabled them to beat Derek and Drew to the next checkpoint, keeping two athletic and fit young men out of the final leg of the race while the middle-aged, out of shape "Oh Brother" team stayed in the race.
11) Have Common Sense. One of the things I wondered about was the teams that decided to sleep out in the rain and cold to be at the task site when it opened. Uh, what did that buy? A few seconds at most? Bottlenecks are transportation, not task checkpoints. In Paris, where most of the teams tried to sleep in the wet and cold, Joe and Bill went to all-night cafes and places like that. Nancy and Emily went to a hotel and slept.
12) Hours are Everything. I'm comparing this to a favorite book of mine, Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. In it, Philias Fogg bet 20,000 pounds that he could complete a journey around the world in 80 days or less. The common sentiment was against him for the most part; the theoretical time listed in the newspapers didn't take into account practical matters, such as train delays of an hour that cost him to miss a ship, which could cost a day or two. In The Amazing Race, this translates into getting onto an earlier train, ship, or aircraft. Missing a transport by one minute doesn't cost you one minute; it can cost hours. Just ask Dennis and Andrew. They were eliminated because they had the slowest transport, and not even a Fast Forward could save them from elimination.
13) The Tasks are Almost Irrelevant. This thinking changed a bit in Amazing Race 3, where several teams did have problems with some of the tasks, some leading them to elimination. However, the bigger problem is finding the task. If you can't find the task, you can't do the task. Find it first, and don't worry about it. It usually won't be that big a deal to complete it.
14) Take Care of Your Possessions. This seems almost obvious, but ask Blake and Paige about losing their money, or Wil and Tara about losing their route instructions. These mistakes are very hard to recover from. Both got lucky to get away with those mistakes. Blake and Paige begged for cash; Wil and Tara begged for the information, and ended up playing "follow that plane." The twins in Amazing Race 3 nearly lost their baggage by leaving it in a cab in Mexico, and also misplaced their instructions once. These are mistakes teams shouldn't make in the first place.
15) NEVER Give Up. Mary and Peach figured they were dead last in Hong Kong and made their own pit stop at a Chinese restaurant. Flo wanted to give up several times, only to be rescued by Zach who kept prodding her along and finally dragged her across the finish line – in first place. They should have paid closer attention to Drew and Derek, the twins from Amazing Race 3. They lost the first Fast Forward to Ken and Gerard, but kept on going and survived that leg. Even in the leg in which they were eliminated, they knew they were in dead last, but refused to give up, hoping that it would be a non-elimination leg. It wasn't, but pouting and throwing in the towel early wouldn't have given them a better starting time if it had been a non-elimination checkpoint. There is always the possibility that another team broke the rules or that it's a non-elimination checkpoint.
16) At The End, Play a No-Limit Game. The World's Greatest Airport Employee refused to give Wil and Tara a taxi, telling them to get in line. They should have handed him $50 and asked for a cab NOW. Begging didn't work; hard cash bribes might have. In the end, the cash is there to burn on such luxuries. Making sure there is enough to make such bribes (or tips, if you prefer) is a wise strategy.
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