Amazing Race 4: Thinking Smart in Episode Oneby Jeffrey Clinard -- 06/02/2003
Amazing Race 4 has started with a bang! Twelve teams left Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in a race around the world, with the first place winners receiving a one million dollar cash prize. To win it, they'll need to use every resource they can, but the most important one of all is Thinking Smart. Thinking Smart means understanding the race, how it works, and how to do things more quickly or shave time by making the correct decisions. One mistake can often cause teams the race, so it's up to the teams to take advantage of the biggest resource of all – brainpower.
This week featured several route information checkpoints and a detour. The first significant advantage teams had was getting airline flights to Milan, Italy. The first plane had a theoretical 35 minute advantage over the second (this was negated to some extent by the delay in Swiss Air's arrival time), and the second flight had a significant advantage over the third. Traditionally, this indicates that a team in the last flight (on KLM) would be the first to be eliminated, but in Milan, a second separation task – the hidden bus tickets – came into play. However, the early flights had an advantage here as well – if the players were Thinking Smart. They could locate and figure out the times the different buses left before committing themselves to an envelope. Several teams acted first and thought second at this point.
The time advantage of being on the first two buses cannot be underestimated. The first bus gained a four hour advantage over the last bus, and the second bus gained two hours of advantage. This is plenty of time to make up for a mistake along the way.
Next, there is the detour – search or rescue. No team elected to search, but it may have been advantageous for some teams to have used that option. The less physical teams may have been able to find the clue and then ride via snowmobile to the next route marker. This would have saved significant time for a few teams. Obviously in hindsight several teams might have taken the search route; they didn't know they were in for a long walk in the snow.
Finally, the fast forward option. Interestingly enough, four teams that should have seriously considered the option didn't take it, and one team that shouldn't have tried for it did. Perhaps Reichen & Chip and Dave & Jeff considered they could beat Jaree & Tian or Debra & Steve to the checkpoint without it, but those teams might have considered using it as a move to stay out of last place, as there was a one-in-four chance of being eliminated first.
So which teams were thinking smart in episode 1?
Amanda and Chris. Well done. This team took the time to find the tickets for the first bus, and ended up in a three-way tie for first place, winning a nice trip courtesy of American Airlines as a bonus. While watching the race, I urged teams to race to the mat to win it, but it looks like by playing nice all three first place teams got the bonus. Nothing to complain about with this team, except maybe for Amanda's foul mouth.
Millie and Chuck. First to get a first bus ticket, despite being on the second flight, and after three other teams had found tickets. Nothing at all to complain about. The tie for first place shows they were doing everything right at almost every step of the race. They have allies and good race skills. What more can anybody ask for?
Josh and Steve. The only team to make both the first flight and the first bus also made the most friends. Besides fellow first-place finishers Millie & Chuck and Amanda & Chris, they got better airline transport for Steve & Dave, and got Sheree & Monica better bus tickets to make up for booting them off the earlier flight. They are piling up favors and may be in the best position to cash them in at a later time.
Monica and Sheree. There is a time and a place for using a fast forward, and this wasn't it. They had a two-hour time advantage over four other teams, time which makes up for plenty of mistakes. As I wrote in Thinking Smart Before the Race, teams should decide if the fast forward is going to buy them a lot of hours (at a time late in the race), or be the difference between staying in the race or being eliminated. Neither condition applied, so they had no good reason for squandering their only use of the fast forward this early in the game. At most, they gained three or four position slots. This is a major mistake, though I will note that Rob and Brennan from the first Amazing Race used the fast forward in the first episode while having a major time advantage and won anyway. Perhaps they are hoping for a repeat performance?
Steve and Dave. In hindsight, this team would probably have been better off trying the search option at the detour instead of the rescue. Sure, rescue may have been the easier task for most teams to complete, but search allows a snowmobile ride instead of a long hike, and that might have made the different between being the last team to arrive from the first bus (plus being beaten by the fast-forwarding Monica and Sheree). On the bright side, this team has been making the correct mental moves on the bottleneck transportation to end up in the upper tier. That is a sign this team might do well.
Kelly and Jon. Not paying attention to the instructions might have cost them early on in the race. By taking the bus tickets out of the holder they were put onto the second bus, despite being the first to find a ticket. They got lucky in that it was not the last bus, otherwise their early advantage might have been wiped out. They will need to do better in order to succeed in the race.
Jon and Al. Like Kelly & Jon, they jumped on a second bus ticket while first bus tickets were still available. However, it seems to be the only mistake they made so far in the race, and perhaps they will do better. These guys have the potential to be the America's choice to win the race, simply because they are always keeping a sense of humor and are truly entertaining the audience.
Russell and Cindy. Like some other teams, this team needs to pay more attention to the clues before acting. They also grabbed a second bus ticket without knowing if it was the first or last bus to arrive. They were fortunate, but they are slipping early, and that is not a good sign, particularly since they were dead last among the second bus passengers. Perhaps they will learn from their errors.
Reichen and Chip. The first of the double-slow transport teams to arrive. That's a good sign on the tactics of the race, but losing out on the faster transport indicates a problem with the way they are racing. Plus, do they really think they are kidding anybody into not noticing they are a gay couple? Granted, most same-sex teams in the race are not gay, but they are pulling the same tricks Team Guido did in the first race with their identical clothing – and sleeping in the same bed at the hotel room should be a pretty good tip-off to the other teams. Now what they really need to do is become a smart racing team like the Guidos.
Dave and Jeff. This team got lost twice, and ended up on the slow transport each step of the way. The first time they got lost was leaving Dodger Stadium, and the second while trying to complete the detour. Yes, looking for the flags is usually the right move, but the detour instructions should have told them they were to walk (not take a snowmobile) to the end of it, and they wasted valuable time going to the wrong location. This team needs to pick up their game and fast if they want to compete to win this race.
Tian and Jaree. The world won't know for some time if your position was due to bad luck or bad racing. They might have done better with the search option (all those cigarettes cost them when it came to the physical aspect of the game), but their 11th place finish might also have had to due with getting a bad SUV at Dodger Stadium. However, their overall performance, plus their coffee break, shows they may not be an elite team.
Debra and Steve. What went wrong? Everything. They took the slow plane, the slow bus, didn't get a hotel room until too late (when Reichen and Chip allowed them to share), and, probably for them, the slowest detour. They were passed by the models during the detour, and that cost them everything.
Jeffrey Clinard lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his cats, Lam and Princess. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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