Amazing Race 4: Thinking Smart in Episode 4by Jeffrey Clinard -- 06/24/2003
We've seen four episodes and four teams eliminated. From the beginning twelve, one-third of the teams are gone. Of the eight teams left, three have already used fast forwards, and it's also been used in every leg so far, an Amazing Race first. So how does the race look now? How are teams using their brainpower to get ahead?
First, let's examine the issue of money. Thinking smart means understanding it's a resource, and a valuable one at that. Teams only have so much of it, and they need to make it last. However, they also have to make it work for them. Knowing when to spend money is a hidden part of the race, and one teams need to understand.
A prime example regarding the use of money occurred this week in the race. Several teams spent upwards of $150 on cab fare to get to an airport in the first section of this leg, while other teams took a train. The division was especially evident in Steve & Josh, and their difference of opinion. From the start, I was strongly in favor of Josh's choice of saving the money and taking a train to an airport. Why? Because, as is predictable, the teams bottlenecked during the leg, and a one- or two-hour advantage in flight time from Austria to France ended up buying nothing at all when the teams reached the lighthouse. The money should have been conserved on that segment of the race, to be used later when it would be needed more.
However, were the time of the decision reversed, and the decision to take a cab or a train was in the last segment of the leg, then Steve's position would have been the correct one. When it's a dash to the pit stop, teams need to take the fastest transport, not the most economical one.
Next, let's examine the simple concept of flags. Every single segment, of every single leg, of every single episode of The Amazing Race has been marked with a flag in specified colors (usually red-and-yellow, but different color markings were used in Vietnam to avoid confusion with the national flag of that country). In this leg, two different teams neglected to look for the flags and ended up wasting time because of it.
This week's detours and roadblocks were almost irrelevant. The roadblock was interesting to watch (and exciting to participate in), but there wasn't anything special about it time-wise, as teams bottlenecked after this event. The detour of rappelling or walking was also a non-event; only two teams in the history of the race have declined to rappel in favor of the other detour (those teams being the Gutsy Grannies from Amazing Race 2 and Flo & Zack from Amazing Race 3). The time advantage to rappelling was so clear, the choice was obvious. The fast forward was a different matter. Teams were all bottled up together, with only a detour left, so any team might have felt vulnerable at that point of the race. Tian & Jaree might have been wise to go for it since they felt they were behind everybody else, though in actuality it appears last-place finishing Josh & Steve got so lost it wouldn't have made any difference.
So, in order of arrival, which teams were thinking smart?
Tian & Jaree. This team fast forwarded, which wasn't a bad idea, given that they were at the bottom of the pack after the bottleneck clustered the teams together. It may very well have been the difference between elimination and staying the race, if the other teams had raced well (the complete collapse of Josh & Steve could not be predicted). However, their position of going for it was a result of actions they performed during the leg which hurt them. True, while spending the money on cabfare to the airport was a mistake, and wasting enough time to miss the first train (unlike the efficient Monica & Sheree), their real mistake was giving up their position in front of the lighthouse road. It was not their fault they were directed there, effectively cutting in line. They should not have abandoned it. True, the other teams would have been angry, but there is nothing any team can do to eliminate another. They should have held the position and capitalized on the time advantage.
Jon & Al. The happy-go-lucky clowns made a wise early move, taking a train to the larger Munich airport where they would be able to get a flight to Paris quickly. They completed the roadblock quickly, and took the expressway to Marseilles. They were also the second to arrive at the route information box at the lighthouse, and second to the detour showing they are performing well. Their alliance with Mille & Chuck seems to be benefiting both teams, as they traveled together most of the leg, and a shared second place was their reward.
Millie & Chuck. This team made a good decision in taking a train to Munich, which they felt was the larger hub, and thus more likely to have an abundance of flights to Paris. They also refused to share information with Kelly & Jon. Millie claims it was ethical, and I agree. It's why helping only the weak competition is a thinking smart tip. Of course, they did ally themselves with Jon & Al, which has to their mutual advantage, so that particular alliance seems to be working for now. This time out, Millie wisely let Chuck perform the roadblock, as she couldn't breathe. It was the fast way to complete the task. They ended up in a shared second place, which was well-deserved.
Monica & Sheree (have used fast forward). This team bought faster transport to Paris via their expensive cab ride, which I feel was a mistake. However, they, unlike Tian & Jaree, did not dawdle around the airport after arrival, and was able to secure a faster train to Le Mans. That action WAS thinking smart, even if it became meaningless afterwards. What this team did fail at was taking the expressway to Marseilles. They blew their lead and then some, not smart racing. After the teams evened out at the lighthouse, they pulled up to the finish line in the number four position, not bad considering they were the fifth team to the lighthouse and the detour.
Reichen & Chip. This team took a cab at the beginning of the episode, and I've already ranted enough about why I think that wasn't thinking smart. They also didn't check their airline tickets and ended up with business class seats on the leg from Frankfurt to Paris. Refusing to use them was thinking smart (the risk IS too great), but this error should not have been made in the first place. However, what really wasn't thinking smart was their premature stop in the mountains. This team failed to look for the flag that would have indicated the correct location and wasted a lot of time hiking down the wrong path. While their finish was in the middle of the pack, a mistake like this could cost them everything in a later stage of the race. They are fortunate they had enough time to recover from this serious error.
David & Jeff. This team has come to the conclusion that they should be concentrating move on the mental part. Given that this column is “THINKING SMART IN EPISODE X,” I'm forced to agree with their conclusion. Actually, a really elite team has both the mental and physical part down, and if these two can accelerate their mental game plan, they can excel in the race. They made a good decision in taking the train to Munich, another good one in being the first team to actually park in the correct (flagged!) parking lot, but they made a bad one on the path from the detour back to the parking lot. Why? Because this time they failed to look for the flag. No other team missed it, so the error was completely theirs. It cost them both time and energy, causing them to drop in ranking during this leg of the race. It's the kind of mistake they can't afford to make if they wish to win.
Kelly & Jon. This team needs to focus more on making good decisions themselves and less about working with other teams. It was their choice of Salzburg or Munich, and I think they picked the weaker choice. It was their decision to go that way, and it was also their decision in which route to take in order to find the lighthouse. I have no idea if it was skill or luck, but they were the first to arrive, which means something went right for them (though again, due to Jon and not Kelly). One thing this time was an error on the roadblock. It should never be a matter of who wishes to do it, or taking turns, it should be a matter of examining the clue and figuring out from it which person is more likely to complete the task faster. Kelly should not have argued the matter before they got the clue (and she regretted the choice after having to actually perform it). They did get to the detour in third place, but completely blew getting to the pit stop, dropping dramatically in position during the final leg. These mistakes must end if they are to continue in the race.
Steve & Dave (have used fast forward). In some ways, this team is the opposite of Dave & Jeff. Where those two have realized that often it isn't a matter of physical fitness and ability, and is often a matter of thinking smart, Steve & Dave have found out that sometimes it isn't just a matter of thinking smart, but also some physical ability, particularly in a sprint to the finish line. I'm not sure what kind of transport they took to Salzburg, but they went there instead of Munich, catching up to Kelly & Jon in the process. This leg of the race bottlenecked up and they ended up on the back end of the pack, finishing next to last for the second time in a row. This team is surviving on luck, not skill, and will need to turn things around in order to continue in the race.
Steve & Josh. What went wrong? Heck, I don't know. Somewhere between the lighthouse and the detour, they must have gotten awfully lost, because it was dark when they checked in at the pit stop. It seems funny, since I think their decision to take a train instead of a cab was the correct one. Unfortunately, that saved money didn't do them any good when it came to the end. They couldn't buy themselves a better finishing position.
Jeffrey Clinard lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his cats, Lam and Princess. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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