Amazing Race 4: Thinking Smart in Episode 8by Jeffrey Clinard -- 07/22/2003
To begin with - a correction. In my last article, I wrote that only four women had crossed the finish line in the history of the Race. However, five actually have. The person I forgot to mention was Paige from The Amazing Race 2 (third place along with her brother Blake). Also, thanks to everybody who wrote in with their theories about why all-female teams have not done well in The Amazing Race. I'll be compiling the information into a future article (probably next week).
This week featured the first of three non-elimination legs of the Race. While the viewers know very early in the episode (when Phil asks the question of who will be eliminated NEXT, instead of who will be eliminated TONIGHT), teams only can deduce the information when they get their final clue of the leg, which instructs them to check in at the pit stop. All final clues in elimination legs feature the warning that the team that checks in last will be eliminated. Legs that are non-elimination do not have that warning. Of course, by the time the teams get the clue, their finishing position is almost certainly determined already, and even if teams know it's not an elimination round, they have every incentive to get to the pit stop as quickly as possible, because the quicker they arrive, the quicker they get to leave the next leg. This was a mistake made by The Amazing Race 3 winner Flo, when she threw in the towel (and a tantrum) at the final segment of a leg (the event earned an induction as a Reality TV Hall of Shame Moment). Careful examination of the clue should have told them they were safe, even though they finished last in that leg.
In addition, smart teams should realize that the final two legs feature one of the non-elimination checkpoints and always feature three teams. Therefore, a smart team should deduce that if there are four teams left, and only one non-elimination leg has been logged, the current leg will not have an elimination. This happened in The Amazing Race 2, and while I deduced it would be non-elimination even before the episode aired, Blake & Paige obviously did not. Why? Because they used their Fast Forward on that leg of the Race, ensuring their survival when it wasn't necessary. Since the other teams left in the Race had already used their Fast Forward, it would have been a huge advantage going into the final two legs of the Race. Of course, it's possible that Fast Forward options are no longer available when three teams remain, but if they are, then it would provide a great jump at the end of the Race. My Thinking Smart tips always indicate that Fast Forwards should only be used if a team feels it's the difference between elimination or survival, or if it will give them a huge advantage in hours (with the note that this is only possible in the last stages of the Race). No team has ever had a Fast Forward available in the final legs of the Race, so the question is a bit academic at this time. However, I'll probably focus another future article (probably two weeks from now) on the topic, since an astonishing four of the five remaining teams still have the Fast Forward option available this late in the Race.
This week featured travel from India to Malaysia, a Detour which featured a choice between strength and skill, a weapon-based Roadblock, and the usual (and unused) Fast Forward option. Several things were odd about this episode. First, only 15 minutes separated the first and last teams to leave, which indicates that Tian & Jaree were probably eliminated by minutes in the last episode. Second, nearly 30 minutes of the episode was dedicated to the travel segment (between India and Malaysia). This was indeed the most important part of the journey (long distance travel ALWAYS is), but it's unusual for so much time to be dedicated to it. Next, there was no equalizing task after the aircraft travel. Usually there is, but in this case it was straight racing throughout the leg. Finally, not one, but two boat drivers delivered the Racers to the wrong Detour location. It wasn't an elimination round, but if it had come down to a tight finish (like in the previous episode), a team might have been eliminated due to simple bad luck instead of anything they did wrong. It's happened before, but it's always a frustrating to watch when it happens.
The travel segment ended up separating the teams into two groups (at arrival at least), with Jon & Al, Millie & Chuck, and Reichen & Chip arriving on the first flight in, and Kelly & Jon and David & Jeff arriving on the second flight. The Detour provided a simple choice between a strength-based task and a skill-based task. The choices seemed clear to me, but I think at least three teams failed to make the right decision in this case. The Roadblock had potential to shift the positions of the teams, and, indeed, one team passed another during the task, only to fall behind again when they failed to navigate to the pit stop correctly. No team used the Fast Forward option, though Kelly & Jon and David & Jeff were in a position where they might have used it. They arrived on the second flight in and could have been vulnerable. However, it worked out for them as it was a non-elimination leg.
So which teams were thinking smart in Episode 8?
Jon & Al. The clowns took first place for the first time in the Race (though they've always done well). In fact, they didn't seem to make a single error in the leg, taking the best flights, picking the best Detour option for them (the first time), and staying in first or second place through most of the leg. They dropped the lead once at the good luck ritual at the Monsopliad Cultural Village to Millie & Chuck, took it back during the Detour, and lost it again, this time to Reichen & Chip at the very end of the Roadblock, where Chip completed the javelin throw faster than Jon. However, unlike Reichen & Chip, they found the pit stop quickly and beat them by seconds, earning the trip for their first place win.
Reichen & Chip. There is something to be said for using professional travel agents. Oswald & Danny used them to their advantage in The Amazing Race 2, when their flight beat out other teams by 20 minutes on the journey to Australia. However, when Reichen & Chip used them in this episode, they took a much larger risk in doing so. It took them more than two hours to get their ticketing arrangement, well after all the other teams had left India. It was a huge risk that wasn't worth the downside. In fact, they admitted that the end result would either be a big advantage or elimination. At this point, the potential gain isn't worth the possibility of elimination. It's almost certain a bottleneck will show up to equalize the teams again, and almost every other team has a Fast Forward option to use as well. It's not the first time they've taken a big risk for minimal gain, and I have a feeling it might be their undoing at some point in the race. They had some bad luck, such as when their cab driver missed the Monsopliad Cultural Village in Malyasia and when their boat pilot took to them to the wrong Detour. Despite all that, they still could have won first place, as they finished the Roadblock first. However, they got lost coming out of the Roadblock, which allowed the clowns to make up the time. While they've been a good team, there are consistently failing at the little things which make an elite team.
Millie & Chuck (have used Fast Forward). The virgins started off by trying to tailgate on Reichen & Chip's information gathering at the airport. However, it was completely unnecessary for them to try and eavesdrop on their conversation - all they needed to do was wait for them to finish, then ask the agents to tell them what they told the married couple. There was simply no reason for the agents not to - it would have meant additional sales at no additional work. Where this team showed real brains was by using the time during their layover in Singapore to push for a better flight to Malaysia. It paid off and put them on the first flight out, and is directly responsible for their third place position (they might easily have been last if they were on the second flight). Their boat driver took them to the fish Detour instead of the lobster traps (which they had requested), but I think this was to their advantage. Kelly & Jon initially tried the lobster traps and gave up, since they didn't have the needed muscle power to obtain that clue. Millie & Chuck as a unit are probably in the same strength category, and might have been forced to abandon the trap option. What they really did badly in this episode was their execution of the Detour. It was an inspired move to jump in the water and work the problem like that, but their execution of KEEPING the fish in the basket was dismal. They would have been better off making several partial deliveries to complete the task, and they failed to do the little things, like keeping the net over the top of the basket while draining the water out of it. They made the task unnecessarily hard, and lost time because of it.
David & Jeff. This team made plenty of mistakes in this episode. First, they failed to get on the fast plane, which pretty much doomed them to the bottom of the pack from that point on. When they arrived at the Detour, they went for catching fish instead of hauling up a lobster trap. At the Detour, they fumbled badly by making the simple mistake of not looking for the flag. The right fish pens were clearly marked, but instead they used the net in an unmarked pen and delivered a full set of the wrong fish. They did better when they found the right fish, making partial deliveries that eliminated the problems Millie & Chuck encountered during the task. All of this could have been avoided by taking the lobster option, which would have been smarter since they had the needed strength.
Kelly & Jon. This team had the same opportunity Millie & Chuck had in the Mumbai Airport, but squandered it by sleeping instead of trying to get an earlier flight to Malaysia. It dropped them to the last position, where they stayed to the end. However, they made matters worse for themselves by trying and finally giving up on the lobster Detour. While it was better for them to acknowledge their mistake rather than fight it out on a hopeless task, they should never have tried that option in the first place. I was a bit surprised they picked Kelly for the Roadblock, but she did just as well as the men who completed it, and maybe even a bit better than some of them. One thing they didn't do was give up, pushing forward even when they knew they were in last place. There is always hope that the leg is non-elimination (which it was), or that another team broke the rules and were hit with a time penalty.
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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