The Amazing Race: “This Is Wicked Strange (Baku, Azerbaijan)”
B+

The Amazing Race: “This Is Wicked Strange (Baku, Azerbaijan)”

B+

The Amazing Race

“This Is Wicked Strange (Baku, Azerbaijan)”

Season 20, Episode 6

On the one hand, this episode is severely flawed, in that the identity of the eliminated team became all too obvious very early in the hour. On the other hand, this episode features Art and J.J. and Bopper and Mark scraping crude oil off of hairy, half-naked men. And that proved to be comedy gold.

Having won three legs in a row, the Border Cops are the first team out of the pit stop in Bavaria. Although the show takes the time to note Brendan and Rachel stopping at a travel agency while the rest of the teams make straight for the airport, it made no difference, as all teams end up on the same flight to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, where the next clue awaits at the temple of fire. As the temple doesn’t open until dawn, and there happens to be a very lively, heavily percussive band on the premises, we get a rare glimpse of all the teams having fun, dancing together while waiting for first light. The show is usually so frenetic that I always appreciate these brief glimpses of down time.

Including the Fast Forward in a clue packet distributed to all teams simultaneously forces the racers to deal with a strategic conundrum. If only one team pursues the Fast Forward, they’re virtually guaranteed of winning it and propelling themselves to the front of the pack. If three or more teams pursue it, the losing teams at least have competition at the back of the pack. But if only two teams pursue the Fast Forward, one of them is likely to end up facing the worst case scenario: missing out on the magic ticket and finding themselves buried in last place, with little hope of catching up before the next pit stop.

That latter scenario is, in fact, what plays out this week, as Rachel and Dave and the Jersey Boys go head-to-head in a hay-stacking competition for the coveted prize. Rachel and Dave prevail, leaving the fist-pumpers deflated, and draining the hour of much of its drama. But the challenges help make up for the lack of suspense. At the Roadblock, one member of each team participates in a simulated underwater helicopter crash, which looks like an awful lot of fun, at least for those without an extreme phobia of drowning.

The Detour presents one mundane choice—picking a marked apple out of an old Soviet car full of them—and one hilarious option, in which teams are introduced to the odd Azerbaijan tradition of relaxing in a tub of hot crude oil. The Border Cops’ reaction to learning that this is actually a thing is funny enough, but their giggling helplessness at the prospect of scraping the crude from their hirsute subject is what really won me over. I started out skeptical of these guys, but I’d actually be okay with them winning at this point.

In the end, the editing team makes a token effort at suggesting that Vanessa and Ralph have gotten lost on the way to the pit stop, but the inevitable result does in fact come to pass, as Joey Fitness and Danny are eliminated from the race. I must admit, they didn’t turn out to be anywhere near as douchey as I feared from the first episode, but they never became particularly endearing, either. They were just sort of there, and now they aren’t.

Stray observations:

  • Vanessa: “I hope this is the first and last time I’m in a trunk.” I’m not sure all TAR viewers share that hope.
  • What is the deal with Mark barfing into a bag every time he and Bopper get into the back of a car? That is disturbing.
  • I don’t think the Feds understand the difference between “not seeming like a threat” and “not actually being a threat at all.”
  • No episode next week, but in two weeks we get zebras, as well as the return of the nastiness between Vanessa and Big Brother Rachel. Yay?