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'The Amazing Race': The return of the hay bales

November 9, 2009 |  7:38 am

98246_D0301 With only five teams left in the race, the stakes have gotten higher than ever. So it was only fitting that the producers of "The Amazing Race" would bring back one of the toughest challenges ever devised in the history of the race.

Yes, it was the return of the hay bales. 

Longtime viewers of "The Amazing Race" might recall, way back in Season 6, that Mormon sisters Lena and Kristy were eliminated from the race after Lena spent 10 --yes, 10 --hours dismantling bales of hay, searching for one of the few hidden clues among hundreds of hay bales. It was nearly as grueling to watch as it was for Lena herself; even after 10 hours, she didn't quit, and Phil had to walk out to her in the darkness to tell them they had been eliminated.

Now, nine seasons later, the very same challenge would face the remaining teams. Most of this week's leg was pretty simple: an airplane ride, an amusement park free fall, blowing things up in a quarry. A cake walk, really. (Only fitting that it was Flight Time's birthday.)

But the hay has a will of its own, curling itself around those few yellow-and-red flags and hiding them from prying eyes and searching hands. It's an endurance challenge that can reduce even the toughest competitors to tears and exhaustion.

I'm usually against any of the contestants revealing it's their birthday while on the race. "The Amazing Race" has a cruel sense of irony; if you purport to be an expert at something, if you say you know a city like the back of your hand, if you announce it's your birthday ... chances are you're going home that leg. Luck was clearly on Flight Time and Big Easy's side this week. They managed not only to catch up to the other teams fairly early on but also to arrive at the Pit Stop first after breezing through the hay-bales roadblock without breaking much of a sweat. Nicely played, Globetrotters.

I have to say that I was impressed with Meghan. She was the only female participant who was performing this roadblock and, despite her protestations and frustration, she continued to roll out those bales with as much grit and determination as the men. (The fact that she tried to psych out Cheyne and pretend to give up once she found one of the flags made it all the more sweet.)

Ericka and Brian might just be the cutest couple ever. Yes, she's high-strung. Sure, she screams his name WAY too often. But the former Miss America not only takes pride in her beauty regimen, but she's also a fierce competitor. I was glad that Brian found that flag super fast and they were able to skip a few places ahead of some of the other teams, especially as Brian's mission in the tace isn't just to win a million bucks but also to prove to Ericka's mother that he is a good husband for her daughter. Aw.

I was, um, less than pleased with brothers Sam and Dan. If the bales weren't difficult enough, having your loutish brother scream at you the entire time would be enough to make several racers just give up right there. It's one thing to offer encouragement, it's another to be frustrated by your teammate's lack of progress, but it's quite another to continually shout directions and yell at the guy unrolling hundreds of bales of hay. 

And finally there was father-and-son team Gary and Matt. I'll admit that I got a little teary-eyed when Matt said that his dad was "Superman" for not giving up and continuing to search through those bales of hay even after all of the other teams had checked in. After all, you're not out until Phil tells you so. Good thing Gary didn't quit because, despite being out there for several hours, it was a non-elimination round. Sure, there's still the dreaded speed bump to look forward to on the next leg, but this man of steel will keep flying, nonetheless.

What did you think of this week's episode? Which team is destined to make it to the top? Did you want to muzzle Dan to prevent his constant yelling? Glad that Gary and Matt got to stick around to fight another day? Who are you rooting for? Head down to the comments section to discuss.

-- Jace Lacob (Follow my musings on television, food, and more television on Twitter at @televisionary)

Photo: Flight Time and Big Easy give "The Amazing Race" a thumbs-up. Credit: Monty Brinton / CBS

Related:
'The Amazing Race': For whom the bell tolls
'The Amazing Race': Slip and Slide

Complete 'Amazing Race' coverage on Showtracker 

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