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'Amazing Race' recap: Mind the melon!

September 27, 2010 |  8:35 am

  99262_D2586bOnly an hour and a half into Season 17 of “The Amazing Race,” and many troubling questions have crowded to the fore.  Does Vicki the Tattooed Lady really believe that London is a country?  Would an angry medieval villager really scream “Don’t come up here, we don’t want you” to the people storming her castle’s walls?  And if Princeton a capella singers Connor and Jonathan persist in harmonizing through every episode, would the act of killing them qualify as homicide or a global peace initiative? 

 But to my mind, the most pressing inquiry is: Where are the gays? You know what I’m talking about.  All those Reichens-and-Chips and Carols-and-Brandys and Dannys-and-Oswalds.  Gay siblings and gay sons and gay best friends … buff, sardonic, ruthless … spicing season after season with their sass and wit and their heavy whiffs of gym-class ostracism.  And yet when the roll of Season 17 was called, not a single self-declared friend of Dorothy came a-running.

Oh, speculation may linger on best friends Ron and Tony, who first met while appearing in a production of “The Wiz” and who speak in the rounded cadences of motivational-workshop leaders.  But after a sprint through Logan Airport that left them in first place, the pair came a-cropper on the highway roundabouts of Great Britain, and the compass that Tony pressed to his chest like a golden pendant proved useless to the tall task of … driving to Stonehenge.  (“Big rocks?  Sitting in the middle of Salisbury Plain?  Can’t miss it.”)

When last seen, Ron and big Tony were attempting to ford a stream in a boat not much bigger than a coconut shell.  In defeat, they were smiling and gracious and serene, and I think I’m already glad to see the last of them.  Even if the job of singing “Ease on Down the Road” now falls to Connor and Jonathan.

This season’s producers couldn’t have anticipated that “Race” would finally lose its reality-competition Emmy crown to the slightly more whipper-snappery “Top Chef.”  But they might have come up with a better bill of fare for the opener than a tilt-a-whirl through Olde Englande.  Riding with Arthurian knights, scurrying along battlements and getting doused with water by people with authentically bad teeth … couldn’t you get pretty much the same experience at a Renaissance Faire?  Although let’s hope that, the next time you’re catapulting watermelons at suits of armor, you won’t suffer the horrifying melon-recoil that caught home-shopping hostess Claire right in the kisser.  “I can’t feel my face,” she reported. 

While we wait to see what international incidents are triggered next week in Ghana, let’s examine a few preliminary heats.

Top chump.  From the first leg of every “Race” season, true fans are sniffing out the testosterone to see who will win the Alpha-Male Futility Sprint.  I thought Thomas had seized an early lead by crowing that his Notre Dame education would give him unspecified “advantages,” but he was soon outdistanced by Chad the Stud, whose sputterings have reduced consort Stephanie to those bleats so essential to the show’s warp and weave: "Don’t yell at me, Chad....  Chad, just chill out.  You freaking out is not helping anything."  (The volleyball chicks have already singled out poor Stephanie as “Tinker Bell,” but she did fire off the show’s single best line while wandering through Eastnor Castle’s wooded glades: “I really do feel like we’re in ‘The Hobbit’ now.”)

Allies and adversaries.  Jock-docs Kat and Nat have found sisterly fellow feeling with the home-shopping queens.  Look for dormant killer instincts to rise from the wispy white souls of those Princeton singing boyz.  And watch out for pint-sized Kentucky beauty queen Mallory!  She may wish to hug every competitor, but she’d skin you faster than a muskrat, and God bless her for it.

Horses to back.  We are informed that the father-son team of Michael and Kevin is an Internet sensation.  I will have to take their word for it; I still think they’re doomed.  I don’t have high hopes, either, for Andie and Jenna, the recently reunited mother and biological daughter who have picked a rather strange vehicle for reconciliation.  Jill and Thomas are a well-oiled machine, but for now, I’m putting my money on the jock-docs.  Something about the way in which Nat gave herself an insulin stick without taking her eyes off the road suggests a woman with an end in sight and no end of resolve.

-- Louis Bayard

Photo: Tony and Ron get a clue from a jester. Credit: Jeffrey R. Staab / CBS