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'Amazing Race' recap: Look at those yaks!

October 10, 2010 | 10:44 pm

"Wait, Babe…I'm sorry, Babe…Babe, I'm trying…Babe, I'm sorry…Babe, I can't breathe."  After hearing the running spigot of apologies from Vicki the Tattooed Lady to boyfriend Nick, I was desperately hoping she would channel her inner Styx and shout "Babe, I'm leaving!" as she took an African walking stick to Nick's bandana. Being of nobler stuff, Vicki stuck out her chin like Greer Garson and persevered -- even in the face of an asthma attack and even when, by a malign twist of fate, she was confronted with the thing she must have dreaded most: a geography test.

You may recall this was the same Vicki who, two episodes back, announced that London was a country. So we shouldn't have been surprised to see her flinch before the challenge of picking out Ghana in a map. (Confession: I couldn’t have done it either.) Even this didn't daunt her, and after watching her dogged and stoical progress, I found myself flooded with a new respect for Vicki and at the same time wishing I could airlift her a copy of "Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them." Seriously, Sweetie, if a man screams "Shut up!" and "Do you have no common sense in your whole body?", he's not a keeper.

Fortunately, Episode 3 wasn’t all Stanley-and-Stella. There was a richly comic moment when Jonathan crooned, "Look at those yaks!" And an even richer moment when home-shopping priestess Claire saw African children dancing around her and immediately assumed they were part of a clue. "Why are you circling us with chalk?" she cried.  For no good reason, it turned out, other than to provide a little local color.  But you can forgive "Amazing Race" contestants for presuming that everything around them is also about them; that's exactly what the show has encouraged them to think.  It's only in genuinely poor countries like Ghana that this presumption grates rather roughly against nonreality-show realities.  Even that Kentucky-born optimist Mallory was moved to grapple with the divide between game-show glitz and subsistence agriculture: "This is their way of life, and they don't know any different.  We don’t know any different except for freedom and luxury and justice."  John Locke, meet Mallory.

And leave it to the Princeton boyz to (unwittingly) justify their parents' outrageous educational outlays by deducing that the key to a particular puzzle was hidden -- OK, wait for it -- on the wall around the corner. This revelation eluded everyone else, and Connor and Jonathan strolled home so far in advance of the competition that they might have had time to catch dinner at Cottage Club.  It's becoming clear to me how WASPs once ruled the world. They always had somewhere else to be.

Well, never mind, Episode 3 will forever be the Saga of Michael, the 58-year-old dad who nearly fainted in the sun and had to struggle to his feet just to finish the damn race -- only to learn that he and his son Kevin had been spared elimination.  Michael's agony was the real thing: a father desperately wanting to be his son's hero and a son accepting what his father has left to give.  "Amazing Race" is a race, we know that, but every so often, the sheet rock of competition cracks open to admit something small and private and human.  And that's okay too.

And now, Michael and Kevin, go ye forth and conquer.

-- Louis Bayard