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'Amazing Race' recap: Stay calm, and everything will be good

November 21, 2010 |  8:53 pm

            Greetings, “Race”-ers!  So sorry I couldn’t be here last week.  I was on a quasi-sorta-amazing race of my own across Paris, the highlights of which included presenting a French literary award — in French — to an Argentinian writer who owns a Madrid bar called Le Bukowski and who showed up for the occasion in a doo rag.  And ignored my outstretched hand.  And smelled like feet.  French TV being what it is, I was unable to check in last Sunday to watch: our contestants, in a profound confusion of lore, carrying frankincense to Ali Baba (no myrrh?); Stephanie consenting to a long life of manipulation and emotional chaos with Chad; and Mallory being “called home,” though not in the way this teary, persistently Christ-invoking gal might interpret the term.

            Mallory, bless her, remained convinced to the bitter end that the Virgin Mary was closely following the proceedings, and if that’s the case, let’s hope Our Blessed Mother hasn’t abandoned the other women in the hunt.  Host Phil keeps reminding us that no team composed entirely of X chromosomes has ever won this thing — a failure rate that becomes all the more remarkable when you see how fiercely women have been kicking butt all season.  Episode 9, for example, presented us with the grrl power of Brook, lofting edifices of brick atop her unsullied blond head; Vicki the Tattooed Lady, hauling 30 containers of fecal-smelling “snacks” across the brown-green, trash-laden waters of Dakha harbor with her characteristic lack of self-pity; and Jill, slapping together a rickshaw bike faster than you can say “Phil Keoghan’s mysteriously elusive accent.” 

            Now a churl might note that Jill, by her own description, drew from an arsenal of “nuts and bullets” in building said rickshaw and that she wasn’t exactly sure what Thomas meant when he told her to keep her extremities inside the cab.  And let’s be honest, Claire doesn’t seem to be reading from the same feminist manifesto as the others.  “Brook, wait!” she moaned.  “I’m not going to be a very good teammate if I’m passed out…. I have been digging deep…. I don’t run marathons like you.”  For the first time, cracks have materialized in the stucco of the home-shopping priestesses’ bravado.  We can blame it on the pressure of competition, or we can attribute it to the G-forces of Brook’s competitive zeal, which draws equally from Eros, Thanatos and Los Alamos. 

             Nevertheless, as any longtime “Race” viewer knows, the greatest obstacle/speed bump/detour faced by any woman on the show is not heat or cold or cramps or cholera but the fragility of the male ego, which reduces chesty specimens like Chad to standing in the middle of a thronged street and bellowing, “Where’s Lalbagh Fort?”  Safe, I guess, in the assumption that the sheer weight of his need will snap an entire nation to attention. 

            In the face of such deeply hard-wired frailty, two management strategies have emerged.  First, pediatric praise, as ladled on by Vicki: “Good job, babe…. Just stay calm, and everything will be good…. Yay, I’m so proud of you.”  Second, the rather tougher love practiced by Stephanie — “Shut the hell up” — which can be ameliorated, as necessary, with more positive assurances: “I love you, Chad.”  Theirs will be a marriage, and a divorce, for the ages. 

             For the time being, let us draw pleasure from Chad, after declaring he didn’t want to “lose to a pair of girls,” being tossed from the competition by a pair of ... doctors.  Without a backward glance or a trace of regret, Kat and Nat sent the newly engaged pair into U-turn limbo, thereby ceding the moral high ground to Vicki, who forbore to turn the same mean trick and who, upon reaching a best-ever second place, crowed: “So being nice does pay off!” To which her swinish consort, Nick, replied: “Yeah.”  And if you think Nick meant yeah, I have a Bangladeshi bottled-water start-up you might be interested in.  And a sugar cane juice franchise, just itching to go global. 

— Louis Bayard