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"Amazing Race" recap: Being rude doesn't help at all

December 5, 2010 |  9:06 pm

To bicker or not to bicker?  If we are to judge from Season 17 -- and why stop there, the entire span of “Amazing Race” competitions -- the findings are decidedly mixed.  On the pacific side of the equation, we find Nat and Kat, the kind of elitists even an American could love: smart, modest, determined, financially independent and kinda bodacious in Lycra. If they were required to defend their lives in the manner of an Albert Brooks movie, the film of their partnership would spool out as unbroken montage of hugs and smiles and stiff upper lips and self-deprecating chuckles.  (And if you believe their treatment of Chad and Stephanie besmirched their good name, may I ask you to recall Chad?)

We can’t discount the possibility, of course, that the show’s producers have “cast” Nat and Kat as the Nice Chicks (or Girls, as they prefer) and snipped away any trace of acrimony.  I think it more likely that, being the smart professionals they are, these docs have chosen niceness for reasons as much strategic as humanitarian: Every cross word is a delaying word.  Recall the moment at the Seoul ice rink when Jill asked Thomas if he was ready to skate yet.  “Shut up,” explained Thomas.  See?  The effort required to snarl that witty riposte cost him at least one second.  Throw in another second or two for Jill’s slow burn, and a victory wedge has been created.

But bickering is not always the counterproductive strategy it may seem.  Earlier this season, Jill came off as a whimpering beautician cowed by her boyfriend’s Notre Dame education and praying (like Stephanie, like Vicki) for a kind word.  Enough of that.  This woman’s innit to winnit, and no amount of butt meeting ice during the event charitably known as “speed skating” could quench the fire in her eyes.  It’s to the point where, if they lose, I’m now more worried for Thomas.  Perhaps my favorite part of Episode 11 came when they were wandering through Han Riverside Park, waylaying bystanders for directions to the airplane sculpture.  “You can’t ask old people!” snapped Thomas when she made overtures to some ancient Korean.  To which Jill, chilly as a Pyongyang winter, replied: “I’m sorry, Thomas.  What about this guy?  Is he in your age range?”  Oh, bring it, Jill.

We can forgive her boyfriend for being testy.  Like Nicolas Cage in the “Wicker Man” remake, he’s the only man left in a town of “hungry, smart, athletic women that have proven they’re a force to be reckoned with.”  Although, to my mind, the “Brook and Claire flair” of the home-shopping priestesses is looking less like a force than a brand -- and a brand that may fast be losing its market share.  I don’t know whose idea it was to jog through Korea in matching hot pants, tank tops and red-striped tube socks.  I will only point out that, by the time they reached their final destination, Claire’s socks were most definitively missing.  And that Brook has never, in this entire season, looked so downcast as when a Korean cab driver hit on Claire.  (“Beautiful girl.  Solo?”)  Even blondeness, it seems, is a limit experience.

Speaking of limits: Episode 11 proved just how little suspense “Amazing Race” can generate when the wrong team stays alive.  Thanks to Nick’s craven submission in Hong Kong, he and Vicki were hours behind the three other teams, which meant they had to wait until the next morning for their flight to Seoul, which meant that no amount of cross-cutting could put them in the thick of it.  Their crawl toward yet another and, blessedly, a last last place had the feeling of shooting a horse that had died three weeks earlier.  Nick must have used the extra time to phone Dr. Phil, because his valedictory remarks were smeared with contrition: “I was totally out of line. ... I promised to myself and Vicki that I would never blow up like that again. ... Getting angry over things doesn’t change it.  Being rude doesn’t help at all.”  We’ll just leave it to Vicki the Tattooed Lady to place things in their proper perspective: “I went through this entire race without killing him, so that’s a good thing.”  And if that’s not a true-crime show waiting to happen, I don’t know what is.  

-- Louis Bayard