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'Amazing Race' recap: I got GPS, OK? [Updated]

December 12, 2010 | 10:18 pm

DoctorsOK, so maybe it wasn’t on the level of Frances Perkins (first woman on the U.S. Cabinet) or Sandra Day O’Connor (first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court) or Sally Ride (first American woman in space).  But in the corrupt precincts of reality TV, doesn’t being the first all-female team to win “Amazing Race” count for something?  Could even the most arrant male chauvinist have quelled his kvell as he watched Nat and Kat racing toward Phil Keoghan’s raised eyebrow and the $1-million payoff? 

Ladies, you did it.  You struck a blow for your gender and—dare I say it?—for collegiality.  Chad and Thomas and Nick fumed at their women, Claire whined at Brook, Kevin let us know time and again what a burden his father was.  With the exception of Jesus-take-the-wheel Mallory and her dad, you were the only two contestants who, on the evidence of edited footage, never turned on each other, whether through word, deed or eye roll. 

You are anesthesiologists, of course, which is why Phil made a point of mentioning your “surgical precision,” but you proved that even the dumbest pun can harbor a grain of truth.  [Updated at 1:30 p.m.: The original post mistakenly called Nat and Kat surgeons rather than anesthesiologists.] You conquered the bungee jump at Long Beach (despite Nat’s well-documented fear of heights), you clambered straight into the nearest helicopter (ignoring the pervading Valkyrie chords on the soundtrack) and you sawed masterfully through the set of clues that began “I am Sancho Panza’s master” (ignoring a nation’s worth of underemployed lit majors screaming, “Don Quixote!”). 

Even the task of chronologically arranging the faces of the show's pit-stop greeters barely slowed you down.  You just whipped out your notes—who knew contestants kept notes?—and threw together your tableau and careered toward the finish line.  It was left to the show’s producers to gin up suspense by cutting ominously to the Sunset Boulevard street sign, as though any minute Norma Desmond might body-block your cab, and showing the two of you—in L.A., of all places—getting stuck in traffic.

Nice guys don’t always finish first on “Amazing Race,” but character is almost always destiny.  Exhibit A: that proud Notre Dame alumnus Thomas, who, on the flight from Seoul (“a world capital of extreme significance,” says Phil) announced he was looking forward to “breaking out his Spanish skills” in California.  Little suspecting that, en el momento crítico, he would be reduced to screaming at his cabbie: “Can I please use your phone, sir?  I’m begging you to use your phone!  Sir, do you know what the Internet is?”  To all of these entreaties the cabbie had pretty much one reply: “I got GPS, OK?”  Which, for someone of my generation, has the virtue of recalling Gilda Radner’s implacable cleaning lady: “I clean up, OK?”

But where Thomas really came a-cropper was in assuming that the show’s climactic test would be a test of physical prowess.  When, in fact, it was a test of … decorating.  To wit, festooning three sections of the Rose Bowl float.  Heaven help you if your roses weren’t damp.  And lest you think the female fix was in, note that Nat approached the whole job as if she were removing fibroids.  The only one who embraced it—and were we in any way surprised?—was former beauty-queen Brook.  “I feel right at home in the float brigade,” she proclaimed.  “These are my people.”

Even more her people: game-show fossil Bob Eubanks, looking independent-living-y in a lemon-curd sweater.  I last saw him more than 20 years ago in Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me,” telling a joke that managed to be both homophobic and anti-Semitic.  This did not deter the home-shopping priestesses, who glommed on to him like bobby-soxers: “You’re, like, our idol!”  “Good,” he answered coolly.  “You’re mine, too.”  And if they ever stopped to wonder how that could be, their epiphany has been lost to posterity. 

Anyway, when it comes to Brook and Claire (who sported leopard pants for the final leg and who somehow managed to squeeze a season’s worth of matching outfits into two backpacks) the past doesn’t seem to register with particular force.  They are creatures of the future.  Small wonder, then, that their faces should crop up in the preview for next season, which turns out to be not a brand-new installment but a mosh-pit of previous also-rans.  The singing Princetonians!  Cowboy brothers Jet and Cord!  Boston police menschen Michael and Louie!  Who will win?

For me, the premise will fly only if, as in all successful dinner parties, partners are divided.  Imagine Michael quickening to the touch of Maria the Poker Queen.  Imagine Mallory driving a wedge through Kynt and Vyxin.  And now please imagine Nick the Swine left to the mercies of Flight Time and Big Easy.

See you in February, Race-ers. 

-- Louis Bayard

 Photo: Nat Strand (left) and Kat Chang. Credit: John Paul Filo/CBS.