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'Amazing Race' recap: Africa, tobacco and a smile

October 31, 2011 |  7:30 am


Malawi looks like a really pleasant place. The warehouse workers get to wear teal jumpsuits — did you hear, teal is the color for fall? — and they clap and sing at work. Regular people, who often carry things around on their heads, are good-looking and calm. The little children at school are perfect and adorable. Smiling ladies in cool purple dresses sing a welcome to reality television contestants when they finally check in at their destination.

Sometimes, "The Amazing Race" feels a teensy too much like a promotional tourist video.

In this leg, the contestants leave Thailand and travel in the same plane across the Indian Ocean to Malawi in Southern Africa. When they reach the capital, Lilongwe, they must go to a warehouse for tobacco, the small country's main export. There, one orange-clad team member must move ten 200-pound bags of tobacco on a handcart through an obstacle course of singing and clapping staff members in teal jumpsuits.

En route, Cathi makes conversation with the taxi driver. "We love your country already; it is very spacious," she says slowly and loudly in that awkward way of trying to communicate with someone who speaks another language. That comment, by the way, became the title for this episode.

The work, although physically difficult, goes relatively quickly for Jeremy and Justin and Ernie, and also for Laurence and Tommy. It's kind of fun to watch, if seeing dozens of guys joyously jumping around bales of raw carcinogens can be fun. But the taxis carrying Amani & Marcus and Bill & Cathi get caught in traffic as the other teams labor. Cathi, perhaps, continues to make awkward conversation during the wait. Of the last two teams to get to the tobacco warehouse, oldster Bill somehow manages to finish before former NFL star Marcus. Really? Is Marcus OK?

The next clue sends them to either sew in a market tailor shop or make a toy truck out of scraps at a school. Four teams head to the school: Jeremy & Sandy, Justin & Jennifer, Andy & Tommy and Laurence & Zac. Laurence tells Zac all the women will sew, then tells Sandy & Jennifer how surprised he is they aren't sewing, and continues to prattle on about women, sewing and marriage in a way that's more retro than a dress with a bustle.

Sewing takes longer than making toy trucks, so Ernie & Cindy, who finish sewing first, wind up running in fourth place. Again, Amani & Marcus wind up falling into last place.

But they're not done yet.

This is an episode where we learn more about the contestants' real lives. Amani & Marcus' youngest child has special needs. Jennifer teaches special-needs kids. Jeremy has a 6-year-old son at home. Justin is a surgeon — or a doctor who talks knowledgeably about surgery. Sandy's a healthcare professional, too.

At the next stop, each team must get two wooden bed frames, summon a truck and travel to a destination. When they arrive, they have to carry those bed frames a ways — but not too far. "I hear drumbeats," Justin says, as he and Jennifer head down a path through some woods to find Phil and be the first to the check-in point. Ladies smile and sing behind him. Andy & Tommy arrive a few moments later.

Justin & Jennifer neglected to pay their truck driver, so they're sent back to take care of it, giving Andy & Tommy first place again. Again, Andy & Tommy win a trip for two from Travelocity.

Carrying the beds isn't easy for everyone. "My shoulder is bleeding," says Sandy. Cindy collapses, laughing, with the bed frame on top of her. "I'm in jail," she calls, sandwiched under the planks. Amazingly, oldster Cathi jams right along, bringing her up to the check-in point. Justin & Jennifer, returned from paying their driver, sneak in before Bill. They're second, now, and Bill & Cathi also have to go back and pay the driver they stiffed.

Jeremy & Sandy are third, followed by Laurence & Zac and Ernie & Cindy. Amani & Marcus, whose taxi broke down, slog along with their bed frames knowing they're in last place; the returning Bill & Cathi get past them to check in first. Amani & Marcus are last.

It's too early to lose Amani & Marcus. They're spared elimination and will be back next week.

Maybe next week things will have a few more fireworks. In this episode, teams were roughly equal; none of the challenges proved particularly challenging to any of them. Those that fell behind could blame bad taxi luck or the error of failing to pay their drivers. I don't mean this to sound mean, but it's more fun when they start blaming each other. "The Amazing Race" is not only a tourist video but also an interpersonal drama. When the pressure is on and teams have to work together or come apart, that's when things get interesting.


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— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Marcus and workers in a tobacco warehouse in Malawi. Credit: CBS