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'Amazing Race' recap: Oh, Snapple!

March 28, 2011 |  6:22 am

Race Ladies and gentlemen, thanks to “The Amazing Race,” we now have a new action franchise on our hands. 

Call it “Oolong!”  Or “Death by Jasmine.”  Or “Crouching Papaya, Hidden Mango.”  The formula is simple.  We drop a set of hardy, trash-talking American adventurers into the tumult of Kolkata, India.  (Don’t forget to remind older viewers: It’s just Calcutta by another name.)  Then we subject them to the slow, excruciating, gut-wrenching, soul-scorching ordeal of … drinking tea! 

Watch them tremble before the wrathful gaze of the Auctioneer (played by Omar Sharif or the next best thing) as they proffer their little porcelain cups for inspection.  “Is this the tea we drank in China?”  “No!” growls the Auctioneer.  Back they go to the long, long table of porcelain cups, all harboring liquids of uncertain provenance.  “How about this one?” they ask, tottering back.  “Begone!” thunders the Auctioneer.  Before long, full-grown basketball players are staggering across the floor with distended stomachs, and the young hearing-impaired male known as Luke collapses to the floor in an agony of frustration.  “It’s too hard!” he cries.  “Drink tea or die!” bellows the Auctioneer. 

OK, cut me some slack, I’m working with what “Race” gave me: an hour-long infomercial for Snapple, complete with product placements, host endorsements and an actual by-God clue hidden (a bit too cleverly for some of the contestants) in the cap of a Snapple bottle.  By far the richest comic moment came when Gary and Mallory dashed to their first-place finish only to be informed that their reward was ... two more bottles of Snapple!  Aiieeee!  That’s like the pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.  Mallory, who had already drunk enough tea for China and maybe Taiwan, too, got that look of hysterical gaiety she gets in moments of high duress and could only be restored to health by talk of Indian feasts and Bollywood dancing and a million rupees.

Otherwise, the episode’s most harrowing moments came at the hands of Kolkata motorists.  Ron and Christina were nearly blindsided by a truck, Luke wondered why his cab was driving on train tracks, and motorcyclists came thisclose to keeping the Goths from their rendezvous with fifth place.  Nothing, though, was quite so terrifying as the look on that taxi driver’s face when Kent, for what must have been the gazillion-bazillionth time, reminded him of their destination.  It was a look that might have quelled Ganesha, the Hindu god best known to Margie as “some kind of funky elephant.”  

Funky, indeed, once our “Race”-ers were through decorating him in shades of pink and brown and whatever else the Globetrotters spilled on him.  And why should we be in any way surprised that the dating Goths vaulted to the head of the class?  “It was kind of like us getting ready in the morning,” Kent explained.  Making this particular detour even more surreal: the most annoying musical accompaniment this side of the vuvuzela.  “The rhythm is wonderful,” said Ron, unconvincingly.  “If I could just disco to it.”  And if “Dancing With the Stars” hasn’t found next season’s front-runner, I’m a dating Goth. 

Sunday night’s pit stop was at some place called the Fountain of Joy -- sitting in what may be the saddest park I’ve ever seen -- but there was no joy in Lukeville.  Fully aware of his last-place finish, he sank to the ground and gave himself unto lamentation.  More than sleeveless tees, tears are the necessary condition of being Luke.  They finish his otherwise unfinished face, and they suggest that martyrdom is the spiritual condition that awaits all travelers, whether they drink more tea than is good for them or they carry Bengali tracts in a prison-like rickshaw to a grimly flirtatious headmistresses.  Snapple, anyone?

-- Louis Bayard

Photo: Luke tastes tea. Credit: Robert Voets/CBS.