To me this past episode confirmed just once again that TAR is more about “unmasking” the relationships (or true nature of people) than showing gorgeous locations and amusing challenges. True – locations and challenges quite often save the show when the cast is boring. But once in a while you do get a satisfying glimpse into the true nature of people. So let’s recap, shall we?

Our teams leave for Bandung, Indonesia. All in the order they arrived to the Pit Stop. All on the same flights. No excitement here. We are treated once again to a shot of ER doctors pontificating about honesty and setting example for their children. In fact, Travis informs us that they aspire to become the beacon of integrity and honesty. In life and on the Race. Yeah, right. How can you even pronounce it with a straight face?! But Nicole nods with her usual sour expression that can easily make kefir out of fresh milk. Keep in mind this moment for future reference.

Meanwhile, we are moving on. Once in Indonesia, in order to receive their next clue our teams have to get 2 rams (yes – real, live rams) from a truck. Once they see their rams butting horns, they have to return the rams and get the clue. You can probably guess by now that for the duration of this task the rams were obvious stars of the show. It’s kind of sad that rams can so easily outshine the cast, but oh well.

TAR 23 Episode 9

Having completed the task, our teams have to catch a train to Bandung. There is a tiny hint of drama when Tim and Marie’s cab wouldn’t start, but the drama dissipates when they eventually make it to the train station. At this point the ER doctors, the cloned blondes and the Afghanimals are on the first train. Tim and Marie as well as Jason and Amy are on the second train – one hour behind.

The train ride brings us to the Detour which is a choice between “For the elephants” and “For the birds.” In the first one the teams had to get a specified number of various fruit and plants from the market and deliver it to the zoo to feed the elephants. Just from the very description – “8 watermelons”, “5 stalks of sugar cane” – it was obvious that the task might be quite cumbersome. “For the birds” seemed much simpler – to pick up 2 love birds from a bird market and deliver them to another bird place. Once your birds sing – you get your next clue. Sure, the birds might not sing right away, but eventually – surrounded by other birds and tempted by bird food – they’ll sing. Especially with them being so called “singing birds”. So I was very surprised to see that the majority of teams chose “For the elephants“.  But I can relate – elephants are my favorite animals, and it’s hard to resist the opportunity to interact with these sweet giants. Even if it means a more involved Detour.

At this point Travis and Nicole (who chose the “birds” Detour) are in the first place and moving to the Roadblock. The Roadblock is to assemble angklung – an Indonesian musical instrument. Nicole is the one who is doing the task. And struggling. Meanwhile, at the Detour, our cloned blondes have a double blond moment and misread the directions for their chosen task. Then they argue whether or not they should have chosen other Detour. Then they transport only part of the necessary fruit and vegetables and return for more. The second train arrives carrying Tim/Marie and Jason/Amy, so we can see that at least an hour passed (the difference between the trains was 1 hour).

Meanwhile Nicole is still struggling at the Roadblock. One of the Afghanimal cousins finishes the Roadblock on the second try and – oh, so wisely! and oh, so deliciously! – destroys his creation so that Nicole cannot copy from him. And what do we see? The beacon of honesty and integrity runs after him and pathetically begs to see the assembled musical instrument. Didn’t you U-Turn them because they were “not honest”? Didn’t you proclaim how honest you were? Didn’t you want to set a stellar example to your kids? And now you are begging to be allowed to cheat of someone else? What a pathetic hypocrite! Zero skills – I sort of suspected it a long time ago. But also – zero pride. Zero honesty. Zero integrity. I hope those who did not see through the doctors’ hypocrisy can finally see now. And for those who worry more and more about Nicole practicing medicine (in ER no less!) – from what I hear they do TV more than medicine. Apparently TAR is not their first TV appearance. Maybe there is a market on the television for presumptuous, self-righteous, hypocritical ER doctors.

TAR 23 Episode 9 Roadblock

Now Tim and Marie get to the Roadblock, and Tim completes it quickly, just a few minutes after the Afghanimal cousin.  The Afghanimals are the first team at the Pit Stop, followed by Tim and Marie. Nicole is still struggling. Still with that perpetually sour facial expression and the “fish thrown out of water” look about her. Amy and Jason arrive.  Amy takes a little longer, but finishes the Roadblock. Nicole is still struggling. And then Amy is doing the unthinkable: she actually gets to Nicole and – not just helps her – but practically does the whole task for her. Only the arrival of the blondes (not even the urging of her teammate!) makes Amy get  back to her senses and leave Nicole. Nicole (or should I say – Amy? since Amy virtually completed the task for Nicole) is finally done, so the blondes are the last team at the Pit Stop. They are eliminated from the Race.

Now the question is – is it, so to speak, “kosher”? Was it Amy’s intervention that kept Nicole and Travis in the Race and eliminated the blondes? And if so – was it fair? There was no penalty for anyone, no reprimand from Phil. Based on how much Nicole struggled at the Roadblock and how clueless she was, I am sure that without Amy’s help she would have been still doing the Roadblock…and – even though I am not a fan of the blondes – they could have had a chance. It makes you wonder…

What do you think? Aside from the sheer satisfaction at the hypocrisy being unmasked? Do you think it is fair that Amy or Nicole (or both) did not receive any penalty for that? Do you think it is fair to the blondes? Do you (like me) hope that the hypocrisy would be punished, like in the next episode? Do comment please!

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In this episode we have lots of visual delights – sand dunes, the prettiest camels in the whole United Arab Emirates, white water rafting…

In the beginning we need to jog our memory – remember the so-called “Viking ” coins the teams had to pick  up back in Norway? Well, now the well-travelled coins come into play – arranged just so, they would reveal a code to open the car doors of the cars contestants have to drive. Most teams have no problem with figuring out this puzzle – after all, they had several legs to “play” with the coins to crack the codes. But some – less bright ones or maybe more blond ones? – are still struggling. All the teams are warned that there is a Double U-Turn ahead.

The Hunny-Bunnies depart last, and they are facing a Speed Bump – an extra task they have to do for coming last in a non-elimination leg. But they remain brave and even proclaim that they are done being “bunnies” – they are “ninjas” now! Quite a transformation! By now I am slowly warming up to our “Bunnies”…err…I mean – “Ninjas”. I still don’t find them entertaining (“entertaining” being a “must have” quality in TAR contestant for me!), but their sweetness is somewhat endearing. So – I am all for “Ninjas”. Well, we shall see.

Driving in the sand dunes (Episode 8 TAR 23)

The teams have to drive in the sand dunes to retrieve their next clue.   The doctors got stuck in the sand for a while, the Ninjas got stuck for a much longer while (long enough to burn the clutch in their vehicle!), but eventually everybody manages more or less alright. On to the Detour they all go.

The Detour is a choice between two tasks – “Wedding Guests” (where the teams have to prepare a dish for a wedding feast) or “Beauty Contest” (where the teams have to pick up a camel out of the herd based on the provided description of camel beauty standards and then decorate and present the chosen camel for the judges’ approval).

Most teams choose the latter Detour. The doctors (Travis and Nicole), however, are using their Express Pass to skip the Detour. They are not in the back, so I assume this is the last leg where the Express Pass can be used, and they have either use it or lose it. The doctors arrive to the Double U-Turn and – even though they have no threat whatsoever at this point (all the teams are behind them, and they know it), they choose to use the U-Turn on the Afghanimals (Leo and Jamal). Why? –  “Because they lied to us about U-Turning Brandon and Adam!“, explains self-righteous Nicole.

Now, as a viewer, I am all for U-Turns. They spice up the Race, they create tension and drama – all the fun stuff (maybe not fun for the racers, but definitely fun for the viewers). So – even though there was absolutely no need to U-Turn anybody – I do not hold it against the doctors for doing it. If they said something like “we are doing it to the Afghanimals because we can’t stand them!” – I would at least understand. But I hate self-righteousness. Besides, think of it – the Afghanimals U-Turned Brandon and Adam because their own life in the Race was in jeopardy (they themselves were U-Turned by the Oklahoma guys in that leg). They didn’t owe Nicole any explanation about it – truthful or otherwise. So – this self-righteous indignation about their “lie” is very off-putting.

I didn’t care much for Nicole and Travis from the very beginning. Travis seemed ok, but Nicole came across as “full of it” on one hand yet  – on the other hand – panicky, unpleasant and easily crumbled under pressure. Not desirable qualities in anyone, let alone ER physician. But now I dislike them even more. Actually they are probably the only team at this point that I want to see gone as soon as possible.

Detour Episode 8 TAR 23

The Roadblock “Who likes rapid transit” is a task where one member of each team had to go on a white water rafting course and collect 3 flags while doing it. The course is man-made (I doubt there is natural white water rafting available in UAE), so – even though it looks impressive, it is quite safe. Besides, you are in a boat with a professional. Yet Nicole – who is doing this task for her team – is screaming non-stop and missing her flags. Eventually though she succeeds and they are the first team at the Pit Stop. That Express Pass came very handy indeed, because it won them 2 brand new Ford vehicles.

We had another team that used the U-Turn – Tim and Marie U-Turned our hapless Bunnies…I mean fearless Ninjas. Tim and Marie – running in the middle of the pack at this point – wanted an insurance against the last place, a “safety cushion” so to speak. Why Bunnies? Marie said she couldn’t forgive them getting on a stand by list ahead of her (remember that leg where our Bunnies managed to get on a stand by in the airport VIP lounge?). Well, at least Marie is honest. And I like it a lot about her – she is what she is. Direct, blunt, outspoken, opinionated. I’ll take it any time over Nicole’s smug moral superiority.

The U-Turn along with the Speed Bump (swimming in a pool with artificial waves) was more than our fearless Ninjas could handle – they were the last team at the Pit Stop and were eliminated from the Race. I think they are quite lucky to survive as long as they have: they were the last in that “to be continued” leg and the last in non-elimination leg.  So – it finally caught up with them. And just like that – our Ninjas turned back into Bunnies. Good-bye, Bunnies. I was not a huge fan of yours, but you slightly grew on me. And – goes without saying – I would definitely take you over self-righteous Nicole and Travis.

Who will be next? Who do you want it to be next? Do comment please!

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Despite the boring beginning, this was a good episode. I say “boring beginning” because for almost a third of the episode we are either watching our teams getting on one of two flights  to Abu Dhabi or else – we are (over)treated by various shots of the Sheikh Zayed mosque. The difference between two flights are only 10 minutes, so absolutely no drama there. As for the mosque – it is certainly gorgeous  (“Jesus, what a mosque!” says one of the Afghanimals and makes me smile). But as beautiful as it might be, it is not a travelogue – it’s a race, so how about picking up the pace!

The Detour is a choice between two tasks – “Sort it out” (where the teams had to arrange a tray of fresh and dry dates of various sizes, colors and shapes according to a display) and “Sew it up” (where the teams had to assemble a fishing net). Jason and Amy and well as the doctors choose the latter, the rest of the teams choose date trays. Doctor Nicole completely messes up sewing the net (does it make you wonder how she sews wounds in that ER of hers?!) and briefly contemplates using the Express Pass. But! – Travis to the rescue! – they eventually complete the task, even though they are behind Jason and Amy.

Detour (TAR 23, Episode 7)

Meanwhile, at the other task, none of the teams except “hunny-bunnies” (Nicky and Kim) seem to find the right kind of dates for their trays. The Afghanimals ask for bunnies’ help in finding it, but the bunnies just ignore them (Cue: be mindful of karma!). Eventually all the teams find the right dates and finish the task. Actually it’s hunny-bunnies who are the last team to finish!

The teams now have to take a short but beautiful boat ride to the destination of their Roadblock. The clue for the Roadblock is “Who wants to jump into one hot lap?“, and one of the blond clones (either Ally or Ashley, but really what’s the difference?) cracks me up by promptly inquiring “whose lap?”

Anyway, the Roadblock seems fun – one member of each team has to part-zipline-part-jump-part-rappel into a race track. There they  had to get into a race car (with a driver) and ride on a lap of Yas Marina Circuit. While riding, they had to watch for multiple signs with names of  Abu Dhabi Grand Prix racers and their times. They also had to determine which of these signs has the best time and give this time (along with the name of the appropriate racer) in order to get their next clue. I think that’s the first time during this season that we encounter a task where they have to utilize (even if only slightly) their mental faculties (memory in this case), so I find it very refreshing.

Roadblock (TAR 23, Episode 7)

I love, love, love the challenges where the racers have to use their brain and knowledge (as opposed to purely or mostly physical tasks). When recapping the last season (TAR 22), I posted a poll to find out what the majority of TAR fans prefer – to see mostly mental or mostly physical challenges on the Race. The overwhelming majority seemed to enjoy mental challenges the most, yet unfortunately we don’t see them often enough on TAR.

The Afghanimals were the first team to the Pit Stop, and I am glad they finally won! They are silly and sometimes annoying, yet they seem happy, enthusiastic and exuberant – all the qualities I appreciate a lot in the racers. They are also memorable, which you cannot say about most of the other teams. So – they did win this leg of the Race. Good for them!

Two teams were fighting for the last place – blond clones and hunny-bunnies (not terribly surprising in a mental challenge). Eventually it was the hunny-bunnies that were the last team to arrive. Unfortunately it was a non-elimination leg. If you don’t understand why I say “unfortunately” – please re-watch them at the Pit Stop. All boring cliches, and silly facial expressions, and some nonsense about “I am a mother, so I don’t have a chance to form memories…but this Race…blah-blah-blah.”   Whaaat??? Well, we are stuck with them for yet another episode. Let’s see who goes home then!

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Our teams – whatever is left of them – are now making their way from Gdansk, Poland to Vienna, Austria. They all end up on the same train (how exciting!) so that evens them out. However, one team – Travis and Nicole –  still has an advantage because they are the only team now with the Express Pass. It still baffles me that Tim and Marie, who had a perfect opportunity to U-Turn Travis and Nicole and get them use the Express Pass as a result, did not do so. I also can’t understand why Tim and Marie don’t tell other teams that the Express Pass is in doctors’ possession – this way they could put a target on the doctors’ back. Why not do it, especially now when their own Express Pass is gone?!  Oh well…

In this episode we encounter the first Fast Forward of the season, but it is not used. Two teams attempt it – Jason and Amy and Travis and Nicole, but none of them succeeds. During the taxi ride to the Fast Forward, indecisive Nicole (an ER doctor!) suddenly wants to turn back and do the Detour instead. Amy and Jason make it to the Fast Forward (bungee jumping), but the weather is too windy to complete it, so they eventually return to do the Detour as well.

The Detour was a choice between “Light Brigade” (to assemble a chandelier) and “Masquerade” (to find the matching masks on one of many dancing couples). Nobody chooses chandeliers, and it seems that all the teams finish masquerade relatively quickly.

Detour (TAR 23, Episode 6)

For the Roadblock one member of each team had to sing with Vienna Boys’ Choir. They had some time to practice with coaches until they are able to carry a tune and pronounce the words in German in a more or less acceptable way. I am convinced this whole Roadblock  was designed for the amusement of the choir boys. The Vienna Boys’ Choir is probably the best boys’ choir in the world, so – I am sure the boys deserved some entertainment! It was just too funny to watch these singing attempts and the boys’ amused faces. And it was almost predetermined – those with better pitch and singing abilities finished much sooner.

That’s why it was absolutely no surprise that Travis – who apparently is not only a physician but also a musician (he tells us he plays several musical instruments) – finished the Roadblock first. The order in which teams finished the Roadblock was pretty much the order they arrived to the Pit Stop. Even little mishaps – like Marie stealing Jason and Amy’s cab – did not change the placement. Tim and Danny (poor guys! – dancing last episode, singing this episode!) were the last to arrive, and they were eliminated from the Race.

Roadblock (TAR 23, Episode 6)

It was not a very surprising placement: with all the teams arriving to Vienna on the same train and with a quick, relatively easy Detour, the placement was largely determined by who finished the Roadblock first.  And that, in turn, was mostly determined by the participant’s musical abilities.

I am curious to see what kind of feud will transpire between Jason/Amy and Tim/Marie. On one hand – Marie did blatantly steal their cab. On the other hand, Jason and Amy’s backpacks were already out of the cab when Marie got to it. Besides, this did not affect the placement of the teams after the Roadblock. So – you would kind of expect Jason and Amy to shrug it off, but they were pretty much declaring a war.

I personally do not have a problem with what Marie did. If “all is fair in love and war” – why should it be different on The Amazing Race? If you believe in karma – don’t steal cabs, don’t use U-Turns, don’t lie, maybe don’t even breathe. If you don’t believe in karma – go ahead, entertain us! The Race is not one big “let’s live happily ever after” camp. The same viewers who want to see “nice” teams on the Race complain that the show gets “boring“. You can’t have it both ways. So anyway – I  am looking forward to watching the feud unfold! 🙂

Till the next episode, everybody!

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Well, before the sixth episode of TAR 23 airs tonight, I can’t  help but make a comment on one puzzling  observation. Since I did not recap the previous episode due to being on the road much of the week, I felt like posting at least a quick poll:WHICH OF THESE TEAMS YOU WANT TO WIN TAR-23?

I know it’s “unscientific”, I know the number of participants was not huge enough to support a trend, BUT! still – would you believe it? – as of today more than 40% (!) of respondents want to see Leo and Jamal (the Afghanimals) win the Race!  At first I couldn’t believe my eyes – seriously?!! No way!

Leo and Jamal (the "Afghanimals")

But then I thought about it…Who else do we have left?

Jason and Amy? – Young, cute, nice and…well, that’s about it. Nothing too memorable or fun about them. Actually I kept thinking that the color of their t-shirts  is more noticeable and vivid than their personalities.  (Bright blue, in case you haven’t even noticed that).

Tim and Danny? Also young, cute, nice…with something more going for these guys: they are huge fans of TAR, they have an appealing and disarming “aw-shucks” air about them…deserving? – maybe.  memorable? – hardly.

Ally and Ashley? They, too, are young, cute and nice…But even if you can finally tell these two apart, what exactly sets them apart from all the other numerous look-alike-less-than-bright blondes from all the previous seasons? They just occupy some space, and I can’t help but think they are occupying someone else’s space – some team’s that could have been fun to watch if they had made it to the Race instead of these clones.

Tim and Marie? You might dig an evil streak in TAR contestants (I certainly do!), and at first I thought Marie was just that (Tim has been pretty much a silent ghost). But turned out she is more loud than evil. Sorry, Rowan – “la diabla” she is not.  Neither is she a bright strategist; otherwise, having used her own Express Pass, she would have had some sense to U-turn Travis and Nicole –  to try taking their Express Pass out of the game. She passed that opportunity with the Pass (yes, both pun and scorn are intended!).

Nicky and Kim? These ladies sometimes seem nice to the point of almost nauseating (“bunny!” “hunny!” – pleeease!).  They almost sparked my hope once when they managed to put themselves on a standby list ahead of others. But that hope was being consistently killed with that  never-ending ridiculous whining “ this is THE  h-a-r-d-e-s-t  thing I’ve ever done in my life!!!”  Once again – pleeease! What else is there about them? Some would say they are pretty. But I have very high standards when it comes to beauty. So I don’t find them especially pretty. I do, however, find them pretty boring. By the way – not a single person in my poll (at least as of right now) voted for them to win TAR 23.

Travis and Nicole? This, by the way, is the only other team besides “hunny-bunnies” that got zero votes in my poll to date. I guess he is likable enough. But she is quite pathetic: on one hand, she comes across as sooo full of herself:  “I am a doctor!”, “I am tough – I am from Brooklyn!” But her actions are the opposite of her words: she frazzles easily and always crumbles under the slightest pressure: “Help me!!! help me!!!” I wouldn’t even comment on how it reflects on her as an ER physician, but in the Race it is quite unlikable.

So that leaves us with Leo and Jamal – the “Afghanimals.” What can we say about them? Loud, obnoxious manners. Far (far!) from refined sense of humor.  But they toned down their ululating in the recent episodes. And when they fight – they fight with passion. And when they are happy – they are joyful and vivacious. Silly, at times annoying, but entertaining. Like them or not – hard to deny that they are colorful characters. Memorable. The most memorable from this bunch. You can yawn over any of the above teams, but – like them or not – the Afghanimals are not “yawn-inducing”.

So – somewhat reluctantly, I have to agree – maybe the Afghanimals is the most deserving team to win this Race. To me – the most deserving is not the team that is the nicest or needs the money the most – to me it’s the team that entertained me the most. Or you. Us, the viewers.

I do, however, reserve the right to change my mind about the Afghanimals in the future – after all, there are still quite a few episodes ahead 🙂

I hope those who voted for them in my latest poll would comment with their reasons for choosing this team (or any other team). I am very curious, so – please do comment!

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