The Amazing Race – Season 24 Episode 2: “Baby Bear’s Soup”

Mallory’s lackadaisical attitude towards backpacks suggests to me that she didn’t watch enough Dora The Explorer as a child.

I find myself wondering if someone in CBS’s scheduling department wants this season to fail. The first episode aired up against the Winter Olympics, and the second against the Academy Awards, meaning that initial ratings for the season have been the lowest in the show’s history, pulling in a 1.5 in the Adults 18-49 demo and a woeful six million viewers. Now, it’s not unusual for the show to be up against big hitters at this time of the year, and historically ratings always take a hit when it’s scheduled against a major TV event, only to rebound the following week when things are back to normal. But it’s not normally the case for the season to begin by battling titanic opponents on the other networks, so here’s the big question: will the people who’ve missed the first two episodes of the season really bother to check in later, or will they just write the whole thing off for lost?

A few years ago, seeing the ratings for The Amazing Race going into freefall might have bothered me, but after seeing the sorry excuse for an All-Stars cast that they trotted out for this season, I’m inclined to think the show is at least partially responsible for its own decline. Watching the season unfold isn’t doing a lot to make me feel more charitable towards it either – take the start of this episode, for example. The teams were given their first clues and all departed from the pit stop at Guangzhou Opera House. Nothing unusual there, and if you hadn’t watched last week’s episode, you might not even have noticed that anything was wrong. But when Joey & Meghan suddenly appeared leaving the mat in 8th place, ahead of both John & Jessica and Caroline & Jennifer, when I vividly remember them fighting it out with the Twinnies for last place in the previous leg, something started to smell rotten. Then my boyfriend pointed out that Margie & Luke and Dave & Connor had switched places as well, and I felt cheated. I don’t want to sound like Abe Simpson, but in the old days if production difficulties meant that a team was given a time credit, Phil would briefly announce it in a voiceover at the start of the leg and then we could all move on with our lives. But just to pretend that nothing happened and hope that nobody notices is to treat your viewers with contempt.

Anyway, with that rant over, on with the show. Strangely enough, Jet & Cord did not learn fluent Chinese between the end of the last leg and the start of this one, so when they asked a passerby how to get to Chen Clan Academy and he responded with a finger gesture (entirely understandable – I spend most of each episode responding to the Cowboys with a finger gesture of my own), they weren’t able to differentiate between “five” and “fifty”, in terms of the time it would take to reach their destination, so mistakenly assumed that it was within walking distance. It wasn’t. As a result, literally every other team got to the next task before them, with the Cowboys rolling up to get the next clue stamped on their heads by the Masters just a few seconds after Caroline & Jennifer. (Apparently, “we’re behind Caroline & Jen” this season is code for “we really fucked up somewhere”.) As a result, Jet and Cord both spent their subsequent cab journey and most of the next task whining about how quickly you can go from first to last in this race. Well yes, if you don’t bother to check your information properly, it’s fairly easily done.

The next task was at Edayland, still in Guangzhou, where a Roadblock required one team member to assemble a child’s ride-in electric toy car. Mark breezed through the task at double speed, and was able to carry his fully assembled car on to the next location while Mallory carried all the team’s bags. (Pay attention to that, it’ll be important later.) Other points of interest: Luke nominated Margie to do this roadblock for their team because she’d done the two detail-oriented construction roadblocks on their two previous races, so this was clearly one of her strong suits (does Luke have any strong suits? I’m struggling here), Rachel used the opportunity to scream at Brendan how much she wants babies and how his successful completion of the task proved what an AMAZING father he’ll be, and Flight Time was harassed by an adorable sassy child the whole time (and he called her “ornery” in response, which was amazing).

The struggles of Caroline and Jennifer merit a whole paragraph by themselves: Jen suggested Caroline do the roadblock because she said that she likes putting stuff together. Caroline countered that she’d never said that, and in fact felt entirely the opposite. Nonetheless, one of them had to do it, so Caroline sloped off miserably to fail at the Roadblock, asking everyone else for help and getting little response in return. And that’s when Jennifer proved to be the strategic genius of the team: finding herself standing next to Cord, since they were the last two straggling teams to arrive at the task, she set about convincing him to give her the Express Pass, on the grounds that they were a sucky team who posed no threat, and it would relieve him from the pressure of worrying about who to give it to. A nervous, cornered Cord spluttered that he couldn’t do anything without Jet’s say-so, so Jennifer just kept asking, making repeated and slightly varied cases on how utterly pathetic she and Caroline were and how it was the best possible outcome for both teams. And it worked: as soon as Jet finished the task, Cord gained his approval to give Caroline and Jennifer the Express Pass, they handed it over, and both teams scarpered. Left behind, Joey snorted about how it was SO UNFAIR that Jennifer did that, and how it just proved that the girls totally couldn’t do anything by themselves. Well, they can clearly dress themselves, Joey, which is more than I can say for you. Meghan also wanted to stick her oar in about the disgusting unfairness of this perfectly legitimate tactic, whining some shit about how this was a feminist issue and how women owed it to each other AS A PEOPLE not to rely on the help of boys, and how it’s not fair that Meghan can’t just toss her blonde hair around and get what she wants all the time. Anyone have any guesses as to which of those things Meghan is more annoyed about? I’ve got a feeling. (Also, hilariously, having established that this was a BOYS’ TASK that was HARD FOR GIRLS, Meghan finished before John, and then stayed around to help him because her “maternal instincts” were kicking in when she saw he couldn’t do it. You’d think Joey would keep her maternal instincts fully occupied, but I guess not.)

Over to Mark and Mallory then, who managed to get their assembled toy car in their taxi but not, crucially, Mark’s backpack. They both blamed each other for this: Mallory insisted that she’d left the bag right by Mark’s feet and it wasn’t her fault that he hadn’t seen it, while Mark countered that he was CARRYING THE FUCKING CAR and couldn’t see anything. They realised this halfway to the next location and for some reason didn’t turn around there and then, but carried on to their next location to drop the car off and get the clue, and then spent about 10 minutes whining about whether to go back or not. Mallory wanted to just leave it and carry on racing, while Mark was insistent that EVERYTHING HE OWNED IN THE WORLD was in that backpack. Mallory said she’d replace it for him, and that just made Mark get even more stubborn, saying that he doesn’t come from a place where people can just afford to replace things for no reason all the time. Things reached a nadir when Mark said he had medicine in his back and Mallory wanted to know what sort of medicine was even that urgent in the first place. Yeah, I think that’s where she lost that argument. Anyway, the two of them sighed that they just couldn’t communicate, and it’s almost as if this is why the teams are supposed to have a PRE-EXISTING RELATIONSHIP, isn’t it? By this point I think Mark was wishing he was the one back home fighting pancreatitis, on the grounds that it was probably far less of an irritant than Mallory.

The final detour was a choice between playing feather ball (keepy-uppy, basically) or having cupping therapy (not as sexually threatening as it sounds). Every single team went for feather ball, so we’ll never know whether cupping was a good option or not. (In my experience it’s not, but maybe I shouldn’t have attempted it on the first date.) Few teams excelled, and Mallory and Margie were notably poor players (note: both Margie and Luke were in pissy-bitch mode the entire leg, mostly at each other. I’m a little surprised it happened that quickly, but I’m so glad it did). Then a bunch of teams all finished around the same time and all ran off to find Phil, leading to one of the biggest on-mat pile-ups in race history, as (deep breath) Brendon & Rachel, Margie & Luke, Caroline & Jennifer, Dave & Connor, Flight Time & Big Easy, Jet & Cord and Leo & Jamal arrived within quick succession, at one point causing Phil to lose count of what position everyone was in. Seriously, Phil, you had one job. Also, Rachel was very excited to win her first ever leg on The Amazing Race, screaming so loudly that I’m fairly certain even Luke heard her.

After that, Jessica & John finished and checked in, followed by Joey & Meghan (who’ll probably end up starting in 2nd place next week with no explanation if this week is anything to go by). This left Mark and Mallory in last place, and they were eliminated. Mallory burst into tears, while Mark did his best southern gentleman routine, shaking Phil’s hand and saying what a pleasure it had been to run the race again, and it was just a shame that Bopper couldn’t have been there, MALLORY. Clearly, this meant he just wasn’t meant to run the race without him. Mallory sniffed that she was sorry that she hadn’t been able to fill Bopper’s shoes (whether she was sorry that she kind of acted like a massive scrunt in the wake of rucksackgate is another matter), and they left, hopefully taking all future prospects of hybrid All-Star teams with them (unless it’s Christina and Azaria, in which case I AM SO UP FOR THAT).

Next week: rapids, mostly.

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