The Amazing Race – Season 24 Episode 4: “Smarter, Not Harder”

I feel a general air of Malays.

I wouldn’t exactly say that this leg was all killer no filler, but it was interesting how the episode spent pretty much all of its time on the two tasks and a little bit of airport drama. In some contexts you might think that was because it was a particularly dry episode with nothing of any great interest happening, but here I think it was exactly the opposite: it was a good episode and a well-designed leg with some really interesting tasks, so as a result most of the interesting interpersonal stuff revolved around that rather than just petty bickering. After a couple of lacklustre legs to open the season, it’s reassuring to see that the production team haven’t entirely lost their touch.

The leg began with one of those Roadblocks that looks deceptively simple, but still managed to severely hobble a couple of racers who took longer than necessary to figure out the trick behind it. The task was essentially bouncing on a bamboo trampoline in order to retrieve a clue that was dangling from the ceiling. (This was adjusted for height each time, incidentally, just in case you were thinking maybe Big Easy would just be able to stand on tippytoes or something.) The key was to the task was essentially getting into the same rhythm as the villagers who were bouncing the platform up and down and timing your jump just right, and – crucially – resisting the temptation to let your feet leave the floor when bouncing up and down in preparation, because that just kills all your momentum. Connor, Leo, Luke and Big Easy all managed it with very little trouble (oh my god, Luke did a Roadblock by himself and didn’t fuck it up!), while Caroline and Rachel both took a little longer, quite possibly because they both fell foul to the “bouncing up and down before you jump” strategy, although they got there in a few attempts. (Rachel also decided to remove her pantyhose to stop her feet from slipping, which – combined with the removal of her sequinned shorts for last week’s roadblock – makes me wonder if Rachel removing an item of clothing at the Roadblock is going to become a theme of this season) That leaves Cord and Jessica as the two who flat out SU-HUCKED at this one, because neither one of them seemed able to get the rhythm right, and Jessica cut her feet to ribbons on the bamboo mat in the process. And injuring your feet in a race is a bad thing, just ask Dave. No, seriously, ask him: he’ll welcome the opportunity, he hasn’t got anything else to talk about.

The outcome of this task was fairly influential for the rest of the leg, because production had designated three flights to Kuala Lumpur, so those who did well at the Roadblock got preferential flights, for the most part. So Flight #1 contained Dave & Connor, Leo & Jamal and Jet & Cord (who had enough of a headstart on the other teams that they managed to offset Cord’s dismal performance on the Roadblock), Flight #2 contained Margie & Luke and Flight Time & Big Easy, which left Caroline & Jennifer, Jessica & John and Brendon & Rachel on Flight #3. Then, at the last minute, the Race Gods put a spanner in the works when Flight #2 was delayed and ended up only landing about a minute ahead of Flight #3, thereby dividing the racers into two packs instead of the anticipated three.

Upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur, all they had to do was find their way to an intersection and then decide which Detour they wanted to do – one which involved a fancy bar trick of pouring into a pyramid of cocktail glasses without cross-contaminating the drinks, and another which involved a kind of Simon Says game of scratching discs in a DJ booth. The tasks themselves were fun, but what was great about this was the way that it managed to shade in all sorts of new character details. Some of them were entertaining but minor: Leo works in a bar (try to look surprised), Dave & Connor are Mormons and as such are unfamiliar with bars (ditto), and Jet & Cord aren’t particularly musically inclined (but they’re country boys!).

Some of the reveals in this episode, however, were a bigger deal: first and foremost, after two-and-a-bit seasons, the show actually acknowledged that Luke is gay. (I suspect most fans were already aware of this, but I daresay there were still a few viewers, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line, who were very surprised to learn that it’s possible to belong to more than one minority group at the same time.) According to Margie and Luke’s account via their confessionals, he came out to her at the age of 19 by sending her a text saying that he had something to tell her and that he was pretty nervous about it, and Margie’s response was basically “oh, you mean that you’re gay? Yeah, BA-DUH.” Which was kind of hilarious. While I get that some people don’t want to be defined by their sexuality, it’s always struck me as slightly odd when the Race just fails to mention someone’s orientation entirely, as it did with Luke in both TAR14 and TAR18 – especially since in TAR14 they actively tried to suggest some sort of showmance between Luke and Jaime and/or Cara. I’m sure Luke’s not the only contestant who’s received that sort of treatment (I’m fairly certain that Kisha’s lesbianism wasn’t mentioned at all on TAR14 or TAR18 either), but I was relieved for the show to finally drop the pretence over it, and hearing Margie talking about Luke’s coming out made a lot of aspects of their relationship suddenly slot into place.

The other person who got a lot of character development this leg? Rachel. Yep, I didn’t see that coming either. I’ve grown to like Rachel quite a lot this season – sure, there are still some elements of her that are cartoonishly daft (“I’VE TOLD BRENDON IF WE WIN THE RACE IT MEANS WE CAN HAVE BABIES!”), but her refusal to admit defeat in this leg was enormously encouraging. Essentially, most teams struggled with one if not both of the Detour options, but Margie & Luke and Brendon & Rachel above all seemed to really struggle with the drink mixing task, and when Luke suggested that they both give up and accept the time penalty, I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I understood. However, Rachel insisting firmly but politely that they should keep going because quitting is not what the race is about was surprisingly heartwarming. Not only that, but when Luke was falling into his old trap of getting so caught up in his own frustration that it was affecting his ability to concentrate, both Rachel & Brendon actually stopped what they were doing to come over and help him to calm down. There were so many beautiful little moments in that task: the moment when Luke broke some glasses in frustration and Margie scolded him and made him sweep them all up with a tiny broom (♥), Brendon and Rachel lifting Luke’s spirits by signing “applause” at him, or possibly just making jazz hands, it’s a bit hard to tell (♥♥), and best of all, the moment just after that when Brendon gave Luke a playful smack on the ass just before going back to resume the task (♥♥♥♥♥ – I now ship Brendon/Luke, even if it’s mostly just because the ensuing idea of Margie & Rachel returning one day as a Frankenteam gives me life).

Anyway, the outcome of the Detour was that Margie & Luke eventually finished and left Brendon & Rachel in their dust, which probably made Brenchel regret all that time they spent helping them. The drink-mixing task in general looked near impossible and frankly I’m amazed that anyone managed it. Jet & Cord did a surprisingly good job with it, so much so that I almost liked them in this episode, but thankfully I snapped back to my senses when they (a) whined about losing their previous seasons AGAIN, and (b) made that awful joke about “like butter, we’re on a roll”. Yes, despite what you might think from reading this blog, there are some puns so lifeless that even I won’t endorse them. Also, they didn’t look nearly excited enough about winning a trip to London, the bloody Anglophobes. Dave & Connor also did a surprisingly good job on the drinks task, but were also unsurprisingly still SO DULL. Also, watching Flight Time & Big Easy repeatedly fail the scratching task much to the disgust of the crowd was fun, but not nearly as fun as watching Caroline & Jennifer apparently whizzing through it on their first attempt. Dem white girls got rhythm.

(Sidebar: I wonder if Margie and Luke actually had a choice of Detours in this leg – would Luke’s deafness have ruled them out of doing the scratching task, as it was audio-based and something that both team members had to participate in? I don’t think the show ever addressed this, so it’s been gnawing at the back of my mind a little bit.)

Fortunately for me, after I spent so much episode enjoying the character development of Luke and Rachel (and to a lesser extent Margie and Brendon), the episode turned out to be a non-elim and both teams got to stick around for at least one more leg. Phew. Also, the whole thing made for a really stunning ad for Malaysia as a tourist destination – shame that it’s kind of a hugely homophobic country, so I guess I won’t actually be visiting it in the near future.

Next week: Sri Lanka! I hope that the Twinnies are the guest greeters at the welcome mat.

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