ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? (Actually, I sort of was. This was definitely one of this season’s better episodes.)
The key ingredients for a successful leg of The Amazing Race? Location, location, location. Okay, fine, it’s not quite that simple – ideally you need engaging contestants and some half-decent tasks, but if you’re lacking on those fronts, you can forgive a lot if it’s all happening in a region that provides drama all by itself. As much as I enjoy it when the Race takes us to remote, unspoiled locations that I would probably know little about without the help of this show (unless I happened to be flicking through a copy of Condé Nast Traveller in the dentist’s waiting room), my favourite legs are often the ones set in bustling European capitals. When you’ve got that much history to play with, an endless supply of tourists who are quite happy to help if it means they’ll get on TV, and a high possibility of at least one team ending up with a minty cab driver who’s going to inadvertently sabotage them, it’s hard to go wrong.
This leg was very much in that mould, as the contestants left Colombo, Sri Lanka and headed to Rome, Italy. While everyone ended up on the same flight, the biggest shake-up to the pack order happened as soon as they touched down: Brendon & Rachel, Caroline & Jennifer, Jessica & John and Leo & Jamal were seated near the front of the plane and so managed to disembark relatively swiftly, while the other three teams were stuck near the back of the plane, having to wait patiently for their fellow travellers to get off first. This meant that the front teams managed to get the first shuttle bus to the terminal, while the others had to wait for the next one, meaning that the front teams had themselves around a 10-minute headstart – which can make all the difference in this game.
First the teams were sent to Hadrian’s Bridge, where they’d receive the clue for the Detour – or in Caroline & Jennifer’s case, the directions to their Speed Bump. It involves a bit of a mini-tour around the Italian capital, as they have to go to the Pantheon, pick up an Olivetti typewriter and take it to the building it’s said to resemble, which means figuring out that they have to go to the Altare della Patria. There are quite a lot of variables in there, so it takes them a while. Speed Bumps have come on a bit since “sit on a block of ice for five minutes”, haven’t they?
The Detour options are Gladiator (dress up and fight with a Roman gladiator in the shadow of the Colosseum) and Charioteer (dress up in an entirely different outfit and drive remote control horses and chariots around a mini-racetrack – with one racer controlling the speed and the other controlling the steering – while avoiding various obstacles, and also nobody on this show can pronounce “charioteer” coherently). John & Jessica plump for the Gladiator challenge, while Brendon & Rachel and Leo & Jamal decide to go for the chariots, because WHEEEEE. Both challenges are a little bit trickier than they first appear: John & Jessica have a lot of fun messing around and hamming it up in their choreographed fight sequence, but when it comes to actually performing it, there are a lot of technical aspects that they have to get right (like not using your shield instead of your sword, real subtle stuff like that), while Brendon & Rachel discover that racing is fine when you have the track to yourself, but as soon as another team turns up and you have to avoid them as well as all the rocks and logs, it turns into all-out carnage. As the back pack of teams caught up and started to arrive – Dave & Connor, Flight Time & Big Easy and Jet & Cord all opting for the chariot race as well – Leo & Jamal decide that the racetrack is getting too crowded and they’d rather cut their losses and try the Gladiator option instead. Unfortunately for them, they turn out to be a bit poor at that option too and end up leaving the Detour in last place. John & Jessica, despite John’s choreographic incompetence, get out first, and Brendon & Rachel finally manage to complete their designated five laps shortly after Leo & Jamal give up. They’re closely followed by Dave & Connor and the Cowboys (not before Jet makes a xenophobic joke about Sri Lankan drivers, just in case you thought he was a reformed character at this point or anything). Caroline & Jennifer finish their Speed Bump and arrive at Charioteer just as the Globetrotters are finishing up, meaning that they get a clear run at the track. At this point, they’ve pretty much accepted that they’re in last place so they just take their time at the task – which, counterintuitively, turns out to get them through it quite quickly, and they end up finishing it while Leo & Jamal are still off struggling with the Gladiator challenge, not that they have any idea.
The next direction instructs them to find the piazza that’s the site of “John Keats’ unhappy Roman Holiday”, and this is where the local knowledge of the cab drivers proves to be make-or-break. Brendon & Rachel’s, Dave & Connor’s and Caroline & Jennifer’s drivers all work out that this means they need to go to the Spanish steps, near where John Keats was staying when he died. The other four teams’ drivers, however, think this means that they need to go to Via John Keats, which is a fairly nondescript suburban street, miles away from where they’re supposed to be, that’s home to little more than an apartment complex. Eventually the other four teams work out, with a combination of help from knowledgable passers-by, smartphones, or hotel lobbies, that they’re meant to be elsewhere, but it becomes a question of who’s gone the furthest off-piste by that point. That honour falls to John & Jessica, who’d been so impressed with their cab driver earlier in the leg that they were a bit loathe to contradict him, and are now paying the price for being so trusting.
Back at the Spanish Steps, the Roadblock requires the teams to count the number of steps and figure out the year that’s listed on a monument in Roman numerals, add the two together and present the answer to “Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck” at the top of the stairs, again in Roman numerals. (Incidentally, “Audrey Hepburn” looks uncannily like Iveta Lukosiute – is this what she does during the Strictly off-season?) Brendon loves math and works his way through the challenge pretty quickly, with the help of an awesome old Jewish man who assists him with the Roman numerals side of the task. Connor ends up having a snit when they arrive at the base of the steps and Rachel doesn’t tell them where the clue box is, even though there’s no reason why she should – she at least points them in the general direction, which is more than I would’ve done. This, combined with “oh that’s right, outrun the old man” from last week makes me suspect that now that Dave & Connor have run out of things to say about their injuries from last time, they’re just going to be entitled arseholes. Caroline & Jennifer arrive shortly after Dave & Connor and Jennifer opts to do the task because she’s better with numbers than Caroline is, and Dave & Jennifer decide that they’ll fare better by pooling their efforts. They work well together, and finish quickly. Brendon & Rachel finish the leg first and win a trip to Australia, while Dave & Connor and Caroline & Jennifer run up together, and the men “chivalrously” slow down to let the women finish ahead of them. I find this kind of gross (something about Dave & Connor really sits the wrong way with me, and they strike me as thinking that they’re gifting Caroline & Jennifer with an honour they couldn’t have achieved on their own), and I think it would’ve been pretty fun if they’d turned out to be fighting for last place and this act of charity ended up getting them eliminated. That’s not the case, of course – Caroline & Jennifer are second, and Dave & Connor are third.
Jet manages the Roadblock fairly quickly by charming some tourists, and the final three teams arrive more or less simultaneously, with John & Jessica tailing the Globetrotters and the Afghanimals. Flight Time struggles when, despite having read and acknowledged the clue, he doesn’t seem to incorporate the Roman numerals aspect into it, and just keeps handing over the number of steps in regular numbers. Jamal is the first one to get it right, and before he and Leo leave, he decides to hand the answer over to the other two teams on the proviso that a) they’re not allowed to overtake him and b) they promise not to U-turn him in the next leg. This is a pretty dumb move, although you have to view it in the context that all three teams assume Caroline & Jennifer are behind them and that they’ve got a little bit more breathing room than they actually have. Unfortunately, John needs to run off and get another piece of paper to write the answer down on, so while all three teams run off to the Pit Stop, he and Jessica are at the back – and despite an intensely fought footrace between them and the Globetrotters, John & Jessica arrive last and are eliminated. Everyone’s a bit surprised by this, because no one realised they were the absolute back of the pack. Even Phil claims the race has “never been this close”, because he’s apparently forgotten those early seasons where they’d have a three-way tie for first place, or that time in season 9 in Australia when MoJo, Eric & Jeremy and the Fucking Hippies were in pretty much this exact scenario (except it turned out to be a non-elimination leg).
Next week: donkeys! And people playing dirty, which on this show apparently means “not just telling everyone else the answers”.