The cultural contrast of modernized China and undeveloped Malaysian Borneo is a key theme in this leg of The Amazing Race: All Stars. But despite the seemingly polar opposite cultures of oversized Chinese wedding dress districts and festive Malaysian jungle villagers, one common issue unites these two foreign worlds and proves to be the biggest barrier to the teams’ progression through this leg: traffic.
Whether teams are rushing through crowded Chinese speedways or rafting down rock infested Malaysian rapids, unforeseen traffic is the biggest deterrent to leading teams keeping ahead and the most helpful aide to trailing teams jumping from behind. Really, these two worlds aren’t so different, as their seemingly simple journey from A to B runs. But even as the teams navigate their way through crowded roads and choppy waters, one thing proves certain: If they don’t even have a taxi or boat to get through the traffic, they’re going to be in dead last.
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Welcome to the Jungle
Brendon and Rachel start this leg of the race off, the first of six teams who nearly finished within 10 minutes of each other on the previous leg. And as Amazing Race fate would have it, there are only six spots on the first flight out of town. But out of spite of Rachel’s annoying demeanor, the traffic gods of China deny team Brenchel quick passageway to the airport, getting caught in a gridlock while Margie and Luke, Cord and Jet, Caroline and Jennifer, Dave and Connor and Flight Time and Big Easy swoop ahead for the first five cushy airline spots.
Enter Leo and Jamal, starting off at seventh and arriving at the airport just in front of Brenchel, securing that crucial last spot on the first flight. “Damn, that sucks,” the Afghanimals say in a delicious mix of remorse and satisfaction as Rachel is nearly a sobbing wreck. Attention passengers, we will begin serving complimentary beverages of Rachel’s tears once we reach cruising level. Please keep your seatbelts fastened in the meantime.
So Brenchel are forced to wait until the second flight with teams Jessica and John and Joey and Meghan. Meghan is trying to cheer those on the second flight up, saying that they’ll be the final three at the end of the race, which the other teams laugh at and agree in desperation, not forgetting how far behind they have fallen. Other teams in this scenario would be thinking of some way to sabotage their other passengers on the second flight. But this is the nice team group, the ones who still want to be Facebook friends and host reminiscent dinner parties with each other post-race, so they would never do something that awful.
The first flight lands and Dave and Connor get an early lead to the “Face the Falls” Roadblock, where one member from each team needs to rappel down a gorgeous but aggressive waterfall to get their next clue. Dave propels down the waterfall like a master, reminiscent of Die Hard‘s John McClane if he traded Nakatomi Plaza for the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City.
The Afghanimals are in second, trailed closely by Jet and Cord. But Cord rappels right past the clue, not looking to his left side and letting Margie and Luke jump ahead to third. As I imagine Cord’s papa always said to him back down on their family ranch, the trickiest steer will always sleep in your blind spot, and Cord lets this steer/clue right out of his sight. Flight Time and Big Easy maintain fifth place, while Caroline and Jennifer hold sixth.
The second flight arrives and the teams again decide to be nice and help each other, even though Meghan and Joey and Jessica and John clearly saw the errors of this strategy in the last leg. Being nice to each other isn’t so much a strategy as a wimpy act of race suicide, deciding not to go all out and do everything needed to win. And as the camera zooms in on Joey and Meghan’s taxi driving away, it’s clear that the YouTubers’ viral audience won’t up-vote them to safety from this leg’s cutting block.
River Delivery/Run Through the Jungle
This detour requires teams to construct a raft made out of bamboo and twine and paddle down the mighty jungle river to one of their next challenges. “River Delivery” requires teams to deliver heavy amounts of goods to nearby villagers, while “Run Through the Jungle” tests their blow dart abilities, trying to knock down two inanimate animals. Dave and Connor arrive first, building their raft in short time despite some minor miscommunication and heading out into the water with a strong lead. But Dave mistakes what was the sign for the delivery challenge instead for the blow dart, paddling aimlessly down the river like lost characters in a game of Oregon Trail.
Leo and Jamal take advantage of their misdirection and skip ahead, completing the delivery early while actually choosing to help the Cowboys instead of screw them over. Perhaps the Afghanimals are evolving into compassionate racers, ones who won’t be privy to deceit especially if it won’t get them ahead. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though, these are the Afghanimals we’re talking about.
Dave and Connor, though, are immensely frustrated, but Connor opts to just walk and carry their delivery items by hand. They ditch the raft and awkwardly stumble through the jungle with their items, reminiscent of two poor college students relocating into a new off-campus apartment but couldn’t afford actual movers to transport their belongings.
The Afghanimals head into some treacherous waters, losing control of their raft as the Cowboys gracefully paddle by into second. Margie and Luke are having difficulty communicating with Margie not able to see Luke’s signs, but they miraculously hold onto fourth place.
Caroline and Jennifer and the Globetrotters are the only two teams from the first flight to do the blow dart challenge, which they knock out pretty easily despite a slight finger injury to the singers while rafting. Flight Time and Big Easy festively dance with the nearby villagers after completing the challenge, a funny event to witness, especially if you consider that these locals’ possible first image of Western culture is of two large African American athletes dancing awkwardly. USA! USA!
Tanjun Aru Water Village
Dave and Connor’s gutsy move to walk the rest of the way pays off, with them landing first place at the Pit Stop and a romantic trip for two to Budapest, including spa and candlelit dinner at a fancy resort. This trip is sponsored by Travelocity, the Internet leader in putting fathers and sons on awkward romantic getaways.
Jet and Cord are second, Leo and Jamal are third and Margie and Luke are fourth. The consistency and determination so far of these four teams will definitely land at least two of them in the final three. Flight Time and Big Easy alley oop their way to fifth, while Caroline and Jennifer duet into sixth. All six teams from the first flight finish in the first six spots. If that isn’t an endorsement for their respective airline, I don’t know what is.
But, of course, the three other teams are still rappelling down the waterfall, with Jessica and John in seventh and Brendon and Rachel in a disappointing eighth. But as Joey and Meghan complete the waterfall, they walk back into an empty parking lot, looking for their taxi like a desperate pet owner trying to find their missing dog. And while Brenchel and Jessica and John begin building their rafts, Joey and Meghan trudge down the side of the highway for any sort of vehicle that will take them to their next destination. They probably would be willing to hitchhike, but I doubt CBS or Phil Keoghan would want to negotiate in a possible kidnapping situation.
Rachel, though, will not shut up about how bad Jessica and John’s raft is, a rickety and poorly tied together group of bamboo logs that Rachel is certain is bound to fall apart. And even as they’re rafting, Rachel still talks in full about the other team’s raft, clearly the hottest gossip of this leg of the race. You can see Rachel imagining herself sitting at home after she’s won the race, watching this very episode where Jessica and John’s raft fell apart, giving them the lead and that extra momentum to win the million.
But, alas, the angry gods of karma and gossip collude again and put Brenchel’s raft into choppy waters, nearly destroying it as Jessica and John proceed ahead. Jessica easily masters the blow dart as John is having difficulties. And while he’s trying to lighten things up with comparisons of them to characters in Pocahontas, Jessica is clearly frustrated, nearly ready to use a blow dart on John himself. But, alas, John finally knocks down his target and the team is safe, allowing them to make more personal allusions to Disney characters in the next leg.
Down to the Last Carefully Edited Minutes
Brenchel’s raft is falling apart, with Rachel in a deep episode of agony and despair. Her internal fantasy of watching this episode has drastically shifted, now imagining herself sitting amongst family at home watching CBS, trying to personally redeem her obnoxious remarks from earlier. But Joey and Meghan still trail behind until they find a nearby resident with a cell phone, who calls a cab and takes the team finally to their river detour.
Now, due to this episode’s editing, it’s uncertain how far Joey and Meghan are lagging. But as soon as Brenchel’s raft shipwrecks again, the nice YouTubers definitely still have a chance.
Brenchel complete the blow darts quickly even after their raft has nearly sunk, like the spiritual surviving team in Dave and Connor’s Oregon Trail game. They rush to the Pit Stop and finish in eighth, going from starting in first place this leg to starting last in next. Joey and Meghan, though, still go at it, never losing their good spirit or friendly attitude. And really, why should they? These YouTubers know that they pretty much lost and that there is a slim chance of surviving save for a non-elimination round.
But they just keep on paddling, enjoying the stream as long as it lasts. Even though Joey and Meghan are ultimately eliminated, they’re wise enough to realize that the journey on this race is much more valuable than the actual destinations. Plus, they learn the valuable lesson that it’s still much cheaper to keep the same cab fare running instead of ordering a new one all over again. These teams may be not be in the city, but street smarts is still very much useful to surviving in the jungle.
The Amazing Race airs Sundays at 8pm on CBS.
(Image courtesy of CBS)