On Sunday (March 27) night, “The Amazing Race” interrupted its regular season for an hour-long commercial for Snapple. To keep viewers interested, the protracted advertisement for the beverage company was punctuated by occasional footage of contestants performing perfunctory challenges. Airing of the challenge footage gave CBS the occasion to periodically pause for sponsorship messages, usually led by the good people of Snapple.
One team was also sent home. But that was sad. So why dwell on it?
More words about Snapple (and a brief acknowledgment of the “Amazing Race” results) after the break…It’s tempting to only write about the hour-long Snapple commercial because the actual episode for “The Amazing Race” hinged on one thing and one thing only: Luke had trouble identifying a papaya-mango tea infusion that he’d tried at the beginning of the leg, many hours earlier. That’s it. There was also a Detour on the leg, but it had nothing to do with anything, barely even relating to the ordering of the teams at the Pit Stop.
So Snapple sponsored an entire hour of a TV show that was determined by a guy who couldn’t recognize tea flavors and had a mental breakdown as a result. If I work for Snapple, I’m editing together the footage of Luke from tonight’s Roadblock. Nothing but footage of Luke tasting tea and crying. Black title card: “Frustrated with your current tea?” More footage of Luke tasting and crying. Black title card: “Snapple… More flavors to love… A difference you can taste.”
You don’t think CBS and Jerry Bruckheimer Productions would sell Snapple the footage? Of course they would. They sold a whole hour to Snapple already.
Let’s get the background quickly…
The leg began with the teams still in China and complaining about that fact. Before departing for The City Formerly Known As Calcutta, they had to participate in a tea ceremony, where they had to taste a papaya-mango-infused tea. Then they were off to India, where the teams were all stunned to discover crowding and noise.
Teams rushed off to the Roadblock, where they entered a tea room and had to bring a mango and a papaya to The Tea Auctioneer and then go find a cup of the tea they’d tasted earlier mixed in amongst hundreds of other teacups. It was hard to know the actual difficulty of the challenge. Ron, for example, stuck his nose in a couple cups of tea, instantly found the right brew and left. Easy peasy, mango-papaya squeezy. For other teams? Much harder. We didn’t get an explanation for when players had to finish their cups of tea, but I assume it was like the fake food challenge from last season: If you sip, you have to finish. But I think you could stick your nose in as many cups as you wanted to without gulping the tea down. So some players didn’t drink much at all, but for some reason Luke and Big Easy kept pouring down one cup after another.
Luke, whose first season on “Amazing Race,” was characterized by a slew of “I’m quitting!” temper-tantrums, had been doing well this season, but his breakdown was already teased at the end of last week’s episode, so there wasn’t even a moment to think that maybe in lieu of hearing he might have other Daredevil-esque enhanced senses. He just couldn’t figure things out and his frustration got worse and worse. I can only imagine how bad things would have gotten if Flight Time hadn’t been having nearly as much trouble, while keeping an even keel. So you had Zev missing and smashing cups, Luke missing and crying and Flight Time missing and running back and trying again. Zev eventually got the right tea. And Flight Time eventually got the right tea. That left Luke accepting hugs from his mother and cheers from the tea-room employees as he stared out at a decimated table of teacups. By the end, it appeared that everybody was nervous for Luke’s stability that they bent the rules to let him go up to the Tea Auctioneer with an assortment of teas and just keep drinking and showing him until he got it right.
I don’t know how hard the challenge really was. We were told there were hundreds of cups, but we weren’t told how many different types of tea there were, nor were we told if they were all fruit infusions or if some were “normal” un-fruity tea. Was the issue one of distinguishing between mango-papaya tea, mango tea, papaya tea and peach tea? That could be complicated, I suppose. None of the struggling parties really articulated why there were struggling, so you couldn’t root for them to do anything different. When Zev, Big Easy and Luke eventually completed the Roadblock, it was because they got lucky.
And for their trouble, they received unlabeled bottles of Snapple, with their next destination under the cap. All of the teams other than Jen & Kisha found that clue in a hurry. Jen & Kish initially got in a cab and tried going to a Snapple factory, which looked like it might be a fatal error, but instead delayed them by maybe five minutes and that didn’t matter because neither Detour required any specific effort.
Y’all know my feelings on this and yet I keep repeating them over and over: A good Detour is one where strong performance can allow a good team to move up the pecking order and poor performance can allow a bad team to plummet out of contention. A good Detour is also one in which each choice has obvious pros and cons, forcing teams to make the kind of call that can win or lose legs.
Tonight’s Detour, Hindu Art or Bengali History, was not a good Detour because it didn’t fit any of my requirements. In Hindu Art, teams had to paint and decorate and adorn a large statue of Ganesha. In Bengali History, teams had to collect a pile of text books and deliver them to a school. The Hindu Art task required only minor precision — the Globetrotters had to paint over a few brown splotches — while the Bengali history required asking directions. Nobody did either task with any real excellence, though the Goths deserve credit for at least taking pleasure in painting Ganesha pink and doing the elephant god’s makeup.
Gary and Mallory finished first and they won the opportunity to taste two new flavors of Snapple inspired by this leg of The Race. No, I’m not kidding. They also won a dinner, sponsored by Snapple, and a million rupees, also courtesy of Snapple.
Luke and Margie finished last and part of me desperately wanted Phil Keoghan to look at them with sadness and say, “I’m sorry to tell you you have been eliminated from the race. I’m happy to tell you that I have two cold Snapples for you.”
I’m not especially sad to see Luke & Margie go, though I always admired Margie and it was painful watching them go out in this manner, especially in a episode so dull that the editors had nothing else available to focus on other than his crying.
A few other thoughts on this week’s episode:
*** The tasks weren’t dramatically thrilling, but they definitely looked good. Ganesha’s a photogenic deity and the rows of tea I’m sure made for good HD imagery. Gotta give credit where credit is due.
*** If any of you Globetrotter-haters from the start of the season haven’t apologized for your hate yet, I’ll just pause and let you tell Flight Time and Big Easy that you’re sorry you hated them in their first season. They’ve been helpful to almost every team this season, good sports throughout. Big Easy stood on the side with Margie cheering enthusiastically for Luke through the entire Roadblock. And Margie was touched that Flight Time paused after the Globetrotters finished the Detour and hugged both Margie and Luke. You should be touched as well. The Globetrotters are good people, darnit.
*** Best moment in the episode? Phil giving Jet the opportunity to tell the Goths what position they were in and Jet goofing the order, forcing Phil to backtrack and tell Kent and Vyxsin they were actually in fifth. The teams in the Top 5 finished one on top of the other, which is what happens if you start your leg with an equalizer and then feature both a Roadblock and a Detour that don’t really let anybody shine.
*** Eventually Mallory’s going to crack, right? She can’t just go careening around like a berserker chipmunk week after week without having a breakdown of some sort, can she? It looked like the Roadblock might be her moment. For a while, she was drooling tea and practically dunking her face in each cup. She, however, had one of the few “Eureka!” moments and when she found the right tea, she knew with certainty that she had it.
*** Zev’s tea-drinking pajamas were awesome.
*** No episode next week. This is good timing for those of us who will be up in San Francisco covering Wonder-Con next week.
Not much else to say about this leg. Drink Snapple and share your thoughts!
By Daniel Fienberg – Snapple is mentioned repeatedly and one team is sent home