Each week, I'll attempt to break down odds as "The Amazing Race" continues to shed dead weight and move towards its usual thrilling conclusion in the race for a million dollars.
After one of the more disappointing "Race" episodes in recent memory, the show (or more accurately, Nate and Jen, pictured at right) pulled out all the stops as contestants clawed for spots in the coveted "top three" during next week's million dollar finale. If the "Race" functioned like the NFL Playoffs, Ron and Christina would be the New York Giants. They're comfortable on the road -- Christina speaking Japanese certainly didn't hurt in Osaka -- continually underestimated by flashier teams, and have a militant, unpredictable leader ("Who's Your Daddy?" Ron/Coach Tom Coughlin) who needs to work on being less abrasive. Still, the end sometimes justifies the means, leaving Ron and Christina in good standing with two consecutive strong finishes. TK and Rachel are the Green Bay Packers -- young and athletic, models of consistency throughout, except for one brutal toe-stub (the Chicago Bears game at windy Soldier Field) near the end. TK's beard is also much grizzlier than Brett Favre's. Nic and Donald are similar to the San Diego Chargers. Broken down (Don's lack of energy/LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers banged up on the sideline) and never really in control, but somehow still alive. Nic carrying Don's bags and keeping the team in survival mode has a bit of Billy Volek to it, no?
Then there's Nate and Jen, leading to the quintessential Dallas Cowboys comparison. Too many distractions (Tony Romo's vacation plans with Jessica Simpson, Jerry Jones on the sidelines) and off-the-charts potential for extreme volatility (the always-amusing Terrell Owens.) Predictably, things ended with a teary-eyed meltdown (again, Owens and his "that's unfair" weep-a-thon press conference/Nate crying at the end while embracing his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Jen) and snickers from a slew of haters.
The bigger question is, who are the all-but-crowned New England Patriots? That remains to be seen, with Nate and Jen's long and whiny road finally coming to an end in Taipei, Taiwan. Of course, it may have hurt Nate and Jen that they kept referring to Taipei as Ta-PIE, while at the same time declaring they don't know anything about Taiwan except that,"Thai food is pretty good." I'll take Grade School Geography for $100, Alex! (Or maybe I'm just sensitive about the lack of global awareness because my mom is from Taiwan and they're one of the United States' biggest trading partners. C'mon, Americans! Get up to speed with your Far East ally!)
The standings: Ron and Christina, first place; TK and Rachel, second place; Nic and Donald, third place.
Nate and Jen's Weekly Moment of Romantic Bliss: It was Jen's birthday, and nothing says "celebrate!" like telling your significant other, "Honestly Jen, I can't stand you" with every hate-filled bone in your body. For the dyspeptic duo, Sunday's episode reeked of ugliness and desperation (coincidentally, that's what Bill O'Reilly's cologne smells like.) With their backs against the wall, neither could avoid revealing their true colors (again), which for Nate was an exasperated plea for Jen to shut her stupid trap while sarcastically referring to her as a "good teammate." For Jen, it's an equally exasperated plea for Nate to grow a pair and act like a man. And while no one watching the "Race" could have possibly been rooting for them to win the million dollars, it's a bit sad to see them go. The remaining three are all relatively good-natured and deserving of the cash. But to make a reality show really tick in its finale, you want a team to rally against. That X-Factor is gone. Still, how fun was it to watch a bunch of mild-mannered Taipei residents stare in stunned silence as Nate and Jen bickered like angry teenagers on the street corner? Way to combat that ugly American stereotype, guys!
The X-Factor: TK and Rachel are all caught up. Amazing. Well, not really amazing when you consider that the three teams ahead had to wait for the Observatory to open, which allowed TK and Rachel to make up ground without really trying. Still, the pair deserves to be in the thick, and with Ron and Christina potentially peaking too early, have to be considered the frontrunners with the other finalists bogged down by age (after all, Ron and Don are really old. Like, they were around in the '60s!)
Next episode: According to CBS, "in a final 'Amazing Race' leg unlike any homestretch before it, the racers are surprised to learn upon checkout that their next flight is their last for the entire race. The entire leg, all the way through the finish line, will play out in the city, the wilderness, by the ocean, on glaciers, and in the national parks of Alaska. One often combative team comes together, while one usually cohesive team clashes. One team misreads a vital clue. Will this lead to the team's downfall? After 10 cities, four continents, and nearly 30,000 miles, who will cross the finish line first and win the one million dollar prize?
Who I'm rooting for: No villains in this bunch, so TK and Rachel get the nod. From the preview, it looks like a two-horse race, with Nic and Don getting confused by a clue along the final leg. The concern here is that Ron and Christina are better as underdogs, not frontrunners, so the pressure that comes with leading the pack might turn Ron into Mr. Hyde again. Either that, or his hernia will explode in Alaska. That could make for good TV.
-- Thomas Rozwadowski, email@example.com