With what I am now terming the pre-season of this edition of The Amazing Race over and done with, we can finally get on to testing these racers, instead of just re-enacting National Lampoon's Vacation en masse.
The Amazing Race: Family Edition - Episode 5
We're Getting Out of the Country, Girls
By Reagen Sulewski
November 7, 2005
After taking first place for the second time in a row, the Bransens head out of the pit stop in New Orleans at 12:40 a.m. with the clue sending them to... drumroll please... Panama City, Panama! Yay! Outside the continental United States! Welcome back, Amazing Race! Once there, they must find the Smithsonian Institute, and travel from there to an island in the Panama Canal.
The freakin' Paolos are next, just one minute back, ready for more emotional warfare. The bickering is almost immediate, and an enlightening side interview with Marion reveals that she feels it's her role to absorb all this abuse that's heaped on her for the good of the family, although we can plainly see she's starting to reject that idea. Her stated dream after the race is for her son to tell her he loves her, which you would sort of expect to be an automatic. I can really only begin to imagine how damaged all of these people are to be in this state.
The Linzs are nine minutes back in third, and display a little bit of confusion here; after initially being glad to be going out of the country, Tommy thinks he's going to the Panama City in Florida for Spring Break to "check out 16-year-old girls". First, eww, second, either you weren't paying attention at all or thought Florida was in another country. Don't give this dude the map; he'll probably start an international incident. In fact, maybe we shouldn't let this guy out of the country, period.
After catching some cab luck, The Linzs leapfrog into first place, for as much good it does them. It takes the Bransens to arrive to figure out that one of the two available flights arrives almost three hours ahead of the other one, and that yes, that's the flight you should choose.
The Godlewskis leaving fourth and are an hour behind first spot, so there was a bit more separation than it looked at the end of the last leg. Twelve minutes behind them are the Weavers, who, when finding out that they have to go to Panama, seem more than a little off-put. Did they never watch the show before? Do they not understand it involves travel? A word about alliances from Rebecca; "I understand that they might help, but it's just stoopid." You won't hear it argued any better than that, folks! Another thing you might consider is to at least have teams not actively hate you, you know?
The Gaghans are last out of the gate, one hour and 14 minutes behind, and don't appear to be setting their sights any higher than ahead of one team. It doesn't take a strategic genius to spot the flaw in this plan if you want to win.
We're treated to Hot. Ticket Booking. Action. at the airport, with the chance of all teams getting on this first flight seeming slim. Some of the tensions of the Paolo team come to a head when DJ and Marion's bickering is exposed to the other teams. DJ seems to be trying to seize control of the team in a coup, with Marion's comment of "don't forget to say we need tickets" breaking sarcasm-ometers around the globe. A member of the Godlewskis steps in and upbraids DJ, and we have the first hint of self-awareness in him. The Linzs, Bransens and Paolos get on the faster first flight, at which point it is declared full, leading to a mad dash to the other available flight by the other three teams. Which is all for show, considering they're all tied for last at this point, but you have to like the effort.
After arriving in Panama, DJ tries to reassert his authority like any bully would, declaring that "from now on, I'll do the talking". Aw, someone's pride's been bwuised. "From now on"? Emboldened by the intervention at the ticket counter, Marion starts to show some spine, replying, "from now on you'll shut your mouth", which is practically a breakthrough. Hooray for tough love! DJ looks stunned that his punch has been blocked, and we'll see if this shift in the relationship holds for more than five minutes.
We're in a Spanish-speaking country, which means the return of the randomly shouted Spanish phrases, including the always-popular "Rapido! Rapido!". Nick of the Linzs apparently speaks Spanish for all the good it does him, as he can't actually understand the response from the driver. The driver of the Bransens starts hitting on the girls, which is sure to go over well in front of their father.
It's now the middle of the night, so there's no real surprise that when they reach the Smithsonian Institute, we reach a bunching point, with the first boat the next morning not leaving until 7 a.m., which has sort of made the whole episode to this point rather pointless except in a psychological torture for the racers kind of way.
The Weavers prove to be about as good a group of cultural ambassadors as you would have expected, which is to say, not in the slightest. When confronted with a taxi driver that speaks only a little English, Rachel blurts out "Burrito!" (all right, number one, you're in Panama, not Mexico and number two, would you expect a visitor to the US to just yell out hamburger for no reason?), and Rolly urges the driver to go "el speedo". This makes me long for the days of Mirna from Season 5 and her randomly spouted catch-all foreign phrases.
Order matters a little the next morning, as the boats are given first-come first-serve, but there are six of them for six teams, which, if I have the math correct, is enough to bunch up the teams yet again. I remember when this show had the guts to be cruel to the teams.
The Linz's up-and-down luck with transportation swings downward, as they snag the slowest boat of the group and drop all the way from second to fifth, although their luck isn't quite so bad as the Gaghans, whose boat driver did not get the memo from the producers and wants to pick up some more passengers. They rightfully throw a stink and convince their driver not to drive out into who-knows-where in the Canal.
The teams start to arrive on the island, where finding the research scientist with their clue takes a bit of legwork, in a repeat of the spy task from the Washington leg. The Godlewskis are fastest at this, receiving their next clue (and importantly, skipping over the Fast Forward), the Detour. They either have to find four music clubs, pick up an instrument at each and deliver it to a fifth club, or use binoculars to spot wooden birds and circle them on a chart that is, quite frankly, completely packed with largely identical pictures. Personally, the birding option seems like tedium, but you never know with some of these choices anymore.
The Paolos are next and decide to try for the Fast Forward, which is a tandem bungee jump off a bridge over the Panama Canal. With the dynamics this team has, it seems a bit like a scheme in a Hitchcock film to get rid of a troublesome relative, but we'll assume the show is on the up and up for now. Notably, this is the only one of these on the entire race.
Currently in third, the Weavers display their wonderful instincts again by choosing the birding task and are joined by the Bransens, apparently not in the mood to do anything physical this entire race. The Linzs are fifth and choose the musical instruments, while the Gaghans, led astray by their boat driver, make a panic choice and try for the Fast Forward. With the way this game option has gone in the past few seasons, it's almost a waste at this point to try if you are near the back of the pack, and it's become a counter-intuitive game option. They really need to bring it back to have more of these, so that teams that are trailing can effectively use it. In any case, the Gaghan parents seem to be pushed into this one by their kids, who are fixated with the coolness of the task, instead of its strategic advantage or lack thereof. They really have to hope the Paolos get very, very lost.
A priceless exchange between Christine of the Godlewskis and an institute staffer: "Which way are the buses?" "It's an island!" "...I don't believe him." Er, didn't you get here on a boat? A brilliant display of critical thinking follows, with Christine then positing that yes, on an island, there is no other way off than by boat.
The race back to the docks for these teams proves to be quite competitive, with the Weavers continuing to have a fast boat, with the Linzs doing better than their trip out. This effort is wasted for both teams when their drivers sail past the docks, leaving the Paolos and the Bransens to play the tortoise to their hares. The Gaghans even sneak up into third place, which could be good news for their Fast Forward attempts, except for one problem; they just don't get the concept of the race. "There's the New York team, stick behind them." No, you dummies, that screws you. See, in a race, you want to be ahead of other teams.
The Godlewskis and the Linzs form a sort of informal alliance on their Detour, and are apparently united to crush the Weavers, though there's not much they can do about it at this point. An old standby tactic is employed here, with the Godlewskis hiring a taxi to lead their vehicle and the Linzs following. The Weavers luck out and get a helpful driver on the way to their task to do it for free.
Meanwhile at the Fast Forward, DJ starts to realize that bungee jumping involves heights (he's a quick one), which could be a problem given that that's his biggest fear. This is a potential open door for the Gaghans, even though they are second to the bungee jumping (and after Timmy and Clarissa both take headers running towards the Fast Forward). DJ's about to chicken out after his father and brother go first, but is eventually coaxed off the ledge in tandem with his mother. Lord help us, this team is actually starting to blossom.
This hangs the Gaghans out to dry, and lets the Paolos head to the pit stop, which is located at the Miraflores locks on the Pacific edge of the Panama Canal. This means, and I hope you're sitting down here, that the Paolos are very likely going to be in first place.
Back out to the Detour, the Weavers have reached the bird sanctuary. Now, we all know editing on reality shows is what it is. However, this family seems to be continuously giving the editors ammo, with bits like "I don't know how to make binoculars work". I mean, come on. There are two spots to put your eyes in. You have two eyes. It's a device for looking at things. Let's put all this information together and see if we can't figure this one out, OK? They actually perform not all that badly once their intrinsic incompetence passes, spotting three birds in pretty rapid succession. Linda: "I always wanted to be a bird watcher." Well you know, it's a little easier when they're made of wood and don't move. They also display their knowledge of breakfast cereals by identifying one of the birds as a "toucon" (Oh, so close). Unfortunately, they're a little inaccurate on their first try and have to go back and spot some more. The Bransens arrive just after this, and it's a dead heat at this point. Teams Linz and Godlewski are also arriving at the first stops of their Detour choice right now.
Unfortunately, no major trauma befalls the Paolos and they do manage to finish first, with their prize being a trip for four to Panama. Can they take it starting now? Lord help us all if this team starts becoming competent. Intra-family rifts appear to be mending somewhat with this win, although I won't hold my breath.
The Weavers are correct on their second try through the Detour, with their next clue sending them to a baseball stadium, the name of which I'm not really going to bother trying to reproduce. The Bransens are close behind, breezing through on their first attempt.
An interesting dynamic appears in the musical instruments portion of the Detour as the Linzs and Godlewskis act as one large team. Although they are ostensibly working together, the sisters somehow get the Linzs to carry all the heavier instruments for them. "We work well as a team," one says, and sure, as long as you mean exploiting one team for their strength means team to you, then you're dead on. Tricia's older sisters do at least offer her up to make out with one of the Linzs, which is fair, I guess. Can I vote for Megan?
The Weavers reach the baseball stadium to find the Roadblock there, where teams have to get a hit off a little league pitcher to finish and receive their next clue. If it's Danny Almonte, they're all in trouble. Each team only gets three pitches at a time before having to move to the back of the line. For the Weavers, Rolly is a natural choice although the idea of one of the others twirling around in the batters' box helplessly is an attractive seeming prospect. Rolly strikes out in his first attempt, although he gets a bright idea in trying to lay down a bunt near the end. Elizabeth Bransen lets a pitch go (! – you can't get a walk here) and then swings meekly at two more. This could take awhile.
Nick Linz and Sharon Godlewski are the chosen two for their families in this event, which brings us up to four teams here now. The Linzs start to razz Rolly with baseball taunts, which, although admittedly uncouth since we're dealing with a 14-year-old here, is actually pretty funny. "Hey batter batter" isn't likely to traumatize him all that badly. "That's really rude," yells the emaciated corpse of Linda Weaver. On his third pitch of his second try, he makes contact and sends a ground back at the pitcher who, clearly under orders from Don King, Buckners the ball, letting the easy ground roll right under his glove. Rolly gets onto first, and the Weavers are done with this challenge, and off to the Pit Stop.
Meanwhile, the Gaghans have finally completed their Detour, and could catch up to the lined-up racers at the Roadblock. A combination of bad luck and mistake filled play has kept them at the back of the pack almost the entire race. At least they're having fun. Or at least they will if Tammy has anything to say about it, as she plays the enthusiastic/crazed cheerleader role on the way to the next clue. Wasn't that fun?! Wasn't that great?! Sure, whatever you say, scary mommy.
Elizabeth cracks a solid single to the outfield on her third pitch, and the Bransens are on their way. The key to this leg of the race so far has clearly been picking the right Detour, as both teams that picked the bird-spotting task got a clear lead. Nick hits a shallow blooper (I don't see any outfielders out there, so making contact is pretty much all you have to do, it seems) and the Linzs are on their way as well.
Sharon seems to have met her match at this task despite, as she said earlier, having played baseball before. They're lapped by the Gaghans very quickly when Bill smacks a first-pitch hit, moving them up into fifth spot.
Fatigue is setting in for Sharon, which could keep her here a long time. Line of the night: "Dammit! ... I don't usually swear." "This is baseball, you can swear." Finally, she makes some contact, with an infield grounder. The throw goes wild (score it E-6) and she gets on base. Now, a strict reading of the rules says that they needed to get a base hit or a home run, and as any baseball fan knows, reaching base on an error does not count as a hit, so ... hold on, there are some angry women dressed in pink hovering over me. I think we can let this one go.
Although the order holds firm from the Roadblock, some phony drama is introduced to the race to the Pit Stop, when the Gaghans hit a traffic jam. This team might want to think about if they've crossed any voodoo priests in the past. The Weavers, Bransens and Linzs all arrive safely, locking up second through fourth. Realizing that they're last and that this could be a non-elimination leg, the Godlewskis (aside: could Christine be more shrill? I'm not sure now) decide to put on every piece of their clothing. A slow speed chase ensues, and although the Gaghans are within sight, they don't make much of an effort to catch them. They are indeed last behind the Gaghans, and it is indeed a non-elimination leg, making their "traveling wardrobe" strategy pretty appropriate. They're mugged by Phil of all their possessions except the clothes on their back (Phil can barely keep from laughing as he says this) and their passports and will be receiving nothing at the start of the next leg. Phil comes in with the zinger, "did you know it's illegal in Panama to wear underpants on top of underpants on top of pants?" – hey folks, try the veal! – and that's the end of another fairly uneventful non-elimination leg of The Amazing Race.