The Amazing Race 8: Family Edition Episode 4
Think Like an Office Chair
By Reagen Sulewski
October 24, 2005
The Amazing Family Tour of the Eastern Seaboard is off again, in its fourth episode. I wonder when The Amazing Race is coming back from hiatus, though. We've been promised some good old emotional breakdowns this episode, which leaves me to wonder when the pit stop at the Dr. Phil show comes up.
The Bransens leave again in first place from the Hunstville, Alabama U.S. Space and Rocket Center, at 1:15 pm. The clue directs them to Anniston in the same state to find the world's largest office chair. I don't even have a joke here, this task is so boring. Wally bravely remains awake for this portion of the race, in the face of potentially being forced to get his pace up to a mild jog. Go Team Cardiac Arrest!
The Linzs are in second, three minutes back, and proceed to beat each other up in the car, like any self-respecting set of siblings would. The Schroeders are third, 18 minutes back, and the Godlewskis are another 11 minutes behind them. Some sisterly tensions are rising up here over directions, which may or may not lead to our first blow-up of the episode.
Speaking of instability, it's the Weavers! Two hours and 19 minutes back of the lead in fifth place because of the split in the last episode, these and all the other teams following have a lot of catching up to do. A little rivalry seems to have cropped up between this family and the Schroeders, although someone should really tell the Weavers that. Admittedly, they are a bit creepy, and are hogging all the prayer, but I think the Schroeders are suffering from a bit of projectivitis in claiming that they are attempting to screw anyone over. Mostly, the Weavers are just hanging on to the race (and sanity) by a thread, with any consequences for other teams being entirely accidental. Oh, but I forgot... they're SBD.
The Paolos are in sixth, 16 minutes back of the Weavers, and promptly lose their clue. I see the Metaphor Patrol is hard at work tonight. DJ and Marion do what comes natural here, and start yelling at each other, as if attempting to create a clue out of thin air by the sheer volume of their voices. Brian comments that these two are actually the same exact person, which should provide both of them some nightmares when they watch this episode at home.
Team Cyborg, aka The Gaghans, seems to need a bit of a recharge, as they are currently in last place, two hours and 38 minutes out of first place and three minutes behind the Paolos, which they easily make up from their bumbling, which just ads more stress to the Paolos. I mean, if that's even possible. Marion whacks Brian with the clue in the car, and, proving that he's also a graduate of the Paolo School of Unnecessary Drama, declares that she gave him a paper cut and screams to the heavens about this injustice. I suppose you have to step up your game to get attention in this family. Some strategy starts to occur here, as the Gaghans take a back route to Anniston that is much more direct. The Paolos, as well as most other teams, it appears, took the freeway route through Birmingham, a trip that would add on an extra 60 or so miles of travel.
The Bransens have found the giant office chair in Anniston, which, following last week's giant rocket stop, officially makes this the Season of Giant Things. The challenging ‘climb a ladder' task here gives them their next clue, which is to go to Talladega and the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame. This is a very questionable choice of spot for a stop, which we will see later on.
The Linzs arrive in second, with Nick, in typical guy fashion, deciding he's going to build an office chair just a bit bigger than this one, just to say he can. What, and deprive this small southern town of its only tourist attraction?
The Schroeders arrive in third place and decide to tempt fate by deriding the clue placement. Now, it's one thing for me, your humble recapper, to mock these "lame-o" stops. In fact, it's sort of my job. But the racers? Now, that's asking for some major instant karmic retribution. The Godlewskis remain in fourth, right around the time the Bransens are pulling into the Talladega Superspeedway. Their clue, seemingly guaranteed to inflict maximum emotional stress on the Weavers, directs them to make a lap around the 2.6 mile track, which the teams will find out is to be done on something called a Party Bike and not in a car like the situation would make you believe. It lacks any sign of liquor, scantily clad women or gambling, though, so how much of a party can it be? Honestly, it's the lamest event in the Chase for the Cup ever.
The Gaghans's shortcut has paid off, as they leap frog into fifth spot at the giant office chair. This just serves the other teams right for not venturing off the Interstates... some brave racers you all are! Just as they are leaving here, the Weavers arrive, which means they really only made up about 20 minutes, but it's this kind of thinking that could prove crucial as the race goes on. The Weavers get the first bit of bad news about where the next clue is located, and you can see the tension build as the car goes silent. This is either going to be a very positive or very negative moment. Meanwhile, the Paolos find their natural spot in the order of the race, bringing up the rear. Some ever-so-cute familial abuse (it's like breathing for these people) marks another task successfully complete!
The Bransens cross the finish line around the track first and receive their clue, which sends them to Hattiesburg, Mississippi and... oh, come on... a trailer park sales office. So we've had a giant piece of office furniture, NASCAR and mobile homes tonight. I know people make fun of the south, but there's more than this down there. I've seen it myself! What's the next stop, a Chicken and Waffles?
Now here's where I get off on a bit of a rant. The Weavers get their second piece of bad news about this portion of the race, finding out they have to go onto the racetrack. There's a couple of elements to this, in that this is not the track where their father and husband died, and that facing your fears head on is the best way to get past them in just about every case. However, the producers of the show had a choice here, and are essentially exploiting the emotional pain of this family unnecessarily, when there had to be any number of other choices for tasks in this region. It's also tacking on a psychological element for one and only one team in this leg, creating an artificial imbalance that could have easily had this team just up and quit. I'm sort of shocked that the producers, who normally have steered clear of this kind of obvious manipulation, would stoop to this tactic. This and the general lameness of this edition of the race are almost putting me off the show.
Meanwhile, at least the Linzs and the Schroeders are having fun with this task, although the Linzs prove unsuccessful in finding anyone to draft behind for speed. The pater familias of the Schroeder clan decides to stop in the middle of the race track and adjust his seat, maybe costing them time, but at this point, who really cares?
The Godlewskis finish their lap around the same time the Weavers (who, by the by, could use about two gallons of conditioner right now) start theirs, meaning a lot of time has either been lost or gained today. The Weavers finish strongly, and I'm happy that they're growing as a group, but man am I ever not into displays of anguish on TV.
The Gaghans are at a bit of a handicap in the race around the track, with Carissa's legs not able to reach the pedals of the bike. However, they still beat out the Paolos, who also fall for the vaguely worded clue and think they're getting to ride in a stock car.
On the road to Mississippi, some hijinks ensue between the Bransens and the Linzs, resulting in a tragic mooning by Lindsay toward the Linzs. The counter attack is a lifting of a shirt and a call to, I kid you not, "show us your tits!" Ah, the mating call of the Fratboy! A rewind makes me think it might also be "now it's your turn" but I'd like to think one got past the censors here.
As the Paolos finish their lap of the speedway, a thunderstorm starts to brew over them. Would it be too much to ask if... nah, I don't want to use up all my favors just yet. Besides, odds are they'll take each other out without any help.
The Linzs and Bransens arrive more or less at the same time at the... sigh... trailer park, and it's about as majestic as you can imagine. It's the old standby, the departure time task, with the trailers standing in for piles of sand from last year's race. The times for departure the next morning are 7:20, 7:40 and 8:00, with teams not able to switch once they've chosen a time.
Coming into Hattiesburg, the Schroeders come across a helpful sheriff who points out that the Southern Colonel is a mobile home park. Mark finds this to be a pretty laughable idea, and admittedly, in a normal season it would be. I mean, this is a show that's been to the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, Victoria Falls, the Colosseum... I could go on here. One of the highlights so far tonight has been a large piece of crappy furniture. I'm underwhelmed, to say the least.
But I digress. Of course, the sheriff is right, and despite Stassi's protests, the Schroeders drive on in search of better locales. This is two clue locations they've now made fun of, admittedly, not without reason, but they are just asking for it at this point.
The Linzs, after a tactical sweep of a few of the homes, find a 7:20 time and take it. They broadcast this info out to the Bransens (I suspect a little more than good sportsmanship is involved here...), locking in both teams for the earliest departure.
The Godlewskis and the Weavers both arrive at the same time at the trailer park (really, southern people have to just be groaning at this episode), with the Godlewskis buckling under pressure and taking a 7:40 slot, and the Weavers just plain giving up at taking the first one they see, which happens to be the 8:00 slot. So much for all that time they gained back.
Our third over-dramatic episode of the night occurs in the Schroeder vehicle, as Mark seems to be totally lost, and the rest of the team, with Stassi in particular, breaking down from stress and fatigue. They finally find the park, but tensions don't end, as no teams seem to have any drive left after today. After initially rejecting an 8:00 slot, they panic when the Gaghans and Paolos arrive and go back to it, over Stassi's objections. The Gaghans also settle for an 8:00 time, with Carissa remarking that the trailers are "eeevil". Is this like the movie Hide and Seek or something?
The Paolos stumble upon a 7:40 departure time, and we get a bit of a clue as to why the teams are making such awful mistakes right now; Marion says that they will be leaving in less than five hours, making this at almost three in the morning, so few teams are going to have any gas in their tank. Almost no teams really passed this test, as only two teams bothered to search long enough to find the earliest departure time. I'm waiting for the killer instinct to show up here, but all teams seem to want to do so far is play it safe. Remember when we used to have competent teams on this show? Neither do I.
Cut to: the next morning, with the Bransens and Linzs off to the races with their headstart, and we are treated to, and I say this with no fear of contradiction, the Worst. Clue. Ever. The teams have to find a dude named Les in a BP gas station in Richland Mississippi. I wish I was kidding about this. Even the Survivor folks think this sponsor tie-in is over the top. Hell, I'd even take that Chicken and Waffles right now. Needless to say, the Mississippi State Tourism Board is not returning Jerry Bruckheimer's phone calls right now.
Walt threatens to return fire from yesterday's moonshot, and a weary nation thanks him for his restraint. The Linz boys, after successfully counting to three boys and three girls, continue their admiration of the Bransen family genes, especially those blonde X chromosomes.
With all the teams now on the road to the gas station (they even gave them the address. I mean, really), we get a little compensation for that clue when the teams have to figure out that "the Pelican State" is Louisiana and then find Fairview Riverside State Park. This isn't the most insanely difficult of tasks, but man, does it ever beat just driving to a freakin' gas station.
On the other hand, maybe I spoke too soon about that. The Godlewskis drive right on by the station, failing on several separate points of critical reasoning. They spot the Paolos behind them turning into the station, and decide that they "just went in to pick up something". Like, for instance, the next clue. I'm running out of teams to like here. C'mon people, help me out!
This turn of events means the Paolos sneak into third place, which is some sort of ominous sign, I think. The Godlewskis finally realize that this wasn't that complex a task after all and recover in time for fourth place at this point. A rush of teams arrives shortly after, with Stassi of the Schroeders about to rip her own head off from anxiety over last night's bumbling. They also have to gas up (how convenient, then) and every other team gets on the road ahead of them. Especially irksome to Stassi is that the Weavers pass them, but as we saw last year, you obsess over one specific team at your own peril. A more pressing matter is that this Louisiana-based team doesn't know where Fairview, Louisiana is. In actual fact, this park is directly across Lake Ponchartrain from their home town, New Orleans. They may not be let back into the state when this is over.
Although some teams threaten to turn this navigation task into an adventure, including the Godlewskis, who are not having their strongest leg ever, all figure out the right direction. Whoops, spoke too soon again, as the home-field advantage curse strikes again! The Schroeders pass up the correct interstate and start off on a journey to God only knows where. In general, you like to find out where you're going before setting out, but then I'm a traditionalist. These guys are from New Orleans, the home of free-spirited, experimental jazz music, and maybe that's just their style. Or, maybe the stress of the past few days has put these guys on tilt and they are a dead team driving. They're both good theories.
The Linzs and the Bransens arrive in tandem at the next clue box (really now, people are going to start to talk), which is the Detour. The first choice is to saw through a 12 inch log with a two-person saw until four slices are taken off, with the second to play some blackjack on a riverboat casino, with all four team members' hands having to beat the dealer. Blackjack is a plenty evil game, and any team with the muscle power should really choose the lumberjack option. However, both the Linzs and the Bransens choose to gamble (not so surprising with the latter – it smacks of effort, man) and dress up in the goofy period costumes required for this task. That right there would get me to switch tasks.
We return now to... somewhere in the United States (I don't think I'd have been surprised to see snow in this shot) where the Schroeders have realized just how badly they've botched this. Mark apparently worked five minutes away from this park at one time and it's all of half an hour from their home. This could be one of the most ignominious defeats in all of Amazing Race history. They'll probably be kidnapped and eaten by The Others before this is all through.
The Paolos and the Godlewskis choose the lumberjack option, and aside from a comical underestimation of what 12 inches is by the latter team, both are quickly on their way. Realizing their distinct physical disadvantage, the Gaghans are forced to introduce their children to the world of competitive gambling early, and head for the riverboat casino.
Meanwhile, the Linzs realize the time being wasted in the luck factor of this portion of the Detour and switch over to the lumberjack challenge. If this team ever starts making good decisions, they will finish days ahead of the other racers. The Paolos have gotten through their task and now in first place, and I am officially kind of scared. They have to screw it up somehow, right? Right? Even the Paolos can't believe they're leading at this point.
The pit stop of this leg is in Preservation Hall in New Orleans (note: this episode was filmed only a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina – what with this and the Sri Lanka episode, I'd worry if the Amazing Race came to my coastal town). The Bransens are second to finish the Detour and the first to complete the blackjack task, and they shout a few words of encouragement at the Linzs as they leave. I'm surprised they don't go over with a pitcher of lemonade and offer a soothing massage. They complete their task just as the Weavers are arriving, with the Godlewskis finishing not far behind.
Out on the riverboat, The Gaghans are having tons of trouble with their Detour, and do not appear to have gotten the hang of it, or are just on an epic streak of bad luck. It's much better here to get a decent hand and let the dealer bust as opposed to trying to get all four hands to 17 or 18, but whatever strategy they're employing, it's not working. They haven't won a single hand as of yet. The Weavers arrive to add insult to injury by winning two hands extremely quickly. This leads to panic from the Gaghans who cut and run and head to the other Detour, despite the fact that Billy and Carissa won't be much if at all help at sawing. It's something of a bizarre choice when you really think about it, since if other teams are accomplishing a pure luck task, you ought to be able to as well. Wasting time at tasks is probably the worst sin of The Amazing Race other than reading the map wrong.
A strange scene occurs in the Godlewski car on the way across Lake Ponchartrain to the pit stop. Christine throws what can best be described as a tantrum about carrying her backpack and then starts to cry. I have to check the CBS Web site to be sure, but yes, she is 37, and not seven. In an on-camera interview, she says this is a "release" for her. And conveniently attention-getting, too! After all this, she yells at her sisters to let her calm down (huh? If I may, you started this) because she doesn't want to be crying on the mat. Yeah, because then the entire country might see you crying, and that would be embarrassing.
The Weavers continue their odd string of luck at the blackjack table (prayer does work!) and are out of there in fifth place. With the Gaghans (OK, the Gaghan parents) still struggling with the lumberjack task, and the Schroeders just arriving, they look solid for the rest of this leg, even as they appear to be decomposing in front of our eyes.
Making the day of bad decisions complete for the Schroeders, they make a token effort at sawing the logs before switching over to the blackjack (what did I just say about wasting time?). They have some decent luck though, and are only a little behind the Gaghans if the editing can be believed.
As they cross over Lake Ponchartrain, Linda declares it to be one of the "five Great Lakes". I'm just dumbfounded here, and this woman is actually an elementary school teacher. This explains so much. Just as an aside, you can tell it's not one of the Great Lakes because it's on the entire other side of the continent from them. This isn't exactly obscure trivia here. That old over-confidence starts to come into play for the Schroeders, who declare it's almost unfair that they get to race in their hometown. Hey look, it's the Foreshadowing Fairy!
Cutting to the French Quarter of New Orleans, we get to see that all is still right with the world, as the Paolos bicker their way into getting mildly lost. Although they held a small lead over the Bransens, they manage to cough it up to the Bransens, who finish first for the second straight episode, winning a trip to Orlando. The Paolos come up there literally seconds after this, and decide they ran the perfect race today. Well, other than that losing first place thing, sure, although they did refrain from making any obvious mistakes. Let's see if they can keep off each other's throats much longer.
Arriving in third are the Linzs, whom Phil teases about the "moon out today", or the "cute crescent moon" as they put it. Somebody's in luuuurve. The Godlewski use their shriek power to arrive in fourth, with thankfully no more crying.
We're then treated to the Amazing Editing Race, with crosscuts between the Weavers, Gaghans and the Schroeders, the latter of whom seem to think they've got it in the bag. However, the Weavers are first of this group, with the Gaghans not too far behind, leaving the Schroeders in last place. This seems to hit them like a ton of bricks, with the concept of them being eliminated in their stomping grounds never even occurring to them. Mark, to his credit, is able to take responsibility for the crazy mistake-filled day, but really, this was a team that was just hit extraordinarily hard by an 18-hour leg. Stassi seems to think listening to her was the right strategy, but her emotional outbursts couldn't have made thinking strategically too easy either. All in all, it was one of the worse run legs of The Amazing Race that I can remember.
But hey, we leave the United States next week. Finally.