By Janell Sutherland
12:12 PM EST, November 7, 2011
Remember last week when the teams carried their beds into a remote Malawi village? They then slept in private huts. Enjoy this moment from Ernie: "Home sweet home. Got my mosquito netting, just like at home. Got my straw roof, just like at home."
Ernie has been my secret tv boyfriend for a few weeks, but now I'm going public with it because he makes me laugh.
After their cozy night in the village, all the teams end up on the same crowded bus to Salima. Amani and Marcus were an hour and a half behind, but they squeeze onto the bus just before it leaves, telling the driver that their friends are on board.
While on the bus, Marcus relaxes and enjoys the up-close view of Africa. He points out the people on the road, the small houses, the animals, and has a nice moment appreciating all that he has.
Cindy interviews later that Malawi is more primitive than other African countries she’s visited, and she wonders why all the children aren’t in school. Maybe it’s a holiday?
When the bus stops, teams are greeted with a Roadblock. Amani and Marcus also get a Speed Bump. In the past, the Speed Bumps have taken 5-10 minutes, and they were easy. This one is a slide puzzle, a box of 11 squares that you slide around to unscramble a picture.
My kindergartner got a slide puzzle in a birthday party favor bag. Between myself, my husband, and the babysitter, we decided that the puzzle was stupid and we threw it in the garbage rather than be faced with our own incompetence. Slide puzzles are serious business.
The Road Block requires one team member to be a bicycle taxi and transport a passenger and his fish to one of about three destinations, get money for the fish, and then return to the bus station.
Would you rather… team up with Laurence or be clueless?
Laurence and Sandy are working towards the same destination. They team up in the way that two people who don’t know where they’re going but both need to end up in the same place team up. From the looks of it, they bike aimlessly for a long time.
Meanwhile, Jennifer delivers her fish and gets her money. But she doesn’t have her Road Block clue and she can’t remember what to do next. She decides to wait for another team to show up. Oh, honey, no. Wouldn’t the smart thing be to go back and get her clue? Standing around watching the sun travel across the sky is not how to run the Race.
The Laurence/Sandy alliance finally stumbles upon a destination, so they finish the Roadblock behind Cindy and Cathi and a Snowboarder. Sandy reports to Jeremy, "That was hard. Nobody spoke English, and I am not gonna be able to have kids." (Those bike seats weren’t very cushioned, you see.)
Spot-on Race Preparation of the Week
I thought Cindy had the market cornered on random Race preparation, but Marcus wins this week. He and Amani finish the impossible slide puzzle and he jumps onto the bike taxi. To prepare for the Race, he biked uphill with 80-pound sandbags strapped to the back of his bike. You can’t get more task-specific than that! Unless he did it in Malawi.
Marcus zooms through the Road Block, passing Jennifer. Well, not literally passing Jennifer, because then she would have seen him and followed him. She does eventually decide to go back for her clue, but only after everyone else has finished the task. Poor girl.
Next up is a Detour at Lake Malawi, home to more species of freshwater fish than any other lake in the world! Teams can either paddle a dugout canoe to a certain point, then return, or they can unload passengers and cargo from an offshore boat and carry them to shore without getting them wet.
The snowboarders and Ernie and Cindy arrive first. Like everything else, the snowboarders quickly get the hang of the canoe. Ernie and Cindy fumble in the boat and decide to use their Express Pass since there’s a Double U-Turn approaching and they don’t want to get stuck.
50 Years vs. 8 Months
Most of the other teams choose the dugout canoe option. Two-person boats are not easy, you know. One of my friends calls a two-person kayak a "divorce boat." Relationship dynamics just fling themselves in your face, is what I’m saying.
Bill and Cathi have been married for 50 years, and they explain that the key is, "we don’t argue and we don’t blame, and that’s how you get it done quickly." Jeremy and Sandy have been dating for eight months. She sums up their style: "You told me yesterday you would stop yelling at me and you haven’t."
In a category all their own, Laurence starts captaining Zac as soon as they’re in the water. Is this some strange version of stage mothering, like boat fathering? Because I’m pretty sure Zac knows what he’s doing in a canoe. Laurence basically rows with his mouth, coaching Zac entirely too much.
Zac tells Laurence, "You gotta not be frantic with this or we’re not gonna get it done." And that’s all the argument we hear from Zac. I would love to see more of his personality, but Laurence really overshadows him. Phil even agrees with me on Twitter: "Just for once I’d like to hear Zac yell back at his dad."
You don’t get to the Olympics by letting other people win
Get this: Ernie and Cindy get to the Double U-Turn mat first, and they choose not to use it. They must then run to the Pit Stop, which is at the end of an uphill dusty road. They talk about how the Snowboarders always get first place and they’d like to be first.
The Snowboarders don’t U-Turn anyone, either, and they take off running after Ernie and Cindy. Running, running. I think it’s going to be another fake-out ending, but no. Within sight of Phil, the Snowboarders overtake Cindy and get to the mat first. Did they need to do it? To win the entire Race, no. But I think they are programmed to always go for the win, run every leg like it’s the last, and by that reasoning they did need to do it. Ernie and Cindy are still frustrated, but I think they get over it quickly. (Phil’s Tweet: "How about that Double U-Turn now, Ernie and Cindy?" He’s snarky tonight!)
How not to U-Turn
The U-Turn mat is a little tricky to find after the Detour. Some teams are directed to it quickly, others can’t find it. As it happens, Amani and Marcus find the U-Turn before Laurence and Zac. They know that Justin and Jennifer are behind them, at least, and they don’t U-Turn. Then they pass Laurence and Zac, not directly in front of the sign but in the general area.
Blinded by hubris and canoe power, Laurence assumes that they are lost rather than ahead of him, and so he U-Turns them. Whoops. I’m glad it didn’t work, because I’m obviously a little irritated with Laurence this week and I don’t want to lose Amani and Marcus because of him.
Waiting is not a Race strategy
In the end, Justin and Jennifer can’t make up for the time she lost at the Roadblock. She’s apologetic, he’s understanding. They must have accepted their loss early on, because there is no arguing during the canoe race. Justin and Jennifer, I’m sorry to see that you are eliminated from the Race.
I think I like the Snowboarders, Ernie and Cindy, and Amani and Marcus. Yep, Top Three. Grandma and Grandpa are also pretty good, I don’t give them enough credit. Top Four. Jeremy and Sandy could use a little more time to work on their relationship, and Laurence could learn to take it down a notch or twenty. What do you think?