Saturday, August 04, 2012

Amazing Race–Season 1, Episode 4

This is an unusual episode of The Amazing Race in a couple of ways. For one thing, no one uses the Fast Forward, nor – as far as I can see – is there an envelope for the Fast Forward. This is unusual in the early seasons of the show because Fast Forwards were basically available in every episode of the show. Of course, given the way this episode was set up and the way that Fast Forwards were handled in the first season, having the Fast Forward available might have had a disastrous effect on the dynamics of The Race.

The most unusual thing in this episode though is that nothing happens in the first third of the episode. Well that’s not strictly true. A lot happens, but most of it is personal drama between teams and between teammates. It’s the little things that get to some of them. and it’s easy to put it down to the fatigue of participating in The Race. And you can just guess who is at the centre of some of the biggest drama. Hint: they have a little dog too.

The show opens with the usual recap of the previous episode’s events, and includes an aerial shot of Chateau des-Baux and the town of Les-Baux-des-Provence that does justice to the importance of the place as a feudal era fortification and seat of power for an assortment of barons – robber and otherwise.

The order of departure shows just how big the choice of getting off at Avignon rather than Marseille was for the teams who did that. It also suggests that Kevin & Drew went to Marseille rather than disembarking at Avignon; their lead should have been much bigger than it is if they and the second place team had both disembarked at Avignon simply because Kevin & Drew had less to do in Paris and started earlier – when the tea shop opened – than the other teams. Note also the difference between Dave & Margarhetta, who left Paris between 40 and 50 minutes after the other teams but disembarked at Avignon, and the three teams who went to Paris.
  1. Kevin & Drew – 3:53 a.m.
  2. Frank & Margarita – 4:07 a.m.  +14 minutes
  3. Rob & Brennan – 4:15 a.m.  +22 minutes
  4. Joe & Bill – 5:04 a.m. +1 hour 11 minutes
  5. Dave & Margharetta – 5:47 a.m. +1 hour 54 minutes
  6. Paul & Amie – 6:47 a.m. +2 hours 54 minutes, (1 hour behind Dave & Margharetta)
  7. Lenny & Karyn – 6:48 a.m. +2 hours 55 minutes
  8. Nancy & Emily – 6:49 a.m. +2 hours 56 minutes

So the real difference between going to Avignon and going to Marseille is an hour and a half. If Kevin & Drew went to Avignon instead of Marseille – which I’m assuming due to their arrival time – they would have arrived at 2:23 p.m.

Whose Flag?
Not that it matters of course. The teams’ clue is a picture of a man in a fez – or rather a hat that might be taken for a fez – and the a flag with a red Star & Crescent in a white circle on a red ground. Racers have to travel to the port of Marseille and then travel by ship to the capital of the country whose flag it was. There they’ll find the man standing beneath an arch that vaguely (as in almost not at all) resembles the Arc de Triomphe. Once they greet him with the traditional greeting “a salaam” they’ll get the next clue. Passenger ships aren’t common, Phil informs us, but a savvy team could gain ground by traveling in a cargo ship. Of course, first they have to get to Marseille, which seems to be easier said than done.

The liars are lawyers
Smart teams, knowing that they’re probably going to be leaving Les Baux-des-Provence either arrange to call a cab before they leave the Pit Stop from their hotel rooms (on the producer’s dime one presumes) or go back to their hotel room after being released from the pit stop and call for a cab. Kevin & Drew pre-booked a cab, as do Rob & Brennan. On the other hand Frank & Margarita don’t pre-book a cab. They depart before Rob & Brennan, and disappoint the Lawyers by not reading the clue out loud so they can hear it or showing it to them before the guys themselves are allowed to depart. But Frank & Margarita go to the area where the taxis had left the teams in the previous leg as if expecting that there will be taxis waiting there for them. When the cab that Rob & Brennan have called arrives, they expect that they can just take it. The cab driver insists on seeing passports though, because he has the names of the people he’s picking up, and those names aren’t Frank & Margarita. And when Rob & Brennan try – unsuccessfully as it turns out – to keep their cab driver from calling a cab for the other team, Frank & Margarita explode. Rob & Brennan expect to get help from them but they never offered to pre-book a cab for Frank & Margarita or even mention that they were pre-booking. Then again Frank & Margarita have considered their alliance with the Lawyers to have been over after the incident on the Champs Elysee and have behaved like it. But because of this Frank is able to say, “the Lawyers are liars; the liars are Lawyers.”

Bill & Joe also didn’t pre-book their cab, but they are smart enough to head back to their hotel room and call for a cab after they got their instructions. And Dave & Magharetta have a pre-booked cab as well. Things are a little bit different for Paul & Amie. They’ve called and arranged a cab the night before but some reason – whether they weren’t there when the cab arrived or the cab simply wasn’t sent – there was no cab for them. Maybe Lenny & Karyn, who are seen getting into a cab and don’t relate details of how they called it took Paul & Amie’s cab. They see a cab arrive, but Nancy & Emily are there first. They believe it is the cab that they pre-booked, but Paul & Amie are sure it is theirs. They don’t show the driver checking passports, but from Paul & Amie’s demeanour you can tell that it is in fact Nancy & Emily’s cab. Unlike the Lawyers they do allow – maybe even encourage – the driver to call for a cab for Paul & Amie. But the whole incident provokes yet another round of Paul giving up and saying I quit, let’s go home. (for those keeping score this is three out of the first four episodes – he was quite happy in the third episode.

All of this sturm & drang about cabs doesn’t really matter of course. They have to travel by ship to the destination on the flag. There are a variety of guesses about whose flag it is. Kevin & Dew are certain that it’s Algeria having been told by a girl at the port of Marseille that it’s the flag of her country (the Algerian flag has a red star and crescent moon on a green and white background). Another team guesses Morocco (a five pointed red star on a green background) while Dave is sure that it is Turkey (closest of all; a white star and crescent moon on a red field). The correct answer is…….Tunisia. As it happens, there’s a ferry to Tunisia that very day, and while Phil does a voice-over suggesting that teams that were daring might get there faster if they booked passage on a cargo ship, none of the teams seems interesting in taking the risk. And that leads to the big blowout of the episode, the affair of the tickets.

My favourite shot of Dave & Margharetta
It all started when Bill & Joe arrived at the ferry terminal. They’re able to sense the animosity between teams and between teammates. The latter is particularly obvious with Lenny & Karyn. As is their habit they get in line at the ticket counter even though there’s no one there yet. as a result when the clerk arrives they are the first to try to arrange their passage. What they want is a private room where they can get some rest and strategize on their own. When the ticket agent mentions that if they’re travelling as a group there could be substantial savings. On his own, without being asked by the others, Bill decided to make the arrangements for the whole group because he spoke French; or as Margarita put it “Bill decided to be the martyr….” When the tickets came out they were misnumbered, and as Bill put it, “Margarita started screaming for her ticket.” Except that from what we see in the episode it doesn’t sound like Margarita is screaming. She just thinks that there is a better way for Bill to distribute the tickets. Bill interviews rather self-righteously that he could have torn up the tickets if he wanted to and left the other teams to their own devices. He further explains that his purpose in handling the negotiations, and in French was to keep the other teams off balance; as he put it “control the game, play the game our way….Of course, we’re playing them like a violin.” This may also explain why, once the ferry sails they isolate themselves from the other teams. While everyone else dines at a communal table and talks together, Team Guido sits at a table that, in a pinch, might have seated four people.

At this point about a third of the episode has passed, and there haven’t been any “action” in terms of tasks for the players. We’ve seen team wait for taxis, try to figure out the country the flag belongs to, wait at the ferry terminal, and talk about their relationships. And yet as we’ve seen the interlude is not without drama. Even Phil comments on this, before asking the rhetorical question of whether “any of them really ready for the strange and unusual things they’ll find in North Africa.”

The first thing they have to do is find the man in the photograph. He’s standing under or near the Porte de France or the Bab El Bahr, as it is known in Arabic. First they have to get there and that means the usual taxi race from the port, with teams urging their drivers to go faster and to drive more recklessly than they’d be happy with in their normal lives. this leads to some near collisions since the Tunisian drivers aren’t exactly cautious at the best of times. The teams arrive at the gate at roughly the same time and after greeting the man they’re looking for with the traditional greeting “a salaam” they get their next clue. It’s a Detour; the choice is Full Bodied Brew or Full Body Massage.

In Full Body Brew, the teams have to enter the Medina or old Arabic quarter of Tunis find a specific coffee shop and order two cups of coffee. The problem is that the only way they have to identify the coffee shop is through a photograph. In Full Body Massage teams have to enter the Medina and find a Turkish Bath. The location of the Turkish Bath is clearly marked on a large tourist map of the Medina, however to get the clue both players have to submit to a 20 minute Turkish massage. Teams taking Full Body Massage have to hope that teams taking the Full Bodied Brew option will take more than 20 minutes to find the coffee shop. Needless to say virtually every team decides to go for Full Bodied Brew. The only exception is Paul & Amie and their decision seems to be totally based on Amie wanting a massage.

Of course it helps that the teams all find hordes of local youths – and some not so youthful – idling about on the streets and willing to help them. This was ten years before the Tunisian Revolution which unseated the dictator Zine El Abidine ben Ali, but the most basic seeds of the revolution are here; youth unemployment. How else do you explain so many young people (men mostly) with time to spare to help these Americans find a coffee house – or a Turkish massage – in the marketplace at the middle of the day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you’re a pretty girl –Nancy theorized that the reason the group of boy who helped them were willing to take them where they wanted to go was because they thought Emily was cute – or a couple of handsome guys, since Rob & Brennan were the only ones to get female guides who were also quite cute.

The teams arrive at the cafe, and get their coffee and their clue. Some of them like Drew, even drink the coffee, but it seems like there were a lot of full cups left on the tables. The order of departure from the cafe was Rob & Brennan, Lenny & Karyn, Kevin & Drew, Frank & Margharetta, Nancy & Emily, Bill & Joe, and Frank & Margarita. The clue they get is a cigarette lighter with the name El Jem and the picture of a “coliseum” (actually a Roman amphitheatre) with the words “Go here” on the back. Their destination is the town of El Jem (or El Djem according to Wikipedia) and the old Roman coliseum.

Paul's masage
Meanwhile Paul & Amie find the Turkish Massage place. Each has to take off their clothes and wrap up in a towel. Then they go into the main area of the building where they’re given their massages. Amie’s massage seems quite gentle, to the point that when Paul gets the clue after the 20 minutes is up, she doesn’t seem anxious to go, she’s been enjoying it so much. Paul on the other hand didn’t enjoy it one little bit. His massage, administered by a rather beefy man, sees him bent and twisted and pulled, and “no oil.” He’s more than happy to get back on the road with the El Jem cigarette lighter.

There are two ways for the teams to get to El Jem. Taking a taxi is faster but more expensive. Taking the train is cheaper but slower. Most teams decide that taking a taxi would be better. The only teams to opt for the train are Rob & Brennan – taking the advice of their female guides – and Lenny & Karyn. The rest of the teams head out of the marketplace with their guides and find cabs. More specifically, it seems, they have to find cabs that are licensed to operate between towns. Bill & Joe once again build on their reputation. While Nancy & Emily are trying to give their young guides some money for helping them, and trying to make them understand that they need to split the money, Bill & Joe yell at their cab driver to drive through them, which isn’t exactly popular with the crowd.

A bigger problem faces another team though. Dave & Margharetta get a cab but discover that he’s only taking them to a place where other cabs that will take them to El Jem are located. And he wants to be paid. He wants to be paid in Dinars – the local currency – which Dave & Margharetta don’t have. They have American Dollars since the teams are given funds in Dollars at the start of each stage, but they forgot or didn’t know where to exchange their money. The try to exchange money on the street but get an offer of 1 Dinars to the Dollar rather than the official rate of 1.6 Dinars. They seem to believe that it is illegal to exchange currency on the street, and that may well be the case. Alternatively the guy might just have been trying to make a profit off of the desperate Americans. There’s a bank nearby…but it’s closed. Finally they were able to get enough Dinar from a young man to pay the taxi driver and be on their way.

The first team to arrive at El Jem are Team Guido. At the entrance to the Amphitheatre is a clue box. It’s a Roadblock with the clue “Not for anyone whose afraid of the dark.” Bill decides to do it and opens the full clue. Taking a torch the person doing the Roadblock has to proceed in a clockwise direction into the tunnels of the building to find a staircase to the lower level of the amphitheater where gladiators and wild animals were kept while waiting to enter the games. Once at the lower level they have to find a sword hanging from a rope over the “Pit Of Death.” They then have to make their way up to the main level and find a table with the sheaths for the swords. Sheathing their swords completes the Roadblock. The last team to do that will be eliminated because the end of this Roadblock is also the Pit Stop for this leg.

Nancy & Emily are the next team to arrive followed soon after by Kevin & Drew. Emily and Drew decide to do the task. Joe is still outside the Coliseum and “helpfully” instructs Emily as to which way is clockwise. She’s still looking for the stairs when Bill finds the swords at the Pit Of Death. There is a high metal fence there with sharp points at the top. presumable to deter tourists from climbing up to look down into the Pit of Death. There are long wooden poles with a hook at one end for teams to recover the swords but they’re not right beside the pit. Bill figures this out and hooks the rope for the sword. Once he has the clue and the sword he makes his way back to the main floor, finds the table and sheaths his sword…with a certain degree of pomposity on Team Guido’s part.

Emily sets fire to a World Heritage Site
Meanwhile Emily has somehow managed to set a small part of a stone wall on fire and attempts (presumably successfully) to put it out with her feet. Drew does the task for his team and is having the same trouble getting to the lower level as the others. In “talking” to Emily he learns that there’s a staircase to the lower levels but considers jumping down (definitely not a good idea). he eventually finds it and once he and Emily are united they decide to work together to the point where, once they get the swords (with the pole) they run to the Pit Stop together, with Drew carrying the torches and Emily carrying both swords. They are the second an third teams to arrive.

You think maybe a sign would have helped?
Frank & Margarita and Paul & Amie are the next to arrive.They’re looking for the swords – according to the way the episode is edited at least – even as Rob & Brennan and Lenny & Karyn arrive at the El Jem train station. For most people the name “Pit of Death” and the four feet high iron fence with the spikes on the top would be sufficient warning that people like UNESCO and the producers and whoever administers the El Jem Amphitheater locally didn’t want you climbing up and trying to balance yourself over said pit to retrieve a sword tied over it,  but it’s not a deterrent for several of our contestants. Frank finds the swords and climbs over the fence – getting this sweatshirt caught up on the spikes on top of it and sheathes his sword in fourth place. Still, Amie hasn’t found the Pit of Death by the time Brennan reaches the lower level and they both retrieve the swords, by climbing over the fence of course. Paul & Amie finish in fifth because Rob calls Brennan over as he’s about to sheath his sword. As for Lenny, he eventually finds the Pit of Death and even figures out that you could use the poles to get the swords without standing over something called the Pit of Death.

This leaves David & Margharetta of course. When they get there Lenny is still looking for the swords (he pronounces the “w”), so there’s a bit of hope. But David heads in the wrong direction; counter-clockwise instead of clockwise (and remember this man was a fighter pilot with over a hundred combat missions over Vietnam) and then has trouble finding the passage to the lower level. So we’re aware that Lenny has found his sword and sheathed it – dramatically – well before Dave even gets to the lower level. Margharetta expresses some initial hope, but you can see her counting the sheathed swords and working out that they’re going to be eliminated (since at this point no one knows that there are non-elimination legs). Even as Dave uses the pole, left there by Lenny to retrieve his sword. Their departure from The Race is greeted with genuine emotion from the teams – Frank & Margarita, Paul & Amie, Lenny & Karyn, and Rob & Brennan – who are still at the Pit Stop. Even Phil seems a bit unhappy to eliminate them.

Order of finish:
  1. Joe & Bill
  2. Kevin & Drew
  3. Nancy & Emily
  4. Frank & Margarita
  5. Paul & Amie
  6. Rob & Brennan
  7. Lenny & Karyn
  8. Dave & Margharetta – Philiminated

– In his book My Ox Is Broke, author Adam Troy-Castro claims that Nancy & Emily took Paul & Amie’s cab, but Nancy quite clearly states that they called for a cab and Paul & Amie called for one. Meanwhile we have no knowledge of whether Lenny & Karyn pre-booked a cab but there was one waiting for them. Is it possible that Lenny & Karyn got Paul & Amie’s cab? Mmmm could be.

– So why no Fast Forward this leg? Well here’s my theory. In this season of the race Fast Forwards are delivered with the first clue envelope. In this case that would be in France and would most likely involve a task in France. Once the task is completed teams are free to travel to the Pit Stop by whatever means available. So the clue revealed by the Fast Forward would be along the lines of “Now travel to the Pit Stop in El Jem Tunisia. They don’t give instructions on how to travel there, so you would expect a team who used the Fast Forward to travel to Paris – or even Marseille – from wherever they were doing the Fast Forward, fly to Tunis and then take a cab to the amphitheatre at El Jem. Meanwhile the other teams have to travel to Marseille, then take an eighteen hour boat trip to Tunis, complete the coffee/massage Detour Travel to El Jem and do the Roadblock. This would have given the team doing the Fast Forward an advantage that would be nearly insurmountable for some time at least for a long time in race terms or perhaps not at all. There would be a couple of minor instances of this in the second episode and in at least one episode later in the series. Of course what they could have done was to give the Fast Forward clue out once the teams reached their man in Tunis, and in fact that’s what they would do in later editions of The Race.

– The Porte de France is a rather interesting relic of the French colonial period. although the show describes it as a miniature replica of the Arc de Triomphe, the actual structure predates the Arc de Triomphe. It was one of the gates of the original Arabic city and was originally connected to houses on either side which formed the city walls in that area. That particular gate led to the sea, hence the name Bab el Bahr or “Gate to the Sea”. When the French colonized Tunis, they tore down the houses on either side of the gate and made it the boundary between the old city and the new European city that they built.

– In a way I can actually understand Paul’s position even if I can’t sympathise. For the most part his concerns are about Amie’s reactions to The Race. As he says, this is her baby; he didn’t want to do it. He’s pissed because there seems to be something on every leg that is making her unhappy and as far as he’s concerned winning a million dollars isn’t worth her being as emotional as she’s being. All he wants, he says, is for her to be happy, and so far as he can tell being on The Race isn’t making her happy. What he seems to be missing is that between times when she’s angry and frustrated and “unhappy” she is having a tremendous amount of fun. She’s enjoying the adventure way more than he is, and I can’t help but wonder if his concern for Amie’s emotions isn’t masking his own desire to be at home living his everyday life,and that he has a lower “adventure desire” than she does.

– There are a couple of commentaries on the stress of The Race in this episode. On the boat Margharetta, who is one of the most calm and level headed of the people in this Race, even including her husband interviews that the stress is getting to a lot of people, who are reacting in ways they normally wouldn’t. It’s Nancy who has the most poignant comment on things. Interviewing apart from Emily, because she thinks it would embarrass her: “This is hard, with people saying bad things. The language I’m hearing, I don’t like. The back-stabbing, the viciousness, I don’t like it. And  can’t get away from it.”

– Going with Full Bodied Brew was definitely the right choice for the teams but it might not have been if circumstances had been different. If there hadn’t been local people willing and able to help the Racers find the coffee shop, or if the instructions for the task had said that they couldn’t get help from the locals beyond asking for directions things might have been significantly different. It has in fact a complaint from some fans of the show over the years that teams shouldn’t be able to get help from the locals to either be led to a location or help in completing a task. It was particularly strong in the Seventh Season when, on at least three occasions, Rob & Amber had people stay with them most of the day because they recognised the couple from their recent time on Survivor (and in southern Africa from having their faces on a popular magazine). On the other hand it’s an aspect of The Race that is either unforseeable, unexpected or sometimes unavoidable.

– In Roman times El Jem was the Roman city of Thysdrus, which was one of the principal cities – after Roman Carthage – in the Roman province of Africa. The Amphitheatre, built in 238 AD is considered to be one of the most complete examples of the Roman construction to survive, although much stone from the building was taken to build houses in the town and the Grand Mosque in Kairouan. Other damage was inflicted in a revolt against Ottoman authorities. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site (so it might not have been a good idea for Emily to set fire to it).

– Team Guido’s strategy for the trip to Tunis is, to my mind, bizarre. They may think that they’ve got some great master plan to divide and conquer, and to keep the other tems off balance and marching to their drummer, but viewed from an outside perspective it comes across as yet more hubris – assuming that they were superior to the other teams and that they could make them dance to their tune. What in fact they accomplished was to give most of the teams a common goal, to eliminate Bill & Joe from The Race. In a clip not aired on the show, Kevin & Drew stated that the biggest party imaginable would happen if “Bert & Ernie” were eliminated at the next Pit Stop. And, I think that the animosity that the teams felt was also felt by the show’s viewers. They wanted The Guidos to get their comeuppance as much as some of the teams did.

– Ratings for this episode which aired on October 3, 2001 were down again to a 5.7/10. The West Wing won the night with their “Terrorism Special” which has a rating of 18.0/26, whiile ABC’s Drew Carey Show had a 7.0/10. The second half hour on ABC was Carey’s improv series Who’s Line Is It Anyway which earned a 5.9/8.

– Margharetta Groark, who was 59 when she appeared on The Amazing Race passed away in 2008 following a long battle with cancer at age 67.

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