Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Amazing Race–Season 1, Episode 3

In my opinion the show is starting to hit its stride with the third episode. It’s not perfect or even near perfect; in fact I think this whole season is very much a case of finding out what works and what doesn’t work. Still they’re doing a much better job of letting us know team positions at intermediate points in the race. On the other hand the trick editing, in most seasons restricted to making us wonder which teams will be coming in last is still being used to try to create tension early in the race by making it unclear how close teams are to each other. This episode will see the first major incident in which “Hours of Operation” comes into play but in this episode it comes into play a little too much in my opinion. Finally I think it offers a couple of dos and don’ts for people who want to do The Race (like me…and probably just about every other Canadian).

The opening of the show is fairly standard so I want to spend a bit of time looking at the departure times and trying to see what they tell us about the previous leg.

The bunching event that occurred at the Johannesburg Airport is pretty obvious here. We know  that the first five teams made it to the first flight. We also know that Pat & Brenda had done the Fast Forward in Zambia so they were able to go directly to the Arc de Triomphe. Their arrival time doesn’t really give us a baseline to work with in terms of the arrival times of the two flights that the first and second group of teams were on. For that you need people with similar experiences. That would seem to exclude Joe & Bill as well since they took the RER to the city rather than grabbing a cab. If you compare Rob & Brennan’s arrival time at the Pit Stop with the first team to be officially checked in from the second group (Paul & Amie), and assuming similar traffic flows, you can estimate that the second flight arrived in Paris about two hours after the first. Similarly we can estimate that Bill & Joe’s decision to use the RER saved them about half an hour over the teams who took cabs from Charles de Gaulle airport, although that time is a bit shakier since – as they are forever pointing out in this episode – they lived in Paris for two years which if nothing else probably made them quite familiar with the city’s monuments. Even then the task seems to have taken them about two to two and a half hours to complete, and probably took teams who were not familiar with Paris longer.

The order of departure is:
  1. Pat & Brenda – 9:06 p.m.
  2. Joe & Bill – 11:38 p.m.  +2 hours 32 minutes
  3. Rob & Brennan – 12:11 a.m.  +3 hours 5 minutes
  4. Frank & Margarita – 12:18 a.m.  +3 hours 12 minutes
  5. Kevin & Drew – 12:27 a.m.  +3 hours 21 minutes
  6. Paul & Amie – 2:18 a.m.  +5 hours 12 minutes
  7. Nancy & Emily – 2:23 a.m.  +5 hours 17 minutes
  8. Dave & Margharetta* – 2:46 a.m.  +5 hours 40 minutes
    1. Lenny & Karyn – 3:03 a.m.  +3 hours 57 minutes
    * We aren’t told how many minutes that Dave & Margharetta lost as a result of the penalty for one of them not going back to the second level of the Eiffel Tower in the previous episode. We do know that it was enough to move Paul & Amie and Nancy & Emily up one position. We also know that Paul was at the Tower when Dave & Margharetta went to the second level we would be safe in making the assumption that they got to the Arc de Triomphe just a few minutes before Paul & Amie. Under the circumstances I think a penalty of about 30 minutes is about right as that would put their actual arrival time about two minutes before Paul & Amie’s.

    Pat & Brenda at Le Grand Roue

    When the teams depart their clue tells them that big news awaits at La Grande Roue. It also gives opening and closing times. The opening time is 9 a.m. while the closing time is 12:30 p.m. When Pat & Brenda depart they initially think that they’ll have to wait till the next morning. It quite literally takes them a few seconds to realize that they have about three hours before their destination closes. But of course they have to find out where they have to go. La Grande Roue can be a bit of a pun in French; Roue, which means “wheel” in French, is a homophone of Rue, which means “street” (it’s also a homophone of Roux, which is the thickening agent for a number of sauces, but that’s unlikely to be a factor). La Grande Rue would be “the big street” rather than “the big wheel.” Pat & Brenda as a police woman about La Grande Roue and are told that it's the big Ferris Wheel at the Place de la Concorde. It’s visible down the Champs Elysee – which some people might interpret as being a “Grande Rue” – from the Arc de Triomphe. They elect to take the #1 subway line to the Place de la Concorde. So do Bill & Joe when they depart. The two teams get their clue with plenty of time to spare.

    Bill & Joe expect that Rob & Brennan and Frank & Margarita wont make it to the Ferris Wheel before it closes and they won’t know what to do, “So screw’em.” And while Rob & Brennan decide to wait for Frank & Margarita, and initially think that they don’t have enough time to reach it they decide to give it a try. Rob & Brennan grab a cab as do Frank & Margarita. And suddenly it’s war, at least as far a Frank is concerned. They were supposed to be allies but Rob & Brennan went off on their own as soon as they got the chance without thinking about Frank & Margarita. They’re all a bunch of backstabbers and not to be trusted. Thing is that Frank neglects to let Rob or Brennan know that the alliance is over and they’re quite happy when the couple arrives in time to get their clue.

    The clue the teams get is a Detour. The choice is “Short Walk” or “Long Climb”. In Short Walk the teams have to find the cat near Foucault’s Pendulum. What the clue does not mention is that there are two Foucault’s Pendulums in Paris. One is at the Musee des Arts et Metiers (translated by the show as The Museum of Arts and Crafts although another accepted translation is The Museum of Arts and Design) while the other is at Le Pantheon. The one at Le Pantheon is the one that they want but at the moment none of the teams actually knows that there are two or where they are. In Long Climb Teams have to climb the tower of Notre Dame Cathedral and “ring Quasimodo’s Bell.” None of the first four teams know when the places they’re going to opens but they all decide independently that “Short Walk” sounds more attractive to them than “Long Climb.”

    Kevin & Drew weren’t able to make it to La Grande Roue and took the rather surprising step of opting for the stage’s Fast Forward so as not to be relegated to the same position as the four teams from the second flight. Actually, they say that the only way they’l be able to stay in the race is to use the Fast Forward, although that was hardly the reality of the situation. The Fast Forward required them to go to the Mariage Freres tea shop where they have to ask for a tea called “La Ventouriez(?)”. The manager of the shop will then provide them with their clue. It seemed to me to be a bit of an over-reaction and Kevin even worried about using the Fast Forward that early in the Race but Drew thought it was necessary and Kevin was persuadable.

    Meanwhile the teams that Kevin & Drew don’t want to be joining are all being released from the Pit Stop and head towards the now dark La Grande Roue. Soon, all of the teams – with a couple of exceptions are settling down to an uncomfortable night sleeping on the streets of Paris – Paul & Amie, Dave & Margharetta and Lenny & Karyn at La Grande Roue, Rob & Brennan and Frank & Margarita at Le Pantheon, and Kevin & Drew in the doorway of the Mariage Freres Tea Shop. This leaves Pat & Brenda who eventually make their way to the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, and Nancy & Emily. As we find out in the “Sidetrips” feature of the DVD set, Nancy & Emily realize that the hotel rooms (in a barge on the Seine) that had been provided for them during their mandatory rest break were still available to them so they headed back and spent the night in a nice warm and dry hotel room while the others were cold and rained on.

    And of course there’s Team Guido. After determining that Foucault’s Pendulum was at Le Pantheon – and it’s surprising that no one except who or whatever helped Pat & Brenda didn’t mention the one at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metier – Bill & Joe decided to indulge their hedonistic side by visiting a neighbourhood cafe that they had patronised during the two years they lived in Paris for a glass of champagne. They then go to see the place where they lived for two years in Paris on Rue Bonaparte (the only street in Paris named for Napoleon they inform us, although that fact was relegated to the Sidetrip bonus feature). And no, this would not be the last time they reminded us that they lived for two years in Paris. They eventually show up at le Pantheon where Rob & Brennan and Frank & Margarita are waiting for them. And that order of arrival is going to be quite important in what unfolds.

    Kevin & Drew smell some tea
    The first teams to actually get moving are the four teams at La Grande Roue. It opens at 9 a.m. and they quickly get their clues. All four decide to do the “Long Climb option” and for exactly the reason that Rob & Brennan and Frank & Margarita think they will, because Notre Dame is a known destination – a well known destination for Lenny & Karyn. Next to get into action are Kevin & Drew. They aren’t impressed with Paris; they think that the area in front of the tea shop is just like being down in SoHo in New York. And the might even have been right if they chose to ignore the buildings in the area, most of which predate most of the buildings in New York or that Mariage Freres, the tea company whose retail shop they’re about to enter has been in business for close to 150 years (at the time that the episode was shot; it is a well known French and European brand in fact). They meet the manager – a young man who Drew had expected to be an old guy who looked like Ben Franklin  – as he arrives for work and once he lets them in they quickly get their clue…and a sniff of the tea. They get the clue sending them to the Chateau Des Baux in Les Baux-de-Provence in the south of France.

    Bill approaches the cat near Foucault's Pendulum
    All of the tasks for the other people on the race really get going at 10 a.m. That’s when everything else opens – the towers at Notre Dame, Le Pantheoon, and the Musee des Arts et Metiers (actually the name carved into the 18th century building says, “Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers” but a sign on a door says “Musee des Arts et Metiers; not that it matters of course). Team Guido arrives just before it opens and are surprised to find the other two teams already at Le Pantheon – and not pleasantly. They vow not to tell the other teams where they were, as if it were some sort of secret information that would do…something. The two teams they screwed over in the previous leg are less than happy to see them too. Rob & Brennan Frank & Margarita and Joe & Bill have reached an agreement they’ll go to get the clue in the order that they enter the building. That means Rob & Brennan first, Frank & Margarita second, and Bill & Joe third. But, the Pendulum and the clue, which is behind a statue of a cat that appears to be Egyptian in style, are behind a sort of low fence. As the three teams walk enter the area, all three walk past the closed gate, attended by a woman who works for the museum, who points out the gate to them after all three teams have gone past. This means that the team that is closest to the gate is the team that was third in line, Joe & Bill, who take the opportunity to go through the gate first. And since only one team can enter the enclosure at a time this blows any agreements out of the water. Frank & Margarita are second into the enclosure and Rob & Brennan – who are not happy with the way that “Bert & Ernie” (the nickname that they have given to Team Guido) have behaved. They all get the clue telling them to “find the man in the blue suit across from the Hotel de Ville,” but two of the teams aren’t happy with the order they got it in.

    Over at the the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Pat & Brenda have actually seen the Pendulum. It’s visible through a skylight in the courtyard of the museum. However when they enter – and they have to pay to get in – they discover that while the Pendulum might be there, no one knows anything about a cat. It’s then that they’re informed about the Pendulum at Le Pantheon. If the way the episode is edited is to be believed, they arrived at the Pantheon after all of the teams at Notre Dame got their clues, but as usual we have no indication of “real time.”

    Nancy rings Quasimodo's Bell
    The teams at Notre Dame also went into action at 10 a.m. They had to climb the 297 steps of one of the cathedral’s bell towers then cross to the other bell tower along a catwalk at the front of the building. Once at the other bell tower one of each team had to climb to a wooden platform and strike one of the bells – possibly the Emmanuel Bell – with a mallet. They then descended down the steps in that tower. The spiral staircases are made of stone and they aren’t the easiest to climb, particularly for the three older people (Dave, Margharetta and Nancy), but all four teams manage it.

    Bill & Joe initially try to grab a cab from Le Pantheon but eventually decide to walk. They make the assumption that everybody else – by which I suspect they mean Rob & Brennan and Frank & Margarita – all took cabs and got caught in traffic. They also make the assumption that the other teams – and here I think they mean all of them – don’t know where they’re going because they don’t know Paris (and Bill & Joe lived in Paris for two years, though they don’t say it). They are standing at a crosswalk looking for the clue markers when they suddenly notice that Rob & Brennan are standing right beside them. And a bigger shock is awaiting them when they get across the street! Not only had Frank & Margarita arrived before either of the other teams at the Pantheon got there, but every other team except Kevin & Drew (obviously) and Pat & Brenda was there ahead of them. How? Well apparently the “experts” on Paris forgot that Notre Dame is located on Ile de la Cite which is in the middle of the Seine, and that while le Pantheon is on the other side of the river from the Hotel de Ville, the most direct route crosses Ile de la Cite, very near Notre Dame. They also seem to have assumed that none of the teams at Notre Dame could either read a map or get directions from someone who knew where the Hotel de Ville was located. Sometimes Karma gets it right.

    The sewers of Paris
    The teams arriving at the clues find an array of equipment waiting for them. The “man in the blue suit” is a maintenance worker for the sewers wearing his work uniform and the Clue is a Roadblock. The teams must proceed to the Place de la Chatelet which is about two blocks from the Hotel de Ville. However while the team member not doing the Roadblock can go there on the surface streets, the member who is doing the Roadblock has to travel, like Jean Val Jean, through the sewers of Paris. The teams are supplied with overalls, a hard had and rubber boots. part of the route they’ll have to traverse is narrow but it is all full of what Phil describes as “steaming raw sewage.” He didn’t mention the rats, but one was shown in the footage of the sewers. There was jostling to get into the sewers (and who ever thought they’d read a line like that!) with the eventual order being: Paul, Karyn Emily, Frank, Brennan, Joe and Dave, with either Pat or Brenda doing it when they arrive after the others have left. The clue box is actually in the sewer, just at the point where the person doing the roadblock exits. The clue tells them they have to travel by train to the Chateau Des Baux in Les Baux-de-Provence.

    To get to Les Baux-de-Provence the teams first have to first figure out that it isn’t in Paris – which Paul initially thinks it is. Once they know that they have to figure out which of Paris’s six major passenger rail terminals they have to travel from. In this case it is the Gare de Lyon, which serves the route from Paris to Marseille. There’s a trick in getting to Les Baux-de-Provence however. What seems to be the obvious route is to travel all the way to Marseille and then from there take a taxi to the town. People in the know however disembark at Avignon and travel the greater distance to Le Baux-de-Provence. Or at least this is what Phil tells us and what most of the teams seem to believe initially. I’ve plotted out the routs on Google Maps and checked it on Bing Maps, and it is simply not true. It is about 85 Kilometers between the train station in Marseille and Chateau des Baux, and about 30 Kilometers from Avignon to Chateau des Baux. Regardless, the time saving is about an hour.

    Of course Kevin & Drew have already left for the Chateau-des-Baux. It`s never stated whether they got off at Avignon or Marseille but it really doesn`t matter. The climb the streets of the town to the ruins of the old castle where they are greeted by the Mayor of Les-Baux-de-Provence. They bask in their stage victory “with everybody looking at our behinds no less.”

    The main group of teams, including Rob & Brennan, Frank & Margarita, Joe & Bill, Lenny & Karyn, Paul & Amie and Nancy & Emily all board the same train. Missing this train are Pat & Brenda of course and Dave & Margharetta. Joe & Bill make a big show of “helping” Lenny & Karyn, Paul & Amie and Nancy & Emily – and saying “you better remember this.” They help them to the “right” place on the train but then disappear on them and they have to find the place where they’re actually supposed to be. Frank & Margarita and Rob & Brennan get on another part of the train, near where Joe & Bill eventually show up. Of course Joe & Bill don’t tell the others their “secret;” they know about getting off at Avignon, and are determined that none of the other teams see them. They presumably think that their “biggest competition” don’t know about Avignon. However, independently of the Guidos and each other, Frank & Margarita and Rob & Brennan find out about the “short cut.” In fact Rob & Brennan are eager to tell their erstwhile allies about it after they’re told by someone on the train, only to discover that Frank & Margarita already knew. The two teams decide that they’ll sneak off the train in Avignon and avoid letting the other three teams see them. When they actually do get off, some of the other teams notice them getting off but, assured by a railway employee that they are on the right train they decide to continue on to Marseille.

    It’s not clear that the three teams who got off the train at Avignon knew that they had all gotten off together. Rob & Brennan actually arranged for a cab to be waiting for them using a borrowed cell phone, but Team Guido don’t know about this. They fully expected to have an hour and a half lead over the teams that stayed on the train, which as far as they knew was everyone except Frank & Margarita, and they’re convinced they’re ahead of them.. Rob & Brennan told Frank & Margarita about Avignon – though they already knew – and considered themselves to be a team with them. Frank had a different view of things; Rob & Brennan were only clinging to them because they’ve used their Fast Forward and because of Margarita’s ability to speak some French. As far as he’s concerned they’re “all a bunch of fakes,” smiling in your face but plotting behind your back. He doesn’t play that game he’s “real”…except that he has yet to let Rob & Brennan know that their alliance is off.

    The main group of teams in the second train initially think that everyone is aboard the same train although Nancy seems to think that someone may have missed the train. Make that two teams, Dave & Margharetta and Pat & Brenda. Editing makes it appear that the two teams got on the same train but that is not entirely clear. What is clear is that Dave & Margharetta know to get off at Avignon, which is something that will come into play and show just how big an advantage getting off at the earlier stop was.

    Rob, Brennan and the Mayor of Les-Baux-des-Provance
    The taxis deliver the teams at the edge of the town but the teams have to hike half a mile uphill to reach the castle. Frank & Margarita are the second team to arrive with Rob & Brennan arriving in third place. Joe & Bill are stunned to discover that they aren’t in third place as they expect but in fourth. A bigger surprise is to come however. Dave & Margharetta are arriving in Les Baux even as the teams who went to Marseille are getting off the train and into their cabs. The older couple finish in fifth place much to their own astonishment. The teams from Marseille – the self-described “underdogs” – all plan to cross together but they sort of string out on the climb. Paul & Amie arrive in sixth and they realise that the rest of their group are safe. Lenny & Karyn are in seventh and Nancy & Emily come in eight.

    As for Pat & Brenda, they seem to have all the worst luck. It is dusk when they leave the train, apparently in Marseille, and dark when they make the climb up to the chateau. While their were people on the streets when the other teams arrived the only witness to their arrival is a lone dog prowling on the roof of one of the buildings. Phil is waiting for them on the mat. They’ve come in last and have been eliminated.

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

    – If you go to Paris and want to follow in the footsteps of the Amazing Race teams you’ll have one big problem. You won’t find La Grande Roue. For one thing it was never called that except on the show; it’s true name is (or was) La Roue de Paris – The Wheel of Paris – and it’s not there anymore. The Ferris Wheel was designed to be mobile (unlike the London Eye for example) and was removed from the Place de la Concorde in 2002. It’s been in various places since then, most recently in Antwerp in 2008 (at least as far as I can tell).

    – On the other hand Foucault’s Pendulum is still at Le Pantheon and the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers. The pendulum was designed by French Physicist Leon Foucault to visually demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. He set up the original experiment at Le Pantheon. Subsequently the original pendulum was moved to the Conservatoire National des Artes et Metiers. In 1995 a replica of the original pendulum was installed at Le Pantheon.

    – Okay I admit that I like using the term “Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers”; I also dislike the translation the show gave for the name. “Museum of Arts and Crafts” makes it sound like you’re going to find the place filled with weaving and wood carving when the truth is that it bears a strong resemblance to the Museum of Science and Industry at the Smithsonian. Also it’s a lot easier to find on Google Maps if you give the French name. The same thing goes for “le Pantheon” instead of “the Pantheon.”

    – Ordinary tourists can climb the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral…for 8 Euros. The lines can be long but it’s supposed to be worth it.

    – For anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of French or even the FrencConservatoire National des Arts et Metiersh spoken in Canada (which is apparently some sort of weird Norman/Breton dialect) listening to Kevin & Drew try to say French words – because they sure as hell aren’t speaking French – is like listening to fingernails on a chalk board…while someone is pulling your spine out of your back. PAINFUL!

    – Like just about anyone who watches The Amazing Race I like to look at the tasks and wonder which ones I would or could do. Anything that involves driving or swimming is out for me – I don’t do either – but even though I have a fear of heights I’m not sure the Gorge Swing would have stopped me. After all it’s a controlled fall. The first one that would have stymied me – in part because it was a Roadblock and I could dump it on my partner – is the sewers, mainly because of the dark and closed in nature of the place.

    – Pat & Brenda have the worst luck of any of the teams in this leg of the race and it all stems from changing their collective minds about the Detour they were going to take. They had initially decided on “Long Climb” because they knew where Notre Dame was, but then quickly changed their mind to “Short Walk” because even though they didn’t know where Foucault’s Pendulum was they had plenty of time to find out, what with leaving two and a half hours ahead of any other team. And they did find out. The problem is that they found out where the original Foucault Pendulum was, not the one where the cat was. I contend that they were undone by an out of date guidebook; remember the Pendulum at Le Pantheon had only been there for six years when the show was shot. Having discovered that the Pendulum they found was the wrong one, they then went to Le Pantheon, which is another puzzler, since the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers is on the other side of the river from Le Pantheon. It would have been easier to change detours and done the “Long Climb” at Notre Dame which is between the two buildings. Finally they appear to have taken a later train than even Dave & Margharetta and probably got off at Marseille too.

    – Frank’s whole attitude in this leg is absolutely ridiculous. His reason for breaking up the partnership with Rob & Brennan is quite frankly ridiculous. Both teams were desperate to get from the Arc de Triomphe to Le Grand Roue. They don’t even consider the Metro, although this was the way that Joe & Bill and Pat & Brenda had taken and instead run up the Champs Elysee hoping to get cabs. Rob & Brennan get a cab first and take it and this is the last straw for Frank; Rob & Brennan are only out for themselves, they’re a couple of phonies, and so on. And yet what were Rob & Brennan supposed to do? They couldn’t share a cab, because while we think of the racers as just two people they do have a two person camera team with them when they’re racing. It isn’t practical to stuff eight people into a standard Paris taxi. Were they supposed to have their cab wait for a second cab to come along to take Frank & Margarita? That presupposes a couple of things, namely that their cab would wait and that a second cab would stop if he saw a group of people with a cab already there. The end result could have been both teams not getting to the clue on time.

    – How did Dave & Margharetta finish in fifth despite being on a later train than the “underdog” group? Well the average time between departures on the Paris-Marseilles run is 40-50minutes – call it 45 for the sake of this argument. The trip from Avignon to Marseille is 30 minutes. So the teams that took the first train and went to Marseille would already be fifteen minutes into the journey to Chateau-des-Baux when Dave & Margharetta disembarked at Avignon, but their journey is about 55 kilometers shorter. Assuming an average speed of 110 km/h that means that the trip is half an hour shorter.

    – Schadenfreude probably goes along with hubris. It certainly did with Bill & Joe, who cemented their villain status in this leg. It’s not just that they went on a walking tour of their old Parisian haunts while other teams spent the night sleeping rough – and didn’t need to because they could have done what Nancy and Emily did just as easily – but it’s their attitude. We saw that in the previous episode where they dumped Rob & Brennan as allies, and we saw it repeatedly in this episode where they underestimated and denigrated the other teams for not knowing Paris as well as they did. Their assumption that the other teams would try to take taxis to the Hotel de Ville or that they wouldn’t know where to go and would get lost is one case of greatly underestimating the abilities of their competition to read a map or get directions from people on the street. Even the hubris puncturing moment when they discover that not only were their arch-rivals Rob & Brennan standing beside them but that the teams that had gone to Notre Dame were, with the exception of Dave & Margharetta, all in front of them didn’t cure them of their hubris. The whole business of “helping” the self-proclaimed “underdogs” came across as more than a bit condescending when they said “you better remember this.” When they abandon the other teams without any sort of warning, and certainly without telling them about Avignon, it guaranteed that other teams would remember the event…just not in a good way. But it was also a show of arrogance.

    – Looking at the ratings for this episode, the show dropped from the previous week’s rating of 6.8/10 to a 6.0/9. It was in third place behind a West Wing repeat with a 10.4/15 and the season premiere of The Drew Carey Show. The latter was an hour long episode and there was a significant ratings shift between the first episode (7.4/11) and the second half hour (5.7/8). And I’m afraid things are going to get darker for the show when the other three networks start premiering shows.

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