The Amazing Race Review, Season 20, Episode 6,
“This is Wicked Strange”
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on CBS
During The Amazing Race’s first four seasons, a Fast Forward was available on every leg. Teams had to decide the best time to go for it, and it provided an extra layer of strategy to the competition. From a production standpoint, the downside was the extra money required to set up this task. In some cases, no one went for the Fast Forward, so this investment went unused. To keep costs down when the show was struggling in the ratings, the producers severely cut back the Fast Forwards to two during the fifth season. Since that time, they’ve played a minimal role and were basically unnecessary. That trend changes this week, where two teams face off in a risky battle to gain first place. Once Dave and Rachel win this prize, Joey and Danny are on life support and have little chance to survive the week. Their only hope is a non-elimination leg, but Phil gives the sad news that the Jersey boys are out. This is the second Fast Forward in only six legs, and the result feels like a throwback to the early days. Both teams decide on the fly to go for it, and the added strategy makes for a more unpredictable race.
After barely surviving in the premiere, Joey and Danny found their stride and appeared to be one of the front runners to reach the final leg. Even after they tumble this week, they still work together and remain positive until the end. While their pre-game videos promised irritating behavior, they seem like nice guys. Unlike previous episodes, this leg doesn’t offer many chances to make up a serious chunk of time. The Fast Forward task involves stacking 150 bales of hay in a specific rectangular pattern, which likely takes several hours. Making up this time with minimal travel, a short Roadblock, and straightforward Detours is too much for any team. The top five duos roll through the leg, with only Ralph and Vanessa struggling once again and finishing sixth. Their silly highlight involves frantically searching through a small carpet shop and missing the clues that hang in plain sight. The race definitely inspires tunnel vision, especially when teams fall behind the pack.
The leg begins with the teams flying to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan and heading to the Temple of Fire. This location doesn’t open until dawn, so everyone is bunched together evenly. This delay gives them a chance to take a break and enjoy dancing around the fire. The editors rarely show this type of lighter moment, so it’s a nice reminder there are good times happening outside the competition. Seeing this camaraderie used to be a lot more common, so this is another cool throwback. The five teams that reject the Fast Forward take the Roadblock, which sends the player into a simulated helicopter crash. It’s a quick task that everyone handles pretty well (despite what the editing suggests), but it’s worthwhile because of the coolness factor. The players hold their breath while being submerged underwater in a rotating submersible and must push through a window and escape. Divers are present in case anyone freaks out, and the setting does look pretty claustrophobic. This ranks among the most unique challenges of the season.
Speaking of unique, a Detour option provides one of the goofiest tasks the show has used in a while. “Oil” requires players to scrape crude oil off hairy Azerbaijani men using a metal shoehorn. The teams’ reactions are priceless, and everyone approaches the Detour with the right amount of humor. The generally serious Art and JJ even get slap happy and have a blast with their subject, who’s the ham of the group. While cleaning the guys isn’t very difficult, it’s the type of original challenge that makes The Amazing Race stand out. Apparently crude oil is therapeutic (who knew?), and it’s actually a local custom in Azerbaijan. Mark and Bopper and Brendon and Rachel choose this task, and even the Big Brother duo takes it in stride. The other option is “Apple”, a needle-in-a-haystack challenge that easily takes longer. A Russian car is filled with apples, and teams must search through thousands of them to find one with a flag on it. Nary and Jamie, Ralph and Vanessa, and Joey and Danny make this choice and do fine, but it takes a long time.
“This is Wicked Strange” isn’t a standout episode that ranks among the best, but it provides an hour of great entertainment. The teams seem less grumpy and enjoy the visit to an impressive country. The result comes directly from a strategic move and performance in a task, and that’s always preferred to random chance. The superstar of the Fast Forward is Rachel, who keeps her composure while Dave carelessly tosses hay bales on top of her. They join Art and JJ as winners of three legs, and no one else has finished first yet. Judging by these results, both seem likely to make the finale along with a wild-card team. The Amazing Race rarely goes according to form, however. Like the Border Patrol agents say this week, all it takes is one bad Roadblock or Detour to change the game and kick out a capable team. Joey and Danny’s fate this week is a perfect example and shows that anyone could still take the top prize.