Last week, Art and J.J. officially severed all pretenses of alliance with Dave and Rachel, and none too soon, because Art and J.J. are complete jerks. Kentucky boys Bopper and Mark had a horrendous leg, which is sad because they are such swell guys, but Bopper’s nagging knee energy forced Mark to do all of the challenges, including a brutal Roadblock that forced him to learn to do a Bollywood dance routine. Fortunately for them, this was the final non-elimination leg, which meant they lived to race for another day.

Starting Line - The Bolgatty Palace in Cochin, India. Teams first clue told them to travel to the city of Cheranallur (a northern suburb of Cochin) and find a local temple, where the head priest would bless them before they got their next clue. I like that the clue was very specific about telling racers to remove their shoes before entering the temple… after all, showing respect to other cultures should be of the highest priority.

Once paying respect to the high priest, teams were given a choice between going right to the Roadblock or trying for the Fast Forward. And this FF (which Phil called a “switchback”) was a doozy, something familiar to TAR fans if they watched as far back as Season Seven, which required both members of a team to shave their heads. This Fast Forward was done by racers Uchenna and Joyce, and that proved to be a great omen, as they went on to win the race that season.

I had already seen Big Brother Rachel in the previews freaking out and whining about the possibility of having to shave her head, and I knew right away that she wouldn’t be able to. Someone as vain as her could never compromise her looks in such a radical way, even for a million dollars. Ultimately, everyone of the first four groups passed on the Fast Forward (Rachel and Dave couldn’t do it, having already one a FF this season), and Bopper and Mark took the chance to catch up. This was not that big a deal, given that Mark is already bald and Bopper didn’t have much hair to begin with.

Anyway, the Roadblock took place at Pattanacoir Mats and Matting, and it required one team member to spin forty feet of rope made from coconut husks and then to spool some other rope onto a spindle to receive their next clue. This proved to be a very trying task, as most of the guys who did it constantly found their rope’s snapping. Anyway, after completing the task, teams were given a clue directing them to Fort Kochi, a town in the state of Kerala, where they would search for an outdoor barber performing his business under an ancient tree.

The Kochi barber gaven them their next clue, which was this leg’s Detour, and the choices were Pachyderm and Pack a Box. In the former, teams had to decorate an elephant with a headdress and golden ornaments, and then transport 15 wheelbarrows full of elephant dung (ewww) to a nearby truck. In the latter, teams had to find a ginger-root processing center, fill ten empty boxes with a predetermined quantity of sifted ginger, and then stencil the label on the boxes. I expected most of the teams to shy away from the elephant task, but surprisingly, three of the four teams went for that option (only Art/J.J. took Pack a Box, and this proved to be a crucial choice).

Teams had to take a ferry to the island of Vypin to find the Pit Stop for Leg Ten, after which they would search for Phil near the world-famous Cheena Vala (Chinese) fishing nets that are a staple of the fishing trade there.

Below is the order the contestants finished in, along with some of their more interesting moments.

1. Rachel and Dave - That is now six - count ‘em - six, victories for Rachel and Dave. I have to root for them 100% now, for the simple fact that all of the other teams are unworthy of the $1 million prize. They seem to have put their bickering on indefinite hold (which is nice), having realized that none of the other teams can beat them if they work together as a unit. They spent the entire leg doing nothing but focusing on the tasks at hand, completely ignoring the taunts and withering glances of their competition, and they took home $10,000 each for their latest victory.

I can only hope that history does NOT repeat itself… it was only one season ago that snowboarders Andy and Tommy dominated the field through ten legs, winning six of them, only to be eliminated in Leg Eleven and coming in fourth place. Foreshadowing…? Hopefully not.

2. Brendon and Rachel - Gack. Though I did get an evil sense of joy in watching a sense of horror spread over Rachel’s face as she eyed the Fast Forward’s razor and shears, it was supplanted by yet another round of disgust. I mean, jeez, girl, you don’t want to shave your head, don’t shave your stupid head and your $500 extensions. Just head for the Roadblock and stop whining, it’s not like you’ve lost that much time. But no, another day, another meltdown.

I remember way back in Season Three when a whining harpy named Flo and her friend Zac ended up winning, and I almost gave up on the show then and there. Zac had the patience and the disposition of a saint, so I was 50% happy, but if Team Big Brother ends up winning, I may just lose it. They’ve come in second place four times now, and for all their emotional outbursts, they are at least keeping their mistakes down to a minimum.

3. Vanessa and Ralph - Ralph actually had a shining moment when he finished ahead of Dave, Brendon and Art at the rope-spinning, putting them in first place again. But it never lasts for this team, ever. They were barely in the lead for a minute before Vanessa tripped and fell on her face, apparently twisting her ankle. It didn’t seem to be serious, but it hobbled her for the rest of the leg, and they lost their chance at a first-place finish yet again.

I will say this: I may not care for Vanessa, but she’s about a million times tougher than (Brendon’s) Rachel, who would surely have sobbed like a baby and cried out for mommy. If they end up winning the race, it would be the underdog story of all time. (Yeah, I know Kisha/Jen won two seasons ago despite not winning a single leg, but I don’t see that happening again.) I’m just thankful that she’s been more of a racer and less of a diva for the past four legs. Plus, she loves elephants, which is another point in her favor.

4. Art and J.J. - This is actually the first time all season that the Border Agents have finished outside the Top Three, and I wonder if perhaps their stamina is running out. J.J. blames his waning sharpness on a head-cold that he picked up, but I have to wonder if that’s just making a completely-impossible-to-disprove excuse for poor effort and an antagonistic, arrogant attitude.

Case in point: they decided not to do the FF because they were sure that someone else would. And what does J.J. doe when they find out otherwise? He lambastes them for their lack of strategy. And then he tries to goad Rachel into doing it anyway. He spends the rest of the episode bashing all the other teams, even doing horrible impressions of them. What an absolute asshole. When J.J. badly lacerates his hand at the Detour, I don’t even react with anything but smugness, that’s how much contempt I have for him.

The following team came in last and was eliminated:

5. Bopper and Mark - A day after nearly passing out from heatstroke, Mark had to be hydrated via IV, and in addition to starting the leg over three hours after the other four teams, they were saddled with a Speed Bump. (That wasn’t particularly difficult or time-consuming, all they had to do was paint a tiger’s face on the belly of a Puli Kali dancer.)

To their credit, they decided to do the Fast Forward, because they had nothing to lose. But I knew that their cause was likely hopeless. A three-hour deficit is nearly impossible to overcome if there are no equalizers (e.g. catching a plane, train or boat, or waiting for some attraction to open for the day), and there weren’t here. None of the top four teams are so inept that they could mess up enough to keep Team Kentucky in the game, and they were sent home. And my heart died just a little.

There have been a lot of teams on this show that were salt-of-the-earth types, blue-collar folks that you just can’t help but root for over the obnoxiously pretty, horrifically anorexic look-good-in-a-speedo types that regularly populate reality competitions. But few just threw themselves into the race for the sheer enjoyment of it like Bopper and Mark. I hope that someday, they decided to do another season of Unfinished Business or All-Stars or something like that so that they can get another shot at winning. They certainly deserve it.

I honestly didn’t want any of the 2-4 teams to make it to the end, but now I can only hope that Art/J.J. get eliminated next week. That will virtually guarantee victory for Rachel and Dave, because neither Brendon/Rachel nor Ralph/Vanessa have shown that they have what it takes to beat them, given that they have a combined zero leg wins between them.

Next week: the two-hour season finale. The teams will travel to Japan, and from there the final three will jet back to the States, where something will happen that has never happened before. Promise.

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