Race Around the World (The Amazing Race commentary by Jonathan Baker and Steve Coogan)

Racing to Abbey Road

The image has popped up at least 1000 times since 1968. The album cover to the Beatles Abbey Road featured John, Paul, George and Ringo walking across Abbey Road, which is the street right near the famous studio where they conducted some of their famous recording sessions.

Since then, everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the comedians across the world have tried to spoof the famous scene. It’s a bit perplexing to know what’s been so fascinating about that scene where it’s been reproduced as many times as it has, but many people flock to it for source of inspiration, usually from a comedic perspective.

But the producers of The Amazing Race didn’t really use Abbey Road as a source of comedy, instead using it as not only a challenge of intelligence and resourcefulness, but as a way to get to know London as well.

One point Jonathan felt has been missing from this season’s The Amazing Race, and has addressed several times in these columns, is the absence of the GAME aspect of this competition instead of just running a RACE, noting there is a significant difference between the two.

He liked that the players had to use their brains a little bit and had to figure out what the picture was and how they were going to get there, instead of utilizing these tasks that, while cultural in nature, really didn’t take much mental wherewithal to get through. It’s all about The Amazing Race being more than just a race. After all, if viewers wanted to watch a race, they’d watch NASCAR.

“That was the game,” Jonathan said. “Bring the game forward. There needs to be more of this. It needs to be more of a scavenger hunt.”

After all, whether it’s milking goats, sucking water out of a spring, or racing stubborn camels around a round, dirt track, this season’s The Amazing Race featured a lot more “doing” and a lot less “thinking.”

“Instead of just doing something, they should be doing something with the information of the area,” Jonathan said referring to way the producers set up the tasks requiring the contestants use their heads and know something about London too.

Jonathan appreciated the way London was utilized through out the episode, first in the detour, especially in the “Brains” section of the detour.

For example, look at the Sherlock Holmes part of the detour. Holmes is the fictional detective chronicled in mystery stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who, according to the stories, lived at 221b Baker Street (perhaps a tribute to our own Jonathan Baker?) for more than 20 years at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. He frequently smoked a pipe, wore his famous detective hat and used a magnifying glass at the scenes of the crimes he investigated.

The address, the pipe and the hat were all part of the detour and not only made the contestants think about where they had to go next, but gave the task a certain London feel that most of the episodes this season have sorely lacked.

“They really took the best parts of London and they’ve never done that before,” Jonathan said. “They’ve never taken the best parts of it and put it in the game like that before.”

That included the roadblock as well. Forcing the contestants to maneuver a double-decker bus through a controlled course took some skill and also reminded those at home that mode of transportation is primarily popular in the larger cities in England rather than anywhere else. Did you know the double-decker buses in London were developed as a response to a 1950s effort to clean up the city’s dreadfully dirty air at the time and originally ran on electricity? And did you know they eventually moved to automobile buses but kept the double-decker style to accommodate more people without creating a vehicle that was too long by law?

The Amazing Race didn’t tell us that, but being reminded that the double-decker bus was such a staple to London led to a little original research on our part. It’s one of the few times this season that that an area’s culture was reflected so well in a task it was worth looking more into and learning about.

“I commend them that they took an environment and really did something with it this week,” Jonathan said. “They haven’t done that all season.”

It was almost as if The Amazing Race did what the producers of Sex in the City and Las Vegas did in creating their shows. Those people made the cities those shows took place in an important character in the show and formed storylines around them. The producers of The Amazing Race have really failed to do that for the most part this season, at least until this week when the city of London really shined.

“London was the star last night,” Jonathan said. “We really got a good flavor of it. That was a good representation of London. The only thing they didn’t do was to put a box in front of Big Ben and use Piccadilly Square.”

The city of London wasn’t the only star of the night though. As usual, Rob and Amber showed how smart and skilled they are playing this game, along with being a little lucky.

First, they took a calculated risk (along with Ron and Kelly) to get the flight to Frankfurt from Istanbul hoping they could get another flight to London from there. They went ahead and did it anyway even though they didn’t know if they would be able to get the flight to London or not.

When they got to London an hour-and-a-half before Uchenna and Joyce and Gretchen and Meredith, they hit the ground running and even got ahead of Ron and Kelly in the London tasks. They made their most shrewd move when they convinced their new British friend, Stuart, to be their guide in London for the day. Without him, there’s a good chance they’d still be stuck in London trying to solve some of those riddles that Stuart had the answers to so quickly. He helped them finish the tasks and get to the pit stop first giving them an advantage before the last leg of the race and the final episode of the season.

This is not the first time Rob and Amber have used a guide and Jonathan likes the strategy, as he used it many times himself last season. He sees himself and Rob thinking alike, possibly due to their east coast upbringing (Jonathan being from New York and Rob being from Boston).

“When you have a guide, you don’t have to worry as much,” Jonathan said. “When the guide left, you see the stress level go up. Maybe it’s because I’m from the east coast, Since we’re from the same demographic, I see us thinking alike.”

No matter what the situation, it’s just another example of Rob and Amber PLAYING THE GAME that Jonathan has talked about so many times before. None of the other teams have thought to get a guide to help them through cities they have never been in before, but Rob, always the charming, confident salesman, gets people to help him every leg of the race when the others don’t bother to utilize that strategy, instead just RUNNING THE RACE.

The GAME aspect of The Amazing Race was prevalent in a couple of ways this week. First, the producers really injected a little life into this season with the episode set in London with competitors having to use their heads a little more and focusing more on what these fabulous cities across the world have to offer. Watching people solve puzzles and trying to find certain locations is often more interesting than watching them milk goats or move tree trunks off the side of a dirt road.

And, impressively, Rob and Amber took advantage of what the producers set up by getting their new friend Stuart to be their guide for the day. Playing the game by taking the risk with the flights and securing a guide led them to the finish line first this week. If they continue to compete that way, they could be tough to beat…

And the teams…

In speaking to Jonathan this week, he didn’t have that much to offer about the teams left in the field. He summed it up by saying the coming attraction/teaser for next week really describes how he feels about the rest of the teams.

Uchenna and Joyce are “in the game.” They have stuck it out all the way through and have shown they will do anything to win and try their best in the process.

Ron and Kelly will “cancel each other out.” It’s pretty obvious these two are an absolute disaster. She is demanding apologies from him about the way he is acting when she has been ten times worse through out the season. It doesn’t look like their relationship survived after the show was over. Frankly, it will be a miracle if they even finish next week.

Jonathan definitely isn’t a fan of Kelly at all. Can you blame him?

“I do think she’s a bitch, period,” he said. “She’s just gone off on (Ron) way too many times.”

And Rob and Amber? “Losing is not an option.” They’ve proved they will do anything to win and that certainly won’t change as the final leg of the race comes up and they head back to the United States.

But even though it may be an option for them, is it their fate?

Jonathan’s theory, looking at teams from the past, is that the team who runs the race (and plays the game) the best and the most flawlessly generally don’t win, they’ll end up coming in second.

We’ve seen Rob and Amber stay focused, be a good team, remain full of energy, take guides with them on the tasks and even take part in a little healthy underhanded, but not illegal, play to get where they are. They aren’t necessarily the most skilled mentally or physically, but they’ve run the best race to this point.

That’s why they won’t win.

“Anyone who was run the race flawlessly, they have come in second,” Jonathan said. “That’s the curse of The Amazing Race. That’s why Rob and Amber won’t win.”

That’s why as we head to the finale, Jonathan’s final predictions are as followed:

Third Place: Ron and Kelly

Second Place: Rob and Amber

First Place: Uchenna and Joyce

Will his Amazing Race instincts lead him to being correct?

We’ll find out next week!

Enjoy the finale!

— Steve Coogan

— Jonathan Baker
The Amazing Race 6

* * * * * *

Make sure you’re visiting jonathanbakerandvictoriafuller.com to find out what Jonathan and Victoria are up to. You never know what’s up their sleeves!

* * * * * *

SirLinksalot: Amazing Race