The Amazing Race, Ep. 20.09, “Bollywood Travolta”: Dancing in India sends teams to the edge

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The Amazing Race Review, Season 20, Episode 9, “Bollywood Travolta”
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

There’s a clear reason why The Amazing Race visits India so frequently. The combination of serious crowds, crazy driving, and excessive heat can send teams scrambling to keep their sanity. Also, the producers tend to use this setting to deliver some of their toughest challenges. A good example was Luke’s demise in the “Unfinished Business” season while tasting hundreds of cups of tea. A similar fate befalls Mark this week and sends the Kentucky duo to the brink of elimination. The combination of heat, motion sickness, and poor dancing skills (he’s not the only one) nearly derail them completely. Although it seems like the end for Mark and Bopper, the non-elimination leg gives them yet another reprieve. While they’re the most likable team, this seems a bit unfair to the remaining players. This scenario is common, but it limits the importance of this brutal leg when the losers stick around.

Setting those issues aside, this a very entertaining leg with a killer Roadblock that frustrates nearly everyone. The task puts the player on the set of a “Bollywood movie” to participate in a choreographed dance routine. There have been instances in the past where the judges were lenient for this type of challenge, but that’s definitely not the case this time. The editors use a clever black-and-white still of the player making a mistake, and there are plenty of them. An added difficulty is the heat, which can’t be easy to take in the provided costumes. Rachel proves her talents once again by rolling through the challenge, but everyone else struggles. Dave seems impressed with her success, but that can only last for so long. After watching JJ continue the silly drama over the U Turn this week, his inability to master the dance is enjoyable. Big Brother Rachel and Vanessa finish ahead of him, and only Mark’s difficulties keep the Border Patrol guys out of last place. This task also contains a repetitive melody that is nearly impossible to stop hearing after countless plays during the episode.

The unfortunate downside of this challenge (and the entire episode) is the undercurrent of gender stereotypes from a variety of sources. Art is the ringleader and spends a long time discussing why JJ is struggling because he’s a guy. Later in the episode, Big Brother Rachel outperforms Art in cricket and makes the completely wrong conclusion. Instead of realizing she’s a better athlete, Rachel is surprised because she’s a girl and is supposed to suck. This is unfortunate. Dave joins the fun and makes the repeated declaration of “that’s why you listen to your husband!” after his wife finishes the driving task. While he doesn’t seem too serious, his past issues make this part of a worrisome trend. What is it about The Amazing Race that pushes forward gender stereotypes? Dave and Rachel are the front runners at this point, and her talents are truly driving their success. He seems willing to celebrate it when she does well but quickly changes gears if they face any type of adversity.

While Mark continues to struggle with the dancing, the other four teams move on to the Detour. Their options are “Cricket” or “Clutch It”. The first choice requires each player to get a hit off a cricket pitcher that reaches a certain point in the field. Striking the ball isn’t easy, but this seems like the better move. The other possibility involves driving a stick-shift taxi through an obstacle course. Neither option is impossible, although that perception could relate to the limited screen time. A fun tidbit is the fact that they’re driving “LCD taxis” with screens in the back seat. Fancy! Dave and Rachel struggle a bit with the driving but finish the leg with their fifth victory. Brendon and Rachel continue their solid performance and end up second, with Art and JJ and Ralph and Vanessa following in third and fourth. There’s little tension this week at the end because of Mark’s difficulties at the Roadblock.

Mark and Bopper’s dilemma shows the problems that can arise when teams reach this point of the Race. Bopper’s knee remains a big problem, so he’s unable to dance effectively. Mark’s also a bad choice because of his motion sickness, which caused major problems in the bus ride to the task. He gives it his best shot, but it seems unlikely that he’ll ever finish. Bopper even convinces him to quit and avoid a heat stroke, but Mark eventually returns and “completes” the challenge. The editing here is strange because it shows Bopper changing his tune and pushing his partner to keep going. Since this is a non-elimination leg, the producers may have played a role in encouraging one last try. Mark appears to again make errors in this attempt, but the judges take it easy on him. Although they survive for another week, the gap between Mark and Bopper and the other teams has to be massive.

Looking towards the finale, it seems likely that Dave and Rachel, Art and JJ, and a surging Brendon and Rachel will make the end. While the Border Patrol agents were favorites several weeks ago, they haven’t rolled through the challenges in the same manner lately. Even if Mark and Bopper find a way to slide into the final four, they’re edging close to killer fatigue. It would take quite a lot for them to make it to the end and take the victory. There are no more non-elimination legs, so even a small mistake could derail their chances for good.

Dan Heaton

  1. Kate Kulzick says

    Yeah, Bopper’s change of tune felt like the judge pulled him aside (presumably after the other teams had crossed the finish line?) and said, “He’s really close, just get him to do it once more and we’ll pass him”. More than anything, though, I think Mark just needed a break, some time out of the sun, and a chance to rehydrate. He was getting pretty far in the dance just fine in the later several tries- I think he was just exhausted and utterly dehydrated.

  2. Dan Heaton says

    Thanks Kate! What’s frustrating about Rachel is the fact that she’s actually pretty competent when she doesn’t freak out, but she consistently pulls back and reverts to the “I’m stupid and weak because I’m a girl” theme at every opportunity. There are times when I start not minding them as much, but that doesn’t last very long.

    I think Art was even worse this week during the Roadblock. I doubt he cared when they were lugging around those heavy water jugs that it may not have been fair to everyone. I agree about JJ’s attitude. He seems so intent on believing they’re the strongest team that he makes it harder when the task is difficult. It’s like he can’t believe they’re not first and then gets them into bigger trouble.

    There’s something about the way that Dave communicates with Rachel that really bugs me. They get along well sometimes, but then he’ll start acting overly condescending when things get tough. We’re at the mercy of the editors to understand the context, but he still should be giving her a lot more credit.

    I really like Mark and Bopper and am pulling for them to win. However, I agree that something weird was going on this week. At a minimum, the editing was off, especially when Bopper changed his tune so quickly in the end. Also, I agree that the editors shouldn’t try so hard to make us like them. I liked them after they were on screen for two minutes! How can you not like Bopper? Add that to Mark’s mild-mannered approach, and they’re a great combo.

  3. Kate Kulzick says

    Excellent review, Dan- the gender politics have bothered me a lot this season. It seems every time Rachel (of the Big Brother team) opens her mouth she reenforces dismissive and patriarchal gender roles. At every physical adversity, she chalks her struggles up to being female. This is perhaps her most annoying trait.

    As for this episode, the hard edge of frustration/anger in Dave’s voice is what makes his “listen to your *husband*!” so troubling. And Art’s numerous statements that women just move different (ie, that dancing is easier for them) are particularly idiotic given the numerous fantastic male dancers right in front of them.

    Rachel’s (of Rachel and Dave) years of high school dance troupe experience clearly helped her, but the main difference between the other women and JJ seemed to be attitude. They embraced the challenge, he spent his time frustrated at its difficulty. I always love when they use dance Roadblocks/Detours, as its a fantastic way to change up the physical challenges, and as we see here, they can be incredibly tasking. This one didn’t disappoint.

    Also, does anyone think the other teams would have handled needing 12 tries anywhere near as well as Mark and Bopper? They really are by far the most likable and sympathetic team.

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