The Amazing Race Ep. 21.4, “Funky Monkey”: Poor design and an inevitable exit lead to a pretty dull leg

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The Amazing Race Review, Season 21, Episode 4, “Funky Monkey”
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

A common question among long-time fans of The Amazing Race asks why the later seasons feel so different. Along with a faster-paced editing  and more gimmicks, the main changes have involved the casting. The producers look more for characters of a specific type than the “regular people” approach of the early years. These contestants are frequently recruited and don’t always understand the show. This leads to a lot of mistakes and manufactured drama, but that doesn’t mean it’s a better series. Ardent fans usually wish for more applicants who love the show in place of over-the-top characters. The tricky part is that super fans aren’t always more interesting contestants. While the general concept is positive, this move can backfire and lead to inept and dull racers. Viewers may hate a crazy team, but at least they generate a reaction.

An interesting example that shows the negatives of casting fans is  Gary and Will. They’re substitute teachers who seem to fit the type who would draw major support. More than a foot separates them in height, and they provide a very goofy image. The problem is that they’re dull and aren’t good at any challenges. Will has a quiet and positive approach, but Gary seems irritated by the entire experience. These guys are a serious blow to fans’ hopes for more normal applicants getting a chance. It’s amazing that they survived this far given their eternal place at the back of the pack. While they try to stay positive and hang in there, navigational issues doom them in the end. Gary and Will are probably likable guys in everyday life, but they weren’t suited for this competition. Their exit is actually a surprise; this seems like the right time for a non-elimination leg. That prospect becomes even higher next week since only seven teams remain.

“Funky Monkey” skips the airport drama and quickly sends teams to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. This city makes Indonesia look like a cake walk and is one of those crazy places that stuns racers. Driving through town in cabs is quite a wild ride, and it’s surprising there aren’t more accidents. Their first destination is a Roadlock that’s one of the more difficult tasks so far. Players most repair buses by preparing them for new paint job. The tricky part is applying the puddy smoothly to allow for sanding. Once they complete this challenge, the next step is carrying three heavy pairs of seats to a separate area. Ryan finishes first and is followed by Natalie and a very efficient Rob. There is some rare drama among the teams caused by Nadiya’s fervent enthusiasm for her partner. While their irritation is understandable, the twins are just so endearing. James struggles with this task and has to start over well into it. Gary and Trey are right with him and seem destined for the back of the pack.

This episode also includes a Fast Forward, but the top teams inexplicably skip it. This decision makes little sense because this task is rare. The best time to go for it is from the front of the pack. James and Abba take the risk and get the opportunity to commandeer dead rats. They join a local with a bucket and don protective gloves to scoop up these pesky critters. This cringe-inducing task is pretty straightforward, but it doesn’t give them a huge advantage. The biggest challenge is Abba’s step into raw sewage, which gets him concerned about diseases. Bring out the anti-bacterial lotion! They gamely push forward and join a large crowd of onlookers to stroll into first place. Meanwhile, Abbie and Ryan lead the other teams to the Detour and get set for a tense race for second place. First, they must find the clue within a bag of dried fish. This is a really icky leg!

The Detour options this week are “Pound the Metal” or “Pound the Cotton”, and the first alternative seems like the better move. That choice involves using 10-pound sledgehammers to shape a spiked tool. It’s a physically demanding task but doesn’t require any intricate work. On the other hand, the second choice requires teams to stuff a mattress with cotton and then sew it together. James and Jaymes comically realize their mistake in picking this one. Gary and Will also struggle, which is basically the law. The show tries to sell the importance of a footrace between Abbie and Ryan and the twins, but it really doesn’t matter. They’re both in great shape right behind the rockers. Josh and Brent slide into fourth place and have quietly found their legs after a tough opener.

Chaos is usually good for The Amazing Race, but the confusion during the dash to the Pit Stop comes from bad game design. A majority of the teams show up in the wrong place and must circle back. They have to arrive at the Swarighat landing by boat, yet it’s easily accessible by cab. This trip is designed to confuse teams but gives them little chance to succeed. While Rob’s statement that his driver cost him a million dollars is silly, his anger is understandable. It’s a poorly designed leg that makes little sense to the audience. Trey and Lexi also struggle to finish but manage to slide by Gary and Will to survive. That’s a relief and sets up a more interesting contest as the race stumbles into its middle stretch.

Dan Heaton

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