Screen: CBS

Can't You Take A Yoke?

The Amazing Race switches it back to what might be the show's most notorious challenge ever, but even the promise of a broken ox can't keep things interesting.

A Non-thrilla In Manila

Last week: Arguments! Diabolical scheming! Near-death Experiences! U-Turns! Wipeouts! Shocking eliminations!

This week: There are four teams left. Now they are getting on an airplane.

In a nod to classic Amazing Races gone by (spoiler alert -- it's the first of many in this episode!), racers are scrambling to get seats on the best flight to the Philippines, and it all comes down to a choice between heading straight for the airport or hitting up a travel agency. With about an hour's head start on the other teams, Adam and Bethany easily lock down a flight that will arrive in Manila at 11 PM. Brooke and Robbie hustle to snag that flight as well, noting that while they are not the brightest team left in the race, and are frequently confused as to which continent they're on, they're still there, and that's all that matters. Well, that's all that matters until you run into a Celebrity Jeopardy-themed trivia challenge, I guess.

Jim and Misti, departing in third place, announce that it's time to break everybody else's spirit as they rip open their clue. As Jim's saying this, the camera meaningfully pans up to the very hotel towers where Jim's own spirit was directly threatened on the last leg. They opt to head straight for the airport, which turns out to be a mistake; despite leaving about half an hour later, Amy and Maya manage to grab the last tickets on the earlier flight and the dentists are stuck on one that arrives at midnight.

As Amy and Maya are checking in at the airport, they run into Brooke and Robbie and confront them about the fact that they gave out blatant misinformation last week. Brooke and Robbie feign ignorance. "I think I thought you had it; you were in front of us," Robbie says. This seems to satisfy the scientists, who seem to let the issue drop pretty quickly. Brooke observes that playing dumb has been working pretty well for the wrestlers, though she carefully avoids enumerating all the times they weren't actually playing.

So, essentially, we don't even get a real argument to spice things up during ten solid minutes of travel agents and airports.

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Taxis

When the planes touch down, racers head for a flower market outside of Baclaran Church. Bethany asks their cab driver how to say hello in Filipino. "Hello," the driver says.

As soon as you realize that Manila is not known for its nighttime flower markets, it's pretty clear that nobody's doing any racing until the vendor opens his stall the next morning. Misti and Jim are grateful to Jesus for adding an equalization point when He planned this leg of the race.

In the morning, teams are instructed to take jeepneys to Rosario Plaza for their next clue. Longtime Amazing Race aficionados likely recognize jeepneys from the Race's Season 5 visit to Manila, in which teams had to decorate one of the garish shared taxi-bus things.

Amy and Maya are absolutely delighted by the jeepney. "I love it because we're, like, immersed in the culture...it was really interesting to be part of the everyday commute." In what has become a pretty routine smash-cut this season, we immediately see how Brooke feels about being in the Philippines. "I can't. I can't. The smell," she says as the jeepney passes a garbage dump.

Jim and Misti get the obligatory Amazing Race "humbled by witnessing people who have less than we do" moment. Misti's moved to tears at the sight of a little kid playing in the street, and she's reminded to be grateful for how much they have.

In the Detour, teams have to choose between wading out to a fishing boat and collecting 300 pounds of fish in a laundry basket or assembling a motorcycle sidecar. While Brooke and Robbie appear to contemplate the motorcycles, they decide to go with the task that favors brute strength over problem-solving. Given that these people still aren't sure what country they're in, I think this was the right call.

Everyone else opts to fix the motorcycle, though. Bystanders tell the scientists that the motorcycles are actually a short walk from where they are, so they set off without catching the part of the clue that says they have to travel by a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi not unlike the one they're about to assemble.

"They didn't follow the directions. They're going to have a penalty," Jim observes as they pass the scientists. Eventually, Amy and Maya realize their error and backtrack. CBS suggests tweeting with the hashtag #ReadYourClue, which, to be fair, is probably a good hashtag every week when it comes to this show.

Shock And Arrrrrgh

After complaining nonstop about how everything she sees is "gross" and "nasty," Brooke's revulsion culminates at a basket full of fish. She shows a little trepidation at the prospect of wading through choppy, chest-deep water, though once she's in the middle of the task she appears to channel her inner Maya and whoops and leaps her way through the task. The wrestlers are legitimately delighted when the locals start cheering them on.

It does turn out to be exhausting work, though. "At least we're getting cardio today," says Robbie as they make their third trip. For once, Robbie, not Brooke, is the one throwing a major fit at the grossness of the task. "I don't like touching animals and stuff; it's gross," he says. "There's like guts and brains." The fish also have sharp edges and teeth, making the task even more painful (and I'm sure plunging their hands into salt water over and over isn't making things any easier). Inevitably they devolve into full-on yelling at one another. But they keep moving, even as it starts to rain, and they actually wind up taking off in first place.

Meanwhile, over at the motorcycles, there's not much to say. There are parts. There are wrenches. The racers are using the wrenches to put the parts together. Bethany immediately realizes that most of the heavy lifting is going to require two hands, so she appoints Adam the "head honcho" and dubs herself the assistant. The scientists are not mechanics, but Maya says she once had to assemble a machine that homogenizes ice cream. Also, she put together her wardrobe. It's going well for them. "God is on our side," Maya says. "I don't think the Lord cares which tuk-tuk we build," Amy replies dryly, and for a moment, she is my favorite.

Jim's control-freak skills should have served him well in this task, but the dentists fail their first inspection and he can't figure out why (they've incorrectly installed the shocks, the editors helpfully explain). Maybe this random thing isn't tight enough? No, everything is "tight like a fat girl's sock," according to Jim. Whatever that means. But the second inspection is a no-go as well. As is the third. "It's almost Copenhagen all over again," he says. "My head's about to freakin' explode."

Ox-idents Will Happen

Thankfully, we are spared the trauma of an exploding head, because it does finally dawn on the dentists that they've forgotten to install one of the shocks, and once that's fixed, they're right back in it.

Speaking of shock, as the wrestlers roll up to some very familiar-looking rice fields, they can't believe they're in first place.

Amazing Race superfans start to bounce up and down in their seats as they realize what's next: a switchback to a task that yielded what Phil describes as "the biggest breakdown in Amazing Race history." At the very least, it was the source of the show's most famous quote. They've even renamed the task to commemorate the historic occasion of Season 5 racer Colin Guinn's exclamation: "My ox is broken!"

For the uninitiated, this task requires teams to take an ox and plow through a rice field until the plow kicks up a particular rope where their clue will be attached.

Brooke is totally an animal person. She's super-excited. But she's also grossed out, because she's Brooke, especially when the ox decides to take a bathroom break in the middle of the field, leading her to the realization that some not-insignificant percentage of the wet muck through which they are wading is ox poop. ("Oh my god! What did he eat?" adds Robbie.) Even worse, they've accidentally chosen a field that appears to be about twice as big as the others. Also, because they never saw Season 5, they don't know what the clue's going to look like when it pulls up, which means they spend a lot of time digging through the mud with their hands in case the plow's not catching it.

Everyone else arrives in short order -- Jim and Misti turn out to be right on Adam and Bethany's tails, and the scientists are just a few minutes behind that.

I keep waiting for an ox to go rogue, like Colin and Christie's did back in the day, but most of them are merely a little bit sulky and passive-aggressive. Brooke can't seem to get theirs to go the right way, but it isn't trying to jump the fence and escape. I wish it would. These oxen aren't making anybody work hard enough for it. Even Colin would have nailed this task with little complaint.

The Thrilling Anti-Climax

Aaaand wait, it's 8:50? I could have sworn it was much earlier; usually something interesting happens well before now.

There are many different ox-management tactics to try here. Maya calls it "Oxie" and attempts to sweet-talk it. Robbie just screams "OX" a bunch of times. Jim tries to talk to his like it's a dog -- strangely, this is the quickest solution, though Amy and Maya are right on their heels.

"Search on foot for Phil and your next Pit Stop," says the clue. Running running running. There's Phil! Misti and Jim are in the lead, with Amy and Maya mere feet behind them, threatening to catch up. Jim, who observed after the team's fourth victory that the fifth, or "the thumb," would be coming soon, gives their first-place prize a big thumbs-up.

It's a similarly close finish in the rear. Adam and Bethany roll up in third place, but you can even see Brooke and Robbie in the background as they hit the mat. In fact, all four teams are on the mat at the same time for Phil's announcement: Brooke and Robbie, you are the last team to arrive. However.

Unsurprisingly, considering the math (not considering the close finish, Phil! closer finishes have happened!), this is a non-elimination leg, so Brooke and Robbie will live another week to wrestle their way through whatever continent this is.

All four teams comment on the fact that they would really enjoy winning a million dollars. Adam classily wishes everybody good luck as the credits roll.

Verdict

After all the screaming, bickering, scheming, and pain of last week, this week had an uphill battle as far as topping it was concerned. I do wish it had tried a little harder, though, broken ox and photo finish notwithstanding. Who'd have thought there'd be something more boring than Peter Pan Live on network TV this week?

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