Amazing Race
The Nine Best Episodes Ever

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The Nine Best Episodes Ever

The Detour involved either finding your way to a bird market, which kind of turned out to be boring, or burning a paper car as an offering to your ancestors, which turned out to be the best. Blake and Paige went from shrine to shrine, unable to find the right one, burning car after car until their ancestors were undoubtedly quite confused. At one point, Blake even attempted to take back a car he'd already thrown into an allegedly holy fire. This was, of course, after the usually unobjectionable (if ridiculous) Blake prayed aloud for the salvation of all the misguided Buddhists of the world, a fine example of the show exposing goofball xenophobic nonsense for what it is.

After a hair-raising Roadblock in a cave full of bats, it was surprisingly likable ministers Russell and Cyndi who were eliminated. But the elimination itself isn't why this episode is so lovely; it's because it's one of the best examples of the way you can sometimes peek in on the ways, both good (Danny and Oswald) and bad (Blake), that people respond when you plunge them into unfamiliar territory where they have little choice but to interact.

Season One, Episode Ten: "To The Physical And Mental Limit"
A.K.A. Climb, Paddle, Swim

Between the personality conflicts, the tense finishes, and the transportation maneuvering, it's easy to forget that this show also works as a hell of a travelogue. For the most part, with the exception of the second season, which was the first post-9/11 run and seemed overly conservative about keeping the teams in isolated, artificial surroundings much of the time, Race has done a good job of plunging the teams into settings both urban and natural, giving people a much better idea of what Brazil and Tanzania and Sydney and especially India (the India episodes, as a set, could honestly have an entry all their own) look like than they'd have otherwise. If you watch this show and you don't travel a lot, I'm willing to bet that when people say "Buddhist temple," what you see in your head is, consciously or subconsciously, a product of this show. Ditto what you see when you hear "Russia," "South Africa," or "nutbunches."

Non-elimination episodes have a terrible reputation for being boring, and the producers appear to have been so dismayed at the way the final four teams in the first season wound up in two widely separated pairs that they've tried like crazy to make sure it never happens again. Despite both of those things, though, the Thailand-based non-elimination episode of the first season, which involved no long-haul traveling and took place almost entirely in a close-set area of lagoons and cliffs of gorgeousness, is enduringly appealing. This is the case not in spite of the non-elimination and the distance between pairs of teams, but because of it.

The episode opened with Rob and Brennan and Frank and Margarita leaving the pit stop nearly twelve hours before Kevin and Drew and Bill and Joe would be able to leave. Barring some enormous feat of screwing up, these two teams didn't have a lot to worry about in this leg, and they knew it. Both teams seemed to relax and enjoy the leg, which allowed the often emotionless Rob and Brennan to have a little fun, and the often loud and pushy Loud Pushy Frank to act more like an excited cheerleader than a punishing coach. There was rock-climbing, and then a trip to the aptly named Chicken Island (which looked...just like a chicken), followed by some snorkeling in the impossibly blue water. When the two lead teams finished the leg on the lovely Pai Plong beach, they high-fived each other with genuine good nature rarely seen between these particular people, and Margarita simply ran around plotzing with joy about all the great things she'd done. All four of them agreed that they had a great damn day, despite how tired and homesick they have to have been. And, poignantly, the show continued to serve one of its best purposes -- the shrinking of the world -- when the 2004 tsunami devastated parts of Thailand not far from these glorious beaches.

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Amazing Race

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