John Paul Filo/CBS
November 08, 2010 08:00 AM

This week’s installment of The Amazing Race was exhausting to watch. I can only imagine what it was like for the seven teams who had to actually complete the leg in St. Petersburg, Russia.

From St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the teams raced to Avtovo Circus (a creepy cross between Cirque du Soleil and HBO’s Carnivale). There, teams chose between two tasks: Circus Band, which required them to learn to play a Russian folk song on an accordion, or Circus Clown, which required them to keep ten plates spinning simultaneously on sticks for at least ten seconds. Once teams conquered the circus, they had to solve a multi-part Russian mystery. They had to locate a canal bridge guarded by four winged creatures, find a historic tower by foot, spot a figurine hidden in plain sight directing them to the Church on Spilled Blood, and figure out where the body of Peter the Great was buried. Teams who solved the mystery learned the pit stop was at the Peter and Paul Fortress. But before they could check in, a Roadblock required one team member to play Gorodki, a Russian form of bowling with a wooden stick.

The leg was designed to reward teams who were able to learn new skills (spinning, accordian playing, Gorodki) and teams who were able to figure out clues (learning Russian trivia, navigating the streets on foot, and spotting figurines). Nat and Kat showed once again why they are the team to beat. Their ability to work together and stay calm under pressure allowed them to take first place and win $5,000 each! As Nat put it, “It’s too late. We can’t take the target off of our backs. So we better just stay in front.”

Last place, however, had nothing to do with the tasks. It was inspiring to watch Michael and Kevin beat expectations and complete the plate-spinning task. It was even more inspiring to watch Michael overcome all odds and finally learn how to play Gorodki. But all of that effort did not matter in the end. Despite a foot race to the mat, Michael and Kevin were eliminated because they could not read. They broke the rules not once, but twice, taking taxis to the next destination instead of proceeding on foot.

Why can’t teams read?!? Any student of The Race knows that taking a taxicab when you are not supposed to is a classic blunder. It is even more shocking since Brook told Kevin they had made a mistake. When Kevin arrived at the tower, he asked Brook why they have their bags with them. Brook told Kevin that they were supposed to leave their cabs and walk. Instead of realizing their mistake, Michael and Kevin once again took a cab even though the clue said to walk.

So why can’t teams read? They’re exhausted and stressed out. Under these circumstances, even the best teams (see Brook and Claire) will make stupid mistakes. So I do not fault Kevin for failing to read the clues correctly. No one is perfect. Instead, I blame Michael. Michael seemed to have fallen into the role of doting father, happily following the lead of his son in every decision and task without question. As Michael and Kevin sat out their hour-long penalty, Kevin reread the clues and said, “Oh, I didn’t even see that.” Michael laughed and responded, “You didn’t read it.” That scene spoke volumes. The problem was not that Kevin “didn’t read it.” The problem was that Michael “didn’t read it” either.

Brook and Claire make a similar mistake but recovered – thanks to Claire. Like Michael, Claire often follows Brook as she runs ahead. But unlike Michael, Claire quietly double-checks their decisions, reads the clues herself and makes sure Brook isn’t leading them astray. Mistakes are inevitable, so it is unwise to expect one leader to always make the right decision. It takes two to win The Race.

One other random note. I never realized this as a viewer, but one of the most stressful aspects of The Race is knowing what to do with your taxi! You never know whether you should leave your bags and keep your taxi, or whether you should abandon your taxi and move forward with your bags. Most of the time, you cannot tell from your clues whether you will be coming back or moving on. If you abandon your taxi, you can be stuck looking for another one. If you keep your taxi, you can run up a huge bill that you do not have money to pay or have to backtrack to retrieve bags. This leg, I had trouble keeping track of what teams were doing what as sometimes they had bags and sometimes they didn’t. Some teams had to backtrack to get their taxis before moving on, and many teams had trouble paying their bills. Taxi shenanigans did not determine the outcome of this leg, but they may in the future.

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