Plus: Chad and Stephanie get engaged!

By Victor Jih
Updated November 15, 2010 11:00 AM
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Credit: CBS

Last year, a friend of mine and I decided to participate in a locally organized Amazing Race events. As the race horn sounded, we took off way ahead of everyone else. As an actual winner of The Amazing Race, I was not about to let any other team beat me. We were fast. Five minutes later, no one else was in sight. Before we could celebrate, though, we suddenly realized we had no idea where we were running to and where we were supposed to be. Just like that, we were in last place.

Going quickly when you have no idea where you are going is a recipe for disaster – you have no idea if you are on your way to total domination or if – equally likely – you are racing to last place. This week’s episode of The Amazing Race is all about navigation.

So what happened? The six remaining teams start basically even. When they land in Oman, they are bunched together and forced to spend the night on the streets. In the morning, they are placed in three groups – staggered by 15 minutes – at the Burj Al Mubkharah Fort. That stagger is largely irrelevant. At the fort, teams are given their first destination. Who would have thought the hardest task of the leg would be the first –”Drive to Jebel Shams,” the tallest mountain in Oman. Nat and Kat and Gary and Mallory get so lost that by the time they get to Jebel Shams, their fates are sealed. The rest of the leg – the rappel to find Aladdin’s ring, the water tank detour, the search of the Oman market – does not matter. Gary and Mallory make the bigger navigation mistake (nine hours!) and are eliminated.

It isn’t like Nat and Kat and Gary and Mallory are stupid and race off for hours without any sense of direction. As a viewer, it’s easy to say, “Just ask for directions!” The truth is, both Nat and Kat and Gary and Mallory thought they had good information. The hard part is knowing when to second-guess that information. Racers never have perfect info. The helpful person they talk to could be wrong or malicious. The map they are consulting may be faulty. Constantly second-guessing yourself does not help either, since that guarantees a losing strategy. But racers also cannot blindly assume whatever information they have is right, as teams learned this week.

So what is a team to do? Ultimately, you have to go with your gut – and if you think something is wrong, you stop and figure it out. You know things are going to end badly when you hear the following:

Gary: “You think this is right?”
Mallory: “It is right. Why are you questioning it?”
Gary: “It doesn’t feel right. This feels like a bad, bad move.”

At that point, the right thing to do is to stop and get confirmation. Driving for nine hours while feeling the direction is “wrong” is not the right call. Many people blame Mallory for being so sure of herself. I blame Gary for ignoring his gut and deferring to his daughter. It takes a strong-headed, overly confident person like Mallory to have the capacity and drive to win. Someone who is always uncertain and second-guessing will not win. But it’s up to the partner – here, Gary – to make sure a big mistake doesn’t happen. He doesn’t do that, so it’s his fault.

Ultimately, it’s always better to be lucky. Chad and Stephanie are the blessed couple this leg and win – even though they oversleep for two hours and start three hours behind everyone else. They are lucky to have a bunching point at the beginning; they are lucky to have their last flight land early; they are lucky to find a local who gives them great directions; and they are lucky Jill and Thomas break the rules. Part of me feels like Chad turned a bad situation (oversleeping) into a good one (proposing to Stephanie) and the happy couple deserved all of the good karma they would get for staying positive and focusing on what really mattered.

Tell us: What do you think happened to Nat and Kat? Do you blame Mallory or do you blame Gary? Who are you rooting for to be in the final three?