Amazing Race 12: Recap of nothing. Instead Survivor:China gets on my nerves

Okay, you can bet I was disappointed to not have my fix of Amazing Race tonight. Particularly after enjoying Martha’s recap of last week. I missed the show because I was having my white knuckle drive back from Kentucky. Tonight, I was all set to take notes on who said what and did what for my own recap, but no. Amazing Race was not on. Instead, there was a two-hour Survivor: China. While I watched Survivor, a show I have never seen before, I thought about what makes Amazing Race such an interesting show–and why Survivor gets on my nerves.

Sure there are parts of Amazing Race that are staged, such as hoisting furniture through windows in Amsterdam and milking camels in Burkina Faso, but the activities are mostly the type of activities people in those countries really do. Not all people in those countries, but the people whose jobs are to milk camels, like this woman in Niger (next to Burkina Faso) or hoist furniture, like the photo below. The Amazing Race is one of movement with varying backdrops. Segments don’t have to be created to be more entertaining, as anyone who travels knows. Entertainment and craziness can happen as soon as one steps off an airplane in another country and culture, particularly if you are traveling without a lot of direction.

The Amazing Race feels natural to me. Perhaps this is because there is not an endless amount of time–or at least footage of people who blather on about each other and their inner thoughts. Heavens, does everyone who ends up on a reality TV show watch the same video on how to talk on a reality TV show? I hope it’s not catching.

Can you imagine what it would be like if we all talked with each other in the same tones of voice with the music notes highlighting tension?

In Amazing Race we get Jennifer screeching at Nathan; Ronald acting like an admiring and disgruntled dad towards daughter Christina; and Nicholas shaking his head at his grandfather’s antics. Then there’s Vyxsin and Kynt who were characters from the get go, and are still characters, but are shown as being people just like anyone else as time goes on. TK and Rachel, also still in the race, seem like if you ran into them in their regular lives, they’d be–well, regular.

People on the Amazing Race are on the move, trying to buy tickets, working on being polite and understood. People don’t have time to work on their personas while they are traveling thousands of miles at a time.

The other thing about Amazing Race that is done well is that there’s a decent look at the countries where the contestants travel. There is a sense of place that if you actually went to one of these countries you’d have some idea of what you might see. In Survivor: China, you could have staged the show in Hawaii, put up a few Buddha statues and a fake temple and the show could be the same. For example, when told to enjoy their last night in China, there were the last three contestants lying in their bamboo lean -to blabbing on and on with each other. What kind of enjoyment is that? What actually lets them know that they are in China? Did someone say, “Welcome to China?” Where are the Chinese people? The Chinese American contestant doesn’t count.

Then when they woke up there was breakfast in front of a small Buddha statue looking like an offering to the ancestors. This is co-opting culture in my opinion. The element of culture is there without any explanation of what it means.

Instead the last three squealed at discovering pancake batter and got busy with a frying pan and the fire. Watching them cook pancakes on a fire made me think of that WoodGas Camp Stove I reviewed. A WoodGas Camp Stove would come in handy on Survivor. In Amazing Race there is always, as far as I remember, an explanation of cultural traits as part of every activity. While browsing through photos of past episodes of Survivor: China I did see some elements of Chinese culture like when there was an archery contest using an ancient Chinese cross-bow.

Also, with all that torch carrying and recapping of what has happened from days ago to just last minute, on Survivor it’s like a non-stop tiki torch party–and a soap opera. With soap operas all you really need to do is watch once in awhile to stay abreast of happenings since the people will talk about what they did several episodes ago for several episodes. Seriously, I used to watch Days of Our Lives years ago. I happened to catch part of a show last week and knew what was happening right away. I spent little time catching up–five minutes tops. Kayla and Patch are back on. And Sammy and Lucas are still having problems, although Will is grown. Like a soap opera, the contestants also wear outfits they wouldn’t wear elsewhere. How many ways can you fashion an outfit out of a piece of cloth that says Survivor: China on it? Don’t get me started on cultural sensitivity and dress. At least in Amazing Race a factor isn’t how one might look in a bathing suit. Remember Don, Nathan’s grandpa?

If you miss one episode of the Amazing Race you can miss an entire country and not see events like Nathan’s dad stripping down to his underwear while pole vaulting over a ditch. You wouldn’t know that the Internet can often come in handy while locating the best airline ticket options, but you should go directly to the Air France office if you’re in Ouagadougou. Also, if you have a hernia, don’t let that stop you from traveling. Ronald has a hernia and he walks on stilts.

As I browsed through the various episodes of Survivor: China to see what I missed, I did see that some folks made it to the Great Wall while those back at camp ate Asian pears. That’s authentic.

If you ever do make it to Jiangxi province where Survivor: China was filmed, it is filled with historical sites, lakes and mountains. It’s also the porcelain capital of the country. Porcelain has been made here for 1,800 years. Oh, so that must be why in this particular episode of the final four the contestants had to stack various porcelain dishes. No one said this is why they were stacking them to see who could stack them best in order to win a spot on the Tribal Council–another co-opting of culture. Tribal councils do exist. I’m not sure this what they look like. If so, where do they get their tiki torches? Walmart? Oh, well. I ended up switching Survivor: China off once I found out who won. Todd. He’s the guy taking a drink. For some reason, I thought he’d win when I first tuned in. I just couldn’t listen to anymore talking about who did what and why for 45 more minutes. Anyway, Survivor Micronesia is next. It looks like Survivor: China considering that the torches were in full blaze in the teaser. And, I have to say, from the small bit I saw, it still looks kind of like Hawaii. I guess Hawaii: Survivor 16 might sound kind of dull, but consider this. Amazing Race 12 still has a ring to it.

I did see that Amazing Race is back on next Sunday. Hooray!!! It’s been okay dabbling in Survivor, but I’d much rather watch people like TK and Rachel looking like I have when I’ve traveled. Their photo reminds me what it’s like to sleep on the deck of a ferry from Greece to Italy back in the day when I was traveling with a boyfriend who, come to think of it, looked a lot like TK. I bet these two went to sleep without talking about the endless minutia of the day. I know we did.

Our ferry ride was after hoofing it from the island Skopolos to Athens via another ferry that left at night . There were two train rides also involved–the one to Athens and the one from Athens. We barely made the connections and almost missed the ferry. That would have made us miss our train ride in Italy and added a couple extra days to our trip. It felt so great to lie down.

Amazing Race Season 12, Recap 5

Last week, Martha’s recap left our Amazing Race traveling pals in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. That’s where this episode started off since the teams stayed here for a night of R&R at the Hotel d’Ville.

Although the people of Burkina Faso were described as “warm and kind” by one of the teams, that’s not the general feeling the teams are now having towards each other. Their determination to win the race has heated up, so no one is chit chatting or making nice whenever the teams’ paths cross.

“Our eyes are full of fire and we’re going to use our fire [to win] ” explained Rachel when the teams found out that their next leg was to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Everyone seemed peppy with this news. “I heard they make some great pastries,” said Ron, as he and Christina headed off in a taxi to find out how to get there.

Getting out of Burkina Faso was not exactly a slam dunk. Since the rules said they had to use an official ticket office, the teams had to find one that was open.

Here’s a tip. If you’re ever in Ouagadougou, head for an Air France office. While most teams piled into the Onatel Internet cafe first after finding the airport virtually empty, Ron and Christina headed to the Air France office in town to let a ticket agent do their searching for them. This got them on a plane with the least amount of fuss. That’s my opinion.

Ron did do what any savvy traveler should do, though. When the first flight option was not satisfactory, he insisted that the travel agent look again and include another airlines. “She’s fossilizing her mind to Air France,” he said. For once, his stubbornness paid off. They got an earlier flight.

Watching people try to get flights out reminded me just how fickle air travel can be. Flights that are full may actually have room. That’s what Nicolas and Donald found out. They were told a flight was full only to find out that one of the other teams bought two tickets on that flight after they were told it wasn’t available. Nicolas’s frustration with the ticket agent may not have helped.

Whether you’re flying from Ouagadougou to Vilnius via Paris then Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Prague, you’ll arrive in time to still be in the thick of the race. Christina and Ron, who were the only once to travel through Prague, arrived last, but because they weren’t frazzled, they were able to catch up fairly easily and Ron’s hernia had a chance to settle down. As soon as they figured out that navigating Vilnius in a car wasn’t easy, they hired a taxi so they could follow it to St. Ann’s Church, the place where they would find the instructions for their first task. What a great idea. Keep this in mind. It’s possible to hire a taxi to get you where you need to go, even if you are driving a separate car.

TK, also going with the stay cool approach, explained “Teams that stress out and use useless energy will loose.” As this episode progressed, illustrations of this principal at work were increasingly evident. For example, the blonds, unlike cool Ron and Christiana, found their frustration with each other increasing by the minute, and it almost got them hit by a bus. I could almost hear the sound of crunching metal, but they missed disaster by a hair. While they drove around bickering and looking for the church, most teams were already involved with the first task.

The task involved a scavenger hunt through the Old Quarter of Vilnius, a lovely area of quaint, baroque style buildings of apartments, cafes, restaurants, and shops. One of the team members had to find a woman doing a chore such as beating a rug in order to receive a clue, plus a basket of baked goods. That clue led to another person who the basket was to be delivered to, and who had another clue to another location and so on. The idea was to simulate a Lithuanian message service.

I loved this part. The number of people who agreed to take team members to the spots they needed to go to was heartwarming. Everyone who knew where a place said “Sure” when he or she was asked, “Can you take me there?”

If you ever feel like no one in the world feels helpful anymore, head to Lithuania. The people are gems, at least on a reality TV show. One of the things I also liked about this segment is that it enlisted the help of many Lithuanians. They seemed as if they were having as much fun being part of the race.

TK and Rachel and Vyxsin and Kynt breezed through this task, totally opposite to Nicolas who was vexed by this little game. His communication problems with getting info out of people seemed to have followed him from Burkina Faso to Lithuania. Although, he and his grandfather arrived in first place, they were one of the last to get all the clues and head off to Rumsiskes, the town where Lietuvos Liaudies Buities Muziejus, an outdoor ethnographic museum is located.

As soon as Vyxsin and Kynt arrived at this living history museum, they lit up. The traditional Mid-Summer’s Festival was going on. All the people dressed up in medieval garb and pagan wear made them feel right at home, Kynt said as he and Vyxsin headed off to search for a Travelocity gnome among 100 others. “It’s a lot easier to care for than a chicken,” said Vyxsin, as they found their gnome. Gnomes are popular items in Lithuania. I expect you could pick one up one of these babies as a souvenir. From the looks of the ones throughout the gardens and on windowsills the variety is extensive.

Once the teams found a gnome, they had to complete the road block. Once choice was to walk on old-fashioned board stilts, and the other was to count all the slates on a very, very, very long picket fence. Oh, I could have so nailed this one. Walking on stilts is one of the things I can do. Counting those slates would have made me mental, though.While the teams who chose this task were counting, the folks at the festival played music in their faces, banged sticks on the slats, and basically did all those things that make you want to slug someone.

Ron had the most dramatic moments with his stilt walking. He ended up falling hard in the dirt, but picked himself up, hernia and all, to make a rousing 3rd place finish with Christina calling him her hero.

If you’ve ever wondered how traveling can pull people together or drive them apart, this section of the episode was it, particularly if your names are Jennifer and Nathan. My word, those two would win if there was a race for bickering and throwing verbal barbs. The blonds were almost as bad. They stopped getting along in Burkina Faso. While they were arguing about how best to count the slats, Nicolas, who discovered he made a mistake, but kept his cool, was able to get the number of slats correct (717) after adjusting for his error, and head off with grandpa to the Pit Stop at Aukstaitija Windmill. They came in next to last.

The blonds, in tears, arrived at the Pit Stop as the sun was setting. The sky, along with the circa 1884 windmill did make a lovely backdrop for their demise. What they learned by this experience is that their life of manicures, pedicures and facials back in the U.S. didn’t amount to a hill of beans on this global dash. As they strode back up the hill past the windmill, their silhouettes against the brilliant reddish- orange streaks of the sky, their last comments were to the effect that they would always be friends. Aw. That’s sweet. From the looks of next week’s episode preview, I’m not sure if the same could be said of Nathan and Jennifer.

Oh, yeah, who came in first? TK and Rachel. Their coolheadedness and pleasant ways got them a 10 day-trip to Japan. Azaria and Hendekea were happy to come in 4th and didn’t seem at all disappointed that they lost their first place standing on this particular leg.

Amazing Race Season 12, Episode 3 recap

One way to start off an episode of the Amazing Race with a few guffaws is to send the teams to a place most of them can’t pronounce.


” Oogadoogoo? “


Can you say Ouagadougou? (roughly pronounced aWa gaa doo goo) The blonds, Shana and Jennifer could. So could Azaria and Hendekea. The rest of them were fairly hopeless, but raced off with zest and determination to the airport in Amsterdam, the city of Episode 2, to catch a flight to Burkina Faso, West Africa via Paris. Some, though, were still not sure where they were heading for the third leg of this Amazing Race journey, even after they jumped into their taxis hoping to get on a plane first.

After reading the destination card, someone shouted, “Find out where the hell is it!” “I think it’s in Africa,” said someone else. Of course, Azaria and Hendekea, the self -proclaimed geniuses, knew where it was. “We’re from Ethiopia–so we’re comfortable,” they said, a little smugly, perhaps. Comfortable or not, they didn’t make it on the first plane.

Only Nate and Jen made it on the 7:20 am Air France flight. This strategy is called– if the flight is full, get on the waiting list. The rest of the gang were on the 8:00 a.m. flight –even Christina and Ron, who huffed along, gallantly racing through the airport while complaining that his hernia was acting up. Gotta give it to Christina–she didn’t break her stride. I had the feeling that she’d have dragged her dad by the legs if she had to in order to get him on that plane.

That flight, of course–since this is real life– was delayed due to mechanical failure. Even so, the teams tore through the Paris airport when they landed, and made it on the Ouagadougou flight–the only Air France one of the day. All were happy once more–except for Nate and Jen, who earlier had barely restrained their glee when they first settled into their seats, thinking that they had the edge. Nope.

“There’s the grandpa,” said Jen when Donald sauntered onto the plane.

“Damn,” said Nate.

You could almost hear the growl in her voice when Jen added, “Glad you made it.”

With a quick series of camera shots, Burkina Faso was introduced before the Air France plane landed. The one shot that irritated me was the one of the masked dancers. It’s the cliche shot that’s meant to capture the exotic, I suppose, but has little to do with what daily life is really like in West Africa. After that though, I found that much of the footage was an accurate portrayal of what Burkina Faso would look like to the average Westerner. I particularly loved the shots of women carrying large enamel bowls filled with goods on their heads–very typical and astounding.

The blonds, Shana and Jennifer, for example, found out that their sex appeal wasn’t going to keep them from being taken by the taxi driver who drove them to the train station. They established the price before they got in, he agreed, then switched the amount they had to pay once he got them to where they were going. The problem was they gave him a larger bill and wanted back change. Travel advice? If you’re traveling in a country where people bargain, never expect change back. Give the exact amount if you can.

As with a lot of travel in West Africa, the adage “hurry up and wait” applied here. The teams found out that the train to Bingo, a remote place in the middle of nowhere, wasn’t leaving until the next morning. This gave me the opportunity to want to smack Donald upside the head when he made sleazy comments about the sisters. He pronounced Marianna and Julia “feisty,” “hot” and a “little bitchy, but not bad.” Blech!!!

The train ride to Bingo was one of my most favorite sections of this episode. I took a 36-hour train ride from Dakar, Senegal to Bamako, Mali once, and the scenery outside the train window looked the same–vast, scrubby and dry with villages dotting the landscape. For the most part, the teams handled being in a place that was a far cry from Ireland and the Netherlands well. If any of you thought that Shana and Jennifer might have been overacting to those flies, you can’t imagine what the flies are like. Relentless and EVERYWHERE. It’s startling how many flies can converge, even on a sleeping child. It is possible to get used to the flies, but they drove me NUTS when I first moved to The Gambia. NUTS. Plus, it’s hotter than the blazes in this part of West Africa, and I bet since it rained during this episode, we’re not talking dry heat. So, I’m cutting Shana and Jennifer a break here. I can relate– and I love traveling in Africa.

Once the teams hopped off the train in Bingo, a village that didn’t appear to have one house, they were to decide which team member would milk a camel filling a calabash bowl up to a predrawn line and then drinking the milk, once the Tuareg man in charge of this activity proclaimed the bowl was full enough. This was the Road Block. Some teams breezed through this after they got the hang of it. “Nathan, you’ve got to be gentle, you’re handing a nipple,” advised Jen. Of course, blond Jennifer complained about the flies and bugs in the milk. I still can relate. TK pronounced the milk “grainy sweet and warm” after he downed it.

One by one the teams managed to get this task done, but oh, poor, poor, Lorena. She was on her hands and knees weeping in the dirt, in the rain, her calabash empty. At one point, I wanted to jump in the TV and milk that damned camel for her. Poor thing. Watching her suffer was awful in a way. It reminded me of my own hours of desperation while traveling. Always, though, rescue comes. In this case, Julia was the angel of mercy. As she and Marianna were leading their camel caravan off, she told Lorena to milk a camel that had a baby camel near it. Worked like a charm. Soon Lorena’s mouth looked like a “Got Milk?” magazine advertisement after she downed the good stuff.

While people struggled to milk camels, those who finished had to lead four camels through the Savannah to The Detour. This was where the teams had to decide if they wanted to “Teach it” or “Learn it.” Teaching it meant teaching school kids 10 English words, while learning it meant learning 10 Möre words with school kids as teachers. Möre is the language spoken in this part of Burkina Faso. This segment was my other favorite. Part of my Peace Corps job was working in a village school similar to this one. Plus, there’s something fascinating about how people learn. Of course, smarty pants Azaria and Hendekea split their word list in half so each of them only learned five. Maybe they are smarter than the rest of us common folk.

Their brilliance found them finishing in first place. This time this brother and sister duo won a trip to Bermuda. And what does Julia’s goodness get the two sisters? Going home. She and Marianna came in last place. They made it to the detour fine, but got a bit stuck on the language lesson. Lorena and Jason breezed through a little easier, particularly since Jason told Lorena he still loved her despite her serious melt down with the milking task.

See, if Julia had only left Lorena shrieking in the dirt with her spilled milk, these two women that Donald lusted after would still be in the game. But, perhaps Lorena would have ended up in a mental institute and Julia would have felt guilty that she didn’t help when she could have.

**Amazing Race photos from The Amazing Race Official Website

More Independence Days to Celebrate

August is another Independence Day bonanza. The shifts of power didn’t happen all at once, but 1960 was a big year. If you’re in any of these countries expect a holiday. Maybe there will be fireworks or a parade or a speech or two.

  • August 1 – Benin gained independence from France
  • August 3– Niger gained its independence from France
  • August 5 –Burkina Faso also gained independence from France.
  • August 11–Guess which country Chad gained independence from? That’s right, France.
  • August 13–Central African Republic also gained independence from–you guessed it–France.
  • August 14- Pakistan from the U.K. in 1947.
  • August 15- India from the U.K. in 1947.
  • August 17- Gabon. Can you guess the country and year? If you said France and 1960, ***ding ding ding ! [Did you hear the you win bells?]
  • August 19- Afganistan from the U.K. in 1919. Wow, that’s early.
  • August 24- Ukraine in 1991.
  • August 25- Uruguay from Brazil in 1825.
  • August 27- Moldova from U.S.S.R. in 1991
  • August 31- Kyrgystan from the U.S.S.R in 1991 and Trinidad and Tobago from the U.K. in 1962.

*The information is from the International Calendar published by the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison, Wisconsin. They put this calendar together every year and other Peace Corps groups sell it as a fundraiser.

Mega, as in the Biggest Ever, African Adventure Trip

Suppose you have time-lots of it. Let’s say you have 44 weeks. Perhaps you’d like to go overland from Morocco to South Africa by way of Egypt. Here’s a travel adventure that will take you through 10 game parks, various cultural and historical landmarks, and enough thrills like rafting and tandem sky diving that you’ll have stories to tell for years. Countries not typical as tourist hot spots are included in the mix. Angola, for example, has only allowed tourists in since 2004.

In Angola you’ll see Portuguese influenced architecture and gorgeous beaches besides the 3rd largest statue of Jesus in the world. The other countries in this multi-stop, pack-in-variety approach are: Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, DRCongo Zaire, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt.

The highlights of this tour calledTrans Africa. Europe–CapeTown-Nairobi-Istanbul read like a cross between an outdoor wilderness experience, a cultural bonanza and a journey through an African history book. Read the itinerary and you might find yourself chomping to take this trip on. I sure am. R&R opportunities and the chance to luxuriate are built in. Africa Travel Center also offers shorter version African adventures where only parts of this trip are included.

* photo taken in Benguela, Angola by zokete.