Thomson's Falls, in the western part of Kenya, was discovered in 1883 by Joseph Thomson, the first European to walk from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. Next to it is the Thomson's Falls Lodge, first built in the 1930's and still retaining much of the colonial atmosphere. At an altitude of 7800 feet, it is a popular base for high altitude training for international athletes. It was also the latest Pitstop on our racearoundtheworld.
Attention is on Willow & Tara, in a totally embarrassing and intrusive way.
"Well, aren't you going to tell us?" Anya asks pointedly. "They're such sweet people, you know normally you see PDA and you're like all, give me a break already. But they're not like that, though I think they act more discretely at home," she says in a voice-over.
"Not telling," Tara tries to fend her off. Willow grins.
"I'm going to bug you and bug you and bug you," Anya teases.
"Oh alright, Tara named a constellation after me," says Willow. "Tara has this habit of giving unconventional names to star systems, and she made up a name for me," she interviews.
If I have a buck for every time those two come up with something cute but not overly syrupy like that, I can retire from my day job and do this writing gig full time. And still have enough left over to be able to afford imported sourdough bread from Poilâne Paris.
Here's Phil's voice-over, just as endearing but in a different way. He wonders if Rupert & Randy can continue their winning streak, or if Xander & Anya can hold their alliance with Willow & Tara and avoid the pitfalls of coming last.
12.32am. Rupert & Randy take out their clue and find out that they are to drive towards Nairobi until they reach the equator. There they will get a certificate and their next clue. Randy's blonde coloring seems to be fading out, and he's not wearing any gel, leaving him with a quite pleasant sandy mop that's kinda cute, really.
12.40am. Willow & Tara appear a little bedraggled in crumpled, formerly colorful T-shirts. Looks like sleep deprivation from the night before is catching up with them, oh, a little KF kicking in? [/evil grin]
1.19am Adam & Oz in matching baseball caps, what an odd sight. Oz looks fine in a twelve year old sort of way, but on tall and serious Adam, something's off. I think he's more of a wide brimmed hat guy.
1.33am. Faith & Robin count out the money, they have $199. "We got complacent, and the competition is heating up, it's getting more difficult. But we're having a good time, the balloon flight this morning was unforgettable," says Robin.
2.17am. Buffy & Riley at the cluebox. "Now's the time to show the others what it means to be professional champions, if this involves coldly picking them out one by one, that's what we'll do," Riley says. A hell of a lot more convincing if they haven't been slipping position leg after leg. And, professional champions? You mean I can open up my Yellow Pages, look under "C" and find the numbers for a champion? And what does a champion do in this day and age?
2.28am. Xander & Anya, the last team to depart. Sixth place twice in a row, they can't afford one more slip up.
Even though it's dead of night, the sign at the side of the road is fully illuminated. It screams "You are Now Crossing the Equator" in large bold letters. There is a souvenir shop by the sign, with the obligatory sign that says "Get Your Equator Certificates Here! Fully Endorsed!" Endorsed by whom? What for?
What's new? Opening hours 8am to 5pm. Alright, let's get ready with the music. A one, a two, a one-two-three,
B-U-N-C-H-I-N-G, don't want you anywhere near.
Alright, alright, I never made the cheerleading squad. Didn't want to anyway, nyah nyah nyah.
Teams spread out their sleeping gear on the equator, or go back to their cars to sleep. They wake up early morning and have the not so envious task of getting ready using the rather basic facilities available.
"You prepare yourself for differences in standards when you go abroad, but the bathroom facilities here are, well, let's just say, pretty gross. Most of the time it's a hole in the ground, even though I prefer the hole to something I don't want to touch. We've been lucky, the first few nights were in hotels or campsites, this was the first time roughing it for me. I don't want to think how it'll be like if we go to India or another poor country," Buffy shudders.
At eight o'clock the shopkeeper comes out with, wait, a pink plastic basin and a matching bucket, one empty and the other filled with water. He gets everyone to gather round and explains about how water flows in different directions on either side of the equator. To illustrate he releases a plug set at the bottom of the basin and pours water from the bucket. Then he takes the team to the other side of the sign and repeats the procedure. On the face of it, the water does flow in different directions when flowing out through the plughole.
To be honest, the teams are more concerned with getting their certificates and the clue. While waiting for the man to painstakingly write the certificates out, we get a chance to find out more about this water effect from our resident scientist, Lovebird Willow.
"It's about as real as David Copperfield flying. Supposedly this is caused by the earth's rotation, something called the Coriolis Effect, but the full impact is felt only in large, slow moving systems like weather patterns. How water flows down a drain depends on how you pour the water, not due to the earth's rotation," she explains. Aha! Now we know.
They get their certificates, supposedly signed by some authorized signatory (yeah, the shopkeeper, authorized my right ear).
They also get their next clue that tells them to fly to Bangkok, Thailand and find Bangkok's tallest hotel. They are excited as hell as they run to their cars and proceed to drive to Nairobi, which Helpful and Sexy Phil tells us is 3 hours. Buffy must be pleased we're not going to India (yet, may be?).
They drive along fairly decent roads, although there are still some hellmouth-sized potholes. "I'm not going to miss these," Xander muses as Anya negotiates her way round one of those babies. "Do they have roads in Thailand? Man, I don't think my stomach can take any more," he whines.
What? Clearly, Xander, you are confusing Asia with Africa. You have never googled for Bangkok buildings or heard of the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, consistently voted Best Business Hotel in the world, have you. Sometimes I wish I'd paid more attention to my French teacher, so I can pass off as French, or Latvian, or whatever nationality that's as non-American as possible. Sheesh.
My attention, thankfully, returns to the teams arriving at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Who wins first prize for consistently aggressive driving that brings his team first? Oooh pick me, Miss, pick me! The answer is Riley! But no, that's not right, hehehe, this time he is beaten by Adam's long legs. [*okay, we've been through this before. Long legs do not fast drivers make. Otherwise Uma Thurman will drive, you know, way faster than Michael Schumacher.*]
TallShort goes straight to the Kenya Airways counter, "When is the first flight to leave for Bangkok?" they ask. The ticket agent doesn't quite understand the rather basic question, and they spend a few minutes explaining. Eventually they book themselves on KQ230, leaving at 9.45pm. That's right. 9.45pm. Like, it's still mid-morning and they have an evening flight. "Everyone will get the same flight," Oz states.
Goldies arrive next and get on the same flight. "We're going to have to run fast to get out of the plane when we get to Bangkok," Riley reminds Buffy. No, not just the plane, there's the whole terminal and taxi stand business, FarmBoy.
The remaining four teams arrive and there's no trouble getting tickets. Anya, with her Geneva experience, and back on her "I'm a Shrewd" modus operandi, asks the agent about earlier flights. She is excited when she hears about a 7.25pm flight via Dubai. But her excitement is short-lived. "For a minute I thought I was onto something, but it turned out that the Dubai flight arrived an hour after the direct flight," she interviews.
There at the terminal, the current team alliances become apparent. The YDCs are no longer one coherent group. We have the Lovey-dovey Alliance and we have the athletes — Goldies and Efficiency. And then we have TallShort and R.Randy, who seem to have come together the way the last few people at dodgeball seem to always congregate together, safety in numbers I guess.
"We're thinking of finding a hotel," Tara says to Anya. I bite back a smartass remark about Lovebirds 'getting a room' as I see how tired they are, Willow in particular seems barely able to keep her eyes open. Ah, Killer Fatigue, how lovely to see you again.
Teams board the Kenya Air flight. "Wow, Ace, look at this," Faith points out to Robin. Oh, I didn't know there's a second hand market in planes, I really should check out ebay more often, may be I'll find myself a bargain. There are signs on the plane that have Air France and Korean Air labels, this 747 sure has done its rounds.
They settle in for a long flight. "We haven't slept much the last couple of nights, though we hate that all the teams are together, personally I'm glad for a few hours' of sleep," Willow says. She still looks to be under the thrall of KF though.
A lonely Amazing Yellow Line traverses the globe and lands in Thailand, the Land of Smiles. Bangkok airport is as hectic as Nairobi Airport, but there's a marked difference.
"Oh my god, we have real air-conditioning," Anya exclaims as she and Xander exit the plane first. Naturally there's a mad rush to the taxi-stand, with screams of "Taxi!" reverberating around the crowded concourse. Locals and other tourists wisely step out of the way.
Pirates get the first taxi and tell the driver to go to the Baiyoke Hotel. "We, actually, Willow and Tara found out about the hotel, back at the Holiday Inn Nairobi. It wasn't difficult, I'm pretty sure the other teams have the same information," Anya expositions. Well, with the what, eight or nine hours they have in Nairobi, any team that doesn't have that info should suffer a 24-hour time penalty, if you ask me.
No problems with the hotel, but getting there may be a problem. "Bangkok is nothing like what I expected," says Randy. "I had images of the King and I, you know, all royal palaces and docile Thai girls and elephants. Instead, I feel like I'm back home in New York, only with even more pollution and signs I don't understand. I only hope the traffic's not the same."
Oh Randy, be careful of offending the god of wishful thinking. Because that's exactly what you get for saying it out loud, you jinx everything. Next thing we see them stuck in a huge (or as Trump says, yoooge) traffic jam. [*Of course, the Donald would have had the road cleared for him, or lined with cheering supporters, or will get rescued by the Trumpticoptor.*] Unfortunately Randy is neither the Donald, his Viceroys, Boyfriend Bill or K-k-kelly, so he doesn't get red carpet treatment. He asks the taxi driver what's the matter but gets a shrug, he asks if there's another route and gets another shrug.
"Calm down. Looks like the traffic is thinning out a little," Rupert consoles him.
Randy's convinced the driver's deliberately trying to get more money out of them, or is being lazy. Or something. He just can't believe this is happening. He taps the driver and impatiently asks what's going on again, and gets a shrug and a stream of Thai this time. Look, Randy, Mr Taxi Driver doesn't want to be there either, give him a break. As for getting more fare, anyone who's ever taken a ride in a taxi can tell you he'll make more when he's not stationary.
"I was having a New York moment, but sitting there like lame ducks, it was frustrating," he interviews.
Meantime, some of the other teams, namely Pirates, Efficiency and Lovebirds, find taxis with GPRS, reach the Baiyoke Hotel and get their clue from the concierge. They are to find the Erawan Shrine and give traditional offerings to the four-faced statue there.
It's taxi time again.
In other news, TallShort and Goldies arrive at the hotel and get the clue.
In more other news, R.Randy seem to have cleared the traffic jam, they arrive at the hotel as well.
Phil, in glorious hotness that is off-white linen shirt and pants that are slightly Oriental in styling [*he must have gone shopping at Jim Thompson's.*], tells us that the Erawan Shrine is a holy place built to counter the supposed bad luck during the construction of the Grand Hyatt hotel next doors, and has remained in place because the locals believe a visit to the shrine brings them good luck. Teams need to purchase flower garlands or wooden elephants from the vendors outside the shrine and offer their purchases up for good luck.
Lovey-dovey Alliance walk through the smoke and incense that is the Erawan Shrine. Now I'm glad we don't have smell-o-vision, cos the thick incense smell will probably get me tripping so high that I won't come down from my sandcastles in the skies for days and days and what will you, my dear readers, do without my brilliant recaps? [*cough, cough, cough, that's enough of the self-congratulations you ego-freak.*]
As soon as they get off the taxi they are surrounded by women and children selling stuff, shades of Narok here. They buy garlands, offer them up to the four-faced statue and receive a clue that tells them to make their way to Wat Po, Bangkok's oldest temple.
"Let's get out of here, I don't want to smell like I've walked through a volcano," Anya complains.
"I think it's nice, shows how devoted the worshippers are," says Tara. Anya shoots her a 'you're kidding me' look but stays tight-lipped.
On their way out they pass Efficiency getting out of their taxi. They get their clue and reveal there's a Yield ahead.
TallShort. Adam towering over the women selling their garlands and statues, while Oz seems to be buried in a sea of women. "Caution, Yield ahead," they inform us again. Oh how I hate these Yields, they do nothing for the Race. Kill Yields!
Goldies de-taxi and are mobbed. "Flowers for Brahma," says one woman hawker, shoving a bunch of garlands in their faces and tries to put one over Riley's head. "Buy flowers," she insists.
"Get off me!" yells Riley, as he tries to shake her off. She is more used to this than he is, the more he brushes her off the more she says "buy flowers. Beautiful flowers."
"They're not beautiful, look at them, they're rotten and torn. I'm not buying this and don't touch me you stupid woman," he spats.
Buffy intervenes and buys a garland off the woman, who gives Riley the evil-eye before leaving. Buffy doesn't even try to bargain.
"You're just encouraging them," he snarls.
"We need to buy an offering, it's in the clue," Buffy points out.
"We could have bought from someone else, not that, that bitch," he says.
"They have to make a living, besides I think you shouldn't be shouting at her," says Buffy.
"It's part of their culture, they expect it," Riley rebukes.
"It's not a part of any culture to be rude," Buffy argues back. She storms off with the offering, cutting off any retort from Riley.
We've had what, seven seasons of TAR now, and some aspect of the Intolerable Traveler always show up at some point. I understand it goes both ways, that in some countries the harassment can become unbearable. But how difficult is it to shake your head and walk away? Calling people names, that's never smart.
Amongst the dramarama, R.Randy also arrive and get the clue.
Like Phil says, Wat Po is an old and important temple in Bangkok. Now in, say, Stamford CT (where we started the Race), having a temple with a buddha statue will be enough to attract tourists and the faithful. But in a city that has a temple [*wat, they call them wats, watson. And I so couldn't resist that.*] seemingly on every street corner, you have to do more to stand out.
That doesn't include having a huge yellow Yield sign at your entrance gate, but that's what the Lovey-dovey Alliance find when they de-taxi. They choose not to exercise the Yield, which is acceptable for me, at this stage of the race a Yielded team will probably catch up and nobody wants to waste it.
Just behind the eye-catching Yield sign is an eye-catching cluebox. At the cluebox they learn it's the Clinking Coins Roadblock, where the designated person will have to go to the giant reclining buddha, pick up a copper bowl full of coins, and drop the coins one by one into smaller bowls arranged all along its length.
Now this statue, it's like 150 feet long and 40 feet high, with the buddha leaning back on his elbows. It's also covered in gold and is a pretty impressive sight. Hmmm, I'm thinking this may be what Wat Po is famous for, and what attracts the tourists and faithful. May be, hmmm? [*stop being sarcastic, no one understood the joke.*]
Oh, there's a twist. There are 108 small bowls altogether, but the number of coins in the large bowl may not be exactly 108. The Coinblocker must find one that has exactly that number, there can't be any shortage, or excess, when they get to the end of the line. If they don't have exactly 108, they have to go back and start again. It's all about luck, and which bowl they pick. Awesome.
Anya takes it for the Pirates. "I have a natural affinity to money," she says as she enthusiastically starts dropping coins into the small bowls.
Tara is the Lovebirds' representative and also starts, concentration apparent on her face.
Clink clink clink. Not enough coins. Too many coins. Go back to the beginning. It's mind-boggingly numb, watching them. By the start of Anya's third attempt and Tara nearly finishing her second, Efficiency arrive. Faith takes it for her team. Now there's a small jam as they shuffle along the line o' bowls.
TallShort arrive, Oz volunteers, perhaps cos he's smaller and less intrusive? Or has smaller hands so it's easier to handle the coins? [*Huh?*]
Goldies make their entrance and note they haven't been Yielded. "It's the second time I'm tempted to yield Randy, but I have to think strategically and this is not the right time," Riley voice-overs. Riiiight, strategically as opposed to what? Emotionally? The words coming out of Riley's mouth today, perhaps that's a form of KF, or I might just be too generous to him.
Buffy is the chosen one. "I'm going to be the slayer on this task," she says. The god of wishful thinking splashes water in the bathtub and reaches for a fluffy towel.
Anya's affinity to money does work out, she gets it right in her fourth attempt. Whoop! They go. And get a clue telling them to fly to Singapore and find the no signboard at the two durians. They puzzle over what a 'due-ryan' is, but decide it's better to ask at the airport. They hop into a taxi. "Go fast!" they instruct.
Faith gets it in three. Yay Efficiency!
R.Randy arrive and Rupert opts to take the task.
Tara and Oz finish almost together. "It took me five tries!" Tara exclaims to Willow as they pick up their backpacks. "You did great, baby," Willow smiles and gives Tara an encouraging squeeze.
Adam & Oz get into their taxi. They don't call each other "baby" or give each other encouraging hugs but I sense Adam is pleased with Oz's performance anyway.
Buffy is becoming increasingly frustrated. She has too many coins. Or too few. In the middle of the task, she drops the copper bowl and coins roll out all over the floor, making clinking and jingly sounds. It's endless, she never seems to pick the bowl with the right number of coins. Riley looks on with steam coming out of his ears.
Adam & Oz have a little taxi problem, their driver has pulled into a gas station. Ah, the Need for Fuel scenario that is a must in every TAR season. "What are you doing?" Adam asks the driver. Okay, Adam, I've harbored a grudging admiration for you and your team-mate so far, but asking the obvious? So not like you.
"We need to hurry," Oz presses the driver.
"Okay, I no charge you big fare," the driver answers. Which doesn't make sense. What's a big fare? As opposed to small fare? Big as in Adam-sized and small like Oz? They smartly pushes him about what he means, and ends up getting a discount. But time lost is forever gone, so they'd better get going quickly.
Back at the Reclining Buddha, Rupert triumphantly finishes. Randy flashes a 'beat that, sucker' smirk at Riley who by now has the look of death on him (or that he's constipated, it's the same look). Buffy soldiers on, what can she do? Drop, clink. Drop, clink. Story of her life. "I simply couldn't find the bowl with the right number of coins, I kept trying and trying, somebody didn't like me today," she interviews.
Xander & Anya at the airport, looking for flights to Singapore. The next one is on Thai Airways flight TG409, departing 1515, they have 13 minutes to make the gate.
I'm looking at airtimetable.com and I count 22 flights, I kid you not, 22 flights between Bangkok and Singapore a day. The earliest at 0710 and the last one at 1940. At around the 3 o'clock mark, which seems to be the time teams arrive at the airport, there are flights almost every hour. It's the plane version of going to Penn station and looking for a train to Hicksville, which, in case you've never had the pleasure of experiencing the 'lovely' Long Island Rail Road, is around 4 trains an hour.
Faith & Robin at the airport, they get the Thai flight by the skin of their teeth. Xander & Anya, needless to say, are none too happy to see their biggest competition on the same plane.
Willow & Tara at the airport. Too late for the 1515, they're told there's one at 1600 on Singapore Airlines. "Let's see if there's an earlier flight on a smaller airline," Tara says, turning her eyes to the large departure board.
Willow is definitely suffering from KF because she seems glued to the Singapore counter. "It's close enough, let's just get on this flight," she says, sounding very tired.
"There may be one a little earlier that buys us 20 minutes, we're already behind Xander & Anya and probably Faith & Robin," Tara urges.
Willow takes a deep breath but doesn't make a move.
"Will! Snap out of it!" Tara almost shouts.
Willow looks at her girlfriend with surprise and a little astonishment. Then she does snap out of it and smiles sheepishly. "Sorry honey, let's go," she says. "I was definitely suffering from lethargy at that point, it's been a long few days, with not a lot of sleep, jet lag and change in surroundings. I'll have to work harder to get my second wind," she interviews.
Tara's insistence pays off, they find a 1540 on SAS. "Not an airline you'd expect to be flying from Bangkok to Singapore, but it did get us into Singapore 25 minutes before the SQ flight," Tara smiles, happy at the result.
All together now: Tara is a Star!
Adam & Oz get the 1600 SQ7, getting in at 1925.
Rupert & Randy race up to the SQ counter, they miss the 1600 by minutes. They plead, they beg, they use the 'emergency' trick, but no can do sirs. [*at least they didn't use 'doctoro'.*] The next one is at 1720 on Garuda Indonesia (an interesting name for an airline, I must look up what 'garuda' means).
Wait? Where are the Goldies? Why, still at Wat Po, still at Coinblock. Karma coming back at Riley for his insensitivity at the shrine, but poor Buffy is the one suffering. She's tired and totally flagging. "C'mon, babe, you gotta do this," he tries to prop her up. "I'm trying," she whimpers. "Try harder," he admonishes. "This is too difficult," she continues. "You gotta do this," he says. "I can't," she sobs.
Will they make the flight? Will they? Will they?
Of course they do. But not after we have commercials, naturally. Like I'm stupid.
The Amazing Yellow Lines make their way the short distance between Bangkok and Singapore. I can't believe how narrow that bottom part of Thailand is. In case we're confused, Phil summarizes:
- Xander & Anya and Faith & Robin on the 1515 on Thai TG409, arriving 1835
- Willow & Tara on the 1540 on SAS SK973, arriving 1900
- Adam & Oz on the 1600 on Singapore SQ7, arriving 1925
- Rupert & Randy and Buffy & Riley on the 1720 on Garuda GA853, arriving 2045
We're now Singapore, otherwise known as that tiny red dot at the tip of the Malaysia peninsula. If Bangkok is sprawling chaos, Singapore is sterile affluence. One of the richest nations in that part of the world, Singapore just celebrated 40 years of independence and in 2004 was voted the best managed city in the world. [*how do you, like, manage a city, do you give it tasks and do quarterly performance appraisals?*] The flipside is that her citizens have traded off certain personal liberties in exchange for the prosperity. But to most Singaporeans, what's a little apathy and censorship when they can live their lives in peace and enjoy a high standard of living?
There are certain groups that don't enjoy such freedom, including anyone opposed to the government and basically people who don't think or act like the sheep the government wants them to be, for instance the 'deviants against the order of nature' that is the GLBT community. But this is not the place to talk at length about that.
Returning to our Racers. They are suitably in awe. "What a wonderful airport, everyone speaks English, there's definitely a very western feel about Singapore," Robin explains.
They beeline towards the information counter and are told the 'durians' can be found at the Esplanade concert hall, so called because the buildings are shaped like one of those spiky fruits. I hope they don't smell like them, oh man, I can totally remember the smell of durians. People who love them simply can't get enough, people who hate them simply can't get far away enough, I've never seen mere fruit evoke such polar reactions. I just hope they don't have eating durians for a task, hmmm, then again they may.
The first two teams arrive and get onto taxis. After the self-driving in Europe and the matatu roller-coasters in Africa, it's perhaps fitting that they enter the land of taxis in Asia. And friendly drivers who engage them in conversation!
"You going camping?" the taxi driver asks Efficiency, eyeing their backpacks.
"No, just on a trip around the world," Faith answers.
"Ah, I know," Mr Driver says. "It's on tv, my son loves it."
They have TAR in Singapore? Yes, I'm told they also have Survivor, American Idol (and their own Singapore Idol), The Bachelor, The Apprentice, The Simple Life, Joe Millionaire and Extreme Makeover, amongst others. And that's on terrestrial tv. Okay, can you seriously overdose on reality tv? I think so, if you watch Singapore tv.
He drops Faith & Robin off at the Esplanade, and true enough, the roof looks exactly like giant pillows covered with sharp spikes. Wouldn't want to accidentally fall on top of them, my butt will hurt too much. [*that is, if you're a giant the size of these huge babies.*]
They run inside to enquire about the 'no signboard', which turns out to be the name of a seafood restaurant inside the complex. They get the next clue a few minutes before Pirates, and find that it's a Detour.
In this Detour teams choose between Text Your Way or Serve Your Way. In Text, teams take part in one of Asia's fasting growing obsessions, text messaging, and solve the riddle of "What are the 5Cs that Singaporeans look for?" by following clues texted to them on a cellphone. In Serve, teams play their part in another Singaporean pastime, eating, by traveling 4 miles to a housing estate, purchasing 5 meals from the local hawker food stalls and delivering them to 5 different units in the estate.
Both Pirates and Efficiency pick the food delivery and open the envelope to find their 'menu'. "I could recognize some of the dishes, like chicken satay, but have no idea what popiah or char kway teow are," Anya says. She pronounces char kway teow slowly, trying to hit each syllable, but not doing too well.
Lovebirds at the airport, they hop on a taxi to the concert hall and get to the Detour. They decide to do Text. "We text each other all the time, I knew getting on the same network will come in handy one day," Willow grins. They pick up their cellphone and press the necessary key combination to indicate they're ready. The message comes back bsmt 1 tckt mch. "Basement 1 ticket machine," Willow's eyes shine the brightest we've seen all day.
They get to the ticket machines and get the first "C", C1:how u pA. "How you pa?" asks Tara. "No, not pa ... pay! How you pay. How do you pay, oh, credit card," Willow whoops. And they have their first "C" out of five.
Their second clue tells them they need to find suntec yeLo z0n bsmt3 jag 3-09 licns. Wow, that's hard. They run off to get help. At the lobby of the concert hall, they find a couple of ushers, who recognize the first part of the clue and tell them that Suntec City is a large office/shopping mall complex only a few minutes' walk away, the complex is split into different colored zones. "Yellow zone, basement 3!" Willow exclaims, that girl has found her second wind. They wonder what 'jag 3-09' mean. "We'll find out when we get there," Tara says.
Hey, this Detour is kewl! It's not 'take this form of transport and go there', it actually uses a little brainpower, and I think will suit the Lovebirds.
Meanwhile the food deliverers have reached the hawker center and decide on the most prudent strategy when you have to buy stuff you can't pronounce in a foreign country — get a fern. Efficiency asks a young man even more well muscled than them while Pirates corner a group of teenagers. "Can you help us with these food purchases?" Anya asks, very to the point she is.
MuscleFern takes Efficiency round the various stalls while TeenFerns split up and quickly help Pirates make their orders. Then it's just a question of waiting for the cooks to finish cooking. Robin, in particular, is very interested in the unusual food and is amazed at how quickly the cook can assemble a dish, especially in the confines of a small space. "Wow, these places are clean, cheap and the food looks and smells great. My restaurant can learn a thing or two from them," he says.
Efficiency get their first meal, a chicken satay set, then hurry to the second stall to get more chicken, this time roast chicken with rice.
Pirates find out what char kway teow is, it's fried rice noodles with meat & veg, an enticing looking combination, especially piping hot from the cook's wok. They move off to find mutton murtabak, a kind of curry.
Efficiency get their last dish, nasi lemak, a combination of coconut rice, fish, chicken wing, egg and condiments.
Pirates are at the same stall and get the coconut rice, together with an order of popiah, a thin rice roll that looks like a giant white spring roll. Wait, did Efficiency forget this? It seems so, cos they're at the exit of the hawker center and they're checking to see they have everything, and discover they've missed the popiah. They run back, although not as quickly as usual cos they're carrying a plethora of containers of people's dinners.
Elsewhere, Adam & Oz arrive, make their way to Esplanade and decide on the Text Detour. They follow the message to the basement 1 ticket machine and spend a few minutes figuring out the answer of C1:credit card. They're even more puzzled at the second message. Uh-oh. "Are you sure we should be doing this?" Oz asks. "I'm not sure," says Adam.
Lovebirds at Suntec Yellow Zone Basement 3, the carpark. They guess correctly that 3-09 is a parking spot and they need the 'licns', or license plate. "Let's key it in," Willow is definitely taking the lead on this Detour. Yay! Here's the next "C", C2:d licns iz 4 a?. "The license is for a? Car of course." Woot! she is on a roll.
Straight-away they get the third clue, to go to a bank and key in the branch code, which is displayed on a small plaque outside. They do that and get the third "C" riddle, C3:u cn git dis frm an atm. They get the answer of Cash easily. Cash, Car, Credit Card. 5Cs. Hmmm, I see a pattern here.
TallShort are still struggling with the second text message, the helpful ushers have disappeared. They try at a nearby ice cream shop and the helpful scoopers direct them to Suntec City.
Back with the food deliverers, they make their way around the maze of apartment blocks. Efficiency make their first delivery, but get no tips. Bad people! A few minutes later, Pirates knock on the same door and deliver more food, they don't get any tips either.
And so on. Efficiency at one apartment. Pirates in another. "These apartments are really small, but we're told the majority of locals live in estates like this. I'd hate to have neighbors so close," says Anya.
Cut to Lovebirds at their 4th clue, C4:most xclusve addr, lvng n lap f luxury. "What the frilly heck?" Willow mutters. They find a Pizza Hut and ask for help with the clue. "What's C4? Some sort of explosive?" someone with pizza all over his fingers asks. Hey buddy, you're supposed to be helping, not passing sarcastic remarks. They explain they're supposed to be looking for the 5Cs. An atom bomb explodes above the guy's head, "Cash, Car, Credit Card, Club, Condo," he recites. Hey dude! You're not supposed to do that! Well, there are no rules that say he can't. What are Willow & Tara supposed to do? Clamp his mouth shut as soon as he starts? Apart from the hygiene factor (guy's got pizza all over him after all) they won't be quick enough, and they can't exactly erase what they hear from their minds, right?
They thank him, I get the feeling even though they are grateful for his help, they can't wait to get out of his vicinity. "We had help from someone at Suntec City, he basically blurted out all the answers, but we followed the clues anyway," Tara explains. They key in 'condo' and get the next clue, C5/Clue:hom frm hom, a slice of apple pI n scotts rd. "We need a map," they say.
Pirates get to their final delivery and receive the next clue. "Make your way to the American Club at Scott's Road," Whoa, we're back to spoon-fed clues, I praised the Amazing Producers too soon.
Efficiency finish not long after, but have difficulties hailing a taxi. The ones that are empty are not picking up passengers, they claim to be on call. One of the posters on the forum explained that in Singapore, taxi drivers get a small additional fee for callouts, so they cruise around, not picking up street customers, until they get a dispatch. Oh, frustrating.
TallShort get C2 and C3. They too, puzzle over C4. Let's hope they find PizzaGuy too.
Pirates and Lovebirds arrive at the American Club. The Lovey-dovey Alliance is reunited. The clue tells them to go to the beach at Sentosa Island which is the Pitstop for this leg of the race. More taxi adventures.
A kind person calls a taxi for Efficiency, good use of locals there. They get to the American Club and ask the driver to wait for them. Good, good, good, I like it when teams learn on the job.
After commercials who do we see arriving at the airport? It's Goldies and R.Randy, we see it's 9.25pm. Oh my, the flight got in 40 minutes late. That's bad, very bad. Cost-you-the-race bad.
Luckily they have no problems getting taxis to the Esplanade. "We met a Singaporean businessman on the plane, he told us about the Esplanade and that the No Signboard is a famous restaurant inside, so we're hopeful we can pick up some time," Rupert expositions.
They get to the Detour and both teams decide to go for the food delivery. "I wish we had Mr Tan with us, wouldn't it be funny if he lives at this housing estate?" Randy says to Rupert. "I think he's quite anxious to get back to his wife and daughters," Rupert answers.
Riley doesn't do so well at the food stalls, he can't communicate properly with the locals. I don't think it's the English, I think it's the way he's rushing his words cos he's so tense. Buffy takes over and shows the list to the cook. "Communication hasn't been great today between us or with other people. There's definitely a little strain showing in our relationship," Buffy says.
Night shot of Singapore, with modern office buildings, gyrating dancers and families tucking into dinner. At the bottom of Singapore is another small island devoted purely to leisure and fun. This is the island paradise of Sentosa.
There on a beach of pristine white sand (imported I'm told) is Phil, in crisp whites, like he's the manager of the Raffles Hotel. He tells us that this is the Pitstop and the last team to arrive may be eliminated.
Hey! It's Willow & Tara, who have obviously lucked out on a faster taxi driver. Welcome, team number one, you've won a vacation to the Mediterranean. Oh my god, they're so pleased. "We started the day, well, I started the day, bone-tired. But we had a lucky break with flights and did well on the tasks. We're so excited to be in Singapore, looking forward to more," Willow interviews, looking more refreshed. Playing with text messages can do that to you, huh?
We see Xander & Anya running up, even as Lovebirds are on the Bathmat. Yay to the Lovey-dovey Alliance! They're mighty happy to be team number two. "It's a nice feeling, to be back in the top half, to think we were almost eliminated last leg," Xander smiles.
Faith & Robin arrive and check in as team number three. "Just having a delay with cabs can cause you one, even two spots, we have to be stronger from now on," Robin says.
Adam & Oz finish their Detour, find the American club, get to Sentosa. They're team number four, but are a little behind the other three teams.
Now we have a little competition between R.Randy and Goldies, a place in the final five is at stake. They rush to deliver their food, passing each other a few times in the corridors of the apartment blocks. Oh, Randy has also learnt his taxi lesson, as they get their last clue they ask for help to get a cab.
This little trick gives them a slight edge, they get to the American club, then Sentosa, before Goldies. Phew! Rupert & Randy, you're team number five.
Buffy & Riley finally run up to Phil, they look deflated. Phil does a mild eyebrow plop, thinking, why are you giving up, you haven't been philminated yet. And true enough, this is the second of three pre-determined Non-Elim legs and the Goldies are still in the Race.
Somehow, I don't think they're caring that much at that particular moment.
Teaser for Episode 9
Taxigate, again. Riley being rude, again. "No, we don't have room for you."
Anya throws up over the side of a tiny boat rocking to and fro over gray choppy waters.
Randy and Oz appreciate the assets of several bikini-clad beauties.
All that, plus Zorbing!
Pepper Magazine: The Worst Kept Little Secret
by Staff Writers
They are clowns, virgins, former CIA operatives, retirees, models, 'little people' and Harvard Law graduates. They come in all shapes and sizes, older couples have a habit of surprising everyone with their resilience. We haven't seen new couplings, though there's been two proposals and a fair share of breakups.
These are the people who are willing to give up weeks of their time to race around the world to win a million dollars.
When The Amazing Race ("TAR") first appeared on our screens during the fall of 2001, it did not attract the type of attention that its sister reality TV shows like Survivor or Big Brother enjoyed. But like Apple Computers, a good vintage of Pinot Noir and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it soon developed a loyal following who were fiercely protective of their 'little gem'.
The first season, upon repeat viewing, was more raw and at times lacked the slickness of later seasons: the production staff were learning how to be 'amazing'. But the Racers were interesting and the challenges actually, well, challenging.
Then it started winning Emmys. And with that the attention of the casual viewer and, more importantly to the network executives, the media and the advertisers. As a result, quality dropped precipitously in the name of higher ratings: Racers were cast based on looks or controversial 'hooks' (or were rejects from Survivor auditions); tasks became easier; they aired 3 exhausting races virtually back-to-back.
Things looked bleak for the purists. Until this season. Generally considered the best since TAR Classic (as Season 1 is known), twelve teams traveled from the East Coast of the US to England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Kenya, Thailand and are currently in Singapore.
Pepper has been avid followers of the race. TAR has always been gay friendly, from the still-popular Guidos from TAR1 to Chip & Reichen, the winners of TAR4. However this is the first time there's been a female couple, in the form of the winners of Leg #8, 'More than Friends' Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay. Amazingly, or perhaps not, in a season that contains a host of young dating or married couples, this is the pairing that has caught the imagination of the viewing public.
"They're so cute, and so obviously in love, it's a privilege to be there, experiencing them getting closer," says Evelyn Cho of Club 71, a popular gay and lesbian club in San Francisco. Cho organizes TAR viewing parties at the club each week and it's packed to the brim every time.
Willow lives in Oakland, has Cho ever seen her at the club? "No, from the articles and interviews I've seen, I don't think she or Tara were out when they started the race. If they decide to visit us sometime, we'll throw them the biggest welcoming party since that time the mayor legalized gay marriages," Cho says enthusiastically.
Certainly the twenty-somethings have become role models for many young gays, desperate to find people in the public eye they can look up to, even if they are not A-, or even B-list celebrities.
"One of the reasons people identify with them is they are real people, well, as real as you can get on TV. They come across as very nice people," Cho adds.
Is the niceness real or manufactured? Are they getting the Kris & Jon Sweetheart Edit? Like any TV program worth its salt, TAR has villains, good guys and comic relief. Unlike other TV programs, the producers have no idea how their carefully chosen cast will behave until the cameras start rolling. To compensate, they give the racers "personality" using some nifty editing — people who are quite nice in real life are portrayed as evil or annoying or bumbling fools. Just ask Life Partners Joe Baldassare and Bill Bartek ("Team Guido"), who were universally hated during TAR1, but turn out to be the nicest people, like, ever.
"That hurt for about two seconds, then we laughed about it. We knew we would be portrayed as the bad guys because of our 'all or nothing' attitude. But look at us, seven seasons later and there's still only one Team Guido!" Joe said via email.
The Guidos agree that TAR has been good to the gay sector and are excited to see another couple doing well. "The race is based on how quickly you get from point A to point B and how well you handle the tasks and the traveling. Age, race, sex or orientation have little impact."
In that respect, Willow's intelligence and advanced computer skills have given Team Lovebirds (as one online recapper calls them) superior advantage on more than one occasion. It took her mere minutes to complete the computer task in leg #1, and she was the only racer to think of searching the internet for an unfamiliar painting in leg #3. That's not to say her partner is a slacker either, when they suffered the humility of coming last on a non-elimination leg, and with the prospect of having no money for a leg to be held in one of the most expensive countries in the world, Tara used her artistic talent to earn them precious funds by setting up an impromptu portrait stall on the sidewalk.
The revelers at Club 71 don't believe Team Lovebirds are receiving a special edit. "You can't edit in things that are not there, so if they are really that nice, that's all you see," says one teenage patron, decked out in flowery, un-coordinated, hippie girl clothing that is a sort of trademark of the couple.
Not hard to believe, from a group that swoon everytime the couple appear — that's right, I said swoon, you have to be there at the club to feel the love — a huge "awwww" accompanies their every single screen moment. Seeing the heartwarming affection and support they show each other, whether partially hidden amongst cherry trees, or hand-feeding a baby leopard, or reverently making a religious offering in a Thai temple, one can't help but join in. It's like the whole club has a crush, know that the objects of their affection are firmly out of reach, but are crushing anyway.
There is no question that they enjoy strong support and an almost awestruck following in the GLBT community, but what of the world at large? One of their reasons for coming on the race is to see if their long distance romance will work out. Willow lives in Oakland, Tara in Birmingham. They met while working together on a BBC web animation series but have not made a firm commitment to stay together, citing reasons such as distance, work and the fear of rejection from their families.
If their families didn't know about the romance before the current season started airing, they will certainly know about it now. Perhaps it wasn't the best way to come out of the closet, but then again, the ploy has worked out, judging by the overwhelmingly positive coverage by the mainstream media.
"Probably the nicest couple on the Amazing Race since Kris & Jon, and showing a more competitive edge than that long distance dating couple," said Entertainment Weekly.
"In this day and age, it seems wrong that this couple should fear discrimination or have doubts cast on their relationship. Come on, Willow & Tara, open your eyes and look at the other teams. Do you think I'm going to cheer for the nasty stunt-casted Riley, the even nastier Snyder or the bland Faith & Robin, when I have you? I may be an old and cynical armchair tube critic, but I'm not blind. Win the race, settle down and have half a dozen kids, that'll make this old heart happy," said Olga Mensch, TV Crictic of the San Diego Daily News.
Competition for the million dollar prize is fierce. Amongst the remaining teams are four athletes, two all-male teams (stronger at physical tasks) and their allies, Xander & Anya Harris of Oxnard, CA, who are probably leading the field in terms of highest placed finishes. It won't be easy. These teams have successfully negotiated Europe and Africa, Asia is always challenging because of the language, crowds and hectic pace. Where will they go next? Who will be the first team to cross the finish line? It's riveting TV, and we at Pepper have no qualms about joining the hundreds of Lovebird fan club fanatics in wishing Team Lovebirds the best of luck.
It's more than just a trip around the world, it's a life changing experience.
Next week, we look at some of the more exotic locations that the Amazing Race has visited. Don't miss the exciting new issue, coming to your inbox soon!
The Amazing Race airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET/PT on CBS.
Pepper Magazine is a fictional (as in, I made the name up) weekly e-zine covering the quirky and the alternative, with a definite rainbow slant. Any similarities to actual or past magazines or publications are unintentional.
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