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Last week, as all of you except the Canadians will recall, the Browns reentered the race and karma took the Hanlons down like a rodeo bull would a cowboy. Despite the Hanlons totally deserving it, I was leery that their absence would take a lot of the unintentional humor out of the show. I fear, dear readers, that I was right; however, so far that’s being made-up-for by utter hysterics on the part of some people and some falling-apart on the part of certain teams. Katye Fogal and the Geniuses, I’m looking at you. So let’s get rolling here.

Boring Exposition

The seven remaining teams are still in Boston, where a morning wake-up call from Robohost tells them they must unlock the code “that protected America’s most secret journey.” What secret journey? America, did you do the walk of shame? We told you not to get mixed up with Mexico. Mexico will ply you with tequila and before you know it you’re shambling home in the early-morning sunlight, carrying one shoe, makeup running and hoping the neighbors don’t see. I mean, so I’ve heard, and all. Mexico’s a smooth talker. * disclaimer: it’s entirely possible I’m not as funny as I think I am.

Anyway, their search, intones Robohost, begins outside their door. There’s a newspaper lying out there, and each team snatches it up as they run for their vehicles. They all seem to easily recognize their clue as a reprint of a Walt Whitman article on the Atlantic Avenue tunnel in Brooklyn. I’m not clear on what the article actually says, but presumably it informs the teams that the tunnel was built in 1844, sealed up in 1861, and rediscovered in the 1980’s. (Well, that part wouldn’t be in a Whitman article.) You can find more info on the tunnel and on Whitman’s writings that mentioned it here.

As a side note, it’s interesting to me that they’re going to an abandoned rail tunnel, as I spent last night with a friend looking for the overgrown and sealed entrance to a rail tunnel in my town in which a train, complete with about three workers, was buried in a roof collapse in 1925. And the train is still there, which I find very spooky. Anyway, totally irrelevant, I’m just in an over-sharey mood.

So, anyhoo. All the teams set off for Brooklyn. The Browns, taking their clues from the time period and from the “secret journey” bit of the puzzle, surmise that the day’s puzzle might have something to do with the Underground Railroad.

In Car Genius, there’s some snippery going on over whether Sam will be physically able to keep up. Charles, the skinny blonde one, thinks not. Sam says he feels belittled just because he’s not as physically fit as the others – he has flat feet and asthma, apparently. I don’t remember anyone saying that Sam was slowing them down before, but if it’s coming up now, it’s clearly going to be an issue.

In fact, many of the teams are starting to grate on each others’ nerves. The Southies are snapping at each other as well. Right behind them is Team Air Force; they get a call from their new pals the Fogals, who’ve hit construction detours.

I Guess Idiocy Trumps Historical Accuracy in TVland

In New York, we see a manhole surrounded by construction workers. I’m sure the locals just love having traffic backed up so a bunch of reality show contestants can go down a hole safely. Nearby, an old man is singing, and you’re not going to believe me, but I recognized the song before any of the subsequent hoopla about it, because my mother used to sing it to me. It’s “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” an old song about the Underground Railroad, and I’m not sure where my mother came across it, unless it was in her folkie days in the 60’s. Anyway, the drinking gourd is the Big Dipper – the North Star can be found using the Big Dipper as a guide, which is also something my mother taught me. The rest of the song, in fact, is a coded guide for slaves attempting to escape to the North. The teams will catch up on the relevance of the song later, but I’m going to go ahead and post an informational link here.

So. Anyway. The USA girls actually get there first, and receive a call from Robohost telling them that Whitman left a message along the tunnel, which they must go find. Incidentally, messages about “follow the drinking gourd” are chalked on the wall at the entrance and further down the tunnel. Now, what in the world Walt Whitman has to do with the Underground Railroad is beyond me, because I’ve been all over the Internet and while he did oppose slavery, I can’t tell that Whitman helped escaped slaves himself. I’m fairly sure he wasn’t leaving secret messages anywhere, either. God, this show pisses me off sometimes.

Anyway, the girls troop down the tunnel, eventually stumbling over a pile of Civil War-esque memorabilia. The drinking gourd message is chalked on the wall here, too, and while the girls poke through the pile of stuff and even come across a book wrapped in cloth, they decide the wall message is what they’re here for and memorize it, and leave the tunnel.

Dummies. The Air Force, Genius and Southie teams all arrive – the geniuses leave Slow Sam up top, making him feel left out – and they all quickly find the wrapped books. The wrapping is actually a yellow flag that says “Don’t Tread on Me” and has a coiled snake picture. Um, that’s from the Revolutionary War, NBC, not the Civil War. Linkypoo. Grrr, pick an era and stick with it!! This pseudo-historical flip-floppery has me more irritated than the slipshod editing, or Katye Fogal’s whining.

*grumble* Anyway, the “book” is really hollow – no explanation is even attempted for that one – with a pair of old-fashioned-looking red eyeglasses in there. Using the glasses, teams are able to see that their “Don’t Tread on Me” flag actually bears an additional clue: “Beneventum Plantation, Georgetown, South Carolina.” The glasses are such an obvious “National Treasure” ripoff. The book also contains a copy of the Drinking Gourd song.

To prove they’ve gotten it right, Robohost calls – haven’t teams realized he always calls to tell them what to do next, if they do that bit correctly? – to add some urgency: first team to find the end clue in this leg (or something like that) wins $30,000. <--- in my head, that’s said in a Dr. Evil voice.

The three teams leave, and team Miss USA – who appear to have just been loitering on the sidewalk, thus wasting any lead they might have had if they’d been right – see the books and realize that they’re cute but stupid. The girls run back in for one, and when they get the call about the money, realize they must end their alliance with the CIA team.

No skin off the CIA’s noses – they decide to work alone as well. In short order, the Fogals arrive and, leaving Katye up top “to pray,” find the clue. The Browns come last, leaving big Keith above ground, and get the clue.

In My Mind, I’m Goin’ To Carolina

Now, it’s a 700-mile drive to South Carolina, which takes the teams all night – 14 hours or so, I think. I’d also point out that while they’re doing this, they’re driving right by other historically significant sites, such as Thomas Jefferson’s home (well, ok, it’s an hour off I-95, but still), George Washington’s home, and other sites that one would think, if NBC were intent on playing up historical connections, that NBC might have planned a challenge around. But no, we’re going to a plantation in nowhere, South Carolina.

The teams spend their hours in the car with various important tasks – the USA girls discuss the timing of their last shower, the Southies sleep and look exhausted, and the Fogals use their laptop to look up the drinking gourd reference. They discover the historical significance of it, as mentioned earlier, and hope that will give them an edge.

What seems to give them an edge is Pa Fogal’s lead foot, because by the time they get to South Carolina, they’re in second place.

The plantation has been in existence, in some form, since the early 1700’s. One owner, Christopher Gadsden, invented that “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. As the Southies, who are in the lead, arrive, we see an old Victrola on the front porch, playing the Drinking Gourd song.

Robohost explain that sometimes, slaves hid maps to the North in things like quilts, embroidering coded directions on them. So teams must use a quilt like that as a map to get through a nearby swamp, the sort of swamp escaping slaves might have had to navigate. Of course, our teams will have the benefits of sunlight, medics on call, and the lack of white men with guns and dogs chasing them. Anyway, the map quilt has symbols that correspond with words in the drinking gourd song – things like “sun”, “quail”, “old man” and so forth. By using it properly, teams can find boxes in the swamp that are marked with these symbols. If they take the boxes in the correct order, they’ll get to the last one and whoever’s first wins the $30,000.

What Were You Expecting From a Swamp, Kermit Singing On a Lilypad?

The Southies take off. CIA and the Fogals soon arrive, and the Fogals realize that the map and the song line up. Pretty much every team but the Browns arrive and begin wandering around the swamp, mostly aimlessly. The CIA team finds a box with the Old Man symbol on top, but their key won’t open it. Ok, let me get this straight – these teams have maps, GPS units and directions that practically tell them how to figure this out, and all of them are floundering around lost?

Finally, however, the CIA team finds the sun box, which is the first one, and manages to open it and find a bunch of keys to the next box. They realize the map follows the song.

Meanwhile, the Browns arrive, the Geniuses fear getting lost, the Air Force thinks their survival training is an advantage, and the Fogals are all hot and whiny. Teams also start pairing up in the swamp – Fogals and Southies, Air Force and USA. The Fogals and the Southies find the Sun box, while the CIA – exhausted already by the swamp – find the Quail box, count the keys and realize they’re ahead. The Geniuses are next to last, and the Browns are just wandering around lost.

The Southie boys say they never realized how hard it would be for people who had to do something like this (i.e. cross a swamp) to escape slavery. What did they think, slaves could just climb a fence and catch a bus? I think they also mentioned how those poor people had to do it in the 1700’s, which isn’t anywhere near accurate, but whatever.

Anyway, a lot of this part of the show is just people floundering around the swamp. I could describe it, but just imagine a swamp, and people falling in it, and you’ve pretty much got it. Too bad the Hanlons are gone, though, this would be perfect for them, apart from the bits about following a map and finding clues. They even already own camouflage.

This Girl Needs To Be Smacked

So, swamp = boring. Thank god, then, for Katye Fogal (no irony intended.) She starts absolutely freaking OUT, screaming that she can’t go on. She won’t give her dad her pack, screaming, “No! What part of NO don’t you understand?!” Words cannot express the contempt I feel for this whiny little drama queen. And she is 25, people! I’d forgotten that, and thought she was about 17, and even then thought she was immature for her age. I find it utterly unbelievable that a grown woman would behave that way. If I ever acted that way my mother would probably slap me, assuming I was hysterical and had lost my mind. I wish someone would do that to Katye.

Pa Fogal says he didn’t see blood or bones sticking out, so he knew she could push through it. Katye doesn’t appear to believe so; she screams “I don’t want to do this anymore!” as if she were three and someone made her sit on a scary Santa’s lap when she needed a nap.

The Southies are as astounded as I am. One says Katye has “a flair for the dramatic,” which is putting it mildly, and that if he was doing that to his parents, he wouldn’t even be around for the outcome. I’d say that with Katye’s hysterics, she’d never make it a mile as an escaped slave, except I’d guess the plantation owners would probably welcome her absence.

Finding Out Who Your Friends Are

Meanwhile, the geniuses are fighting, because Charles is getting irritated at Sam’s slowness and need for rest periods. He says Sam isn’t used to this kind of physical exertion, although Charles looks like he weighs 90 pounds soaking wet and isn’t a “hike through the swamp” kind of guy either.

The CIA team arrives at the third box, where they receive a call from Robohost. He informs them they can eliminate a team member for the rest of the entire hunt. Now, I’m still not sure if that means, the hunt for this leg of the race, or until the actual finish. I suspect that we all think it means forever and it only means for this leg. However, the teams all think it means forever. The way it will work is, teams must take a two-person boat to the next stop. They’ll have to send the boat back for the third person, IF they want to keep that person. And doing so will delay them three hours. So it’s a choice between team or time.

The CIA team seems to decide team is more important, although when they leave behind the one guy, he seems less sure, calling out, “You better come back for me. I know where you live!”

The Southies say it’s no choice, they’re a three-person team.

The Fogals arrive at this point (with the Southies saying Katye’s a nightmare) and Katye finishes her freak-out, saying she’s in pain and can’t go on and they should just leave her. Her mother begins crying at this point, asking dramatically how Katye could even ask this of her parents. Gee, anyone else wondering where Katye gets it? The Fogal parents get in the boat, with mom still crying and Katye still on the bank whimpering.

Elsewhere in the swamp, the Browns are slogging around, and Keith, the biggest one, falls. He says he’s torn a muscle, and that he needs to go back. Who else thought that ambulance shot in the previews wasn’t going to be Katye after all?

While this drama ensues, the Air Force team decides that no one gets left behind. No surprise there. Team USA leaves behind a girl who says the others should do what’s best for the team, but that she has no doubt the girls will come back for her.

Naturally, the CIA team returns for their team member, as do the Southies and Team USA. We see some shots of Katye tiredly whimpering under a tree, and looking a LOT like her mother, when her mom returns for her. Ma Fogal says she couldn’t imagine saying goodbye and “losing a daughter.” What? It’s just a game, lady. It’s not like you’re deciding to push her off a cliff for good. Although that’s not a bad idea.

Wherever the boats are taking these people, the CIA team is in the lead, and figure they’ve got no more than 10 minutes on the next team. That would be the Southies, who are running, trying to catch up. After a lot of footage of people running, making it look like either team could find the last box and the $30,000, the CIA team makes it. They take the fake gold coins as instructed and revel in having beaten the Air Force team. They’re told their journey will end at a “safe house” with an American flag.

Back in the swamp, a medical boat comes for Keith. It takes him back to dry land and he’s put in an ambulance and whisked off. The other Brown brothers decide to continue the hunt, to show Keith his sacrifice is not in vain. Have they even gotten to the point where they know they can abandon a team member?

So there’s that drama, plus back at the boats, the Geniuses are leaving Sam behind. He thinks they’ll be back for him, but he needn’t be so sure – in the boat, the other two are seriously contemplating abandoning his slow ass. Charles says the race is bound to get more physical from here and that Sam is a hindrance. If the Browns drop Keith, they say, the Browns could pass them and they’d lose. The other one says that if they do it, Sam will hate them forever; Charles says yes, but it’s the most logical decision. Does he really think that’s a defensible position when it comes to hurt feelings? If so, he’s going to have a lot of trouble with the ladies.

Next week:

Anyway, while I’d love to tell you whether the Geniuses come back for Sam and whether the Browns can go on without Keith, I can’t. It’s “to be continued.” Bastards. So next week there’ll be rest of Swampfest, plus we’re promised “clues around the globe” and a spooky task in a graveyard.