The Amazing Race, Rachel Brown, Dave Brown

Rachel and Dave Brown of madison are one of 11 pairs criss-crossing the globe completing challenges, with a $1 million prize awaiting the winning team on CBS’ hit reality show “The Amazing Race,” which kicks off its 20th season at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19.

ROBERT VOETS — CBS

By sheer coincidence, as I was leaving the Joy Formidable show last week, I saw a familiar face standing outside the Majestic talking on a cell phone – Dave Brown, one-half of the Madison-based "Amazing Race" team I've been following all season.

Seeing the Wisconsin National Guardsmen and Apache helicopter pilot in the flesh was a good reminder that a) he's a real person, not a character on a television show, and b) he's a real person who could snap me in two like a breadstick, judging by the size of him. So I was entering Sunday's episode really hoping that I'd have nothing but positive things to report.

I didn't need to worry. Not only did Dave and Rachel romp all over the competition last night – they won so early that they basically took the second half of the episode off – they did so with an impressive spirit of teamwork and mutual encouragement. ("Babe, you're a fricking workhorse!" Dave told Rachel after they won the Fast Forward challenge, a sentiment that would look great on a greeting card.) During the post-win interview, Rachel said the team had analyzed what was working for them and what wasn't and adjusted accordingly.

This time around, Rachel and Dave opted for a grueling "Fast Forward" challenge, which, if they win it, allows them to skip all the remaining challenges and head right to that leg's finish line. The challenge was to neatly stack 150 bales of hay, and with Dave throwing them off the truck and Rachel stacking them, Team Madison rocked the challenge. (Dave: "The Midwestern work ethic really kicked in.")

That put their only "Fast Forward" challengers, the Jersey Boys (who decidedly don't have a Midwestern work ethic) in a really bad spot. Losing the "Fast Forward" meant they had to do all the other challenges way behind the remaining five teams, so it was no surprise to anybody when they got eliminated.

But it was still a fun episode, set in Baku, Azerbaijan, that required teams to survive a helicopter crash simulator, find a single apple in a car crammed with apples, and/or to clean the oil off a hairy Azerbaijani man who had just taken a crude oil bath. ("It takes a lot of time to clean oil off someone's body," says Vanessa, making us all wonder where her expertise came from.)

The whole oil-sponging challenge was really funny; border agents Art and JJ were so hilarious cleaning their hairy bather off ("It was strange, but it was good") that if they lose the Race, and I hope CBS greenlights a reality show where they bathe people each week.

The show is taking a week off for the Academy of Country Music Awards, but will be back on April 8 with a trip to Africa.

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