'Richard Hammond's Crash Course' Recap: 'American Bullfighter/Paddle Boarder' (2.03)
November 5th, 2012 11:00pm EST
Richard Hammond tackles two more occupations in this week's episode of Crash Course: in Texas, he takes on the rodeo and in Hawaii, he tries to master the open water. "Who signed me up for this?" he wonders aloud, and it's a valid question, as the theme of this installment seems to be 'things that put Richard Hammond in very real danger.'
The intrepid host arrives in Texas and meets up with Clint Hopping, who is one of only three hundred professional bullfighters (or, as they're more commonly known, rodeo clowns) in the country. It's Clint's job to teach Richard not how to ride the bull, but how to distract and avoid it. Clint tells Richard that his career choice is horrible for his health insurance premiums, as "it's in the top two most dangerous things you could ever do." This does not fill Richard with confidence; nor does his new work wardrobe, a black T-shirt and shorts, which he thinks make him look like "a member of Motorhead's road crew." The film crew starts laughing at Richard in shorts.
Clint begins by introducing Richard to the various bulls he'll be dealing with in the rodeo, but Richard doesn't get to work with any of them just yet - his starter bull is a wheelbarrow with attached horns. Handy chalkboard play-by-play with some cute stick figures informs the audience that it's Richard's job to get between the bull and a fallen bullfighter. Clint explains to him how bullfighters take advantage of a human's ability to turn better than the bull.
Richard then makes the mistake of asking Clint about any serious injuries he may have suffered; Clint tells him that the most serious ones have been head injuries, and he can't really remember them. That's not a good sign for Clint, but Richard happens to have the other man's medical history for his edification and that of the viewers at home. The list includes two concussions, two fractured collarbones, and "a myriad of broken arms and fingers." Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
After just two hours of instruction, Richard is handed some pads and pronounced ready to face a live bull. His first attempt at bullfighting is anticlimactic, as the bull has already decided to head in the opposite direction before Richard actually gets all that close to him. Take two is more dramatic, with the bull heading right for Richard, and he just barely gets out of its way. He asks Clint why he and his colleagues risk horrible injury, and Clint tells him it's "for love of the game." He takes a very nervous Richard fishing to calm his nerves - but Richard isn't a great fisherman, either.
The next day is the day of the rodeo, and Richard is still haunted by his previous close call. Clint admits that he thinks Richard might be a better spectator than bullfighter, and has intentionally misplaced Richard's pads in order to break that suggestion to him. That makes this episode the first time a 'crash course' has been aborted before Richard has completed it.
Hopefully he'll do better when he goes to Maui to try paddle boarding. According to Richard's voiceover, it's "the fastest growing sport in the world," and he'll train in Hawaii before heading to Oregon to compete in a race. His help for this 'crash course' is "surf legend" Dave Kalama, who will be not only training him but joining him in that race. Dave gets Richard into the appropriate outfit (more shorts) and explains that learning stand-up paddle boarding will be a process of trial and error.
Richard gets a decent start in the water (after complaining about the water temperature and wondering about sharks), and Dave lauds his first-day performance. On day two, Dave explains to Richard how he hand-crafts each of his paddle boards. and enlists Richard's help in making one.
A tape skip and a jump ahead, and they're in Hood River, Oregon, preparing for the race. They'll be facing "high winds [and] big waves," the presence of which instantly deflates Richard. "Clearly, I'm gonna die," he moans as Dave tries to explain to him that it's really not that bad. Richard's lack of enthusiasm is warranted, though, as it's so windy that he has problems even getting set before the starting horn. A few minutes into the race, he falls off his board, and then later on he curses out a passing barge. As if that's not enough, he falls off a few more times before having to be rescued by a lifeguard. Needless to say, he doesn't win the race.
Dave might be "extremely impressed" with Richard even attempting to become a paddle board, but Richard himself is happy that this particular 'crash course' is over, and heads for the nearest bar.
What did the audience take away from this episode of Crash Course? As mentioned in last week's recap, the show is not quite as strong when it features two careers in an episode, rather than one, because it cuts in half the time viewers get to spend with each occupation. Whereas the pair combined last week were in the same city and sometimes do actually go together, this installment doesn't quite mesh as well, unless you count that both 'crash courses' made Richard fear for his life.
There's some insight here into what makes these folks potentially risk their lives for sports, but it feels as if the show's only scratching the surface. Clearly, these are people with a certain amount of fearlessness, particularly the bullfighters, whose whole job description involves intentionally putting themselves in harm's way. While the episode certainly increases respect for those folks, Clint and Dave both probably have all sorts of stories to tell, and it's a shame that there wasn't time to get more of them from either man.
It's also interesting to see Richard when things aren't working so well for him. He's no shrinking violet; he's been through quite a bit over the years, and he's very bright, and fans of Top Gear are used to him generally emerging out the other side with a smile on his face. Even if he does mess things up, he usually takes it in stride. It's surprising to see his rodeo day come to a halt, or to watch him curse as he struggles to paddle board. That's not typical for Richard - but it also reminds us that even folks as resilient as he have their bad days. Most of the time, they're just not shown on national television.
That's the point of Crash Course in action - not that Richard failed, but the experience of seeing him try and realizing just how much some of these unknown or unsung occupations take, both physically and mentally. If Richard Hammond can't do it, then that's really saying something.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit Digital Airwaves and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Photo Credits: BBC America