Amazing Race Recap
It Was Like a Caravan of Idiots
By Kim Hollis
March 9, 2009

We were eliminated? But we were younger, faster and more competitive!

Previously on the Amazing Race, some airplane drama left Brad & Victoria well behind the rest of the pack. So far this season, none of the legs appear to have been close. Every team that has been eliminated has lost pretty handily. As for other teams in the race, father/son team Mel & Mike took home top spot in the last leg, while Victor & Tammy show a lot of cracks in a sibling relationship that might have been shaky to begin with.

We begin the race in Transylvania, home of Vlad the Impaler. By virtue of finishing first in the previous leg of the race, Mel & Mike are first off in tonight's episode, departing at 10:49 p.m. It was nice of The Amazing Race to ensure that this portion of the race began at night, because the creepy quality has a chance to be off the charts.

But no, Mel & Mike read their clue and tell us that they're expected to fly to Krasnoyarsk, a city deep in the heart of Siberia. Once there, they'll go to a hydroelectric dam for their next clue. Mike describes his dad as "part Woody Allen, part Billy Graham, with a splash of Judy Garland." I presume this means that Scarlett Johansson is Mel's muse, but he's very conflicted about it and his own sexual preferences. Or something like that.

Amanda & Kris are off just four minutes later and posit that because they are young and competitive, they have a greater chance at winning the race than everyone else. Take that, old fogeys! Kisha & Jen, Margie & Luke, Mark & Michael, and Christie & Jodi are truly right on their heels, which means that there's already plenty of bunching to start this leg of the race. Even Jaime and Cara are only 45 minutes behind Mel & Mike.

Something incredibly amusing happens when Mark & Michael ask their cab driver to call the Lufthansa desk at the airport for them. Apparently, he hears this as "call the pretty girls in the cab a ways back", because the Jaime & Cara are extremely surprised when their cab driver's phone rings and he hands it to them. When Mark & Michael ask if they are talking to the Lufthansa ticket desk, they say yes! They tell the unsuspecting stunt men that they have a flight for them in the morning at 9 a.m. that goes through Frankfort. For some reason, though, she tells him that the only seats she has are business class. I guess she doesn't have the gumption to follow all the way through with the prank. She hangs up on them, and the cheerleaders giggle uncontrollably. Oddly, the guys think the American accent is odd, but the light bulb never really goes off. Fortunately, their cab driver's sense of humor won't cost them anything.

I mentioned that I thought that Victor & Tammy seemed to be well behind the rest of the teams, and that belief is confirmed when they receive their first clue. The two of them are two hours behind the team in front of them, Jaime & Cara. Victor & Tammy are going to have some work to do to get it back together. The good news is that they're both smart and if they can put a bad leg behind them, they're still one of the stronger teams in the race.

Because Christie & Jodi are flight attendants, they put some of their knowledge to good use by stopping at an Internet cafe to go ahead and book themselves a flight. They're also savvy enough to know which connections are too short to work well.

Meanwhile, the other teams all gather at various counters at the airport and do their best to get set up on the best possible flight. All of them have to make their way to Moscow, and there seems to be just one flight from there to Krasnoyarsk, which means that if someone doesn't make the flight that arrives in that city at 5:40 a.m., we're probably going to be looking at another deadly dull finish.

As it turns out, only three teams get in on the earlier flight to Krasnoyarsk - Mark & Michael, Christie & Jodi (secret flight attendance knowledge pays off!) and Kisha & Jen. Everyone else is grouped together in Moscow, waiting for a plane to take them to Siberia.

But wait! Once the three teams arrive at the hydroelectric dam, they're informed that they can't really enter until 8:30. There might still be hope for the teams that have been left behind, after all. I always hate when The Amazing Race allows for this kind of bunching, as it punishes teams that have strategized well and even had some good luck. The truth of the matter is that luck oftentimes plays into The Amazing Race, and teams that benefit shouldn't have to give up their advantage, in my opinion.

My griping is all unfounded, though. No other teams arrive prior to the 8:30 opening of the dam doors. The three leading teams all race to the clue box and are instructed to proceed to Church of Saint Innokenty, which seems to be located in a small village. This could prove to be interesting, because it's possible that their cab drivers may not know where they're going. Mark & Michael arrive first, and find themselves at the Detour. Their two choices for this portion of the race are "Stack" or "Construct". In "Stack", they must use traditional Siberian methods to make a big pile of firewood. Once this is done to a judge's satisfaction, they'll receive their next clue. The other option is "Construct", where teams will travel on foot to a workshed. There, they'll be required to assemble some shutters that they will then have to go on and install.

Mark & Michael choose stack, which does indeed sound like the easier of the two options (though I suspect it might be a problem for Mel & Mike given Mel's groin injury). Both of the other two teams agree on the same course of action. Mark & Michael get momentarily lost, which gives the flight attendants a slight lead. When they arrive at the stacking challenge, they're greeted by some drunk Siberians who say, "America, I love you!" Like the gypsy thing last week, this feels a little uncomfortable and cliche.

There does in fact appear to be an art to the stacking, as Kisha & Jen note that it feels a lot like Jenga. Mark & Michael think that they've got it figured out, but soon realize they're doing it wrong. All of the teams seem to be wondering if the "Construct" challenge might not have been the better option after all. In fact, Mark & Michael's stack falls down and even knocks down another stack behind it - which means that they're now responsible not only for their own stack, but also for a second one. Christie & Jodi seem to be doing pretty solid work, though.

Meanwhile, the five other teams have arrived and it appears that it could really be anyone's race. Mark & Michael come to the conclusion that they're looking at at least two hours to complete the stacking challenge, and they leave to go construct some shutters instead. It's probably a bad sign that the stunt men have been given goofy theme music. They don't really seem to be following the instructions of this challenge, but rather wandering the village in search of a house with a sign that says, "repairs needed".

Kisha & Jen use their height advantage to complete the stacking challenge first, but Christie & Jodi are right on their heels. The judge for the stacking task thinks the flight attendants are pretty darned cute, too. The next clue tells them to go to the Museum of the Novel "The Last Bow" and enter through a marked door. A note on the clue informs them that there is also a U-Turn ahead. In the past, teams have been somewhat reticent to employ, you know, strategy with regards to the U-Turn. The preview promises a little bit of drama in this area, so I'm actually hoping something interesting happens. For those unaware of the terminology, what teams can do with the U-Turn is opt to force a competitor to do both tasks in the Detour instead of only finishing one. In the case of today's Detours, it really does appear that the U-Turn could set someone back pretty significantly. If the group of five is closely stacked (and they appear to be), it only makes sense that one of the teams would take this advantage.

But wait! It just gets better! In the past, teams had to post their own pictures, letting everyone know who had forced a team to U-Turn. In this case, no identity is revealed, so it's possible to force a team to complete both Detour tasks without instantly looking like jerks for doing so.

Of course, Kisha & Jen realize that they are already in a safe position, so it doesn't really benefit them to use the U-Turn option today and instead choose to wait and see if they might need it in a later leg of the race. (The U-Turn comes up twice during the show, and can only be used once.) Presumably, Christie & Jodi will feel the same way.

Next up on today's journey is a trip to an amusement park known as Bobrovy Log Park, which looks like fun. Of course, it's awfully cold for roller coasters, but we bet that's going to be part of the challenge.

The bunched up group of five teams has now arrived at the Detour site en masse, and all of them are choosing the "Stack" task. As I mentioned earlier, this one might prove challenging for Mel since he's got a groin injury and picking up the logs is going to hurt. The cheerleaders correctly surmise that the father/son team is probably the one to try to pass.

Kisha & Jen have arrived at the amusement park and have been given the instructions for the Road Block. One team member must ride on a three-mile bobsled course that goes up to 55 MPH. Not only must the course be completed in under four minutes, but they must also catch sight of seven letters along the way. Once at the end of the course, they must unscramble the seven letters to spell the name of a famous Russian playwright. I don't want to give anything away here, but if you do a Google search for "famous Russian playwright", his name is the first result.

Kisha performs the task for her team, and though she seems to have fun and gets her task accomplished in under four minutes, she only sees six letters. This means she has to go back to the beginning and start over. Christie gets all seven letters and arrives in exactly four minutes, so the good work the flight attendants have done so far does in fact seem to be paying off.

Back at the stacking challenge, Jaime & Cara soon come to realize that maybe Mel & Mike weren't the team to beat, after all. In fact, they note that the father/son duo is a pair of "freaking lumberjacks", and the cheerleaders start to fret about their position in the race (and rightfully so). Victor & Tammy continue sniping at each other, while Jaime & Cara note that Amanda does nothing as Kris builds their entire pile. This isn't exactly correct. She is giving fantastic instructions. Amanda is top notch when it comes to bossing people around!

Remember Mark & Michael? Well, they still have goofy music to accompany their presence onscreen and they still have yet to figure out what the hell they're supposed to be doing. They figure out that perhaps they have wandered too far, and turn around. What is it with people getting so far off the beaten path this season?

We go back over to Christie and she is stumped by "Name That Playwright". To be fair, she probably hasn't seen Uncle Vanya or The Seagull. Also, in the spirit of not casting stones where they aren't deserved, the only thing I can say in Russian is "I don't know how to speak Russian," which is the only thing I learned in an entire semester taking the language.

As for "lumberjacks" Mel & Mike, their stack falls over and they're back to square one. And the same thing happens to both Jaime & Cara and Amanda & Kris. This is disastrous for all three teams, and puts Mark & Michael back into the discussion for being competitive. Mel & Mike decide to move on to "construct", and by accident follow the clue correctly. They decide that since they can't find the house they're supposed to repair, they'll go ahead and build their shutters, which is what they were supposed to do in the first place. *goofy music plays*

Kisha gets all seven of her letters, and like Christie, she has no idea who Chekhov is. While the two of them ponder that question, Margie & Luke finish their wood stack, and are off to find their next clue. Amanda & Kris decide to do the other task right as Victor & Tammy's stack is completed.

At the U-Turn, Margie & Luke have a decision to make. They have a semi-alliance with Jaime & Cara, and can really lend that team a hand by forcing someone else to complete both tasks. They choose Amanda & Kris, which is probably a good call since they've already struggled with the log stacking challenge. This gives Jaime & Cara the opportunity to complete their challenge.

We go back to visit Kisha and Christie, and Kisha remarks that she knew some bits of Russian words, like "Chek and "khov", so she was able to manipulate her letters until she formed the correct name. She and Jen will go to the Theater of Musical comedy, which is home to the Pit Stop. Somehow, Christie figures out the playwright's name, and they're closely behind the first place team.

Mel & Mike and Mark & Michael agree to work together to find the house where the shutters belong. When Amanda & Kris arrive at the "construct" challenge, all three teams seem to have an unspoken alliance that they'll get through this portion of the leg as a group.

On the way to the Pit Stop, Kisha & Jen get a little lost, which opens the door for Christie & Jodi. And it's enough to give the flight attendants a first place finish, which surprises the heck out of them - and America. Actually, they ran an incredibly smart leg from beginning to end, keeping their composure and always seeming to plan ahead. Who knew they had it in them? Their reward is a pair of motorcycles, which I'm guessing they'll put on eBay. This, of course, means that Kisha & Jen are in right after them in second place, which means they'll be in a virtual tie as the next leg begins.

Over at the bobsled portion of the race, Victor & Tammy have done such solid work that they're now up to third place. Victor does the Roadblock, and of course he instantly knows who Chekhov is. He wonders aloud, "Who doesn't know who Chekhov is?"

The answer to that question is: everyone else. Luke arrives shortly after and has all of his letters, but he has never had any Russian classes, or literature courses for that matter. "Why can't it be in English," he signs. Margie worries that he might become overly frustrated. And he does in fact seem to want to give up. He throws his letters on the ground.

Mel & Mike and Mark & Michael have completed their shutters, and are off to find the house where they belong. Amanda & Kris decide to take their unfinished work out in hopes of finding the right location. Of course, these houses are literally right behind them. I'm not even sure how they're missing them.

Jaime & Cara have finished their stack of wood and are making their way to the bobsled challenge. The good news for Luke is that if one of them arrives quickly enough, they might be able to pay back Margie & Luke for their kindness in U-Turning Amanda & Kris. And what is becoming pretty clear at this point is that Amanda & Kris are in a lot of trouble. I speculated that this leg wouldn't be close, and it won't, but it is playing out a lot differently than I had anticipated.

It's good news for Luke, though, as by writing out the name on paper, he figures it out finally. He's upset, but Margie comforts him and tells him she is confident their position is solid.

We go back to visit the stragglers in the race, and the stuntmen and father/son team finish the building task and realize that Amanda & Kris have already been U-Turned. They realize that this will be crushing news for the team, and there's also a strong likelihood that they're going to believe that either Mel & Mike or Mark & Michael are responsible. Amanda & Kris say that whoever U-Turned them is "shady", but that's just ludicrous. It's part of the game, and it's ridiculous not to use it strategically. You're in this thing for a million bucks and to not do whatever you can to eliminate another team is just silly. Granted, Margie & Luke used the U-Turn more to help some friends than for their own benefit, but in the process they do put themselves at an advantage.

Victor & Tammy arrive at the Pit Stop in third place, while Jaime does the bobsled task. Somehow, she unscrambles Chekhov's name despite claiming she doesn't know any Russian playwrights. This means that Margie & Luke come in fifth place, while the cheerleaders take sixth.

Mel & Mike and Mark & Michael arrive at the Roadblock at the same time, but the stuntman doesn't see all seven letters and has to go again. It hasn't been their best day, but at least the goofy music has stopped relentlessly pursuing them. Mel & Mike don't have much trouble with the task, though.

Amanda & Kris finish the stacking task and speculate that either Kisha & Jen or Christie & Jodi were responsible for forcing them to U-Turn. They think that Margie & Luke probably felt really badly when they saw their picture on the U-Turn sign. Suckers.

On a second go-round, Mark & Michael finish the Roadblock pretty easily and know right away that the Russian playwright is Chekhov. Kris isn't so lucky, as he apparently falls in the "never heard of 'em" category. He does figure it out eventually, and it's to Amanda & Kris's credit that they really do remain upbeat and united.

But wait! The editors decide to play with us a little bit as they show us that Mark & Michael don't have enough cash to pay their cab driver. They offer him up one of their watches, but realize it's of little value to him. He's wearing a Rolex. They then try to give him their jackets, but his expression clearly states, "What the hell am I going to do with tiny, child-sized jackets like yours?" He finally agrees to some cash from them, and they do in fact finish in eighth.

Sad music plays when Amanda & Kris arrive. And it's justified, because a truly nice team is in fact eliminated tonight. They talk about how happy they are as a couple and we're sad that a tough leg (and a young man's cheerleader crush) knocks them out of contention. Still, we can't help but think that Margie & Luke made the right call here. Amanda & Kris were strong competition. Getting them out of the race puts the mother/son team in a much better position.