Victor's stubbornness gets Tammy lost in the mountains of Transylvania, while Kris is trapped in the taunted house

By Josh Wolk
Updated January 14, 2020 at 08:01 PM EST
Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS

I’m a little nervous going into this week’s recap. Last week I was chastised on the message boards for using the word ”hillbillies” to describe Steve and Linda. I could see how people might think I was a snobby, patronizing Northeasterner. But I only used the term because Steve called himself a hillbilly. I figured if that’s how he wants to introduce himself, I can sure call him that myself. And I realize that the word doesn’t apply to everyone with a southern accent. I mean, I wouldn’t call Matthew McConaughey a hillbilly? I recognize that hillbillies very rarely run shirtless on the beach for the paparazzi. Unless of course, they’re trying desperately to get in the tabloid Spittoon Weekly‘s regular column: ” Stars: They Am Just Like Us, Dadblammit.”)

But having riled a reader up last week for implied insensitivity, now I’m gun-shy about mocking other groups, for fear of offending someone. What I’m saying is: Do I have to worry about upsetting a Gypsy readership this week? I’m not even sure how many there are out there reading my Amazing Race TV Watch. I haven’t noticed too many curses being applied in the message boards, nor anyone posting under the name ”GIANTCARTFULLOFCRAP17.” Well, as I progress in this recap, I’ll just have to hope for the best.

In the meantime, let’s start at the beginning. The teams left Austria for Bucharest to do gymnastics as a tribute to Nadia Comaneci, Romanian gold medal winner in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. Sure, I guess some people might remember her for that accomplishment. Personally, I remember her from her more recent achievement, being the second person eliminated in last year’s Celebrity Apprentice. Why not do a challenge based on that to honor Comaneci? The teams could run around Bucharest trying to sell hot dogs to their famous Romanian friends for hundreds of leu. I’m sure you could get a cameo from Steven Baldwin. I understand he conveniently just booked a gig shooting an infomercial in Bucharest for the Romanian Snuggie: It has no sleeves, but the fabric is 12% herring, so there’s that.

Anyway, in what would turn out to be one of the biggest falls from grace in Amazing Race history, Tammy and Victor started out nearly two hours before the second place team. They easily hopped on a 3:20 p.m. flight, alone and at least 70 minutes ahead of the next group. And then the fates decided to have fun with them: Their flight was turned back to Munich for technical difficulties, and they found themselves on the last flight out with the stragglers. The only team to have worse luck was Brad and Victoria, the sole pair to get on a flight going through Amsterdam, where they were fogged in for the rest of the night. Brad revealed at the beginning of the episode that he was a former drug addict; bad luck to get stranded in Amsterdam. It’s like locking a Biggest Loser contestant in the Duncan Hines factory.

I predicted that all the flight delays would be moot, as I was sure that all flights would land after the gymnastics studio was closed, and everyone would end up bunched up in the morning. But it was a tribute to how quickly-paced this season has been that the gym was seemingly open all night, and teams could tackle the challenge right away and keep moving. No wonder Romanians win so many Olympic medals: They’ve got 9-year-olds practicing the parallel bars at 10:00 at night.

NEXT: Somersault? Is that some sort of local delicacy?

This Roadblock (in which one team member had to don a leotard and perform moves on the balance beam and parallel bars, as well as floor exercises) taught us some helpful do’s and don’ts about gymnastics fashion. For example, if you have a massive back tattoo, like Kisha, perhaps you should opt for a high-backed leotard that doesn’t expose it. Judges might shave off valuable points for poor life choices. Also, don’t wear colored underwear. We had an unfortunate education on the style of panties preferred by each female contestant.

This wasn’t the most exciting of competitions. It’s one of those roadblocks that sound interesting in theory, but turn out not to be that challenging. It’s not like the Racers had to be very good at gymnastics. They just had to get through the routines with the barest resemblance of physical coordination. I mean, who can’t pull off a somersault? Oh yeah: Tammy.

From the beginning of the episode, it was set up that this would be the episode in which Victor would drive her crazy with big-brother bossiness. (Which he did here, yelling her suggestions on the sideline and frantically chewing gum like an overzealous high-school football coach.) However, her inability to do a cartwheel or somersault was an eye-opening clue as to why these two are so driven. For someone who seems to be a complete overachiever, it was odd not only that she couldn’t do a somersault, but that she seemed to never have encountered one before. Wait, I put my head here and then roll? What manner of forward momentum is this? As this was going on, I kept picturing her as a child, with her father yelling, ”What is this ‘gym class’ they insist on you taking? This physical fitness will get you nowhere! I will write a special note to get you excused so that time can be better spent memorizing facts and figures!” It all reminds me of the Ione Skye character in Say Anything, except instead of getting John Cusack blasting a boom box outside her window, she just gets her brother shouting, ”You call that a cartwheel?”

From here, the teams sped to Translyvania for a Detour. And here’s where things got all Gypsy. The choice was between ”Vampire Remains,” an obligatory Dracula challenge, and ”Gypsy Moves.” For this one, teams had to go to a Gypsy settlement and help a family get all their crap into a cart, lead it to another encampment, and empty everything out. From what I saw, I think Gypsies might lead a more comfortable life if they’d just make better decisions about what possessions they keep. For example, why not put the giant rusted out husk of an old car into storage, thereby making room for, say, sheets and blankets? I don’t want to seem gypsist, I’m just making suggestions.

NEXT: Things get freaky in Gypsytown

I don’t want to paint Gypsies with a stereotypical brush. I’d love to reveal that it turns out that everything you thought you knew about Gypsies was wrong, and that it turns out that they’re a misunderstood people with diverse interests. But judging from what I saw in that encampment, their interests seem limited to imitating a Fellini movie. Every time the producers cut to a wide shot, there was something really odd going on in the background. Some kid was pedaling a weird three-wheeled gadget across a wire, and somebody else was roller skiing; I kept waiting to see someone bounce by upside-down with a pogo stick strapped to his head. And all the while a crazy old lady cackled so long and hard that I prayed the camera wouldn’t tilt down, as it would inevitably reveal a spreading puddle underneath her. Remember when the people of Kazakhstan were so pissed at Sacha Baron Cohen for the way he portrayed their country in Borat? Well, that country came off like the Vatican compared to the way the Gypsies came off here.

Wait, I feel like I left out a Gypsy stereotype. Hmmm. Oh, right: They’re thieves! Kris, in first place with Amanda after finishing the Detour, realized he’d left his fanny pack back at camp, and he couldn’t find it there. Really? You’re going to leave all your money and passports in a gypsy camp and be surprised it’s not sitting right where you left it? Didn’t you ever watch The Riches, Kris? Eventually he ”found” it in some man’s cart. I wonder what the producers had to promise that guy to get the fannypack back. I have a feeling that the guy who ”discovered” it in his own cart subsequently traded his rusty-muffler collection for a complete supply of Phil Keoghan turtleneck sweaters. And possibly Phil Keoghan. What a deal!

I swear to you: I didn’t want to mock the Gypsies. Really, the last thing I need in this economy is a curse. But the producers made it really hard not to. So please, FREAKISHCACKLINGLADY4EVA, don’t post an angry screed about my insensitivity. If you’re gonna blame somebody, blame Bertram Van Munster.

And what of the other Detour choice, ”Vampire Remains”? In a challenge inspired by Vlad the Impaler and all things Dracula, teams had to follow signs to find a coffin filled with antique frames. They then had to drag it down a hill, undo a series of locks, and then ”impale” each frame on a spike until they found one with a flag hidden inside. Even though each frame was filled with fake blood to try to make the impaling seem more scary, it was a pretty toothless adaptation of a gruesome tale of villainy: If they go to London and do a Jack the Ripper challenge, will it just involve teams ripping paper?

NEXT: Big Brother is watching out for himself

Fortunately, Tammy and Victor more than made up for the anticlimax. Tammy had been talking endlessly about how her brother was too bossy, so I knew something was coming, but I had no idea how extreme it would get. Leading the way, Victor began following a series of red and white arrows, even though, as Tammy mentioned, the Amazing Race colors have been red and yellow for 14 seasons. Farther and farther they climbed a mountain, even as the other teams easily noticed the giant red and yellow sign pointing them in the other direction. Tammy kept suggesting that they were following the wrong markers, but Victor wouldn’t listen, refusing to turn around and saying, ”Look, we’re doing so great!” even as he looked out to see that they were now about 6,000 feet above sea level and possibly had hiked all the way back to Austria.

It was such a tragic case of stubborn confidence got wrong. As Tammy pleaded with him to reconsider his dedication to the wrong direction, he said, ”I’m sorry I’m making you do something you think is wrong, but I really think it’s right.” Wow, now there’s a non-apology! And then the psychosis really kicked in, as he realized deep down that he had led them on a fool’s errand, and yet couldn’t quite bring himself to admit it. As he squatted down, beginning to weep, he said, ”You can help make the decision. If you want to go back, we’ll go back.” Wasn’t that what she’d been saying all throughout this death march?

And yet, after all that, even after they’d reached the bottom of the mountain and found a yellow and red sign, clear as day, not once did she say ”I told you so.” Never before has this rejoinder been so warranted. And that’s the least of what she was owed. Had she slammed his face against every single red and white sign they passed on the way back down, she would have been well within her rights. She could have impaled him on those stakes along with her frames, and no jury would convict her. And yet, nothing. She just pushed her anger deep, deep inside her in a place where somersaults are scared to venture and said nothing. Even as, in a misguided attempt to prove he was still the leader, he dragged the coffin himself and in the process lost an important coffin key in the leaves, just delaying them more, she just kept a good face on.

Mel and Mike finished first (take that, groin!), and Tammy and Victor were saved from elimination only by Brad and Victoria’s monumental delay. (It was dark by the time the booted couple finished the coffin challenge, and their faces, streaked with fake blood in the shadows, was the only thing that made the activity remotely spooky.) When they arrived and discovered they were still in the Race, Victor continued to cry, but not only refused to acknowledge his mistake, but also denied that he was crying at all. ”I’m not upset, I’m just glad we’re done,” he said. Is Victor an android? If so, he’s been programmed never to accept blame. In his signoff, he acknowledged that he and Tammy needed to change their communication, but only ”so that we can be both effective, and not what I think is unintentionally hurtful.” I have a feeling that on his voyage to self-discovery, he’s going to always end up following the wrong signs. What would you have said if Victor was your brother? Would you have tossed him off Mt. Transylvania? And are you a Gypsy? If so, what do you keep in your giant cart? Make sure to check out Phil Keoghan’s blog to see if he’s any more sensitive to Gypsies than I was; I’m dying to know if he’s ever ridden a high-wire Gypsy bike before. I’m also wondering if someone tried to take his fanny pack.

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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