Dog sleds, blond people, and a hotel made of ice...Yup, we're in Scandinavia!

By Darren Franich
October 18, 2010 at 05:01 AM EDT
John Paul Filo/CBS
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Last night’s episode of The Amazing Race began with a brief prologue in which contestants worked on fixing up a schoolhouse in Ghana. It was kind of like NBC’s School Pride, except more inspiring and not awful.

From there, teams were directed to fly up to the Arctic Circle and visit the town of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. Socioeconomically speaking, Sweden is a utopian paradise ruled by happy forest elves. Swedish citizens spend their days indulging in their three favorite hobbies: winning gold medals in the Winter Olympics, flying around on reindeer, and questioning the existence of God. The country is ranked number one on The Economist’s Democracy Index, which probably means it’s socialist, but since Sweden invented both ABBA and IKEA, maybe this socialism thing is worth another look, America! Also, everybody, they have a hotel made out of ice. Like you, I’ve always secretly dreamed about living in an ice palace (or at least an ice fortress), so when teams were instructed to head to ICEHOTEL, I practically applauded.

The teams were excited to leave the 100-degree weather behind them. “Thank you, Jesus, we’re going to ice!” proclaimed Mallory. One of the Volleyball players – let’s say it was Rachel, for the sake of argument – proudly noted her Swedish heritage. (Nat is Swedish, too. Seriously, people, there’s a lot of blonde going on this season.) Since all the teams were booked on the same flight (connecting through Frankfurt), I figured this leg of the race would even out the pack.

But surprise! Savvy Kevin called in and found an earlier flight leaving out of Frankfurt. Even savvier, Kevin and Michael decided to tell Gary and Mallory about the earlier flight. I always hesitate to throw the term “alliance” around on Race, but if you’re going to pair up with anybody, you might as well go with Captain America and his daughter, Heavily-Caffeinated-Shirley-Temple. Sure enough, Mallory instantly charmed a Lufthansa employee into getting them all booked on the earlier flight. “I’m so glad I got blonde hair!” said the cherubic beauty queen, who will not rest until she charms every single person on earth.

Meanwhile, Team QVC noticed that the Doctors were fussing around at the internet café. “They’re making a plan? That’s what we always want to do!” said Brook. Kat’s girl-power instincts led her to tell the home shopping hosts about the earlier flight. Team Princeton noticed that something was up, but Mr. Lufthansa seemed curiously immune to their musical charm. As a result, four of the most aggressive teams flew into Sweden two hours ahead of the rest of the pack.

Since it was the off-season, the teams didn’t go to the ice hotel itself. Instead, they went to the frozen storage unit where all the ice stuff is kept during the “warm” months. Ice-arches, ice-sofas, ice-sculptures…truly, this was heaven. Teams were met by a helpful Swedish lady dressed like the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

NEXT: The Amazing Race contestant most likely to find herself sitting between Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar by 2012 is…

“My fiancé calls me an ice princess, so I might have to borrow that outfit,” said Brook. (I think if Brook makes it to the final three, she’ll be a co-host on The View by 2012.) Each team got a block of ice with a clue inside. The clue was basically two gigantic words made up almost entirely of the letter J, but they pointed contestants to Fjellborg’s Lodge. Kevin and Michael had to stay behind for probably the funniest speed bump in Race history: they had to sit on an ice chair. For ten minutes. Kevin’s derriere was frostbitten, but Michael filled us in on his back-and-forth sitting method. Also, they were watching a fireplace on TV. I love this show.

The first competition of the night saw contestants commanding a pack of snow dogs, driving them down a track and picking up flags along the way. Michael totally rocked this event. (I loved his reaction when he saw a robotic bear alongside the track: “Was that… a fake bear?”) Claire, who grew up on a ranch, was pretty good also. But Mallory stole the show by screeching so joyfully. She made dog sledding sound like a triumph of the human spirit. (Coincidentally, one of the best Uncle Scrooge stories actually does make dog sledding seem like a triumph of the human spirit. Deep Thought Question #1: Is The Amazing Race the reality-show version of DuckTales?)

The dog sledders met a man dressed in an incredible outfit who gave them fur pelts and sent them on their merry way. (Claire gave him a kiss, putting Team QVC’s kiss count at six.) Then they were off to Vassijuare train station.

At that point, the second batch of Racers arrived at the dogsled area. Far, far at the back of the pack were Jill and Thomas, who read the clue and promptly ran in the wrong direction. They ran about two miles, until the road faded away. (It looked like The Virgin Spring, which is a great movie to show your teenage daughter if you never want her to leave the house again.) “It looks like we’re running into nowhere!” said Jill, “Should we use the express pass?” “NO!” commanded the Prince of Darkness, hellfire burning in his eyes. (“Don’t panic!” he added, panicking.)

The two Detour options were “Sleds” and “Beds.” In the former, teams had to ride a Techsled down a difficult course in less than 1:58. “Beds” was a bit more complicated: contestants had to build a Swedish tent, complete with a delicately designed interior fire, in the style of the original Swedish nomads. I would’ve opted for “Beds,” personally, just because any timed event is an invitation to disaster.  Kevin and Michael had a better reason for choosing the tent-building activity: Kevin seriously doubted his papa would be able to handle the Techsled.

Almost everyone else chose the sleds, at least at first. Gary got down the mountain in about five seconds, and Mallory got down at 1:58 on the dot…but alas, the goal was to come in before 1:58. Kat zoomed over the side of the course, but the Doctors managed to get their act together on their second attempt with a respectable (but unimpressive) 1:55. Brook and Claire managed a 1:43, but Gary/Mallory swung down with a 1:24 on their second attempt. “That’s what you call side-saddle right there!” exclaimed Mallory.

NEXT: Surprise! Look who’s turning into a rage monster!

The top three teams raced off to the Norwegian border, with the Doctors in first place, Gary and Mallory in second, and Team QVC in third. You gotta admit: fair-haired jokes aside, the ladies are really owning the show this season. Nat and Kat explained their intention to become the first female pair to win Race. They’re awesome and just might be able to pull it off, although I’d actually bet on Team QVC taking that honor.

You know who’s not owning this season? The couples. Chad and Stephanie (henceforth Pan/Tinkerbell – thanks, Anonymous commenter!) opted for the sleds, even though Stephanie has a fear of high places, going fast, and sleds. “I’ve never been more scared in my whole life” she explained. So as Chad zoomed down the mountain, Stephanie was left to fall all over the track. Uh-oh, viewers, we all know what’s coming! Sure enough, mild-mannered Chad Chadrick suddenly turned into his wild-eyed alter ego, Captain Anger. “Stephanie, let’s goooooo!” he screamed, causing an avalanche elsewhere in Scandinavia. She refused to give the Techsled another try, so they had to run off to Tentville. (Kevin and Michael had long since departed to capture fourth place – a good showing, although it’s also an indication that Team YouTube’s measured pace will probably get them kicked out before the final three.)

Elsewhere in the Dating world, the Prince of Darkness gleefully noted upon receiving the Detour instructions, “We could easily bypass this and just kill everybody.” They briefly opted to visit Tentville, but when they realized that  building a tent would actually involve, you know, building a tent, the Prince of Darkness finally decreed that he would his Express Pass. The little Swedish children probably cried when they learned that they wouldn’t have a Swedish Tee Pee to sleep in, and the Prince of Darkness probably collected their tears into a water bottle.  (The two were very proud of themselves. Getting fifth place off an express pass? I give them two weeks.)

On the slopes, Nick and Vicki briefly became serious competitors by totally rocking the Techsleds. “We’re more a physical couple than mental,” said Vicki, and I wouldn’t dream of debating her on that point. (That put them in sixth place – Could this indicate a mid-Race comeback for the tattooed lovers? And did I really just type “tattooed lovers?”) On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jonathan and both of the Valkyries were utterly awful on the slopes. They kept on driving off the path, or falling backwards off their sled, as if they were henchman in a Roger Moore James Bond movie. (Deep Thought Question #2: Is The Amazing Race the reality show version of the Roger Moore James Bond movies?)

I loved how, when Katie accidentally sent her sled plummeting down the side of the mountain, the Valkyries just shrugged and said, “I guess we’re doing the other detour.” I wish the Valkyries were better competitors. They’re usually enmeshed in the rear middle of the pack, so we don’t see them very often, but everything they say and do is comic gold.

NEXT: Anyone else have a tough time deciding which of the bottom two teams to root for?

Over in Tentville, Chad’s Boy Scout past helped them speed through the tent-building process. As a former Boy Scout myself, I have to admire Chad, since I personally subscribe to the “Let Dad Do It” tent-building method. That put Pan/Tinkerbell in seventh place. (Chad inherited Nick’s mantle of “Boyfriend Apologizing for Douchebaggery,” which I assume he’ll pass onto the Prince of Darkness next week.) That meant it was Valkyrie vs. A Cappella in a neck-and-neck race for last place. I think it’s fair to say that this was the first time I genuinely didn’t want either team to go home: I’ve grown to love Team Glee’s tendency to turn everything into a song, but I’ve also grown to love the Valkyries’ jockish supremacy. (Additionally, it would be a national tragedy if Katie and Rachel were eliminated before Race gets to a beach-y climate.) Team Glee sped through the construction, but the volleyballers just had too much of a lead.

That meant the Princetonites were eliminated…on the day of their college graduation! That strikes me as deeply ironic. More correctly, that’s just sad. But the boys put a happy face on the tragedy, humming the graduation march as they approached Dean Keoghan, throwing their hats into the air after hearing about their elimination, and singing one last song. Viewers, they clicked their heels in unison. I miss them already.

What’d you think about the Arctic leg of the Race, viewers? Do you think Team YouTube was right to tell Gary and Mallory about the earlier flight? Are Brook and Claire secret geniuses, or just Forrest Gumpishly lucky? More importantly, how is global warming affecting the Ice Castle industry? How would you furnish your ice palace? Personally, I’d just be happy to sit on an ice sofa and watch snow-sports on the ice-TV. And also be served delicious frozen martinis by a polar bear bartender. And also have a moat of fire.

For regular updates on my Icarus-like quest to live like a James Bond villain  — seriously kids, Die Another Day is a stealth classic – follow me on Twitter @EWDarrenFranich

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