The Amazing Race recap: Backslide of the Valkyries
As the race moves to Norway, the Doctors conquer their fears, but one team faces its own private Ragnarok
There are two types of people in the world: People who grew up reading D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, and people who grew up reading D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths. Written and illustrated by an adorably Euro-perfect husband/wife team (he was a German with Swiss citizenship, she was a Norwegian who studied in France), both books blended freakish illustrations with child-friendly descriptions of old gods, superhuman heroes, and ancient magic. There is one major difference between the books, though. Greek mythology is full of colorfully eccentric characters, oversexed demi-gods, and videogame-ready visuals like winged horses and golden fleece. Norse mythology is similar…except for the minor fact that it is utterly and completely bananas insane.
In the cosmology of the Northmen, there are nine worlds circling around a cosmic tree, and the gods aren’t fun because their deaths have been foretold, and heroes bathe in the blood of murdered dragons. Greek myth has mysterious, sun-dappled islands. Norse myth has dark, snow-covered forests. (You could argue that Lord of the Rings is basically Norse myth with easier-to-pronounce names.) It’s for this reason that people who grew up reading the Book of Greek Myths are vagrant hedonists who enjoy the beach, and the people who grew up reading the Book of Norse Myths are manic pessimists who stay inside until winter comes.
Rachel and Katie would appear to be classic Book of Greek Myth fans. After all, they’re Beach Volleyball players, and Beach Volleyball is definitely the most Dionysian professional sport on earth. But their personalities – dismissive, businesslike, justifiably narcissistic – clearly mark them as Book of Norse Myth enthusiasts. (Also, they both appear to be descended from 7-foot tall Vikings. It must be hard to be so ugly.) Starting out at the back of the pack on last night’s episode, Katie had a brutally straightforward summation of their circumstances: “This is not Amazing Friend, it’s Amazing Race.” Rachel said, “Well, we’re Amazing Friends.” Katie shot her a blank, deadly stare. (You just know that Rachel is totally the Valkyrie who ends up falling for the mortal man, and Katie is the enforcer who gives the mortal man a cursed ring as a wedding present.)
In this leisurely paced episode, we got some insight into the other teams’ particular relationships. Nat and Kat are more like sisters than friends, which ranks a mere 7 on the “Adorability Meter” next to the mighty 9 that Gary earns for being a die-hard Amazing Race fan. (This may explain why he has been the best at everything so far this season.) Brook gifted us with an outline of Team QVC’s complex inner workings: “I am the most hyper, energetic, dedicated, passionate person anyone’s probably ever met. Claire’s this calm storm, I’m this crazy animal, and if we could just wsshhh together, we’d be the perfect creature.” Pause to visualize a calm storm raining quietly onto an insane animal.
The first clue sent teams to Narvik, Norway. Continuing the general Roger Moore trend in this season, teams had to ride a gondola up to the top of a mountain. “Yeah, I’ve been in a lot of gondolas,” said the Prince of Darkness, biting on an apple. Oh, Prince of Darkness, I can’t help but giggle a little bit whenever we circle back around to the central dynamic of your relationship: Will you ever be able to truly love a woman who didn’t go to college?
NEXT: Meat, it’s what’s for dinner. Too bad Kat hasn’t eaten any in two decades, eh?
Lest you doubt that the Volleyball Valkyries have godlike superpowers, no sooner had Katie wished a panic attack on “the blonde one from Kat and Nat” did Nat suffer a fear-of-heights freakout on the gondola. She persevered, explaining that she had given Kat license to “Push her off the ledge” if the Race ever came to that. The first to leave in the morning and the first to arrive at the clue, Kat/Nat were lucky enough to pick up the Fast Forward. All they were told was that they had to participate in a mysterious Norwegian Christmas Ritual.
Knowing that they were at least one metric gondola ride ahead of the other teams, the Doctors sped off to the Fast Forward. Kat had just one qualm: she really, really hoped it wasn’t an eating challenge. “I haven’t eaten meat in 22 years,” she said. “I won’t be able to get through food challenges, especially if they have meat.” SMASH CUT TO: a grinning roasted sheep’s head, which looked like it had been heavily flavored with sheep blood and sheep kidney. I fully expected Kat to last just a few bites, but Doctor K. impressed. She wolfed down the sheep, slowly but surely, imagining cucumbers, calamari, and the taste of a million dollars. (Swimming, Kat. Money is for swimming.) So, in case you’re keeping track, Nat handily defeated her fear of heights, and Kat broke a two decade personal ban on meat. I was losing faith in my beloved Docs, and I’m still not so sure how effective they are in the slightly less tourist-friendly environments. But you’d be crazy not to see them in the top 3, easily.
That left the other seven teams in a surprisingly enjoyable race for second place. Cherish everyone’s utter inability to pronounce “Skjomen Bridge.” Michael/Kevin and Gary/Mallory (an alliance I can only refer to as the Brotherhood of the Traveling Dads) arrived at the suspension bridge first. It was a rappelling challenge: One person from each team had to go down to the water, signal for a nearby boat to give a clue, and then haul him- or herself 130 feet back up using a mechanical ascender. Kevin jumped down for Team YouTube – Michael cheerily noted that his partner has all the team’s strength, stamina, and guts – and Gary hopped down for Team Heartland. Brook and Claire arrived, and Brook declared, “Claire, this is you. Next time, anything, it’s me.” Then she pumped Claire up by saying “Claire! Claire! You’re stronger than you think! Claaairre!”
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King. In that land, even if Nick still had perfect vision and a nominally working brain, he would be the court jester. Nick/Vicki ascended the mountain toward the back of the pack, only in front of Tinkerbell/Peter Pan and the Valkyries. They opted to try the Fast-Forward, which was either a huge gamble or an incredibly idiot move. (You have to figure that the directions did mention the whole thing about how only one team can do the Fast-Forward, right?) That meant they arrived at the Christmas shack hours after Nat and Kat had already gone on. A sign that said “Fast-Forward Taken” covered the front door. “Does that mean somebody’s in there?” asked Vicki. “I don’t have a clue what that means,” said Nick, “I don’t care what that thing says.” (It must be hard to be so smart.)
NEXT: An invisible goblin arrives to help a contestant. (What? You missed that part?)
Speaking of Male Pattern Petulance, the Prince of Darkness was in fine form over on Skjomen Bridge. Jill cheered him on as he was getting prepared by saying something like, “You’re rappelling off a bridge!” Mr. Notre Dame responded, out of nowhere, “I’m not doing anything. I’m not going anywhere!” Jill explained that Thomas was so good at rappelling because he grew up in the mountains. (He lived in a cave with his mother and occasionally attacked the local mead halls. Seriously, it’s in his CBS bio.) The Prince of Darkness actually was pretty good at rappelling – he passed Claire on the way up – although I suspect the invisible goblin under the bridge was helping to pull him up. Just to get him away faster. Everyone knows that passive aggression is like kryptonite to invisible goblins.
Claire was suffering. First, from the long climb. Second, from Brook’s helpful cheering: “Claire! Claire! All I want is for you to finish this! I don’t care how! I don’t care when! I don’t care who, what, where, why! Nick News W5 up here! Claire!” In all honesty, I found it a bit moving when Brook inspired her teammate by reminding her of her late grandmother, who just passed on a few days before Race started. “She was a spicy woman!” said Brook. (Start talking, viewers: Should CBS sign up Brook for The Talk, like, right now?
The front three teams sped off to a remote field in the region of Harvika, where they had two options: Bike or Boat? In life, the correct answer is always “Boat,” but the challenges were complex enough to not offer an obvious easy choice. In “Bike,” teams had to grab mountain bikes, memorize the color of their bike lock, ride a course up to a sign, memorize the correct bike lock combination, and bike back down to receive the clue. In “Boat,” teams had to ride a fishing trawler, using a map to direct their captain to a precise spot, where they would disembark and deliver two large cod and a chainsaw to the summer lodge of a pleasant-looking hermit wearing overalls and an ugly Christmas sweater. (In summation: In Norway, it is always Christmas, and the proper way to slice your seafood is with a chainsaw.)
Naturally, Team YouTube chose the boat. I love these guys, but I worry that Michael’s inability to perform in physical challenges might bite them later. Not tonight, though: what seemed like a potentially time-sucking challenge actually proved to be not much harder than “Drive boat into middle of lake, point to flags, and lug fish up a hill.” Meanwhile, Gary/Mallory biked up hill, followed closely by the Prince of Darkness and his poor degree-less love. “Try to keep up, okay?” said the Prince, who in case you haven’t realized yet is the best at absolutely everything.
NEXT: One team’s fury at finishing third; another team’s joy at running fourth.
Back in the pack a little bit, Vicki totally owned the rappelling challenge. She noted proudly, “I’m the one that has the guts in this relationship.” So at least she knows! (She also yelled proudly, “I feel like Hercules!” She’s totes a Greek myth person.) Chad did a pretty fair job, too. Far, far, far behind them, the Valkyries were slowly making their way across the Norwegian countryside. I have no idea what happened – either they were just driving slowly, or they took some wrong turns we didn’t see. But despite all their jockish proclamations – “We’re down a couple games, and we need to make it to the playoffs” – the Valkyries looked out of this game about ten minutes into the episode.
Gary and Mallory suffered some minor bruises from slippery rocks, but that didn’t stop them from racing zestily into second place. (Cherish how Mallory tried to imitate Phil’s Vulcan eyebrow raise. Cherish, also, the specific whip-crack sound Race uses for those mighty eyebrows.)
The Prince of Darkness was close behind them…but he seemed to take a wrong turn somewhere. Jill was pretty sure they were passing the same suspension bridge. Quoth the Prince of Darkness, “That’s a totally different bridge!” Jill: “Oh, I’m sorry, you know every bridge in this neighborhood?” They ended up crossing the bridge…right as Katie and Rachel were beginning the rappelling challenge. At the sight of the girls, Jill crawled into the fetal positioning and said, “Speed up! Speed up! I don’t want those Valkyries to take me to Valhalla! I’m not ready yet!” The Prince of Darkness reacted maturely by screaming brimstone: “We had such good positioning, and we just TOTALLY RUINED OURSELVES.” Then they came in third place. Overreact much? (By comparison, Kevin and Michael rolled into fourth place with big grins on their faces.)
Brook and Claire had some fun on the boat chatting about their big orange diapers, which by the way do big orange diapers actually exist? Then they headed up to the hermit’s house. “Why do you live all the way up here?” asked Claire, not realizing she was actually speaking to the human manifestation of Allfather Odin. Brook said pleasantly, “You have such a beautiful place!” and then gave him a kiss. Kiss Count is at 7, guys! There was some strangeness right as Team QVC reached the finish line – Brook seemed to open the door right in her face, causing blood to flow – but she kept it together for a fifth place finish. “Nothing but blood gushing out, you’re ready to sell jewelry. That’s insane!” said Allfather Phil.
Guess what? Nick has been riding dirtbikes competitively for his entire life, and he could barely bike uphill for longer than two seconds. (If their team gets anywhere from here, it’ll be because Vicki stops listening to her tattooed bf.) As they reached the finish line, Nick said, “I think we’re in second,” and he was almost right except not at all. That left Chad and Stephanie to handily defeat the Valkyries. It seriously looked like the Volleyballers were an hour behind Tink/Pan, but the editing was purposefully confusing. Also, it never got darker, because the sun never set. (Which reminds me: Insomnia. Is it actually Christopher Nolan’s best movie? Discuss.)
NEXT: A few questions about this week’s episode.
I wish I could say that I’m going to miss Katie and Rachel, but no matter how wonderfully dismissive they were of everybody else, they never seemed to muster even half a chance at winning this thing. Personally, I’m more excited by the resurgence of the Doctors, who are looking more and more like big winners. Of course, it’d be wrong to rule out Mallory and Captain America. As for the Prince of Darkness…well, let’s just say that he’s definitely a Book of Norse Myths guy.
What’d you think of the Norwegian adventure, viewers? Are you sad to see the Valkyries return to their home in Valhalla, or are you happy to see them go? Don’t you like how Michael’s whole approach to the race is basically, “Let the kid do it?” (Hooray for filial piety!) Also, don’t keep me in the dark: Are you a Book of Greek Myths person or a Book of Norse Myths person? And does anyone have any clue how to pronounce D’Aulaires?
For more ridiculously generalized perspectives on the cosmology of ancient religions, follow me on Twitter EWDarrenFranich
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