Two teams don't read the rules very closely, with disastrous results

Amazing Race
Credit: CBS

It’s easy to make fun of Nick, since his typical response to adversity is to insult everything, complain like a fifth-grader, and swear like a fifth-grader. He exemplifies the “scream English loudly” method of inter-cultural communication. If Nick says that he’s good at something – music, biking, healthy communication with his significant other – he’s invariably awful at it. Finally, only two men in human history have ever successfully rocked the bandana, and Nick, we know Bret Michaels and (sniff!) David Foster Wallace, and you’re not either one of ’em (although you could be a character in a Poison song/DFW short story.)

Still, the guy’s been slowly winning me over – I like how he lies to other teams for no reason, just to be a douchecatazz – and last night, we learned that Nick’s negative personality can all be traced back to a terrifying childhood trauma. “Gramma had a clown room,” he explained. “When you woke up at nighttime, you’d see a clown face, and it’d just scare the crap out of you.” (First of all, do grandmothers have clown rooms?) Yeeesh, just watching It when I was a kid drove me into years of therapy. No wonder Nick is in such a perpetua-bad mood. You would be, too, if you went to sleep every night terrified that a giant clown face would appear in your nightmares.

Nick was unlucky, because the first stop of last night’s episode of Amazing Race was Avtovo Circus, the number one top circus this side of Novgorod. No one was very happy about this, except for Brook, who predictably exclaimed, “I wanna be in a circus. That’s where we belong! I hope I get to wear a leotard.” Jill and the Prince of Rainbows arrived at the circus first, but since it wasn’t open, they had to lurk around outside while the other teams joined them. Then, on cue, a hundred terrible clowns started dancing around outside of the circus. One of the face-painted mimes drove around on a motorcycle with a captured bear in his sidecar. Everyone had to wear big red clown noses. God, I hate the circus.

There were two competitions. In “Circus Band,” players had to learn how to play a folk song on an accordion. In “Circus Clown,” contestants had to keep ten plates spinning simultaneously. Most players opted for “Clown,” and then instantly regretted it when they walked into the circus tent and became assaulted by the general madness of clown HQ: People dancing, swinging around on trapezes, forcing champagne down the bear’s throat. It looked like a Fellini movie, except in Russian and more surreal.

Jill/Thomas and Chad/Stephanie gave up on the plate-spinning pretty quickly. Other teams struggled. Except for Nick, who totally owned the competition in about three seconds flat. Brook and Claire figured out the plate-spinning pretty quickly, too. When they succeeded, they hugged the clowns, did cartwheels, and screamed. It was like an episode of iCarly. (Actually, almost everything about Team QVC is like an episode of iCarly.)

NEXT: Nick goes all subterfuge-y.

Outside, Nat and Kat affirmed the importance of a good education by creating a numeric code to help them get through the accordion challenge. (Mallory noted that she had a “good memory for tone,” but Team Doctor finished first. Science 1, Natural Talent 0. Praise Science!) In a lovely twist, Stephanie actually came up with a number sequence of her own – further indication that Team Tinkerbell might be a stealth spoiler in this race. Chad said, “It’s like Guitar Hero, d’uh-oyy” – further indication that he is, in fact, the second coming of Moose Mason. That left just Jill and the Prince of Rainbows struggling through the accordion. Finally, they admitted double-defeat and returned to the plate-spinning, which was a bit easier the second time around. (Does anyone else get vaguely freaked-out by Jill/Thomas’ tendency to wear all-white clothes in the confessional booth?)

Teams had to head off to the Bank Bridge, a canal bridge guarded by four creatures with golden wings. From there, clues sent them to 1 Vladimesky Prospect Tower, where only two players at time were allowed to ascend to the top of the tower to search for the clue. (There seemed to be an extremely vague “Mystery” theme to this part of the episode. I was hoping it would involve Crime and Punishment somehow, but alas, I’m a dork.) And alas, Kevin and Michael didn’t read the fine print on the bridge clue, which specifically stated that teams had to walk to the Tower without any aid from taxis. That mistake would come back to haunt them, like a terrible clown face that lives over your bed.

In a nifty twist, the fact that only two players could go up to the tower at a time created a band of mini-alliances. Nick/Vick and Kat/Nat once again formed a Rhyming-Named Caucus, and they were the first to figure out that the little building-figurine on top of the tower was actually a scale model of a big building in the distance. The building is called the Church on Spilled Blood, and it’s actually built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. (Inside of the Church, you can still see the cobblestones where Alexander died – hence, the “Spilled Blood.” And you thought your funeral plans were elaborate!)

Devious Ol’ Nick decided to lie to the rest of the teams – “Um, we saw something called DS13,” he explained. Kevin: “I don’t think Nick would lie to us, because he’s awesome.” (Young people today really need better role models. I blame steroids.) At the Church of Spilled Blood, the clue was, “Peter the Great is buried inside of me.” Teams basically just asked local bystanders, and the Russian citizens all seemed to know that the answer was “The Peter and Paul Fortress.” (When you think about it, that’s pretty remarkable – kind of like asking a random American, “Hey, where’s Thomas Jefferson buried?” and getting the correct answer.) Kevin and Claire ascended the tower and quickly saw through Nick’s subterfuge.

NEXT: One contestant finds a fan base in the Gorodki youth-group community. (This will all make sense if you keep reading.)

Unfortunately, Team YouTube convinced Team iCarly to take a cab to the Church of Spilled Blood – something the directions expressly advised against. Amazingly, Claire actually realized their error – a little bit late, so they had to turn back around to the Tower, but still with plenty of time. Kevin and Michael just kept jetting along. That mistake would come back to haunt them, like a decapitated clown ghost who lives in a haunted mansion in New Hampshire.

Speaking of brainless clowns, Nick and Vicki got lost in the back-roads of St. Petersburg and couldn’t find a taxi. Nick was upset and muttered obscenities in Vicki’s direction. Oh, Nick, you’re such a rascal(-nikov)! Far behind them, Stephanie had no luck with the tower-figurine. Chad ascended the ladder…and instantly saw the mini-Church. “Stephanie, I found it, hahaha!” he said. Stephanie, with my single favorite line of the episode: “Gee, I love it when he rubs it in.”

The day’s final competition: Gorodki, a Russian pastime where you throw a wooden bat at pins and try to knock them all off in two shots. Basically, it’s the game people would play if bowling pins and baseball bats were the only sports equipment to survive the apocalypse. (This is why Russia is awesome.) Kat was a total Gorodki pro – is there anything Team Operation doesn’t do well? – which meant Kat and Nat were far, far in the lead as they strolled leisurely into first place.

Team YouTube had arrived at the Gorodki courts in second place, but in a serious strategic error, Kevin let his father do something physical. “I’ve done four roadblocks, and my dad’s only done two. We’re trying to balance it out more. I didn’t think it would be that hard.” You were wrong, dead wrong! Michael couldn’t throw a Gorodki bat to save his life. Brook was pretty bad, too, but she quickly developed a local fan base in the Gorodki youth-group community. Perhaps because of her tendency to dance to the music in her head. “That’s the jam! We got the jam! That’s the jam, Bammer!” said her accomplice. See, iCarly!

You know who is good at Gorodki? Mr. Clownophobe. “Nick can take out his aggression on this,” said Vicki, and sure enough, Nick knocked off all the pins in about two seconds flat. (To recap: Nick is good at making plates spin and throwing bats at pins. Hey, everybody has their own specific talent, you know?) That meant Team Tattoo was just a skootch behind Team iCarly at the pit stop. Third place, wow! Call me crazy, but Nick/Vicki might just dunce-cap their way to the final three. Okay, I’m crazy.

Gary was as good at Gorodki as he is at everything, so Gary and Mallory (henceforth “Team America,” because they are exactly what the Founding Fathers were hoping to create) were team number four. The Prince of Rainbows did a decent job on the Gorodki courts, but then a minor scuffle erupted with their Taxi-Man. “That’s all! I have no more money!” he screamed. The Taxi-Man grabbed Jill’s bag. “Okay, okay, sshhh, give him the money!” he whispered. By way of diplomacy, he yelled out, “American dollars! American dollars!” Listen, dude, I like capitalism as much as the next guy, but you don’t have to rub it in peoples’ faces, y’know?

NEXT: Judge Keoghan delivers verdicts made of harsh truth.

That left Team YouTube and Team Moose ‘n Midge neck-and-neck on the Gorodki courts. I really adore Michael, but man, has any Race player ever so completely messed up on such a relatively simple competition? As Kevin noted, “We got here in second place, and now we’re in last place.” Michael finally aced the Gorodki pins, but Chad and Stephanie raced into the fortress without their bags, so they actually arrived at Lord Phil’s Bastion first. Cruel Judge Keoghan had no sympathy for them: “Did you pay your taxi driver? You have to go back and pay him.” Chad and Stephanie walked away, presumably to their doom. But Shyamalan! Judge Keoghan had stern words for Team Youtube, also: After listing their taxi infringements, he allotted them a one-hour penalty.

Chad and Stephanie had a penalty, too…but only for half an hour. So they stay in the race – although it’s hard to think of another team that has hovered at the back of the pack for so long. My heart broke a little bit at the end looking at Team YouTube. Kevin looked beyond furious (probably as much with himself as with his dad), but Michael brought it all home with a thoughtful appraisal of their relationship: “As Kevin’s turned into a stranger, he’s become a stranger to me…this race pulled us together again.” Awwww!

Viewers, did you enjoy last night’s episode? Are we looking at a four-woman race between Team Operation and Team iCarly for the final victory? Am I crazy to think that Nick and Vicki might be just idiot-savant enough to win this thing? And why are clowns so scary, anyways?

Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich.

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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