The Amazing Race recap: Mountaineers and Chocolatiers
Zev and Justin get stuck on the Matterhorn, and everybody hates Kent
The Matterhorn is one of the great obsessions in the history of mountaineering, claiming the lives of hundreds of daredevil climbs. It sits atop the Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy, hovering ominously over all creation like a restless Old God waiting to strike. It is also the namesake of a Disneyland ride that lived in my nightmares for most of my childhood. After my family’s trip to the theme park, there were literally months where I couldn’t fall asleep, because I imagined that every house sound was the Matterhorn Snowman walking on all fours down the hallway. So last night’s Matterhorn-scaling episode of The Amazing Race proved uniquely therapeutic. (If the show’s next leg takes the teams to a country populated entirely by clowns and gym teachers, that’ll be a clean sweep of my adolescent anxieties.)
Zev and Justin were the first to take off, making their way to the local Air Rescue Helicopter Port in Zermatt. Along the way, Justin noted that his twelve-year-old sister had knitted matching caps for both members of Team Zinger, but “Zev went with the lumberjack look.” The lumberjack juju seemed to be working for them — they’d been crushing the competition since arriving in the cold climates. In the number two slot, Kisha and Jen cracked jokes about the single dollar given to teams for this leg — “We’re rich, bitch!” (The sisters have made the least impression of any of the teams this season, but they seemed to be on a full-scale charm offensive last night — are you liking them a little bit more now, viewers?)
Meanwhile, Kent and Vyxsin wanted us to know that Things Were Going To Be Different. “We’re starting the legs much happier now,” said Kent. “We put on extra glitter today, so we’d match the snow!” said Vyxsin. Hooray, they have a positive attitude! Alas, that positivity lasted approximately five minutes, until Kent couldn’t get a taxi and started talking obsessively about punching somebody in the face. “Stay positive!” begged Vyxsin. “I am staying positive,” argued Kent, “punching somebody would be really positive right now.” I was kind of hoping that Kent would just go crazy and take a swing at a passing Swiss citizen. I’m pretty sure that if you try to punch someone from Switzerland, your hand passes right through them, and then they use their Swiss telepathy to remove all violent impulses from your brain.
The teams finally all arrived at the Heli-pad. (Zev zinged Team Goth — “I wonder if the snow is gonna take off their eyebrows.”) Teams had two choices: “Search” or “Rescue.” In “Search,” Racers had to go prospecting for dummies, digging into the snow to find a trapped mountaineer-bot. In “Rescue,” Racers had to rappel down into a serious-looking crevasse to save a genuine trapped human being. Now, the clear decision here seemed to be “Rescue” — Sure, it was a bit freakier, but barring any panic attacks, all you basically to do was descend, shake a Swiss dude’s hand, and lift him up. The Zingers opted for “Search” — a fateful decision. Gary and Mallory joined them on the hillside, while the other three teams made for the crevasse. On the beauty of the snowy Matterhorn, Zev noted simply, “It feels really Inception-like.” (That was a reference to the third or fourth level of the dreamscape, when Leo DiCaprio’s Imagineers attack a snow fortress. Christopher Nolan has said that that scene was inspired by the classic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is your official James Bond reference of the week.)
Next: The Zingers’ Icy Waterloo?Zev and Justin quickly found their digspot, but they seemed quagmired from the start — Zev couldn’t seem to dig properly. Over in the “Rescue” section, the sisters were rocking out. Kisha has a fear of heights, so Jen descended into the crevasse. (Second favorite moment of the episode: Jen yelled that she could see the trapped mountaineer, and Kisha yelled back, “Is he cute?”) Further down the ice-shaft, Kent was giving Vyxsin a complex series of directions, which I have transcribed here:
“Down, Vyxsin! Vyxsin, down! Down! Down! Vyxsin, down! Stop, Vyxsin! Pull me back up! Stttooooooppppppp!!!!“
Flight Time descended for Team Globetrotter. (In the process, we learned that Flight Time weighs 200 pounds and Big Easy weighs 275.) The Rescuers all handily wrapped up their challenge. Meanwhile, Gary re-established his cred as the most powerful man on the face of the earth. He was digging like crazy, and tossing out all kinds of Rescue 911 terms — “There’s his head! So the body is going this way!” I’m 90 percent sure that this was not the first time Gary had to dig someone out of an Alpine mountain. When he caught site of the dummy’s body, he let out an epic Snowman roar and pulled with all his might. He actually managed to split the dummy in two. Then he reached down for the mountaineer-bot’s other half and tossed it in the snow. “I think he’s gonna make it,” deadpanned the Mega-Dad. (Brief digression: Gary is cool. So, so cool. He’s so cool that if the challenge was “Swim to the moon and stab an evil space alien with Neil Armstrong’s American flag,” he’d make a canoe out of the space alien’s carcass and ride it to the waterfalls of Neptune just to clean the purple alien blood off of Old Glory. End of digression.)
The first four teams rode the same train back to Zermatt, on their way to Le Petit Cervin for the next clue. That left Team Zinger alone on the mountain. This was probably the most frustrated we’ve ever seen the usually unflappable teammates — Justin seemed particularly ruffled by the fact that Zev kept on shoveling snow back into their pit — but when you consider just how precious their position was, and how resolutely non-snippy they were compared to the Kent/Vyxsin Stress Factory, you gotta give these two credit. Like Gary, Justin managed to tear the dummy in two. I couldn’t make out what Justin said when he realized he’d have to keep digging for the guy’s head, but after he said it, he started laughing like a madman. Oh no, he’s got the Snow Madness!
Readers, you know that I’ve been a hard-hearted partisan of Team Zinger ever since I named them my Ridiculously Early Pick to Win it All back in the season premiere. I couldn’t bear to watch them fall further and further behind. The other teams seemed to have a dominating lead — they were all together at the next challenge, an extended Travelocity infomercial in which teammates had to create a chocolate gnome. For the first time all season, I began to picture a Race without the unstoppable Zinger Train. It was a bleak thought.
NEXT: Gothic controversy. (Goth-troversy?)Fortunately for people who enjoy visions of chaos, Kent and Vyxsin were in first place, and they did everything possible to sabotage themselves. In the kitchen, Kent made a relentless nuisance of himself: “Vyxsin, hurry up! Vyxsin, I notice that some people are putting their halves in the oven. The oven, Vyxsin! Halves! Oven!” (Even Mallory, who truly never seems to have a bad thing to say about anyone, got frustrated — “It’s like a broken record, on and on and on!”) Vyxsin, for her part, got involved in a serious controversy. The Racers were working on two halves of the candy mold, putting one half in the freezer while they painted the other. Somewhere in that mix, Flight Time got a little bit confused about which mold was his, and Vyxsin apparently stole his bottom mold. (I watched this a couple of times and still couldn’t quite figure out how the mold-heist went down — insight would be welcome, beloved fellow viewers!)
Basically, all you have to know is that Vyxsin refused to even answer the Globetrotters’ complaints. Flight Time kept his cool, took a bottom mold that wasn’t his, and got back to work. Big Easy was less diplomatic: “Karma gonna come back, baby!” Kent got angry, and Vyxsin got defensive: “Grow up! This has not been a dirty competition. I just feel ganged up on.” (The late-arriving Zev noted wryly, “I think there are too many cooks in the kitchen.”)
Flight Time overcame the controversy and finished up his mold first. The chocolatier instructed him to twist the gnome-mold around while she poured in the liquid chocolate. Naturally, this led to a minor dance party, with Flight Time chanting “Stir it like coffee!” and Big Easy instructing his partner to use his hips. By comparison, Kent couldn’t help but come off like a fun-killing jackass — “When they don’t get their own way, they start yelling, they start hopping, they start holla… Big Easy was trying to be a big bully.” Listen, there’s no doubt that the Globetrotters have some seriously questionable gameplay tactics — there’s a great YouTube montage to be made out of all the times they’ve gotten through a leg by asking Team Zinger for the correct answer — but in this situation, the Globetrotters were way in the right, and all Kent’s talk about “kicking their ass” just came off as plain rude. It’s a good lesson for everyone: Goths can be bullies, too.
Zev sped through the painting challenge as fast as he could, but the strain was clearly showing. When the chocolatier told him that his mold “was getting heavy, because I’m filling it with chocolate,” Zev moaned, “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” (“Zev, be nice!” demanded Justin.) But because teams had to cool down their gnome in the snow for thirty minutes, Team Zinger were still far behind the other teams. The Globetrotters took off first, followed by their new nemeses the Goths. The clue told them to find the next Pit Stop at a Swiss Cabin. Zev and Justin were out of luck. The dream was over.
NEXT: Was the dream really over? Yes it was. Or was it?Oh, Kent. Oh, Vyxsin. Running neck-and-neck for a first-place victory that would have catapulted them into the final four, the Goths made the ultimate rookie mistake: They missed the part of the clue that specifically said they had to go to the Pit Stop “On Foot.” This is such an essential part of Race lore that I’m surprised teams still fall for it. But there they were, racing around trying to find a taxicab. The other teams saw what they were doing and said nothing. Like the Cowbros last week, Kent and Vyxsin were on the outside of this season’s Ur-Team, the interlocking alliance that has carried at least one team (the Globetrotters) much further than they have any right to be. Mallory noted, “They’re about to get a bad penalty.”
Vyxsin seemed to realize their mistake as they approached the Pit Stop, seeing other teams walking on foot. “I’m nervous!” she said. Kent scolded her, noting proudly, “I put my blinders on and I don’t really care.” Even without a taxi, the Globetrotters were the day’s champions, followed closely by the Sisters. Team Goth arrived third, but Grandmaster Phil told them they’d have to wait out a half-hour penalty because of the cabbie shenanigan. That meant Team America cruised into the number three slot.
In moments of great stress, it’s best to keep your cool. Kent took the opposite tactic. When Vyxsin asked sadly how they could have possibly missed the “on foot” directive, Kent said, “I don’t know. You read it first.” Then he got more angry, telling Vyxsin that she was “putting up your usual negative energy and it doesn’t help anything.” It was a truly weird vision: Kent might as well have been punching his fist against the wall, screaming, “Look at me, I’m so freaking positive! AAAARRRRGHHH!!! POSITIVITY!”
I was anxious that Team Zinger still wouldn’t stage a comeback. They took a couple of wrong turns. Zev tumbled in the ice. Also, in Kent and Vyxsin’s postgame confessionals, they seemed entirely too giddy for a losing team. But lo and behold, Justin rounded the corner right as the squabbling Goths were mid-argument. Cruel Master Phil played games with the Zinger boys’ hearts — “I’m sorry to inform you that you are the last team to arrive” — before giving them the good news about the Kent/Vyxsin penalty. Justin looked like he was about to have a heart attack, while Zev simply deadpanned, “Obviously, we’re meant to be here, because we’re still here.” Team Zinger 4evs!
That left Team Goth descending into private anarchy. Kent: “At least I always stay positive, no matter what.” Vyxsin, with the epic line we’ve been waiting for all season: “Yeah, but your version of staying positive is to attack me, and that’s not very encouraging or positive. It sucks.” And with that, the Goths rode off into the history books. They seemed to have recovered their composure (and gotten a few new piercings) in their postgame confessional. Kudos to them for lasting so long, although I probably wasn’t the only person to guffaw when Vyxsin closed out the episode by saying that she felt sorry for the other teams: “I’m taking the best teammate with me, and they don’t get to have him.” Hey, love is crazy.
And so, viewers, we have our Final Four. I think next week’s two-hour season finale is going to be a serious competition. All the teams are serious contenders in their own way. The Globetrotters are a classic accidental-savant team — What they lack in traveling composure, they make up in pure energetic gameplay. Kisha and Jen have emerged out of the pack as a squad of stealth assassins, equally good at physical and mental challenges. Gary and Justin are simply two of the best players in Race history, and Mallory and Zev both provide good (albeit incredibly eccentric) support. I’m sticking with Team Zinger for the big victory, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the final four. Hit up the comment boards, and talk to me on Twitter if you’d like to debate the relative merits of Team Zinger and Team America, or if you’d just like to find out more about my Matterhorn night terrors. See you back here next week for the big finale!