The competition moves to Japan, where teams get some spinning-horse archery practice and experience the scandal known as Fannygate

By Darren Franich
Updated March 07, 2011 at 08:10 AM EST
Robert Voets/CBS

The Amazing Race

S18 E3
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“We need a cool nickname,” said Zev, and he was right. So many other contestants on this season of Amazing Race come with ready-made brand designations: the Cowboys, the Globetrotters, the Dating Goths, the Cheerleaders, and of course, Bubbly Undersized Blond & Great American Superdad (or BUBGAS for short.) But what does the Zev/Justin brand stand for? Zev’s personal vote: “I guess we’re the Special Kid and His Friend.” Ha! I love how Zev and Justin are both funny in their own way — a vintage Odd Couple, these two — and I henceforth christen them Team Zinger.

The Race contestants all seemed to be in a generally giddy mood as last night’s episode got started. Kent was rocking some Ol’ West headgear, explaining that he wanted to “show Jet and Cord they’re not the only ones who can rock a cowboy hat.” (“He’s like my little urban cowboy,” said Vyxsin.) Mel appeared to have recovered from the exertion of the double-leg. “We’re stronger every time we stay another hour, another day,” said Papa White. “I’m old, but we can make it.” (Famous last words.) Fellow patriarch Ron had cheered up a little bit, and we learned that there’s a bittersweet subtext behind this second go-round with the father-daughter team: Christina recently got engaged, and this is their last big trip before she gets married. (Fun fact: Christina’s fiance is fellow season 12 contestant Azaria Azene. Somebody should really graph the history of reality-show contestants getting hitched.)

As much as I enjoy watching Amazing Race, there is one part of the show that I find exhausting: the Airplane Ticket Melodrama. Last night’s episode dragged us through an extended sequence in which teams had to choose between two different flight options: A Cathay Pacific flight that was leaving earlier but would involve a layover, and a QANTAS nonstop flight that would arrive 15 minutes later. The noble lads in the Race editing room always do their best to make such plane-jockeying look like high drama, but stuff like this always grinds the show to a halt. I guess this problem really isn’t solvable – the only other option would be to always force everyone onto the same flight, which would have the adverse effect of always flattening out the competition. (Although there’s always option 3: Balloons! Balloons for everyone! Who doesn’t love balloons? Satanists, that’s who.)

The Cheerleaders, the Goths, Team White, Team Zinger, and Margie/Luke all opted for the slightly-earlier Cathay flight. The Globetrotters actually let Zev and Justin get on the earlier flight, paying them back for helping them out with the Flag codex in Sydney. Some payback — the Cathay flight was grounded in Hong Kong due to engine trouble, allowing the QANTAS teams to jump into the lead. God, isn’t plane travel awful? I’m telling you, the future is balloons. Balloons!

Once they landed, teams made their way to a rotating parking garage. (A rotating parking garage? God, Japan is awesome. It’s like Blade Runner without all the steam, but still with terrifying robots.) The Cathay flight arrived about 90 minutes later, and because they arrived last at the parking garage, Zev and Justin had instantaneously sunk from first place to last place. You’ll remember that Team Zinger was my Ridiculously Early Pick to Win It All. Suffice it to say, at this point of the episode, I was an anxious mess.

NEXT: They Shoot Wooden Horses, Don’t They?Teams were instructed to head out of Tokyo and find the Yabusame Dojo. Ron and Christina arrived first, apparently very far in the lead. (Ron had a brief Angry Dad moment, when a kindly lady gave them directions, and he worried that she had pointed them in the wrong direction: “We might be screwed because of her ineptitude.” Oh, Angry Dad, you’re the angriest!) That meant Ron was the first contestant to participate in the Road Block: A Yabusame ritual that involved dressing as a samurai, learning some fancy dance moves, and finally, shooting a bow and arrow at a target from a spinning wooden horse. (Phil noted that the Road Block would show which contestants were “Truly Arrow-dynamic.” All hail Pun-master Phil!)

Gary and Jen quickly joined Ron. Meanwhile, at the back of the pack, four of the five Cathay teams opted to do a superhero team-up. It was a caravan to nowhere — for some reason, not one of the eight contestants could find the way to Yabusame. Margie, who really is one of the savviest Race contestants this season, opted to pull a Ghost Protocol – she sped away alongside Team White, leaving the Gingers and the Goths behind. (I really am intrigued by this season’s mob mentality. Can you think of another season that featured so many team-ups?) Meanwhile, the Cowboys wasted their 90-minute lead by wandering aimlessly around Tokyo. These guys really don’t do well in cities.

Surprisingly, Kent and Vyxsin managed to find the dojo on their own. The Cheerleaders weren’t so lucky. Jaime was having some issues driving on the left side of the road, and ended up knocking a mirror off a parked car. She begged the car’s owner, “Can I maybe just give you some money for your mirror?” The car’s owner was having none of it. “Mmm, mmm, yes,” he said, laconically phoning the police. I really have to give the guy credit for bravery. I think if two women with hair the color of dragon blood smashed into my car and started screaming at me in a foreign language, I’d fall into the fetal position and happily offer them my wallet.

Jen handily wrapped up the arrow challenge, proving yet again that she’s ace at physical challenges as long as water isn’t involved. Justin wrapped up the challenge pretty quickly, too — bringing Team Zinger back to second place. Gary also made short work of the archery challenge, which is not that surprising, since he is Captain America and is incapable of not being awesome at everything. Ron had some problems with the challenge, noting that it “requires precision and I don’t have the best eyesight.” (Isn’t the clear lesson here that Ron should never do physical challenges?) The Cowbros arrived late, but Cord gamely noted, “I’m from Oklahoma. I shoot a bow and arrow, I feel right at home!” I had no idea that being from Oklahoma = being an archery fiend. Hooray for new stereotypes! The more you knoooowwww….

Teams had to speed off to downtown Minami-ashigara to find the next clue by the Kintaro statue. (Kintaro is a popular character in Japanese folklore.) They had two solid detour options: the Prayer of Purity, or the Frog of Life. In the former, teams had to participate in a Shinto religious cleansing ritual by learning a prayer, and then standing underneath a chilly waterfall for a full minute. In Frog of Life, teams had to strip down to athletic diapers and find a tiny frog figurine inside of a giant mud pit. (“Frog in a mud pit” sounds a bit more exciting than “Needle in a haystick,” right?)

NEXT: Mudfight!Zev and Justin opted for the mud pit, and were the first to suit up in the giant-diaper leisure-wear. “We look like really skinny sumo wrestlers,” zinged Zev. “Now, let’s find this frog, and eat its legs for good luck!” No sooner had they entered the pit than the locals started throwing giant gobs of mud at them. Mud on their face, mud on their bodies…so much mud! I felt like I was watching Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood, except I didn’t want to tear my own eyes out. “Where are my goggles? Where are my goggles?” screamed Zev, not noticing that the goggles were still on his face. (My eyes! The goggles do nothing!)

Zev managed to find the frog, and was so excited that he actually gave the Mud Grand-Master an adorably non-macho chest bump. That meant Team Zinger was the first to set off for the’s Pit Stop at Commodore Perry’s landing. Most of the other teams followed them into the mud pit. In fact, the only teams to opt for the waterfall were Team Globetrotters and Team Angry Dad. That led to the evening’s big scandal: Fannygate.

Flight Time and Big Easy finished up the waterfall challenge first, and accidentally grabbed Christina’s fanny pack on their way into the changing room. Realizing their mistake, they apparently just left the fanny pack in the changing room instead of taking it back to where they found it. Christina understandably almost had a fit when she couldn’t find the fanny pack — everything was in there, passports, money. When Ron found the pack in the changing room, steam spewed out of his ears. “Why would they make such a stupid mistake?” he moaned.

Team Zinger came in first place for the second time in a row — one more and it’s a winning streak! Gary and Mallory weren’t far behind in second place — viva BUBGAS! The Globetrotters came in third place, but things got complicated when Ron and Christina landed in fourth. They told Phil about Fannygate, and the Honorable Judge Keoghan knew he had to make a ruling, so he gave Flight Time and Big Easy a 30-minute penalty. That meant Ron and Christina moved into the three-spot. (Kisha and Jen, who arrived soon afterwards, took fourth place.)

The remaining five teams were still hunting for mud-frogs as the sun started to set. Cord bragged about his incredible frog-finding skills, explaining that you had to sneak up on them. “The frogs weren’t alive,” said brother Jet, “Did you know that?” (Judging by the look on Cord’s face, I’m guessing the answer is “No.”) The Cowbros sailed leisurely into sixth place. The Goths weren’t far behind, landing in seventh. “It was cold in there,” noted Kent, “Were you cold?” Vyxsin deadpanned: “No, because I was working really hard.” Yeesh, who would’ve thought Goths could be passive-aggressive? Hooray for new stereotypes! The more you knooooowww…

Next: It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the boneMargie and Luke ended up in eighth place, which left Team White and Team Cheerocracy in a race for last. Jaime and Cara were in a dour mood — “We’ve never been this close to the bottom, ever.” It seemed like they were on their way out. Unfortunately, the Whites just couldn’t find the goldarn frog It seemed like they’d been there for hours, and it was getting brutally cold. Mike actually stepped out of the mud pit, but Mel refused to leave. Papa White ratched up the stakes considerable, saying, “I’d rather die here with you than home in bed!” Slow down there, Mister Klingon War Hero, there’s no point in killing yourself for a frothy CBS reality show! (Now, if this were A&E, it would be a different story.)

Mike finally convinced his dad to give in. Covered in brown-black mud, they looked like Martin Sheen at the end of Apocalypse Now, which means this recap has officially passed the recently-instituted government mandate requiring all pop culture articles to make at least some abstract reference to Charlie Sheen. Jaime and Cara leaped into the fray in their diaper bikinis and found the frog almost instantaneously. For some reason, though, they seemed to think that they were still in last place, so they were pleasantly surprised when Judge Phil awarded them a ninth place medallion. Gesturing to her partner’s messy hair, Jaime noted, “We’re calling this a big giant lump of panda poo.” Cara: “When a bird poops on you, people say it’s good luck! And it certainly worked out for us.” Cara kind of reminds me of Amanda Seyfried’s character in Mean Girls: so pretty and so spunky, but not so good with the mouth-words.

That left White & White Co. at the back of the pack — eliminated yet again from the race. I’m sad to see them go so early, personally. Elderly contestants don’t have the best track record on Race, but the Whites made such an adorable pair. Mel noted that he felt closer to his son than ever: “He knew he was going to lose the race by telling me to get out.” Mike noted, “My dad will never give up. That’s why sometimes you have to give up for him.” Adorable! I’ll miss them.

Viewers, what did you think about the contestants’ sojourn to Miyazaki territory? Am I the only one who’s bugged by the Airline Ticket Melodrama? Can anything stop the Zev/Justin Team Zinger Supertrain? How do you feel about the Globetrotters’ role in Fannygate? And Will it ever stop being fun to attach “-gate” at the end of random words? Sound off in the comment boards. Follow me on Twitter for more Race-related musings. For now, I’m off to the mud pit.

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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