The Amazing Race recap: Zodiac Yak Attack
Kent and Vyxsin take a very wrong turn, and Zev's poor performance in a challenge threatens to derail Team Zinger for good
In my entirely unprofessional assessment, China is probably the third most interesting country in the history of humanity. (It’s behind only Monaco and Narnia, and who can prove that Monaco is actually a real country?) Roughly a sixth of the world’s population lives in mainland China, and the country has become the second largest economy in the world — not too shabby for a nation with a cultural history that stretches back to before the Bronze Age. The People’s Republic’s complex mix of communism and capitalism is difficult to understand — especially if you’re someone who, like me, only subscribes to The Economist to read the hilarious photo captions — and depending on your perspective, the country’s political system can look vaguely totalitarian or precisely totalitarian. Certainly, China’s rise to prominence hasn’t come without negative side-effects. (Although that’s hardly unique: let’s not forget the Trail of Tears, or slavery, the decades-long battle for women’s’ suffrage, the Gilded Age, Herbert Hoover…) Still, whatever your feelings on the country’s political system, there is undoubtedly something worthwhile about taking a trip to China to learn more about the place.
Zev would beg to disagree. “A lot of people in China,” he deadpanned. “I’m not much of a people person.” Zev wasn’t too happy about Race‘s travel itinerary: Teams had to fly out of Tokyo and make their way to Jade Dragon mountain outside of Lijiang. Ron and Christina were decidedly more excited, since they both speak Chinese. Other teams were tormented by bad memories – Jen remembered an unfortunate run-in with Luke (“I called a deaf guy a bitch!”) and Jaime claimed that being in China on her first Race was “probably one of the most miserable days of my life.”
Kent and Vyxsin wouldn’t have any of that negativity. They had a new motto for the day: PMA, “Positive Mental Attitude.” They were unflappable. Nothing could worry them. When Vyxsin noted they were departing in seventh place, Kent happily chimed, “Lucky seven!” Because life is chaos, things began to go wrong almost immediately. First, Team Mascara couldn’t find their car. Then, when they did find it, Kent couldn’t open the door. Oh, whoopsy-daisy, he was pushing lock! Vyxsin gritted her teeth. Remember, everybody, PMA.
The teams were all slated to hop on the same flight to China. The airport wasn’t too far away, and this seemed like one of those no-brainer race-evening plane flights. Unfortunately, Kent and Vyxsin drove about three hours in the exact wrong direction. Vyxsin started crying. “We’re so far away right now. We’ve been going the wrong way this entire time.” It was extremely reminiscent of the Goths’ Italian Waterloo, where Vyxsin took a wrong turn. History repeats: Yet again, Vyxsin was crying into her maps like a cartography student at a Dashboard Confessional concert.
NEXT: Yakety Yak (Don’t talk back)Kent tried to cheer her up: “The Amazing Race is about tragedies, but it’s also about miracles.” Strong words, but it was hard to hold out much hope — the “Required Flight” left for Kunming around 9:30 AM. By the time Kent and Vyxsin arrived at the airport, they couldn’t catch a flight until 3:30 PM. I’m not sure about Positive Mental Attitude, but things certainly were starting out positively mental for Team Goth.
There was a bit of tension when the first flight landed in Kunming. The Racers had to catch a train to Lijiang, and Team Angry Dad used their incredible powers of “Actually speaking the local language” to get on an earlier train. Still, the rest of the teams didn’t feel too bad about being a couple hours behind. “Knowing Kent and Vyxsin are not in China makes this hard sleeper a little softer,” said Justin. “Ayyooooo!” said Zev. (Seriously, are these two auditioning for a talk show? They could be, like, the IFC version of Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter.) Christina was a little bit frustrated when Ron insisted on eating some “warm Chinese buns,” but it didn’t matter much — they had to wait for the marked shuttles in Lijiang to depart at 8 AM, by which time the rest of the teams had already showed up.
As the front teams made their way up in the marked shuttles, Team Mascara were just landing in Kunming. Good news: They could catch a morning flight to Lijiang! Suck on that, railroads! (By the way, would anyone else like to see a Pixar movie about a three-way war between anthropomorphic transportation machines? It would be called Trains vs. Planes vs. Automobiles.) Bad news: Vyxsin lost her passport! Or at least, she left it by the ticket place. It was, in hindsight, a bad omen.
The rest of the teams were engaged in the leg’s first competition. One person from each team had to saddle a yak and then ride it across a precarious section of a river to reach their next clue. Cord aced this bovine challenge — further indication that the Cowbros are a great team, so long as they’re not in an urban environment. Zev had been excited to take a more active role on this leg — Justin had teased how his partner had so far “had to do very little but sit in the backseat of a car.” Unfortunately, Zev did not exactly excel at the Yak challenge, earning giggles from the locals.
Teams were instructed to ride a gondola up to Spruce Meadow, three miles above sea level. For some ungodly reason, Team Cheerocracy was in first place. They sprinted to the Gondola – and instantly started to feel the altitude. (Everyone was slowing down. Margie: “I’m from Colorado, and this altitude is still kicking my butt.”) In the Spruce Meadow, the Racers were tasked with a classic frog-in-a-mud-pit challenge. The teams had to search among tens of thousands of hanging charms to find the twelve animals of the zodiac, and then put them in the proper order.
Next: Zev loses his coolChristina had a minor advantage — “My mom made me memorize the Zodiac since I was a little kid.” Mallory had no such advantage, but she managed to polish off the challenge faster than anyone. When Luke was having problems putting the charms in order, Mallory insisted that he take a gander at hers — a nice bit of alliance-building. (In light of their great performance so far this season, and the fact that they’re probably the most complementary pair in the current Race, Team BUBGAS is my personal pick for dark horse contender that might win it all so long as they don’t use any prehistoric roadmaps.) Other contenders had a more problematic time. Cord made chicken sounds, Arrested Development-style, to the amusement of the locals. Big Easy asked a local cow where to find the dragon, which is not a sentence I ever expected to type outside of my serialized fan-fiction series The Harlem Globetrotters Rescue Grandma’s Farm from the Hungry Hungry Dragon. (It’s a working title.)
But one player was having real trouble. Zev was getting frustrated trying to find the charms. Justin tried to keep his spirit up, joking to the camera, “Look, there’s Zev’s little Elmer Fudd hat!” As perfect coincidence would have it, Zev was at that moment trying to find the “rabbit” charm, and I’m pretty sure Zev literally said, “Where are you, you wascally wabbit?” (Clearly, the Team Zingerites shares a mental link.) However, the problems really started after Zev found the rabbit. He didn’t quite seem to grasp the “order” direction, and just hung the charms up in a jumble. The Charm-Master was not impressed, and Zev actually threw a little fit. Thus began a lengthy sequence that went something like this: Zev rejumbled the charms, the Charm-Master shook his head, Zev freaked out, and the cycle began again. This entire sequence was set to a spoken-word song composed by Justin, the lyrics of which follow:
Zev, don’t freak out!
You can do it, man!
Zev, don’t freak out!
Don’t get upset, buddy!
Even worse: As the last couple of teams rode the gondola down, they saw Team Mascara ascending on the other side. That has to be some sort of Race record — Kent and Vyxsin left Tokyo almost six hours after the other teams. Certainly, Justin looked profoundly unsettled when they arrived. Justin kept on his game-face, and asked Kent how they missed the flight. “Our car broke down,” Kent lied. “We had flight trouble,” he double-lied. Why lie, Kent? Secret secrets are no fun.
The other teams were told to race down to Old Town Lijiang to find their next clue. Ron and Christina made the mistake of getting on a little golf-cart-y thing instead of the marked bus, and they spent an indeterminate amount of time going in the wrong direction. When Christina realized the mistake, she told the guy to turn around. This instigated her father’s transformation from Mild-Mannered Ron to Angry Dad.
Next: A horse, a horse, Zev’s kingdom for a horse!
Ron was screeching, frothing, pointing madly at the mountain. It wasn’t immediately clear if he was angry at Christina, the driver, or the mountain. “We’re going to get screwed! We’re supposed to be frigging going there! Raghhhhhhhh, [inaudible angry words], Angry Dad Smash!!!” Fortunately, the father-daughter team managed to flag down the bus carrying the Globetrotters. Christina thanked Flight Time and Big Easy profusely. Ron stewed in the corner.
In the Old Town square, teams had to find their correct sign on an ancient fair-wheel, write down their wish, and deposit it into the correct slot. Mallory’s adorable wish: I wish that my dad and I would have the most fun and best experience on this race.” (According to my sources inside the Center for Disease Control, Mallory’s charm is now so infectious that it’s been reclassified as a Stage-Five epidemic, second only to the Bubonic Plague and Bieber Fever.) Christina wished to “bring home the victory.” Cord wished for “world happiness,” which proves that he’s more of a John Ford cowboy than a Sam Peckinpah cowboy.
Try though he might, Zev simply couldn’t get the Zodiac order right. But then, some luck! First, Vyxsin began to suffer a panic attack. She had most of the charms, but she couldn’t find the last few. “I’m so confused. I just don’t get it,” she said. She began crying into her charms, like a fortuneteller at a Dashboard Confessional concert. And then, while Kent tried to cheer his teammate on, Zev realized that he’d made a mistake — he had two goat charms, and was missing a horse. He found the correct charm surprisingly quickly, and Team Zinger was back in the game. “I know it was terrible,” said Justin, “but you stuck it out.” Patience: Still a virtue, turns out! Justin and Zev put the horrible Spruce Meadow in their rearview, leaving Vyxsin to slowly implode.
The Detour featured two tasks rooted in Chinese tradition. In “Hammer,” teams had to pulverize hot molten candy using a comically oversized hammer. In “Horn,” teams had to lead a procession of traditional dancers through the streets of town to the local palace while carrying a comically oversized horn. (There is nothing on the face of the earth that doesn’t look much cooler when it’s comically oversized.) Most teams chose the “Hammer” task. There was a funny moment when Ron got distracted by food for the second time that day ––“These are live fish!” I realize Ron might seem a bit unfocused, but I wonder if his food fixation will prove to be Team Angry Dad’s secret weapon, especially in the undernourished later legs of the race.
NEXT: Never never never lose track of your fanny pack
Putting aside Team Mascara’s map drama and Zev’s goat gaffe, this had been a remarkably dead-even leg. Still, kudos to Margie and Luke for coming in first place…which means that they were the first team to discover that they weren’t finished racing just yet. Yep, they were facing a double-leg — the second two-parter in just four episodes. Twist! Shyamalan! Margie: “You don’t know what I want to say right now.” (One of the commenters on last week’s recap rightfully pointed out that I had neglected to give Margie/Luke a Race nickname. In honor of Margie’s terse badassery, I hearby christen them: Team Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot, or Team Stormshoe for short. Suggestions are welcome, and will probably be ignored.)
The rest of the teams arrived shortly thereafter. The Cowbros took 2nd, Team BUBGAS sashayed into 3rd, and Team Angry Dad took 4th, leaving Jen/Kisha, Flight Time/Big Easy, and Jaime/Cara to fill up the 5th-7th slots. Zev and Justin were a little ways behind, making their respective Zodiac wishes – “To live a long happy life” and “to win Amazing Race” – but I’m betting they can catch up soon enough.
Alas, Team Goth’s troubles weren’t over. Vyxsin finally managed to figure out the Zodiac challenge. They were still reasonably confident that they could catch up to Team Zinger. They rode down the gondola. They got in a marked bus. They rode the bus for a few minutes. Suddenly: realization! The fanny pack was gone. The fanny pack containing all their money, their passports, everything. “We have to go back!” they screamed. “We have to go back, Kate!”
It was all so terribly reminiscent of the passport drama that got Zev and Justin kicked off in their first go-round. It was also the cherry on top of a bad day for Team Mascara. In fact, you could make the argument that Kent and Vyxsin literally had one of the single worst legs in Race history – and considering that they still might have a time penalty for missing the required flight, it doesn’t look too good for our favorite Dating Goths.
Still, there have been crazier comebacks — and since the second half of a double leg is often exhausting, Kent and Vyxsin may yet make a comeback. Viewers, what did you think of last night’s episode? I kind of like how Phil dropped a surprise double-leg on the teams so soon after the other one, but do you think they’re overusing the double-leg trick? Would you eat hot molten candy? Is China still cool? Hit the comment boards, and follow me on Twitter if you’re interested in more exciting socio-historical discussions.