The Amazing Race recap: Build a Better Dinosaur
As the China double-leg continues, the Goths make some aggressive moves, and Jaime gets angry at yet another taxi driver
“There’s like some kind of screws loose up here in our minds,” said Vyxsin, and who are we to argue? Team Mascara had one of the worst legs in Amazing Race history last week. Things had to improve at least a little bit for the Dating Goths, and sure enough, they got doubly lucky at the start of last night’s episode. First, their lost fanny pack was sitting pretty in the Gondola Lost & Found. Second, the other teams were instructed to hop a train back to Kunming — and the only train was leaving at 7 PM, many hours after Margie and Luke showed up in first place at the train depot. With nothing to do but watch their lead fade away, the teams decided to stage an impromptu three-on-three basketball match, with Jet, Flight Time, and Kisha facing off against Cord, Jen, and Big Easy. (Team Cheerocracy cheered them all on from the sidelines. We didn’t see a final score, but I’m betting the Washington Generals lost.)
So the playing field was flattened. Almost. As Grandmaster Phil sent the Goths onto the train depot, he warned them that they had a 30-minute penalty waiting at the next Pit Stop. Kent decided to play dumb about the infraction, reasoning that “everybody would definitely be targeting us for the U-Turn if they knew we had a 30-minute penalty.” Ah, there was the rub: The second half of this marathon leg would feature a Double U-Turn.
I always enjoy the U-Turn legs of Race, because it’s one of the few times in a season that contestants are directly playing against each other. Generally, the gameplay on Race is similar to golf: Your only real competition is with yourself — the drama is within teams, not between them. (That’s a big reason, I think, why Race contestants tend to be so nice to each other: They’re not voting each other out of the game, or scoring points on each other in competitions.) The U-Turn lets teams take decisive action against each other — as if, to continue the fascinating golf metaphor, you were allowed to throw half your opponent’s clubs into a lake and hide their golf ball inside of a gopher hole.
So Kent and Vyxsin kept mum about their extra thirty minutes. (They also lied madly about their map trouble, with Kent explaining that their car “broke down on the highway.”) Kent insisted that the other contestants were acting like “sharks swimming around,” but I dunno — they mostly just seemed confused, possibly because Team Goth’s story made no sense whatsoever.
Team Zinger Zinger of the Night: The train to Kunming featured triple-decker beds, and Zev and Justin were imprisoned on the top bunk. Justin: “The good thing about being on the top bunk is…” Zev: “Less chance for murder. ” Justin: “Yeah, I feel like any murder would happen on the bottom bunk. Or the middle bunk.” I’m pretty sure Murder on the Middle Bunk was an Agatha Christie novella.
Once the teams hit Kunming early in the morning, they made for the Flower Market. Team Zinger followed Team Angry Dad — a canny move, since Christina and Ron had a measure of we-speak-Chinese home-court advantage. The Flower Market clue sent them along to the Golden Horse and Jade Cock Memorial Arches. (The Cowbros actually ended up stealing the last-place Globetrotters’ cab — kickstarting a long, difficult day for Flight Time and Big Easy.)
NEXT: What’s between the past and the future?The two Detour options had a fourth-dimensional theme: “Honor the Past” or “Embrace the Future.” The “Past” forced teams to watch a traditional Tibetan performance, memorize the placement of 15 dancers, and arrange some lookalike dolls in the proper order. Alternately, they could choose the “Future,” and carry a complete solar water heating system up several flights of stairs to install it in the roof.
Zev and Justin continued to ride along behind Ron and Christina to the Tibetan performance. They put on some elaborate headgear and watched the performance play out. Ron was a little bit ruffled: “I never played with dolls.” Neither team got right order on their first try. Kisha and Jen, though, managed to completely nail the dolls’ order on their first try. (They were seriously a pair of silent assassins — having memorized the order, Jen barely whispered, “Don’t talk, don’t talk.” Hooray for the sibling mental link!) That meant all three teams left together in a caravan on the way to the Chinese Minority Heritage Center. Team Angry Dad led the way — no way a pair of Chinese-Americans could get lost in China, right? Right?
Meanwhile, the solar power challenge turned out to be a pretty serious physical undertaking. Margie looked like she was struggling a little bit, but she’s way too diesel to complain. The same can’t be said for Kent, who tried to one-up his beloved pink kitten by throwing his fair share of mid-competition fits. “It’s a race for a million dollars, you can’t walk up some stairs?” said Vyxsin, sounding extremely exasperated.
The race got turned completely upside-down when the Angry Dad caravan arrived at their destination…and realized that Angry Dad’s cabbie had taken them to the wrong Cultural Center. Ah, the pitfalls of Race alliances! It’s a classic “If one falls, they all fall” situation. That misstep meant Margie and Luke were the first to arrive at the Double U-Turn opportunity. They opted out of U-Turning. Same for the gentlemanly Cowbros, finally finding their groove in second place.
That meant the stage was set for some serious chicanery. Kent and Vyxsin, mindful of their 30-minute penalty, knew they had to U-Turn somebody. But they didn’t want to risk U-turning a team that had already passed them by. So they picked the only team they knew with absolute certainty was still behind them: the Cheerleaders. Who, we should note, were literally standing right behind them. Kent explained, “Putting a bullet in the Playboy bunny was the only thing that was gonna save us.”
Jaime, for her part, looked like she was thisclose to using her Playboy money to purchase Kent’s favorite Hot Topic store just so she could legally burn it to the ground. (New stereotype alert: Gingers excel at vengeance.) Getting desperate, Team Cheerocracy U-Turned the Globetrotters. Boy, did the Angry Dad caravan luck out on this one. You have to figure that any of the middle-rung teams would’ve jumped at the chance to U-Turn Zev/Justin, Christina/Ron, or Kisha/Jen.
NEXT: In defense of the beautiful peopleAs it is, the Angry Dad Caravan set off together for the Stone Forest. Unfortunately, the balance of power had shifted a little bit — only Kisha and Jen’s cabbie knew where the Stone Forest was. Kisha egged her cabbie into losing their followers, which meant Team Zinger and Team BUBGAS got left behind: the movie. I gotta say, I think Zev and Justin completely fumbled this leg — their entire plan seemed to just be “Follow Ron and Christina,” and once that avenue dried up, they were left wandering aimlessly around a big confusing city. (At one point, Justin literally picked up a stone and pointed at a tree, as if that would obviously indicate “Stone Forest,” instead of the more-likely interpretation, “Why does that American want to throw that rock at that tree?”)
Incredibly, Team Ginger and Team Globetrotter totally owned their U-Turn challenge. (My favorite part was hearing how the Globetrotters described the different performers: “Gray Russian. Man Russian. Buckethead. Red Bill.”) Unfortunately, the Cheerleaders had some terrible déjà vu when their cabbie stopped to get gas — something that had sealed their fate on their first-go round with Race in Hawaii.
From reading the comment boards, it like very few people out there think very much of Team Cheerocracy. And, truthfully, it’s easy to hate on Jaime and Cara. They’re cheerleaders. Their hair is the color of a Martian sunset. Both their names are fashionably misspelled. One of them appeared in Playboy, and it wasn’t even a classy issue of Playboy. (Tara Reid was on the cover. From what I hear. I mean, I didn’t read the issue. I never read Playboy. Although sometimes they have good articles. Um, from what I hear. Aaarrgggh, I can feel your judgment and it burns like a Martian sunset!)
Also, even by the high-tension standards of Amazing Race, Jaime is a true MVP of anti-taxi driver vitriol. Still, the cheerleaders make for uniquely compelling TV — if only because Jaime seems to have so completely colonized Cara’s brain as a back-up hard drive. I found myself weirdly rooting for them last night. After all, whatever cruel deity controls the fortunes of Race contestants couldn’t possibly allow them to lose again over a cabbie stopping over in a gas station. Right?
Kisha and Jen were the first to arrive at the Stone Forest, and were greeted with a task “65 million years in the making.” The Stone Forest is where paleontologists unearthed some of the largest dinosaur fossils ever found in China. To honor that achievement, one person from each team would have to put together a life-sized dinosaur, a dilophosaurus. In easily my favorite non sequitur ever, Overlord Phil explained that “A paleontologist will stop them if their dinosaur is unsafe.” Um, an unsafe dinosaur? Is there such thing as a safe dinosaur? Well, I guess there’s always the brontosaurus, the cheerful drunk uncle of the dinosaur world. (Wait, the brontosaurus isn’t real? Oh, cruel Science, wasn’t it bad enough when you stole Pluto?)
NEXT: The stone-faced paleontologistThis was a long competition, and all the teams slowly trickled in. When Kent and Vyxsin arrived in fourth place, Vyxsin for some reason decided to suddenly open up to everyone about the 30-minute time penalty. She must’ve felt like she owed everyone an explanation for U-Turning Team Ginger, but especially after their earlier reticence, it just made Team Goth look extremely shady. Or, in the words of Ron, “They’re just kabuki dancers — hiding behind their masks, and they hide very well.” Truer words were never spoken, Angry Dad.
Gary and Mallory arrived last, alongside Justin and Zev, and by that point the other teams already had a serious head start. Mallory decided it was time to use the express pass — probably a good call, considering the trouble some teams were having fitting the proper joints together. That meant Team Zinger were all alone at the back of the pack. Jet, meanwhile, continued the Cowbros’ sudden upswing by totally acing the dino challenge. I didn’t realize how much I missed the Heroic Cowboy theme music. Nice to see Jet and Cord looking happy again! The Cowbros had so much momentum, they even managed to lap Team BUBGAS for the win. When they came in first, Cord was so happy that he tossed his hat into the air. Time to start the chatter, readers: Are the Cowbros just on a lucky streak, or does this indicate that they’ve finally gotten their heads back in the game?
While Big Easy worked over the dinosaur, Flight Time jauntily poked the Cheerleaders: “Why’d you all U-Turn us? I think the redheads are being mean.” Cara laughed awkwardly and said nothing, and boy I wish I were pretty enough to make “laugh awkwardly and say nothing’ my de facto response to everything. Poor Cara. She was trying to be supportive. “Jaime, you’re doing great!” she yelled. “Leave me alone,” yelled Jaime.
Kent couldn’t convince the local paleontologist that he had the dinosaur screwed together properly. But his problems looked simple compared to Jaime and Justin, who both struggled mightily to undue some bones and ended up falling head over heels on several different occasions. Margie triumphantly nailed her dinosaur — she actually teared up a little bit talking about her dinosaur-loving grandson — and Team Un-Angry Mom raced off for a third place win. Kent finally wrapped up his dilophosaurus, and the Goths raced off to the Pit Stop. Thanks to their penalty, they had to watch Kisha and Jen race into fourth place. Still, their fifth place win is nothing to sniff at, considering that they, you know, basically drove five times around Japan and almost lost their passport. “We’re hitting our stride, getting our game back,” said Vyxsin. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, Big Easy managed to put together his dinosaur. I have never seen two huge men look happier than Flight Time and Big Easy, who screamed, “Ahhh! Ahhh! Double-U-Turn That, baby! Ahhhh!” (Cara deadpanned, “They’re sure noisy,” which leads me to believe that there is a whole secret sea of potentially-hilarious commentary hiding behind her placid features. Hey, she’s a law student! ) The Globetrotters took seventh place.
NEXT: The dilophosaurus claims one last casualtyChristina finally figured out her mistake: “I’m an idiot! I flipped the crux of the bone!” (God, smart people are awesome.) That meant it was down to Justin vs. Jaime, which is kind of like watching a match-up between Seth Rogen and an incredibly attractive human being who is not Seth Rogen. They both got their fair share of negatives from the paleontologist, but Justin finally wrapped up his dinosaur. Team Zinger sped away to the Pit Stop, ending up mere seconds behind Ron and Christina for an eighth place finish.
Jaime, bless her soulless void, just couldn’t solve the riddle of the dinosaur. “I can’t take this whole thing apart,” she said. “I can’t physically do it.” She was crying beautiful tears of sadness, and looked exhausted. Cara said, “Now I think we are definitely doomed.” And she was right — but props to Jaime for finishing the challenge anyways. When Team Cheerocracy showed up at the Pit Stop, Phil noted, “It seems that things just didn’t go your way.” Jaime: “It never goes our way.”
Now, that’s a little dramatic, but yow, you gotta love the irony. Jaime and Cara had “unfinished business” because, their first time through the Race, their cabbie stopped for gas at a crucial moment. And now, here they were being eliminated yet again…the same day their cabbie stopped for gas at a crucial moment. It’s just like how Kris and Amanda talked a lot about how they wouldn’t be eliminated because of a U-Turn…right up until they were eliminated because of a U-Turn. (Clearly, Grandmaster Phil is trying to teach us a subtle lesson about accepting tragic events from our past.)
Viewers, what did you think about last night’s episode? Are you surprised that Team Goth pulled it together? How do you feel about their decisions to lie about the penalty, to say nothing of their fate-sealing decision to U-Turn Team Ginger? Are Kisha and Jen slowly-but-steadily running away with this thing, and if so, what should be their team nickname? (All I can come up with is Team Silent Assassin, but I’ve been playing a lot of Assassin’s Creed lately, so I probably shouldn’t be trusted.) Let me know what you thought about the travels through China in the comment boards, and hit me up on Twitter to learn, among other things, why Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown is the best summer camp movie ever.