Ron begins a spiritual quest only to discover it has no end, while the cowboys find that their trade comes in handy in India.
Amazing Race Ron Christina
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Seek and ye…may not find.

Unfortunately, that was Ron’s great ordeal last night on leg seven. As Darren pointed out last time, Ron fits into the Connoisseur archetype on The Amazing Race, someone who is ever willing to seek and sample but is inherently distrustful of others. It can lead to tunnel vision and a fracturing of the team spirit needed to win. Was there not something poetic—almost Sisyphus-like—in Ron’s unending wandering through the perfumed streets of Varanasi looking for holy men?

But I get ahead of myself. First, an introduction is in order. My name is Christian Blauvelt, and I’ll be your tour guide/Jungle Cruise skipper this week through the heart of India. Your regular docent, Darren Franich, is on a quest of his own. A road trip to New Orleans, to be precise, with our fellow EW colleague Keith Staskiewicz. But while they’re sampling jambalaya and slow-shuffling to “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” let me take you back to Kolkata, city of 15 million people and our sixth pitstop.

First place finishers Gary and Mallory were treated to an Indian feast, courtesy of that authentic Indian tea-growing firm, Snapple. Hopefully they loaded up on samosas and gulab jamun, because the next day they were to fly to Varanasi, the famous, ancient holy city on the Ganges, which legend has it was founded 5,000 years ago by Lord Shiva himself. Shiva, you may recall, is the father of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god revered by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. He’s usually represented as a young, virile male to indicate his mastery over death, rebirth, and immortality. In fact, some Hindu traditions regard him as the “Supreme God.” To this day, the religious leader of Varanasi, the Kashi Naresh, is considered to be a living avatar of Shiva.

The cowboys were the second to leave Kolkata, though they, like many naïve travelers before them, felt like they could trust the airline ticket seller to tell them the earliest flight to Varanasi. Jet declared, “When I look into a man’s eyes as he’s telling me something, I believe him.” As Rama said to Sita, noble thoughts do not a race win. Team Cowboy ended up on a flight that would get in an hour behind the six other pairs.

Meanwhile, Zev found himself dealing with Kolkata-inflicted sensory overload: “India’s a little too much for me. There are too many crowds, and I don’t like it. I’m ready to leave.” Later he added, “This city Calcutta is cal-crowded.” Witticisms like that show they don’t call ‘em Team Zinger for nothing!

NEXT: The Amazing Race gives us the meaning of life.

The Goths paused to reflect on “a moment of sadness.” No, they didn’t acknowledge the overwhelming poverty around them. Instead, they remembered that it was in India where they were previously eliminated. Kent got snippy with the taxi driver when he banged his head on the trunk of the cab. “Tell me to watch out next time, bro!” Memo to Kent: no one can ever take you seriously if you call them “bro.” Maybe they couldn’t anyway because of your painted eyebrows, but “bro” is really a dealbreaker.

In Varanasi, others had difficulty with cab drivers too. Big Easy noted that “When you push the gas, the horn blows in India. In the states if you drive like this, you’ll have a helicopter and three or four police behind you.” Meanwhile Flight Time appealed to the driver’s patriotism when encouraging hid mad skills: “Represent yourself. Represent your country!” The Zingers’ cab, meanwhile, ran out of gas shortly after they got picked up at the airport. Vyxsin was a little freaked out at the wildlife she saw roaming Varanasi’s streets: “These streets are totally wild. There’s cars, motorcycles, tractors, cows, lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!” Who knew that Goths like The Wizard of Oz? (Maybe the Wicked Witch’s eyelinered, “Oh wee um, yo um!”-chanting guards are an early Goth touchstone?)

Not every reality show offers a chance to learn the meaning of life. Sure we’ve learned a lot about human behavior from ethnographic studies like Jersey Shore, social organization from Survivor, the occult from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. But the meaning of life?

Well, last night’s Roadblock offered just that. The racers had to track down six sadhus, bearded holy men who’ve renounced material pleasures in pursuit of spiritual truth (Justin: “They look like an anorexic Santa Claus!”), and retrieve from each a word on a piece of paper that’s part of a sentence declaring the meaning of life. Then they’d present the assembled sentence to a seventh sadhu. Big Easy discovered the first word: “The.”

Meanwhile, Ron began his long wandering. When asked “Who’s ready to search for the meaning of life?” he shouted, “I am!” But overconfidence is especially dangerous when paired with ignorance. Apparently, he decided to focus on the waterfront along the Ganges thinking that the sadhus would want to disrobe and go for a swim. Clearly, he thought wrong. “This is frustrating. Where are these holy men? Where are these holy men?!” he seemed to be beseeching the gods. Elsewhere, Kent betrayed Gary, by bolting to track down the seventh Sadhu and give him the meaning of life all by himself.

Anyway, Kisha and Jen were the first to discover the meaning of life: “Once you’re over the hill, you pick up speed.” That’s it? That’s the meaning of life? I’d rather have an Ovaltine commercial than fortune cookie philosophy like that. Kisha and Jen were to visit the Swaminath Akhara—a kind of outdoor gym featuring mallet-swinging and mud wrestling. (Justin: “I’m glad we didn’t have to get into those thongs.” So are we, Justin. So are we.) There they received the Detour. They could either “Feed the Fire” or “Feed the Buffalo.”

NEXT: Where’s a sadhu when you need one?

It’s always hilarious to me how there’s one Detour challenge that’s so obviously easier and more manageable than the other. This time you could hop a motorized water launch for a back-and-forth trip across the Ganges to pick up some hay for hungry cattle, or you could wade ankle-deep in cow manure to make fifty fuel patties out of the excrement, attach them to a wall, let them bake, then burn them to create a fire to boil milk for hungry children. Hmm. Which would you choose?

Kisha and Jen opted to make fuel along with the Goths and Gary and Mallory. Damn, I was hoping there would be some feces-throwing payback courtesy of Gary for Kent’s betrayal, but no dice. I mean, come on man. You actually had it in your hand. It was ready to be thrown! Mallory noted that she was wearing the same outfit she wore, minus babushka, when she had to shovel manure in Russia on her previous Race. She’d better mean it when she says she’s never going to wear that again.

Meanwhile, Ron was still looking for the sadhus and not finding them. Basically, this is just a more philosophically-tinted variant of the frog-in-the-mud challenge. In fact, he was so slow that Team Cowboy, delayed an hour because of that shifty airline ticket seller, passed him. They, of course, opted for Feed the Buffalo, being cowpokes and all. “We came to the other side of the world to haul hay today,” they practically said in unison, finding their livelihood amazingly compatible with cattle-friendly India.

Long story short, because of their smart choice to deliver the hay, the Globetrotters successfully catapulted from last to first, earning a trip to the big island of Hawaii. Team Zinger came in second. Kisha and Jen were team number 3, with Gary and Mallory right behind them. And the cowboys came in fifth.

So it came down to a race between Team Goth and Team Angry Dad. Vyxsin was really willing to push herself to the limit, though, diving into the Ganges to escape a scurrilous water taxi driver and all but dragging the occupants of a cab out of their seats. (Those Varanasi cabbies have seen it all.) Ron finally rounded up the remaining sadhus, but Team Goth’s determination pulled them ahead. The father-daughter duo was the last to arrive at this curry-scented pitstop, finding themselves out of the race. I’ll miss Ron’s Garrison Keillor voice and his condescension for his daughter.

Will you miss Team Angry Dad? Who’ll be the next to meet Phil Keoghan’s elimination face? I mean, it can only be a matter of time for the Goths, right? Right? Next week we’re off to Vienna, world capitol of music. City of Mozart, Strauss, and Before Sunrise. Check back next week for insights into all things Habsburg and Harry Lime.

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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