Teams race through one of the smallest countries in the world

By Darren Franich
Updated April 25, 2011 at 04:01 AM EDT
Monty Brinton/CBS

Tiny countries are fascinating, and they don’t come much tinier than Liechtenstein. A German-speaking country surrounded by Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein has a history that stretches back to the Roman empire. With only about 35 thousand citizens living in an area roughly the size of George Clooney’s Italian villa, it’s a gob-smackingly gorgeous winter-sports playpen slash essential tax haven for uber-wealthy types who think Monte Carlo is too pretentious. I’ve always said that Amazing Race feels a little bit like a Roger Moore-era James Bond movie in reality-show form, and if I ever get to film my remake of For Your Eyes Only, I’m going to insist on filming it entirely in Liechtenstein.

Teams set off for the mountainous principality last night, apparently no worse for wear after last week’s adventure in Freudian psychoanalysis. (Much thanks to ace recapper Christian Blauvelt for taking over Race while I and fellow Generation X archaeologist Keith Staskiewicz took a pilgrimage to Graceland.) In an interesting twist, all the teams seemed to be united in general fear/suspicion of the cowboys. The spirit of compassion that has permeated this season doesn’t appear to have extended to Jet and Cord: “There sure hasn’t been anybody who wants to buddy up with us,” Jet noted. It’s entirely clear to me how this division started, although it should be noted that Jet and Cord were the only team from their Race to return this season. Then again, I don’t really remember them being buddy-buddy with anyone that season besides maybe the Savage Detectives, so maybe they’re just loners by nature. Hey, they’re freakin’ cowboys.

The evening’s Roadblock was, in my opinion, a true masterpiece of reality TV task-mastering. The directive was simple: “Measure Liechtenstein.” Teams had to hop on a motorized bicycle equipped with an odometer and find their way across the complete length of the country using only an old dog-eared map. At the border, Olympic ski racer Marco Buchel was waiting for them with a clue.

Gary and Mallory were doubly delayed because of a bad cabbie and a Speed Bump. Fortunately for them, Liechtenstein confounded a few of the teams. Jen dropped her map. Jet might as well have dropped her map, considering that he took literally the only wrong turn in Liechtenstein. Flight Time composed a new tone poem, “I’m In Liechtenstein on the Bike Following Friends,” which instantly became Liechtenstein’s default national anthem. (I apologize for repeating “Liechtenstein” so often, it’s one of the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard. Make sure to pronounce the Germanic s correctly, so it sounds like “Leek-ten-shine.” There, don’t say you never learned anything from EW.com.)

Gary was adorned in a bright red jacket and a bright blue helmet and riding his motorcycle, he looked more than ever like the human incarnation of Captain America in our lifetime. He took pity on the lost Jet and rode with him, but Jet appeared to zip away from Gary at the first opportunity. Not a smart idea: Jet told Marco that he estimated the length of Liechtenstein at 35 kilometers, instead of the correct 22. Team-building pays off: Justin picked up the equally-lost Jen, drove her to the border, and told her the correct length. Let’s start the conversation now, people: Is Justin one of the best Race contestants ever?

Next: Everybody hates cowboys

Justin and Jen met their teammates at Gutenberg castle and hopped a train to Zermatt, Switzerland, a city at the base of the famous Matterhorn, the gorgeous snowy mountain where the Abominable Snowman lives, if I recall my Disney correctly. In a move that was either benevolent or flamboyantly strategic, Justin told the desperately confused Flight Time the correct kilometerage of Liechtenstein. Justin admitted that even he didn’t quite know why he assisted the Globetrotter: “I don’t know why we helped, other than they’re our friends and we’re so far in the lead.”

Justin’s generosity had an unintended side effect: Flight Time picked up Gary on the way to the border and passed along the correct number. Compared to its CBS brethren, Amazing Race doesn’t tend to dwell too much on strategy — so much of the show rests on physical activity and cabbie karma — but when you consider that Justin indirectly rescued half of the remaining teams last night, he starts looking a little bit like Race‘s version of Boston Rob, except not from Boston and not a total doucheboat. Only Vyxsin managed the correct number on her own — and that was after a patented Vyxsin Map-Reading Breakdown.

While the other teams raced ahead, Jet went on another ride through the entire freaking country. The time-loss was ruinous, no question: Cord, left all alone in Gutenberg Castle wearing both his own and his brother’s hat, looked extremely anxious. It certainly didn’t help matters that they were staring down the barrel of a double U-Turn, or that they had few friends in the Race. On the train to Zermatt, Kent proclaimed, “I wanna put some cowboys on ice today.”

Arriving in Zermatt, teams had two choices: “Cheese” or “Wheeze.” In the former, contestants had to finish an entire heaping pot of cheese fondue. In “Wheeze,” they had to delivery twenty pieces of luggage to at least five hotels around town. Justin and Zev have learned to be rightly suspicious of food challenges, but they still opted for the fondue. So did Kisha and Jen, although the sisters decided to switch challenges once it became clear that cheese fondue is basically the most decadent food on the face of the earth, besides Snake Surprise and The Heart of Louis XIV. Justin and Zev decided to stick with the cheese. They would learn to regret that decision.

All the other teams opted to do the luggage challenge, putting on bellboy outfits and rolling up and down the hilly streets searching for hotels. Kent threw assorted fits — “You hit my ankle with the cart!” Vyxsin, suddenly a model of patience, told her partner that he needed to get his act together: “You’re acting like a baby.” The cowboys arrived much later than the other teams, but their appearance made everyone else anxious. It’s interesting that all the other teams seemed to think the Cowbros were such contenders — I love them as a team, but they’ve certainly had their share of bone-headed moves this season. Really, I’m just kind of surprised that, with only a few legs left, none of the teams made any decisive game-changing moves. Don’t get me wrong — a big part of why I like Race is that the show doesn’t really descend into Big Brother-style backstabbery. But you’d think somebody would look at Team Zinger’s first-place finishes and start getting a little nervous.

NEXT: Fondue you want to know a secret?

Speaking of the Zingmasters: Zev was peppily making lots of puns, like “I am not very fondue of your fondue.” He was also burping happily. Justin, conversely, looked like a wreck. His face was buried in his hands. He went long minutes without even dipping his spoon into the fondue. Finally, he pulled a boot-and-rally, vomiting out his fondue on the snowy porch right as Kisha and Jen passed by on their luggage delivery. They finally finished the cheese after a nearly hour-long meal. Zev proudly noted that he pushed his teammate through the task, taking the lead at a crucial time.

Team Zinger practices a zone defense — they’re both specialists, but they’re also able to fill in when their teammate needs an assist — which is why my ridiculously early pick for them to win it all is looking more and more like the smartest bet I idiotically did not put any money on. (Let’s just agree that if they win, you all owe me an illustrated Dr. Pepper can from Japan.)

Another thing to like about Team Zinger: They’re both as classy as a penguin serving Sazeracs. The first to arrive at the U-Turn station at Inderbrinnen Brunnen, they didn’t U-Turn anyone, and instead set off for the Pit Stop at the base of the Alps. Zev threw a few puns at Phil — “Nice to fondue you!” — and smiled through their fourth first-place finish. Kisha and Jen, who also refused the U-Turn, came in second — a great finish for the pair, who have played a pretty under-the-radar game this season but are clearly legitimate contenders for the final victory.

Kent and Vyxsin finally finished up delivering their suitcases. (In the process, we learned that Kent is “Good at pushing, not pulling,” which sounds like code for something that wouldn’t make it into a PG-13 movie.) Having already U-Turned Team Cheerocracy into oblivion, they refused the U-Turn, and sat pretty in third place. It seems like Team Goth has morphed into this season’s Least Beloved Team, and I think they’re just one more Map Freak-Out away from elimination, but they’ve clearly got some legitimate Race skills. And by “they,” I mostly mean Vyxsin.

Gary and Mallory came in fourth place, but the Globetrotters had a couple of minor stumbles: After accidentally picking up suitcases for a sixth hotel, they lost two luggage tags and had to set off on a re-delivery. It looked like the Cowboys were closing in, but Team Globetrotter reached the U-Turn station and sealed their opponents fates. It made sense that the basketball players were the ones to finally pull the trigger on the Cowboys — unlike their more sentimental fellow players, Flight Time and Big Easy recognize when it’s time to just play the darn game already. The Globetrotters sailed into fifth place. It’s impossible not to like them, but it’s also impossible not to notice just how often they’ve had to rely on other players to succeed — it’s hard to imagine them winning the whole shebang at this point.

That left the Cowbros all alone at the back of the pack, apparently enjoying the fondue pot much more than Justin and Zev. They toasted to the race and made their way to Grandmaster Phil for their final reckoning. The brothers looked legitimately disappointed — I have to imagine that they felt like they were unjustly in everyone’s crosshairs — but they mostly laughed it off. “There’s nobody I’d rather ride around the country with,” said Jet, before adding, “Maybe my wife.” Cord, deadpan as always: “I don’t blame you.”

Viewers, are you sad to see the Cowbros go? Did you enjoy the trip to beautiful Li’l Liechtenstein? (You can rent it for a weekend. Seriously!) And can anything stop the Zinger Juggernaut? Talk it out in the comment boards, and hit me up on Twitter with your best fondue puns.

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