Eight teams compete for the million bucks by sculpting beards and sliding gnomes

By Joseph Brannigan Lynch
March 19, 2012 at 08:11 AM EDT
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Last night the remaining eight teams of The Amazing Race 20 headed to Bavaria, the oldest state in Germany and certainly one of its most historic. For the entire hour, it looked as if the contestants had been dropped into a Grimm’s fairy tale, only with more Travelocity Gnomes and a narrator from New Zealand.

Art and J.J., victors of the last two legs, got an early morning start on the trip to Bavaria. Once there, they had to wait for a Middle Earth-lookin’ inn to open so they could grab the Travelocity Roaming Gnome that held their next clue.

By the time the inn cracked open its doors at 8:30 a.m., Dave and Rachel and Danny and Joey “Fitness” has already caught up to Team Border Patrol. But before addressing the next challenge choices, I’d like to make some important observations.

–Does Art always have a bandanna or cap on his head?

–Ralph has been divorced three times at age 36. That’s almost something to brag about.

–Danny said the tongue sticking out of his panda hat is “kind of flirty.” Only if you’re trying to pick up ladies at an arts ‘n’ crafts fair.

–Mark opined that “We need the money worse than any team out there.” That’s probably true, which makes me sad because there’s no way they’re gonna win this. Although I love them.

Speaking of Bopper and Mark, they had a speed bump thrown their way since they came in last on the non-elimination round. The challenge: Yodel a tune to the satisfaction of a professional yodeler. The producers couldn’t have picked a team better suited to this challenge.

The way these two pals tackled their penalty exemplified exactly why they’re worth rooting for. Most teams would have approached the speed bump with exasperation or a sense of grim determination, but they just threw themselves into the yodeling task like it was a reward.

“We didn’t have no choice but to have a ball,” Mark said, and indeed they looked like they enjoyed yodeling as much as the pros. The expert didn’t hold them to terribly strict standards, so before long they were on their way.

The first challenge was a choice between Fairy Tale or Champion Male. I’m kinda shocked it wasn’t called “Fairy Tale or Hairy Male” given that the male champs were Bavarian beard-growers. I imagine being a pro in that discipline puts you at a level of respect between “fireman” and “Nobel Prize winner” in certain parts of Bavaria.

In Fairy Tale, teams had to follow a gingerbread trail to a woman in a witch costume standing in the freezing cold. She would judge the gingerbread house roofs they constructed using the bits they collected on the trail. Champion Male was indoors (meaning it was the better choice) and it required the teams to sculpt a champion beard-grower’s whiskers into a ridiculous, ahem, I mean “award-winning,” pattern.

The leading teams all went the hairier route. Rachel of Team Army took control while Dave explained why they picked that particular snowy white-haired dude: “We chose this gentleman because he looks like a jovial gentleman, he looks like Santa Claus.” While its true that the Deutschlander in question did look affable, I’m guessing that had less to do with the Christmas spirit and more to do with the fact that all of these guys were drinking beer at nine in the morning while Americans toyed with their beards. Why wouldn’t they be jovial?

NEXT: Castle confusion and gnomes slip slidin’ away

Team Jersey Stereotype assumed they would excel at this task because of the exacting attention men pay to hairstyles in their walk of life, but they actually did a pretty sloppy job twisting their man’s beard into horizontal spikes.

Although J.J. feigned reticence at first, he soon jumped into the task with relish. “That’s weird, man, pulling another man’s beard and making curls in it, that’s funky,” he said at one point. But he also said, “I’m not ashamed of who I am and that’s one of my abilities — I can craft a man’s facial hair.” I think J.J. may be a closeted beard-sculptor.

After finishing off their Champion Male, Art and J.J. received their next clue — Find Ludwig II’s bedroom in the castle that was the inspiration for Snow White. The rub was that there were two very old castles standing across from each other, so they asked locals for directions and indulged in a horse-drawn carriage to the top. Once again, they were in first place by far.

On the gingerbread trail, Team Big Brother and the Team Cousins were struggling just to get started. Team Kentucky sniffed it out easily enough and began cutting and molding the thick pieces of gingerbread they had foraged into a roof.

Although the Kentuckians got to the witch before the others, Team Cousins managed to finish Fairy Tale first (after finding it, of course). They may not have any directional aptitude, but they sure know how to craft an edible roof.

Without the luxury of a horse and carriage up the winding castle road, the Dating Divorcees were at each other’s throats on the long walk up. “Stop telling me to shut up,” Ralph demanded, to which Vanessa responded, “If you stop talking I won’t have to tell you to shut up.” Without Big Brother’s Rachel to target, Vanessa soon directed her barbs toward her boyfriend. So that’s healthy.

“The little devil inside of me was laughing because I knew her legs were on fire,” Ralph gloated to the camera later. I can already see that fourth divorce on his horizon.

Team Army and Team Feds actually chose the wrong castle, wasting precious time at the Hohenschwangau castle instead of the Neuschwanstein castle. How could they be so stooopid! Kidding, kidding, but in all seriousness, they really should have asked around or perused some pamphlets before walking through half of the castle’s guided tour and then realizing their mistake. When the tour guide pointed them toward Neushwanstein Castle, their faces melted off and they curled up into fetal positions. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Kerri and Stacy and Team Kentucky nearly made the same mistake, but they wisely inquired before entering the castle, so they avoided sinking a ton of time at Hohenschwangau.

At that point, Team Border Patrol had sailed far ahead. The clue card in Ludwig II’s bedroom took them to an ice hockey/curling rink, where they had to slide their Travelocity Gnome into the center of a target on ice. Sort of like curling without the brooms. Phil said this sport dates back to the 16th century, but I’m guessing travel agency mascots didn’t feature so prominently back then.

Not that I’m complaining about the shameless Travelocity advertising, though. That gnome is adorable, and I was following his Tweets while watching the episode. @RoamingGnome bragged that Ralph put a bandanna on his head, so even the gnome noticed that guy’s calling card.

NEXT: A 200-year-old dairy barn and the elimination of another duo

While most of the teams kept pace with each other in staggered groups, Art and J.J. scored their third consecutive first place victory (and a trip to Thailand) in a barn full of bovines. Not to state the obvious, but Art and J.J. are two adult male human beings. Also, they seem posed to win this season.

On the long hike up to the Snow White castle (which reminded me more of the Sleeping Beauty castle, if we’re talking Disney), Bopper was huffing and puffing like a character out of yet another fairy tale. When they finally got to the castle, he collapsed on his knees and said a prayer while wheezing horribly. I was actually worried about his health — it sounded that bad.

Mark told him to “quit trying to be the superhero and take your time,” reminding me that this pair of best friends has more respect and compassion for each other than any of the romantic couples in this season.

At this point, Danny and Herr Fitness had come in second, which they didn’t seem happy about, and Team Dating Divorcees finished third. Not too long after, Team Army was relieved to come in fourth and Team Big Brother came in fifth, but not before Brendon fell flat on his arse the second he stepped on the mat.

Things would have been looking really dire for Team Kentucky — who had already suffered two setbacks — had not Jamie and Nary and Kerri and Stacy fared so poorly at the gnome on ice challenge. It was a seemingly insurmountable task for those two teams, so much that Mark and Bopper actually passed them and eked out a sixth place finish. Which I was really happy about, because they’re sweet, hilarious and a genuine pleasure to watch.

With the Feds making it out of the ice rink just before the cousins, Kerri and Stacy were the last team to finish. This week, there was no Phil ex machina and so Team Cousins got cut. They naturally cried a bit, but acknowledged they would at least be happy to rejoin their families, which for Stacy includes a pro basketball-playing husband.

While I appreciated their positive attitudes, I have to say I was annoyed by the way they explicitly opted to follow other teams instead of trying to figure out directions on their own. I fully sympathize with having no sense of direction, but if you have to shadow another team just to make it from one location to another, you should fully except to be eliminated.

So I can’t say I’m disappointed or glad to see them go. I am excited for next week’s episode, which involves mud baths and some monstrous underwater machine.

What did you think of last night’s episode? Would you have chosen the correct castle? And who do you think will be the next team to go? Nary and Jamie? Mark and Bopper? Yodel your opinions below!

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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