Teams put on their thinking caps and dance belts and got a chance to strut their stuff

By Meredith Hoffa
Updated November 19, 2012 at 07:14 AM EST
Cliff Lipson/CBS

The Amazing Race

S21 E8
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To whom do I express my sincere spacibo for bringing THE PROFESSOR into my life? Who is this actor? He should have a show! I’d watch it. The series could revolve around an exacting professor with a prickly exterior — but a secret soft side just below the surface — who pushes his students to achieve more than they ever thought they could in his (hybrid) field of expertise: geography-math.

But the professor was just one ingredient in tonight’s stew of glorious entertainment. I’ve always been fascinated by historical performers/impersonators who commit 100% and stay in character no matter what – and those cats at the cocktail party did just that. Add to the stew some zany taxi drivers and a whole lotta teams helping out other teams. And dancing! Can we please stay in Moscow forever?

First we had to finish the last episode.

The pool was closing so the Beekmans had just one more shot at the synchronized swimming routine. They didn’t nail it, which was sad, but you know what’s not sad? Brent’s diving. And the way his body simply refuses to somersault underwater even when every single cell of his being is devoted to the effort. I’m already a fan of Team Beekman but this pool madness just sent my affection for Brent through the roof. For their failure to complete the detour, the Beeks were hit with a four-hour penalty (to take place during the next leg), and then they, along with Abbie and Ryan, were off to the Trees of Love. Here, roles were reversed; Abbie was tapped out, and Josh, who turned out to be a Trees of Love Challenge prodigy, tenderly lent her a hand, literally picking her up off the ground. I like this little family! Proof that good things can come from adversity — or missed airline connections, anyway. Did Ryan call Josh “Joshie?” Pit Stop time was next, and the weary foursome arrived at the mat to learn that whaaaat they’re all safe whaaaat?!

The Rockers, who’d been toiling away trying to find their lost bags — including speaking to the “conceire” — went to say goodbye to Phil but goodbyes were not in order; not surprisingly, it was a non-elimination leg. Phew. Well, kind of phew. Sure, the Rockers would live to see another leg, but without Abba’s passport, they wouldn’t be able to check in at a Pit Stop, or, say, go anywhere. Their mission for the upcoming leg would be threefold: 1) find their stolen bags, 2) complete all the challenges, and 3) do their Speed Bump. All of this on Abba’s broken knees. Seemed pretty much impossible. But those dear Rockers aren’t the type to throw in the towel.

“Are you telling us we have another shot?” asked James, who had suddenly turned into a character in an after-school special.

“Yeah, I’m telling you you you’ll be eliminated really soon, just not right now,” Phil didn’t say – but basically said.

NEXT: Hot for teacher

NEW LEG!

The first stop was an auditorium at an agricultural academy, a.k.a. the domain of THE PROFESSOR.

On their way there, teams encountered fantastic cab drivers. There was Trey and Lexi’s guy who was dressed as a chain-smoking Randy Jackson. There was the Chips’ dude whose mellow side just wanted to enjoy some pastry and coffee and hangout time with the boys, yet whose impeccable taxi-driver side got Jaymes and James to the location so early that the door was still closed, with a “Beyoncé at 8 o’clock” sign on it. Yes, they’re both Jameses, can you even stand it? Then there was Twins’ driver, who, like every taxi driver in the world, adored them and wanted to show it by taking them to McDonald’s, which he was too fat for.

Oh, a quick word about unmarked taxis for anyone who’s interested. I noticed a lot of them the past two episodes so I asked my brother, who’s lived in Moscow, to school me. He said in Russian cities unofficial taxis, a.k.a. Chastniki, far outnumber official taxis. The drivers — who are usually unemployed or under-employed — just drive around searching for fares. It’s been the norm for years, he said, and is a relic of the Soviet era when there were black/grey markets abound and people would try to make extra cash any way they could.

So.

The roadblock was “Who’s in the zone?”, a challenge that involved racers getting a quick glimpse at a map of the county’s different time zones, another quick glimpse of a map of some cities, and then having to calculate the local time in various cities based on a given time in Moscow.

Enough about the task itself, though. THE PROFESSOR was everything.

“PYUUUUUT…. THE PYENCILS DOWN!”

I loved Lexi and Jaymes giggling together in the lecture hall like delinquent students as they were told again and again “NOT CYORRECT!” Eventually Lexi figured out the error in their reasoning. That Lexi! “Don’t let the pompoms fool ya,” Jaymes said. Ain’t it the truth.

Here Jaymes was explaining the correct way to calculate the time zones and James was thinking where am I and why is water falling from the sky?

Then THE PROFESSOR pulled out the pièce de résistance, his fake-out shtick. “I’M RYEALLY SYORRY…. BUT YOU WIN!” Did he learn that from Simon Cowell?

The Twins used their Express Pass to skip this challenge, and though that obviously was the right move, boy would I have enjoyed seeing them interact with this man. Imagine the hijinks!

NEXT: Ryan crashes and burns (into my heart)

Abbie and Ryan arrived at the challenge refreshed and ready to move on from their harrowing last leg. “The taste of victory now is getting closer to being in our mouth,” Ryan said in what was possibly the most bizarrely and grossly worded sentence of the night. But Ryan’s confidence soon dissipated as he attempted round after round of quiz and got only nyets. Listen, I’m horribly dumb at anything math-related so I’m not really one to talk, but if you found you were getting an extremely simple math problem wrong over and over, like twenty-something times in a row, might you stop to reconsider things? Like, maybe it’s not as straightforward as it seems? I know, I know, the stress of the race. And Ryan even said it: his brain had folded in on itself and he just couldn’t extricate from the loop. Frankly, I loved watching his tailspin. The more frustrated he got, the more my weirdly latent Ryan-attraction intensified; the more he melted down, the more irresistible I found him. Especially when he said things like how he “thought there was a glitch in the matrix,” and “the file is corrupt.” Exasperation + anxious cockiness + eventual self-deprecating-ness, which is not a word but who cares = a good look for Ryan. “I’m so stupid!” he moaned over and over when he finally saw the error of his ways – and I liked the way the professor’s amused expression suddenly snapped back into a surly grimace so he could bellow “NYEXT ROUND!”

The professor’s “I’M RYEALLY SORRY…. BUT YOU WIN” to Ryan was particularly gratifying. And that great hug! I thought Ryan was going to smash that prof into smithereens.

Meanwhile, the Beekmans had finished their penalty and got to racing and, as it turns out, Dr. Brent is in the zone, that’s whom! I loved his front-row sitting, teachers pet ways – as well as the way he beamed and shook hands with the professor afterward, proudly declaring “I’ve always been a straight-A student.”

By the way, is the deal with penalties that teams must sit at the Pit Stop and wait it out while doing literally nothing? As if they’re kids enduring a time out? Thirty minutes is one thing, but four hours seems like a terribly long time to sit outside next to your pack while just staring glumly straight ahead. I’m curious whether they’re allowed to use the down time to have a snack or read or even just put their feet up for a few?

Next came the detour and the options were “Movers” or “Shakers.” Movers would require teams to learn a Russian soldier dance. Shakers would challenge teams to identify seven Russian historic leaders — or impersonators thereof — who’d be milling around an elegant cocktail party scene as part of a scary/wonderful alternate universe, and man, I’m so happy a team chose this challenge.

But first: we’ve got some little dancers on our hands! This crop of teams is particularly dance-savvy. One team’s got a cheerleader. Another, a dance instructor. Another, two Chippendales performers. Not to mention a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and a football player. This is a physically adept group, and it showed at this challenge. I loved every minute of this dance break, especially for the way the incredible Russian dancers sometimes continued their routines even when our Racers were performing, making the whole room look like a scene from a Broadway show.

NEXT: The Beekmans impress, fraternize with dead people

My favorite moments from this challenge:

• The Twins in their soldier uniforms, just generally, because they looked so ding dang ludicrous – and Natalie ripping her pants and giggling “My ass is out!” (Girlfriend would later end up taking a digger later at the Pit Stop, too.). I know many of you will have my head in a pirozhki for saying this, but thieves though they are, I can’t quit these two. Their laughter and joy in the race is contagious and it’s hard for me to stay mad.

• Abbie’s “coffee-grinder” skills and that gorgeous pointed foot through the boot. Way to work it, girl.

• Ryan’s exuberant, full-on embrace of the (semi-scared) dance instructor.

• Yet another reminder of the way the Chips just travel the globe bringing smiles to girls’ faces everywhere. Oh, girls.

Unsurprisingly, it was the Beekmans who chose the cocktail party challenge and it was such a pleasure to watch them. For one thing, it was the completely right match for their strengths, and after seeing them struggle so in weeks past, it was nice to see them in their smartypants element tonight — in both challenges. Also, as I mentioned before, I’m always fascinated by historical characters for the way they totally stay in character no matter what you throw at them. Because I’m from New England, I grew up around a several historical spots brimming with costumed actor-historians, and even as a kid I was deeply fascinated every time we had a field trip to one of these places. Here’s something: Recently I was at a princess-themed toddler birthday party, and the friend of mine who was hosting it told me that the Cinderella she’d hired for the party remained in character the entire time they were discussing the logistics for the event prior to it, including over the phone when they were doing the credit card transaction and everything. Yes.

Anyway, Josh and Brent were on fire here and at their Beekman best: schmoozing, bantering and whooping it up. Josh danced with Catherine the Great. Brent sparred (and I don’t mean spa) with Peter the Great. The best moment was when when an armed and dangerous Lenin warned Josh “Be careful with vodka and Russian women,” and our gay goat farmer replied “I will try.”

The Beeks got the da right away, but they weren’t done yet. Brent, being Brent, wanted to go back and say thank you to everybody, so back to the drawing room it was for some waving and toasting and general merry-making. “Lively for a dead crowd,” Josh quipped as they finally departed. Sigh. These guys won’t win. But I love their spirit and their embrace of the experience — and a few of this season’s teams share this quality. It’s such a breath of fresh air.

The Pit Stop at Sokolniki park was, for the most part, a happy place for our grateful teams tonight. The Chips got their first first-place finish, which was particularly welcome in light of James’ bum ankle. For the Rockers, though, the finish was bittersweet. They seemed to have spent much of the leg looking for their stuff (at least based on what was televised), to no avail. As we’ve known all along, Long Hairs Do Care and they hate to go. But these BFFs clearly have a really solid friendship, so there’s that. And great hair, of course. And they will rock on.

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What did you think of tonight’s episode?

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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