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Amazing Race Recap: Time Zoned

Russian? But I was just taking my time.

I'm assuming that after the dramatic way last week's episode of the Amazing Race concluded, the beginning of this week's episode was supposed to be relieving. Two of the most popular teams were saved from the brink of elimination - huzzah! But I have a beef with it, mostly because it feels like the producers are just making it up as they go along. My two big problems are these:

1. Josh and Brent couldn't successfully finish the synchronized swimming detour before the pool closed for the night, so the judge gave them the clue but told them they'd have to take the penalty. It's kind of unfair that both options in the detour were in places - the library and the pool - with hours so any team that showed up in the night was a little screwed. But more than that was the fact that the penalty was tacked on to the goat farmers' departure time, not their check-in time. I don't remember that ever happening before. I thought the whole point of a penalty was that somebody else would be able to slip in front of you at the pitstop. Tacking it on to the beginning of the next leg just gives them four hours' more rest and still puts them WAY ahead of the last-place team.

2. When James and Abba tried to check in in fourth place, they were told they couldn't do so because they didn't have their passports. So they went out, called the police, called the U.S. embassy, fretted around Moscow for a few hours, and then returned to the pitstop, just as passport-less as they were hours before. Except this time, they were allowed to check in, a half day behind everybody else, and because it's a nonelimination round, they'd be able to complete as much of the tasks as they could while still hunting for their passports. So why couldn't they have checked in back when they were in fourth place? What changed, other than the fact that they are now not only without their passports but also hours behind the other teams? I UNDERSTAND NOTHING.

But enough with my nitpicking. It was an entertaining episode, if a confusing one, that began where the other left off: in the pool, with Brent treading water. After he and Josh get their clue and news of their penalty, they travel with their new besties Abbie and Ryan to the trees of love. Josh figures out how to unlock locks pretty quickly (smart guy) while Abbie, of the team that knows it's not going to be facing a four-hour penalty at some point, gets pouty and frustrated almost right away. When Josh finishes his task, he gives Abbie a hug and finishes hers, too. Confused about the rules or not, I am certainly in favor of anything that keeps these Beekmans in the game as long as possible.

Then things REALLY get started, in the form of a real leg. Trey and Lexi leave first with a huge advantage, and Lexi worries that they might not have enough motivation with no other teams nipping at their heels. Cue a crappy cab driver who drops them off in the middle of the South Side Moscow, complete with graffiti and broken bottles and I'm guessing the overwhelming stench of vodka and sweat. A second cabbie also takes them to the wrong place, which gives Jaymes and James plenty of time to slip in ahead of them to the Moscow Agricultural School. Not that it mattered much, since the place didn't open until 8, but it did give the Chippendales time to bond with their kind of awesome taxi driver, an aficionado of cigarettes, coffee and danishes. Also, props to Jaymes for catching himself doing what at least one Amazing Race team does every season - start talking to cab drivers in non-Spanish-speaking foreign countries in Spanish. Now don't let me catch you yelling at everyone in monotone, a la Mirna.

Once the joint opened, the teams were faced with a Road Block where one person had to look at a map of Russia's time zones, then look at a map of Russian cities, then calculate the local time in various cities based on Moscow's time. The trick was that Moscow's time zone was listed as "+4", which meant other time zones that said things like "+6" or "+7" were actually only two or three hours ahead of Moscow. It took about a dozen tries of working together for Jaymes and Lexi to figure it out, but as they were all giggles and self-deprecating humor, it was kind of endearing and cute. Ryan was a different story. Upon hearing they had to drive to an agriculture school, he was immediately confident: he went to UC-Davis, after all, and THAT'S an agricultural school! I'm sure all the UMass alums watching at home had the same reaction. Abbie spent the cab ride gushing over his math and science intellect, and when the clue inferred that it would involve calculations, Ryan's ego was pretty well stoked.

My favorite part of the episode was listening to Ryan while he completed his first attempt at the road block. He finishes before the time runs out, can't wait for the teacher's assistants to bring his test up to the "professor," and is asking for his clue because he knows how right he is. But no. He's so very wrong. And with each subsequent wrong attempt, you can see his brain slowly start to disintegrate before our eyes. It was like some variation of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Right around the second dozen mark, while complaining that the map didn't even make sense because Moscow was listed as "+4" something clicked. Except his commentary was a little different than before: "Ohhhhhh, I'm so stupid! So stupid!" The only people more relieved than Ryan were Abbie and the professor, who both looked a little fearful for their wellbeing.

The only thing better than seeing Ryan struggle after being so outwardly cocky was Brent's quiet confidence: He was just a good student who liked sitting in the front row and enjoyed the idea of being back in a classroom. He also got it on the first try, much to the professor's amazement.

From there, teams were faced with a detour: movers, where they would have to make like Buddy the Elf and perform a choreographed Russian soldier dance, or shakers, where they would have to walk through a cocktail party of famous Russians in history and identify them. (Side note: I didn't realize how much Buddy's drunk mail room friend in that scene looks just like Abba. End side note.) The top four teams all opted for dancing because I guess they weren't as scarred from the synchronized swimming challenge last week as I would have been. For Jaymes and James, it made sense. Choreographed dancing is kind of their thing. Except James twisted his ankle in a previous leg and all those swatting jumps aren't exactly physical therapist-approved. Not wanting to switch to the other challenge, the boys instead decide to go right to the performance with minimal practice, and while they failed on the first attempt, they got in on the second. But not before James was doused with sweat thanks to the pain, and not before he revealed what I'm pretty sure was a thong under his Russian soldier uniform.

Trey and Lexi also got it on the second try and left for the pitstop at a local fairgrounds right behind the Ja(y)meses, and the two teams arrived in that order, with the boys getting a trip to Costa Rica for their troubles. The bizarre spacing of the teams had the other four teams basically racing against themselves. The twins, after having cashed in their Express Pass to skip the time zone challenge, and then hilariously splitting their pants while learning their Russian dance routine, came in third, while Abbie's disturbingly creepy smile throughout learning and performing a choreographed dance paved the way for the divorcees to come in fourth.

Since James and Abba had to spend the first several hours of their "leg" calling the embassy and filing Russian police reports (with the help of local English-speaking teenagers) about their lost passports, Josh and Brent weren't really hurt this episode by their penalty, and this week's challenges were really up their alley. First Brent got to show off his time zone memorization skills. Then they represented the only team who decided to identify important Russians in history at the cocktail party that looked like something out of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Stalin chatting with Peter the Great? Why not? I was impressed not only with their knowledge and recognition of Russians from several different eras, but also their comfort in a formal cocktail party. They joked, they chatted, they danced with Catherine the Great and swordfought with Tsar Nicholas. They were such a hit that these great and powerful Russians gave them an ovation after they got their clue.

James and Abba never did get their lost passports and they were so far behind that we never saw them complete any of the tasks (I'm kind of sad we missed out on what looked like a speed bump involving a priest in some sort of traveling priestmobile). This time, they didn't get any ridiculous check-in rules and it wasn't a non-elimination leg, so the Race lost quite a bit of follicles and we now have our final five.

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