On last night's show, five out of eight racers had never heard of Anton Chekhov. Not ''didn't know how to spell'' Chekhov: Had never heard of him. And when asked to unscramble his name with seven letters, they reacted as if they were told to name something incredibly obscure and local, like, ''Unscramble the name of Siberia's top mailman.'' .
Everyone began within a general half-hour window, except for Tammy and Victor, who lagged two hours behind the second-to-last place team. But even they caught up at the airport, as everyone was to fly from Romania to the distant Siberia (which appeared to be in a different solar system, according to the map). Since they had to go through Moscow, all teams ended up on one of four different connecting flights to Russia. In previous seasons, every decision on which flight to get on would have been illustrated in excruciating detail; last night, however, the teams arrived at the Bucharest airport, and suddenly were shown debarking in Siberia.
When told they would be headed to Siberia, Kisha said, ''Siberia...I know that's where they have Siberian tigers.'' And later, when Christie and Jodi arrived at a Siberian dam emblazoned with a giant picture of Lenin, Christie asked if that was the guy who built the dam. Luckily, Jodi was there to correct her: ''No, he's a bad dictator guy.'' As opposed to the good dictator guys, I guess. Actually, it turns out that most of history's good dictators built dams in their free time, so that was an important distinction to make.
Only one of the flights from Romania made it to Moscow in time to connect to the first flight to Siberia, so Kisha and Jen, the blondes, and Mark and Michael had a head start. From the dam, they were sent to a Detour, where they could either stack a giant wall of firewood, or go try to build some shutters. They all opted for stacking, and their task was observed by a group of mocking locals. Having a live studio audience of sorts has become more and more prevalent, and I've liked it ever since the Russian army doubled over in laughter over the frat guys' marching last season.
While the teams labored on the wood, we kept cutting away to the Ivan Denisovich Repertory Players' outdoor brunch of sadness. One man slogged through an accordion dirge while a Meredith-from-The-Office lookalike drunkenly cackled and sweat vodka. Some of the guys had yellowy beards, which looked to have been stained not by coffee, but by the sheer amount of Siberian slaw that they had eaten.
The producers once again nailed it with the wood stacking challenge. It may not have been jazzy, but it did what good tasks do: visibly exhaust the teams, and go very wrong for some of them at the last minute. As Michael and Mark neared the end, they knocked over their sample wall of wood, as well as some of their own. Faced with starting over, they instead decided to run to the shutter challenge, which would prove to be as frustrating.
Kisha and Jen finished their wood first, followed by the blondes. One of the men at the cookout said to Jodi, upon presenting the next clue to her, ''You cute girl...the best,'' and then picked her up in a bear hug.
After they all moved on, the second wave of Racers descended on the woodpiles, just as the bystanders had moved onto their sausage course. As only Mark and Michael's wood had fallen so far, I was concerned that the show had overplayed the danger in last week's teaser. But no: Mel and Mike, Amanda and Kris, and the ex-cheerleaders all had their wood walls topple over just as they were nearly done. The first two teams abandoned the task to do the shutters, while Jaime and Cara remained in a fit of Girl Power. Jeez, what was with all the ''Girls rule, boys drool'' ax-grinding? At the dam they had said, ''Pretty powerful beavers made that dam. They must be females!'' and here they repeatedly congratulated themselves on doing the task without ''any boys helping us.''
Out of the remaining group, Margie and Luke finished their wall first, and opted to use the new twist — the Blind U-Turn — on Amanda and Kris in order to protect Jaime and Cara, who were lingering behind at the firewood. The Blind U-Turn is anonymous, which means that when someone discovers they have been stopped, instead of endless shots of them saying, ''I can't believe Team X did this to us. That is so low. I never would have done it,'' we'll have endless shots of them saying, ''I wonder who did this to us? That is so low. I never would have done it.''
While I don't think this was a necessary move on Margie and Luke's parts, I suppose there was no reason not to do it. Anyone else (if discovered) would engender a lot of hateful trash talk. But everyone is so intent on saying what an honorable, inspirational player Luke is that if he pisses everyone off, the worst that could happen is people fall back to saying nothing at all.
Meanwhile, Mark and Michael were stymied by the shutters. They wandered around the town, hopelessly searching for the home in which they'd need to install them. My favorite moment was when Mark exclaimed, ''House needs repair!'' and Michael excitedly said, ''Where?'' and it turned out Mark was just repeating what they were looking for. ''Don’t say it if you don't mean it!'' snapped Michael.
The teams who were able to finish their woodpiles were then sent to Siberia's number one local amusement park, ''Bobrovy Log Park.'' There one teammate had to ride down a bobsled-like run and spot seven letters tacked to trees; when they got to the bottom (which they had to do in four minutes or less), they had to unscramble the letters to spell a famous Russian playwright. Yes, we're finally at that part of the show.
First came Kisha, who (after two runs; on the first one she didn't see the ''V'') grumbled, ''I don't know nothing about no Russia.'' Which is like saying, ''How am I supposed to know who this Shakespeare dude is? I've never been to London.'' Christie drew just as big of a blank, and yet both of them (and, later, Jaime) solved it by just tossing in letters and randomly getting it on the first try. It all seemed a bit fishy, especially when Kisha explained her strategy: She guessed the name because she was familiar with a few Russian words, like ''Chek'' and ''Kov.'' Well, isn't that convenient! Really, what are the odds that all of them would randomly guess a name that they'd never heard of before? Luke's attempt seemed far more likely. He came up with four attempts like ''Coehkvh'' before he finally nailed it.
Mark and Michael would later pass this task right away, because literature's their game. Shutters, though? Not so much. It took the arrival of Mel and Mike and Kris and Amanda to get them through it. Joining forces (and under the doleful gaze of Random Tool Shed Man, who looked like he was out of a Chekhov play), the three teams were able to finally find the shutter-needy house that so eluded the tiny brothers in the town. A town that, I should mention, was utterly deserted except for a stray dog. Seriously, where was everyone?
After the shutter alliance finally discovered the hidden home (which was about 10 yards from where they were all about to give up), they quickly finished, only for Kris and Amanda to discover they'd been U-turned. They suspected Kisha and Jen, or the blondes, and were so far off they actually said, ''Margie and Luke probably felt so bad, too.'' Luke really is proving that deaf people can do anything anyone else can, including being sneaky.
At the mat, Phil was backed up by the requisite Troupe Doing Local Dance. Christie and Jodi arrived first, and won motorcycles. ''You can get them after the race to go cruising around in,'' said Phil. ''Are you into that?'' The rest of the teams dribbled in, until only the stunt brothers and Kris and Amanda were left out on the road. The brothers were nearly derailed when they took a cab and only had 5000 rubles, when the cabbie wanted 8000. They tried to offer the cabbie their watches, only to find he was wearing a Rolex. Then they tried to give him their tiny jackets, but were refused.
Finally the cabbie agreed to let them go. I can understand why this would be hard for a cabbie to do: If you picked up someone who was being followed by a camera crew, would you believe them if they cried poverty? I wonder if there is tons of footage we don't see of these cabbies asking the cameramen why they don’t chip in for the fare. The stuntmen handily beat Amanda and Kris, who were eliminated.