After a couple of subpar weeks, The Amazing Race 12 was back to this season's early heights. And why? Because everyone was acting exactly as ludicrously as we'd been promised in early episodes: Nate and Jen hated each other, Ronald continued his Asperger-ian chattering, and the Goths tossed in a couple ''We're spooky!'' references. Ahhhh, it was a fine hour, indeed.
It started with everyone struggling to find a way to get from Africa to Lithuania. With the airport ticket office closed, everyone converged on a tiny Internet café. (Or ''Internet buffet'' as Donald called it. Good thing they didn't have to burn a disc, or Donald would have wasted a lot of time trying to track down a guy named C.D. Ron.) I wonder: They could have traveled on any airline, so why was Air France the only one anyone targeted? Was this product placement? (Anything less overt than an entire challenge built around finding a company's gnome mascot is lost on me.) If it was a paid arrangement with the airline, it was a poor investment: One ticket agent told the pushy and antsy Nicolas that the earliest flight was sold out and booked him on one four hours later, then proceeded to get the next couple tickets on the supposedly sold-out flight right afterward. So what is the branding here? ''Air France, when you're looking for completely arbitrary service.''
Considering that Jennifer and Nate got Nicolas' tickets, he must have been really annoying. When Nate and Jen are considered the kindly option, you know you've made some bad behavioral choices in life. I guess Nicolas can turn anyone off, regardless of language barrier: He speaks the international language of grating. Earlier, when he and Donald were the first to arrive at the ticket agency, he loudly told the agent not to tell anyone else about his flight — after everyone else had arrived and heard him do so. Upon being busted by Hendekea, he sheepishly yelped, ''It's a game!'' That would be a more impressive defense if he'd proven himself to be an even slightly worthy opponent. That's like going all in at a poker table with a four high, losing, and then smirking, ''Don't hate the player, hate the game!''
Meanwhile, last week's U-turn was weighing heavily on Jennifer's conscience. ''I can not intentionally hurt somebody or do something that I'm not 100 percent standing by,'' she said. Does that mean that she willintentionally hurt someone as long as she has the courage of her convictions? I suppose that's as honorable a stance as one can possibly take on dishonorability.
This was the point where we could see the blonde bond start to weaken, and it was all downhill for them from there. The more penitent Jennifer got, the more aggressive Shana became, maintaining that if they hadn't U-turned Jason and Lorena, it might have been the blondes who were eliminated last week. Which wasn't remotely true, considering Jason and Lorena were about three days behind everyone else. In fact, I'm not convinced they're not still panning for gold as I write this.
After a quiet couple of weeks, Ronald was also back in full crazy-man mode. In fact, he gave me a new entry in my ''Learn to Speak the Ronald Way!'' book of catchphrases: ''You're fossilizing your mind!'' He yelled this at the Air France ticket agent, suspecting that she was only giving options from her airline, and he proved to be right. (Every time he's right, it must set Christina's quest to get him to be a more patient person back about ten paces.) Much like a rudimentary foreign-language phrase book, my Ronald collection can get you through any confrontational situation. Fight with your wife? ''I am giving you optimism with full truth!'' Trouble with a co-worker? ''You are fossilizing your mind!'' Someone cut you off on a highway? ''Booger! Booger!'' And, of course, if you find yourself losing any argument, simply twist your torso sharply until a hernia pops out over your belt: that protruding organ-shaped mound will get you the last word, I promise you that!
All of the airline finagling didn't really have much effect: The flights all landed in Lithuania within about 45 minutes of each other, and thanks to some lousy navigation on some teams' parts, everyone ended up even. With so many teams getting lost, I noticed that the AR producers have added a gong sound effect as a signifier that a team is making a wrong turn. (E.g., Jen: ''I think we make a left.'' Gong!) This auditory shorthand can definitely save time: no more having to explain that they're lost. I can think of other sound symbols that the show might use: for instance, when the Goths come on, instead of having them say something Goth-y (you know, like this week when Vyxsin said, ''This is so Gothy!'') they could just play the first chords of The Addams Family. Or instead of having TK constantly talk about how his strategy is to play it cool, just lay over the sound of a burbling bong. And why include all of Nate and Jen's bitching when you can make the same point with the sound of a praying mantis devouring her mate?
The roadblock involved making two deliveries through Vilnius. First, they had to find an old crone, who gave them a package for a student hanging around the university courtyard. My ancestors are from Lithuania, and so I've always been curious to visit, but judging from this one episode, it seems to me like a land inhabited entirely by old people and slacker college students. Oh, and then there are the crazy extras from a Terry Gilliam movie holding an endless Burning Man festival whom we met later at the detour. I'm not sure if I'm so interested in my roots anymore.
Nicolas was a complete failure at this. His first package was for a student whom he called ''Vanus,'' which I'm surprised didn't get him slapped when he asked strangers if it was their name. It was the second leg that really tripped him up, though; he couldn't find his salon destination for a few hours, and his solution seemed to be to wander the streets, futilely yelling out the salon's name. I'd hate to be Nicolas' neighbor, because I'm sure whenever something goes wrong at home, his solution is to open his window and yell, for example, ''My toaster is broken, my toaster is broken! Who will make me toast?''
TK breezed through the challenge, after hooking up with a like-minded Lithuanian hippie who led him around. Though TK did not speak the language, they were able to communicate through an elaborate code involving Phish bootlegs and Hacky Sack maneuvers. Jen and Nate had no such luck: If only they'd been able to find a Lithuanian couple who had nothing but similar disdain for each other! These kinsmen too could have communicated without language, only with a series of whines, undermining glances, and varying degrees of radiated loathing!
NEXT: Stilted dialogue