Last week, the seven remaining teams remained in India, though they did have to hoof it from Kolkata to Varanasi, whose streets are just as crowded and with 18% more wildlife walking down them. Globetrotters Flight Time/Big Easy made all the right moves, coming from last place and finishing in first for the first time this season. Meanwhile, a difficult “needle in a haystack” Roadblock proved to be a killer for Ron, and he and his daughter Christina were Phil-iminated. Six teams remain, and my money is on Kent/Vixsyn being the next team out, given that they have never finished higher than fifth place. And after five straight legs in Asia, I’m so ready for them to move on to a different continent.

The completion of this leg represents the two-thirds mark of the race. And now that just under half of the teams have been eliminated, let me reiterate an Amazing Race truism from seasons past… to survive the first half of the race, you need a healthy supply of wits and a heap of luck. To survive the second half, you just need stamina. By this point, the remaining teams have probably been racing for about 2-3 weeks already, and though the show tends to gloss over the amount of time teams spend in airports or on airplanes, it’s safe to say that the amount of time spent – on the ground – racing from one place to another represents only a small percentage of the time spent doing nothing but sitting around. After so many plane trips, miles traveled, time zones traversed and rush-rush 24/7, wear, tear, and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion eventually seeps in. It is the teams that deal with it the best that usually end up racing for the Finish Line.

If I had to put money on Final Three right now, it would be Jet/Cord, Gary/Mallory and Flight Time/Big Easy. I think that Zev’s lack of durability and Kent’s inner diva will eventually put them out, and as for Kisha/Jen, well, all-girl teams have historically not fared well on this show (until last season, that is, when the producers stacked the deck with strong all-girl teams and weak non-all-girl teams in the hopes of ending that curse, which they did).

Anyway. The Globetrotters get their next clue at 2:07 a.m., which is a dead giveaway that they’ll be going to a new country and therefore will probably all be on the same plane to keep it equal. And lo, they are told to fly to Vienna, Austria (which Phil describes as being “more than 40 degrees colder than India”), and, after landing, locate a parking garage with a brand-new 2012 Ford Focus, which will contain their next clue. The ‘ballers are happy to be going to the country where “the Terminator comes from”, and Flight Time immediately effects a horrible Ah-nuld accent, prompting Big Easy to wonder if he’s going to be talking like that the whole time. Hee.

One by one, the teams find travel agents and book their flights. Gary/Mallory are happy to have made it to Leg Eight, but are wary because Leg Eight is as far as they got in Season 17, when they got hopelessly lost in Oman. Kisha and Jen elaborate on how the race has made them closer as sisters, which is cool. And Jet/Cord wryly grin about how “the cowboys” are thankful to be done “playing with the Indians”. Yikes, these people… Kent/Vixsyn now realize they are the only non-related coed couple remaining. Anyway, all the teams ended up on flights that arrive in Vienna at 5:35 a.m. That is, except for Jet/Cord, AGAIN, who decide that taking a flight that gets in at 6:00 a.m. (but with one fewer connection and thus less susceptible to delays) is their best option.

The teams land in Vienna and find the garage with the six parked Ford Focuses. Using the MyFord Touch system inside, they receive a video message from Phil telling them to back the vehicle up in order to activate a rear-view camera, which, as they reversed, they would be able to read their next destination spelled out on the pavement behind them: Schloss Schallaburg, a Renaissance-style castle in nearby Schollach. Oh, and whichever team wins this leg will EACH win a Ford Focus of their very own. Yowza, that’s a neat prize! Take the week off, Travelocity gnome! Gary/Mallory get off to a slow start by Gary’s inability to work the Focus’s GPS system, and by the time they figure it out, Jet/Cord have already landed.

Zev (who apparently hates cold weather, so add that to the ever-growing list) and Justin are the first to the castle. There, a pretty girl in a medieval-princess costume gives them a huge leather-bound tome, and inside the cover is a stamp made by the Austrian National Library in a place called Prunksaal. They leave, and Kent/Vixsyn and Kisha/Jen arrive hot on their tail. Day has broken by the time the Globetrotters arrive, followed by Gary/Mallory and finally Jet/Cord. Kent/Vixsyn miss a turn somewhere and commence arguing about it.

Detour. It is Zev/Justin and Kisha/Jen who grab a lead and find the library first. They give their tome to an official-looking guy who I assume to be the head librarian, and they get their next clue, and it is this leg’s Detour. The choices: Long Hard Walk and Quick Easy Meal. In the former, teams travel to the Sigmund Freud Museum, the location of the famous psychoanalyst’s former home, pick up a couch like one he used in one of his sessions (“Tell me about your muzzah…”), and deliver it to Freud’s former office at the University of Vienna about a mile away. In the latter, teams travel to the Wiener Riesenrad and pick up two servings of traditional Austrian cuisine – wiener schnitzel (fried boneless meat rolled in breadcrumbs) and sachertorte (chocolate cake), enter one of many dining cars attached to a Ferris Wheel, and proceed to finish eating both in less than 12 minutes (one complete wheel revolution). I despise eating challenges, but at least the food here sounds more palatable than a goat’s head. Both teams opt for Meal.

Gary/Mallory arrive third and also choose Meal, whereas Kent/Vixsyn and the Globetrotters choose Walk. Zev/Justin and Kisha/Jen arrive at the Ferris wheel, pick up their plates of food (which are loaded) and tuck in. No matter how tasty the food is, this is definitely the kind of challenge where if you can’t finish it the first time, you’re better off giving up and doing the other option rather than try again. And twelve minutes is not a lot of time, I would probably forego the use of silverware. But at least while the teams dine, they have a tuxedo-clad violinist serenading them. Neither team is able to finish the copious amount of fried food and rich torte in time, and they do indeed decide to hoof it to sofa-moving option rather than kill their stomachs any further. I don’t even want to know how many calories were on those plates!

While Gary/Mallory attempt to power through their challenge, this puts Flight Time/Big Easy in first, as they are the first team to find the Freud Museum. Fortunately for all the teams, the hardest part was negotiating the stairs, for once they hit the street, they could push the sofas around on a provided pallet. Kent/Vixsyn and Kisha/Jen are right behind them. And Gary/Mallory find, much to their chagrin, that they are unable to finish their food. Sorry, Mall, but a few hours of cardio will work that off. Meanwhile, Jet/Cord finally arrive at the library and probably save themselves by opting for Walk, for that automatically puts them ahead of Gary/Mallory, who are now in last place. Noooo!

The mile trek that the couch-pushing teams have to endure includes a street with a steep incline, so the pallets become useless. Big Easy hoists the entire sofa on his back (….damn) and hoofs it up the hill himself. Kent/Vixsyn run into trouble and start sniping at each other. Kisha/Jen keep their cool. Zev/Justin pick up their couch and head out in fourth just as Jet/Cord arrive, and the cowboys brighten right up as they realize they’ve caught up to the rest of the pack, not even knowing they're not in last anymore.

Flight Time/Big Easy are the first to deliver their sofa, and they receive their next clue: the Sternbräu Restaurant in the town of Salzburg (the birthplace of Mozart, don’t ya know). God, I hope it doesn’t involve more eating, because that would just be cruel. Kent/Vixsyn get their clue second despite whining the entire time – wonder what Freud would have made of them and their Goth affectations - and Kisha/Jen are right behind them. Jet/Cord actually pass Zev/Justin and are now in fourth. Gary/Mallory are still trailing the pack. Noooo!

En route to Salzburg, Kent/Vixsyn make up, but the peace doesn’t last long. In truth, he is a bit of a drama queen, but she can also be quite a harpy when she gets frustrated, and that doesn’t bode well. Meanwhile, Zev/Justin pass the cowboys on the highway without them noticing.

Roadblock. The ‘Trotters are the first to Sternbräu, and thankfully, no eating is involved. In this challenge, one team member had dress up as a chimney sweep (including the big hat), head to the top of the restaurant, and clean the chimneys using a weight on a rope. Once they swept a chimney three times, they went to the basement and opened up one of the chimney cleaning doors at the bottom that held their next clue.

Big Easy takes the duty, and while he commences cleaning, he jokes that he never had a chimney growing up, and that “Santa Claus had to come through the window”. Hee hee. I’m starting to like him more. I just noticed he has a Band-Aid on top of his chrome-dome, which makes me wonder if someone put a nozzle in his head and let all the hot air out. Just as Zev arrives and starts cleaning, Big Easy finishes and they get their final clue: drive to the Villa Trapp (yes, the actual home of the Von Trapp family immortalized in The Sound of Music).

Zev finishes up and gets his clue just as Vixsyn and Kisha start, and they breeze through it. Just after they leave, the cowboys arrive, and Cord really cuts a fine-looking chimney sweep. He jokes that he may have found a new calling, given his proficiency with a rope. Gotta love them.

Front-Runners. The battle for the cars came down to which team got the better directions to the Villa Trapp, and Zev/Justin were able to make up the small deficit against the Globetrotters and hit the mat in first place, their first victory since Leg Three. Which is really cool for them, because I doubt that the ‘ballers really need new vehicles as badly. And good for them for keeping their wits after picking what turned out to be the wrong Detour option, which probably had them fighting nausea the rest of the day. Phil tells them again about their prize, and they even get a sneak peak at the gorgeous vehicles outside the villa. Sweet. Flight Time/Big Easy finish in second, and it seems like they are hitting their stride at exactly the right time.

Still in the Middle. Kent/Vixsyn finish in third despite being more unpleasant than they’ve ever been before, which is by far their best finish so far. Hmm… perhaps being disagreeable works for them (but God, I hope not, or the last few legs are going to be torture). Kisha/Jen take fourth place, just seconds ahead of Jet/Cord, and both of those teams continue to impress me with their low-key approach to racing.

Back of the Pack. Sadly, the combination of the early GPS difficulty, choosing the eating challenge and the trouble they had moving the couch put Gary/Mallory squarely in last place. But before my heart sank into a pit of tears, Phil gave them the good news: this is a non-elimination leg. Yayyyy! Of course, this means that they will have to do a Speed Bump in the next leg, but it’s not a handicap that can’t be overcome. Fingers crossed!

Next week: Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Bicycling and fondue. Draw your own pictures.

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