Last week, the six remaining teams made their way from the sweltering streets of India to the snowy mountains of Austria. Some teams tried in vain to complete a monstrously tough volume-eating challenge, including Zev/Justin, but that didn’t stop them from overtaking the rest of the field and finishing in first place, winning themselves a couple of snazzy-looking new 2012 Ford Focuses. Gary/Mallory had a tough leg, getting off to a slow start and never really finding a way to catch up, but when they hit the mat in last place, they were spared elimination, because last week’s leg was a non-elimination leg, presumably the last one of the season.

Zev/Justin step off the mat at the Villa Trapp and tear open their first clue of Leg Nine, which tells them to travel by train across the Austrian border to Schaanwald, Liechtenstein. If you are unfamiliar with Liechtenstein, it is nestled entirely within the Alps, and it is the smallest German-speaking country in the world (just over 60 squares miles in area, roughly “one-fifth the size of New York City”). They are also informed that there will be another dreaded Double U-Turn on this leg, so staying out in front is definitely paramount.

One by one, the teams leave the mat and make their way towards the train station. Jet/Cord note that while many teams have been free with the sharing of information, almost nobody has chosen to help them. I think it was determined that this is because the other teams view the cowboys as a very smart, solid team and not because of any hostility (like anyone could dislike the cowboys). They also realize that lagging behind the rest of the pack, like they’ve done for the last two legs, could prove fatal this time around.

All six teams ride through some of the most picturesque landscapes on earth, and Gary/Mallory confess that they decided not to get some much-needed shuteye because they didn’t want to miss it. I’m all for enjoying the view, but with a Double U-Turn AND a Speed Bump in their future, I would probably scratch and claw for every advantage possible, including a clear head and fresh legs. They all detrain, grab taxis and head for the Liechtenstein border. Zev/Justin are fortunate enough to get the cabbie who is not above driving on the sidewalk to bypass traffic, and Gary/Mallory draw the black marble and get the old cabbie who needs to use his GPS to find their destination, and the hesitant way he’s punching the buttons tells me that technology is not his best friend. Oops.

Roadblock. When the teams arrive in Schaanwald, they are presented with Leg Nine’s Roadblock: in it, one team member has to use an odometer and a motorbike to measure the entire length of the country, riding from Schaanwald to Balzers. At the end of their journey, the teams would meet up with Marco Büchel, a native of Liechtenstein who participated in a world record-tying six Winter Olympics from 1992-2010, where he was a standout in the sport of alpine skiing. If the racers gave Marco the correct distance (22 km), he would give them their next clue, which would be read only when the racers met up with their teammates at the nearby Castle Gutenberg. If they got it wrong, they would have to travel back to Schaanwald and start over. Additionally, this is the part where Gary/Mallory’s Speed Bump comes into play: they and they alone had to prepare the right mixture of gasoline and oil (a 25:1 ratio, with 2 liters of gas used) to power their motorbike. Justin, Flight Time, Jen, Jet and Vixsyn take off on their bikes, and Gary/Mallory have not even shown up yet.

Eventually Gary/Mallory do show up, and while they are working out the math problem, Cord runs into trouble when he realizes that he may have missed a turn, which would definitely throw his estimate off. Flight Time also takes a wrong turn, and Jen drops her road map. This could be tougher than they thought.

Gary/Mallory get their mixture right, and Gary heads off on his bike. Jen realizes how much trouble she’s in without a map, and Vixsyn looks lost even with her map. Jet now looks like he can’t find his way back, but he meet up with Gary who agrees to help him find his way, but the two get separated a few minutes later. Jen and Justin also decide to work together, and they are the first to find Marco, and both of them guess the distance correctly, so he sends them off to Gutenberg. Gary then meets up with Vixsyn, who is still lost, and Jet is the next to find Marco, but his guess (35 km) isn’t even close, so he has to go all the way back to the Schaanwald. Not lookin’ good for the cowboys, again. On the way back, Jet meets up with Flight Time going the opposite direction.

Justin and Jen climb a huge hill to the castle to collect their partners, and they tear open their next clue, which tells them they must travel by bus and train to the city of Zermatt, Switzerland, which is located at the base of the Matterhorn itself. Their next clue will be located right at the train station. While the teams are waiting for a bus, up chugs Flight Time on his bike, and he begs them to tell them the correct distance so he won’t have to go back like Jet. Justin does, which is nice, but at some point, probably quite soon, this sharing of information is going to have to stop, don’t you think? Justin justifies his decision by saying that they felt they had a big enough lead on the other teams that helping one out wouldn’t jeopardize their position, and besides, Flight Time’s just a cool guy.

Yes he is. On the way to finding Marco, Flight Time catches up with Gary, and he instantly shares the correct distance with him as well. They then meet up with Marco and he directs them to the Castle, as well as Vixsyn, who gets the distance correct on her own. Which means Jet/Cord are really screwed right now, and they haven’t even reached the Double U-Turn yet. Speaking of which, Jet has now gotten back to the starting point and set out again, hopefully confident that he can find the right route again.

At the Castle, Gary, Flight Time and Vixsyn collect their teammates and leave, but not before relating the now-very-much-alone Cord that Jet made a major boo-boo. And by the time Jet finds Marco a second time (this time he gets 22 km), all the other teams have boarded the train the Zermatt.

Detour. Zev/Justin and Kisha/Jen are the first to find the clue box in Zermatt, and it’s a Detour, and the choices are Cheese and Wheeze. In the former, teams must find the Restaurant Walliserkanne and eat an entire pot of cheese fondue (but, unlike the last leg, there doesn’t seem to be a time limit, which I like a lot better) after which the restaurateur would give them an empty pot with the name of the next location printed on the inside of it. In the latter, teams had to dress up as bellhops and deliver twenty pieces of luggage to at least five different hotels, collecting a receipt tag at every delivery, after which they would return to the railway station to get their next clue. Well, given the altitude and my love for cheese, I know which one I’d choose. Both teams opt for Cheese, though Zev/Justin are a little wary about repeating the fiasco they had the last leg.

Almost as soon as they sit down and start eating, however, Zev/Justin start second-guessing themselves. While they contemplate leaving, Kisha talks Jen into switching tasks, citing a queasy stomach she’s been nursing for a couple of days. Watching them go, Zev/Justin decide to suck it up and keep eating. Donning the bellhop costumes, they reason that by taking four pieces of luggage to five hotels, they can get their deliveries done the quickest, so they load up their furnished luggage carts and head off to the first location. Meanwhile, the second train arrives, and all three teams on it opt to do the Wheeze option.

So that just leaves Zev/Justin doing the Cheese, and they power through it as best they can, cracking bad jokes and belching to lighten the mood. The Globetrotters manage to get all twenty bags on their cart, which is impressive. Kent/Vixsyn have trouble, so Kent starts to whine (knew that would happen at some point). Zev/Justin begin to look ill, but they realize it’s too late to turn back now. A little more time passes, and Justin has to run outside to hurl. Yikes. I love cheese, but the fondue does look thick and gooey, which is not good for your insides.

By an interesting quirk of fate, right when Justin is puking, Jen/Kisha are passing right by their location en route to their fourth hotel, probably counting their stars that they switched tasks. They deliver their last few bags and head back to the train station just as Jet/Cord arrive and start delivering bags themselves. And finally, after nearly an hour, Zev/Justin eat their way down to the bottom of their pot and get their next clue, which is an immense relief. The clue, by the way, tells them to go to the fountain at the Hinterdorf near the Inderbinen-Brunnen (just take my word for it), where the Double U-Turn awaits.

Zev/Justin are the first to find the fountain and elect not to U-Turn anybody. Their next clue directs them to Leg Nine’s Pit Stop: the Bergrestaurant-Moos (or Moos Restaurant, if you prefer), a Swiss chalet at the base of the Alps. They head off with Kisha/Jen right behind them (and they elect not to U-Turn anybody either). It becomes very close with the other four teams, as they rush to deliver all their bags.

Front-Runners. Zev/Justin showed real intestinal fortitude and finish in first for the fourth time in the race, and have each won a trip for two to Curacao, which will go nicely with the trips to Cancun and Costa Rica they’ve already won. They aren’t my favorite team, but if they end up winning this thing, they’ll have earned it, and I won’t be too disappointed. Kisha/Jen achieve their best finish yet by coming in second, and they have nondescriptly moved up the ladder. I’m quite impressed with them as well.

Still in the Middle. Kent/Vixsyn and Gary/Mallory both choose not to U-Turn anybody either, and they hit the mat in third and fourth place, respectively. Kent apparently hurt his leg a little bit, causing Vixsyn to pull him around on the luggage cart, which makes me respect her more and him less. I’m happy Gary/Mallory avoided elimination, but they’ve had brain farts at the wrong times, and they need to eliminate those with only a few legs remaining.

Back of the Pack. Flight Time/Big Easy made an almost-critical mistake when two of their receipt tags turn up missing, and so they have to make an extra delivery which costs them valuable time. So instead of a race to the mat to avoid elimination, it’s a race to the Double U-Turn, and the Globetrotters win that race, sending the cowboys off to eat a ton of melted cheese. They are initially ticked off, but while they leisurely dine on fondue, their good-natured personalities return and they toast to each other’s good fortune. They are class gentlemen all day long, and I have tons of respect for them. They hit the mat and are Phil-iminated, and while Jet wants to take the blame for the loss, Cord won’t have it. He says that they are brothers and best friends, and there’s nobody that he’d rather travel the globe with… “well, maybe my wife,” says Jet. “Don’t blame you,” smiles Cord. They are awesome.

Next week: more Switzerland, as the remaining five teams brave the snow and some chilly tasks. But things heat up when Big Easy and Kent get into a disagreement. Gee, who to pick in that fight…

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