Screen: CBS

Huffin' And Puffins

Peat, ponies, sheep, and a guy in a puffin suit await the Amazing Racers in the Shetland Islands.

Not Just Whistling Dixie

After a surprisingly grueling leg in England, teams are headed north -- specifically, to Scotland's Shetland Islands. Ponies, sheep, and peat, Phil explains, are the area's chief attractions. Geez, Phil, way to spoil the entire episode barely 10 seconds in.

The first teams rip their clues a bit after midnight, and of course the first trains aren't leaving Oxford until early morning, so all of the teams have the chance to catch up and depart on the same train.

As the firefighters jog to the train station, Scott, in his words, takes "a huge dixie." (Google does not seem to think this is an expression in wide use, but context, and the following shot of Scott sprawled on the pavement, explains it well enough.) He's pretty sure his ankle's not broken, but it does seem a little tender, so they take those last few blocks a little less vigorously.

Kym and Alli understand that the typical Amazing Race segment in which teams are all camped out waiting for transportation is almost universally a hard Skip, so they try to throw us a bone by injecting some whimsy into their layover. They chase ducks, make up songs, and dance outside of a pub.

It's still not enough. What can you do? Waiting for a train is still waiting for a train. I give them an A for effort, though.

Turn The Peat Around

Bagpipes herald the teams' arrival in Scotland. Scott's ankle continues to bother him as the firefighters disembark. Indeed, it's pretty grim-looking; certainly it's one of the more impressive-looking injuries in Race history. He's RICE-ing it, though, and he's determined not to let it eliminate them. Mike says he's happy to step up and pick up slack, if there is any.

The first clue instructs racers to find a puffin at the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. Upon ripping their clue at the top of the hour, Bethany and Adam were very excited by the prospect of playing with puffins. Unfortunately, we don't really get to savor their disappointment when they find out it's not a real puffin, but a guy in a suit.

Racers now head to local castle ruins decorated in what I can only describe as "Red Wedding chic," with human remains littering the ground and a single, mute guard rivaling Jim in the thousand-yard stare department. Clues are scattered among piles of bones. Whitney apologizes to one of the skeletons after tripping over it. "This [clue] has blood on it; I'll take it," Adam says, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

Quick -- say the first word that comes into your head when we say "Shetland." Was it "pony"? I bet it was "pony." Obviously they can't tease ponies at the beginning of the leg without delivering, and we do finally get our ponies at the Detour. And while the action's not totally compelling, there are ponies; what's not to love?

In "Pony Up," teams will head to a local peat bog and cut 50...measurements (bricks? squares? peats?) of peat with a traditional tool. Then they'll haul the peat increments up to a local farmhouse on the back of a pony.

In "Light My Fire," teams will assemble a torch for use in a local Viking ceremony.

Choosing the peat and ponies is a no-brainer, according to Jim the dentist. In his Amazing Race-watching experience, brute-force physical tasks are almost always easier and quicker than anything requiring skill. Which is true to a point, but he's forgetting the other major rule of the race, which is also true of show business in general: "never work with children or animals." Misti, on the other hand, is well aware of this rule. She's not looking forward to the pony portion of the Detour, since, in her experience, Shetland ponies are "sassy." But Jim overrules her. Surfers, scientists, and Shelley and Nici all opt for peat as well.

And now we get to watch a lot of manual labor. Jim cites his competitive bodybuilding experience as having taught him to push through pain, though he seems to be barely breaking a sweat as he racks up 50 peats in very short order.

Amy and Maya, who have never participated in a bodybuilding competition as far as I know, are throwing all of their body weight onto the cutting tool but they still can't seem to make any progress. "This is the hardest thing we've had to do on the race so far," Amy says. "I can't do it," Maya adds as we go to commercial. It's almost as if the show wants us to think the scientists have encountered a game-ending obstacle!

My Little Pony: Sass Is Magic

Just kidding, folks! Amy and Maya manage to science their way out of their peat predicament by employing simple physics.

Brooke and Robbie intended to perform the peat task, but when they find the torch task first, they figure, what the hell. "Robbie and Brooke and fire don't mix well," according to Robbie (tantalizingly hinting at a story far more interesting than the one we're watching).

Torch-building seems easy on its face but involves multiple, exacting steps that are designed to drive people crazy. Each step requires the approval of a local Viking, whom the firefighters dub "Mister Viking, Sir."

Keith and Whitney are handling the mounting pressure with "quick words" and "heated emotions," which is the demure Southern way of saying they're bitching each other out. It's Brooke and Robbie who are having the toughest time, though, which you can tell because they've begun calling each other "babe," like so many high-strung Amazing Race couples have done before them.

Michael and Scott point out that their primary talents lie in putting out fires, not making them, and they offer a sage tip to Mister Viking Sir in case he ever needs to extinguish one: "Water."

Tim cites his talent for gift-wrapping as a reason he is enjoying the first phase, which involves swaddling the tip of the torch in burlap. It's not quite as easy as all that, unfortunately. As he and Te Jay submit their torch for their second failed inspection, they express the hope that the ponies are aggressive.

Indeed they are. Jim and Misti's pony started out fairly docile despite not necessarily wanting to match the dentists' intensity on the first trip. By Trip 2, though, the pony has kicked things up to "very sassy." It goes rogue, which in turn freaks out Adam and Bethany's pony. But after Jim stares it down a little, the pony seems to know what's good for it and it meekly (and adorably) falls into line.

"Come on, Satan," Jim says to the pony on their last trip up the hill. He asks it to read the clue, and the pony is like, "Haven't I done enough already?" Shelley and Nici's pony appears to also be affected by the kerfuffle with the dentists' pony, but they recover quickly (even if they almost fail to retrieve their clue as they leave). Adam and Bethany's pony absorbs some laid-back surfer energy and gets them through third. Amy and Maya, who have named their pony "Cupcake," leave the task in fourth.

Wild and Woolly

Torch-building teams run down to the place where the torches are to be lit. Apparently a horde of screaming Vikings standing on the edge of a pier is really hard for them to spot.

"Berry Farm on Berry Road" is the site of the next task. Oddly enough, there are no berries in sight, just a lot of sheep. Adorable boinging noises accompany the frolicking sheep, which teams will be required to herd through an obstacle course and into a pen. In other words, they'll be performing a task that dogs are usually trained to do, and they probably won't perform it as well as the dogs do.

The sheep, with all their bounding and frolicking, easily upstage the ponies, who would have been the cutest aspect of any other season. The sheep are also responsible for more chagrin than even the sassiest of the sassy Shetlands. Sorry, ponies.

Shelley and Nici are right behind the team they've dubbed the "tooth fairies." They recognize that if they can overtake Misti and Jim, they will not only win the leg, they'll probably piss Jim off, which is win-win.

Alas, the tooth fairies finish first. The task judge hands them a pin that looks like Ned Stark's Hand of the King badge and directs them to "go where this was found." Misti and Jim, rightly concluding that a museum might know where a particular artifact was found, make the Scalloway Museum their next stop, find the beach, and win the leg in short order.

The puffin (well, the guy in a puffin suit) from the first clue site returns to join Phil in welcoming teams to the Shetlands.

"Awooooor," says the puffin.

"I think that means 'Welcome to the Shetlands,'" Jim says. Phil, who is apparently fluent in Puffinese, confirms it.

One by one, the remaining teams master the fine art of sheep-herding, and it's classic Amazing Race chaos, with lots of "baaas" overdubbed for good measure. Amy and Maya are veritable sheep whisperers with calm-assertive tones undoubtedly mastered through hours of TA-ing. Adam and Bethany figure out that if they just hang back and chill out, the sheep will just decide to chill in the corral on their own.

Tim and Te Jay try to speak Sheepian to the sheep, but their Sheepian skills don't even approach Phil's Puffinese fluency. Te Jay is apparently using the wrong dialect or something. They try a number of other increasingly Wile E. Coyote-esque tactics as they overthink the task, including building additional fencing out of their clothing.

Adam and Bethany land on the beach as team number two. They ask if they can swim. Phil translates for the puffin: the water's pretty cold.

Keith and Whitney are team number three. Phil, who is usually not this much of an instigator, suggests they should consider changing their tone when they talk to each other. (Maybe the puffin put him up to this.) Whitney, with inimitable Southern politeness, tells him to go fly a kite. Not in so many words, of course.

Finally, it's just Tim and Te Jay and Michael and Scott remaining. Michael promises he'll finish the task on his own; Scott pleads with him to quit and take the penalty. He's concerned they'll be there until well into the night. Guess he watched Season 6.

The Firefighters Flame Out

Michael and Scott finally figure out that if you just leave them be, the sheep will get bored and go into the corral on their own.

Instead of the museum, Michael and Scott decide to visit a local pub to figure out where Ned Stark's badge was found. The bartender suggests that a foundry in Weisdale might have made it, about 30 miles away. A lady at a random jewelry store in Weisdale tells them to go back where they came from.

Meanwhile, Tim and Te Jay finally get their sheep in the pen, unknowingly having said many insulting things in Sheepian that the sheep will never forgive. Phil is incredulous when he sees the boyfriends, and not the firefighters, hit the mat in eighth place.

Sad Celtic flute music plays as Phil eliminates Michael and Scott. They sheepishly admit that they thought they were going to go further. Being defeated by sheep and a bartender is probably only slightly less ignominious than being defeated by an injury.

This all would have been more compelling if the puffin had been allowed to continue making editorial remarks.

Verdict

Awooooooor. That's Puffinese for "everybody loves animal tasks." Thanks in part to our four-legged friends, everyone gets a moment of comedy during this episode, whether intentional or unintentional, reinforcing the fact that this is the best cast this show's come up with in years.

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