Amazing Race

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"This is St. Petersburg, Russia," Phil says, as though this isn't our third consecutive Sunday of looking at this place. He adds that it was "founded as a military stronghold by Peter the Great," who really sounds like a modest sort, and is an "imperial city renowned for its majestic architecture and massive seaport." That's a lot of info to pack into an introduction. Phil speaks to us from the narrow beach on the water side of the seventh Pit Stop, the Peter and Paul Fortress, whose name makes me wonder whether Phil is ever going to tell us anything about its other namesake, Paul the Pretty Good. Dude must have been the Peter Scolari of eighteenth-century Russia.

Nat and Kat, who won the previous leg, are leaving at 1:06 AM, even though the northern sky in the background is an eerie periwinkle. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given that they're still far enough north to require winter jackets in June. Nat reads that they'll be flying to Muscat, Oman, which Phil says is more than 4,000 miles away. Phil says that when they get there, they'll need to find a place called Burj Al Mubkharah, which looks like an old hilltop fort. There, they'll find a man who will give them a silver ingot with a time stamped on it. This intro is filmed in the dark, but since we clearly see that the ingot he's holding is stamped 08:00, it takes a lot of the suspense away from what follows. The time on each team's ingot is when they can climb the steps to the fort and get their next clue. Team @ hurries away from the mat, making "Oh, man" jokes about Oman already.

In an interview, Nat gives us an update on how racing with diabetes is going: she's been "crafty" about working on their schedule. Well, okay, then. The world's diabetics will certainly be able to use such detailed and specific advice. Very inspiring. Kat says they'll be stopping off at a travel agency to get tickets before proceeding to the airport. You know, St, Petersburg is famous for its all-night travel agencies. That was also the case when the city was called Leningrad, but all you could get then were one-way train tickets to Siberia.

Brook and Claire are starting the leg at 1:28 AM, and it's not much darker outside. It's a little freaky. Also freaky: the amount of makeup Brook's wearing this morning. Or maybe she just looks so different because her mouth is closed. Claire interviews that she knows she'll never be as fast as Brook, but she doesn't want to disappoint her (and the "little neon backpack" that always seems to be zipping around ahead of her). And all this time I thought Claire was hanging back to try to get away from the sound of Brook's voice.

Nick and Vicki leave one minute later, at 1:29 AM. Nick interviews that he's "constantly, like, stressed out of my mind." I don't know if he's telling us this to allow us a little peek into his psyche or to explain why he acts like a dick so often. We see him being impatient with their cabbie and with Vicki, and he interviews, apropos of nothing, "I don't like to make new friends." Which is understandable; I don't like doing things I'm bad at either.

Nat and Kat arrive at a travel agency and sit down, requesting tickets to Oman. The agent tells them the fastest connection is through Amsterdam, which will get them into Muscat at 8:55 PM. Or, in other words, almost twelve hours before at least one team will get to enter the fort. See what I mean about killing the suspense?

Gary and Mallory rip their clue at 1:46 AM, Mallory making some very strange noises. In a pre-leg interview, Mallory says she has three siblings, so she doesn't get to spend much time with just her dad. Of course, her siblings are spending even less time with him now. In the cab, she hopes the travel agency is still open. I'm thinking the clue just sent everyone there, and they're staying open at this ungodly hour just for them. I have nothing to back that up, of course. Speaking of the all-night travel agency, Team QVC arrives there just in front of Nick and Vicki, who have to wait for an available agent.

Here go Jill and Thomas at 1:53 AM. Thomas interviews that they're not happy to be in the back of the pack (they're fifth out of six), "so we definitely need to make less mistakes." Don't you mean "fewer," Notre Dame? Next thing we know, all of the teams are milling around in the travel agency -- except one. And after an ominous shot of the empty mat, we find ourselves looking at the subtitle "Chad & Stephanie -- Last to depart, 2:45 AM." Except above the subtitle is a closed hotel room door with snoring coming from behind it. Oooops.

Team @ and Team QVC both get their itineraries to Muscat, showing them arriving at 8:55 PM -- and those were the last available seats on that flight. The other three teams in the room shake their heads as they learn that they'll be arriving at 10:35 PM instead, as though those hundred minutes will make a lick of difference. They're at least happy to have gotten the last seats on that flight. Especially since Chad and Stephanie are still AWOL. How about an update on those two? Well, a red subtitle in front of that snoring hotel room door informs us that they're "58 Minutes Late to Pit Start." Maybe, but sleep is important too.

At Pulkovo Airport, everyone's still wondering where they are, and are beginning to suspect they slept in. "Like, our worst nightmare," Claire remarks to Brook, who doesn't even want to talk about it. You know something's bad juju when even Brook shuts up about it. The Snoring Hotel Door tells us they're now 1 hour and 52 minutes late, and from inside we hear Stephanie saying, "Oh my God, Chad." She opens a door to the camera crew as they're hurriedly getting dressed, informing us, "We just woke up." Got that, thanks. I've kind of always wondered if the producers ever help roust racers out of bed, so I guess I have my answer now. They run out of the hotel and get to the mat in time to rip their clue at 4:45 AM, when it's full daylight outside. "Let's just not talk about this," Stephanie suggests as they walk to a cab. Which tells me right there that this was Chad's fault, because if it had been Stephanie's none of us would ever hear the end of it. She interviews that the race has taken a toll on their relationship, and we're treated to some flashbacks to special moments like their argument over the musical task here in St. Petersburg, and her quitting the sledding task in Sweden. And we see them getting bad news at the travel agency, vis-à-vis the lack of any seats left on any of the flights the other teams took. Chad interviews, "No one has outright beat us. It really has been us being careless." In other words, "Nobody is as good as the amount we suck."

Down at the airport, Team @ and Team QVC take off on the first flight, for all the good it will do them. The other three teams take off on a second flight. Back at the travel agency, Stephanie and Chad -- whose hair still looks as though the pillow was the last thing that touched it -- learn that they can get on a flight that arrives in Muscat at 10:55 PM, meaning that extra two hours of sleep cost them precisely ten minutes in the race. I know they're embarrassed and panicked right now, but dude, that was worth it. They take off, hoping to catch up, probably not even appreciating the fact that they're so much better rested than all the other teams right now.

So now an Amazing Green Line and an Amazing Yellow Line zip straight down to Oman, a small country on the Arabian Peninsula that through some bizarre coincidence is right next to the Gulf of Oman. An Amazing Red Line hurries to catch up, and I think it's odd that none of those Lines stopped at Amsterdam. Not so Amazing, that. Whatever, we're there now. It's dark outside, and Brook and Claire are the first to get a cab and ask to be driven to "Burg Alan Sharah," like a 4,000 mile flight didn't afford them enough time to learn to pronounce the name of the place. Team @ also mispronounces it, and in the cab Kat remarks that it's over 90 degrees and humid. "I can just imagine what it

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Amazing Race

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