Welcome back for the 19th Amazing Race, fresh off of their eighth Emmy win for Best Reality Show. I must admit, next to its first win, this one was most surprising. I really thought Top Chef: All-Stars was a better show last year, but I am certainly not complaining. Year in and year out, the Race is of high quality. Perhaps some more than others, but high quality nonetheless. And now we have the 19th edition, embarking yet again from California.
Now – the teams.
Ethan and Jenna – Yep, THAT Ethan and Jenna. The winners of Survivor: Africa and Amazon, contestants on All-Stars, and long-time dating couple. Both have been very involved in charitable activities since their fame and fortune was achieved, and Ethan had a very public battle with cancer. On Survivor, Ethan was the “good guy” on Africa and a very amiable person. Jenna had a strange Amazon experience, going from spoiled sorority brat to challenge monster, to lesser of two evils. Jenna is one-half of the infamous peanut butter and chocolate flashers that season. They have Rob and Amber as their precedent setters as Survivor crossovers. Romber were villainous on Survivor, but were mostly fun to watch on the Race. We shall see how these guys are going to be.
Ethan and Jenna are the big casting story, but there are some other interesting teams. Nicknames will be needed.
Andy and Tommy – They are former Olympic snowboarders from 2002 and 2006. They claim to not be slackers, but the two of them raced this first leg as if they had just gotten back from a Grateful Dead concert.
Laurence and Zac – That’s Laurence with a U and Zac with no H or K. So, that’s some fun spelling. Larry is English or Aussie, which is interesting. I don’t recall there ever being someone from another country on the show before, so that’s a first. Zac is the youngest person to sail around the world. So, while the rest of us were bowling and hanging out at Denny’s at his age, he was pulling a Magellan.
Ernie and Cindy – She is a control freak. Excellent. That always goes well on this show.
Justin and Jennifer – The two of them are going to be loads of fun, as there will be some crazy sibling blowups with these two hotheads.
Bill and Cathi – Grandparent farmers who “understand manual labor.” We also have another creative speller on our hands. Older couples have been on most seasons, but few have ever really been relevant. After this first episode, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Liz and Marie – Blond gorgeous twins. Well, that’s something for some fan fiction. Oh, and stereotypical ditzy blondes. Awesome. So, they are going to be chock full of comedy. They are better looking than the previous ditzy blonde twins – AR5 Kami/Karli – but might actually be denser.
Jeremy and Sandy – My namesake gets some chance for redemption. The previous Jeremy was the tool counterpart to Eric/Jeremy on AR9. They were one of the best teams ever, but all he talked about was screwing the other Racers, greeters, travel agents, farm animals, etc. This Jeremy and his lady friend are both divorced and are the latest team to use the Race as a test of their relationship.
Ron and Bill – And our latest gay couple entry. They are easily the first nickname of the season – Guido 2. Heck, both have team members named Bill. They are flight attendants, which could come in handy during the travel portion of the Race.
Marcus and Amani – This team features former Indianapolis Colts tight end Marcus Pollard and his wife. Pollard was a very good player – a good receiver and as a tight end, part of the offensive line. Those huge players are tasked with opening holes for the running backs to run through, and for protecting the quarterback. In Pollard’s case, one of those quarterbacks was Peyton Manning, one of the best ever. Marcus has lots of energy and enthusiasm, and unlike Ethan/Jenna, should be able to hide his fame nicely.
Kaylani and Lisa – These are former Las Vegas showgirls with really, really attractive bodies. I mean, they are really good looking. They also claim to be smart as well as attractive. This episode does not prove their point.
The season will feature the return of the Express Pass, given to the winner of the first leg, and to be used no later than the 8th leg. Just like last year, the starting line features a challenge, where the last place team faces a penalty. The first time they did this, the team was eliminated on the spot. The next time, it was the Fully Ironic U-Turning of Amanda/Kris. This time, it is a new challenge called a Hazard. This is basically a Speed Bump on this leg for the loser of the challenge. At this rate, the next penalty will wind up being some harsh words from Phil.
I have been saying for a long time that the show needed to start doing earlier non-elimination legs. They did one a couple of seasons ago on the first leg to coincide with that Starting Line elimination, but I thought a cool thing would be a clean first leg reprieve for a team. Thus enabling them to have another few minutes of fame, and for us, the viewer, to get to know them a bit more. And the show has done that this week, so, thanks for that.
However, instead of using one of the regular non-elimination legs, the show is compensating by having an unprecedented double elimination. Well, sort of unprecedented. In AR12, Bilal and Sa’eed got taken out mid-leg, before Vipul and Arti went out at the regular elimination point. This time, it appears that the second to last and last to arrive at the Mat will be eliminated.
Now, for the most important things to take place on this leg.
Twitter – What could have been the dumbest move in the history of the Amazing Race turned into the luckiest moment in Race history. As teams scramble to get to LAX, several of them stop to ask directions at a gas station. That’s happened every year, but this year, it is a major plot point. Leggy showgirls pull in to ask directions and hightail it out of there. However, Kaylani drops her passport on the pavement, and they take off. Uh oh.
As Toni/Dallas and Zev/Justin understand – no passport, no Race. The girls figure it out and go back to the station, but it is gone. Amazingly, they just go to LAX and hope that some other Racer found it. Basically, Phil is going to have to make his earliest appearance ever. So, they appear to be screwed. In fact, the girls start to turn on each other – rather quickly, I must say. However…
The guy that the snowboarders previously asked for help noticed the passport was dropped. They must have arrived in a bang-bang fashion because the dude was pumping gas when the boys showed up. Well, you can read the NY Times story on it here – but basically, he tweeted that Racers ran into him and he found a passport. It was tweeted back to him that he needs to get it to LAX right away to save them. And he did!! And Team Showgirls gets to move on.
Grandma Gets Really Lost – Team Geritol was close to becoming permanent residents of Taiwan. In a great way of providing a clue, teams had to show up in a downtown square and “look up” to find the clue. No clue box. Nothing. They had to realize the video screen above with the red and yellow balloons was the clue and the Chinese letters revealed was the next location. Awesome. Even better – there was red and yellow everywhere, including some guys shorts showing through his pants. Teams seemed to take a while to finally figure this out, and then ask for help translating.
Geritol had trouble. So much so, they thought “look up” meant to go to the tallest building and check there. They wandered for four hours, and with the later flight deficit, there was no way they could recover. They benefit from the surprise non-elimination, but now they have to overcome a Speed Bump, and finish ninth or better to survive.
Challenges – While the casting this season looks interesting, the star of this week’s episode was really the Race itself. I can’t say anyone really stood out as successful or as a breakout character. Yet. But it was a good Race showing. The passport/Twitter thing was a Race dynamic and rule coming into play. But more specifically, it was a run of decent challenges which emerged as the cool factor.
The opening challenge was a bit of a Word Jumble, with a giant rack of umbrellas presented to teams. They are given the letters WANPEI, and must figure out the missing three letters needed, which are written on the umbrellas. Its only flaw is allowing teams to randomly pick umbrellas and rush to Phil, with teams copying the lucky ones who find it. Jenna seems to be the only one who figures out that TAI is needed for TAI-PEI, TAI-WAN. Regardless of execution, it was at least good in concept, and required thought. Same goes for the aforementioned balloon task later on.
The Roadblock was another good one – just as every Survivor challenge isn’t a grueling physical task, a simple skill on the Amazing Race can be tested. In this case, memory. Racers have to listen to a message, a Confucius proverb, and repeat it back word for word. Not easy. The proverb was – “In all things success depends on previous preparation, and without such previous preparation there is sure to be failure.” Lots of similar words, and a bunch of conjunctions to drop. The blondes struggled the most, as it seems Liz did it about 3000 times, the same way each time, incorrectly. Teams were drenched in sweat from the heat and the pressure. Another good task.
The Hazard was Speed Bumpish in simplicity, but at least it was fun to watch. The Showgirls had to do an indoor bungee jump in a mall. Imagine that the next time you take your kids to the Gap. There was also a rowing task with a Chinese sort-of-crew team, which was fun if only for the team chants. It meant nothing for the Race itself, but it was a cool idea, a beautiful series of pictures for us, and a cooler Racer moment than viewer moment.
All in all, a good opening salvo from the Amazing Race, which still has lots to offer in its 19th season. I am looking forward to the season and meeting these Racers. Not sure who I am rooting for yet, but at least I don’t hate anyone yet either!
• 15 minutes in and someone already made a vomit reference. Not many other shows can handle that.
• Big time editing – Team Snowboard Dudes get the umbrella first and arrive at the ticket counter in seventh. Medicinal marijuana stop, anyone?
• Loved the contrast of Jenna saying they were not revealing their fame, and the entire group of Racers talking about their fame.
• If Team Geritol can survive, we may get more Bill-isms – “We got the tail end of the duck.” He said that after they were so slow to get out of the airport in Taiwan that they literally missed the bus to the challenge.
• Team Dude gets a reggae theme, a la the Cowboys and Trotters themes. Could be cool, could be annoying.
• Cindy on the dragon boat – “I feel so Asian right now.” Billions of people just said excuse me.
• Loved the locations, especially the Martyrs Shrine for the first Pit Stop. Here is a tribute to fallen Taiwanese soldiers with a changing of the guard each hour. Martyrs Shrine in other parts of the world would take on a totally different meaning.
• Kaylani would do anything for a million dollars. I am sure Twitter Boy heard that and is getting right on the job.
• My wife was fascinated by Phil’s necklace, which looked like a day camp project, but was probably some sacred Kiwi symbol.
• Amazing Race still can’t show men kissing, as Guido 2 gets the Guido 1 edit on the Mat. Let’s see if that changes at all during the season.
• Team Showgirls – “I guess that’s why they call it the Amazing Race…because anything can happen.” No, then it would be called the Anything Can Happen Race.
Roadblock – Repeat back a phrase. Cindy, Sandy, Jennifer, Ethan, Amani, Zac, Andy, Ron, Lisa, Liz, Cathi.
Order of Finish – Control Freak, New Jeremy, Siblings, Survivors, Peytons, Magellan, Dudes, Guido 2, Showgirls, Twins, and Geritol (NON-ELIMINATED)
Next week – Two go home. The siblings fight and Ethan lost the clue.
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