Can you believe it’s time for yet another installment of The Amazing Race? Why, it seems like only yesterday that... um... whoever it was crossed the finish line first and won the million bucks. But let’s not dwell on a past I can barely remember when there are 11 new teams to meet and pre-judge! And they are:
- Josh and Brent, life partners you may know from Planet Green’s The Fabulous Beekman Boys. I have no idea what that is.
- Natalie and Nadiya, twins with very similar names, because CBS has to make life difficult for those of us who get paid to keep track of who did what.
- Rob and Kelley, married monster truckers. Who wants to bet that this team will suffer some sort of ironic vehicular mishap along the way?
- Trey and Lexi, dating Longhorns from Austin. Trey describes himself on the CBS website as “a physically fit Chris Farley.”
- James and Mark (or Abba, as he apparently wants to be called). If you can tell which is the former Megadeth member and which is the entertainment lawyer, maybe you should be doing this job.
- Abbie and Ryan, dating divorcees. I’m predicting a lot of yelling.
- Jaymes and James, male strippers. Now you’re just messing with me, Race. Let’s just call them Team Magic Mike.
- Rob and Sheila, engaged couple. “Rob lacks tact and can be very insensitive,” says Sheila on the website. Oh boy.
- Caitlin and Brittany, bubbly blondes. I can’t tell them apart either.
- Gary and Will, best friends. Will is not a tall person.
- Amy and Daniel, dating couple. Amy is a double amputee.
For some reason, the teams arrive at the starting line in Pasadena in some kind of psychedelic acid-hippie bus. I don’t know if this was a movie tie-in I missed or just some random production element, but, whatever, it’s quickly over with, never to be spoken of again. Phil is waiting, eyebrow arched, to spring the first new twist of the season: If the team that wins the first leg also wins the last leg, they will win double the usual million-dollar prize. (Which, when you calculate inflation since the Race debuted in 2001, is just a 51 percent increase over the first season prize.) The race begins with teams rappelling off a bridge and collecting their first clue, which tells them to fly to Shanghai, China.
Seven teams get on the first flight: the rockers, the twins, the blondes, Magic Mike, the monster truckers, and the two dating couples. Since this premiere is even more hectic than usual, it’s hard to get much of a handle on the personalities, but first impressions indicate that the twins could get annoying in a hurry. At the first Roadblock in China, one member of each team must score a point against a junior champion at table tennis. The twist is, the kid starts out with a paddle and then works his way through a series of less effective implements: a clipboard, a saucepan, a tambourine, and eventually, the Amazing Race clue itself. It’s not the most pulse-pounding first challenge this show has ever had, but it’s amusing enough.
It’s a double-Roadblock episode, which means the team member who didn’t do the table tennis challenge has to eat hasma, a local delicacy made of a frog’s fallopian tubes. (Or as the clue helpfully specifies, a female frog’s fallopian tubes.) Nobody has too much trouble with this except for poor Rob, who didn’t read the instructions carefully enough and ends up having to eat a double portion.
The last task entails finding a woman with an abacus, which turns out to be harder than it sounds, because apparently, most of these people have never heard of an abacus. Team Megadeth is first on the scene, but the two spend too much time wandering around like Spinal Tap backstage in Cleveland. Amy and Daniel find the clue to the pit stop first, and it looks like we’re in for a heartwarming ending, with the double-amputee persevering to finish first. But they make a classic Amazing Race blunder by telling Abbie and Ryan where to find the clue, and sure enough, the dating divorcees win the footrace to the mat. It’s a shame, but Amy and Daniel have no one to blame but themselves.
Last place comes down to the Chippendales and the older engaged couple, and Team Magic Mike beats Rob and Sheila to the mat by 15 seconds. Since Rob and Sheila made absolutely no impression on me whatsoever, I’m fine with this outcome. But that speaks to the frenzied pace of this episode, which was just out of control at times. As I said, the first episode of any TAR season is always a bit of a scramble, with so many teams we’ve never met competing for slivers of airtime, but this was a head-spinning hour, even by Race standards. I’ll have to reserve judgment on most of these folks until next week, at least.
- A Backus? Aspagus? Occupus? Seriously, do these people really not know what an abacus is?
- “Who wants to go tubing?” More like, “Who has no choice but to go tubing because your partner did the other task?”
- This season on The Amazing Race: Yelling!