The Amazing Race: "Head Down And Hold On (Australia)"
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The Amazing Race: "Head Down And Hold On (Australia)"

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The Amazing Race

"Head Down And Hold On (Australia)"

Season 18, Episode 1

Of all the competition-based reality shows, The Amazing Race probably benefits the most from the all-star format. The first episode of any Race season is almost always a chaotic jumble, with 22 to 24 new faces and personalities to absorb (or even more in the case of the lamentable “Family Edition”), along with the usual airport and taxi cab intrigue. That’s not a problem with tonight’s premiere of the season subtitled Unfinished Business—said business being actually winning the race, something none of the participating teams have done. (I’m guessing The Amazing Race: All-Loser Edition didn’t test well with audiences.) All the faces are familiar, although admittedly, some are more familiar than others.  For me, Amanda and Kris are virtually interchangeable with any number of bickering young couples from seasons past, but they’ve clearly been included in hopes of re-stoking their animosity towards mother-and-deaf-son Margie and Luke, who U-Turned them back in the 14th season.

Indeed, that season is a tad over-represented this time around; in addition to Amanda/Kris and Margie/Luke, former NFL cheerleaders Jaime and Cara and sisters LaKisha and Jennifer are back, along with my top rooting interest, writer/actor Mike White and his dad Mel. But although quibbling about the chosen ones is part of the fun when it comes to these all-star editions—where are my beloved Brook and Claire from last fall?—the powers-that-be have done a decent job assembling a roster of rewatchable teams, including Harlem Globetrotters Flight Time and Big Easy, passport-losers Zev and Justin, and... well, I’m sure goofy Goths Kent and Vyxsin have their fans, too.

As scenes from previous episodes remind us of their fates, the 11 teams converge on Palm Springs, where stalwart host Phil Keoghan awaits, eyebrow cocked at the ready. Kent and Vyxsin announce that they’re looking for redemption, which means they’ve come to the wrong CBS reality show. They’re doing that on Survivor, kids! Like Flight Time and Big Easy, Zev and Justin are wearing Harlem Globetrotters t-shirts, which is hilarious. Phil reminds us that the first team to arrive at the pit stop will receive the Express Pass, which can be used to bypass any challenge. But wait!  He’s got a few new twists up his sleeve. The teams won’t simply be given their first clue; they’ll have to earn it by wading into a field of flags and finding one marked with the airline name “Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services.” We armchair racers immediately realize this means QANTAS, but as usual, it takes the actual racers a bit longer to figure it out.

The first eight teams to find the flags get tickets for the first flight out of LAX to Sydney, Australia. The remaining three follow on a flight 90 minutes later, and the last team to find its flag is hit with an automatic U-Turn, which will force them to perform both tasks on the first Detour. Naturally, it is the previously U-Turned Amanda and Kris who win this booby prize, so it looks like they’re toast right from the start. However, the first flight is forced to make an emergency landing in Honolulu when a passenger suffers a heart attack, and the three teams on the trailing flight (Father/daughter Gary and Mallory and Kisha and Jen, along with Amanda and Kris) actually arrive in Sydney first. What a stroke of luck! Except, you know, for the guy who had the heart attack.

The Roadblock involves scuba diving in a shark tank, finding a compass (actually more of a giant decoder ring), and using it to solve a code involving nautical flags. Right off the bat, it seems Bertram van Munster and company have heard the fan complaints about the challenge-free challenges of recent seasons, because this one is a real bitch. Only a couple of teams actually manage to solve the code phrase—”I am between the devil and the deep blue sea”—but apparently everyone is feeling pretty chummy this early in the race, and thanks to rampant sharing of information, all the teams are able to get their next clue. All except cowboys Jet and Cord, never the two brightest bulbs, who haven’t even come close to solving the clue as the episode ends.

Yes, that means no teams were eliminated in this premiere episode. After riding a skiff through Manly Bay and plucking a clue off a buoy, each team meets Phil on the mat at Shelly Beach, where he hands them a clue and tells them to keep racing. Gary, Mallory, and their secret third teammate Jesus are first to arrive, so they get the Express Pass (and crucially, keep it out of the hands of Kris and Amanda, who would probably use it at their mandatory U-Turn). It remains to be seen whether the cowboys will be eliminated if and when they solve their clue, but I’m guessing the words “TO BE CONTINUED” mean they’re not done just yet.

Either way, Unfinished Business is off to a strong start. Here’s hoping the new twists and turns keep coming, and that the challenges continue to be both creative and, well, challenging. Cab drivers of the world, prepare to be irritated!

Stray observations:

  • In a technological advancement that’s at least two years overdue, The Amazing Race is finally available in HD. The flashbacks to previous seasons already look like they took place in another century.
  • Didn’t Kent used to spell his name “Kynt”? Maybe too many people were mispronouncing it in a non-family-friendly way.
  • For now, we’re just dropping in on the premiere episode, but if the people demand it (hint, hint), there’s a chance Race could join the regular Sunday night rotation. If that’s something you might be interested in, let us know in the comments.