Oh, hey--the Amazing Race started again! Sorry, I really did mean to say something about this earlier, but there was a lot of blogging to do, and then there was a season finale to Doctor Who that was a lot of fun, and before I knew it the second episode had already aired. So let's at least try to catch up with events in the first leg so that we can get around to recapping the second leg before the third leg airs, okay?
Said first leg begins in California, in a very picturesque Buddhist temple near LA. We are introduced to the eleven teams...and since this is a big chunk of the episode as well as just generally important, since they're our "cast" this season, let's take a long look at them. In no particular order...
Laurence and Zac: This is already a favorite team of mine, as well as probably a favorite to win. The kid has already circumnavigated the globe in a sailboat; needless to say, "killer fatigue" is not going to be one of his big issues. The dad seems active enough to overcome his age differences, and they both seem relentlessly polite, quiet and nice. These are the kind of low-drama, high-competence teams favored in our household.
Ernie and Cindy: Oh, look. A dating team, one of whom describes themselves as a "control freak" and talks in self-deprecating terms about how they fight but love each other. Toss those on the pile with the rest, will you? Admittedly, they don't seem to be as spectacularly train-wrecky as some of the "bickering couples" we've seen on the Race, and I give Cindy major points for saying thank you to people in Chinese on this leg. But nothing has convinced me yet that they are going to be enjoyable to watch. They seem competent enough, though, and I suspect they'll be around for a while.
Jeremy and Sandy: Technically speaking, they are on the Race. All the evidence seems to suggest it. Their names are on the credits, they are listed in the Wikipedia entry for the season, the CBS website lists them as being in the show. However, I must admit I have no memory of them. Neither good nor bad. Their appearances made literally no impression on me. If the Silence were running the Amazing Race, this is what they would be like. (Minus the electrocutions, of course.)
Justin and Jennifer: Hate hate hate die die die shutupshutupshutupshutup! But enough about their dialogue for the entire first episode, what do I think of these two? (Rimshot.) Seriously, they cannot exit the Race fast enough for my tastes. They are whiny, they are in perpetual bicker mode from Second One, and they actually act, in interviews, as though this is endearing behavior. Elimination is too good for them.
Ethan and Jenna: This season's token "stunt couple", they are both winners of Survivor and he is also a cancer survivor to boot! Presumably, they also are searching the world for the hook-handed man who kidnapped their infant daughter to induct her into their ninja clan, unknowing that she is actually the last heir to Narnia. Oh, and despite all that they're still remarkably boring.
Andy and Tommy: Apart from the fact that I keep expecting the bearded one to break into "The Rainbow Connection" at any second, these two actually seem like nice guys. They also seem like they're dumb as posts, the pair of them, but appearances can be deceptive...and athleticism and a positive attitude can carry you past a lot of challenges in this series.
Kaylani and Lisa: Why is it, whenever there are two women on this show that start right out by telling everyone how they're not stupid and lots of people think they're stupid but they're really a lot smarter than they look and sound, that it immediately makes them come off as dumb? I wish I knew, and I'm worried that it might be me. In any event, they are this season's Pretty Women Who Will Show Everyone That Pretty Women Are Competent. (They are not off to a great start in this episode, but more on that later.)
Liz and Marie: Unfortunately for them, they have already been nicknamed the Doublemint Twins in our household and they don't seem likely to be able to do anything to shake that nickname. They also don't seem likely to last very long; they're young, they don't seem to have a whole lot of reserves of patience, and they don't have the life experience to teach them how to deal with stress.
Bill and Cathi: They seem nice. Boy do they seem nice. They seem like they would instantly make friends with all the other Racers, the kind of friendships that last well beyond the Race. Even years later, I see them as the type that are still sending out Christmas cards to Liz and Marie and cooing over Jeremy and Sandy's baby (who may be named Melody and may not be theirs)...and all those connections will be forged on the strength of about three episodes, because that's how long I give them.
Amani and Marcus: This season's Overcompetitive Guy and Supportive Wife, Marcus seems to at least be one of the nice Overcompetitive Guys who runs around and makes grunting noises, as opposed to one of the Overcompetitive Guys who trash-talks everyone else and pouts whenever anything goes wrong. Still better in small doses, though.
Ron and Bill: They seem like the "sweet gay couple" version of Bill and Cathi. Really nice, very friendly, definitely the kind of people you can root for...but you can just tell after about five minutes that they're going to go out early. Very, very sweet though.
So after all these characters are introduced, they all begin racing! The first challenge is to find an umbrella with letters on it that complete a word puzzle involving the teams' first destination. I like the idea, but unfortunately it's yet another Race puzzle with a brute force solution, and most of the teams simply sprint back and forth between Phil and the umbrella stand until they find the one they're looking for. The last team, Kaylani and Lisa, add injury to injury by getting a Hazard for being in last. (Hate this. Bad Race design to penalize the team that's already furthest behind. But given that Kaylani and Lisa manage to screw themselves far worse than the Race designers could even dream of, heck with it.)
Which is what happens next, as Kaylani and Lisa lose one of their passports at the first gas station. Much drama ensues--and for the record, this does not feel like a "bickering team" thing to me. This feels like, "We are completely and totally FUBARed and we haven't even hit the first airport and I am very upset." I think that anyone who thinks they would handle this well hasn't gone through it.
Luckily, a random stranger finds the passport, discovers from Twitter that the women with camera crews following them around are probably on the Amazing Race, and drives it to the airport on their behalf. I am not saying they wouldn't do this for the 62-year-old couple, but it probably didn't hurt that they were astonishingly beautiful women.
From there, we all just skip to the chase and get to Taiwan, where there's a beautifully designed puzzle that tests everyone's mental abilities. No brute force solutions, just a simple case of listening and repeating a key phrase. This is the kind of simple, yet sublime challenge that I love about the Race when it happens.
...of course, Bill and Cathi are four hours behind everyone else because they can't find the clue that leads them to the Road Block, but that too is part of the Race. They wander around for ages while everyone else does the challenge (and the subsequent relatively simple Dragon Boat race afterwards), nothing but Amazing Editing ever suggests that they even come close to seeing another team, and honestly, they are the luckiest recipients of a non-elimination leg ever.
And next week, which is now last week, we get a double-elimination leg to make up for the non-elimination leg! I wholeheartedly approve. Talk to you about it before Week Three!