This recap initially began with a celebration of the fact that Sunday (Feb. 19) night’s premiere of Season 20 of “The Amazing Race” began promptly at 8 p.m. ET. It was pre-written and I made the assumption that after a fall of remaining glued to the vagaries of a dreadfully played NFL game that just happens to have remained close deep enough into the fourth quarter for time outs and passing plays to elongate the action, the relief of spring would be that you could set your clock by the starting time for CBS’ primetime.
Then the Northern Trust Open went into a sudden-death playoff and suddenly it was yet another night of delays for the right side of the country.
Ugh. Sorry about that.
Of course, if I’m being honest, I didn’t tune in for the “Amazing Race” premiere live (via Slingbox), as I do most weeks, but I would have appreciated the prompt start-time on all of your behalf. No, I watched the premiere — titled “Tears of a Clown” — on a screener, which is always a pleasure for a premiere, since it’s virtually impossible for me to learn the identities of 11 teams and 22 players, while also keeping up with the in-game action and keeping track of the twists of fate that lead to the typical Race elimination.
That’s why I need a screener for “Amazing Race” premiere recaps (my Slingbox lacks rewinding capabilities, I should add), but more importantly — and regular readers know where I’m going with this — that’s why “Amazing Race” premieres should always be two-hour premieres. I know I say this every season, but if you only give us 44 minutes of TV time for a “Race” premieres, there’s a strong chance you’re going to eliminate a team featuring two players viewers I never bothered to learn to tell apart and therefore a team that viewers never invested in for a second. That leaves us — or me at least — yelling and screaming at the TV and ultimately disappointed by one team of icky caricatures that *didn’t* get eliminated, but not caring about the duo that went home.
As with all things that I’ll complain about all season long, it’s a matter of Race architecture: Elongate things on the first Leg however you have to. Make sure there’s a Roadblock plus a Detour plus two or three or four team challenges if necessary. Just stretch it to two hours so that the editors can give time to all teams and I can more accurately compile my list of Teams I Like, Teams I Hate and Teams in the Middle, which I do every season in my premiere recaps and which proved rather difficult this season.
But hey, at least a team went home on Sunday and after the Non-Elimination-heavy start of the fall cycle, that’s a huge relief.
Click through for my recap of Sunday’s episode, which’ll begin with a breakdown of the episode and then continue with my usual early impressions of the teams, however nebulous those impressions are thus far…
Farewell, Misa & Maiya, pretty, athletic sisters from Hawaii. We hardly knew ye. At all. I think Misa was the one with the beauty mark and Maiya was the one who drove her SUV into quicksand, but otherwise… that wasn’t much of an “Amazing Race” journey and you learned what I think is probably a valuable lesson for all future “Amazing Race” teams: When a clue tells you that you’re supposed to leave a challenge and look for Phil at the Pit Stop, your best course of action is to leave the challenge and LOOK FOR PHIL. Don’t assume you’re going to walk out the door and Phil’s gonna be jumping on your head like an eager Kiwi leprechaun. But if 11 teams walked out a door and 10 looked up and had no trouble spotting Phil, with his jaunty gaucho hat, failure to do so is definitely a “you” problem and not an “everybody” problem.
So the first team eliminated from this season of “The Amazing Race” was Misa & Maiya and they were left with nobody to blame but themselves, which was reasonable, since even before they were unable to walk out a door and spot Phil and allowed themselves to be caught by self-described “Guidos” Danny and Joey “Fitness,” Misa & Maiya had already worked hard to put themselves in position to be eliminated and the bigger surprise was not that they went home, but rather that they almost didn’t.
Misa & Maiya were in last from the very beginning, as teams met at a vineyard outside of Santa Barbara and Phil Keoghan instructed them that their first clue was found in 11 out of 100 balloons floating above a desiccated field. I’ve liked the recent trend toward starting the season with challenges, rather than just handing teams clues and sending them to the airport. This challenge was a bit of a dud, though, because it was a needle-in-a-haystack task upfront and required no real skill or intellect. The first five teams to find their clues were ultimately rewarded, without having done anything worthy of reward other than getting lucky, with the fastest tickets to Santa Barbara, Argentina. The next six teams were on a slower flight. But that meant that even though Misa & Maiya took over 100 minutes to find their clue, their penalty only knocked them back into a second group of six.
Having been unable to eliminate themselves at the opening challenge, Misa & Maiya took a second stab at the Roadblock.
It was an easy Roadblock, but it had an interesting twist. The question was just “Who’s got a great sense of direction?” and the participating players had to get in an vehicle and drive three miles following a map. At the destination, they had to meet their partners, who had to jump out of a plane from 10,000 feet. That meant that, yes, the Roadblock participant ended up doing almost nothing in the Roadblock, while the non-participant had to (got to?) jump out of a plane. I wracked my brain for two or three minutes (and then quit), but was unable to think of many examples of “Amazing Race” Roadblocks in which the participant did almost nothing and the non-participant was the one who had to do the heavy lifting (or dropping).
The Roadblock was very photogenic and the aerial footage from the sky-diving was some of the best “Amazing Race” work to date. But as a task? It was pretty easy and offered almost no opportunity for any of the teams to distinguish themselves, nor to bring shame upon their houses. The entire first group of contestants, milking the advantage they earned through arbitrary selection of vineyard balloons, both jumped and navigated without a whiff of difficulty.
The second group had a few minor issues.
Stacy, of Mississippi Daisy Dukes Kerri & Stacy, had a fear of heights, but she sucked it up in order to prove a point to her kids and didn’t hesitate to leave the plane.
Two of the Roadblock participants in the second group also got a little screwed up. Danny, of The Self-Described Guidos, didn’t bother learning to drive a stick-shift before coming on “The Amazing Race,” even though his mother told him to. That means he’s a stereotype, a moron and a bad son. But more on that later. Maiya, meanwhile, got slightly lost and as I mentioned before, got her car stuck in sand and required a minor tow. Danny’s driving problems caused less of a delay than Maiya’s sand problems, so at the end of the Roadblock, Team Hawaii was, again, in last.
The episode’s remaining task asked players to make 120 empanadas, 60 meat and 60 cheese. The catch was that the two types of empanadas had different folding and sealing techniques. Phil announced this empanada-making nuance as if it would prove to be a do-or-die detail. It was not. It marginally confused border patrol agents Art & JJ, but only briefly enough to allow Team Amusing Height Disparity (Dave & Rachel) and Team Big Brother (Brendon & Rachel) to move ahead. Dave & Rachel won the Express Pass, which made me happy only because it meant that Brendon & Rachel didn’t win the Express Pass.
Meanwhile, Maiya & Misa triumphantly pulled themselves out of last place because Danny & Joey “Fitness” weren’t great at making empanadas. Maiya & Misa, recovered the bags they left at their cab, stepped out of the door and moved in the direction of Phil and the camera crew, but… somehow missed him. Phil waved and raised his eyebrow in Keoghan-esque confusion, but he didn’t yell. As a result, Maiya & Misa left and kept looking, while Danny & Joey “Fitness” finished the task. Although I was yelling at my TV hoping that Danny & Joey “Fitness” would be distracted by a tanning bed, they found Phil right away, sending Maiya & Misa home, but only after Phil told them that no team in “Amazing Race” history had ever been that close to the finish line, missed it and been eliminated.
Let’s break down the teams…
Positive First Impressions:
Dave & Cherie (a.k.a Team Clowns) – In their favor: They’re CLOWNS. Working against them: They’re not running the Race in Clown-face. Working against them: Cherie’s “We haven’t seen another team for MINUTES” crying freak-out was way premature and more-than-slightly unstable. In their favor: Cherie turned her crying into a “Tears of a clown” joke, which was excellent.
Bopper & Mark (a.k.a. Team Kentucky) – If “The Amazing Race” were like The Hunger Games and regions had to sacrifice middle-aged people instead of kids, you could imagine Bopper and Mark as the tributes from District 12 and this whole season could be a lot more fun. Bopper & Mark are like a bromance version of coal miners David & Mary and there’s already a strong sense that they’re gonna be mangling the English language around the globe. They’ll be quotable and fun and apparently they’re unlikely to be racist. So… score!
Vanessa & Ralph (a.k.a. Team Missed Opportunities) – I have no real opinion on Ralph, who’s gonna have to prove he’s more than a generic meathead, but I immediately like Vanessa, who’s cute, lists her employment as “freelance writer” and appears to give good quote, whether wanting to rub her face in empanadas or talking about her uterus-in-her-throat after sky-diving.
The Jury’s Still Out:
Dave & Rachel (a.k.a. Team Amusing Height Disparity) – I was fine with Dave and Rachel through most of the episode and I cheered for them as they beat Brendon & Rachel, but in the Scenes from The Scene clip package after the episode, it looked like Dave and Rachel’s post-military estrangement is going to lead to a lot of shrieking. The promise of them becoming a dysfunctional couple bumped them from “Positive” to “TBD.”
Nary & Jamie (a.k.a. Female Feds) – Because everything had to be fit into an hour — STOP DOING THAT — a slew of teams in the middle barely factored in at all. Nary & Jamie was perfectly fine in their limited screentime, but their performance in each of the episode’s tasks just got glossed over to the point that they were barely in the final cut.
Kerri & Stacy (a.k.a. Team Mississippi Daisy Dukes) – They weren’t interesting, but their introduction, complete with tractors and farm animals, was straight out of “Farmer Wants a Wife.” Thus, they make me laugh. Kerri has the puffed out hair. As long as she doesn’t change her hair, I’ll be able to tell these two apart.
Elliot & Andrew (a.k.a. The Doublemint Dudes) – Elliot’s a rock star (if I knew who Afallacy is/was)! Andrew’s a goalie (albeit one without a current MLS home)! They’re bestest buds! And because of the editing of the episode, they were non-factors throughout. They seemed likable, but I’m not prepared to commit.
Art & JJ (a.k.a. Team La Migra) – I liked Louie & Michael well enough back in Season 16, so maybe Art & JJ will find a similar dynamic as the season progresses. For now, I just need to concentrate on JJ being taller and Art being Latino, so that I can eventually learn to tell them apart.
Negative First Impressions:
Brendon & Rachel (a.k.a. Team Big Brother) – Get off of my TV, Brendon & Rachel. Forever. I don’t begrudge your happiness as a couple. Just do it in private for a while.
Joey “Fitness” & Danny (a.k.a. Team Jersey Shore) – Sorry, Joey “Fitness” and Danny. “The Amazing Race” has already had one Team Guido, Joe & Bill. People liked them. People aren’t going to like you. It’s one thing to embody ugly cultural stereotypes. It’s other thing to take so much pride in embodying ugly cultural stereotypes. Plus, you made fun of The Clowns. Who makes fun of clowns? I’ll tell you who: Worse clowns. The “Amazing Producers” presumably knew that viewers hate Brendon & Rachel, so they put some effort into a team that would be as unlikable as Team Big Brother. Success!
Irrelevant First Impressions:
Misa & Maiya – Poor performance on the opening task. Poor performance on the opening Roadblock. Inability to find Phil when he was standing right in front of you? Yeah. That’s a recipe for elimination.
A few other thoughts:
*** At 45, Mark of Team Kentucky is the season’s oldest contestant. Has “The Amazing Race” given up on plucky grandparents and long-married couples? Somewhat. For this installment, at least. On the other hand, seven of the years are in their 30s or 40s, meaning that we have way fewer Dating Models in this pack. Misa & Maiya were the season’s youngest contestants and they’re gone.
*** Phil actually got the line of the episode when he told the teams at the starting line, “The fact is that I will be eliminating most of you” and followed with the Keoghan-est eyebrow raise in history.
*** I suspect we’ll be getting weekly malapropisms from Team Kentucky. So this week’s winner was Bopper confusing pinatas and empanadas.
What’d you think of the premiere?