Well, at least we know what the lesson of Sunday (September 27) night’s “The Amazing Race” premiere was:
Get your sorry butt off of Twitter, or else people will post “Breaking Bad” spoilers and you’ll have no one to blame with yourself.
What? That wasn’t your takeaway?
I’m sure you got something much simpler, but no less correct:
Just read the freaking clues.
Sometimes you can go on “The Amazing Race” without knowing how to drive stick and you’ll squeak through for a while. Sometimes your fear of heights or inability to swim can be properly managed. But everybody has to read clues and as we were reminded on Sunday’s season-opener, failure to read clues can mean the difference between first place and a major game advantage and second place, or between 10th place and still being in the Race and 11th.
More on Sunday’s premiere, plus quick handicapping of the 11 teams, after the break.
I had a very unique angle watching Sunday’s premiere. Before the season started, I interviewed all 11 teams, but due to premiere week insanity, I only had time to transcribe four of the interviews. I still hope to post them all at some point, but I approached Sunday’s premiere rooting enthusiastically for the four teams I’d transcribed, so that I wouldn’t have transcribed an interview for the first time out, an interview I may not run. Let’s just say that I started my transcribing with the mixed gender teams, because they’re easier because I can tell the voices apart. Curses! Darn you, Hoskote & Naina for going out and leaving me with a pre-Race transcript that nobody will care about because I’ll already have posted an exit interview.
Oh well. It wasn’t like Hoskote & Naina were eliminated on purpose. And, honestly, it wasn’t like they were actually eliminated because they failed to read the clues. There were a lot of random variables in this episode. I can identify several points which teams were rewarded for strength and one or two points in which they were delayed by weakness, but mostly? Randomness reigned.
The randomness started at the beginning, as the teams arrived at an Old West movie set in stagecoaches and then had to rush off to Eco-Friendly Ford C-Max cars and figure out how to use to bluetooth to call a number telling them that they were headed to Iquique, Chile via LAX. The first seven teams to LAX got on a flight that arrived a solid two hours earlier, guaranteeing elimination for one of the four lagging teams. And what did the four lagging teams do to deserve that fate? Well, Oklahoma Oil Riggers Tim & Danny got off the freeway somewhere in the vicinity of Dodger Stadium and then played a game of charades with a local Spanish-speaker to ascertain that the relatively hilly area they’d exited at was not, in fact, an air strip. They’re from Oklahoma, though. They don’t know how we land planes in Los Angeles. So they can be forgiven. Mostly, I know what they did to put themselves in the bottom pack. I don’t know why Beardos Brandon & Adam, Naina & Hoskote or Pretty Couple Without a Clear Hook Jason & Amy were in that group, but I’m sure they deserved it.
Iquique is a rather gorgeous seaside town, surrounded by vast sand dunes and the first Roadblock was to paraglide off of one of the dunes. Except that it wasn’t. That was the trick! The clue asked “Who’s good at follow the leader?” and everybody made their decisions based on the assumption that active participation in the task meant paragliding. Instead, it was the non-participating partner who had to paraglide, while the person actually *doing* the Roadblock was the person following along on the highways beneath the paragliders, which was only participation in the loosest possible sense.
The phrasing was pretty much only designed to cause somebody with a fear of heights to get suckered into doing the task, which paid off in exactly one case: Baseball Wife Kimmy, spouse of frequently traded outfielder David DeJesus, saw what she’d have to do and spend a few minutes being nervous and threatening to puke and all of those other things that people do before eventually sucking it up and realizing that you’re strapped very tightly to a professional doing all the work. Kimmy was also inspired by setting a good example for her son, who I’m pretty sure is named Spidey. Kimmy, man. Kimmy, man. Do whatever a Spidey can.
Kim’s initial reticence and Brandon’s initial faceplant down the dune were the only things any of the paragliders did to impact placement.
And the people actually *doing* the Roadblock? They did nothing. Their placement actually came down to whose cab drivers got them closest to the entrance to the beach. But even that didn’t matter much. The only person who really got railroaded by a bad cabbie was Naina, who cabbie took her to the beach the long way. Apparently. I don’t think we ever saw what went wrong with that cab ride, but more than rule-reading, that’s what got Naina and her father sent home, the combination of one bad cab and getting on the wrong plane.
The second Roadblock was also photogenic and, unlike the first Roadblock, required actual skill and effort. It required the person who didn’t participate in the first Roadblock to row a boat around the harbor collecting five fish from three boats amongst hundreds. The silly thing is that by asking the non-participant in the first task to row in the second, that meant the game was really asking the same person to both paraglide and row, the only active tasks in the episode. Because there was confusion in the first part, a couple teams had trouble figuring out who was supposed to row. Well, actually only two teams had trouble. Afghanimals Leo & Jamal got confused and Naina & Hoskote got confused. Everybody else understood. If 6 teams get mixed up, that’s a tricky *clue*. If two teams get mixed up, that’s a tricked *you*.
ER Docs Travis & Nicole somehow went from second on the beach post-paragliding to a huge lead at the harbor, where Travis gamely, if stylistically incorrectly, rowed his way around collecting fish with a solid lead. They completed the Roadblock and rushed off to Phil, only to notice that the clue asked them to go on foot, incurring a 30 minute penalty. This allowed Bickering Exes Tim & Marie to finish first and win the Double Express Pass, a powerful advantage that still couldn’t protect John & Jess from being stupid and going home last season. Travis & Nicole still finished second and, in fact, all seven of the First Flight teams made up the Top 7. In the second group, Jason’s high school rowing background put his couple in eighth, followed by the Oklahomans. The Beardos looked like they might have been in trouble, because Brandon wasn’t rowing very quickly, but they still would have finished 10th with or without Naina & Hoskote’s clue-reading goof that led Naina to initially row even though Hoskote had paraglided.
The weirdness of the first Roadblock mean that in this episode, we only saw 11 people really do anything, while the second half of each pair is more of a mystery. I don’t love that structure, nor do I love the various big gaps in the editing, specifically the magic that put Travis & Nicole in first at the start of the rowing Roadblock and the anti-magic that put Naina & Hoskote in last for good. But it was a photogenic premiere in a fresh location and at least in the early going, I didn’t find myself hating anybody. There are definitely a couple teams I don’t love as much as the others, but this confirmed the sense that I got when I interview the teams, a sense that there are some decent personalities at work.
Let’s break down the teams quickly, in order of finish:
FIRST – Tim & Marie (a.k.a. The Exes) – Tim and Marie were still listed as “dating” when I met them three days before the Race began, though they said that they’ve always been back-and-forth as a couple, so it wasn’t shocking that they decided to go off as “exes.” Marie worked aggressively to seem annoying, while Tim’s amusement at her irritation made him seem fairly charming. This was also the case when I talked to them. They’re very strong and if they’ve figured out how to be functionally antagonist, I see no reason why they shouldn’t go a long way.
SECOND: Travis & Nicole (a.k.a The ER Docs) – Really? The two Racers with the most advanced degrees were the ones who blundered clue-reading? So much for my theory that Travis & Nicole were going to play smart and that anything else could do physically would be an advantage. I respected Nicole’s strong Spanish and they both seemed game. In my interview, they were confident and I’m betting this clue blunder will lead to smarter play going forward.
THIRD: Rowan & Shane (a.k.a. Team Bingo) – Because Rowan did both tasks, we got a lot of him and his theatrical wit — “My name’s not Rowan for nothing” and a Flying Nun reference — and almost none of Shane. The two actors got a big boost because Shane’s cabbie got him closer to the beach and they finished that Roadblock in first, before falling back driving to the next one. They seem funny and energetic, though you just know that eventually they’ll be hindered by their age. I know they’re not a couple, but if you think of them as a 50-something Cam & Mitchell (from “Modern Family”) they become much more entertaining.
FOURTH: Chester & Ephraim (a.k.a. Team NFL) – Ephraim’s fully bald and Chester’s the one who worked as a grocery bagger until Ephraim discovered him in college. They’re funny and athletic and they’re probably one of my two or three favorite teams at this point. We had two professional athletes win last season, but I think that Chester & Ephraim have size-based liabilities that Bates & Anthony didn’t have and I think that will cause them problems in the same way The Globetrotters had athleticism, but struggled with things on the Race that weren’t built for XXXXXL people.
FIFTH: Nicky & Kimmy (a.k.a. Team Baseball Wives) – Because Kim did everything in this episode, I now know which one she is and, by process of elimination, I know that Wanda is the other one. Kim’s freaking out about heights wasn’t awful, it just looked bad because nobody else worried. I’d put Nicky & Kim in a middle group. I don’t have any reason to like or dislike them.
SIXTH: Ally & Ashley (a.k.a. The Ice Queens) – If you don’t already know that I’m a fan of the Ice Queens, sadly you don’t know me very well. I’m definitely an Ally fan and I don’t understand people saying they can’t tell them apart. They look nothing alike! But anyway… I actually have reservations about Ally & Ashley on an athletic level: They left their gig on the LA Kings Ice Crew while the Kings were still in the Stanley Cup Conference Finals. Come on, Ally & Ashley! You can’t abandon the team like that. Anyway, they’re cute and energetic and they didn’t do anything overtly stupid or racist in the first issue, which often seems to happen with teams of hot mean girls.
SEVENTH: Leo & Jamal (a.k.a. The Afghanimals) – Just calm down, guys. You’re trying too hard. We get that you’re trying to prove that you’re All-American guys and that we’re going to misjudge you because you’re Afghanis, but chill. There’s much too much noise-for-noise’s-sake from these guys and the part where Leo called Marie a bitch for taking the cab that Leo had called for him and for Ashley was needlessly bitter. Marie took the first cab she saw. So it goes. And I hope they don’t get blinded by the flirting Ice Queens, because that could be embarrassing. But with a slight drop in volume in upcoming episodes? I don’t think I’d dislike the Afghanimals at all.
EIGHTH: Jason & Amy (a.k.a. Team They’ll Produce Sturdy Children Someday) – I like it when people look at a task, announced that it’s a task that plays into their skills and then go out and actually look like they know what they’re doing. Case-in-point? Jason with the rowing. So I like him. And even though Amy’s a wee bit too Beauty Queen perfect — she *was* Miss Rhode Island at some point — I have no reason to dislike her and she may be deceptively smart.
NINTH: Tim & Danny (a.k.a. Team Oklahoma) – With Tim talking about his ailing wife and Danny talking about his hungry children, Team Oklahoma was either getting a We’re Going Out Tragically Early or a This Sets Up An Underdog Story edit tonight. Since they didn’t go home, I wonder if they’re going to be around for a long time. In my interview with them, they seemed much smarter and funnier than they had any chance to be in this episode. I think that the combination of getting lost in East LA and international travel may have sapped their energy. Perhaps they’ll improve.
TENTH: Brandon & Adam (a.k.a. Team Beardo) – Just as y’all surely guessed I’d like the Ice Queens, y’all equally surely should know that I’m strongly in favor of the best friends who were initially described as Beard Enthusiasts. Like the Afghanimals, they try a little too hard to reenforce their quirkiness at every turn, but they had the balance a bit closer to correct in this first episode than Leo & Jamal did.
ELEVENTH: Hoskote & Naina (a.k.a. Gone) – In the pre-show interviews, they were really confident that Hoskote’s age wouldn’t be a drawback and they were sure that they had a successful formula to overcome any generational stress. We didn’t see any of that. However, I’m sure there’s some satisfaction in an elimination that really wasn’t their fault.
OK. This has gone on long enough…
What’d you think of the premiere? Who do you like? Who do you hate?