I’m ready to give Season 17 of “The Amazing Race” my blessing to be a dismal disappointment from here on out. We can now be treated to a dozen episodes of misread directions, shrieky couples who call each other “babe,” Ugly American ignorance, easily foreseeable phobias and tension-deflating equalizers.
Because Season 17 has already given us The Watermelon Incident.
Heck, Sunday (Sept. 26) night’s “Amazing Race” premiere was a padded 90 minute episode with only one actual challenge and a final result that hinged on teams that got lost in a country where English is the native language, but I still found myself loving the episode.
Because the premiere of Season 17 gave us The Watermelon Incident.
Nothing, it turns out, covers a multitude of “Amazing Race” sins like a watermelon in the face. Or perhaps I just have a low-brow sense of humor. I would also have settled for a key task involving helper monkeys. But that’s just me.
Full recap of the launch of this “Amazing Race” season after the break…
Like I’ve already said, I’m not convinced that a well-constructed “Amazing Race” episode should ever be determined by directional ineptitude in a land in which solutions are just a gas station away. If you’re in Mongolia or Deepest Darkest Peru and you have legitimate concerns about your ability to find a helpful person willing to communicate in the same language? Or if you’re in a country with a different alpha-numeric system and the maps are written in a script you can’t read, I guess those are reasonable excuses. But only Ron & Tony and Nicki & Vicki know how they came to get so badly turned around in England and were unable to right the ship.
Nici & Vicki sortta have an excuse. They’re simple people. They love bikes and tattoos and each other. However, Vicki had never heard of Stonehenge and neither of them were able to say with any confidence which country London is in. They didn’t know what “battlements” meant and couldn’t properly identity find the boats sitting next to a route marker and temporarily contemplated swimming across the river to get a vessel, clue-be-damned. Stupidity isn’t a *good* excuse, but it’s pretty obvious that Nick & Vicki are going to be in intellectual murky waters for as long as they stick around this season.
Coming off of last season’s “Amazing Race: All-Stupids Edition,” early editing implied that the producers had looked for a more clever flock of contestants. Connor & Jonathan are both newly minted Princeton grades. Thomas is very, very proud of his Notre Dame degree. Nat & Kat are both doctors. And, in one ill-fated piece of camera-talk, Ron made sure that we knew that Tony had gone to Stanford and has a Masters degree in… something. I’m going to guess that “something” is not geography or cartography, since Tony sat in the back seat of the car and looked confused as Tony go lost going from Heathrow to Stonehenge and then got lost again going from Stonehenge to Eastnor Castle. This is a region of England that’s largely supported on tourism and if you’re going to tourist locations, it shouldn’t be hard to get properly steered. And even if you can’t get a local to help you, if you happen to have a map? The road signs are all in ENGLISH.
And that’s why Ron & Tony were eliminated, nothing else. They probably would have failed at the boating challenge, since Tony’s weight would have given them a slightly unfair disadvantage, but they were eliminated without even reaching the episode’s Roadblock. That’s a weak performance and, really, a sign of weak leg architecture. For a 90 minute episode to have only a Roadblock, no Detour, and for that Roadblock to barely be a factor in leg placement? Not ideal.
That, though, is where The Watermelon Incident came in.
The Roadblock was titled Defeat the Warrior and required one player to use a ballista — no, not the aspiring poets who make your lattes at Starbucks — to launch watermelons at a suit of armor 50 feet away. Why watermelons? I haven’t the faintest idea. Did this summer’s Ridley Scott “Robin Hood” movie have a heavy watermelon component? I have no idea.
The challenge had already been dumbed down. The distance of 50 feet made the watermelon launching an issue of angles and leverage more than strength. And none of the players any real difficulties with the mechanics of the project.
So Claire, partnered with Brook in what would formerly have been called Team Home Shopping Network, had been misguided into taking on the Roadblock because of the presence of a horse and her own rural upbringing. So she’s all, “I grew up with horses!” Instead, the horse just took her over to the ballista, advantage over. And Claire didn’t have the mechanics down, leaving her with some of the ugliest watermelon launches of the challenge. But on one particular launch, the ballista somehow slingshotted the watermelon back and instead of soaring in the direction of the empty army, it flew back, whacking her right in the gourd.
Here’s the thing you have to know: If the watermelon had somehow knocked Claire cold or broken her nose or dislodged her teeth or caused any sort of permanent or temporary damage — God forbid, y’all — CBS would not have made The Watermelon Incident into the centerpiece of the premiere’s promotion. CBS’ promotion spoiled the surprise of The Watermelon Incident, but in spoiling the surprise, it took an event that might have been too shocking to process within the context of a fun reality show and gave us permission to enjoy it, to some degree. We also wouldn’t have been treated to at least five or six replays of the Watermelon Incident, replayed with a near Zapruder-ian glee: Back and to the left. Back and to the left. Back and to the left. See the way Brook runs over and has to pick up the bits of watermelon brain matter from Claire’s shirt? OH THE HUMANITY!
No. Claire was, thankfully, OK. No blood. All teeth intact. Very possibly a conscussion. But she was laughing about it, after she stopped talking about how she couldn’t feel her face. As a result, the Watermelon Incident went from Really Freaking Scary to Really Freaking Awesome. You can view it as high comedy if you want to. I’m not going to judge if you rewound and watched The Watermelon Incident 10 or 15 additional times and giggled maniacally each time. But let’s say that you don’t find it funny for a grown woman to take a watermelon in the face. I can totally understand that. In that case, how can you not applaud the sheer heroism of Claire taking a watermelon in the face, spending several minutes dazed on the ground, and then getting up and smashing the suit of armor on her second try after the accident. For certain fans of “America’s Next Top Model,” Danielle doing the photo shoot with an elephant after being checked into the hospital with the flu/dehydration that same day has stood as one of the great examples of reality TV-level heroism (not to be confused in ANY way with genuine heroism). But “Danielle got on the elephant” has been replaced by “Claire got a watermelon in the face” in my vernacular for the reality TV embodiment of being a trouper.
Brook and Claire finished fourth for the leg.
The team that won, though, was Jill & Thomas one of two young dating couples who are essentially interchangeable on paper. They won’t be interchangeable for long, since Jill & Thomas now have the most powerful tool in “Amazing Race” history, The Express Pass. Because they won the first leg, they now have a pass that will get them out of any single task at any point during the first eight legs of the game. Jill & Thomas were already exactly the sort of couple that usually makes it deep into the game and the Express Pass, if used correctly, really ought to be guaranteed ticket into the Top Five.
Anyway, with “Amazing Race” premiere recaps, I usually like to handicap the various teams based on how much I’m liking them after this first impression. Usually I have a few teams I already hate after a good long premiere, but I’m not hating anybody. It’s a pretty genial group of races. I’ll still include a couple teams in the “dislike” area, but either of them will be able to escape by next week without any trouble.
So here are my first impressions of the teams, in order by how much I’m currently liking them.
TEAMS I’M LIKING
Brook & Claire (Team HSN or, henceforth, Team Watermelon) – America loves a lucky underdog and nothing makes you an underdog quite as quickly as taking a ripened watermelon right in the kisser. Good for Claire! Not “Good for Claire!” that she took the watermelon in the kisser. No. That clearly sucked. But good that she took her time to be in pain and then got right back into the game and that she was laughing about it in the end. Brook is a smidge too chirpy, but I started liking her after they climbed up the battlements to the castle and she cheered, “Woo-hoo! We’re medieval!!!” And how can you not love “Claire,” amidst choruses of “I can’t feel my face,” knocking over the armor and announcing, “I made it my bitch!” Their problem? You can’t top The Watermelon Incident. It’s downhill from here, unless they become the first all-female team to win the million bucks.
Connor & Jonathan (Team Harry & Ron, Team Hogwarts, Team Glee) – Through two-thirds of the episode, it would have been impossible to imagine my liking any team more than these two geeks from Princeton, who succeed in being totally likable where the most recent team of dorky college students — Dan & Andrew — were annoying. It remains to be seen exactly how physically inept they are, but they’ve managed to present themselves as so non-threatening that it’s easy to imagine other teams befriending them, pitying them and cutting them slack until it’s too late. Jonathan — the Harry Potter-looking one — got points for calling Andie & Jenna “The Gilmore Girls.” In future weeks, I assume these guys will become by favorites, but to paraphrase the immortal “Simpsons” line, Team Glee has endearing nerdiness, but Team Watermelon In The Face took a watermelon in the face. [In a Watermelon Incident-free episode, Jonathan’s slip-and-fall at the Pit Stop mat might have been the defining physical comedy moment. Instead, it was a total afterthought.]
Andie & Jenna (Team Gilmore Girls) – Andie may not have raised Jenna, but her genetics were certainly powerful. They could be sisters. This is just a dynamic that really interests me, that Andie put Jenna up for adoption and that this was only the third time they met each other. I don’t think they’re going to be around for very long. Of the all-female teams, they look like the weakest. But I want them to get along and be happy, darnit.
Gary & Mallory (Team… Um… Father & Daughter) – I’m just always a fan of the combination of cuteness and enthusiasm that Mallory brings to the table. She’s proud of her dad, she wishes should juggle and she’s Miss Kentucky. I also liked her declaration of “Come on, Princeton!” when Team Glee struggled with a clue.
Nat & Kat (Team Nat & Kat) – If your names are Nat and Kat, nobody needs to put any effort into nicknaming you. I like that they appear to be smart and capable. And Nat’s diabetes is a good side angle for the storytelling. I’m just feeling like this is probably the year “The Amazing Race” wants an all-female team to win and the deck has been pretty well stacked. I also applaud Nat & Kat for how quickly they erased the 20 minute difference between the two flights to London. And lemme tell you, given the choice between flying to London on American (the first flight) or Virgin Atlantic (the second), I’m taking Virgin Atlantic any day.
THE JURY’S STILL OUT
Jill & Thomas (Team Intellectual Disparity) – I’ll come up with a better nickname for Jill and Thomas, but for now they’re the blonde-and-brunette dating couple that doesn’t have a toxic relationship, so I’m good with them. A little too much was made of Thomas’ Notre Dame degree and Jill’s lack of education, but they appear to have a good dynamic. They also have the Express Pass, so there’s no point in disliking them for a while. I might have included them in the amongst the teams that I like except that as a USC alum and the son of a BC alum, I can’t warm to a Notre Dame guy that quickly.
Kate & Rachel (Team Volleyball) – I’m pretty sure I’ve decided that Rachel is the one I think is hot, though Katie’s also a pretty girl. They seem physically capable and not stupid. I get the feeling they have a bit of a Mean Girls streak, though, and I have to decide if I find that appealing or not. I liked it when they dubbed Chad & Stephanie “Team Tinkerbell & Pan,” but I was just a bit cautious when they laughed at the nerdiness of the nerds. I can easily see myself rooting for them, though.
Michael & Kevin (Team Feces My Asian Dad Says) – No team got less mileage out of Sunday’s premiere than this father and son. Apparently they’re Internet sensations? I’ve never heard of them, but their schtick appears to be Kevin getting Michael to do things that are only funny because he’s older and Asian. In the premiere, neither of them did anything smart, funny or interesting, but they also didn’t do anything objectionable.
TEAMS I’M DISLIKING [BUT NOT TOO MUCH]
Nick & Vicki (Team We’re So Stupid) – Nick & Vicki aren’t at all unlikeable. They just happen to be an “Amazing Race: All-Stupids Edition” team in a regular “Amazing Race” season. Maybe it was just jetlag that caused them to be so clueless this week? I just wish they were funny-stupid, as opposed to wandering around going “We’re so stupid” stupid. I’m sure they can win me over in future weeks.
Chad & Stephanie (Team Tinkerbell works for me) – These two really worry me, mostly Chad. He’s got a weird crazed streak to him and I really hated the “I’m trying to take in being here.” “Who cares about being here?” exchange. This is the sort of “babe” couple that I usually grow to detest, but Chad made two references at the end of the episode to being humbled by lessons he learned watching the other teams perform. I don’t believe him for a second, but maybe it’s true? Stephanie seems OK.
TEAMS THAT ARE NOW IRRELEVANT
Ron & Tony (Team Irrelevant) – Farewell, Ron & Tony. Perhaps you should have gotten better directions. But even if you had, you may not have figured out how to paddle that turtle-shell boat across the river. Oh well.
So anyway… What’d you think of the “Amazing Race” premiere? Who do you like? Who do you hate? And how many times did you rewatch The Watermelon Incident?