I've been a long-time advocate of the two-hour "Amazing Race" premiere. Unlike "Survivor," where some castaways can just coast along for many weeks at a time, relieving the editors of the responsibility of cutting every contestant into every episode, contestants on "The Amazing Race" are always involved and they're all doing the same thing. So while every "Amazing Race" team isn't going to be equally interesting and thus their screentime won't be identical, you can't just forget that three or four teams are around.
That's why one-hour "Amazing Race" premieres are usually chaotic messes and why I was so pleased to have the show's 15th season launch with a two-hour premiere on Sunday (Sept. 27) night. That meant I (and fans like me) got to know all of the competing teams and to develop opinions on them.
Since an intrepid recapper faces the same challenges as an editor, with 24 competitors doing numerous challenges simultaneously, I prefer not to do "Amazing Race" recaps with a straight-forward this-happened-then-this-then-this-then-this format.
This week, for example, my recap will be my initial reactions to all 12 teams and hopefully, by the times I've gone through the teams I love and hate, I'll have given you a pretty solid sense of what happened in the episode and how things went down. It's a bit unorthodox, but hopefully you won't mind...
Recap... With spoilers... After the break...
TEAMS THAT DON'T MATTER ANYMORE:
Eric & Lisa -- Team Yoga -- Oh, Eric & Lisa, we hardly knew ye! Sunday's premiere begin in the Los Angeles River Basin and, after telling the contestants that they needed to rush to their packs, host Phil Keoghan also told them that there was a first task that one team wouldn't survive. That challenge? Out of 1000+ license plates on a fence, they had to find a plate from the district of Tokyo they were flying to next. The catch? At the top of the clue was the word (written in Japanese) they needed to match. The teams clever enough to make that connection finished first. The teams that never guessed that the symbol on their clue might have meaning floundered. I loved the task, because it required attentiveness to the clue, something that's been a struggle the past few seasons. Teach 'em to read up-front, I say! Well, alas, Eric and Lisa were the least attentive team and finished last, just behind Team Meathead, Lance & Keri. We never got to see the "Yoga-in-the-Hood" stylings Eric promised and I liked their approach to elimination, explaining that one team is always eliminated first and they've no saved other teams from that stigma. "We took a beating for everybody," Eric said, to which Lisa added, "We set them free." Alas, Eric & Lisa seemed goofy and quotable, something I always enjoy as a recapper.
Garrett & Jessica -- Team Fire-and-Ice -- Garrett & Jessica were this season's obligatory "Hitched or Ditched" contestants, a couple dating so long that they'd determined "The Amazing Race" would let them know whether to stay together or break up. I HATE couples like this on the show. Garrett was supposed to be cold and restrained while Jessica was allegedly the fiery Latina, but those stereotypes actually ended up reversing themselves on the show, with Garrett getting all worked up and Jessica just floundering a bit. They were done in by the season's second Roadblock, in Vietnam -- "Who's Feeling Just Ducky?" Garrett & Jessica arrived at the Roadblock at the front of the pack. Jessica took on the challenge, which required leading 150 ducks out of a pen, across a bridge, back across the bridge and into the pen. It wasn't clear what Jessie was doing wrong, but she just couldn't do the task. At all. This yielded plenty of obnoxious backseat duck-herding, including Garrett's, "Yell at it! Show that duck who's boss, Jessie!" The dynamic between Garrett & Jessie was generally unappealing (which not nearly as toxic as other teams in the same "Hitched or Ditched" situation), so I didn't feel at all bad when they got to the mat last and were eliminated.
TEAMS I'M ROOTING FOR:
Zev & Justin -- Team Aspy -- I have no inherent problem with "The Amazing Race" serving as a platform to teach America about people with differences. I got annoyed last season by Luke and his mom using his deafness as an excuse in situations where it was irrelevant, especially given how strong they both were as competitors. As viewers will learn from Zev, there will never be a single situation in which Aspergers is *not* a factor for this team, but I like how Zev makes light of things that are clearly very difficult for him. In fact, Zev is smart and funny and likable, as is Justin and I really only want things to go well for these two. Zev was particularly outstanding in the second Roadblock, proving to be The Duck Whisperer, helping the team make up time after they fell to the back of the pack when Justin lost a clue in the water after the task that required teams to haul mineral-rich mud and place it around fruit trees. Zev also got points by giving the soaking wet Vietnamese man his jacket and I also endorse his ability to sense the lie from the Poker Girls without being told. Go Team Aspy!
Herbert (Flight Time) & Nathaniel (Big Easy) - Team Globetrotter -- In any other season, a team made up of Harlem Globetrotters who refer to each other as "Flight" and "Easy" would be my absolute favorite. With Team Aspy, they'll have to settle for second. Flight and Easy are natural entertainers and I enjoyed the enthusiasm they brought to everything they did in the game. I loved how Big Easy stirred up the crowd in the first Roadblock, in Tokyo, The Sushi Roulette. In that task, one player from each team had to stand in front of a spinning wheel with sushi and two Wasabi Bombs. They had to eat whatever ended up in front of them. It was a pretty lame task, since it was 98% luck (and 2 percent ability to eat the sushi bomb). And it was lame because nobody told us if any of the rest of the sushi tasted good. But Big Easy involved the crowd and made a game of it. Good for them.
Maria & Tiffany -- The Poker Girls or Team Pointless Lie -- Maria has trouble with The Sushi Roulette, proving unable to get down her first Wasabi Bomb, but she showed a lot of character when she got the Bomb a second time. They still blew it in Tokoyo, losing two of the 20 tourists they were supposed to bring to the Pit Stop, getting there last. Fortunately, the first hour of the premiere was a non-elimination leg. I like Maria & Tiffany for the same reason most viewers are going to hate them: The pointless lie. For no valid strategic reason, the two professional poker players told the other teams they worked with a homeless shelter. The lie unravelled almost immediately when people started recognizing them in airports. It gained them nothing. But I kinda like contestants who do random strategic things.
THE JURY'S STILL OUT ON:
Meghan & Cheyne -- Team Tetherball -- Meghan & Cheyne are just young and in love and they met each other playing tetherball. How can you not like them? They're wide-eyed and innocent and while they're a "baby" couple (couples prone to start calling each other "baby" excessively under stress), they have a "We're just happy to be doing this" sensibility that I like. They finished first in the non-elimination leg, but only sixth in the second leg, because Meghan had some duck-herding problems. Cheyne was probably the least abusive of the backseat duck-herders. So I probably like these two. I also think they're well-positioned for a long run.
Gary & Matt -- Team Pinky and the Brain -- Gary & Matt are father-and-son, but they don't seem to be estranged, just not exactly close. They're from Montana, which they used as an excuse in Sushi Roulette and an advantage in duck-herding, which led them to finish first in the second leg. What's holding me back with these two is the lack of any real dynamic -- father-son or otherwise -- between them. They might just as well be strangers. I guess that's part of the point. Maybe they'll have a dynamic by the end?
Sam & Dan -- Team Gay Brothers -- Another team pointlessly lying. Or keeping a secret. They've decided they aren't going to tell anybody they're gay, which will allow them to flirt with the ladies -- specifically the Poker Girls, who are already in love. But other than that little lie to the Poker Girls, they didn't do anything very interesting in the first two hours, nothing very good or very bad. Ultimately, I'm sure I'll end up liking them, but so far? Dunno. They're OK.
Marcy & Ron -- Team Dating Oldsters -- In two hours, did Ron say or do ANYTHING? And Marcy annoyed me with her cheerleading, harmonica and bullhorn use during the tourist-wrangling portion in Tokyo. As she put it, "Some people might see me as frantic, but really I'm in my body and having a lot of good times." Well, I see Marcy as frantic.
TEAMS I DON'T LIKE:
Brian & Ericka -- Team Miss AmEricka -- Is Brian actually there at all? Ericka is the driving force Brian is along for the ride. It was funny after watching her browbeat Brian at the Sushi Roulette Roadblock to see her bark at the ducks in the exact same way at the second Roadblock, even calling the ducks "Baby." Ericka is frantic and out of control, but she's actually a bit funny in her franticness. She's not stupid. Perhaps if Brian might contribute a bit more in subsequent episodes, I might like them more.
Lance & Keri -- Team Meathead -- Like the Poker Girls, I can't quite bring myself to believe that Lance is actually a lawyer, even a Street Lawyer. Mostly, his yelling at Keri annoys me and it also annoys me that I can understand *why* he keeps yelling at Keri, since she doesn't seem to be very clever or interesting. They look like a strong team, but she's going to have a breakdown at some point with him yelling at her and that's going to get them eliminated. I won't be sad.
Mika & Canaan -- Team Jesus or Team Nashville -- Serious question: Obviously, we've rarely had non-Christians on any reality shows in the past. Yes, a Jew or two and a mostly-non-practicing Muslim or two on previous reality shows. But have we have had a Jew, Muslim or Hindu come on a reality show and suggest that their God cares how they do on said reality show? It took mere seconds for Mika and Canaan to express their hope that Jesus would help them on "The Amazing Race" this season. Ick. Be whatever faith you want to be, but don't assume God cares about American reality TV. Anyway... I'm amused that Mika has now survived through as many hours of "The Amazing Race" as FOX aired hours of "Nashville," a little reality show she has yet to acknowledge on-camera. The duck-herding challenge brought out the worst in both of them, with Mika actually stamping her feet in petulant frustration and Canaan muttering, "I want to rip her head off right now." Canaan's done for me. He'd previously boasted at how his relationship with Mika is sexually pure and then expressed a desire to kill her? That's a sense of priorities that I can't abide by. If you're going to be holier-than-though about putting restrictions on the physical manifestations of your love, you also should probably put restrictions on the verbal manifestations of your hatred. Blech.
So that's my basic rundown of the 12 "Amazing Race" teams and how Sunday night's premiere went down. I'll be back to a more traditional and practical recap next week.
What'd you think of Sunday's premiere? Who's your favorite team? Who's your least favorite team?