Recap: 'The Amazing Race' Season 19 Premiere - 'Kindness of Strangers'
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[Just as my "Survivor" recaps used to be in Monkeys as Critics but migrated over here, my "Amazing Race" recaps are going to be in my blog from now on.]
Welcome back to "The Amazing Race," which kicked off its 19th installment on Sunday (September 25) with an episode that's probably most accurately described as "Amazing Race"-esque.
That is to say that it combined a slew of the things that most annoy me about "The Amazing Race" all in one poorly designed leg and yet still found a way to deliver enough entertainment to keep me hooked until the very end, when it devolved into what, as always, frustrates me most.
So yes, Sunday's episode was 'Amazing Race"-esque.
Click through for my recap of Sunday's leg, which will end with a bit of a team-by-team breakdown, as is my premiere tradition...
The first thing I'll say is that thing I say whenever it's applicable: "The Amazing Race" should always have a two-hour premiere or at least a 90-minute premiere. You should never force me to learn the identities of 11 teams, 22 Racers, in one hour. There's just no way to fit in enough details in that short a period to let viewers take a rooting interest pro or con on that many teams.
It's especially difficult when there are same gender teams, because I have to find ways to distinguish between the two. In some cases it's easy: Laurence is the father and Zac is the son. I can also vaguely try to retain that Andy has a beard, while Tommy looks like he's a Dana Carvey character. It took me a few extra minutes, but Ron is slender and wears glasses, while Bill is a bit huskier.
But what am I supposed to do about Showgirls Kaylani and Lisa? Kaylani's the one with the fake... Oh, never mind. The one with the hard-to-determine ethnicity and a possible fake tan is Li... Oh, never mind. I think that by the end of the episode, I'd determined that I found Kaylani to be the cute one and Lisa to be the slightly annoying one, but it's a safe bet that I could swap those positions by next week. And what about Liz and Marie? I'm actually pretty sure that the adorable blondes are fraternal twins, but the differences between then that keep them from being identical aren't substantial enough that I'd ever be able to remember an attribute associated with one and not the other. I guess you can ignore my "One hour isn't enough time to get to know the teams" complaint with the Twins and the Showgirls, because it's possible they could both make it all the way to the finale and I'd never be able to express certainty on their identities.
So that annoyed me right-off. Even if it's an extra 30 minutes of pure filler -- talking heads and other nonsense -- I'd rather a padded premiere than a tight, thrilling premiere.
Of course, Sunday's premiere wasn't tight or thrilling because one team knocked itself out of contention entirely through a single self-inflicted wound and then was spared because... yes... This was a Non-Elimination Leg of "The Amazing Race."
I didn't have especially vengeful feelings about getting Bill & Cathi off of "The Amazing Race." I was consistently able to tell Bill from Cathi and their trademark personality quirks weren't objectionable, but it was their own fault they were seemingly doomed. They didn't hit a task that discriminated against old folks and they didn't get the one bad cab driver who accidentally took them to a different country. They just blew it and, if we're being honest, even if next week's penalty and double-elimination episode doesn't do them in, they'll be going home within the next two legs. The "Amazing Race" producers decided a couple seasons ago that it was ridiculous that no all-female team had ever won The Race and they made tiny tweaks and suddenly two all-female teams have won in a row. At some point, the producers may decide that it's time that an "older" contestant wins, whether it's part of a team with a child or paired with a long-time spouse, and when that day occurs, there will be imperceptible tweaks to the game and an "older" contestant will win. Until that day arrives, the Bill & Cathis of the world aren't long for "The Amazing Race."
Let's quickly break down the progression of the leg, before talking about the teams.
The teams started at a temple in Southern California and were initially tasked with a word puzzle involving folding umbrellas and uncovering that their first destination was Taipei. Phil Keoghan took a long time explaining the proper alignment of letters that would reveal their destination, but nobody actually paid attention. Instead, all of the teams just ran up and grabbed umbrellas and brought them back and repeated this over and over until they got a correct answer, which didn't require they even understood why they were right, because as soon as they got into their Ford Explorers, Phil popped up on the dashboard and told them where to go. The only real purpose to the task was to force the losing team to receive a "Hazard," a new game thingy that required your team to do an additional task later. The Showgirls finished last and were assessed the Hazard.
They then promptly gave themselves an extra Hazard when Kaylani dropped her passport at the gas station where they sought out directions to LAX. They realized the mistake and returned to the gas station, but couldn't find the passport, so they decided to turn around and go to the airport, since that was the only thing they could think to do. Just when it seemed like this was going to be the most anti-climactic "Amazing Race" leg ever, salvation came, salvation via Twitter, of all places. A couple strangers had found the passport and one of them had tweeted about finding it. Somebody had then responded to that tweet pointing out that the teams would be stranded without a passport, so taking the document to LAX would be a good idea. God Bless Twitter, y'all! [Not to question the Good Samaritan side of things, but why did those nice strangers loiter around the gas station for so long? They were there when the Snowboarders, the first team through the task, came through asking for directions. How long was the gap between when the Snowboarders finished and when the Showgirls finished? And why were those Good Samaritans still just hanging around the gas station? It feels fishy to me. So, in the end, the Showgirls went from nearly being eliminated immediately to finding themselves on a second, later flight with two other teams, very much in the hunt.
Want to know why this wasn't an especially good leg of "The Amazing Race," Non-Elimination aside? There was a first flight to Taipei that got in 20 minutes earlier than the first, a flight that included eight of the teams. The first eight teams to finish the leg were the teams on that flight. That means that nothing in the destination country did anything to erase an initial transportation advantage. That's bad leg architecture and leads me to believe that the second flight got in substantially later than the 20 minutes behind the first flight. Or maybe the difficulties of the subsequent tasks in Taipei were just exaggerated? Dunno.
Once on the ground, they had to go to a commercial district and they were told to look up for their next clue, which was test on a billboard featuring balloons in the "Amazing Race" colors. There was a lot of wandering and confusion, followed by immediate certainty when the sign was translated to read "Temple of Confucius." We saw lots of head-scratching, but I don't think anybody was really bothered for more than a few minutes. The lone exception? Bill & Cathi, who went wandering off in an entirely different direction and decided that they were supposed to climb the tallest building they could find. While other teams were able to help each other, or draft off of each other, Bill & Cathi were stuck alone, because although they were on the same flight as the Showgirls and the Twins, they were a bit slower to get a bus.
At the Temple of Confucious, players had to do a Roadblock that asked them to go to a pay phone, listen to a heavily accented Confucian proverb -- "In all things, success depends on previous preparation and without such previous preparation, there is sure to be failure." -- and recite it perfectly to a monk. It was a task that broke down along gender lines whenever possible, except for with "Survivor" winners Ethan & Jenna, because as former NFL player Marcus Pollard (of Marcus & Amani) observed, women like telephones. Sigh. Cindy, of Cindy & Ernie, finished first and, after doing a little dragon-boating (with paddling and drumming responsibilities again breaking down along identical gender lines), they reached the pit stop first, securing the Express Pass, which can be used until the end of the 8th Leg.
Despite having their Hazard -- an indoor bungee jump performed by Kaylani -- the Showgirls easily finished even ahead of the Twins, because Liz had issues with her memory.
Anyway... Let's look at some teams (with the caveat that there's no team I immediately found myself hating *or* loving through the rushed first leg)...
Positive First Impressions:
Amani & Marcus (a.k.a. Team Definitely Not The NFL) - Marcus, who had a productive career as a tight end for the Colts, had terrific enthusiasm and Amani gave indications she may be funny. I don't get Marcus' decision to deny that he played professional football, but I liked his lie that he protects people, because he protected Peyton Manning back in the day.
Ernie & Cindy (a.k.a. Team Control Freak) - Cindy had a strong leg. Ernie didn't do anything memorable. But I liked the part at the end when he admitted, "Control Freak Cindy on the race is actually a pretty good teammate" and she quickly responded, "Which should have been obvious."
Laurence & Zac (a.k.a. Team Adventurers) - I was a bit surprised that Laurence is only 48. He seems to be in great shape, but I had him pegged to be at least five years older than that. He almost doesn't even count as an "older" player. Still, they see pretty cool and I'm assuming all of that adventuring will eventually pay off.
Andy & Tommy (a.k.a. Team Snowboard) - So, um, Andy & Tommy aren't going to do anything to dispel any preconceived notions about snowboarders, are they, dude? I liked that they did rock-paper-scissors for the Roadblock. I guess that's enough for a positive first impression?
Meh First Impressions:
Bill & Cathi (a.k.a. Team Grandparents) - I actually liked them just fine as people, but you just can't knock yourself out of "The Amazing Race," get spared by a NEL and expect me to have overall positive feelings. At one point, Bill suggested they'd been looking for the clue for four hours. I wonder just how far back they really will be on the next leg.
Jeremy & Sandy (a.k.a. Who?) - Yeah, I vaguely remember Jeremy and Sandy were both married to other people. Somehow they finished second for the leg. I remember absolutely nothing that they did after those initial introductions.
Ron & Bill (a.k.a Team Matching Flight Attendants) - Look, I took the time to figure out that Ron was thinner with glasses and Bill was huskier. Don't ask me to remember anything else they did.
Liz & Marie (a.k.a. Team Twins Who Look Like Malin Ackerman) - On one hand? They're very cute. On the other hand? The longer they stay in the Race, the more it's going to irk me not to be able to tell them apart. They were also a bit shrill at the Roadblock when Liz had memory lapses and Marie tried coaching her poorly.
Ethan & Jenna (a.k.a. Team Survivor) - Really, Ethan and Jenna? You thought that with two seasons of "Survivor" each under your belt (and one win apiece) that you were just not gonna mention you were on "Survivor"? Come on. That's just foolish. I look forward to seeing Jenna's cutthroat side competing with Ethan's kindly nature, but they didn't do a single memorable thing in the premiere.
Negative First Impressions:
Kaylani & Lisa (a.k.a. Team Showgirls) - Lisa turned on Kaylani way too fast and got all "I'm going nowhere, because you have no passport." Kaylani seemed more likable than Lisa and maybe if they can go through a couple legs without adversity, they'll get better.
Justin & Jennifer (a.k.a. Team... Dunno... Annoying Sister?) - Justin is instantly likable, but Jennifer seems like the kind of African-American female Mark Burnett usually seeks out for his shows, which has never been the "Amazing Race" Way. If Jennifer is already snipping "Over it!" with Justin early in the first leg when absolutely nothing has gone wrong, she's gonna be trouble, soon.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the premiere... Chime in!