If you're a regular reader of my "Amazing Race" recaps, I bet you think you can predict the first thing I'm going to say about Sunday (September 30) night's premiere.
 
Wrong!
 
I want to talk about the fact that Team Monster Truck -- Rob & Kelley -- seems to be using rollaboard luggage rather than traditional backpacks. My knowledge of "Amazing Race" isn't as encyclopedic as for some of the shows I recap, but I can't remember this ever being done previously. Was there a rule change? Or do Rob and/or Kelley have back problems of some sort that require a luggage alternative? It's not like backpacks with wheels are a new invention. Is the theory that rollies are actually slower than backpacks? They obviously are slower when you're in a crowded area and you have to navigate quickly. But they're easier if you happen to be weaker. 
 
These are the questions I pondered as I saw Team Monster Truck navigating around the Bund in Shanghai. It struck me as weird. And so I wanted to bring it up.
 
[Buddy Andy from RealityBlurred notes that flight attendants Jodi & Christie from S. 14 had rollaboards.]
 
Bet you didn't expect that to be the first thing discussed in my recap tonight.
 
I bet you expected me to go on my traditional jeremiad about how it's absolutely asinine to premiere seasons of "The Amazing Race" or "Survivor" with hour-long episodes. 
 
And guess what? It's true, darnit!
 
Normally, I just use my premiere week recaps to go through each of the teams, listing the teams that I'm liking and the teams I'm disliking, which tends to be a good way for me to keep the teams straight in my head and break down the initial impressions they left. 
 
Guess what? After one hour? I'm really not liking or disliking anybody. I'm impressed by Monster Truck Rob and his eating prowess (more on that in a bit). It's absolutely impossible not to be impressed by Amy with her two artificial legs. I've decided that Nadiya is The Annoy Twin. I find Beekman Boys Josh and Brent to be amusing, but they're professional reality show stars, so of course they are. But, in the balance after one hour, I have no rooting interest, positive or negative, towards any team. And that's the kind of thing you avoid by doing an extended premiere for competition series that have to introduce 22 new people. Look at "Survivor," which premiered its Philippines season with a 90-minute episode. After 90 minutes, I had vague awareness of all 18 contestants (albeit a group that included three returning players and two pseudo-stars). 
 
After 60 minutes tonight? Whatever. 
 
And what's worse: Of the 11 "Amazing Race" teams this season, at least four of the teams are same-gender pairings in which I will NEVER be able to properly distinguish between players, at least not on my tiny Slingbox screen. Team White Lion and Team Sri Lankan Twins were always going to be a struggle. If Natalie wears her hair down and Naiya always wears a scrunchie, I might occasionally make a correct ID. Ditto if James (he of White Lion and Megadeath) always wears dark shades and Abba (formerly "Mark") wears clear glasses. James and Abba aren't brothers and they don't look that much alike, but in the "Amazing Race" chaos (and, again, on my Slingbox), there're close enough. 
 
I have the same issue with Team Chippendale. Jaymes (blonde and scruffy) and James (brunette and scruffy) have similar stature and different features, but recognizing those differences while also retaining which is "James" and which is "Jaymes" is a lost cause.
 
And finally, Caitlin and Brittany? One played soccer and one played volleyball, but otherwise? they're both tall, slender blondes with REALLY white teeth. Staring at headshots for a couple seconds, I think Brittany is the one I find cuter, but that's not useful on the fly.
 
[More after the break...
 
It doesn't help, then, when you have a team that nobody cares about getting eliminated for reasons that aren't very interesting. Rob & Sheila, Team Lumberjack, got sent home because they got some stupid instructions in Shanghai and then because they got outrun by Team Chippendales. Their mistakes or ignorance weren't worse than several other teams, but they happened to be slower than a pair of trained strippers, which is as good a reason to be eliminated as any. I'll miss Rob & Sheila, not because I liked them, but because I could tell Rob apart from Sheila and because I could tell Lumberjack Rob apart from Monster Truck Rob. In lieu of true emotional attachments, that's what I root based upon.
 
Instead, I don't have a clue what to talk with Rob & Sheila about in our exit interview tomorrow. Feel free to contribute suggestions. 
 
Anywho...
 
The real drama in Sunday's "Amazing Race" was at the top. 
 
CBS has been confusing people for weeks with the "The winning team could win $2 million," a semi-twist that I've tried to explain patiently, but which Phil Keoghan did far better with tonight. Put simply: If you win the first and last Legs of the Race, you get $2 million. So 10 teams were eliminated from the chance at $2 million. 
 
Your only team with a shot at $2 million: That would be Abbie & Ryan, who are dating divorcees and if you'd asked me to look at the field and predict a winner before the start of the team, they'd have been my guess. The combination of athletic, Alpha Male and reasonably fit female-with-backbone has yielded more than a handful of "Amazing Race" winners or strong contenders. I anticipate that even if Abbie & Ryan don't win the $2 million, they're very likely to stick around the game long enough to produce drama. So... yay.
 
Abbie & Ryan needed a little help to put themselves in that position. They needed Mark & Abba, who finished the second Roadblock in the lead, to not have a clue what an "abacus" was. But more importantly, Abbie & Ryan relied on the kindness of near-strangers. Amy & Daniel found the woman with the abacus first, as everybody else was searching. When Abbie & Ryan inquired, Amy & Daniel pointed them in the right direction. Abbie & Ryan, in turn, caught up with Amy & Daniel in the foot-race to the Pit Stop and won the Leg and the shot at the double-bounty.
 
Let's get to the big questions surrounding this act of altruism:
 
Should Abbie & Ryan have let Amy & Daniel win the Leg as repayment for the assist? Heck no. There's no code of generosity that says that a gesture is worth a million dollars, even a hypothetical million. If this were a later Leg and the only things at stake were a jet-ski or a trip to Cabo, I could entertain chatter on whether Abbie & Ryan owed Amy & Daniel a karmic payoff. Abbie was properly apologetic as they passed and although Amy and Daniel had brief lamentations at the mat, they weren't bitter. Neither team knew that they were racing for first. Or they couldn't be certain, I don't think. But still... You can't pass along the chance to double an already substantial prize because you're appreciative.
 
The follow-up:
 
Should Amy & Daniel have told another team the truth about the abacus? "That's just the kinda people we are," Daniel said. Fair enough. Team Sri Lankan Twins and Team Roarke & Tattoo (Will & Gary) both lied to teams about the abacus woman. Life's all about choices. 
 
Having already covered the last and first place teams and admitted I have no feelings about most of these pairs, I might as well quickly discuss the two Roadblocks. [A Double Roadblock is kinda the best possible circumstance for an hour-long premiere because both teammates do something and that helps clarify identities a wee bit. I thought Mark was Abba for the first half of the episode, but now I know better.]
 
The opening ping-pong Roadblock was fun, but much too easy. Yes, they were playing against a Chinese junior champion. And yes, she was using an assortment of random items, including a clipboard, a frying pan and, best of all, an "Amazing Race" clue. But one point is one point and although the voiceover talked about how they had to hit a winner, the clue only said "win a point," so if the junior champ goofed, that was that. It had to be more than a point. As it stood, Trey -- or Team Longhorns with Lexie -- was the only one who claimed talent. Natalie wasn't very good and, as a result of her difficulties, we got to be really annoyed by Nadiya yelling "Smash it! Smash it!" over and over.
 
The second Roadblock was an eating challenge that asked the players to eat a heaping portion of Hasma, a Chinese desert served in halves of a papaya. Hasma is, apparently, made from dried and then rehydrated frog Fallopian tubes. Of course. I don't know if they just got unlucky with the player assignments, but nobody was grossed out and nobody was overwhelmed by the quantity of hasma. In fact, when Monster Truck Rob broke the rule regarding  eating the hasma without picking up the papaya and had to eat a second full serving, he was able to do it with a bare minimum of drama. In an eating challenge, you want people whining or throwing up or threatening to quit. Nobody seemed to love the hasma, but everybody succeeded in mind-over-matter gusto, particularly Jaymes. 
 
The problem with the two Roadblocks is that neither was really a differentiator in the episode. The episode rewarded knowing what an abacus was and finding a woman using it. Finishing positions were only based on getting lost locating that last clue and people getting on a first flight rather than a second flight. So while there was some drama in Abbie & Ryan running down the competition for first and in Team Chippendales running down the competition to avoid elimination, I don't know who does anything well.
 
 
Random thoughts on Sunday's premiere:
 
*** Lexi appears to have confused Fallopian tubes with intestines. She also may or may not have called an abacus an octopus. Oh and if you're curious about Trey's football career at Texas? He was a long-snapper.
 
*** Best Fallopian tube-based dialogue: Ryan: "Haven't you had Fallopian tube, Abbie?" Abbie: "I have two, but please don't eat mine."
 
*** James & Jaymes may have the same sort of gung-ho attitude (and blissful stupidity) that made the Jersey Boys kinda fun last season. I expected to dislike them, but Jaymes hamsa performance, actually slurping the last of his tubes off the table, made me more accepting.
 
*** Superfans Gary and Will would have been my default team to root for, but Gary's kinda loud and whiney. Maybe he was just getting his feet wet. Or maybe it was the edit. 
 
OK. That's it for me... Sound off, fans and readers!