September has arrived and with it, the new television season. All my favorite shows that avoided cancellation are returning. My most favorite show of all is The Amazing Race.
In Season 21, all eyes will be on the team who wins the first leg of The Amazing Race. That team competes for two million dollars while the rest vie for just one measly million. I’m curious, how often has the team who won Leg 1 gone on to win the entire race?
TAR needs to make this first leg EXTREMELY hard, so a top talent team wins. If the winner of Leg 1 is eliminated in Leg 2, the pot enhancement will be a wasted plot twist. Starting the leg with a repel impresses as tough, but the repel will not be the deciding factor for any team.
First stop: Shanghai, China. Seven teams will be on the first flight. The producers don’t usually let us or the teams know that in advance.
The first challenge in China (was it a Detour or a Roadblock?) is to score a point against a young champion Ping Pong player. We seem to have a national fascination with Ping Pong lately. The animated Ping Pong icon in the corner of the screen seems vaguely offensive, like it were mocking the Japanese game show genre.
My food delivery arrived just in time for the Fallopian Tube of a Frog segment. Yuck!
At first, I thought Rob and Kelley would be the first team eliminated. Now I am rooting for them since Rob ate two servings of the Fallopian Tubes. At least two other teams in the back of the pack made the same error of not eating the gelatinous mess with chopsticks which turned out not to be a punishable error.
The team that landed on the mat first (Abbie and Ryan) could have been more gracious to Amy and Daniel. After all, Amy and Daniel handed Abbie and Ryan first place.
This should be an interesting season!
Phil's Evil Twin
A new season and The Amazing Race trots out a new cast: eleven teams, including all the requisite stereotypes.
The look-alike blondes look so much alike this time, they are twins. The blonde alternatives, the brunettes, are former Las Vegas show girls who look like Kardashians. Last season, they were poker players. See brunettes have to be just a little more than sexy.
The producers like to include teams with athletic feats on their resumes. Andy and Tommy, happy-go-lucky stoner-types, are Olympic snowboarders. They will remind you of Season 9′s game winning hippies.
The former NFL star and his wife promise to play aggressively while keeping his NFL history quiet. You know that won’t stay quiet.
This season’s notorious pair and the show’s biggest catch is former Survivor players. Again. Meet the new Rob and Amber—Ethan and Jenna. But Ethan and Jenna each actually won Survivor. But Ethan will be a more sympathetic character than scheming Rob. Ethan is also a cancer survivor.
Who will be this season’s Bickersons? Each dating couple drop a hint in their introductions that it might be them. Ernie, who is engaged to Cindi, calls her a control freak. Cindi admits it and says she will not change.
Sandy shoots Jeremy a look when he says he wants to kick the tires before the makes their relationship permanent.
Eleven teams line up in front of the Hsi Lai Temple, Los Angeles and exude the foolish confidence racers do before the stress of jet lag and challenges rattle them.
Phil presents them with a word puzzle to solve in a awkward and needlessly complex challenge. No one is solving the puzzle, just grabbing and flashing umbrellas at Phil. I don’t think any team actually solved the puzzle, learning that their first destination is Taipei, Taiwan only when Phil appears as they start their cars.
One of the showgirls, Kaylani, drops her passport at the gas station. Looks like they are out before they even get off the ground. How can that happen? Just when you believe it really will, two dudes from the gas station show up at LAX with the passport. Really?
I always root for the old couple to turn in a decent performance. No one ever expects them to win, but I don’t want them to embarrass themselves. This season’s grandparents really embarrass themselves.
The Amazing Race aired two episodes back-to-back last night. Promoted as a two-hour finale, the two episodes paired together feel deflating. A mere commercial break after the fourth team is eliminated, the final three are off and running for the million-dollar prize.
Where’s my week to ponder which team should win? Especially this season, when my favorites are gone and so are the obnoxious teams.
Actually, were there any obnoxious teams in Amazing Race 18? I can think of two annoying teams, but no team was outright obnoxious as in past seasons. Remember Rob/Amber and Myrna/Schmyrna? Who remembers the family from New Jersey?
Two episodes are too much to absorb at once. There was a lot of absorption going on last night—the racers got plenty wet, both in Rio De Janeiro and the final destination, Miami.
Rio was the end of the race for Zev and Justin. The Rio challenges seemed almost designed to make them lose.
Rio Dance Judge Gives Sympathy Pass
First, Zev must learn the Samba and lead a dancing parade to get through the Roadblock. Guess how well that went?
All I can say is Zev tried hard—but like he himself said—he dances like a white boy. On his third attempt, the dance judge gives him a sympathy Sim (“yes” in Portuguese). By then, the other three teams are off with their clues. I am sad to see Zev and Justin go from first place to last because of an extra left foot.
Teams receive a painful Brazilian wax job and though I couldn’t laugh at Zev’s dancing, I could laugh at the waxing. In the world of comedy, pain is funnier than humiliation. Poor Zev and Justin! As the hairiest team, they suffered the most at the hands of the hard-hearted waxers.
The pain of the dancing and waxing must have caused them to select the bikini-selling option in the Detour. (Never, ever select the selling option of a Detour!) Maybe the image of thong bikini-clad women was irresistible to the lads. At home, we just saw a lot of blurred butts.
Selling bikinis to people already wearing bikinis is like going car to car selling automobiles. Goodbye, Zev and Justin.
Final Lap In Miami
Now it’s Mallory/Gary, Flight Time/Big Easy and Kisha/Jen racing for the million dollars. I like all three teams, so I don’t care who wins.
Kisha and Jen remark that they have not won a single leg. Don’t feel bad about that, ladies. The first-place finishers in each leg need to cut Uncle Sam in on their cars and trips. Your million dollars is cold hard cash. Congratulations!
St Bernard at the Pit Stop
Majestic views of Switzerland’s Matterhorn and the surrounding town of Zermatt make this episode one of the most visually stunning.
Flying in helicopters above the Matterhorn, Zev pipes in about the mountain being named after the ride in Disneyland. That’s where I first heard of the Matterhorn too, Zev.
Zev/Justin and Mallory/Gary select the wrong side of the Detour, electing to “Search” instead of “Rescue.” On paper, “Search” sounds easier, but the teams must dig a dummy out of a snowy grave. The dummy appears to be buried at least six feet under.
Both teams dig and grunt and pull their dummies out in two pieces. Not much of a rescue.
Gary and Mallory perform the task in half the time of Zev and Justin. It looks like this Detour is going to put Zev and Justin out of the race.
Tonight’s race contains one of the most fun Roadblocks. At Le Petit Cervin, one team member must paint a Travelocity Gnome with colored chocolate and freeze the mold. Then they fill the mold with chocolate and bury the creation outside in the snow for thirty minutes.
The other team member gets to watch and pop chocolates. Tempers flare up when somebody grabs the wrong mold from the freezer. But once the sugar kicks in, Big Easy and Kisha indulge in some playful candy-ass banter. They continue the little flirtation I noticed earlier.
Zev nabs the comic lines in this leg. When the Swiss Chocolatier tells him his Gnome is getting full of chocolate, Zev says, “Thanks, Captain Obvious.”
Flight Time and Kynt go for the physical comedy. Flight Time does a hip swirling dance when he is supposed to be swirling the body of the chocolate Gnome. Kynt does some Charlie Chaplain-esque mockery of Big Easy.
Kynt and Vyxsin take their bickering to new heights. Kynt is constantly whining (“Vyxsin, put my hood up!) and she keeps telling him to wipe his nose. They blame each other for mistakes and they make the biggest mistake of all—not reading the clue word for word. This will cost them the game.
They take a taxi to the Pit Stop when the clue instructs them to travel “on foot.” The thirty minute penalty gives Zev and Justin enough time to catch up and hit the mat before Kynt/Vyxsin’s penalty is up. When Phil tells Zev and Justin the news with his usual dramatic pause, Zev says, “I’ll take it!”
Kynt and Vyxsin’s time has been up for a couple of episodes and I am not sorry to see them go. I watched their relationship deteriorate more each leg. After their elimination, once the dating couple thaws out and fixes their hair and makeup, they are a lovey-dovey again.
But Vyxsin calls Kynt her “best friend” and that makes me wonder if their romantic relationship is over.
The cowboys Jet and Cord are eliminated from the Amazing Race tonight (moment of silence, please). They are unable to recover from a mistake in kilometer calculation driving a motor bike down the length of Lichtenstein.
As much as the cowboys were liked by the other racers, Jet and Cord’s history of coming from behind put fear in the the other racers’ hearts.
The other racers’ ally to eliminate the strongest competition. Working together in varying degrees to find their way to the bottom of Lichtenstein on a motor bike, the teams give each other the answer (22 kilometers).
Sharing puzzle answers goes beyond the standard conventions of alliances, though it is not unprecendented in this race. Zev and Justin gave a puzzle solution to Flight Time and Big Easy early on, mostly out of hero worship of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Zev and Justin ride a wave of confidence as they log their fourth first place finish. Zev takes the reigns from team leader Justin this leg, pushing him to finish the pot of cheese fondue after just one bout of vomiting. I said this last week—beware of easy-sounding food challenges. Kisha and Jen are the only other team to attempt the fondue, but give up on it after only a few minutes and a few rich bites.
Zev hits the mat in front of host Phil with the fondue pot on his head, cracking every fondue pun he can think of, like “I’m only in it for the fondue of it.” Yes, the puns get worse.
Kynt and Vyxsin vow not to fight, but they are almost obliged to take the mantle of the Bickersons since they are the only dating couple left in the race. I am losing interest in them and I had hoped this was their time to exit.
My allegiance now lies with Flight Time and Big Easy. Why the band-aid on your head, Big Easy? Did it bring you luck and you just can’t take it off?
The Austria leg features several popular culture references: the Ferris wheel scene in Orson Welles’ The Third Man; the Villa Trapp, home to the von Trapp family singers that inspired The Sound of Music and more obliquely, Dick van Dyke’s chimney sweep in Mary Poppins.
Jet and Cord make another bad flight choice, gambling that the direct flight to Vienna, scheduled to arrive 35 minutes later, might beat the non-direct flight that all the other racers select.
Might have worked, but didn’t. The cowboys are forced again to make up time. Selecting the right Detour option saves them from a last-place finish.
For the Detour, racers can either eat a meal of weiner schnitzel and chocolate cake during a 12-minute Ferris wheel ride or lug a couch from the Freud museum to the University of Vienna. Though the meal option sounds easier, experienced racers should beware of food challenges.
A 12-minute meal doesn’t sound tough when it is not owl-brains or some other slime, but weiner schnitzel is heavy. Violin music playing in your ears and the movement of the Ferris wheel car can’t make it easier.
All teams who opt for the “easy meal” have to go back and lug the analyst’s couch.
The Roadblock is easy this week. One team member dresses as a chimney sweep and lowers a rope three times down a chimney and gets a little soot blown on him. Here is Chim-Chim Cher-ee from Mary Poppins in Dick van Dyke’s worst British accent in motion picture history.
Kynt and Vyxsin bicker throughout this leg of the race. I was sure their relationship was over. She berates him for his driving and he whines all through the streets of Vienna. Yet they finish third and vow to keep bickering. Spare us!
My cowboys finish fifth with Gary and Mallory behind them, the last team to arrive. However, as I suspected, this leg was a non-elimination round.
Mallory’s enthusiasm is growing on me, so I’m glad to see them race another day.
The Sacred Cow in Varanasi
I learn amazing things on The Amazing Race. But tonight viewers learn the be-all-and-end-all: the meaning of life. Spoiler alert! Sorry, I have to tell. The revelation will save a lot of people a lot of anguish:
“Once You’re Over the Hill, You Pick Up Speed”
Meditate on that one for awhile. Oh, also, Don’t Forget to Drink your Ovaltine.
Jet and Cord, my favorite team, foreshadow their big mistake by saying at the onset they have stopped making mistakes. Jet and Cord take the first flight offered them without confirming that flight will land first. So they arrive in Varanasi, India an hour later than the rest of the racers.
But what is one hour to powerful racers like Jet and Cord?
The cowboys capitalize on Ron’s error — overthinking everything as he does. All the teams stay in the Tonga Market area to search for the six Varanasi holy men that will give them pieces of the puzzle. Ron wanders by the banks of the Ganges wondering if the holy men slipped out of their colorful robes to take a “refreshing dip” in the water.
The two alliances that have emerged between Zev/Justin – Flight Time/Big Easy and Gary/Mallory – Kynt/Vyxsin help those teams navigate through the crowded market and spy the bearded men.
Wild-looking Kynt reveals the suburban dad in his soul, yelling “Calm it down! Calm it down!” to Vyxsin after she jumps off the water taxi into the Ganges. I can hear Kynt yelling that to their pink little kids in the future.
Zev who has Asperger’s Syndrome, expresses his weariness of plane travel and his frustration at the crowds and noisiness of India. No doubt all the racers are suffering from varying levels of exhaustion at this point in the race with only seven teams left.
Make that six. Ron and Christina finish last tonight and are eliminated.
On the Street in Kolkata, India
Each team tears open their first clue and shows varying degrees of exasperation to be remaining in China for a third day. But a brief stop in a Chinese tea shop just sets up the rest of the action in Kolkata, India.
Developing an appropriate, not-too-heavy-handed sponsorship cannot be easy for The Amazing Race. Travelocity, the show’s major sponsor, works their marketing into the action by giving away prizes and by throwing in an occasional gnome. Nothing too annoying for viewers.
Tonight’s sponsor, Snapple, starts out subtly—working mango and papaya-flavored teas seamlessly into the action of the race.
Snapple, you cleverly marketed your product throughout the episode. Why couldn’t you resist the urge to over-promote at the Pit Stop? The racers are tired; why make them dance a jig over your new flavors? Though excitable little Mallory would dance a jig without any prodding.
Everyone plays nice in this leg. Ron does not lose his temper. He impresses me by using his sense of smell to detect the right tea faster than anyone else. The other racers slog down alarming quantities.
Poor Luke gets so frustrated tasting hundreds of teas, he breaks bawling several times. The local folks gather around him and applaud with genuine compassion when he finally succeeds in finding the right cup of tea. I think Luke drank from nearly every cup on the long table. Tired and wired—not a good combo.
Flight Time and Big Easy give Margie and Luke a hug to show respect as they leave the Hindu Ganesha painting Detour.
If a racer is handed an object instead of a clue envelope, she should examine it carefully before assuming what it means. Kisha and Jen are handed an unlabeled Snapple bottle and they start looking for a Snapple factory. Don’t they know that Snapple always puts something clever under the cap?
Kynt and Vyxyn are gleeful when they get to paint the plaster Ganesha pink with black eye makeup like they do for themselves every morning. They deserve a little fun after the harrowing time they’ve had in previously legs.
Jet and Cord, my favorites, always play nice and finish second behind Gary and Mallory.
Building a Life-size Prehistoric Dinosaur
A well-played race leg makes for exciting viewing on this week’s The Amazing Race. Examples of what went right this week:
Holding cards close to the chest
Kynt and Vyxyn avoid telling other teams they face a 30-minute penalty at the end of the leg. They do not want to motivate any team to u-turn them. Ron compares them to Kabuki actors for concealing the information.
Judicious use of the Express Pass
I forgot that Gary and Mallory are holding an Express Pass they earned in the first minutes of the season. They pull out the magic card when they arrive dead-last at a difficult detour and face tough odds.
Strategic and straightforward U-turning
I applaud Kynt and Vyxyn for u-turning Jamie and Cara in front of them and offering the girls a calm, logical explanation for it. Jamie and Cara earn some bad karma for trying to talk Kynt and Vyxyn into u-turning the Globetrotters.
Knowledge of the native language
Ron and Christina, fluent in Chinese, use their language skills to their advantage. Generously, they allow a couple teams to ride their coattails.
Bad karma’s a bitch
Guess who gets eliminated? Jamie and Cara, the whiny redheads, who blame everyone but themselves for their bad luck.
Ask directions. Kynt and Vyxyn drive all night and miss the flight the teams are supposed to catch. Will they get a time penalty or have they suffered enough?
Hold onto your passport. Vyxyn leaves her passport on the airline ticket counter but remembers right away and diverts disaster.
Check for your passport getting on or off any moving vehicle. Kynt leaves his fanny pack with passports on a gondola. He doesn’t realize his mistake until they are riding down the mountain on a bus. I am losing sympathy for them.
Eat at appropriate times. Christina and her dad Ron are building up to a big explosion. In this leg, Ron, who is Chinese, is distracted by indigenous food at every turn. Understandable, but he is racing for a million dollars. And he is driving his daughter to the brink.
Know your Zodiac sign. Flight Time and Big Easy apparently have never read a paper placemat in a Chinese restaurant. They struggle to guess their signs. Reminds me of the four-hour penalty they took when they couldn’t unscramble a six-letter word. Luckily in the Zodiac task, they had twelve guesses.