And I have gone from barely noticing the existence of the series to watching it religiously (it became a tradition over the course of my long-distance, long-term relationship to watch it while on the phone with each other. You may now awwww or ewwwww, according to preference.) The new season started tonight. So what did I think?
First, the teams. In the order they finished…Jill and Thomas managed to be this year’s “Team That Doesn’t Stick In Your Mind At All”. It’ll be several legs (assuming they survive) before I remember anything about them at all. I see them as a middle of the pack finisher, despite the fact that they won the big “Express Pass” prize this leg. I think they’re competent, which will let them survive while the terrible teams wash out, but I don’t think they’ll go hugely far. Then again, I thought the same thing about Brent and Caite last time. Then again, I also thought the top three of that Race would have finished middle of the pack any other season.
Nat and Kat, I think, are going to do very well. They’re used to the killer stress and killer fatigue that screw teams over hard in the later legs of the Race, and they seem to generally have their heads together overall. They impressed in every area on this leg, and while that’s not necessarily a predictor, it’s a good sign. It’d be nice to see them as the first all-female team to win the Race.
Connor and Jonathan got the nickname “The Ducklings” within about fifteen minutes in our house. Like ducklings, they are adorable and sweet. And like ducklings, you figure that they have a lifespan of about five minutes without someone looking after them. Seriously, forget coming in last, I expected them to wind up in a ditch somewhere outside of London, tied up with their own underwear. They surprised me by doing well in the actual challenges, but I get the feeling these guys are in way over their heads.
Brook and Claire seem nice enough, but I think they’re this season’s token “Teams That OD on the Adrenalin Rush and Chest Bump After Every Small Accomplishment”. (Think “Drive it like you stole it.”) I definitely admire their fortitude in the face of the now-infamous “Watermelon Money Shot”, and I think they’ll probably be in it pretty close to the end, but I see their personalities as grating on me by about Week Six.
I was not enamored by the way Katie and Rachel decided to come up with derogatory nicknames for all the other teams, and it definitely soured me on a duo that I think also has a pretty good chance to finish high in the standings. But we’ll see. Maybe that was just a bad first impression. (But come on, they were snarking at the Ducklings! How can you possibly be cruel to little babies like that!)
Gary and Mallory feel like that very nice parent/child team that gets into the Race to be heartwarming and bond across the generation gap, and then finds out about three weeks in that this shit be hard, man. I don’t think they’re doomed, necessarily, but I think they’re not top three material.
The same is true for Michael and Kevin, except they’re funnier to watch and they’ll probably get another couple million hits for their website.
Chad and Stephanie cannot get eliminated soon enough. CAN. NOT. Every Race seems to have one bickering asshole couple with a guy who really thinks that fuming, pouting, screaming and whining is the sure-fire communications technique to motivate their partner. (And they all seem to get into it to “help improve their relationship”. Yes, because putting the two of you into an intense stress situation that you can spend the rest of your lives blaming each other over the failure to win large sums of money is clearly much better than couples therapy.) Please, please, please please please let them not last more than two more weeks.
Andie and Jenna…hoo boy. This could either be a spectacular train wreck, or a really touching experience for them. Me, I’d have met my birth mom for coffee or something, but I have to admit that while they didn’t do well (and I think they’ll probably be middle of the pack overall) they seemed to get along, so it might be heading for some real happy moments for them. Which might be worth more than a million dollars, as far as they’re concerned.
Nick and Vicki will be gone next week. They didn’t know anything about other countries, they didn’t know how to find landmarks, they didn’t know how to figure out challenges, they couldn’t even figure out what a boat was on the first try. They are the token Stupid Couple, and it was only luck that let them survive the first leg. (And yes, I know. Jeff and Jordan were last season’s Stupid Couple, and they made it to seventh place. See above comment on last year’s crop of contestants being extraordinarily weak.)
And Ron and Tony…tough luck. I know I’m in the minority in my household, but I don’t really care much for the contestants having to drive themselves. Yes, part of the Race is finding your way around strange places, and yes, it cuts down on the “taxi roulette” problem (contestants getting incompetent or super-competent drivers and getting a huge detriment/boost to their finish in that leg)…but on the other hand, lots of scenes of people driving around asking for directions are boring, the episode loses tension if you know that one or two teams are so far behind because they’re lost that the others stand no chance of being eliminated, and it really kind of sucks that some teams don’t get the chance to show how well or poorly they could have done in the challenges because they took a wrong turn on the M25 and got eliminated.
As for the episode itself…definitely a harsh opening in terms of the above-mentioned driving challenges. Opening with “Find your way through Boston to Logan Airport” and closing with, “Now find your way from Heathrow Airport to various spots in the British countryside” is pretty much the Olympics of competitive driving, and it’s no surprise that even the top finishers spent a lot of time asking for directions. (Which, again, boring.) The challenges were great, though. Top-notch, with enough real challenge to them that teams could actually change position based on how well they did. (A challenge that fails, in my mind, is one where everyone walks out of it in the order they walked in. There should be enough difficulty to reward competence.) The coracles, in particular, were good stuff–something about the way a coracle sinks, straight down instead of tipping, perfectly exemplifies the concept of “epic fail”.
Overall, this seems like a pretty strong field of contenders, a pretty well-designed Race, and I’m looking forward to next week! (Note: Follow to my blog, Fraggmented, for a joke I thought was too geeky to put here.)