One of the big reasons I’ve usually resisted recapping ‘The Amazing Race’ is because I’ll be honest, I always felt like Television Without Pity already did the same thing and they did it better than I could. (You can feel free to jump in and boost my ego in the comments, but it’s not required.)
But now, there is no Television Without Pity. Entire seasons of the Race are going by, unrecapped by snarky commenters who have nothing better to do than explain what happened in an episode of a TV show to people without access to Hulu, Netflix, DVR or any one of thousands of bit-torrent sites! It’s a crushing injustice, and I’m here to correct it. On to Amazing Race 26, Episode One!
This Race is already notorious for its big gimmick–about half the teams aren’t “two people with a pre-existing relationship”, as Phil used to put it back when the show felt the need to over-explain every part of its premise. Instead, five people are being matched with random strangers in what the show insists on calling “the ultimate blind date”, but which feels more like the ultimate Meet Cute. I’ll go over them first, because the show didn’t really do its usual thing of introducing each team and then starting because they had to introduce half the teams to each other.
First, we have Jeff and Jackie, listed as “Team JJ” because the Race has been giving everyone hashtag-themed nicknames for a while now, and there’s not a whole lot else to talk about here besides the fact that they both have first names that start with J. She’s a Vegas showgirl who likes beefy guys, he’s a beefy guy. They seem nice, and they’re clearly as into each other as you can be on a first date.
Next is Jelani and Jenny, who aren’t “Team JJ” even though they also have two names starting with “J”, so that’s not going to be confusing to anybody. They’re “The Legal Team”, because they’re both lawyers. He’s an African-American dude in a polo shirt who seems to have a modest line in self-deprecating humor, she’s a Chinese-American daughter of immigrants who chose law because she felt she had no future as a doctor. They seem to be getting along so far, and may be this season’s Competence Porn team.
Bergen and Kurt (“The Blonde Date”) are this season’s “flamboyant” gay couple; gay men on the Race either seem to want to downplay the hell out of their sexuality in order to make it clear that they’re no different from everyone else, or else play it up to ludicrous levels of camp in order to show that you can be gay and let it show and still succeed. These two both seem to be on the same side of that divide, which is probably good for them or the whole “blind date” might have gotten weird fast, but they’re charming and friendly and seem to be getting along well.
Laura and Tyler (“Team SoCal”–are they even trying?) seem nice, until every time Laura speaks about Tyler, and then you just get creeped out. “Yes, I think this man is definitely meeting my criteria for a positive mate! I’m reasonably certain we can leverage our synergies into a positive partnership with potential long-term prospects! I may very well have lucked out with this, but I’ll have to run the numbers and get back to you on Tuesday.” (Okay, I may be slightly exaggerating. But she still sounds surprisingly detached when evaluating her romantic prospects with her new beau.)
Hayley and Blair (“Rx for Love”) seem to be the only potential train wreck out of all this, which is actually kind of impressive. I wonder if they hired a dating service to help them. But in any event, Blair is a handsome doctor who wonders why he can’t find any good women (here’s a hint, Blair, they’re probably not hiding in the drop ceiling of the MRI lab), while Hayley is a pediatric nurse (or according to our hilariously inacurrate closed captions, a “peed at Dick” nurse) who talks about a mile a minute. Blair seems not to have figured out that if the issue isn’t finances or looks, it may well be personality, and his appears to default to “bland, with a touch of condescending and passive-aggressive”. Hayley’s motor mouth may be due to the fact that she’s trying to fill all the uncomfortable silences, but Blair just looks like he’s in pain every time she talks. This should be fun!
Oh, yes, and there are the “existing couple” teams, because they seem to be trying to make this a rivalry between their own production decision and every other season in the history of the show. Don’t know who they want us to root for, here, but we have our usual pre-existing couples. No siblings or friends or parent/child teams this time out, though, which kind of sucks because they have more interesting backstories most of the time.
But to go over them quickly, we’ve got Aly and Steve, “Sochi Love” because they’re both Olypmians, which is kind of cool and bodes well for their ability to do difficult tasks and not freak out. We’ve got Harley and Jonathan, “Team New Kid” due to the fact that Jonathan is one of the New Kids on the Block, which means we’ll get a steady stream of NKotB instrumentals every time they do something even remotely interesting until they get eliminated. We’ve got Mike and Rochelle, who are listed as “Truck Stop Love” because it’s easier to find interesting nicknames for people when they haven’t just met. They seem like the kind of people who would get casually dismissed with the epithet of ‘white trash’ because they’re poor, but everyone in our household agreed that they were the highlight of the first episode. We’ve got Matt and Ashley, “The Hairstylists”, who were almost completely unmemorable except for their bad decision making, so look for them to stick around long after they’ve outstayed their welcome due to a series of lucky breaks that almost makes up for their lack of skill. We’ve got Libby and CJ, who are supposed to be “Team Tuskegee” but who I’m already dubbing “The Broken Compass”, who seem really nice but act like they’re way out of their depth here. And we’ve got Jeff and Lyda, who probably shouldn’t change their investment habits or anything.
And with that, we’re off! Phil starts the team off with a “mud run”, which is basically an obstacle course that’s been hosed down with an ice bath at the end. The first eight teams to complete it get to go on Flight #1 to Tokyo, the last three on Flight #2. I’d tell you who went on what flights, but honestly, it turns out to be completely irrelevant anyway. It usually does–they always make a big deal in the first episode about the big advantage you’re going to get from completing the first task, but it never turns out to amount to much because everyone’s still getting used to navigating through unfamiliar cities and doing tasks, and so the second group always catches up. (Except for that one time where they started with twelve teams, and eliminated one after the first task. That time it was pretty significant.)
In any event, the teams all make it to Tokyo, and are presented with a Detour. The first option, “Synchronized Steps”, makes the teams do a dance routine in synch with a musical group called ‘World Order’, who have a sort of 80s corporate look and dance moves that Fry could probably do but Bender couldn’t. “Synchronized dance moves” should have been a red flag, but apparently none of the people on the Race have watched the Race and don’t know that spending time trying to memorize a dance routine (or a marching routine, or indeed anything that makes your body move with greater-than-normal co-ordination) is a recipe for spending a loooooooooong time at the challenge while the Amazing Editor loses track of how many Fail Gongs he’s going to have to use on your footage.
The other Detour option, “Samurai Sake”, involves learning ten Japanese words for sake and handing a bottle of it to some guys who pretend to be drunk. This is for some reason taken as brutally difficult by most of the teams, who all go off to do the Robot. The two or three teams that decide to do the sake challenge are out of there within ten minutes.
We then get a lot of bad dancing. A lot. Jelani and Jenny make it to the Detour first, but they don’t get out of there until most of the other teams have shown up. Everyone piles up, because there’s only one World Order (and boy, that’s the most ominous thing I’ve typed today) so if you fail your attempt you go to the back of the line. The smarter teams, by which I mean “everyone except Matt and Ashley”, practice the steps in time to the music even when it’s not their turn, but it’s a complicated routine that involves balance and timing as well as co-ordination, and everyone’s failing pretty hard at it.
For the teams who get out, there’s a Double Blind U-Turn (and I have to say, I’ve liked the U-Turn a lot more since they made most of them Doubles–it goes from “death knell for one team” to “two-person race for last”, which is generally fairer and more exciting, plus you actually see some interesting strategy sometimes involving deliberate misuse of the second slot to kill one team’s chances, and actual strategy is always more interesting than “drama”). This doesn’t come into play for a while, as most of the teams wisely elect to save their U-Turn for later and go straight to the next clue, which turns out to be “Go to the Pit Stop”, but I mention it because it will be important.
There is more dancing. There is more failing. There is no Detour-switching, which is kind of surprising given how obviously brutal this is and how many teams are failing at it so many times. This may just be a particularly bloody-minded group, but I’d have thought that at least one of them would have given it a try. Eventually, it’s down to just Mike/Rochelle and Jeff/Lyda. Both of them assume they’re duking it out for last place.
But wait! It turns out that Tokyo is really hard to find your way around in! Harley and Jonathan drop from second to fifth getting lost on their way to the Pit Stop. Jelani and Jenny take advantage of that and come in first, securing the Express Pass (no Save this season, thank Phil). Hayley/Blair, Matt/Ashley and Libby/CJ all get badly lost either on their way to the Detour, out of the Detour, or between the U-Turn and the Pit Stop (and in the case of Libby/CJ, all three), which gives Mike/Rochelle and Jeff/Lyda a chance to catch up once they get out of the Detour. (And by the way, Mike already earned major points with the way he treated Rochelle at the Detour. He could tell she was having problems, he could tell that she was psyching herself out and making herself miserable, and he could tell that she was already starting to pre-emptively blame herself for getting them eliminated in the first leg. He was calm, he was comforting, he gave her hugs when she needed them and space when she asked for it, and did all the things a good supportive teammate does until she got herself turned around. Yay Mike!)
But even though Mike/Rochelle get out second to last, they know they’re in trouble. (They didn’t know they were in less trouble than they imagined–they’d jumped from tenth to seventh on the strength of the navigational issues of the other teams, but it’s not like they get to see the little “Currently in X Place” signs.) They decide to U-Turn the one team they know is behind them, Jeff and Lyda. Jeff and Lyda hit the Detour and try to U-Turn one of the sake teams on the desperate hope that maybe sake is even worse than dancing, but they have no way of knowing that the team they just U-Turned had already checked in some two or three hours ago.
Jeff and Lyda go do the sake. Five minutes later, they come out muttering, “We spent three solid hours trying to do the Robot instead of this?” They head back to the U-Turn.
The other teams finally get organized and check in, with the exception of very locationally-confused Libby and CJ, who appear to be demanding answers from every single taxi driver in Tokyo. The answer appears to be, “Give me money and I’ll tell you where to go,” but they’re holding fast to their determination to go door-to-door through the entire city until they find Phil. Jeff and Lyda seem to make up a lot of ground, but in the end it proves to be nothing but Amazing Editing–Libby and CJ are checked in and on their way to the rest period before Jeff and Lyda even show up. They are Philiminated, and take it with relatively good grace.
Next time–‘Amazing Race on Ice’, with Dorothy Hamill and Kristi Yamaguchi! (Okay, maybe not so much.) See you then!