Now that the dust has settled on the “blind date” experiment, we can now get back to what the Amazing Race does best: Throwing together teams of best friends, dating couples, relatives and co-workers and making them race around the world for a million bucks! Phil’s back, and looking good, I have to say. I think he might have gained a little weight, but honestly, he was getting so thin we were beginning to worry about him, so everyone in our household was okay with that. He starts us off on Venice Beach, but first, some introductions:
Justin and Diana, who are noted by the show as being “#TheGreenTeam” (which honestly makes them sound like they’re heavily into recycling, but I think it’s because they were color-coordinated outfits) are a couple who rose to Internet fame when he made her run a fake Amazing Race before proposing to her. I guess this is romantic to some people, but to me it feels weird and overbearing and kind of desperate. But hey, it got them onto the real Amazing Race, and she agreed to marry him despite the fact that his head looks like a giant penis, so I guess you don’t argue with success.
Tanner and Josh, who are instantly Team DoucheBro despite the Race’s best efforts to tag them with something else (“#TeamTexas”, for the record) instantly start talking about how their main strategy will be to flirt with women in order to get ahead. Which, first, have you ever watched the Race? There is always one damn team who thinks they can get by on looks, and they are always brutally wrong. And second, horndoggy guys who think they can get something from women with the promise of sex are already operating from one gigantically false premise and do not need to layer another one onto it. Already rooting for the meteor.
Alex and Adam, who have the horribly generic hashtag of “#TheCousins”, are…um, cousins. They have congenital dwarfism, although it looks to perhaps be a mild form, and are expecting to be underestimated because of their height. They’re probably right, to be honest; many of these other teams seem to think of themselves as physical powerhouses who can steamroll the competition, and I think we’re going to see a lot of, “I can’t believe we got beat by the little people!” comments.
Cindy and Rick Chac, who must have bribed the living hell out of someone on the production team to let them use their clearly overthought catchprhase “#ChacAttack” as their team name, are a pair of medical professionals (she’s a dentist, he’s an OB/GYN) who feel like they’re that couple who thinks they’re the perfect couple (or if not perfect, certainly superior to your relationship) because they never argue about anything, whereas in fact they’ve just never been taken out of their comfort zone and haven’t had any conflicts worth a damn to argue over. They also feel like they’re going to be around a long time because if you had a single profession that prepares you for the Race well, I think it’d probably be “doctor”. So we’ll see if I’m wrong about their over-the-top coupletasticness being a pose.
Denise and James Earl (“#TeamAlabama”, because when you can’t think of anything catchy about a team, mention what state they’re from!) are a mother/son team from New Jersey…nah, just messing with ya, they’re from Alabama. She raised him as a single mom, he came out and she freaked, and they’re reconciling through the calm, soothing, stress-free atmosphere of the Amazing Race. I can’t possibly imagine how this might go bad!
Jazmine and Danielle (“#TheTrackStars”) are a pair of best friends who look like they could be twin sisters. They both run track, they’re both extremely competitive, and they’re both bubbly and enthusiastic in a way that’s either going to be adorable as all hell or absolutely infuriating by Week Three. We’ll see how that goes.
Logan and Chris (“#ThePaparazzi”) are, well…paparazzi. They take pains to make clear that it’s just a job–they’re professional photographers, and shooting pictures of celebrities for magazines is a good way to make a living. They also make it clear that they will be stalking Phil with the same ruthless efficiency that they stalked Justin Bieber, which is probably not a good way to make yourself sound friendly and down-home despite your widely-despised profession, but maybe there’s something I’m missing here.
Tiffany and Krista (“#TheCheerleaders”) are from Staten Island and Jersey, and of course take pains to wear that like a badge of honor because if there’s one thing you can count on in this world, it’s that people from New York and New Jersey can’t stop working that into conversation every fifteen seconds. (Texans have the same verbal tic. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone make the same kind of big deal about being Minnesotan.) They both take a moment to deliver the same line that every cheerleader on the Race delivers, which is that they’re more than just cheerleaders and they’re actually very smart. Which is almost certainly true, but I’d someday love to see a supercut of all the teams on the Race who give that pitch.
Weirdly, even though there are still a bunch more teams to get through, Phil gets the Racers ready to go without even checking in with the last three teams. I don’t know if that bodes ill for their chances (“oh, yeah, and the rest here…”) or if they’re just shaking up the format a bit so that it’s not an endless wave of “meet the new people”, but it really confused me for a moment when people started racing before I even saw them. This time, there’s a one-team flight to Rio (their first destination city) that leaves a half-hour before everyone else, which is so not an advantage given the vagaries of airline departures and flight times that I wondered why anyone even cared, and an Express Pass for the first-place winner, about which more later. Phil pops the eyebrow, and they’re off!
And in this case, “they” includes Kelsey and Joey, “#TheReporters”, a pair of local reporters who are also dating. It’s kind of surreal to watch them, because as local news reporters they’re used to staring into a camera and talking smoothly and naturally, even improvising as necessary, so they’re almost supernaturally comfortable compared to the other contestants and it makes it feel like you’re watching a local news segment embedded into an episode of the Race. After everything they say, you keep expecting them to say, “And for more on that, we go to the weather with Jim,” and then suddenly you cut to a different program altogether and everything you thought you knew was a horrible, horrible lie. But they seem nice.
It also includes Kelly and Shevonne, “#TeamTMZ”, who seem to be embracing their role as badwill ambassadors for TMZ a little too hard. They spend a lot of the episode trying to think up pithily mean things to say about the other Racers, and while I’m aware that I don’t have a tremendous amount of moral high ground here after the whole “head like a giant penis” crack, I at least try to blog more than just snark. They seem to feel like the snark is expected of them and they can’t let people down, which I think pigeonholes them really quick as this season’s “mean girls”.
And finally, it includes Ernest and Jin, “#TheDancers”, who have the sort of aesthetic that comes from being very broke and having to make whatever you find in thrift shops look freaking awesome. And that’s not snark, because a) they admit to being very broke right off the bat, and b) they do actually look pretty awesome in a mismatched, thrown-together, goddammit-I-wish-I-could-grab-random-things-off-the-rack-at-Goodwill-and-look-that-cool sort of way. They’re both making a living as street performers, this is a big chance for them, and I’m simultaneously rooting very hard for them and not expecting them to last very long because they get this terrified thousand-yard stare every time they’re confronted with any kind of task, and it makes them feel like they’re so out of their league that they won’t last three weeks. But I cheerfully hope to hell I’m wrong.
The assembled teams proceed to the harbor, where they get on waterbikes (basically pontoon boats powered by bicycle pedals) and race for the first-place flight. Tanner and Josh look like they’re cruising for it until they break their bike chain, which they of course attribute to being too manly for such a puny vehicle and no I am not fucking joking here, allowing Justin and Diana to grab the first-place flight. Everyone else comes in in “doesn’t matter” place and snags a seat on the next flight out, 30 minutes later. After a brief sequence of the TMZ women attempting to snark on every single team, and a much more intelligent comment from another Race team that they’d rather be arriving as part of a ten-person bunch than separated completely from the pack with no way of knowing whether anything goes wrong for them, everyone gets on the Amazing Red and Blue Lines to Rio! Separated, of course, by thirty minutes.
Which, as it turns out, is really five minutes, because the first flight is delayed 20 minutes and the second flight gets in 5 minutes early. Because a thirty-minute lead isn’t even worth competing over. Justin and Diana do get out of the airport in first, but it’s such a small amount of lead time in the only leg of the Race where you can come in tenth and still avoid elimination that I don’t know why all the teams treated it like a game-changer. Especially when the next thing that happens happens.
See, in addition to the Detour, this leg also has a Fast Forward. Which sounds like a great deal and the sort of thing that makes even a five-minute lead insurmountable, because the first team to get to the Fast Forward is going to be the first team to get to the Pit Stop…but this is a hang-gliding challenge. And those are wind-dependent. And that means that going to the Fast Forward is actually a huge gamble that’s not likely to pay off, because Mother Nature likes a good laugh as much as the next person and is perfectly happy to turn a wind-dependent challenge into, “Maybe tomorrow”. Oh, and you only get enough money to pay one cab fare, so if you do the Fast Forward and fail you’re dependent on the mercy of the cabbies to get you back to the Detour.
All of which is a fancy way of saying that Justin and Diana wind up way in the back of the pack, and it’s entirely due to their five-minute lead and the bad decisions it enabled them to make. Ouch. They’re understandably heartbroken over what seems like a killer mistake (and honestly, I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t have done the same thing even if “wind-dependent” makes my spider-sense tingle), and Justin isn’t afraid to tear up a little on camera.
Everyone else goes to Copacabana Beach to do the Detour, after a brief bit of make-work where they take a helicopter tour past the ginormous statue of Christ the Redeemer and are then asked, “What landmark did you see?” The Detour has two choices, like they do–“Sand” forces you to play a game of soccer volleyball against some local pros. How good are they? You only have to score six points before they score eighteen. And you get to use your hands. That’s terrifying. “Sidewalk” forces you to solve a sliding puzzle with a pattern of wavy lines, the kind you did as a kid after winning them at a church carnival only without the numbers. This seems like a pretty easy choice to me, but I did a lot of the little sliding puzzles as a kid.
Cindy and Rick get to the beach first, and after changing into tiny white swimsuits that are going to be the beach-going uniform for all the teams for the rest of the episode, they choose “Sidewalk”. Some bickering ensues over who will drive the puzzle, with Rick feeling very strongly that he knows All the Things. This gives Denise and James Earl a chance to get there and start their own puzzle. (As an aside, does anyone else get vaguely creeped out when someone decides to go by their first and middle name? It’s as if they’re testing it out for the post-assassination headlines they plan to make.)
Tanner and Josh show up next, and unsurprisingly, they’re convinced that they can beat anyone at any sport ever. Despite a little bit of public humiliation by people who are beating them with their hands almost literally behind their back, they prove to be depressingly competent at the task, and get out in first. They head for the Arpoador Lookout and the Pit Stop, and get there in first place despite some bad advice from a local who tells them it’s faster to walk than to get a taxi. They get the Express Pass…
But this time there’s a twist. First, since the producers were obviously sick as hell of people hoarding it like Nazi gold until Leg Eight, the Pass must now be used by Leg Five. Second, since the most interesting things ever got with the Express Pass was when they gave out a spare and Marie was treating it like some sort of magical charm she could use to make others do her bidding, this time the team that uses the Express Pass has to hand it off to another team when they’re done. So everyone will be courting the people who hold it and Oh FUCK why did that have to be Tanner and Josh because the last damn thing they need is ego-stroking?
Jazmine and Danielle get to the Detour fourth, but leave it in second due to their own athletic gifts. (And, y’know, not having to play by the same rules as the other side.) They reach the mat in second as well, just as Denise and James Earl get their clue in third. Cindy starts to suggest that they change tasks, but is shot down by Rick (who has now decided he is calling the shots).
Kelly and Shevonne get to the Detour fifth, and demonstrate that the volleyball task actually is quite difficult by sucking at it. They decide to change tasks, on the grounds that they can barely even get the ball over the net one time in five let alone do so in a way that will not be returned, which means that no matter what the other task is they stand a better chance of success with it. They show up at the puzzle challenge just as Cindy and Rick finish up.
Despite appearing to finish well after Denise and James Earl, Cindy and Rick next pop up at the Pit Stop in third place. Honestly, there appears to have been a lot of taxi drama in this episode that affected placement that we never saw, perhaps because the difference between third and fourth place in a field of eleven isn’t that big of a deal. Denise and James Earl follow along, after some amazing and harrowing experience we just can’t be arsed to see.
By the same token, things are getting busy enough at the Detours that we stop seeing the footage of teams arriving and changing. The first sign that Our Action Nine News Team has gotten to the detour is when we cut to them already hard at work on the puzzle, and we check in with Logan and Chris as they’re already on their fifth point in volleyball. We do get to see Alex and Adam change into their trunks, though, and ditto Ernest and Jin. (In the latter case, it’s probably out of a sense of obligation to fans of beefcake. Dudes be ripped.)
Probably they’re saving that time for the drama surrounding Justin and Diana, who have to beg their way onto a cab heading to the beach. Tiffany and Krista, meanwhile, have an unhelpful cabbie who drops them off several hundred yards away from their destination, giving the Green Team time to catch up and change into swim trunks that really emphasizes the “giant penis” effect. Really, seeing this part makes me understand why Justin seems to wear hats all the damn time; either he knows what he looks like hatless, or someone must have tipped him off. He and Diana take the puzzle task.
Logan and Chris come to the Pit Stop in fifth. Nobody seems to care.
Tiffany and Krista finally schlep their stuff down to the Detour, and choose the volleyball. After having no luck with the sliding puzzle, the reporters decide to see what’s going on in sports, and take a look at a South American beach sport that’s taking North America by storm! Meanwhile, in traffic… (**wrests control of the narrative back**) Alex and Adam master the volleyball well enough to get out of the Detour in sixth, prompting the inevitable comments from Ernest and Jin about how they can’t believe they’re doing less well than the little people, because Alex and Adam were dead right about being underestimated.
On that note, Tiffany and Krista decide to switch to the puzzle task because they’re “too short” to do well in volleyball. I like to imagine them watching this and sputtering incoherently at the way the editing seamlessly makes them look like complete morons. Well, the editing and their difficulty with the sliding puzzle, which is proving to be a challenge for a lot of teams. Speaking of, Justin and Diana decide about here to switch to the volleyball.
From here on, there are few surprises. Alex and Adam check in to the mat in sixth, and the reporters finish the volleyball just before Ernest and Jin and those two teams check in seventh and eighth respectively. Justin and Diana finish ninth, and the Amazing Editors seamlessly cut from him saying he won’t cry at the mat to him crying at the mat. I gotta admit, he irritated me a little on the first go-round, but on rewatching I’ll admit I kind of liked the big softy. I won’t mind if they stick around a while.
And at that point, it’s down to the question of who’s smarter: Cheerleaders, or the folks at TMZ? The answer turns out to be cheerleaders by a country mile, as Tiffany and Krista finish almost a full four hours before Phil wanders down from the hills to deliver a rare Phield Philimination to Kelly and Shevonne. They slink off, somehow more embarrassed by losing in the first leg of the Race than they are by their profession.
And instead of a “next week” montage, we get a “this season” montage, which looks to be heavy on the Paris leg because when you’ve got that kind of B-roll footage, you flaunt it! See you next week!