And we are back with a brand-new season! This time out, Phil is not at the Starting Line…because there is no Starting Line. Instead, he’s waiting for the Racers in Mexico, and in keeping with this season’s theme of “everyone is a social media celebrity”, everyone is at home surfing the Internet. (With their bags already packed, which makes it a little suspicious that they’re “surprised” by Phil’s video message, but maybe they were expecting a call telling them to assemble in LA or somewhere.)
Everyone certainly acts surprised when Phil tells them to make their way on their own to Mexico City, and at at least one team says they have trouble finding their way home at night. (Maybe they don’t know what the Race…is?) They get the legendary eyebrow pop from Phil, and everyone sprints out to taxis that are…again, slightly suspiciously…waiting for them. (But again, it’s not that hard to co-ordinate pulling up outside people’s houses.) Everyone heads out to the airport, with Erin and Joslyn doing their own impromptu version of the Amazing Race theme song as the credits begin to roll. Which neatly sets the theme for this week’s episode, “Adorable People Having So Much Fun!”
After the credits, we settle in to the introductions as everyone heads to the airport. We first get Tyler and Korey, a charming gay couple who have a YouTube channel where they act playful and silly together and Tyler does weird things with his hair. They have the same vibe as Tim and Te Jay from Season 25, just really sweet and friendly guys who will hopefully not get ground up into a fine powder by the merciless trials of the Race.
We next get Dana and Matt, who are engaged to be married and do dance tutorials on YouTube. They have been engaged for three years with no set wedding date, which I’m hoping is not being brought up here as foreshadowing for the two of them working out their fear of commitment through extended sessions of screaming at each other. Although the fact that Matt says, “This could be a huge step forward in our learning to trust each other,” sets off some pretty big alarm bells.
Erin and Joslyn, previously seen doing their a capella version of the Race theme, are hosts of a web series for Clevver Media. They seem to have energy to spare, and spend a lot of time mugging to the camera in a way that would probably be very annoying if they weren’t so goshdarn cute! (Note: This does not mean that it will not become very annoying later on.) I suspect they’re going to do well, but we’ll see.
Zach and Rachel are a couple whose claim to Internet Fame is a series of clever camera-trickery Vines Zach does where he appears to achieve impossible feats like surfing on his toilet flush or jumping into a moving car. I have no idea how he monetizes that, but then again I’m not Internet Famous probably for that exact reason. He and Rachel have been married all of eleven months, so they should still be in the phase of the marriage where neither one of them wants to criticize the other for fear that the whole thing will fall apart, so this should be good for curing that.
Scott and Blair are a father-daughter team. She’s Internet Famous for doing make-up tutorials, he’s just a simultaneous doctor and lawyer. Which is hellaciously impressive to me, but he’s going to be doing some stuff in this episode that halfway convinces me that if he can do it, anyone can do it, so let’s see where they go from here.
Sheri and Cole are a mother-son team, who make goofily exaggerated Vine videos of their family life in which they act like real-life cartoon versions of themselves. Cole may not be acting, though; in pretty much every scene, he hams it up as a caricature of a big dumb dorky Southern dude like Johnny Bravo somehow stepped out of the screen and into reality. It’s more charming than it sounds. I’d like to say they’ll go far, but parent-child teams almost never do well on the Race.
Brodie and Kurt are this season’s Dudebros, and isn’t it nice that the Race was able to find social media stars that so neatly slotted into their traditional stereotypes? Still, they seem to be nice and friendly dudebros, and perfectly happy to goof their way through the Race so long as they can plug their frisbee tricks (which are their claim to Internet Fame, natch.) They have a major bromance going to the point where I thought they were this season’s second gay couple until they started talking about getting distracted by hot women.
Burnie and Ashley are…holy shit, someone I’ve actually heard of! They run Rooster Teeth, and are responsible for Red vs Blue, which is at this point right up there with Sluggy Freelance as Ancient Wisdom of the Internet. They mention that they work together, live together, game together, and I’m a little worried that the “togetherness” thing will collapse spectacularly and violently right around Leg Five, but who knows?
Brittany and Jessica introduce themselves by waking up Cole at the airport, in what’s going to become a running theme of the season (I hope)…everyone is really nice and friendly and knows each other at least by reputation. I have to say, I could totally handle a season where everyone hangs out together in between tasks and cheers each other on and feels really bad when someone gets eliminated. Oh, and Brittany and Jessica are models who supplement their live modeling work with Instagramming themselves in designer clothing. Which is nice work if you can get it.
While Cole basks in his ability to attract the attention of models (see? Johnny Bravo! He’s even got his Mama along!) and the models wonder if he knows that he’s way too young for them, Blair sees Tyler arriving at the airport at the same time she does and literally barks with excitement in the taxi. She gets out and almost gives him a hug, then retreats shyly, then charges in again as he says, “Come love me!” in an adorably sassy way. Again, the theme here is “super-happy friendship!”
Also meeting at the airport (although not the same airport–everyone is converging from different parts of the country on Mexico City) are the last two teams, Marty and Hagan and Darius and Cameron. Darius and Cameron do comedy skits, and Marty and Hagan are Internet Famous for a video that went viral of her livening up the pre-flight safety speech on a Southwest flight. As is already par for the course, both teams are overjoyed to see each other and thrilled to be going on a brand new adventure! It’s hard to recap this without making it sound twee, but it really is awfully nice to watch after a whole season of Justin and Diana.
(Yeah. I went there.)
Also different about this season? People keep walking up to the Racers in the airport and asking for autographs. Because Internet Fame isn’t that different from Real Fame when the whole world is on the Internet these days. That could make things awfully interesting as we go…but for now, everyone gets to Mexico City at roughly the same time, well after sunset, and heads for the Monument of the Revolution where Phil is waiting with the Detour clue.
The Frisbee Boys and the models get to the clue first, and are given the option to do Mariachi Madness or Great Bulls of Fire. Mariachi Madness is a nasty little needle in a haystack challenge where the Racers have to wander through a crowd of 350 mariachis all playing the same song and find the one who’s just faking it. Great Bulls of Fire is a complex assembly task where the teams have to put together a fireworks display and set it off. Both tasks are the ones that you would only take if you got U-Turned.
Brodie and Kurt take the mariachis, while Brittany and Jessica go with the fireworks, but it doesn’t matter because everyone is just getting to grips with the challenges of navigating a strange city in another country where they don’t all speak the language, so there’s a lot of place-jumping as everyone wanders around asking for directions. And in a time-honored Race tradition, Team Bravo wanders up to the first person they see with a guitar and ask if he’s a mariachi.
Surprisingly, the mariachi challenge turns out to be the easier of the two. Despite a false guess here and there and a few eardrum-bursting blasts of horns directly at the searching teams…oh, and a few people who don’t seem to understand the point and just wander around shouting, “Are you really playing?”, which earns Johnny Bravo his first fail-gong of the Race…the teams who choose the mariachi challenge get out relatively quickly…and find that there’s a staggered bunch waiting for them. Four teams get a 7:30 departure token to the next challenge, four more get 7:40, and the last three get 7:50. I have to say, I don’t love the idea of a bunch after a Detour, even if it is staggered. Doing well in a Detour is a big deal, and it should be rewarded appropriately. I’d rather have seen the bunching happen before the Detour, not after.
Still, what’s done is done, and the teams don’t know they’re all going to be within twenty minutes of each other. The firework assemblers react with typical stress, with Blair doing a weird sort of squawk every time her dad makes a suggestion that is so bizarre that you’re not even sure if it’s sarcasm, and Burnie responding to Ashley’s “I love you” with “I like you,” which is a pet peeve of mine so bad that I’m already losing the vicarious thrill of actually knowing who they are. Seriously, people. Do not do a cutesy bullshit response to someone telling you they love you because you’re too “cool” to say it back. It just makes you look like a douchebag.
The mariachi teams begin to pile up at the bunch. Dana and Matt, Brodie and Kurt, Erin and Joslyn and the Bravo Family take the 7:30 spot, although Mama’s convinced that they’re in dead last and are going to be eliminated the second they get to their destination. Only huge cheers and supportive hugs from the other early teams can lighten her funk, but luckily this is the Supportive Season of the Amazing Race and everyone is there for her! I hope she doesn’t fluster this easily about everything. Back at the fireworks, Tyler and Korey are just now lighting up their fireworks, which they scamper back from like adorable little kids. Yes, I admit to liking them. Marty and Hagan finish not long afterwards, and Burnie and Ashley do the same but are shot down by the judge for improper assembly.
The judge should probably have checked a little harder, because when they do get the thumbs up and light off their firework, one of the catherine wheels comes clean off and literally rockets directly at Ashley in a spirited attempt to end their season early. She leaps out of the way just in time, though, and it slams into a wall and spits fire menacingly. Scott and Blair get out next, followed by the models and Darius and Cameron bringing up the rear.
There’s a little place-swapping, though, on the way to the next stop, so Burnie and Ashley wind up bringing up the rear in the 7:50 contingent. Still, the back of the pack remains the same. Zach and Rachel, Tyler and Korey, Marty and Hagan and Scott and Blair at 7:40, and everyone else worried.
Fast-forward to sunrise, and the first flight of teams heads to what turns out to be a pretty awesome Roadblock. The teammate who takes it has to descend into an underground cavern and find a sandbox in which several pieces of a replica Aztec mask are scattered. They sift through the sand to find the pieces, archaeological dig style, and then follow “the sound of drums” to an insane renegade Time Lord who will harness the power of the masks to defeat the Doctor once and for all…no, wait. Sorry. They follow the drums to an assembly table where they put the masks together. The catch? There are more pieces in the sandbox than are needed.
The intent seems to be that you sift until you’ve found every piece, take them all to the table, and then chuck the extras. But since the clue mentions “thirteen pieces” (the number that actually go into the mask), a lot of people don’t keep looking once they’ve found Piece #13. Recipe for mayhem? Oh fuck yeah.
Kurt, Matt, Sheri and Erin take the Roadblock for their teams, and descend into the forbidding depths. Sheri and Erin turn out to be claustrophobic, which is not so good when 99% of the challenge takes place underground, but they cope pretty damn well. They all gather their pieces in relatively short order…or they think they do…and start listening for drums.
Tyler, Zach, Scott and Marty take the task in the second flight, and get to descending. The first flight of teams finds the drummers and begins assembling, only to realize that the two demo masks are all solidly colored and they have pieces that are two different colors. They gather up their pieces and march back to the sandboxes for more digging. The second team begins their search, but apparently the love-fest doesn’t extend to warning anyone about the spare piece issue.
Darius, Jessica and Burnie take the tasks for their remaining teams, just as Scott re-emerges with his pieces. Because he apparently couldn’t hear the drums, and wandered randomly until he was back outside. And continued to wander, despite the fact that nobody else was out there. And then dropped his pieces. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that he’s not winning customers to his ob/gyn practice. Still, at least he doesn’t do what Jessica does, which is wander over to a random pile of dirt and start digging.
Marty somehow manages to injure herself on the pieces. I got nothing.
Matt completes his mask, and gets a clue directing him to the Pit Stop at Museo Soumaya. Tyler finishes not far behind, so it’s a taxi race! …which is won by Matt and Dana, slightly anti-climactically. (No prize was mentioned, either. And no Express Pass, thank you sweet and merciful god.) Meanwhile, the waiting Racers break into an impromptu dance party while they wait for their partners to finish. Have I mentioned that this isn’t quite like previous seasons?
Zach and Rachel finish up in third, and take a celebratory selfie that makes me cringe. Darius and Cameron get to the mat in fourth, an impressive improvement on their earlier status. Brodie and Kurt finish fifth, with Burnie and Ashley not far behind in sixth. Since Brittany and Jessica and Marty and Hagan have already left the Roadblock, that leaves Erin, Sheri and Scott struggling in their sandboxes. Erin suggests to Sheri that they share a four-hour penalty, and Sheri certainly seems tempted, but then she finds out that Scott has just now found his pieces and made it back into the caves, and she finds a second wind.
Brittany and Jessica take seventh and Marty and Hagan take eighth, as expected. Erin finally finishes her mask, and nobly asks if there’s anything she can do to help Sheri before she leaves. Sheri just as nobly shoos her out, and finishes her mask not long after. And finally, long-suffering Scott completes his mask and the last teams head for the mat.
It’s a little bit closer than expected, because Erin and Joslyn get a taxi with a broken speedometer who’s reluctant to go fast as a result. They drop a spot to tenth, giving Sheri and Cole the chance to sneak into ninth. And Scott and Blair come in last…only to find out that it’s a non-elimination first leg! While not unheard of, it’s certainly rare, and adds to the “everyone supports each other and fluffy good things happen” feel of the episode. Maybe the producers figured out that every elimination is going to start a flame war on Twitter or something.
And as the season progresses, we’re apparently going to get camels, mud baths, waterslides, chickens, heights of all sorts, and at least one dance number. See you then!