The nineteenth season of The Amazing Race got underway on Sunday night. In an effort to avoid a lot of confusion, I am going to attempt – in the early part of the season, anyway – to avoid just giving a minute-by-minute account of the episode, I am going to break it down differently. It doesn’t need to be mentioned what team what in what position at all time, just in the order that they finish. Also, it’s pure math: the episode is roughly 42 minutes of show, which means that, on average, we’ll be spending about three minutes focusing on any one team at a time. Until the herd thins out some, I think this will be the simplest way to go.
Starting Line - The Hsi Lai Temple, a traditional Chinese Buddhist monastery located in the foothill region of Hacienda Heights, California (a suburb of Los Angeles). The teams’ first task was to search through several hundred oil-paper umbrellas to find one that had the letters “TAI” on it, which, when combined with their clue of six other letters (“WANPEI”) would reveal their first destination city: Taipei, Taiwan. The last team to complete this task would be the first team ever to be penalized by the game’s new twist: the Hazard. This ended up being Kaylani and Lisa.
Clue Box #1 was located in the Ximending Commercial District, and teams were told to “look up” to find their next clue, which was written in Chinese on a nearby electronic billboard. This proved very difficult for teams to figure out, despite the message being sheathed in colors of red and yellow, the long-established colors for the race.
Clue Box #2 was a Roadblock, located at the Taipei Confucius Temple. In it, one team member had to find a payphone, dial a 1-800 number and receive one of Confucius’ many proverbs, which they would then have to repeat verbatim to a temple monk without writing it down. If they got it right, they would be given their next clue. This turned out to be very hard as well, as the proverb was nineteen words long.
Hazard. Before Kaylani and Lisa could proceed, however, they had to travel to the Core Pacific City Mall in Taipei, where one of them had to perform an indoor bungee jump before they could move on.
Clue Box #3 was to be found in Dajia Riverside Park, where teams had to join a dragon boat team: one would join the rowing crew while the other would beat on a drum to keep pace. After making their way through a course, they were given their final clue.
The first Pit Stop of the season was the beautiful Martyr’s Shrine, which was built in 1969 to honor the war dead of the Republic of China.
Below is the order the contestants finished in, along with some of their more interesting moments.
1. Ernie and Cindy - Turns out Cindy is indeed of Chinese descent, but she’s only so-so speaking the language, and it had been decades since she last studied Chinese writing. Even so, she did very well at the proverb challenge, getting it right on the third attempt. They both really enjoyed the dragon-boat race, and Cindy commented that she had never felt “so Asian” before that day. They were understandably overjoyed about finishing in first and winning the coveted Express Pass, which they may use any time in the next seven legs to bypass any undesirable challenge. They are my favorite team so far, and I’m not just saying that because I’m married to an Asian lady. I swear!
#2. Jeremy and Sandy - Both in their 30’s, we learn during the introductions that both of them were actually married previously (to other people). This worries me, because a high-pressure thing like The Amazing Race, where every move you make is filmed, is a very dangerous place to try to strengthen your relationship. I have nothing else to say about them this week; they were cool, level-headed and agreeable the whole leg, they ran into no major problems, and came within a whisker of finishing in first. Hopefully we’ll learn more about them as the race progresses.
#3. Justin and Jennifer - There’s always that one team where one member spends the whole time complaining, and the other member has to deal with it. Jennifer got way more frustrated with their inability to find the Confucius sign than she needed to be, and if this is a sign of things to come, big brother Justin is in for a long-ass race. Thankfully, she kept her composure during the memory challenge, and this mellowed her a little bit.
#4. Ethan and Jenna - I always liked Ethan, but to find out right off the bat that he’s been battling – and apparently beaten, for now – Hodgkins’ lymphoma was a real revelation. Good for him for doing something like this. But he’s been dating Jenna for seven years now… what’s he waiting for? I don’t think she’s going to get much hotter in the future than she is now! It’s perhaps not surprising that having won $2 million between them, however, they are not exactly sympathetic favorites of the other teams. They kept pretty much to themselves this race, and finished in fourth totally on their own merits. Still, they are this season’s biggest celebs, and as such, I want them to go far (though not necessarily win).
#5. Amani and Marcus - Just like the Globetrotters last season, Marcus tends to be very boisterous, and his wife is only slightly less so. He makes the wise decision to not tell the others he’s an ex-NFL player, figuring that it would make them not want to help them. This is totally realistic, because probably only a small percentage of football players are recognizable to non-fans, and while a very good player, Marcus was never, like, world-famous. He tells them that he works in “protecting”, which I could totally buy, the guy’s built like a brick outhouse. He’s also pretty sharp, as he was the first to determine that the electronic billboard was the one they needed to translate. Rowing with the dragon-boat team was his moment to really shine, however, stating in interview that it almost felt like “running out of the tunnel again”. He gets pretty pumped up by competition, which is healthy. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn into arrogance, because that’s a very fine line.
#6. Laurence and Zac - Very little camera time was devoted to the only parent/child team this season, but I knew they would love the dragon-boat challenge, and I was right. Laurence fit right into the role of drummer, stating that he used to be the coxswain for a rowing team back in England (and I love his accent). I will predict that he, Zac and the snowboarders will be the two teams most likely to help each other; they both just have the vibe of cooperation.
#7. Andy and Tommy - The snowboarders impressed me at the beginning with the umbrellas. All the teams just grabbed the umbrellas at random, ran to Phil and showed him without even looking at it, but Andy and Tommy realized almost immediately that they were looking specifically for “TAI”, and they were the first ones on their way to the airport. Memorization proved to be a more monumental task for poor Andy, who doesn’t really look like the cerebral type, if you know what I mean. I do like them so far: if I had to guess, I’d say they are the team most likely to immerse themselves in the cultures they visit and be affected by them (well, them and the seniors, anyway). We’ll see.
#8. Ron and Bill - In ten years of this show, there have been many teams composed of gay men, and they tend to fall in one of three categories: 1) obnoxiously feminine and in-your-face, 2) unassuming, meaning you wouldn’t know they were gay until you actually had a conversation with them, or 3) friendly and congenial. Ron and Bill appear to belong to the third category, which is good, as there appear to already be enough annoying contestants this year. Still, congeniality can often translate to meekness, and if this couple is going to make it to the end, they need to toughen up.
#9. Kaylani and Lisa - Right away, I don’t like them. I expected Liz and Marie to be the ones out to prove to the world how “not dumb” they are, but it turned out to be the showgirls. Like, literally, that’s the first thing they say is now not dumb they are, and that while everyone on the race is distracted by their hot bodies, they’ll be outsmarting them at every turn. Really, girls? Who will be distracted? The gay guys? Perhaps the happy-married grandparents! Sheesh. And when they start off by being the last team to figure out the umbrella clue, I actually laugh. I laugh harder when Kaylani notices that she’s missing her passport, and have to retrace their steps. They then head for the airport with no plan but to yell at each other. And all this in the first ten minutes.
Schadenfreude is so delicious on reality TV! Miraculously, a guy at the gas station where they stopped to ask for directions had the wherewithal to follow them to the airport and return it to her. Wow, that guy’s got some good karma coming his way. The rest of the leg was mostly spent catching up, and it’s only because of the incompetence of the other two teams that they finished in ninth. I truly hope that the show does not continue to give them the lion’s share of the camera time.
#10. Liz and Marie - Oy. Girl power is NOT well-represented this season. It took the twins and the showgirls forever to find the billboard clue, and though they performed the memory challenge at the same time, it was Lisa that finished first. Liz took so long to get the proverb right that the time the showgirls lost by doing the Hazard didn’t even cost them a spot. Each failed attempt increased their frustration, and frayed nerves led to arguing, et cetera. They are not long for this race, I’d bet actual money on that.
#11. Bill and Cathi - Despite their proclamations of being fit and having stamina, the senior couple had one of the worst first legs ever. They finished the umbrella challenge near the bottom, and had to take the second of two flights to Taiwan. They then missed the bus that took the two all-girl teams into town. And THEN they took “look up” to mean to go to the top of the nearest tall building. It took them nearly five hours to discern the meaning of the billboard (other teams were checking into the Pit Stop by then). Phil was a nice guy and spared them elimination this time out, but they will be saddled with a Speed Bump next week on top of the huge time deficit they’re already facing… but then, with another country due up next week, that’ll probably be erased at the airport. I would love for them to survive at least another two legs, because they are other teams that deserve to go home before them. And Phil had another surprise… not one, but TWO teams will be eliminated in the next leg.
Next week: on to Indonesia! Eleven teams will enter, only nine will leave. Cue the Thunderdome music.