The Amazing Race – 17.01: They Don’t Call It The Amazing Race For Nothin’!

“This is the first time I’ve ever even heard of Stonehenge, and then I found out that it was a bunch of rocks.” – Vicki

Continuing my streak of talking about my favorite shows, the seventeenth season of The Amazing Race premieres.  We talked about my favorite show of last year and my favorite show of a few years ago.  This show is a very serious candidate for my favorite show of all time.  A simple idea but a very complex concept to execute: follow teams of 2 as they compete to do tasks in countries spanning the entire globe.  Along the way, teams that lollygag get eliminated.  It’s The Travel Channel on crack.  The very nature of a race keeps the show moving at a very fast and exciting pace, but it’s the moments where they slow down and explore the beauty of the areas of the world we rarely get the chance to see that is the defining and irresistible part of the show.  I went into the first season of the show some 10 years ago somewhat skeptical of whether the concept could really work.  15 minutes in to the first hour of the series, the 11 teams have already transported themselves from New York to Africa.  The fantastic shot of teams running down a narrow walkway in front of massive Victoria Falls is unforgettable and one that is burned into my head.  “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed a breathless Kevin, one of the team of best buds and former frat bros.  I was instantly in love with the show.

Other than the fantastic locations, it’s also the selection of cast that defines the show.  Over 16 seasons and 10 years, the casts have naturally had their ups and downs, with teams of funny and downright pleasant people and teams of insufferable egomaniacs (with some seasons featuring more of one than the other).  The first episode invariably features a 5-10 minute quick review of all the teams, and it’s usually then that you can more or less immediately tell who’s going to be fun and who’s going to be annoying (red flags are teams that use the words “competitive”, “intense” and “underestimated”).   Surprisingly, this season there were very very few red flags raised, both in the introductory segment and in almost the entire 80-85 minutes that followed.  One notable things about the cast this year is the relatively large number of woman/woman teams.  In 16 seasons of the race, there has never been a team of two women to win the whole thing, so the producers were clearly looking to tip the odds in their favor.  Even more notable is the fact that there are no teams of cheerleaders or models or those who make their living solely off the fact that they look good (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with teams like that, but it’s just nice to see that we’re not relying on them this season like we normally do).  Instead, we have all woman teams of doctors (intelligence!), home shopping channel hosts (interesting!), birth mother and daughter given away for adoption (fascinating twist on the family team!), and beach volleyball players (athletes!).  Also of note is the team of Michael and Kevin.  Kevin is kevjumba of Youtube “fame”, but the casting I find more notable is of his father, Michael, a first-generation Chinese immigrant who speaks with a very thick accent and an imperfect grasp of English grammar.  Due to my own ethnicity, I do have a natural inclination towards Asian casting in television, and this is the first time I’ve seem a cast member who will probably require subtitles to understand most of what he says.  With the culture gap, it’s going to be very interesting to see both his own reactions and attitudes in running the race and the  way the two’s relationship will develop along the race.

The first episode featured some pretty amazing setpieces as the teams visited Stonehenge, staged an “assault” on an English castle, and completed tasks next to a jousting tournament in the English countryside.  Some teams flourished while others struggled.  The home shopping network hosts Brook/Claire suffered a mild setback, as a watermelon catapult malfunctioned on Claire, causing the watermelon to slam right back in her face.  She showed her worth by not only picking herself and completing the task, but managing to still finish in 4th.  Few standouts teams emerged in this first episode, but it was nice to see everyone for the most just getting along and having fun.  It seems like a good group this year with a mostly positive energy.  Mallory of the father/daughter team Gary/Mallory was full of spunk and vigor and seemed willing to take on almost any task.  Interestingly enough, I actually managed to predict the first team to be eliminated solely on the introductory packages.  They shut me up in the first few minutes by managing to be the first team to get on the early plane out of the US and to England, but managed to not only squander their trivial lead (only 30 minutes, bad move on the producers’ part) but get completely lost in searching for almost all of their destinations.  Nothing in particular tipped me off that they would be first to be eliminated; I think they just seemed the least interesting team from the introductions and maybe I just wanted them to be the first to leave.  Farewell, Ron/Tony.  You may well have been interesting people, but you were not good racers.

Who I’m rooting for: At this point, the easier question is who am I not rooting for. There are a lot of very likable people on the race this year (although as layers are peeled back, I’m sure we’ll very soon start rooting against more and more teams).  So who am I not rooting for?  Young, dating teams are usually boring and a dime a dozen, but it’s especially easy to root against them when they’re “competitive” douchebags.  So yeah, I’m not rooting for Chad/Stephanie. Also, Nick/Vicki seem nice enough, but bumble around too much.  There are more interesting and capable people to be rooting for (like, uh, almost everyone else at this point).

Who will win: As I mentioned, they seemed to really stack the deck with strong woman/woman teams this year.  It just might be the time for one to finally take the checkered flag.  Of the woman/woman teams in the race, I’d put my money behind female doctors Nat/Kat. They seem able to handle the more athletic tasks of the race, and the fact that they are doctors means they have the ability to focus on the task at hand.



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