A neutered Amazing Race still manages to be suspenseful as the youngest kids go home

Two hours of The Amazing Race and the teams haven’t even been in to an airport? Welcome to The Amazing Race 8, the Family Edition, which was definitely a watered-down version.

The altered title sequence seemed to confirm rumors about this season, emphasizing both driving and American locations, although I didn’t analyze it frame by frame. Teams started in New York and traveled all the way to, um, Pennsylvania. By Google’s estimation, that’s just 162 miles, and they stayed overnight in Pennsylvania. In his narration, Phil Keoghan did his best to make his lines sound daunting: teams would have to “navigate more than 90 blocks,” he told us. Ooh, 90 blocks. In an SUV.

Still, despite the less-than-spectacular challenges and travel, the race managed to be suspenseful, thanks to the action-packed music and masterful editing. Of course, the TAR editors could create a suspenseful race between a person who died five years ago and a newborn baby.

But there was some true suspense: The team that everyone expected to win, the Linz family, arrived second to last, and nearly got their asses beaten by the team with the youngest kids. That team, the Black family, was eliminated. Earlier, there was even a footrace between two of the teams with kids for second place; the Gaghan Family, which also has younger kids, made it to Phil before another team and placed second.

And as it turns out, four-person family meltdowns are much more exciting than two-person fights, and the youngest kids were fun. As their parents dragged them on an Amish buggy, 12-year-old Billy Gaghan said, “Mom, Dad, I’m proud of you. I’m sorry I couldn’t contribute.” Then his 9-year-old sister Clarissa said, “Get used to it, dork.”

A cameo and biting commentary from first-season racers Kevin and Drew, who only one racer recognized, also provided some comic relief.

But most fun of all was the sexist fundamentalist Christian, Denny Rogers, who was ready to let his all-mighty penis lead the way before the race (“I’m the one that’s going to be taking control. I think it’s a man thing; I think it’s a Biblical thing. I truly believe that the man is the authority of the house.”). But once they got lost, he apparently changed his mind about his God-given right to tell his family what to do, insisting that it was someone else’s job to “be able to know where we are and where we gotta be.”

Sisters Swing into First; Black Family Edged Out [CBS]