The Amazing Race returned last night, and besides bringing back previous teams, the race introduced some new twists. And by new twists, I mean they threw everything they could think of at the teams, all of which managed to dampen the race’s usually unflappable momentum and energy. It seemed to be a response to criticism and/or a desire to up the ante for returning teams by throwing a ton of shit at them in the first leg. But although the season’s tag line of “unfinished business” remains a joke, that’s actually what the first episode gave us.
(Speaking of the tag line, during Phil’s opening monologue, several parts were clearly recorded later and added in post-production, specifically when Phil said “there’s not a winner among you” and “given a second chance, a chance to settle some unfinished business.” That suggests to me that they cast this group and then created this stupid theme.)
The opening challenge, which began with about 43 minutes of Phil Keoghan explaining it (“…and then…, and then…., and then….”), had the potential to end the first episode’s drama immediately. First, there was zero drama about getting to the airport in the 2010 FORD FOCUS BRAND AUTOMOBILES, because the first eight teams to get the right paper airplane were on the first flight, while the last three teams would arrive in Sydney 90 minutes later–making catching up all but impossible in this era of rapid legs with easy challenges. And the last team to complete the first challenge, Amanda and Kris, received an automatic U-Turn, which barring some other colossal screw-up on another team’s part most likely meant that Amanda and Kris were done.
In other words, the episode was nearly over before it began.
What saved it, incredibly, was a man’s heart attack on board the first QANTAS BRAND AEROPLANE, forcing it to make an emergency landing in Hawaii, and allowing the other plane to arrive first. The head start was so significant that the teams on that second place all arrived at the pit stop–er, mat with a shirtless hot Australian surfer guy standing next to Phil–well before the others. (When the episode arrived in Sydney, we were greeted by a man who observant fans recognized as the greeter from season two.)
This was a fantastic but completely unexpected twist, and rescued the episode, and the producers should send that man–who hopefully remains in good health; Big Easy told us the man was okay–a thank-you present.
In Sydney, the challenges were still not quite challenging; that was the one thing that didn’t really change. For the Roadblock, one team member had to swim around a tank with sharks and a sting ray that we were told was the size of a queen size bed, and looked terrifyingly large. Vyxsin had some issue finding her way back to the surface, but otherwise everyone did it quickly. And because of the logistical challenge of filming that, it was hard to tell where anyone was or how challenging this task was, and it dragged on, though I loved watching the massive sting ray menacingly swim over the observation tunnel.
The best part was having to decode their clue, which makes the race more than a bulleted list of things to do. That takes intelligence, patience, and whatever other attributes the cowboys and Globetrotters lack. The Globetrotters were saved by Zev and Justin, who gave them the answer. (With Zev and Justin wearing Harlem Globetrotters t-shirts, I guess that annoying Globetrotters theme music is the only way to tell the two teams apart.) That clue sent them on board sailboats, where boats flipped, which was entertaining and even dangerous; for a few seconds, Jaime and Cara seemed like they were tangled and would be held under water.
After that, the teams made their way to the faux pit stop, where Gary and Mallory won the express pass for checking in first, and Mallory took a while to process the “you’re still racing” and seemed to try to tear her own face off for a brief moment. Vyxsin immediately thought Phil was going to penalize her team (“What did we do wrong?”), but some of the other teams seemed to know what was going on, perhaps because they saw other teams running away instead of going to a pit stop processing area.
Dan Fienberg notes that all of this–the lack of a Detour, the to-be-continued pit stop, and even the possibility of no non-elimination legs (yay!)–was foreshadowed by Phil Keoghan’s very precise language in those opening moments, when, I admit, I kind of zoned out. And then end didn’t wake me up.
While the “you’re still racing” episodes were something I wanted the race to bring back, I don’t think it was necessary in episode one. At the very least, the episode itself shouldn’t have been “to be continued,” and should have continued to 90 minutes, if not two hours, to wrap up the arc for us even as it exhausted the teams. Because without that, the first episode itself felt like a lot of unfinished business because there was so much business thrown at us.