The Amazing Race 17 got off to a good start last night, and I mean that literally and figuratively. That the race began somewhere other than Los Angeles was a welcome change (Gloucester, Mass., to be specific), and I’m willing to forgive the lack of a Detour and the fact that besides a clue pick-up, everything took place at the same location, because there were some good moments along the way.
It introduced a new twist, the Express Pass, which Phil explained would go to the team that checked in first, who “can use it at any time before or during a challenge that you don’t want to complete.” I really like that idea, but I think it’d be more interesting to give every single team an Express Pass and see what happens. Would they be eliminated without using it? Would every team skip the same difficult challenge?
Like most first episodes, there seem to be lots of teams. Just as people start to check in, you realize that there are half a dozen teams who haven’t even found their way to the first clue yet. In this case, those teams didn’t seem to have much of a clue. This season seems to be split among high-energy, big-personality teams and low-key, take-your-time teams. I like most of those teams, but they’re going to get steamrolled if they don’t pick it up.
I suppose it’s fitting that the 17th season began 17 minutes late. Even though CBS allowed for 30 minutes of football overrun, it wasn’t enough, thus forcing me to be subject to Andy Rooney’s lunacy once again. Once he shut up, the teams got to open their mouths and say hilarious, frustrating, and ridiculous things for me to make fun of. Yes, there’s nothing I enjoy more than making fun of the mistakes people make under intense pressure and stress, so here we go:
- As we learned about the teams, home shopping channel host Brook babbled, “we’re such great communicators.” I don’t know how she’d know that anyone else was communicating since she never ever shuts up. Ever.
- Chad introduced himself by saying, “I’m going to ask Stephanie to marry me on the race.” Original! And, of course, that came from half of the most dysfunctional couple on the race. Then again, most of the dysfunction comes from him–except, of course, Stephanie’s decision to be with Chad.
- Phil introduced the Express Pass by saying it is “the most important prize that we have ever given away,” and you could hear the sound of the Travelocity gnome falling over dead.
- Ron and Tony arrived first at the airport, looking all athletic in their moisture-wicking shirts. I love how Ron’s shirt was about 15 sizes too small for him, causing his gut to hang out, even though he is a self-described “big fat guy.”
- Brook is nothing if not supportive, telling Claire, “it’s okay, barf. Puke in the trash can.”
- Nat and Kat, the doctors who are one of my favorite teams, have an extra task: monitoring Nat’s diabetes. “She’s an excellent example for diabetics,” Kat said, as Nat pricked her finger and tested her blood sugar while driving a stick shift on the opposite side of the road in England. Impressive.
- I also like Andie and Jenna, who have basically spent no time together because they were recently reunited after Andie gave Jenna up for adoption at birth. Jenna is extremely supportive of her birth mother: “You did a really good job,” she told Andie, even though Andie said she “forgot the part about taking your foot off the clutch” and ground their car to a halt. So not a good job at all.
- “I’ve never speed-walked this fast in my life,” Brook said at Stonehenge, demonstrating that she’s both a speed walker and speed talker.
- Vicki confessed, “This is the first time I’ve ever heard of Stonehenge, and I found out it’s a bunch of rocks.” And that was the beginning of us learning that her brain is also filled with a bunch of rocks.
- When a team they were traveling with got a flat tire, Connor and Jonathan, the a capella singing college students, made a smart decision. “We should go ahead. That would be best for us,” Connor said. Although he kind of sounded like Spock when he said that, at least they didn’t fret over hanging around and waiting.
- The clue at Stonehenge was a veiled reference to the name of a castle (the opposite of nor’easter), but the answer was easily obtained by asking any person nearby. Why can’t the clues be actually challenging? When Ron and Tony learned that they were going to Eastnor castle, they asked a man how many teams he’d seen, and the man basically laughed at them and said “lots and lots.” That was the first of many signs that the two friends were in a lot of trouble.
- At the castle, teams had to climb a ladder (sigh) while having buckets of gross water dumped on them (how Big Brother), and then one of them had to ride on the back of a horse by holding on to its rider (sigh). But the lameness of all of that was forgiven by the final part of the challenge: using a slingshot to knock over a suit of armor with a watermelon.
- Once Claire started the challenge, we knew what was coming. But that made it even more tense because it took her many, many attempts before she was slammed in the face. Incredibly, right before she got hit, Brook told Claire, “right in the kisser, show that knight who’s boss!” And then Claire’s watermelon came back and smashed into her kisser. We saw it four times, and it was so stunning that even the clue-holding court jester hopped down off his ball to come over to see if Claire was okay.
- Brook, of course, was supportive but manic. “You have to finish,” she declared. Claire, speaking for the first time all night that I could remember, said, “What? I can’t even see straight.” Brook replied, “They don’t call it the Amazing Race for nothing.” Clearly, the watermelon hit the wrong person in the face, because it might have stunned Brook into a blissful moment of silence. But the best line from Claire came when she successfully knocked over the armor and screamed, “I made it my bitch!”
- To get to that challenge, teams had to pull themselves across a river in a tiny pea pod-like boat that required balance and teamwork. Of course, Chad and Stephanie failed repeatedly. Chad, however, offered some signs that he will redeem himself, saying the boats “totally humbled me” and that he learned that “looks are deceiving” as the nerdy singers blew past them.
- Jill and Thomas received the Express Pass after landing on the mat first, the first time we saw them during the entire episode. I exaggerate, but not by much.
- Michael and his dad Kevin are another of my favorite teams, but they, too, need to pick it up. In the boat, Michael encouraged his dad repeatedly, which was totally awesome. In an interview, his dad gently but hilariously corrected his son’s attempt to give their team credit, saying, “Kevin, we didn’t figure out what to do. The other team went by.”
- Vicki is at least self-aware about her stupidity. “Oh my god, we’re so dumb. It was right there,” she said after she and Nick couldn’t find the flag they were supposed to carry. Then they stood around looking for a boat while their camera operator repeatedly zoomed in on the pile of boats nearby.
- Teams were instructed to search the grounds for Phil, but there were arrows painted in race colors. Then again, Chad and Stephanie couldn’t find it. After finally finding their way, Chad called the whole first leg “very humbling” and said, “I really do believe that we’re going to grow along this adventure.” And I really do believe that this is what we call foreshadowing and the editors are setting Chad up for his next meltdown.
- Even Phil couldn’t resist mocking Vicki, asking her randomly what country they were in, and then repeating her answer back to her: “That’s right: the country of London,” Phil said, eyebrow at risk of flying off his face.
- Ron and Tony checked in last, unsurprisingly, and were eliminated. Ron said, “I’m blessed enough to have a friend like this.” That’s very nice, though some competence would have been more of a blessing and more useful.