Before The Amazing Race 32 began, Phil Keoghan appeared to explain that this season “was filmed before the discovery of the corσnαvirus,” which is an epic understatement, considering the epic two-year journey that season 32 has taken to arrive on our screens.
But it’s here, and it’s terrific to have it back. And the knowledge that this was filmed in the Before Times allowed me to just relax into watching 22 people run around the world, through crowds, and interact with strangers. It was light and hopeful, even if The Amazing Race itself barely contains a race any more.
Let’s get that out of the way first: The Amazing Race still has incredible cinematography and stunning locations, sure, but it’s been gutted of the game at its core. What once was a blank canvas is now a paint-by-numbers outline. Teams basically run from point A to B, stopping along the way to compete in a challenge or two and have their order shuffled. Here’s another metaphor: it’s a cruise ship excursion, following someone holding a flag, instead of just wandering through a town.
I know 2010 Andy will be shocked that 2020 Andy misses airport intrigue, but I actually do: I miss the time we got to see teams bonding together, and strategizing against one another, gambling with flights and pretending to book two tickets instead of the four they were actually required to get.
Now they just get into pre-booked cabs and onto pre-scheduled flights and go to the next place to check off a box. At best that’s meh and too often it’s zzz, which is disappointing. But that’s what The Amazing Race is now.
This was a much-better start than the Reality Clash season, which had the teams compete in two challenges for no reason at all. And instead of returning to a location we’ve seen before, the race made its first-ever trip to Trinidad and Tobago.
What this season really has going for it are 11 teams who are just delightful to watch. None of them seem awful, in the way that teams can sometimes immediately announce themselves as villains. None have yet let the pressure of the race turn them into monsters.
Even Phil’s preview of “frustrating moments” this season was literally nothing: someone saying “dammit” and someone saying, “I just don’t want this to be the end.” If that’s all they have to tease or preview in terms of drama, we may be in for a really lighthearted season.
The closest the premiere got to pressure affecting a team—and it was not even close at all—was DeAngelo’s frustration that he and his fellow former NFL player Gary made the wrong choice for the very first Roadblock. “He can’t carry a tune in a bucket,” DeAngelo lamented as Gary banged a steelpan with as much grace and precision as bookshelf falling over. But DeAngelo took responsibility (“I screwed us, big time”) and waited patiently, and eventually Gary got it and they were fine.
The biggest surprise was that not everyone was fine: Phil Keoghan’s mat was not a pit stop, but yet another “Route Info” checkpoint. Yet he still also eliminated the last-place team. That felt weird, and it was: The Amazing Race wiki informed me that this was “the first elimination on a no-rest leg in the U.S. edition.”
That meant the elimination of best friends Nathan and Cody. Cody explained, “We’ve become friends from noodling,” and Nathan helpfully explained that their friendship was forged “sticking our hands in holes.” I laughed a lot—especially about my decision just now to leave out the “…and catching catfish” from Nathan’s quotation. I also laughed recalling the short-lived but memorable Hillbilly Handfishin’.
Its first-ever visit to Trinidad and Tobago, the episode had a few moments of character development: Jerry talking about wanting to spend quality time with his son, Frank; Kellie’s dyslexia complicating both the Roadblock and the non-Detour task, which involved wading around trying to unlock combinations on coded, painted fish. But it mostly leaned into comedy.
When Michelle failed her first attempt at playing the steel pan—which they got to do with the instructions right in front of them; they did not have to memorize the notes or sequence—Chee finished in his first attempt.
“He’s Asian; he probably played piano,” Michelle told the camera. Cut to Chee saying, “I want to thank my parents for all those years of piano lessons.”
It was Chee and Hung who also provided the most incredible moment of physical comedy. The teams had to approach the non-pit stop mat while holding the leash of a running goat. Hung slid onto the mat, fell backwards, and her goat kept running, dragging her off the mat.
Phil was immediately concerned that she’d hit her head, but she was just saying, “I’m on the mat! I’m on the mat!”
The goats took most teams on a brief but wild ride, and as they approached him, Phil had to keep shouting in terror, “Let ’em go! Let ’em go! Let ’em go!” So it was pretty fun to see Olympic track stars Kellie and LaVonne outrun their goats for most of their trip to the mat.
After coming in first, and then running to catch a flight to Colombia that probably all the teams will be on, Chee said, “Winning this leg sets a good tone for us. We know what it takes: good communication, don’t get frustrated, and just keep supporting each other, and only good things can happen.”
That seems to be the mantra for this season of The Amazing Race so far, and I hope only good things continue to happen.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the instrument: it’s a steel pan, not a steel drum.