The Amazing Race 33 will be a season like no other, thanks to the 1.5 year gap in the middle of the season, and the changes that followed. But the big surprise is that before the pandemic shut down production, it was already a very different season.
I thought I’d accidentally started watching Big Brother, because we met the teams in their homes, pretending to be surprised when they got a message saying they were on The Amazing Race, in case they missed the giant clue: the camera crews standing there filming them.
And then came the biggest change of all: Phil Keoghan delivered his iconic line—”the world is waiting for you, travel safe, go!”—via mobile phone.
Call me old-fashioned, but I love that swooping crane shot and the racers running off. At the very least Phil could have taken his phone and swooped it over his head, perhaps using a ring light and that song from TikTok.
What this really meant was that the production booked flights for everyone and they were all equalized in London, effectively starting the race there.
I’m watching this season with a renewed sense of appreciation for what it takes to produce the series, because of this, and remembered that back in season one, after the start in Central Park, the crew suddenly realized that the teams were ahead of them.
I also wondered if perhaps it was cheaper to start this way than to assemble the cast and crew in an American city and just immediately fly them somewhere else.
The more I thought about it, I vastly prefer this to what happened during season 31’s premiere: multiple challenges that became meaningless because of the first-flight equalizer.
TAR 33 starts with two episodes in London
The premiere was effectively two episodes smashed together, one at night and one during the day, ending with a keep-racing pit stop on a double-decker bus that sent the teams on to Glasgow for episode three, where the race will stop for 1.5 years.
Earlier, at the start of the premiere, Phil first appeared from a beach to let the casual viewers know that what we’re seeing in these first episodes was filmed pre-pandemic, though I’d bet there’s at least one anti-masker or COVID denier who watched and was convinced all that actually happened last week instead of two years ago.
I thought watching teams navigate the world, or being in crowds umasked, might send me hyperventilating into a paper bag, but instead it was just really wonderful and joyful to see all of this, like talking to—and hugging!—strangers.
Besides helpful strangers, the TAR 33 teams also encountered some wildly creative challenges, ranging from darts to find-a-person.
They also really struggled in London with translating the language, and with basic geopolitical facts, like that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “blonde and fat,” as a cab driver explained to Akbar and Sheridan.
Some of the teams started to melt down immediately, like Lulu and Lala, sisters who I didn’t even know were on the race until they were in almost-last place, which was a good sign that Michael and Moe, singing cops from Buffalo, were the first eliminated team instead.
Akbar was also not thrilled with his wife Sheridan’s speed (“slow and steady,” she said; “no, that’s losing steady”, he said), and then he was like, we’re division one athletes, and Sheridan was like uh that was 22 years ago.
Connie and Sam were behind, and Sam said, “I need you to pick up your pace when you’re running so I can see you from the good side,” which I don’t really understand but did the opposite of endearing me to him. But then those crafty editors showed us that Sam adopted a high school kid and my heart melted a little bit.
Among the teams are people who’ve done some incredible things:
- Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone, who heroically helped to stop a terrorist on a train and then played themselves in The 15:17 to Paris, a Clint Eastwood movie about those events
- Ryan Ferguson, who was wrongly convicted of murder and spent a decade in prison, and now advocates for the wrongfully convicted (and also hosted MTV’s Unlocking the Truth)
- Kim and Penn, who “make weird family videos for a living.”
Oh, I kid “Internet personalities” Kim and Penn, and they’ve suffered enough having that as their TAR title.
They also a pep talk from Phil when they arrived at the first mat: “Please kick some ass because we can’t have all young people winning all the time.” Phil told Kim and Penn, who are 45 and 47, which sounds like they are very young people to me, Mr. Keoghan!
I’d like to petition the producers of The Amazing Race to start requiring teams to wear shirts with their names on them, or at least name tags, especially same-sex teams that look identical. I do not know who is Lulu or who is Lala, because they are actual twins, and likewise I do not know who is Taylor and who is Isaiah, and they are a married couple who just look like twins, eek.
Here are some of my favorite moments from the episode (if I missed your favorite, share in the comments below!):
- “The challenge is to see how well we overcome obstacles,” Caro said, and I went 😬 because this Love Island couple didn’t stay a couple once the pandemic started.
- “That’s gotta be Big Ben. It’s a big-ass clock!,” either Raquel or Cayla said. When their next task instructed them to look for a bobby, Raquel said, “Maybe there will be a statue in front that says Bobby,” which is better than Cayla’s guess, which is that they were looking for a “bobby pin.”
- Sam was also confused by bobby and wandered London screaming “Bobby!” as if he was Whitney Houston on a reality TV show.
- Connie tried to explain: There’s no person named Bobby.” Then, when they accidentally stumbled across the costumed police officer, Sam said, “Bobby. How you doing, Bobby? Told you it was a person.”
- The Detour of “Artist Den” versus “Digiben,” seemed pretty easy on the surface. Digiben was literally just finding three people. But walking and translating English into English presented quite a challenge. “Artist Den” was a puzzle that the teams didn’t know was a puzzle, so some of them just glued pieces to the wall.
- “Nobody wants to work today, huh?” Anthony said when a cab wouldn’t pick him up. Just wait until 2021 when we all realized what a fucking sham work is!
- The first roadblock, Mail Rail, took one person on a cute little mail train ride, where they had to sort through a box of mail to find an Amazing Race clue, which, surprisingly, looked exactly like an Amazing Race clue. Raquel found it in 15 seconds, and got on the train and left. Penn, who was working with Ray, found his, and said “here’s the clue.” Then he added: “it can’t be that easy, right?” Then he and Ray spent 30 minutes second-guessing themselves and sorted through letters as if they were working on a Hoarders crew. Ray helpfully punched holes in boxes, while Penn gave the editors lots of great material: “If we’re wrong, we’ve wasted a ton of time.”
- The second detour was either darts (both team members had to hit a bullseye in just three tries) or cake decorating (decorate two cakes with flags from EU countries). A bunch of teams chose cake decorating despite not knowing, you know, anything. Raquel and Cayla decided to decorate the UK’s flag, and Cayla later insisted she knew about Brexit, just not that it’d happened yet—which, fair, it took forever, though not as long as it took for them to figure out what a bobby was.
- Anthony insisted to Spencer that he knew Norway was in the EU, which it is not, and presented very convincing evidence: “I have a jacket that has that flag on it, that’s how.”
- Caro was frustrated with Ray about the mail situation, and he said, “Next Roadblock, you execute in two minutes, got it.” Caro told him, “You’re so rude,” and then confessed to us, “I’ve never seen him in a stressful situation.” You mean Love Island doesn’t provide a thorough, meaningful way to find a partner?!?” Someone please inform Bobby of this news.