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The Amazing Race: “The Kindness Of Strangers”

Illustration for article titled iThe Amazing Race/i: “The Kindness Of Strangers”
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That totally inconspicuous Amazing Race bus making its way down the Pacific Coast Highway can only mean one thing: Phil Keoghan is somewhere nearby, performing his eyebrow warm-up exercises. That, and it’s time to meet the 11 teams that will soon be yelling at foreign taxi drivers for not being able to speak English. They are:

  • Andy and Tommy, professional snowboarders. Henceforth known as the Dudez.
  • Ethan and Jenna, the winners of Survivor: Africa and Survivor: Amazon, respectively, and dating for seven years. Ethan beat both cancer and Big Tom!
  • Ernie and Cindy, dating couple. She’s a control freak.
  • Justin and Jennifer, brother and sister. She’s a hothead.
  • Laurence and Zac, father and son. One has an accent, one sailed around the world.
  • Bill and Cathi, grandparents. They’re probably toast.
  • Liz and Marie, blonde twins who can communicate with their minds, but yell at each other a lot anyway.
  • Jeremy and Sandy, another dating couple. Apparently, they were in this episode, but I don’t remember them.
  • Ron and Bill, domestic partners and flight attendants. Pan Am counter-programming.
  • Amani and Marcus, married couple. He’s a former NFL player for the Colts. Sunday Night Football counter-programming.
  • Kaylani and Lisa, Vegas showgirls. They claim to have big brains in addition to big boobs. Remember that, as it may be important later.

Phil greets the teams at a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles and presents them with their first challenge, a word puzzle that must be solved using letters on umbrellas. In a suspicious bit of post-production overdubbing, Phil informs us that the last team to depart will have to complete an additional task called the Hazard. Teams appear to be grabbing umbrellas more or less at random, although the Dudez have a strategy of looking for vowels. (It doesn’t appear that the teams actually have to solve the puzzle, “Taipei, Taiwan,” just find the right letters.) Once teams have the right umbrella, they get a key to a product-placed car. You’ll never believe it, but Team Boobs ‘n Brains is the last to depart.

But that’s not all! While stopped at a gas station to get directions to LAX, one of them—I’m not sure if it was Boobs or Brains, because they’re all still so new to me—loses her passport. They proceed to LAX anyway, but all hope seems lost before they really get started. In a fortuitous turn of events that is sure to leave conspiracy theorists scratching their chins, they are paged by a couple of guys who found their passport at the gas station and, after a flurry of Twittering, figured out that the gals were Amazing Racers who desperately needed it back. (Or, you know, they were TAR interns. But I’m sure that’s not the case.)


Eight teams take the first flight, while the remaining three—Liz and Marie, Kaylani and Lisa, and Bill and Cathi—are stuck with a slightly later one. Their next clue awaits in a busy city square and gives me hope that this will be a more challenging season than we’ve seen of late. Teams have to figure out that the clue is on an electronic billboard, which might not seem that confusing, except that everything in the area from hats to underpants appears to be colored red and yellow. This clue leads to a Roadblock at a temple, where one member of each team must memorize a Confucian proverb and repeat it exactly to a monk. It seemed as if most racers were learning the proverb phonetically, rather than actually thinking about its meaning, which might have made it easier. In any case, most every racer has trouble with the task, none more so than the blonde twin, whose psychic powers prove useless in this case.

All of this might have been a bit more suspenseful if not for the (literally) clueless older couple, who spend the second half of the episode wandering aimlessly around Taipei, occasionally glancing up or taking an elevator ride in a tall building. The first team to arrive at the Pit Stop, and therefore the winner of the Express Pass, is dating couple Ernie and Cindy. Despite having to perform the Hazard task, bungee jumping in the middle of a mall, Team Boobs ‘n Brains makes it to the mat in ninth place, followed by the Psychic Twin Network. To no one’s surprise, the perfectly nice but race-challenged grandparents are the last to arrive. But there’s a twist! A really stupid twist! This is non-elimination leg, so they’re still alive, but next week there will be a double elimination. Come on, Phil, why prolong the agony?


Well, maybe I’m wrong, and Bill and Cathi will stage an inspiring comeback. At least the Race is off to a reasonably exciting start, despite this week’s seeming foregone conclusion and the dubious twist at the end. There wasn’t much time to get to know most of the cast, but that’s usually the case in Race premieres. Next week will probably give us a much better sense of the season to come, but for now, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Stray observations:

  • “In all things, success depends on previous preparation, and without such previous preparation, there is sure to be failure.” I think Confucius has seen this show before.
  • Jenna: “We’re not telling anyone we were on Survivor.” Uh, Jenna? You know that was televised, right?
  • The editors are already having fun with the Dudez. Loved the faux-Bob Marley music at the temple, along with the pan to the burning incense.
  • Those Phil videos in the cars made me think about how nerve-wracking it would be if Phil was the voice of my GPS. I’d always feel like I was in race mode.

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