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Another exciting season premiere of The Amazing Race!  I’m happy to report that Phil Keoghan’s arched eyebrow is in great shape, and that the TAR Producers are willing to bring out the tricks to keep up the drama of the show, beyond the regular spectacular visuals and instant-world-tour nature of the show.

This season, they’re bringing back the “second” Express Pass concept.  The team that comes in first in the opening leg will win their own Express Pass (which grants the ability to skip any task), as well as a second Express Pass, which the team must give away to another team.  Increasingly on TAR, the Producers are finding ways for teams to affect the outcomes of other teams, and granting the ability to jump ahead to another team creates an interesting dynamic where you help another team, rather than hinder them, which could, in theory, ruin your own prospects on a given leg.

The second stunt that the TAR Producers put in this leg was the “trick” Road Block selection, coupled with a second Road Block in the same leg, where the second teammate must perform a more difficult task.   It’s complicated, but this has the effect of tricking a team into doing what they didn’t want to do, and forcing the team to have the person who opted out of the first (and easier) task to do the second (and more demanding) task.   Keep ‘em coming, TAR Producers, we’ll follow along!

OK, so on to the racing.  This is the first good look at the teams, and here is what we learned, in order of finish on the first leg:

1.  Tim and Marie (Exes)

First, it’s no surprise that this couple is a former couple.  Marie appears to be a very difficult and demanding person, and is using Tim as a proving ground of her view of the world where, “It’s just proof that all that yelling, it works” and, in response to Tim’s assertion that “the nagging and insulting” was unnecessary, her response was “That is what got us here [in first place].”  Note that Marie is not denying that she is yelling, nagging and insulting.  In fact, this appears to be her strategy, both on the race and in relationships.  Good luck with this, Marie!  And Tim – why do you sustain a relationship with Marie?  Is it that you actually want someone to insult, and she provides a good target?  Well, as viewers, we get to try to figure this out together.

The reason this team is in first place isn’t the arguing, but that Tim performed the rowing task adequately.  Sure one can credit Marie’s stealing the cab from Jamal for a few extra minutes, but that isn’t “nagging and insulting” either.  So while this team has lots of physical strength, the “nagging and insulting” strategy seems weak.  However, they are now in the most advantageous position, they have an Express Pass, which will no doubt keep them in the race a long time.  And in the meantime, the most unlikable team has everyone trying to make friends with them to get that second Express Pass.  And they will no doubt argue about whom to give the second one to while picking on one another with line like the following:

“I didn’t know they made voices as shrill as yours.”

“I didn’t know they made them as dumb as you.”

Sigh.

2.  Travis and Nicole (Married Doctors)

This team competently and efficiently got on the first flight, did the parasailing task, got to the second road block first, spoke eloquent Spanish, and then hopped into the taxi and was the “first to arrive” at the Pit Stop.  When Phil used the phrasing “You’re the first to arrive”, Travis was excited, but Nicole must watch the show closely, because she knew something was up.  What you want to hear is “You’re team number 1!”  This highly efficient couple rushed too much at the end of the leg, and didn’t read the clue closely enough, taking the taxi to the Pit Stop instead of going “on foot”, per the clue.  This gave them a 30 minute penalty.   They missed out on the two Express Passes, but have probably learned a lot in a short period of time on how to be even more effective.  I’m guessing that they examined how it happened, and are taking steps to avoid it in future legs.  In the process, they completed the leg, with penalty, with love and affection and support for one another, and 2nd place isn’t too bad for a first leg.   I’m bullish on this team!

3. Rowan and Shane (Queens of Bingo)

In the first episode, Rowan is trying his darndest to provide zany one liners:

“Sally Field The Flying Nun has nothing on me!”

“I drop faster than a Prom dress”

“[While rowing] They don’t call me ‘Rowan’ for nothing”

That, along with some enthusiasm and clean racing (i.e., no mistakes) got them into 3rd.   Neither the quips nor the high finishes seem sustainable, but, then again, does a show called “The Queen of Bingo” seem sustainable?

4. Chester and Ephraim (former NFLers)

These guys seem happy to be on the race and have a good camaraderie.  They were efficient enough to get on the first flight, but didn’t do much to show increased speed over the others in the “top 7 battle”.  Once the competitive juices start flowing, they may kick into a higher gear.

 5. Nicky and Kim (Baseball Wives)

Kim didn’t want to do the parasailing, but the tricky clue forced her into it.  She was fretful and nervous as she prepared, but she also wanted to do her son proud, so she went through with it. I would have liked her to do her son proud by not being fretful, but instead the “overcoming one’s fears” angle will have to do.   More impressive than doing parasailing, however, Kim did the difficult and strenuous rowing task efficiently enough to garner her team a mid-tier finish.

6. Ally and Ashley (L.A. Kings Girls)

Ally and Ashley showed some good competence by getting to the airport in the first group.  But they are from LA, so it would have been a black mark on their record if they didn’t do this.  Of the seven teams who were on the first flight, they finished 6th, so they didn’t show much competitive capability.  They did start flirting with the “Afghanimals”, and this mild flirtation was the closest thing to an “alliance” this episode.  The best moment was when Ashley (at the exact same time as Nicole) pointed out to Leo that they had the wrong guy doing the Road Block.  Given the mildly sexist comments by Leo and Jamal, this was poetic justice.  Keep delivering moments like these, A&A!

7. Leo and Jamal (“Afghanimals”)

The one thing Leo and Jamal did right was get on the first flight. In fact, they were the first to the airline counter!  However, of the seven teams on the first flight, they finished last when it came to racing with tasks.  They were clearly annoyed that they were “beat by girls”, even though this happens all the time in TAR, so they shouldn’t be surprised that this happens once or many times.  And it will happen again.  And the girls who summarily beat Leo and Jamal also helped them enormously by pointing out the one who did the parasailing should also being doing the rowing!   So they should thank the girls for avoiding a certain 4-hour penalty for having the wrong person do the Road Block.  In short, this team is wildly uneven.  They could be great, or they could keep finding ways to mess up.

8. Jason and Amy (Dating)

This couple looks very capable.  It appears that Amy is the brains of the outfit, but Jason seems just as capable. They caught a tough break by not getting on the first flight, so they had to duke it out with the bottom tier teams.  Of these four teams, they finished first.  So that is an accomplishment.  In addition, Amy screamed with delight upon realizing that Jason was the right guy to do rowing task, as he was on crew in prep school.   And he made it look easy while others struggled. At this point, Amy is providing a nice contrast to Marie of what a strong woman can be.  Watch out for this team.

9.  Tim and Danny (Oilmen)

These Oklahomans were out of their element from the start.  It’s always bad news when you resort to pantomiming for directions – in the US.  Don’t try this in other countries – it won’t work there, either.  They were slow to get to the airport, slow to get to the parasailing.  They eventually found their groove and got ahead of two other teams, but I’m concerned that their running commentary on their need for money for their families is putting too much pressure on these guys to win it all, when their skill set at first seems a bit short.  While the odds are good for guy-friends to win it all, they have to be aggressive, smart, have a good sense of direction, and wily, and I didn’t see any of that from them yet.

10. Brandon and Adam (Beards)

The Beards don’t need to be feared at this point.  Brandon didn’t follow instructions well, and mis-launched on the parasailing, putting them behind.  He was also slow (and unlucky) in the rowing task.  They seem like with-it guys who have a lot of eclectic skills, and are up for anything.  But the performance they brought in in the first leg lagged behind almost all others.  Time to step it up!

11. Hoskote and Naina (Father/Daughter)

The TAR Producers set up an interesting narrative where the father insists on an arranged marriage for his daughter, and the daughter shows her express interest in making decisions for herself.   The “father knows best” dynamic has been played before with Ronald and Christina from previous years, and when done well, the daughter shows her capability, the father is surprised and humbled, the two grow closer, and the father less controlling.  In tonight’s episode, “father knew best” by not reading the clue with his daughter, and sat on the sideline saying “I could have done this [rowing task] better than my daughter” when, in fact, he was supposed to do it all along.  Naina figured out the mistake, and it was well into darkness that this team staggered to the mat last place.  The “father knows best” narrative didn’t get to be played out on national TV, so we will just have to wonder – will Hoskote insist on an arranged marriage, or will Naina strike out on her own?

It looks to be another great season of TAR, and thanks for reading!

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