A long, swooping crane shot of... a non-descript gray carpark building heralds the start of another exciting season of The Amazing Race. The camera beelines towards a non-non-descript Phil, who informs us that we're in the city of Stamford, Connecticut. Okay, if you say so, Phil, cos the gray and empty carpark is oh so obvious.
Phil tells us that Stamford is the safest city with population over 100,000, based on FBI figures. Well, my impression of Stamford so far has been an empty carpark and yummy Phil, so I'm all for the low crime figures. May be the citizens don't go out, hence no opportunity for crime. Not sure if the citizens (Stamfordites? Stamfordians?) will feel once we meet our teams. Heh.
This season there are 12 teams, made up of 2 people with an existing relationship (I can't help adding, for how long?) who will jostle, push and trip over each other around the world. The purpose? To look for clues that will being them to the next clue and eventually the prize of $1 million.
Aaaaand here they are, standing in a semi-circle around Phil in the aforementioned empty carpark.
Joyce & Sheila are a pair of perfectly coiffed Mom-like women, dressed it seems a little uncomfortably in sweats and sweatpants. I get the feeling they're more used to twin-sets and pearls, because the part of their attire that totally gave them away? Brand new New Balance sneakers that look like they came straight from the catalog. I was right, they are Moms, and their daughters all go to the same high school ($1 bet that it's a private school) and they are both active members of the PTA, and their dahling daughters encouraged them to go into the race. Yeah, so they can have some Mom-less time and invite all manner of friends for naked orgy parties, come on Moms, get smart. Joyce is the nicer spoken one, she owns an art gallery so is used to flowery language that don't say much. Sheila is a psychologist so she's even more well versed in words that don't say nothing. Check out their bio on the website, Sheila has a book entitled "My Daughter is Gay, Kinky and Has Run Off to Join a Witch Cult, But It's Not My Fault" that was on the NY Times best seller list for 37 weeks. With a title like that, I'd have thought it'll be on the list even longer. Snerk.
Lorne & Cordy are actors from Las Vegas. I have a confession to make, I thought this is an all female team until a little way into the episode when it hit me like a ton of rainbow bricks. Cos I thought Lorne is a sister, with his immaculate make-up (yes, makeup, really) and even more immaculate mannerisms. I should have remembered, he was on American Idol and did brilliantly until he tried to out-Barry Barry Manilow on a rendition of Mandy and got the boot from Simon and Paula. All in all they seem like a fun team that comes with sufficient self-deprecating humor to last through to the end.
Snyder & Flutie are school principals and their spin is how different they are. Snyder an army man and strict disciplinarian and Flutie the liberal. I think they're both kinda boring but Flutie redeems himself by doing a little jig during Phil's spiel. Plus the guy owns a pig farm! How pudgy. They say that dealing with the pressures of looking after hundreds of school children have prepared them for the race. Somebody puh-lease tell them that racing around the world and telling a bunch kids to shut up are different kettles of fish. Their age and general state of unfitness may prove to be their downfall.
Xander & Anya are pirates. Heh, sorry, can't help it. Xander has an eyepatch, due to an industrial accident from another eon. Now he and his wife own a franchise of photo development stores in California. Anya opines that she is the driving force of their relationship, and I believe her 200%. When she was waxing lyrical about how intense and competitive she is, Xander just grins and nods. I don't think it was an accident that he sat with his bad eye on her side either, sneaky sneaky Xander!
April & Andrew are a cute looking Young Dating Couple, she with shiny straight brown hair and he's got that blonde shaggy look going. They used to both date the same guy, though they didn't say whether it was at the same time. You never know, kids nowadays. Anyhow the shadow of that guy, who we learn is called Warren, obviously still looms high because he is all they talked about on their clip. I mean, I'm sad and all cos he died of an overdose, but this is a race with April & Andrew, not April, Andrew & Warren. I hope they get rid of the baggage, stat.
Darla & Angel are divorced parents. Haven't we had one of this already, in the form of Frank and Margarita? Darla and Angel combined don't have a fraction of Frank's snark factor, so I fear for their future straightaway. Angel is a lawyer and Darla bakes cakes. Yawn, I've run out of things to say about them already.
Buffy & Riley are billed as Olympians. Unless you've been hiding under a very large rock you will know that they are the biggest sports celebrity couple, like, ever. Bigger than Lleyton and Kim (who've broken up anyway, plus they're foreigners) or Anna and Enrique (he's not in sports so he doesn't qualify). Since the end of the Olympics, they've been a little low key, so they're probably missing the attention. That, or a combination of her endorsement deals and his new status as ESPN ambassador don't pay enough and they need the million bucks. Definitely the team most photogenic and knows exactly how to play the camera. I hate them already.
Ben & Glory are the first different gender twins we've had on TAR. They want to be different, in fact so desperate are they to forge their own identity that they... appear on a TV program as a team of two, dressed in identical white outfits. Are their clothing interchangeable? Time will tell. Just so you viewers don't get confused, Ben is the one in white with shorter hair and Glory also in white but with longer hair. Oh, and they're different sex. Really? Really. Duh.
Rupert & Randy are father and son who haven't spoken to each other for ages. If I were Randy I wouldn't speak to Rupert either, unless to ask him what drugs he was hopped up on when he came up with 'Randy'. Rupes says that underneath the mild mannered history professor is an intense maniac waiting to come out. Okay, grand-dad, noted. Randy doesn't say much, he sucks his cheeks in a lot, may be he took the wrong turn from a Manhunt audition and wandered onto TAR instead.
Willow & Tara (not to be confused with Wil and Tara from TAR2) are the obligatory gay couple (Chip & Reichen or the Guidos anyone?) but the twist is that they're not Out and are trying to decide if they should date. A word of advice ladies, a nationally broadcast reality show may not be the best place to come out of the closet, especially if at the end you decide to go back inside. Willow's got this intense nerdy look commonly found in people with astronomically high IQs and Tara looks like she'd much rather stay home and cook for the kids. But I must say they are the Young Dating-ish Couple with the most chemistry in this race so I'll definitely keep a close eye on them.
Faith & Robin are another YDC, their story is that they're from opposite sides of the tracks. I don't get how opposite fitness instructor and fast food restaurant manager are, they're both extremely fit, as seen from their clip which showed them eating up some heavy looking gym equipment. He wants commitment, she doesn't. Uh-oh. Oh, and she's white, he's black, but nowadays how controversial is that? Nada, that's what.
Adam & Oz are roadies who list a slew of famous people they've worked with. Ignore who they've worked with, I simply can't get past how overwhelmingly Abbot & Costello this duo is. Adam is like, 9 feet tall and Oz is shorter than the shortest hobbit, I wonder how they work on stage. May be Adam lifts Oz up on his shoulders when the band needs to fix the lights, thereby making a huge saving on ladders, I dunno. Both seem to want to out-do the other in the stoic department and their interview was over very quickly. They have brawn to spare, the question is how much brain do they have?
Now we're back on Phil and he does the usual "Everybody ready? GO!!!" wave and lean and teams run across the carpark towards their backpacks. I'm bummed out cos he didn't do the eyebrow pop. Why are you torturing me, Phil? We're getting a lot of mileage out of the carpark, how much have they donated in sponsorship money again?
Riley and Robin are the first to reach their backpacks and clue. The sound of ripping envelopes echo around the carpark. Rip, rip, rip goes the paper. The clue tells them to find the restaurant that was converted from a bank, find their seat in the Board Room where their next clue will be. When I heard Board Room I had to pinch myself to remind me that I'm watching TAR, not The Apprentice and the Donald wasn't going to show up to fire anybody at the end. Stay out of our show, Donald!
The clue also comes with a small Stamford map, which the teams stare at with their best imitation of the evil eye in the hope it will tell them more. Doctor Ben notices that they're on Bell Street and behind them is Bank Street. May be the former bank is there? Everyone rushes off. Hmm, that's a good guess Ben, but it may still come back and bite you in the ass.
At the white bank-like building on Bank Street, we see that Doctor Ben's guess is indeed right. Sighs of relief all around, and the loudest? Ben's. I imagine those sighs could have been screams of pain as he's beaten to a pulp by the mob had his guess not have been right.
Everyone tries to trample over each other to reach the Board Room, which turns out to be a private dining room on an upper floor. Racers take a tiny placeholder with their names on it from around the table and run downstairs to get the clue from the bartender.
The clue tells them to head over to the world's largest trading floor, the size of 2 football fields, where millions of dollars are traded each day on stocks, bonds and foreign exchange. They have to find how the Dow Jones, Nikkei and FTSE opened and closed on the last trading day and write the correct numbers down on a settlement slip in exchange for the next clue. Again everyone does their impression of headless chickens, until the waitress tells them that they want the UBS building.
More running towards an impossibly large office building next to the I-95. That's interesting, usually at the beginning of the season the racers immediately head off for the airport and places afar. Nice to see them still on the ground, so to speak. Ben & Glory, Adam & Oz, Buffy & Riley and Faith & Robin arrive first and take the elevator to the aforementioned trading floor. It must be an off day for the million dollar deals cos the place is completely empty. Then again it's probably the weekend and the staff's been cleared out.
They head towards a section that's been cordoned off and start to work on the computers. If I were in charge of UBS I'd put a physical as well as technological firewall between those machines to make sure their trading systems don't get corrupted by clueless racers. I might even disinfect them and with more than just bleach.
The rest arrive soon after and we see them all huddled on their terminals like high school students trying to hack into their grades. April asks Andrew what's the Nikkei, only she pronounces it like 'Nikki' and he shrugs. Lorne & Cordy look completely baffled. Anya is waving her mouse round furiously. However it's Willow & Tara who finish first, and they bring their slip to a banker-looking person who hands them their next clue.
"Those computers have internet so it looks like most people looked there, but the terminals also have Reuters so I just looked it up there. Took less than 5 minutes," Willow interviews with a smug expression. Tara looks on in awe.
The clue tells them to pick up marked cars and drive themselves to JFK, where they are to fly to London Heathrow and then to drive to someplace called Norwich in East Anglia. Gotta love those cute English names. Again, a little map of England is provided, what's with the spoonfeeding? They have a choice of American, United and British Airways. The BA flight, with only 3 sets of seats, leaves first at 18.30, then the United flight, with another 3 sets of seats, half an hour later. The AA flight, for the remaining 6 teams, leaves almost 1 hour after the United flight and arrives 1 hour 15 minutes behind the BA flight. Before you say anything, I've done my math, I know it catches up 15 minutes.
WillTara gets in the first car and gleefully drives off. Little do they know about the amazing bunching game. I rub my hands even more gleefully.
Next to finish are the TallShort team of Adam & Oz, the fitness fanatics, father & son and the twins. Then everyone else who isn't DarlingAngel or the actors, who are still baffled. They all rush to their cars and zoom off.
In their car, Buffy is busy giving directions to her hunk, she says that she's a native New Yorker so she has local knowledge no other teams has. She forgets that R.Randy also live in this neck of the woods and are driving intently towards the airport. You should know your competition a little better, Buffster.
R.Randy, TallShort and the twins arrive at the airport and hop onto the shuttle. That's 3 teams, and only 2 BA tickets are left. Yay, I gloat. R.Randy and TallShort reach the BA counter first and get their tickets, the twins are dejected, and have to run to the other side of the terminal to the United desk. They're lucky BA and United share a terminal, cos JFK connections? Suck. R.Randy and TallShort join WillTara, who watch in dismay as their lead is stripped away.
Other teams are still in their cars, various intonations of "let's go" are flung liberally about. The Pirates, having parked their car, are having an argument in the shuttle, and boy Anya is one loud b*tch. Xander suggests going to the first stop on the shuttle, which happens to be Terminal 8, but the map says the earlier flights are at Terminal 7. Anya points out that little snippet of information but Xander doesn't seem to grasp that terminals at JFK are not connected. Did I mention JFK sucks? This frustrates Anya and she shouts at him, "You have to decide which airline first, they're in different buildings!"
Evidently they decide wrong cos next thing we see are the Pirates at the American desk. We cut to the United boarding gate, where we see the twins, WorkoutDuo and America's Golden Couple.
The others board the American flight. But wait! Where's DarlingAngel? We cut back to the computer room and we see them still trying to figure out how to use Internet Explorer. Get Firefox, babes! We pan out and see the empty trading floor. Uh-oh, they're falling behind, and the flight is leaving any minute. Hurry, hurry, hurry!
Somehow they manage to get the information and they run like bunnies towards their car. Darla, in a rare moment of recklessness, tells Angel that he's gotta step on it, break any rule, cos it's now or never. Angel has this skeptical look, he's probably calculating the odds of being caught, and how they might take away his license and he can't practice the law and the income that he stands to lose. He drives on grimly.
All's well, they get on the American flight. Those flights leave early evening, and the race started in the morning, I figure the teams started the computer challenge early afternoon. Even if DarlingAngel are incompetent, they would have had enough time to finish well in time to get to the airport. Gimme a break, Amazing Editors.
We follow the Amazing Yellow, Red and Blue Lines as they race each other from New York to London. I wish they'd put a little 'whoosh' sound effect, but all they have is canned hurry-up music. Bleh.
It's early in the morning in London, England as the BA flight arrives. TallShort emerge first, they get the first 'Currently in First Place' tag this season as they reach their marked car. Adam tries gallantly to squeeze his gigantic frame inside a tiny space between the steering wheel and the seat. I'm fearing a pattern here. Rupert drives this leg for his team, hey! it's not fair to have someone who lived in England for 10 years driving, um, in England, he isn't freaked out by traffic coming at him from the wrong side. He's understandably confident of where he's going, "We're driving from Heathrow to Norwich, let's hope we don't run into traffic on the M25, otherwise it's a nightmare. It'll take more than 3 hours," he lectures.
WillTara have decided to follow him. "Rupert lived in England, so we figured out he knows the way. We worked out the route on the map anyway, though it's a bit daunting, we've never driven outside the US," says Tara, blushing a little when she says 'we', ahhhh let's hear it for the lovebirds.
Back at the airport, the Moms have trouble figuring out how to work the clutch. "I haven't driven stick since I was 17," Sheila laughs. I reserve the right to interpret this an a double entendre. Others with auto trouble include the actors and, guess who, DarlingAngel. They're not having the best of luck this leg are they.
We see the frontrunners arriving at Norwich, presumably 3 hours have passed. Randy runs into the first pub they see and asks for the Mustard Shop, where their next clue is hidden. Turns out they can't drive through so they abandon their car at a pedestrian zone and run. They reach the clue first.
The Lovebirds have lost R.Randy on the way and are trying to negotiate a difficult looking one way system. Luck is with them when they stumble across a tourist information center and get instructions. They too get the clue.
In short succession, WorkoutDuo, TallShort and America's Golden Couple get the clue from the Mustard Shop. Then comes the twins, Pirates, AAbot and the Principals. They retrieve the clue and scupper off. What seems like a while later the Actors, DarlingAngel and the Moms show up in slow succession.
Now is time for the Detour. We break momentarily from craziness as Phil explains a Detour is a choice between 2 tasks, each with its pros and cons. In this Detour, teams have to choose between Crab Fest and Turkey Breast. In Crab Fest, teams drive 23 miles to Cromer, find a famous crab supplier and work together to remove the flesh from enough cooked crabs to fill 2 empty crab shells, in a process known as dressing a crab. In Turkey Breast, teams drive 11 miles to a famous local turkey factory and help the workers remove 30 turkey breasts from carcasses before turning them into funny-shaped children's food.
R.Randy and the Lovebirds go for the turkey, as do WorkoutDuo and TallShort. America's Golden Couple decide to go for the crab, as Buffy explains, "We didn't want to handle raw food, it's gross." The second group succumb to peer pressure and all go for the crab. DarlingAngel too. But the Actors and the Moms go for the turkey. I have these little slips of paper with the teams to help me remember where they are and it turns out to be a 50:50 split. Karma, I tell ya.
We cut between teams tearing out raw turkey meat and other teams tearing out crab meat. This is a crap challenge, if you ask me (*groan*). There's no skill involved, and the teams get the stuff all over the floor, the table and themselves. To paraphrase Buffy, it's gross.
Turkey seems to be quicker and most teams make short work of their task, even though I can't say that for the state of the room they're in. Ever tried ripping the breast meat that's still attached to the breast bone? It's not that hard, but there's a lot of slimy entrails and skin parts and bone, yeah it's pretty disgusting, now I understand why butcher's have sawdust on their floors.
Getting the crabmeat out appears to be much harder, cos the teams have to use delicate looking metal implements. Most of them keep losing the meat and the shells fill up very slowly. Anya whines about how fruitless the task is, "My fingers stink of fish, people will start to think I have an unhealthy obsession with myself, no amount of soap is gonna get the smell out now." I'm surprised CBS let that comment through, may be they're too dumb to get the hidden meaning, I dunno.
Despite the whining, Team Pirates are doing well, as are AAbot and America's Golden Couple. The principals, on the other hand, can't seem to get to grips with the task, they can't figure out how to use the pick and the nutcracker properly. I guess dressing crabs isn't on the school curriculum, huh. Snyder is getting impatient, as they watch other teams fill up their first crab. "Come on, come on, you're not doing this right," he kept muttering to Flutie. Flutie tries to bite his tongue but he really is making a meal of this, he's not getting any meat out. When he tries breaking a claw with the nutcracker, it slips and he just can't get it working. He looks like he's on the verge of tears. Snyder isn't helping, all he's doing is impatiently pushing his team-mate with snide muttered remarks. Shut up Snyder. Finally he snaps and Flutie looks on in shock as Snyder grabs a claw and flings it against the wall, "This is stupid!" he yells.
Most of the turkey teams get their next clue, as well as the early crab crew. It tells them to get into their cars again, drive to the Norfolk Broads and look for a boatyard where they will get their next clue.
It's a Roadblock. This is unusual cos the first leg often doesn't have Roadblocks, they spend so much time introducing the teams they run out of airtime. But hey, I'm not complaining.
In this Roadblock racers have to choose a marked motorboat and navigate it through the Broads, which turn out to be the name for a series of rivers, all they have is a hand drawn map that looks suspiciously simple to me. When they reach the "X" as marked on the map, they will receive their next clue.
Randy, Willow, April and Ben take the Roadblock for their team, they're neck and neck. Meanwhile, some of the crew from the crab farm have arrived, Riley and Xander run and grab their respective boats. Xander, in particular, look every inch a pirate in his boat. He gloats. But not for long, it's not as easy to navigate cos the map isn't as clear, there's much scratching of heads.
Meanwhile Robin, Joyce and Oz hurry to their boats. They leave. It's a big mess, everyone's bunched up and the blurriness clouds my vision. No particular team has definite advantage, it's like recapping a race run by a flock of goats. They don't talk a lot either. Where's the bickering? The tantrums? The ridiculous hats?
I'm on the point of not caring, last to arrive are the actors, principals and DarlingAngel. Just get on with it.
Chug chug chug, down the rivers the merry boats go. I seriously think about washing my hair, emptying the litterbox, balancing my checkbook. Anything. Please.
Meanwhile on the river, aggressive Riley passes Willow, April and Ben. He has Randy in his sight as they approach the routemarker at the bank of the river. Its obviousness belied by the other team members standing around waiting and screaming and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
Randy docks his boat. Riley, attempting to bypass the quay altogether and to gain on Randy, steers his boat towards the riverbank. We cut to a shot of Buffy looking incredulous as she shouts, "Riley, be careful!" He ignores her and even before the boat stops, takes a big jump. May be he's used to launching himself from the starting block of the pool, but he badly misjudges the distance. He barely reaches solid ground and before our very eyes, does a credible impersonation of a belly flop and wild grab as he slips on the wet grass and ends up in the river.
Buffy looks on in shock and runs off to help him. Luckily he's water resistant and manages to scramble back onshore. That was a very smart move (not!), so worthy of a gold medal winner. Guess what? He loses even second place.
Randy is first to get the clue, which tells them to drive towards Sandringham Castle, find the Old Father Time Statue which is the Pitstop for the first leg. The last team to arrive will be eliminated. I wonder how the cars got from where they parked to get on the boat to here, someone on the forum suggests the other team member drove them there, which sounds sort of right.
R.Randy zooms off, hotly pursued by the twins, the pirates, a wet Riley & Buffy, the lovebirds and AAbot.
Phil strolls along neatly trimmed paths in the most magnificent park I've ever seen. He tells us we're in Sandringham, built in 1870 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, later to become King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The estate is now the country retreat of Her Majesty the Queen. Wow, if this is just the teeensy vacation home, imagine what their other homes are like.
Rupert and his son are sailing through this leg and they arrive first, take one look at the large map at the Visitor's Center and are off. Welcome to Sandringham, Rupert & Randy, you're the first team to arrive. They have the advantage of knowing the country, let's see how they do when the race leaves England.
The Pirate and his Wench arrive. You're team number two, Anya looks annoyed but Xander has a goofy grin that instantly endears him to my little heart.
Meanwhile the principals and the Moms dock their boats and head towards their cars.
The twins check-in as team number three, they hug and congratulate each other on a race well run. "We're going places!" enthuses Ben.
Faith, Robin, Willow, Tara, Buffy and Riley arrive together. High fives and group hugs all around. They interview that they are the young, strong teams and they're gonna try to pool resources and try to stick together. Let's hear it for the fledgling YDC alliance.
Adam & Oz and Lorne & Cordy are teams number seven and eight respectively.
Elsewhere, April & Andrew, who got off the boat in the first group, have taken a wrong turn and find themselves in the middle of nowhere. "Should we ask someone?" asks April. I don't think I'm being mean when I say Andrew's answer is so typical of a guy's. "It's okay, I'll find it." Why, why, why? What's so bad about asking someone, especially if that someone is a local and knows the area better than you?
DarlingAngel docks their boat. They're very behind, what happened on the river?
Snyder & Flutie are team number nine. They collapse on the beautiful manicured grass belonging to HM the Queen, looking like they're going to die of exhaustion. Come on principals, you can't have your kids seeing you like this.
Joyce & Sheila are team number ten. "We have to do better, the other teams are young, aggressive and strong. We have to find our inner Amazons, otherwise we'll get creamed," Joyce interviews, sounding more like encouragement for herself. Doesn't Sheila have a book for motivating yourself during a relentless race around the world?
AAbot are still driving around, finally April has her way and they stop at a gas station for directions. They have difficulty with the accents but get their information through the universal language of pointing and drawing on paper. "I couldn't understand them, were they speaking English? They sound foreign," she asks when they get back into the car. April, oh April, you're in England, I'd wager the locals were wondering if you are the foreigner, which you are.
We cut from AAbot to DarlingAngel, with Angel driving grimly. When does he not drive grimly? Who will get to Phil first? Who, who, who?
We get the tension inducing first person shot of someone running towards Phil. And it's April & Andrew, you're team number eleven. They share a pat and a little peck. I'm not getting any romantic vibes off these two, they seem more like siblings than dating, their body language around each other is just not as fluid as the other YDCs. A bit robotic, if you ask me.
Darla & Angel park their car and steps up to the mat. They're the last team to arrive and are Philminated.
"We got behind in the first challenges and couldn't seem to catch up. It's kind of frustrating because we know we could have gone much further if we were able to gain some ground. It's not to be," he says.
"We're still good friends. Our lives aren't completely together anymore, like it used to be when we were married, but I wouldn't have wanted to experience this with anyone else," she adds.
Oh how I miss you Darla, and you Angel. What's your name again?
Teaser for Episode 2
The older folks enjoy an exhibit of pictures.
Shot of Adam picking fruit off a tree, Oz grinning in the background as he jumps and tries unsuccessfully to grab an overhanging branch.
Shot of Willow and Tara licking cherry juice off each other's fingers.
The principals have car trouble, steam can be seen from under the hood and behind Snyder's head. Uh-oh.
Meanwhile in the supermarket, it's trolley jam!