Season Premiere: The Amazing Race Season 16 – “Episode One (Chile)”

“Nanna is Kickin’ Your Butt”

Februrary 14th, 2010

When CBS sends out the season premiere of The Amazing Race to critics, it kind of ruins it.

Not only will this review be infinitely later than Fienberg’s, thus making it at least a tiny bit irrelevant, but their previews of the season (and even the press that Phil Keoghan did ahead of time) also ruined the two surprises that were in store for us. Sure, it’s not a big deal that we knew in advance that the teams would be forced to take public transportation in order to get to LAX from Downtown LA, or that a number of teams would make stupid decisions, but it meant that we knew exactly what we were getting, and thus it feels less “noteworthy.” I doubt it affected my enjoyment of the episode, but it makes writing about it kind of uneventful.

However, I want to highlight a few things about the leg, including both the public transportation and the stupidity, and at least give some sense of what appears to be going down at this early stage in the season.

Last April, I was in Los Angeles, and got around almost exclusively using public transportation. This was, we realized, not something that people normally do, and we never really encountered an overly crowded bus during our excursions. It’s true that the system isn’t the most efficient in the world, and we spent a lot of time on buses we might not have spent otherwise, but it was enormously cheap: considering our accommodations were a single bus ride away from LAX, we paid $1.50 for transportation when a cab would have been about $50, so it makes total sense. However, when you’re in a race, it isn’t as friendly an option as far as I can tell, which made for some nice early scrambling from the teams.

In the end, it didn’t really tell us too much about them, except demonstrating that Jody and Shannon are by far the least competitive team I’ve seen on the race in a long time. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Jody, a grandmother who runs triathalons, isn’t capable of competing, but rather that she doesn’t seem to want to. She chats up other teams while making no efforts to rush, and when they find out they’ll be at least twenty minutes behind there’s not even much disappointment there. As the leg continued, she was inherently positive, honest about her failings and just happy to be there; when they eventually finish 10th, and only because of a team failing at the Roadblock, they’re ecstatic, but only in that the super fun race is going to continue.

It’s why I liked the public transit twist: it shows you which teams are competitive, and which teams are going to try to make their move in a situation where they don’t entirely know what move to make, and where the consequences aren’t particularly severe. It was fitting, almost, that the early flight ended up being delayed, as it meant that it was one big experiment to tell us who was going to be a competitor and who was content to end up on the second flight. The three on the first flight ended up finishing first and second…and last, but I’m more interested in the group that thought they were in the lead but ended up coming up short. They’re the ones that are looking to get ahead, and showed that there are some people who were immediately in the “race” mindset in a way that driving to the airport doesn’t always create. Note also that the disagreement over navigation/directions that usually creates discord within teams was absent here, which made for a more focused opening.

The episode was not amongst the most challenging opening legs after that point: in fact, outside of Adrian’s failure to complete the Roadblock, there was almost nothing to note on the ground in Chile other than that said Roadblock made for some great cinematography that I really wish was in High Definition. Instead, the activities were defined by a combination of people who seemed to be enjoying themselves and people who seemed to be making some really stupid mistakes, which is a mixed bag.

As for the stupid mistakes, I’m always intrigued by the fact that we don’t get to see everything that’s on the clue, but rather the information that the show decides to give us. We got a lot of back story on why the houses were being repainted which would immediately lead us to believe that it was the outside of a house, but they might not have had the same information, so Steve and Allie searching inside a house wasn’t in and of itself stupid. Brent and Caite don’t have the same excuse, in that the clue clearly told them to travel by a certain mode of transportation, and they made no efforts to ask anyone for help or carefully consider their situation. And Michael and Louie’s decision to paint some graffiti was a cop’s instinct kicking in under pressure, a silly mistake but an honest one.

I don’t tend to hold mistakes against certain teams, and in this case I find Jet and Cord charming enough to look past their money error. It shows a lack of knowledge of how global currency works, in that they chose to just “get the closest” when they got lazy and went to a small, rather than large, currency exchange booth, but I would have been more annoyed if they had just not exchanged their money at all, presuming that they would be able to just use the superior American dollar everywhere. I’ll take ignorance over cockiness at the end of the day, as at least there’s room for them to improve (plus the entertainment of seeing them find this whole experience very novel). Also, I felt Dan and Jordan’s penalty was ridiculous – if taking a penalty actually makes the task MORE difficult, as is the case when you have one paint brush instead of two, then I don’t see why they should be afforded a time penalty for it (or why it should be so close in length to entirely skipping a necessary part of a task).

But at the end of the day, as long as people are enjoying themselves I’m pretty much okay with it. And while Brent is a bit of a taskmaster with Caite, which helped lead to their mistake, there was a real sense amongst the other teams that they were out there having fun. Jeff and Jordan, the Big Brother couple that got so much buzz heading into the race from fans of that show, became enjoyable entirely based on his ability to call her on her ignorance: she’s not the brightest bulb, but she seems fairly easygoing about that fact, and while they’re not going to become my favourite team I was certainly pleased to see them finish ahead of the penalized Brent and Caite (even if I felt for the former with male Jordan spreading the news of her pageant mishap to everyone within earshot).

Will this be an all-time great season? No, primarily because there’s no team I’ve actively rooting for. However, there’s no team I’m particularly rooting against, and this early on the game itself is the highlight. Over time, perhaps Jet and Cord will really come into their own (they did jump ahead of nearly the entire pack to finish in 3rd place) and prove to be as fun to watch as they seemed to be here, and maybe Monique and Shawne will continue to actively seek out other black people to help them and compare themselves to Jesus Christ. The race is all about potential at this point, and while there’s potential that Steve could start treating his daughter like a pitcher who just walked home the winning run, and there’s every chance that Brent will become Freddy to Caite’s Kendra (which isn’t the worst comparison I could make), I think we’re in for a pleasant edition of The Amazing Race.

And for now, that’s good enough.

Cultural Observations

  • There’s no question that Kris and Jon wore out the word “Babe” as a term of affection on the race, but they did it in an endearing way. Brent and Caite are wearing it out some more this year, but my favourite moment of the episode was either Michael or Louie using it soon after Brent did. It meant something else, speaking not to the other individual but rather to the generic “Yeah, baby!” but it was nonetheless amusing to me.
  • I don’t usually wish for overbearing teammates on the race, but there was not nearly enough screaming of “ADRIAN” during the Roadblock failure for my tastes, so if Dana had wanted to scream a bit more that would have been a-ok.
  • Jody comparing herself to a drunken elderly lady on stilts was humorous to me since she then noted that old people in general don’t have good balance: that she felt she needed to open with the image of her intoxicated on stilts instead of just going with the facts entertains me, and makes me wonder if she knocked a few back on the plane.
  • Was I the only person who cringed a little when they announced that Jeff and Jordan would be trying skeleton at the Olympic Sliding Centre at Whistler?
  • Joe self-acknowledging as a douchebag (in not so many words) was at least honest, but then I saw that he brought a whistle: Charla and Mirna flashbacks are not working in your favour, dude.
  • Carol and Brandy, the one team I haven’t mentioned, have a good attitude about the race, but Brandy went a tad over the line into melodrama with her struggles on the roadblock.
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    1 Comment

    Filed under The Amazing Race

    One response to “Season Premiere: The Amazing Race Season 16 – “Episode One (Chile)”

    1. My real estate agent was always smiling. I didn’t think anybody could have that many teeth without being a barracuda.

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