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The Amazing Race All-Stars – The Winners, The Losers, The Invisible of Episode 1.

philIt’s true that I had some reservations about this season of The Amazing Race before it began. It’s equally true that these reservations have not yet been the least bit assuaged. The cast still has far more big characters than good racers (when an ideal All-Stars season would have represented both in equal measure), and the first leg’s challenges were anything but challenging.

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Who?

But it’d be wrong to tar this season of TAR with the “Bad Season” label after only one episode. I mean, leg 1 is almost never the least bit compelling, even on the great seasons. There are too many racers to keep them all straight, and in the interest of giving everyone camera time, the course is light on interesting and/or challenging tasks. Meeting 11 teams, getting them to the first destination, getting them all through a Roadblock, and showing them making it to the mat…well, that’s an awful lot to cram into an hour. None of the premieres will ever go down in the annals of TAR as amazing episodes. The real fun wouldn’t start until later with ANY cast.

The last time my byline appeared on Rob Has a Website, I was reporting on some of the more interesting game variations I’d seen on international editions of TAR. Oddly enough, the premiere of Season 24 actually ended up using a few game elements that originated abroad, though none of the far-reaching twists I highlighted. Seasons 1 of Amazing Race: Asia and Amazing Race: Australia both featured a Route Marker hidden in a percentage of gondolas on a Ferris wheel (in Singapore and Dubai, respectively). And in the premiere of the first season of Amazing Race: Norway, the racers’ first task was to find one of a finite number of clues distributed among a handful of locations in the Oslo airport—sound a little bit like combing a bunch of bridal shops in Guangzhou?

Indeed, most foreign editions of the show include a lot more action at Route Markers than the American version historically has. Every other episode of Amazing Race: Asia, for instance, seems to feature a dozen Route Marker clueboxes scattered across the grounds of a temple or park, with the correct clue in only one (or a few). You rarely just stop at a clue box in front of some random landmark and find out what other random landmark you’re going to find next. You have to work for nearly every clue. If this is a trend we’re finally catching up to, I can confidently say I’m 100% on board. Sure, luck often plays a role, but there’s also a certain amount of skill and logic at play. Teams who read up on their game theory might end up having a little bit of an edge, and that can’t be a bad thing. I was glad to see the return of the starting-line scavenger hunt as well, which was used to great effect in seasons 15, 18, and 19, among others. Here’s hoping we see more of this sort of thing as the season progresses.

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Race teams who aren’t particularly close have the edge.

We did see one thing we’ve never seen before, though, on ANY edition of the show: the 11th hour replacement of a racer with a completely unrelated third party. That twist, though, doesn’t seem like it’s going to work quite as well. I have previously discussed the idea that race teams who aren’t particularly close to one another in real life can turn this into a competitive advantage on the Race. Eric and Danielle couldn’t have cared less about each other, and it helped them win the first All-Stars. Other teams of “friends,” like the poker players from season 15, the flight attendants in season 14, and Joey and Meghan, have been able to focus 100% of their energy outward without getting bogged down by baggage, simply because baggage between the two of them was minimal. But all of these teams at least went into the Race knowing who their partner would BE. Moreover, they had a few weeks to prepare for the Race and probably a week or so locked in a hotel room while Production finalized the cast and course. So Mark and Mallory’s situation is totally unique in Race history, and that is already posing a problem for them.

Mark and Mallory might have sat side by side at the same autograph table once or twice, but that’s not the same thing as traveling through a foreign country with a camera in your face. There’s still a lot they don’t know about each other, and it shows. They also don’t seem to trust each other to make decisions, which is an important and often underrated Race skill. Teams who can’t allow each other to make decisions on which Detour to choose or whether they have enough information to move on have never done well. If Mallory can mellow out a little bit and Mark can get comfortable with the idea of racing with someone who isn’t Bopper, they might be able to overcome this obstacle. But I’m not optimistic.

On the flip side, I think it’s entirely possible to know your race partner TOO well, which may have been part of why Natalie and Nadiya spent the entire first leg failing harder than Bopper’s pancreas.

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Failing harder than Bopper’s pancreas.

Unlike in Asia and Australia, where a gondola went out of play once a team found the clue inside it, the clues on the Canton Tower wheel stayed put. The logic that Teams who observed another team succeeding at the task could simply choose that gondola on the next go-round. Natalie and Nadiya were so consumed with who had missed what detail when that they evidently missed this detail. Nobody would have ever called the Twinnies cool-headed, but on their first outing they were usually logical thinkers who could perform under pressure. It might have been the stress of feeling the need to improve on their previous 4th-place finish, or being thrown for a loop by having so much trouble with the bridal shop task. I suspect no matter what the actual culprit was, the twinnies expected a much easier first leg than they got. To be clinging to the back of the pack next to the likes of Joey and Meghan, barely one day into the race, had to have thrown them.

While the show was inevitably going to underedit a substantial portion of the teams, as it does in every season premiere, unexpectedly, this week we saw very little of usual lightning rods for conflict Brendon and Rachel, reliable sob stories Dave/Connor and Margie/Luke, and comic relief Flight Time and Big Easy. As expected, Caroline and Jen also got lost in the shuffle and the Afghanimals had a moment, but seemed positively subdued compared to some of these other huge personalities. The episode belonged primarily to the Twinnies and their meltdown (and YouTube and their smaller, adjacent meltdown), Team Kentucky’s switch-up, and the cowboys’ mistake-free leg. I believe the strategy of keeping their heads down and running their own race might be Jet and Cord’s smartest move ever. It won’t win them any extra camera time, but if they’re this focused on every leg, the third time might well be the charm for them. Is that my favorite outcome? No, probably not. But it’s not going to kill the show for me, either, provided the path is straight and narrow.

Jessica Liese

Despite being a seasoned world traveler and diehard reality TV fan, Jessica Liese would be, by her own admission, the worst Amazing Race contestant ever. More From Jessica Liese »


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  • Sarah Freeman

    “Failing harder than Bopper’s pancreas” is my new favourite simile.

    One question… Mallory and her father must have made it to a late round of casting, because she’d have needed all the visas and whatnot in her passport already–do you know if it’s common to have a team (or more) on standby like that?

    • http://sweetscientist.wordpress.com Pink Pearl

      Yes, I’m pretty sure they do that. I know they’ve done that for non-all-star seasons, and I know they do it for Survivor, so I’m going to say yes, that was why Mallory was ready to go at a moment’s notice.

  • Nick Fishman

    A great Liese start to the season. I found the episode entertaining, especially for a first episode. Was the Coal Miner team from seasons past also from Kentucky…..David and Mary, that was it. That was my initial guess for the replacement but Mallory makes more sense i guess.
    I will say that this episode showcasing the Twinnies meltdown will make this season stand out from nearly every other first episodes of TAR, as i can’t remember much of anything memorable from premiere episodes. Does anyone else recall other memorable episode 1 moments?

    • http://sweetscientist.wordpress.com Pink Pearl

      I’d say those showgirls losing the passport was pretty memorable. Also, the father and daughter painting some random dude’s house in Valparaiso and the Uruguayan disco foam party in season 5. Other than that, yeah, you’re right.

      • Nick Fishman

        Those were great and someone reminded me of the cheese wheel task, which was great. I didn’t think it was episode 1 but apparently so.

  • MrAirSonic

    I really wish they stopped doing one roadblock and no detour in the first episodes. And this one was even worse because instead of two road blocks like the previous few seasons, they only did one. I want them to go back to doing a roadblock and a detour, it means teams who fell behind trying to get a clue could catch up to others.

    And one of the things about who-gets-what edits, back in the day they focused on whoever stood out most, now they try and get everyone. They should go back to focusing on only four or five teams until a few have already been eliminated (like how in season 20 they focused mostly on Brenchal, Rachel/Dave, Art/JJ, and Vanessa/Ralph) and this worked really well, sure some teams didn’t get screen time, but they were eliminated in the next few episodes anyway.

    Also, do you think if TAR does another All-Stars (Assuming they make it to season 30) they will bring back old teams like they did this time? Or will they stick with teams who have raced after the current All-Stars season (Like 18 never had teams under 11) if they decide to bring back teams for another All-Stars along with some 3-timers, who would you pick?
    Mine would be:
    Toni/Dallas (This is a no brainer)
    Charla/Mirna (Duh)
    Tommy/Andy (Another no brainer)

    These three teams I would like to see race again (Along with whatever teams race in seasons 25/6/7/8 and 9) They could also be in a “Fans vs Favorites” season, that would be fun (Though I like the way that any returning team is facing off against other returning teams, I feel like any reality show with a fans vs favorites the favorites always last longer)

    • Kevin Wong

      I might be in the minority but I would not mind if I never saw Mirna on my television again.

  • WalesAndy

    A very poor first episode in my opinion. The previous few seasons first episodes were much better.

    I think production made a mistake by letting Mark run without Bopper, they wasted a chunk of the episode to tell us disappointing news and changed a fun team to watch into an uncomfortable one in Mallory & Mark. They’d have been better off not telling us anything and just had Gary & Mallory race. The challenges weren’t challenging or good tv unlike the last few seasons – spin 5 times and ride on a slow ferris wheel… fun.

    I fear for the season. The preview for the next episode was not appatizing.

    • MrAirSonic

      I KNEW the episode seemed a little more rushed than usual, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now that you mention, they DID spend like the first ten minutes being all sad and stuff about Bopper. Like you suggested, they should have just said he couldn’t race because of his whatever and they brought in someone else, they didn’t need to show the doctor or whatever explaining stuff. But again, this was just the first episode, hopefully the next one picks up the smooth competitive pace I like.

  • Ana Horvat

    I hate the heights related roadblock that seems to feature in almost every opening episode of TAR. It eliminates all competition as there is no actual skill involved usually. The last part of this episode that played any part in the final line up was the canton tower bit. That last bit of acrobatics served no actual purpose.

    I’m struggling who to root for. So many unlikable teams. With Natalie and Nadiya entertainment factor gone, the only person left I remotely like is Mallory. Otoh I greatly dislike Mark (and Bopper) so this doesn’t help me any. It may be best for her to get eliminated sooner rather than later. Mark is treating her like dirt.

  • margaret

    I’ll give the 1st episode a pass, as you said, it’s rarely the most exciting. I’m just glad that Connor & Dave are back for a 2nd shot. I know parent/child team rarely do well, but I’m hoping they’ll buck the trend. I was missing the Chippendales boys, though, i’d have loved to have seen them back again!

    • CatLover04

      Me too, about the Chippendales. They are one of my favorite teams ever. I’ve often wondered when they do these kinds of All Star Seasons for both AR and Survivor, why they don’t do some kind of fan poll about which players are truly “fan favorites” so that they can put a cast together of people the fans truly want to see again.

  • Stephen

    I have to say, I disliked John in his original season, but I really liked in the premier. He seemed to have a good sense of humor about the entire express pass debacle (I’d imagine most people who make huge blunders on reality shows don’t see the humor in their mess ups).

    I was a little upset about the cast, but I kind of feel like the season may be pretty good. My fear is that there will be too much team racing like in season 18, although nothing will be as bad as Amy doing entire roadblocks for Nicole.

    • CatLover04

      “”nothing will be as bad as Amy doing entire roadblocks for Nicole.”

      So agree with you there. I liked Amy and thought she was a saint for helping Nicole like that but….Nicole had no business expecting her to. I also found it amusing, Jessica’s comment about “we don’t want to come in first this leg so we don’t have to worry about the express pass”….I actually kind of hope John and Jessica do well this time. Maybe he’ll be a better team player and listen to his partner when she’s making good sense like from last time…”let’s use the express pass now so we don’t come in last”…heh. And if he doesn’t listen, I hope that Jessica does a better job of grabbing the reins away from him as she should have done in that moment since he wasn’t thinking rationally, so that they can avoid elimination.

  • http://www.wordmisplaced.com/ Sophie Landry

    Only this RHAP forum and your blog can make this season interesting to me after the Twinnies evaporated and Mallory returned Gary-less. I really feel for Mallory. Mark needs to make an attitude adjustment and become a team player. How lucky is he to have the chance to run when it goes against a key TAR principle? I don’t have much hope for M&M as Mallory would need Marie’s brand of assertiveness to deal with Mark’s regression into a man-child.

    And I’ve tried, but I just can’t stand the Afghanimals who were my pick last year. So fake, so rehearsed, so boooooring.

    Maria and Tiffany were not a team that was manufactured as others may have been. I do not know whether they were approached by CBS or approached CBS, but they both have done a good job at establishing their personal brands in the poker industry despite the UltimateBet scandal. It’s quite possible they would have decided to apply for TAR.

    They’d been best friends for at least 3 years before TAR and had come across each other a lot on the LA poker scene prior to that. It may not seem like a ton of time, but travelling the international poker circuit together year-round gave them more reference points than many teams have on the starting line. They just did not live up to their potential IMO and had a real tough leg to contend with.

    • http://sweetscientist.wordpress.com Pink Pearl

      Maria and Tiffany were recruited. I think they had some connection to Jean-Robert of Survivor:China. My impression from talking to them was that they had been friends, but not necessarily apply-for-TAR-on-our-own kind of friends, if you know what I mean.

      • http://www.wordmisplaced.com/ Sophie Landry

        That makes a lot of sense. JRB knows everybody. I bet they did not resist too much. It’s a close friendship not a lifetime friendship, so a bit odd that it did not quite come across.

        Garrett on Survivor is another interesting one. He is possibly the best poker player either show has ever had. (And I don’t think he’ll do well unfortunately).

  • http://ptsnob.com/ Dan Heaton

    It’s going to be interesting to see if the Cowboys can survive the U-Turns with their loner strategy. My normal inclination is to think it’s wise to give up the second Express Pass as soon as possible. If not, it becomes a distraction like it did for Tim and Marie. Once they gave that up last season, they were so much looser and became my favorites of that season.

    I liked the Cowboys in their first season because they seemed to almost be on a different race. They dominated most of it and just fell short in the finale, but it seemed like their season in terms of the most memorable team. They seemed off the second time, and there was a brief explanation with their marriage and kids. I also am less excited after hearing about their questionable acts outside the show. Still, I’m good with them being back because they’re such good racers. They good really roll over this group if the others aren’t careful. Of course, we’ve only had one easy leg, so who knows?

    I agree that this isn’t the strongest group of racers. I had high hopes this next All-Star season would be a “superstars” contest with winners and other strong teams that just missed winning. You could put together a pretty great cast and still have characters while also having dominant teams like Dave and Rachel that people remember from recent years. I still have hopes this season will be okay, but it’s not going to be that thrilling battle that I wanted to see.

    • Stephen

      The Cowboys’ loan ranger strategy also kind of backfired in season 18 prior to the U-Turn, when everyone worked together on the moped roadblock and didn’t give them the answer (although in that season Gary/Mallory, Kisha/Jen, Zev/Justin and the Globes had a big alliance that basically bulldozed everyone, the Cowboys and the Goths were the most obvious victims of gang ups).

      • http://ptsnob.com/ Dan Heaton

        You’re correct. However, i think they would have survived if they’d been more focused. They struggled right from the start and were very up and down during that season.

  • Mike Bloom

    I do agree that this episode was not a great premiere. The last time a premiere felt this rushed and empty was TAR21, which had almost nothing except two Roadblocks. But I have to disagree with Jess that premiere episodes are never very good. I think the premieres of seasons like TAR 3, 5, 7, 12, 14, 17, and even so recently as 22 have had great actions and moments, sometimes the most memorable moments of the season. The premiere isn’t necessarily indicative of the quality of the season, but I feel like there are at least a handful of first episodes that are fantastic.

    Also, I’m wondering if the medical scare caused some leg design changes. I think the leg would have been much better with two Roadblocks and/or a zero-hour pit stop with a non-elimination (much like the premiere of Unfinished Business). You brought on these “fan favorite teams”, why not keep them all on at least one more episode?

  • Owen Craig

    Hi Jessica! I was wondering if you’ve hear anything about how much of the Bopper medical situation was staged. I mean, obviously he had a medical issue and had to drop out, but do we know if the scene with the doctor was genuinely the first time Mark and Bopper were given the news (with Phil there) or if they recreated that moment for the cameras? Did they genuinely not know Mallory was coming until the scene at the starting line? Just curious if you’ve heard anything.

    Great blog post!

    • masbond84

      bopper said in his exit interview with rob that they only knew about mallory at the starting line. they were not told who the person was besides that person was from kentucky too, if i’m not wrong

      • Owen Craig

        Awesome, I haven’t had a chance to listen to that exit interview yet. I’ll have to get on that. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Amazing Race All-Stars Recap: Episode 1 Interview with Team Guido

  • Inigo Montoya

    I read who was going to be on this season when the cast was announced last year then quickly forgot, so when I watched the episode I was really happy to see the twins back. sadly they are now gone and I really don’t like anyone else in the cast.
    I must of missed Brandon and Rachel’s season ( probably back before I knew how to “get the show off the internet”), but I at least know they are former BB people.
    I have to agree with Jess and most people in the comments that the premiere episode was BORING! I mean there was absolutely no skill needed in this leg of the race it all came down to luck pretty much.
    I feel bad for the shop owner, where like 3 teams went in and were going through the racks of clothing and even knocking some dresses on the floor.
    Even if this season turns out to be a “Bad Season” at least I’ll have these blogs to keep me entertained.

  • Brad Talk

    Since TAR has been dumbing down challenges lately and doing less physically demanding ones I really want there to be an emphasis on personalities. In that light, SO SAD the Twinnies are gone!! It would have been lovely to witness more scolding of Leo and Jamal. FOOLS!!

  • Kevin Wong

    Now I’m curious about the flight attendants. They were also recruits? And presumably colleagues but not necessarily friends?

    • http://sweetscientist.wordpress.com Pink Pearl

      I don’t remember what exactly the story was there – I think maybe Jodi applied with a different partner and was told to choose a coworker in order to go with the flight attendant theme? Hopefully we’ll get her on the podcast this season to give us the full story.

      • Stephen

        I’ve heard that her original partner was Laura Morett, but she wasn’t a blonde or a flight attendant (or both), so she was replace by Christy, and Laura was put on the following season of Survivor (I don’t know if Jodi worked in casting when that happened). I have no idea how much truth there is to that story.

  • homertownie

    Jessica – great summary and discussion. Has there ever been a cross-team showmance in any season of TAR, foreign or domestic?

    • Gary

      Tara and Alex come to mind. (from Season 2)

    • http://sweetscientist.wordpress.com Pink Pearl

      A few off the top of my head. In season 3 you had Flo and whichever one of the twins she was into, and in season 9 of course there was Eric and Danielle, and Dallas connected with Starr on season 13 and dated her for a long time after the show. Season 12’s Christina and Azaria got together after their season (and got married about a year ago) and one of the guys who won season 1 dated a castmate for several years after the race.

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