How ya goin’, Rob Has a Planet? Well, we STILL don’t have an air date for Amazing Race: Australia vs. New Zealand. (Yes, I know, you heard a premiere date for New Zealand somewhere. Trust me, this is not news to me. I’m only going to report an airdate once I get official word from the networks involved. I heard all the same rumors you did, I just don’t want to spread misinformation.)
But while there’s no release date, we HAVE gotten plenty of cast information, videos, and tantalizing details about the upcoming season. So while we’re waiting for the official official word, we can at least take a look at the field of competition and make some predictions, exactly like we did for Amazing Race: Canada, right down to the unfair and probably ridiculous comparisons to teams from the American mothership (plus one from Canada, since I’ve got that on the brain right now).
The first two seasons of TAR:AUS were basically the platonic ideal of Amazing Racing: great tasks, great cast, and great locations (including at least two we’ll never see on TAR:US for political reasons). Although there have been rumors that the upcoming third season has suffered from a few of the same budget cuts that are destroying its American cousin, there’s little reason to suspect this third season will be a total downgrade, especially based on this cast and the fresh twist of Australia vs. New Zealand. (TVNZ’s website helpfully includes a primer for those of us non-antipodeans who might want to know more about that.)
Though this is by far not the first Amazing Race franchise to cast teams from more than one country, it IS the first time a season of the show has pitted one nation against the other so blatantly. Promos show teams locked in a tug of war, and more than one Australia ad pokes fun at Kiwi culture (from its weird tourist attractions to its vast numbers of sheep).
It’s difficult to say how much this twist will actually play into the season once the Race has begun in earnest. There’s no doubt that the camera will lovingly linger on each and every international squabble, and likely that more than one team will go in feeling the need to win it for their country. But it’s equally possible everyone will quickly forget their national pride, put their heads down, and go for the gold.
For now, I’ll just assess the teams independently of Aussie/Kiwi bias, like the impartial third party I am. (If we ever get, like, a Germany vs. Argentina season, I’m sure I won’t be able to make the same claims to neutrality, but I definitely don’t have a dingo in this particular fight.)
First, the Aussies…Ash and Jarrod are very bloody excited to be on the bloody race.[/caption]
Ashleigh and Jarrod Jende (married couple from Melbourne)
U.S. Counterparts: Colin and Christie (Season 5) + John and Jessica (Season 22/24)
This very tan, very blond pair is either going to last three episodes or dominate. My basis for this? Jarrod got his own commercial highlighting the frequency with which he uses the word “bloody.” He appears to complain constantly, if the supercut we’ve seen is any indication. Also, he’s very patriotic and will take it very personally if he gets beaten by Kiwis. (You know that in a season where the hook is “Australia vs. New Zealand,” they had to find at least one person who would stir the nationalistic pot a little.)
Jarrod may have been cast to play the role that Paul played in Season 2 – the obnoxious quasi-villain that all the other teams are gunning for. Or he may be simply inept comic relief. Either way, he’s going to get a lot of screen time for as long as they’re in the race.
Ashleigh is harder to get a read on. She’s fond of her hair straightener and revels in traditional marriage roles. It’s entirely possible that this gender dynamic will make us very uncomfortable, and that Ashleigh will shy away from certain tasks on the basis of her girly-girlness. Or she might just have a calmer energy that keeps Jarrod in check. She could be the quiet instigator who’s the real brains of the operation – the Amber to his Rob, if you will.
I’m also voting this team “most likely to get a Salvage Pass and then spend what feels like 9000 hours debating whether they’re going to do the nice thing or the strategic thing”.
Sally Yamamoto and Tyson Smith (dating couple from Perth)
U.S. Counterparts: Jason and Amy (Season 23) + Lori and Bolo (Season 6)
Sally’s a veterinarian, Tyson’s a male stripper turned personal trainer, and together they are a little intimidating-looking, owing to their super-ripped physiques (they’ve both participated in bodybuilding competitions). But underneath the muscles are a pair of mega-sweethearts who fear their biggest weakness on the race will be that they’re too nice.
Evidently a target for nicknames like “Conan the Barbarian,” “Buzz Lightyear,” and “Big T,” Tyson’s apparently brought a kilo of sweet potato and a bunch of tins of tuna with him so he can keep on eating clean on the Race. (Their clean-eating habits apparently already got them in trouble in pre-Race trial runs when Sally’s metabolism went haywire and she passed out, an unfortunate side effect of going off her specialized bodybuilding diet.)
These friendly giants will probably make a lot of friends, and there’s always the possibility that a team they’ll choose to help out will wind up being much less ready for the final stretch, like when Jason and Amy carried Travis and Nicole to the finals in season 23 of the U.S. show. Still, Tyson and Sally will have to let their competitive side dominate their spirit of cooperation if they want to win. If they can do that, their chances look pretty good.
Elizabeth and Todd Grant (mother and son from Adelaide)
U.S. Counterparts: Toni and Dallas (Season 13) + Mel and Mike (Season 14/18)
Todd’s a former semi-pro cricket player and his mum, Elizabeth, is a professor of Indigenous Studies and Architecture. Both are well-educated, well-traveled, and seem to be good at thinking on their feet.
But Todd and Elizabeth don’t necessarily think they’re bringing the skillset necessary to win the race. Fearing that their argumentative nature and relative unathleticism will slow them down, they paint themselves as underdogs and say they’re just there to have a good time. If these guys aren’t confident that they can win, what’s my incentive to cheer for them?
My prediction: they make it past the first leg, and probably not much further. Then they’ll be surprised at how far they’ve come and how much they’ve learned about themselves in the process and they did things they never thought they could blah blah blah.
Daniel Little and Ryan Thomas (friends/intensive care nurses from Sydney)
U.S. Counterparts: Art and JJ (Season 20) + Nat and Kat (Season 17)
As nurses, Ryan and Daniel are used to high-pressure situations, though we’ve seen that being in the medical profession doesn’t make you immune to stress, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to breeze through everything. (Just ask Idries and Jamil, or Travis and Nicole.) They appear to be bringing a great attitude to the Race, although they, like Elizabeth and Todd, say they are there to have fun first and win later. But they’re quite fit and seem pretty smart, and both have done a lot of traveling.
Ryan and Daniel’s biggest stumbling block could be their vastly different personalities. You can tell which one is the Oscar and which one is the Felix just by looking at their photo. While teams frequently spin their different personalities as complementing each other, and therefore a strength, it’s just as often that they find themselves slowed down by arguments or unable to work together. Teams do need to have plenty of complementary differences, but too different can be as much of a problem as too similar.
Inga Lederhaus and Tiharna McGregor (friends/pageant queens from Perth)
U.S. Counterparts: Dustin and Kandice (Seasons 10/11) + Jamie and Cara (Season 14/18)
Inga and Tiharna originally bonded over their coordinating hair colors at a Blondes vs Brunettes beauty pageant, which means they are no strangers to polarizing competitions divided along arbitrary lines. Like every pageant beauty who’s ever competed on any version of TAR, they say they’re more than just pretty faces and anticipate that they will be wildly underestimated.
But this is one of the rare occasions where I kind of believe it. They seem intelligent and well-traveled, and they’ve been hitting the gym to prepare for the trip. Plus, they’re pals with Sam and Renae, the models who made the finals of the first season of TAR:AUS, so they’ve had the inside scoop. And, they say, they were surprised to recognize Sally and Tyson at the starting line because they’d met before…a ready-made alliance with the self-proclaimed nicest couple on the Race couldn’t hurt!
Still, I doubt Inga and Tiharna are totally immune to the weaknesses that all hot-girl teams seem to have – namely, it’s possible that they’ll overestimate the power of feminine wiles as a tool on the Race and let themselves be a little defined by that. Here’s hoping not. Sam and Renae mostly didn’t, and neither did Jo and Michelle.
Now for the Kiwis…
Cat and Jesse O’Brien (married couple from Hamilton)
U.S. Counterparts: Amani and Marcus (Season 19) + Ray and Deana (Season 7)
This team appears to be getting quite a bit of pre-Race press, which could be because they’re going to be standouts or just because there’s a familiar face in the mix. Kiwi reality fans might recognize Jesse from his two stints on NZ Idol — he came in fourth back in 2005. He still records music but he also works with kids for a living while Cat stays at home with their three children.
Jesse and Cat are foster parents on top of raising their own children. They say that managing a full house means they can handle stress and chaos pretty well. And obviously they love each other a lot and are very in sync. Plus, they purport to be huge fans of the show. What I’m not seeing from them is a drive to win. Their preferred pace is somewhere between a walk and a jog, which means that the younger, fitter teams could probably pass them in a footrace to the mat.
My prediction? They’ll make it farther than they think they will, but not that far. A heartbreaking elimination somewhere in the middle of the season.
Aston Garratt and Christie Orr (friends/redheads from Auckland)
U.S. Counterparts: Linda and Karen (Season 5) + Brook and Claire (Season 17)
I’m reasonably sure that casting this team is an attempt to recapture the gold they struck when they cast Lucy and Emilia in TAR: AUS season 2. I’m equally sure there is only one Lucy and Emilia, but these ladies will probably have their own unique charm.
Aston and Christie describe themselves as having “big personalities,” which might mean they’re going to be the comic relief of the show or it might be a nice way of saying they’re going to yell at each other a lot. Both of them have traveled extensively and have lived abroad (in fact, that’s how they met), but what they haven’t done is spent a lot of time with each other recently, which could mean they will have trouble working together.
I can’t say that I love Australia borrowing the old TAR:US trope of all female/female teams needing to have matching hair colors, but I do think Aston and Christie have the potential to be a really funny team that gets everyone cheering for them. Either that or we’ll be muting the television every time they’re on screen. I’m optimistic that it’ll be the former. I generally do like a team of women with a lot to say.
As far as how they’ll be as racers, I think either these ladies are out in the first couple of legs or they pull a Lucy and Emilia and go very far, shocking us (and maybe themselves) with how well they perform. It’s going to be one or the other. Everyone loves a Cinderella story, myself included, so I’m pulling for them.
John Gbenda-Charles and Murray Roeske (friends/rugby players from Christchurch and Wellington)
U.S. Counterparts: Rob and Brennan (Season 1) + Jet and Dave (TAR:Canada 1)
When we heard that this season would include teams from New Zealand, did anybody think there was a ghost of a chance that TAR: AUS would NOT cast a team of rugby players? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
But “Johnny” and “Muzza” are more than just meathead jocks. They’ve been mates since they met as teenagers attending the same boarding school, and although they came from very different backgrounds (John emigrated from Sierra Leone when he was nine; Murray is a farm boy from Nelson), their paths were similar from that point forward. Both have played rugby at the professional level in multiple countries (and John has also played soccer professionally – sometimes while he was still on an active rugby roster!), so clearly they’re comfortable traveling and getting around in a variety of cultural environments, as well as performing under pressure.
Though they’ve both retired from pro sports and transitioned to regular jobs (John is a sports agent and Murray’s helping to rebuild earthquake-damaged infrastructure in Christchurch), no doubt they are still agile and in great shape. On physical tasks, there are not very many teams who’ll even come close to beating them. And they’ve got great senses of humor to boot. It is going to take a stroke of seriously bad luck to take these guys out of contention.
About the only thing I’m not looking forward to seeing from John and Murray is the rave whistles they’ve brought along. I can’t think of any non-annoying use for those.
Carla Beazley and Hereni Fulton – (friends/Zumba-dancing mums from Taraunga)
U.S. Counterparts: Jen and Kisha (Season 14/18) + Christie and Jodi (Season 14)
Wait, HOW old are Carla and Hereni? Though they look like they could have been schoolmates with Inga and Tiharna, these Maori mums are indeed 37 and 43, respectively. They’re in amazing shape, thanks apparently to the Zumba classes they both teach at Carla’s dance studio. In addition to their shared enthusiasm for dance, they’ve bonded over being mums, and say that the multi-tasking that comes with managing a household will serve them well on the Race. “Feminine intuition,” they assert, will also be one of their biggest assets.
But are Zumba and mum skills enough of to make you an all-around Race contender? It’s happened before, I guess. And these ladies definitely seem stronger and more savvy than most of the designated “mom teams” that show up on any given season of the Race. I’m not sure I see them in the finals, but they’re not totally out of the mix, either.
Emily and Jono Trenberth (sister and brother from Christchurch)
U.S. Counterparts: Blake and Paige (Season 2) + Nick and Starr (Season 13)
Jono’s the big brother; Emily’s the little sister, and they don’t just look Race-ready, they look like they’re coming straight into the Race after winning the Hunger Games. These good-looking, athletic, clean-cut kids are the two youngest siblings in a tight-knit family of six. After the family home was damaged in the 2010 Christchurch earthquake, the two of them grew closer – in particular, Jono recognized Emily’s perseverance and ability to get things done.
While they did travel to Europe together a few years ago, Emily and Jono seem a little green in the travel department. They may be susceptible to culture shock. They may also fall into old patterns of sibling rivalry once the stress of the Race sets in.
Still, younger teams tend to be pretty energetic, and a sunny outlook can trump any other weaknesses in the right situation. I think they’ll do all right. My usual metric of “the blandest teams always go the furthest” probably won’t go disproven here, is what I’m saying.
My predictions: In two series of this show, two male/male teams have come out on top. I can’t not go for a female/female team this time around! I do think the winning team will contain at least one woman. We’re overdue.
Who I Want to Win: Aston and Christie
Who I Think Is Going to Win: Tyson and Sally
Whenever Amazing Race: Australia vs. New Zealand decides to premiere, I will be recapping each episode alongside TAR:Canada on Reality RHAP-Ups, with a variety of guests, both fans and ex-racers (well, that’s the hope, anyway!). You can download these double-stacked podcasts every week on Rob Has a Website, or subscribe on iTunes!