Demonstrating the axiom that any all-star cast will always include three or four people you’re happy to see again, and then A BUNCH OF ASSHOLES.
It’s not my job to come up with titles for TV shows (oh, would that it were), but I find myself utterly baffled by the fact that season 18 was subtitled “Unfinished Business” when it included three legitimately amazing teams, a handful of fan favourites, a bunch of entertaining villains and Amanda and Kris, and yet this one gets to be “All-Stars” when it features three teams who already failed at their second attempt, a hybrid team who have seemingly never met each other before, three teams of attention whores who exhausted their welcome on their first time around, some anonyblondes who were pleasant enough last time but I’d imagine wouldn’t crack many people’s all-time Top 100 teams list – plus two teams with legitimate reasons for deserving another shot (Dave and Connor, for getting medevaced last time, and John and Jessica, just to see if idiocy strikes twice) and the Twinnies, who I find endlessly entertaining and am genuinely happy to see return. Even “Some Stars” would’ve been pushing it, frankly.
I don’t know yet if I’ll be blogging this every week – I would imagine the demand for weekly updates on a blog with a mostly British readership is slim at best – but let’s at least run through the events of episode one. Not that there were events to write about, because I swear to god, a third of the way into the episode we hadn’t even left the starting line yet, because there was so effing much needless pre-race drama, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Jet & Cord: The first of our three-and-a-half threepeating teams (and yet there was no slot for Brook & Claire, or Pam & Winnie, or Jaymes & James, or Trey & Lexi…). My continuing level of dislike for this team is such that any leg in which they finish in first place is like a personal slap in the tits, but there we go. The Cowboys seem pretty darn pleased with themselves for their “we do things our own way and don’t pay attention to what other teams are doing” approach, even though that’s pretty much what got them eliminated in Unfinished Business (unless another team somehow CHEATED them into elimination, since I understand that Jet & Cord don’t actually make mistakes, it’s just that other teams CHEAT), but it worked for them here – after their arrival in China I think they hardly saw another team the whole time apart from briefly rushing past at the bridal shops or the ferris wheel. So I offer begrudging kudos for a leg well-run, but their “oh my gravy goshdarnit” schtick still grates immensely, and there really should be no excuse for bringing anyone back for a third time, ever.
Brendon & Rachel: I don’t think there’s ever been a more comprehensive summary of a team than the brief montage we got of their tenure on season 20, which consisted entirely of Rachel sobbing and Brendon being…not visible. I think it speaks volumes to how dismal this cast is that they’re one of the two teams I’m left rooting for at this point – not because they’re likeable or even particularly competent, but mainly because Rachel is a veteran reality TV contestant at this point and knows how to be an entertaining trainwreck, and I’m going to need SOMETHING to maintain my interest for the next 11 weeks. Wisely, she appears to be conserving her powers at the moment as she didn’t really have any great cause for a meltdown this week, but…it’s leg one. There’s still time.
Dave & Connor: I said above that they’re one of the two teams with an entirely legitimate reason for being here, because Dave’s foot injury back in season 22 that led to them having to withdraw despite having managed to win two legs while one of them was on crutches was a genuinely rotten bit of luck for a clearly strong team. And yet…I find it difficult to feel excited about this time in any way, because there just doesn’t seem to be any personality there to grab hold of. (This may be the fault of the show itself, because last season any attempt to get to know this team outside of Dave’s injury was generally devoted to HEY DID WE MENTION THEY BOTH SURVIVED CANCER?) They’re clearly skilled racers, but I couldn’t tell you anything that they did on this leg, other than arrive at the Pit Stop in one piece.
Margie & Luke: We’ve established at this point that I’m not a fan of threepeating generally, but my biggest problem with bringing Margie and Luke back for a third go is that they’ve already lost twice in exactly the same way – Luke choking on a roadblock. Now World Race Productions might argue that that’s a compelling narrative for a return – “can Luke make it all the way to the end this time without cracking under pressure?”, but to me that’s a sign that you’re just not supposed to win this show, ever. And there’s no shame in that. I probably couldn’t win it either. But there’s a lot to be said for just accepting that and attempting to do something else with your life. Whittling, perhaps, or cross-country skiing. Still, they’re back for a third go, and the thing with Margie and Luke is that they’re inevitably less fun at the beginning of a season when they’re well-rested and in high spirits – their true value is always, always when they’re tired and annoyed and both of them turn into pissy self-righteous bitches. So I guess I want them to stick around for the inevitable feud with another team to develop, and also because I’m wondering if the show’s ever going to mention Luke’s sexual orientation on-screen, or whether the prospect of someone being deaf AND gay is likely to blow the mind of this show’s target audience. (Also worrying: that the role of most attractive male on this season is basically a toss-up between Luke and Brendon. Yep, things are THAT bad.)
Leo & Jamal: Ah, the Assghanimals. I can sort of see the logic of bringing them back in that they were certainly one of the “character” teams in the previous season, but at the same time I feel like there is literally nothing they could possibly show us that they haven’t already showed us ten times over. (Except for peen, obviously, and thankfully this show is broadcast at 8pm on CBS, so they won’t get the chance to do that.) But since Tim & Marie declined (well, Marie declined, I can’t imagine Tim was given any say in the matter), they were probably the most obvious choice given the parameters used to select the rest of the cast for this season. And to be fair, there might even be a slight change in their behaviour this year since Jamal is married now (poor Mrs Jamal), so hopefully they’ll be less keen to recruit (sigh) “race wives” this time around, although it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they had their eyes on Caroline and Jennifer. Beyond that, though, they still seem to be the same overbearing attention-hogs they always were, and I guess if you like that, it’s more of the same. I’d kind of had enough of it the first time round, so I won’t be crying too much if they get eliminated.
Mark & Mallory: Oy. So, there were a lot of bizarre spoilers doing the rounds in the months prior to the season launch, and one of the more pervasive ones was that Mallory was running with TAR17’s Brook as a Frankenteam, which seemed like a slightly odd combination, but at least they were both energetic blonde women who were on the same original season, so pairing them together made a sort of sense. Then rumours started to circulate that Mallory was in fact racing with Mark (of “Bopper &” fame from season 20), and that made absolutely no sense at all. Had they even met each other, apart from possibly at Amazing Race-related events? Then CBS’s official cast list for the season included Bopper & Mark with no sign of Mallory, leaving us all thoroughly confused. Then the episode premiered, and it all made sense: on the starting line, Phil announced that he had some DEVASTATING NEWS to announce, as Bopper had been hauled in front of the Race Doctor the night before and diagnosed with pancreatitis. (My mother had pancreatitis quite recently. I can confirm it is serious shit, and definitely leaves you in no sort of condition to go racing around the world.) Therefore, Bopper had to withdraw from the race, and we were treated to scenes of both of them wailing about having to withdraw. However, since Mark was still technically fit enough to continue (which in itself is kind of hilarious, since my main recollection of Mark from season 20 is that he spent the whole time vomiting whenever they had to travel in any sort of vehicle, and you don’t need to be a regular viewer of this show to know that happens quite a lot in a race around the world), Phil promised that they would find someone else for him to race with. ENTER MALLORY! The excuse given for this pairing was that they were both from the same state and could therefore be “Team Kentucky”, even though the whole point of the show is that the teams have PRE-EXISTING RELATIONSHIPS. I mean, what jeopardy is there if two people who have never met before and literally could not care less about each other have a bit of a spat in Bangladesh? (Also, the fact that there were rumours of an entirely separate hybrid team, also involving Mallory, leaves me convinced that they were planning to Frankenteam her with somebody, no matter who they had to incapacitate to do it.) So Mark and Mallory became a team, immediately mismatched as his relaxed approach to the race clashed with her hyperactive need to double-check everything, and they gave us lots of confessionals about how they would just have to learn to work together as they go along. Although judging by the trailer for next week’s episode, they may not be around long enough for it to matter.
Flight Time & Big Easy: Bringing the Globetrotters back the first time was kind of questionable, since their Unfinished Business from their first attempt was their inability to solve a five-letter anagram. I genuinely don’t know what the point of bringing them back for a third attempt was, as their main role last time around was to piss all over the goodwill they’d earned in their first attempt (literally, when they decided to relieve themselves on the National Library in Vienna, which hadn’t done anything to deserve it). Maybe the show decided that it just hadn’t played the Globetrotters theme music in the background enough. Now, you could argue that if we were casting the show entirely on ability shown in previous seasons, the Globetrotters are one of the few teams who actually deserve to be threepeaters. Piss-easy anagrams aside, they were a strong, capable team who finished 4th on their first race and 2nd on their second. (For comparison, Margie and Luke finished 3rd and 8th, the Cowboys finished 2nd and 6th, and Mallory finished 6th and 3rd with her dad Gary.) But again I find myself wondering – what can they possibly bring to the show that they haven’t already brought by this point? I didn’t particularly feel like their hearts were in it this time, but I guess if you have a third attempt to go on TV and potentially win $1m and you don’t have anything else booked in the diary, it’s quite hard to say no.
Jessica & John: I was sort of hoping they’d finish first, if only to give them another Express Pass to take home and add to their collection (unused, of course). The best part of John and Jessica returning is that you can tell that John still doesn’t really think he did anything wrong the first time round, when he was eliminated WITH AN EXPRESS PASS IN HIS POCKET. And you can tell that Jessica’s still kind of furious about it, even if she’s got used to suppressing it by now. Also, John has somehow come back with an even worse haircut than last time. As I said above, I’m happy for this team to come back, because they have got a unique hook as Racers and most of us do want to see if they can possibly flame out as spectacularly as they did the first time, but frankly an eighth-place finish in leg one is not going to cut it, kids. Get it together.
Caroline & Jennifer: Caroline and Jennifer have the dubious honour of being one of the few teams in this cast that I have no real beef with as people. I found them pleasant to watch the first time round, and they proved surprisingly hardy considering that teams of young, blonde, slightly bland women tend to go out in Leg 3 or 4. As I said above, I don’t really see what makes them all-starry enough to warrant a second go-around because by the time they got eliminated in TAR22 they both seemed completely spent and I doubt they’ll fare any better the second time around, but I guess they serve a purpose in that the show needed a competent-ish female team, and also on a more personal level, I needed to be able to root for someone, goddammit. And frankly after this episode my only real options are between these two and Brendon & Rachel (and even that’s mostly for the pantomime lolz), so I’m rather hoping that they’ve suddenly developed an awesome Amazing Race mojo since last time. Although they did spend quite a lot of time in this leg running around derping merrily, so the odds aren’t looking great so far.
Joey & Meghan: I was tempted just to write “OH FUCK OFF” for this one, because even that would be more attention than these two deserve. They’ve already had a massive spike in popularity on YouTube thanks to their first stint on the show (God knows why, because after TAR22 finished, my main goal in life was never to hear Joey Graceffa’s voice or see his face ever again). They’re back, they still can’t dress themselves, they’re still entirely capable of having any sort of unscripted reaction to anything, and frankly the sooner they fuck off the happier I’ll be. Seeing them scrape a 10th-place finish over the one team I actually wanted to see stick around this season was intensely infuriating.
Natalie & Nadiya: Well, in every all-star season, there’s always one contestant (or team, in this case) whose return serves only to make their previous good work look like kind of a fluke, and sadly in this case it was my beloved Twinnies. Last time around they were a force of gloriously mischievous evil: inciting race wars with cab drivers, stealing money, dragging Trey and Lexi into their web of evil, repeatedly referring to the eventual winners as “The Evil Gays”. But they got away with it because they juxtaposed all of this with an excellent sense of humour about themselves, and a genuine aptitude for the race that could have driven them all the way to the win, had it not been for a bad run of luck in their last couple of legs. This time, sadly, they flamed out early, constantly failing to find their way and arguing among themselves when they realised they were falling behind, inevitably making the gap between them and the rest of the teams even larger. (Although this did lead to one of the few genuinely funny parts of the leg, where several of the teams were in separate bubbles on a ferris wheel in Guangzhou, unable to hear what was going on in the other cars but all clearly able to spot that the Twinnies were having a blazing row just from their body language.) I’m still trying to decide which scenario is worse: the spoiler for this leg that implied the Twinnies were in first right up to the end when they ran into a Roadblock they just couldn’t do, or the version as screened that seemed to suggest they lagged at the back of the pack from the first task onwards and never really got it together. It’s sad, because they were pretty much the only team I was excited to see again, and I was really rooting for them to win it this time, but sometimes bad things happen to incredibly entertaining teams. Even the sisters themselves admitted that they flat out sucked this time around. Farewell, Twinnies. We’ll always have “BLOODY FRANCE.”
Before I sign off, I would just like it on record that the design of this leg was fucking atrocious. After the bridal shop task, there was almost no opportunity for any team to catch up. The ferris wheel was essentially a random luck task, and it looked as though there was no chance to make up any time whatsoever on the final aerial backflips task, because everyone departed in the exact same order that they arrived in. This is an all-star season. Shouldn’t there be some sort of challenge in it somewhere?