The Amazing Race premiere recap, September 25, 2011

The cast of the 19th season of The Amazing Race, Sundays 8/7c (all photos courtesy of CBS)

Welcome to the nineteenth season of The Amazing Race, which just earned the Emmy Award for best Reality Competition Show again! Eleven teams will be venturing around the world for a $1 million prize and this will include visits to several places the show has never gone before, including Belgium, Denmark, Malawi and Indonesia. There will also be at least two new twists in the Race, including a double-elimination as well as the “Hazard”, which is a penalty that one team will incur at the starting line and that they will have to complete before checking in at the next Pit Stop.

Running in this season’s Race are:

Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca: Ethan and Jenna, currently dating, are former winners in past seasons of Survivor, with Ethan from the third season Survivor: Africa and Jenna from the sixth season Survivor: Amazon. These two are part of new trend in reality TV, cross-casting contestants from one show to another. Will their Survivor skills help them in the Amazing Race? Or would they be better cast in Big Brother?

Laurence and Zac Sunderland: Zac was first person under the age of 18 to sail solo around the world, a record that Zac’s younger sister Abby attempted to break last year but was unable to finish. Now 19, Zac and his 48-year old father are this season’s only parent/child team. Will they find the Amazing Race smooth sailing or will they founder on the shoals of the challenges that they will soon face?

Jeremy Cline and Sandy Draghi: Jeremy and Sandy are this season’s other dating couple besides Ethan and Jenna. Jeremy is a 35-year-old commercial real estate broker from Alamo, California and Sandy is a 33-year-old nurse practitioner from Dublin, California. They’re both in their 30’s and we can presume that they’re more mature than some dating couples than we’ve seen in past episodes. But does maturity always come with age?

Justin and Jennifer Young: Justin and Jennifer are brother and sister. Justin is a 31-year-old doctor and Jennifer is a 26-year-old special ed teacher, both from Stone Mountain, Georgia. Will their life-long bond as brother and sister help them work seamlessly together or will any possible remnants of past sibling rivalries cause friction between them?

Ernie Halvorsen and Cindy Chiang: Ernie and Cindy are an engaged couple from Chicago. He is a 29-year-old project manager and she is a 30-year-old brand manager. Both of them list athletic activities as their hobbies, so they should be fit for any challenges they meet. Will a million dollar prize become a wedding present after they exchange their vows?

Bill and Cathi Alden: Bill and Cathi are a married couple from Albany, Oregon, with children and grandchildren. Bill is a rancher at 63 and Cathi is a 62-year-old retired high school principal and college instructor. Although mentally sharp and emotionally mature people tend do well in the Race, will the physical rigors and tasks end up being a major challenge for this elderly couple?

Andy Finch and Tommy Czeschin: Andy and Tommy are best buddies who are professional snowboarders. Andy is 30 and comes from Truckee, California and 32-year-old Tommy resides in Crowley Lake. Being extreme sports competitors and seasoned travelers, they should be able to handle any physical and cultural challenges. Will their experience in the snow come handy in this season’s Race?

Marcus and Amani Pollard: Marcus and Amani are a married couple from Pine Mountain, Georgia. Indianapolis Colts fans (like me!) will remember Marcus, now 39, joining the Colts in 1995 and playing for ten seasons. He also played with Seattle, Detroit and Atlanta, with 40 touchdowns over his career. Now a football coach himself, he is racing with his wife Amani, a 36-year-old business owner. Will they have a good season and make it to the playoffs?

Kaylani Paliotta and Lisa Tilley: Both of these gals are Las Vegas cocktail waitresses and showgirls. Kaylani, 33, is a trained dancer and a mother to a young girl, Seneca, and her best friend Lisa is 32 years old. Lady duos have won the last two races, so will these two make it a three-peat this season? Or will they be like some lady duos in the past, all show and no go?

Liz and Marie Canavan: Liz and Marie are 24-year-old identical twin sisters from Deerfield, Illinois. Liz is a marketing assistant and Marie lists her occupation as “soul searching”, which might be spiritually rewarding even if it doesn’t pay much. They’re the other lady duo and siblings in this race. Will we be able to tell these two apart at all during the Race?

Ron Zeitz and Bill Smith: Ron and Bill are domestic partners who both work as flight attendants. From Laguna Niguel, California, Ron is 44 and Bill is 49 and, needless to say, they’re both seasoned travelers. They might have a thing or two to say about international cabin service compared to U.S. airlines. Will they gain an advantage during the Race with their inside knowledge of the travel and flight industry?

The show begins! Phil welcomes us at the site of the International Buddhist Progress Society temple in foothills of Los Angeles. Here the eleven teams on board a bus disembark and dash up the stairs.

Our ever-grinning host Phil Keoghan introduces us to snowboarders Andy & Tommy, former Survivor winners Ethan & Jenna, yacht sailors Laurence & Zac, recently engaged Ernie & Cindy, brother and sister Justin & Jennifer, grandparents Bill & Cathi, twin sisters Liz & Marie, dating couple Jeremy & Sandy, domestic partners and flight attendants Ron & Bill, former Colts tight-end Marcus Pollard and his wife Amani, and unabashed Vegas showgirls Kaylani & Lisa.

We’re told that the first team to win this leg of the Race will win the “Express Pass”, which allows a team to bypass any challenge that they don’t want to complete. The first team to cross the finish line in the twelfth and final leg of the race wins the Amazing Race and one million dollars! That’s a lot of dough, even after Uncle Sam gets his cut of it.

The first challenge is right where they start. It’s a location name puzzle with six letters, plus a three letters that are repeated and then combined to give the name of a location. The six given letters are WANPEI and the three letters to find on an umbrella are TAI. Combining these letters gets TAIPEI, TAIWAN. When a team gets the umbrella with the right letters, they get a set of keys to Ford Explorers to drive to the airport. “Oh, by the way,” Phil adds, “the last team to complete this challenge will receive a new penalty called a Hazard that they’ll have to complete sometime during this leg of the Race.”

“Travel safe…” Phil pauses, “Go!” And off they run towards the rack with the umbrellas with letters on them. They’re grabbing any umbrella in reach and running to Phil who repeatedly tells them, “That’s not correct.” It seems nobody is putting any thought into this and going about it randomly until they get it right. The snowboarders get it right first and dash off. Then it’s the former Colts player and his wife and soon the other teams follow with correct umbrellas.

Phil tells the teams on a video screen in the Explorers that the first eight teams will be on the first flight, with the remaining teams following on another flight 20 minutes later. The leading snowboarders, however, don’t have a clue how to get to the airport and have to ask for directions at a gas station (which we’ll visit again soon). They’re told that “you gotta jump on the 605”. As if it were that easy!

Back at the starting point, the Vegas showgirls are the last to complete the umbrella word task and will have to complete an additional task, incurring the Hazard penalty. They stop by a gas station to pick up a map of LA to get to the airport and… oops! One of them dropped their passport on the gas station pavement next to their Explorer. Not a good start for these gals. “I’m sweating, so bad,” one of them says. And the sweating it just begins for them.

First to get to the airport and their tickets are flight attendants (and no doubt airport gurus) Ron & Bill. That figures. Ex-Survivors Ethan & Jenna and engaged couple Ernie & Cindy are right with them.

Meanwhile, the showgirls turn around and go back to the gas station where the passport got dropped. It’s not there and the attendant says nobody has turned it in. (Where is it, then?) Unable to find it, they hope by some very unlikely chance that some other team came by the same gas station and picked it up for them. These gals have been in Vegas too long the way they’re gambling their chances to remain in the Race on a slim hope.

We’re at the airport as the teams begin to depart. The already dickering dating 30’s couple Jeremy & Sandy catch the last seat in the first China Air flight. Three teams will depart later. The showgirls appear without the missing passport and can’t check in without it. They start arguing about having a plan, but what plan? “I’m going nowhere because you have no passport.” Well, these gals are a Hazard themselves!

Meanwhile, the other racers are gathered around and socialize. The cat quickly escapes the bag about Ethan and Jenna being former Survivors, as Marcus’ wife Amani recognizes Ethan and lets everyone know.

Then some guy appears out of nowhere with Kaylani’s passport and asks her, “You’re Kaylani? We found your passport.” Hmmm… It turns out the snowboarders visited the same gas station to ask the same guy for directions and after he (supposedly) found the passport, he figured out he was already being filmed in the Amazing Race! Then there’s some texting by “RyanStorms”:

So #TheLife gets crazier so after
being randomly filmed for the
amazing race I see that one of them
dropped there {sic} passport!!

@RyanStorms Whats her name?
She’ll need her passport! Can you
get it to LAX?

So apparently that’s how these guys end up showing up at the airport looking for the gals. The showgirls give them both a good hug. Maybe some Vegas luck has rubbed off on these gals after all, even if they still haven’t even gotten to the real Hazard yet. The guys wish them luck, hoping they’ll win the Race.

After arriving in Taipei, the teams must now proceed to the Ximending commercial district, where they get route info. Instead of a clue box, they will have to look up at a billboard which will reveal the next location (in Chinese script!). On the express bus with some of the other teams, Marcus jokes around and jives a little about what he did for a living, doing “a little protecting”, as in “I used to pass protect for Peyton Manning.”

Grandparents Bill & Cathi are slow to find transportation and end up on the last express bus. “Now we’re on the tail end of a duck,” he says. We’ll probably hear some more rancher witticisms from this guy — if they last long enough in the Race.

Meanwhile, several teams arrive in the commercial district and wonder where to start looking for the clue. A few go running off looking for they-don’t-know-what. Marcus wisely notes that the clue said to “look up” so they stay put. The orange and yellow electronic billboard is right in front of all of them but nobody sees it as the clue, probably expecting it to be in English instead of in Chinese script. Justin & Jennifer start dickering, saying there are signs everywhere.

Marcus is the first to recognize the billboard for what it is, saying, “Its right here”, with several other teams around them. Asking a local for a translation, they finally get that they have to proceed to Taipei Confucius Temple. Teams run together in the same packs that figured out the location together. Jeremy & Sandy are the first to reach the temple and the Roadblock envelope rack.

Teams must dial 1-800-CONFUCIUS on a pay phone and memorize a Confucian proverb word-for-word and accurately recite it to a Buddhist temple monk to receive their next clue. Cindy finds the pay phone first. The message is “In all things success depends on previous preparation, and without such previous preparation there is sure to be failure.” Thank goodness for these teams it’s not in a Chinese dialect! Shockingly, every team has trouble reciting this simple proverb.

Meanwhile, without the company of any of the other teams, grandparents Bill & Cathi drift away from the square where the billboard clue is located and start looking elsewhere. They end up taking an elevator up in a skyscraper a long way away. The twin sisters, also behind the pack, finally realize that it’s the billboard they’re looking for. The Vegas girls are with them and they take off together.

Cindy is finally the first one to recite the Confucian proverb correctly to get the next clue. It reads, “Travel by taxi to Dajia Riverside Park and search under the bridge for your next clue.” Jennifer of the brother and sister pair is the next to get it right, followed by Sandy of the 30’s dating couple. The snowboarders are the 8th team to recite it properly, leaving the twins and Vegas girls in 9th and 10th place with the long-lost grandparents at the back of the pack.

Cindy & Ernie find the next clue with a guy under the bridge at the park, where dragon boats await in the nearby river. There, teams will join a dragon boat race where one will beat the drum and the other will paddle in synchrony with the dragon boat crew. The couple are the first to finish the dragon boat race and get the Route Info directions to proceed to the next Pit Stop at the Martyr’s Shrine. Phil tells us the last team to check in here “may” be eliminated.

Meanwhile, the 9th place showgirls recite the proverb properly and then must carry out the Hazard task. It involves going to th 11th floor of the Core City Pacific Mall and picking up their next clue, which they seem to have no problem doing. But that’s not all. They must now face the Hazard — bungee jumping inside a huge multi-story mall. Whee! Fun, but time-consuming.

Back at the Confucian temple, one of the 10th place twin sisters (good luck knowing which one) is having trouble memorizing a one sentence proverb over and over. And over. It’s getting so bad, they’re freaking out and losing focus, which only makes it worse. The one doing the calling and reciting says she’s about to break down, but finally she gets it right. Later in the day, Cathi of the last-place grandparents seems to get it the very first time!

First to arrive at this leg’s Pit Stop are Cindy & Ernie. They’re greeted by what looks like a four-star general. Phil congratulates them and hands them the Express Pass. Jeremy & Sandy come in second, followed by Justin & Jennifer.

The next three teams behind them are still in the dragon boat race. We find out that yachtsman Zac “used to be a coxswain for the coastal force in England”, so he’s a natural at this.

The fourth team to arrive at the Pit Stop are Ethan & Jenna, followed by Amani & Marcus, Laurence & Zac, Andy & Tommy, Ron & Bill, Kaylani & Lisa, and Liz & Marie. Later in the day, Bill & Cathi are the last team to arrive. “However, this is a non-elimination leg and you are still in the Race,” Phil tells them with a serious grin. They will face an extra task in a Speed Bump and they also learn about the upcoming double elimination.

Next episode: Teams freak out when they read that the next leg is Double elimination! Stay tuned.

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