The 'All-Star' teams -- minus one very lovable hospital patient -- head to China

By Annie Barrett
Updated January 14, 2020 at 08:08 PM EST
Credit: CBS

Welcome back to The Amazing Race, where it’s never too late for a second (or in some cases, third) chance — as long as one of your vital organs isn’t threatening to rupture.

Results first: It’s an early goodbye to Sri Lankan “Twinnies” Nadiya and Natalie, the three percent amusing/97 percent horrifying pair of steaming tea kettles who could not stop bickering long enough to locate the correct Chinese bridal boutique. Stunningly, no Guangzhou bridal shop was named “Wedding Dress Ching Chong” a.k.a. “It’s all Asian; I can’t read it” — so the Twinnies were fresh out of luck. This coincided nicely with the whole of The Amazing Race viewership remembering how much they disliked the Twinnies. Good try, Twinnies. See ya never.

Now the bigger news: ‘Mark and Mallory’ the strangers have replaced ‘Bopper and Mark’ the lifelong friends. See, Bopper, of Mark and Bopper, had run out onto the UCLA football field along with the other teams for the official start of the race, BUT! He had an inflamed pancreas. Dr. Phil had informed Bopper and Mark of the devastating news the night before — as Phil hovered over the real-life doctor, Dr. Horowitz, in the closest The Amazing Race has ever come to resembling a medical drama (generic office set, lack of foreign flavor from costumed sidekicks save for a stern New Zealander in a grey leather jacket).

Bopper could not engage in any flight time; his poor pancreas was simply not fixin’ to hit the race again. So in a dramatic twist, the producers reached up into The Amazing Ether in which they keep all potential last-minute partners and plucked out Mallory Ervin, of season 17’s father-daughter team Gary and Mallory. She and Mark are both from Kentucky! It’s so random, but I love it. This is actually a great idea for an entire season. I’d rather watch Mismatched Strangers than All-Stars, I think. Maybe some other time.

Pint-size Mallory doesn’t like coleslaw, but she’s fine with plug-in cars, so the *Ford Fusion product placement* portion of the race went fine for the last-minute team. “I’m so bad with navigation,” she warned him as they raced to LAX. I’m gonna need a subtitled “internal monologue” bubble for Mark starting next episode. Just a thought.

NEXT PAGE: A whole street of wedding dresses and not one in Joey’s size? The four quickest teams to locate secret codes on the hats of the Bruins marching band members earned spots on the first flight to Guangzhou, China — Jet and Cord, Dave and Connor, Leo and Jamal, and Nadiya and Natalie. Everyone else lagged about an hour behind….

And they made it! In Street of Wedding Dresses, Jet and Cord blazed their own trail to a shop called Silver Gorgeous, as destiny had always intended for the good-natured cowboys. The pair rode this early lead right on through to the first leg’s pit stop with zero challengers, which made for a fairly lackluster premiere.

Meanwhile, Rachel, of Brendan and Rachel or ugh, “Brenchel,” established herself as the most annoying cheer-chanter of this season’s cast. No challengers there, either. Not yet.

The highlight of the bridal shop hunt, for me, was father-son team Dave and Connor’s initial question to a shop owner — “Are you Rich Forest and Beauty?” — followed by Dave leaning in for an incredibly awkward, unrequited hug that turned into some sort of ill-advised shoulder-kiss:

“Ooh. Bye-bye.” were the put-off lady’s exact words. But Dave and Connor recovered nicely. “Too close!” Dave announced. You never know. Sometimes you’ve just gotta thrust your love into the rich forest of beauty that is the South Chinese bridal shopping landscape and see what happens. (It’s almost certain Dave would have fared better at Precious One.)

The second-string racers were at one point pawing through gowns with their grubby airplane hands for no reason — unless determining once and for all that white is not “YouTube sensation” John’s color is a valid reason, WHICH IT IS NOT.

Local Hero Left Behind of the Week:

Did anyone give her anything? A tip? A thank you? A verbal threat to check him out on YouTube or else?

NEXT PAGE: Bubbles of despair Next, teams hit up the Ferris Wheel at the top of Canton Tower for a classic game of 50/50 chance: The even-numbered “bubbles” contained clues, the odds did not, and everyone had to wait ’til the doors closed and an extra 25 minutes after establishing whether the card had given them the clue or a miserable TRY AGAIN. It was pretty thrilling stuff, existential dread-wise. (I’m sadly into that.)

Once they’d endured the bubbles of terror, teams had to find “the stadium on the river below” — more complicated than it sounded, if you were Mallory — and perform five high-wire flips 300 feet above ground. The warm-colored wedgie-generating onesie costumes were funny, but the task was not difficult and the results were based purely on arrival time at the stadium. You could not have lost or gained any time performing this “Head Over Heels” Roadblock unless you flat-out refused to do it. A brave Margie, who “still has something to prove to all those ‘old’ women out there,” saved her is-she-laughing-or-crying tears for after the challenge. Good on her.

“Not for me, man,” said Cord on the way back down. He rides bulls. Not elevators.

Jet and Cord won the leg and an Express Pass for themselves, plus a second Express Pass they must share with another team before or on the fifth leg of the Race.

2nd place: Brendan and Rachel. “We’ll take it!” Cool; you have no choice in the matter.

3rd: Dave and Connor

4th: Margie and Luke

5th: Leo and Jamal. “And we’re very sexy.” -Jamal (who is now married!)

6th: Perfect Strangers Mark and Mallory

7th: Flight Time and Big Easy, the Globetrotters

8th: Jessica and John, who are just happy to avoid using or not using the Express Pass

9th: Caroline and Jen, country singers

10th: Joey and Meghan a.k.a. “YouTube”

How are you liking this All-Star roster? Do you agree with me that the Afghanimals are much more likable amidst a group of other Loud People? Can a Ferris Wheel really be called that if it’s virtually flat? And will you please plug in your car before you catch a plane?


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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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