''The Amazing Race'' kicks off with chills and thrills in Iceland: The grandparents are great, the entrepreneur is grating, and the Brooklyn boys think themselves right off the show

By Kirthana Ramisetti
Updated June 14, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Amazing Race: Tony Esparza
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”The Amazing Race”: Chills and thrills in Iceland

Thank God The Amazing Race is back! (Especially after the steaming pile that is this fall’s new network reality lineup — a.k.a. My Rebel Benefactor’s Big Fat Obnoxious $25 Hoax.) From the moment the 11 teams had to choose from three flights that would take them from Chicago to Iceland right until Phil Keoghan eliminated Brooklyn buds Avi and Joe, I was on the edge of my seat and biting my nails and doing all sort of other things that I assumed until then were just clichés meaning ”I’m nervous.” In fact, during the last half hour, I almost fell off the edge of my seat.

The moment my butt nearly hit hardwood was when Adam and Rebecca were indefinitely delayed because they filled their car with gasoline instead of diesel. (If you can believe it, contestants have made the same mistake in previous seasons. Is it so hard to read the label on the gas-cap door?) That’s when I realized the first leg of the race was totally up for grabs. Until that moment, it seemed fairly predictable that Queens roommates Meredith and Maria, grandparents Don and Mary Jean, or the father-daughter team of Gus and Hera would be the last to reach Phil and the generic blond Icelandic woman at the pit stop. The show’s ability to keep you guessing until the end is one of its greatest strengths. Ultimately, it was Avi’s so-called logical decision to search for a buoy in an ice-filled seven-square-mile lake instead of going ice climbing that cost them the game. The two friends seemed like okay guys (and Avi’s expression after Phil told them they were last was heartbreaking), but since we hardly knew them, it wasn’t a huge loss.

(By the way, lets hear it for Don and Mary Jean! Admit that you wrote off them as soon as they were the last team to reach their backpacks and get the first clue way back in the Windy City. How long could the two possibly last on such a physically demanding race, right? So to see 66-year-old M.J. scale the ice wall fairly easily and pass 26-year-old Meredith was frickin’ impressive.)

What’s not so great this time around? The cast. Half the teams look the same. Even when their names and jobs are flashed on the screen, I have trouble telling them apart. Hmm, Meredith and Maria look kind of alike — are they the sisters? Nope, that would be Mormons Kristy and Lena, one of whom — surprise, surprise! — is a model.

In fact, 6 people out of the 22 contestants are models. Besides Kristy, there’s the pair of dating actors/models and the engaged models and a model/pop-artist painter (that would be Victoria, a.k.a. Jonathan’s punching bag). How about for variety’s sake, the show casts ”divorced window washers” or ”bisexual Elvis impersonators”? (Perhaps models bring a special skill to the game: Freddy said that his and Kendra’s time spent traveling for their job gives them an edge because they know ”the nuances of airports.”)

When Adam (dubbed Hellboy by Victoria because of the hornlike pigtails on top of his head) surveyed the landscape after waking up on the Icelandic glacier and said, ”I forgot how white it is out here,” for a second I thought he was talking about the other teams. Gus and Hera are the only nonwhite competitors. This show travels to the most diverse locations all over the world. How come they can’t find more diversity when choosing a cast?

So who’s gonna emerge as this season’s breakout stars, à la Charla and Mirna (okay, just Charla)? Married pro wrestlers Lori and Bolo are an easy call. They had the best lines. ”It’s so cold my implants are frozen!” Lori wailed at one point, while Bolo mispronounced the word ”suave” when boasting he has ”suavé on the streets” and called his wife a ”dumbass redneck.” No doubt they’ll spend the entire time calling each other idiots and challenging each other to wrestling matches in every country they visit.

And then there’s entrepreneur Jonathan, the self-proclaimed ”mental magician.” He is so immediately over-the-top obnoxious that I almost missed last season’s Colin. At least Colin was a smart player and compelling to watch. Jonathan is a loudmouth five-year-old who likes to berate poor wife Victoria for no good reason. (Unlike Colin’s Christie, Victoria at least yells back.) The mental magician probably set a show record by threatening to divorce his spouse in the first episode. Jonathan was so instantly hateable that three teams have already formed an alliance based on getting rid of him.

One last thing: According to my count, someone said the word ”baby” (as in, ”You can do it, baby!” or ”I’m so proud of you, baby!”) 27 times during course of the show. And you know its only going to get worse as the season goes on. CBS, can you just bleep it out like it’s one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words? Thanks.

What do you think? Who will be the breakout stars of this season? Who’s going to win? And what are the nuances of airports, exactly?

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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