From the family members to the best friends, we size up the 11 new teams as they head off to South America
The Amazing Race
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

So much has changed in eight months: The bottom dropped out of the real estate market, Michael Phelps set a record for Olympic gold medals, and two candidates emerged for the presidential election. But I couldn’t enjoy any of it. Why? Because for the last eight months there has been no Amazing Race. How could I concentrate on anything in that dark, Keoghanless time, while shaking from the roadblock d.t.s? The presidential race is nothing but a poor man’s detour: Yes, there are two choices, each with their own pros and cons, but nobody ever falls in the mud or has to ride a rickety bicycle.

But now, I am whole again. Phil is back (and is it me, or has he dyed his hair?), and he has the extra gravitas that comes from him not having to humiliate himself like the reality-host nominees at the Emmys last week. It would have completely devalued Browsie if it had been spotted arching at Howie Mandel’s endless prattling. After writing the TV Watch for Big Brother this summer, I’m thrilled to once again be recapping a show that spans a surface area larger than a bodily-fluid stained backyard. So let’s meet this season’s teams as they jet off to Brazil, the land where Blong candy grows on trees:

TONI AND DALLAS Do you remember when, in Survivor‘s second season, Colby won a car and had a sleepover with his mother in the trunk? While everyone else watching was a little creeped out, I wonder if Dallas and his single mother were yelling at the TV, “You two call that spooning?” Toni loves her son. Loooooves her son. I’m not implying that they’re romantically inclined, but she idolizes him to the point that I’m guessing her closet is filled with his bronzed bowel movements. (“See that corn? That’s m’boy!”) He is an athlete, and at one point she kvelled that this was her first golden opportunity to be on his team: Imagine the heartbreak she suffered those many years that she was told, “We’re sorry, Dallas’ mom, but a woman in her 40s isn’t eligible to try out for his high school lacrosse team, no matter how many muffins you offer to bake for the team.” Dallas’ respect is mutual, which is touching, but I haven’t seen this deep a mother-son bond since Sante and Kenny Kimes.

KELLY AND CHRISTY We didn’t learn too much about the best-friend divorcees this week except that man oh man do they hate their ex-husbands. Granted, in every season premiere the producers show contestants repeating their identities over and over again (“We’re best friends!” “We argue a lot!”) but these ladies’ segments looked like they were produced by their lawyers. In the candy-delivery challenge — brought to you be Blong, the candy for when you can’t move just one box. Blong! Try it today!—Kelly said, “Christy and I both have both been through bad divorces. We’ll pull out of whatever bad situations we’re faced with.” Do they use this metaphor for everything they do? Sitting down for lunch: “This meat is kind of chewy, but considering we’d have chewed off our left legs to get away from our worthless-bastard husbands, we’ll eat it all!” (One other note: In Brazil, the women chased down cabs yelling, “Daxi!” in an unplaceable, generic accent. Did they prep for this race by studying at the Mirna School for Bilingualism?)

Boy, this recapping is making me hungry. And with my sweet tooth, I could really go for some Blong right about now. But anyway…

NEXT: Frat boys and Southern belles

ANDREW AND DAN Look, I wasn’t in a fraternity in college, and thought the whole thing was kind of stupid. That said, I think all fraternities everywhere should file a class action suit against these two for misrepresentation of frat guys. They may be in a frat, but these nervous dweebs aren’t in Animal House, they’re in Vegetable House. In their opening sequence, they tried their hardest to parrot all the frat-guy signifiers: One of them mumbled that the only six-pack they focus on is in the cooler, not the stomach. And then came the awkward moment when they had to ogle two women, followed by Andrew pushing Dan in the water. (I’ll bet the producers had to convince Dan not to put nose plugs on before this stunt.) But any of that playacting was overshadowed by their pessimistic fretting over their place in line to get tickets at the Los Angeles airport, and Dan’s bragging about his professional knowledge of the airline industry. If you go visit a university and you want to find the fraternity where guys aren’t getting laid, simply listen for the sound of a brother explaining the ins and outs of redeeming frequent flier miles.

MARISA AND BROOKE From what I gathered in their intro, these blond Southern belles are really superficial (we like pearls!) and like to make cupcakes. That’s about the only camera time they got, save for two moments: At the top of the 240-foot cargo net descent, Brooke said, “I can’t even enjoy the view because I’m about to pee my pants.” And then, looking to get a signal to cross a busy street in Brazil, one confused blonde said, “Is there a button to press? This isn’t America.” Perhaps this means that they will be filling the rare but important Incontinent Ugly American slot.

That said, even the ugliest American won’t find anything unattractive about Blong, the candy sensation that’s sweeping Brazil. Blong: It’s like Carnivale, except with fruit flavor!

KEN AND TINA Now these two have promise. They’re like the older version of last season’s MVP bickerers, Nate and Jen. Like Nate, former NFL player Ken cheated on his partner, and was hoping she would forgive him. Like Jen, Tina devotes every waking hour to wishing Ken’s private parts would be run over by a truck. And since he’s penitent and desperate for her absolution, this means that their entire race will consist of her emasculating him on national TV while he is unable to fight back. She’s a backseat driver, and yells at him for everything, including not learning Spanish before the trip (although in Brazil they speak Portuguese): Stay tuned for upcoming episodes in which he will be upbraided for not: learning to fly; mastering teleportation; and KEEPING YOUR G-DAMN PECKER IN YOUR PANTS, YOU DISGUSTING PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A MAN. The interesting thing about Tina is that her eyebrows seem to be drawn on, and she appears to have gone to great trouble to draw them on at the angriest angles possible: / This ensures that even if she momentarily forgets herself and feels happy about him, he will never know it because she will always look pissed. I wonder if one day she will skip drawing eyebrows altogether, and just write “HATE” over her right eye and “YOU” over the left.

I will never say, “I hate you” to you, Blong.

NEXT: Brotherly love

NICK AND STARR Siblings who love each other nearly as much as Toni and Dallas. Adding to the creepy family dynamic is that they struck up an alliance with Tina and Ken, calling them Mom and Dad. Because if you want surrogate parents, why not pick the ones on the brink of divorce? I suppose it makes sense: If Tina and Ken follow the usual divorcing route, they’ll each start currying favor with “the kids,” so at least Nick and Starr might get a new TV and a trip to Disney World out of this alliance. The brother and sister are good competitors, though; they finished first in this heat. The only trouble that could arise is if Starr continues to flirt with Dallas. This could make both Nick and Toni so wildly jealous that both teams’ games will culminate in a bloody finale that will make Oedipus Rex look like The Beverly Hillbillies.

TERENCE AND SARAH These two lovebirds were a surprise to me. He’s the “free spirit,” she’s the buttoned-down office worker, and yet he emerged as far more tightly wound. He doesn’t like it when she talks to other teams, both because they shouldn’t be trying to form friendships, but also because — as he said during the leg’s overnight stay — “I want you to hold me, I want you to connect with me.” I guess this explains why he’s a running coach: Terence strikes me as the kind of guy who has a lot of exes who he’s busy stalking. And when someone who looks vaguely like an ex zips by in a cab, he’s got to be ready to chase after her on foot, sometimes for upwards of six miles. Sarah started the show saying that they are opposites, which is true: While he doesn’t want to be friends with anybody, she wants to be everyone’s best friend. When trying to find a cab during one stint, she tried to engage Nick and Starr (who were also searching for a ride) with the small talk-y, “Not so easy to find a taxi.” They didn’t respond, and for the rest of the leg she complained about their audacity. By episode’s end, she had decided they were her mortal enemies. (It looks like this fury will continue into next week.) Does it count as a feud if the other people have no idea that you’re angry at them? Is it possible they didn’t respond because (A) they didn’t hear, (B) they were distracted by trying to win a million dollars, or (C) there is no response to Sarah’s statement. It’s like saying, “Mosquitoes, what’re you gonna do?” and being pissed that someone doesn’t say, “You can do nothing about mosquitoes. Well put.” I recently rode up the elevator with someone who said, “Is it really only Wednesday? Feels like it should be Friday,” and I simply shrugged and stayed quiet. I thought nothing of it at the time, but now I’m wondering if that man is sitting at home right now planning different ways to kill me.

But if he wants to kill me with yumminess, he should buy me some Blong. Man, that’s good candy!

NEXT: Best. Pair. Ever

AJA AND TY These long-distance daters barely got any camera time. The only notes I jotted down about them was that they drove in the carpool lane, and got in the wrong line at the airport. Nobody got shorter shrift than them when it came to airtime.

ANTHONY AND STEPHANIE I stand corrected. I’m not entirely convinced this dating couple is actually on this season. When going over my notes on the show, I saw that I had typed their names in the beginning, but never again. Were they contestants, or the people responsible for humping all the contestants’ backpacks to the top of the stairs of the L.A. Coliseum?

MARK AND BILL Comic book nerds, easily recognized as such because Bill actually looks like someone traced The Simpsons‘ Comic Book Guy. And just in case you didn’t understand that the comic fans were filling the nerd slot in this race, their introductory video showed them playing nerd calling cards Guitar Hero and chess. Left on the cutting room floor was footage of them trying on Klingon masks and putting tape on the bridges of their glasses. Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! And sweaty ones, at that. When they dashed damply toward the end of the race, my TV set emitted the dank odor of a mildewy copy of a 1988 Silver Surfer comic crossbred with the scent of congealed Lik-m-Aid.

(A side note on these guys: I’ve noticed that more and more of the teams have been dressing identically over the past few seasons. And yet there’s a definite pattern: Only attractive pairs match. Perhaps it’s because best-friend blondes and hot lawyer/publicist fiancés are not immediately linkable or distinguishable in the viewers’ eyes; at the beginning, before you really know the teams, you could be forgiven for thinking that, say, the hot lawyer was paired with one of the blondes, and putting them in distinctive garb solves that problem. But the comic book nerds and the frat guys don’t need to match: When all 11 teams thunder off the starting line, and you see two doughy guys waddling in the middle, you immediately know they go together. Much like when you see the frat guys, you knew, “See those two guys who look like rejects from a Judd Apatow casting call? I assume they’re friends to the end.”

As I am friends with Blong to the end. I pray each and every night that the U.S. remains allied with Brazil, because if the Blong trade ever seals up, my taste buds will commit suicide. If I have to eat Blong wannabe Starbursts, I will saw my tongue off and stuff it into an empty Skittles bag and shove it up the ass of the man who invented Sour Patch Kids. BLONG! BLONG! BLONG! BLONG!

ANITA AND ARTHUR After the victories by TK and Rachel, and BJ and Tyler, I extrapolated that hippies had a predisposition for winning this game. I’d like to amend that: Faux hippies have the predisposition. Actual original hippies? Not so much. Tie-dyed beekeepers Anita and Arthur, who look like they keep 14 other types of insects nesting in their hair, just in case the bottom drops out of the bee market, loped through the first leg like they were moseying through an old R. Crumb cartoon. (I wish they were forced to walk through the race with one giant foot placed in front of the other like the “Keep On Truckin'” mud flaps.) There is no such thing as a ’60s-era hippie in a hurry, thereby making the Amazing Race anathema to them. In the end, they trundled in last, and after being eliminated, Arthur said, “It was a good run.” Well, it wasn’t, actually, but perhaps he was flashing back to something else that was (his mad dash to get that brown acid everyone was talking about?), so we’ll let it slide. After all, we can forgive any hippie for being driven to distraction by having to wheel around boxes of something called Blong. They’re delicious enough as they are, but if you ignore the “l” in “Blong,” it must bring back a lot of distractingly happy, burbling memories.

So what do you think? Was it too soon for Anita and Arthur to go? Who’s your early pick to take it all?

Episode Recaps

The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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