The Amazing Race season premiere recap: Good Morning, Vietnam
Season 15 starts off with a dash through Tokyo and then Ho Chi Minh City
Was this season 15 of The Amazing Race or season 3 of I Survived a Japanese Game Show? Thankfully, it was the former, even if there was a large chunk in which it seemed like the latter. So let’s begin with my new rallying cry, ”Eat the wasabiiiiiiiiii!”
ERIC AND LISA Let’s get them out of the way quickly, with the same speed from which they vanished from the show. Borrowing a trick used in Survivor, the Race decided to dump a team right away, after a challenge right at the starting line. The contest involved looking at a wall of license plates, trying to find a plate from the Tokyo district that they’d all be jetting off to; as it kicked off, I tried to guess which team I’d be happiest losing this early in the game, and, fortunately, Eric and Lisa were right up there in my mind. They were yoga teachers, but, as Eric said, they weren’t your ordinary teachers: ”We’re like yoga in the hood.” I have a feeling if Eric and Lisa ever tried to teach their yoga in the hood, they would last about as long as they did in this game. And for all their talk about being ”extreme” yogaists (yogists? yogers? yogifiers?), they accepted their loss in a very zen manner. ”To be the first team eliminated, now the shame, the pain is gone for everybody else. We took a beating for everybody.” Added Lisa: ”We set them free.” So in yoga terms, they stepped in downward-facing dog mess so others could stride on with clean shoes.
SAM AND DAN The Amazing Race casting agents usually prefer their gay players to play to the broadest stereotypes of flamboyance, bitchiness, or haplessness. Which is why this team is going to throw homophobic viewers into turmoil, and possibly a deep spiral of tough self-questioning: Wait, these guys look and act like my frat brothers! And they celebrated their mutual coming out with high-fives! But…I high five, too. In fact, I just did, when the Eagles won. Does that mean I’m gay? Or are the Eagles gay? The brothers are hiding their sexuality from the other teams, hoping to get on the good sides of female teams that want to flirt with them and don’t realize how pointless it is. Damn their sister for nearly blowing their cover by giving them matching orange passport covers!
MARIA AND TIFFANY What is it with reality shows casting poker players? First there was Jean-Robert on Survivor, then Natalie on Big Brother, and now these professional card sharps. Is it because poker provides the most obvious metaphor for why someone will be good at this game? We get it, you’re used to reading people and bluffing and getting free drinks and wearing green visors! Now shut up and play! Frankly, the Race, with its minor reliance of alliances or cooperation, is the least applicable of reality shows to poker skills. The only thing that can hold you in good stead is the ability to stay up all night playing a game. These women decided to use their bluffing skills by telling everyone that they worked for a homeless organization, so their competitors wouldn’t know they were rich (cover broken when a chip groupie recognized them in an airport), and would think they were far nicer than they were (cover broken when they were big snobs). And all their vaunted poker skills weren’t on display in Tokyo: During the wasabi game-show challenge, Maria had the opposite of a poker face when she failed to eat her first wasabi roll in time and had to do it again, nearly crying and quitting. And then, once she finished and she and Tiffany were given 20 audience members to shepherd through Tokyo, they lost two. Aren’t counting skills kind of key in poker? When she finishes a round of five-card draw, does she ever have to tell the dealer, ”Bad news: I seem to only be able to find three cards. I swear to God, there’s an Ace of hearts around here somewhere, you’ll just have to take my word for it.” Oh, and also, what does it say for their powers of perception when they’re shamelessly flirting with two gay men? When are they gonna learn to fold on that one?
NEXT: Lance the lawyer: He’s wicked smaaaaht!
Quick interjection here on the Tokyo game show challenge: I enjoyed the ludicrous frenzy at first, but ultimately it failed as a challenge since it was entirely luck based. How fast you got through depended partly on how fast you could down the incredibly spicy roll, but far more important was whether the wheel determining who got the spicy roll would land on you in the first place. Sure, there are other challenges that are based on luck (any needle in a haystack game, for instance), but at least there you get the feeling that the player has some minor say in it, even if it’s random. Here, it was just a 50/50 chance, every time. Plus — and I’m sorry if I seem sadistic — nobody seemed as visually tortured by the task as I’d hoped. Once you’ve seen Steve-O snort wasabi on Jackass and practically bleed from the eyes, anything else seems anticlimactic.
LANCE AND KERI Let’s meet this year’s Massholes, shall we? It’s Lance, the full-contact ”street” lawyer whose wife, Keri, verifies that he is ”smaaaaaaaaaaht.” Tiffany struggled to find the right word to describe Lance: ”I don’t want to use the word ‘meathead’ in the wrong sense, but we can not picture Lance in a courtroom.” Not to worry, Tiffany, your word choice is spot-on! (We also would have accepted ”loudmouth” or ”boob.”) Lance is aggressive and bossy, and really self-confident. When he landed on both mats, he yelled, ”That’s right!” to Phil, as if his very presence at the finish line was akin to him winning an Olympic medal. Lance is also not one for introspection. He’s on the Race to win, he said, not to find himself, ”Because hey,” he said, flexing his muscle, ”I’m right here.” Oh, sure, it’s easy to find yourself when you label yourself with a bandana tied around your bicep in the same way that you mark your suitcase so you can find it in the baggage carousel. I’d hate to see how Lance marks his ass so he can find the difference between it and a hole in the ground.
GARY AND MATT Why, if it isn’t the ”father and son who never communicated much before but whose relationship will grow in leaps and bounds on the trip” team! The Montana family didn’t show much disharmony or awkwardness around each other, a la Ron ”Real truth flavor!” and his daughter Christina. Too bad it was 2009; if this were 30 years ago, everything would have been in place for generation gap bickering: In 1979, Vietnam would have been the perfect locale for a farmer dad and a hippie son to fight. Plus, Matt’s pink hair was readymade for a ”You pinko!” insult. Unfortunately, it’s 2009, and Gary is not Archie Bunker.
MEGHAN AND CHEYNE First of all, Cheyne is pronounced ”Shane.” Which makes me wonder, ”Why doesn’t he spell it ”Shane”? I can concentrate on little else with this team of childhood sweethearts. I tried to make a joke about how his hair looks like that of the Slim Jim mascot, but no, I kept getting distracted and coming back to his name. Should I be spelling my name, ”Gawche”? Okay, other than that, they’re young and athletic and perpetually and perky and SERIOUSLY, ”CHEYNE”? WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?
NEXT: Will this mark the first loss for a Globetrotter?
MIKA AND CANAAN They’re newly dating, religious, and he’s a songwriter who’s saving himself for marriage. ”He likes me for the right reasons,” said Mika. ”It’s not because he wants to have sex. He’s kind of like a diamond in the rough.” A diamond in the rough? Doesn’t this all make him more like a diamond behind three panels of bulletproof glass? But Canaan is a saintly character, happiest when he’s plucking his acoustic guitar and writing soulful tunes about Mika’s sacred lady parts and how much fun it is to hold hands while wearing three pairs of gloves and how nothing is more important than treating a woman with respect and…and…what’s that? Mika’s failing at the challenge where she had to shepherd ducks in Vietnam? ”God, I want to rip her head off right now!” Canaan bellowed. Sorry, where was he? Oh yes, respect and love….
MARCY AND RON The requisite older team on the Race, he’s a worrier, she’s peppy. They seem like a fun couple, as long as Marcy tones down her cruise director aspirations. When they led their team of audience members through the streets of Tokyo, she acted like she was squiring a team of Girl Scouts, attempting to get them to sing and dance. And she continued to do this as she led them a couple of miles in the wrong direction. Personally, when I’ve been dragged miles out of my way through the Tokyo heat, I prefer to do so in silence: by mile three, the hokey-pokey is not welcome.
FLIGHT TIME AND BIG EASY Okay, if this was a popularity contest, everyone would have given up before getting on the first flight, because who can beat a pair of Harlem Globetrotters? And yet, unlike their basketball matches, this game is not fixed. There are no Washington Generals to play the fool. How will these two react in a world where people don’t stand still to have their shorts pulled down and be doused with buckets of water? F.T. and B.E. seem to be doing fine so far, and they’re lovable in the grand tradition of Meadowlark Lemon and Curly, and yet I’ll be curious to see if they will keep their professional and competitive cool when things get tough. It may scar a nation of children to see a Globetrotter fail miserably, let alone scream, ”This is bulls—!” after it happens.
ZEV AND JUSTIN Zev has Asperger’s, which is on the autism scale, and at first I thought this was entirely the root of his flat, whiny, Rain-Man-like delivery. But then as the episode went on, and he grimaced at the thought of walking in Vietnam’s flooded streets, and dropped dryly witty remarks that made his pal Justin roar, I realized, wait, he also sounds like many of my neurotic, funny, deadpan acquaintances who work in the media. So what does this mean: that Asperger’s is only incidental to Zev’s demeanor, or that 70% of all New York media types have Asperger’s? That’s a question for science, I suppose.
NEXT: And this week’s loser is…
BRIAN AND ERICKA Wow, we’ve had ”beauty queens” on the show before, but never the top of the beauty queen food chain, a former Miss America! And I think she’ll do well, provided Sam and Dan don’t ask her about gay marriage: that hasn’t gone well for beauty contestants as of late. She does exude beauty-queen cool; in tense situations, you could often see her about to snap, but then a sharp voice in her head shouted, ”Remember the judges!” and she’d slap on a smile and lay out a quip like, ”I think we should stick to American game shows!” Ha ha ha YOU’RE GOING DOWN, MISS GEORGIA! As for Brian, there’s a guy who knows how to make things happen. When the ticket agent in Tokyo told him the flight to Vietnam was sold out, I thought he was nuts for asking them to sell him an economy ticket but put him in business. What next, offering to trade them a ten for two twenties? And yet it worked! And later, when their bus was set to depart over an hour after the first teams’ bus, he arranged for all the trailing teams to chip in to bribe the bus driver to leave earlier. And that worked! The man can talk himself into any situation…which makes me wonder if Ericka will one day wake up, look at her wedding ring and then him, and say, ”Now hold on a minute, how did this happen?”
GARRETT AND JESSICA Finally, the requisite, ”On again/Off Again, Should We Break Up Or Get Married” couple. Normally, I love bickering twosomes on the Race, and yet I’m not sad to see these go as they didn’t appear to have the raw, sharp-tongued combustibility of such hall of famers as Nate and Jen. Through the whole episode, Jessica was portrayed as the problem half, what with her ”short fuse.” Garrett seemed pretty stonefaced, mumbling about how she needed to calm down. And yet at the end, when they arrived last at the Vietnam pit stop and were eliminated, he pounded a wall in frustration and Phil quickly turned to Jessica and said, ”Does he get angry like this?” Haven’t you been listening, Phil? She’s the one with the short fuse! Phil’s like a cop who walks into a bar, sees someone kicking someone else in the face, and looks at the victim and says, ”Sir, you’re under arrest for hitting that guy’s shoe with your head!” Since Garrett and Jessica had only been on the road for one leg, we couldn’t hope for any great epiphanies in their relationship…and we got none. ”I don’t know if we’re closer to marriage. You never know,” he said. Jessica, is he always this noncommittal? You can tell us.
So which team are you rooting for? Do you think we’re in for a good season? Do you think the Globetrotters have an unfair advantage, what with them being internationally beloved and able to turn water into confetti? Let me know, and I’ll see you again next week!