Season 16 kicks off with 11 teams doing their own high-wire act and heading out to paint the town

By Jessica Shaw
Updated February 15, 2010 at 06:11 AM EST
Monty Brinton/CBS

The Amazing Race

S16 E1
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Welcome back for another season, Amazing Race fans! After last year’s less-than-stellar Race, Bertram van Munster and his gang of less-awesomely-named producers are finally back in the groove with plenty of great casting…and Joe and Heidi. Plus, they managed to pack this first episode with important lessons for us viewers. For example, black people get better directions from black people! Who knew, Monique and Shawne? Also: Willing a technical glitch on a massive piece of equipment can sometimes cause it to break down. Thanks for showing us how it’s done, Brandy! And there’s always the ol’ rule about how the best way to remind yourself to actually follow instructions on a show all about following instructions is to write ”details” on your arm. Too bad you didn’t heed your own wisdom, Brent and of-course-you-spell-your-name-that-way Caite!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind back to Los Angeles where Phil Keoghan kicked off the 16th Amazing Race by telling teams they’d have to find their way to LAX via (pause for dramatic music) public transportation. ”Here in Los Angeles that can be a major challenge,” Phil tells us. And just when you were about to hate on Phil for being totally elitist and snobby, the princessy lesbian couple (who’ve already told us that they’d win the race if the clue sent them to find the nearest Louis Vuitton) Brandy and Carol sounded even more horrified. ”Public transportation to us is, like, not using a valet parker,” Carol says. Shockingly — shockingly! — people in Los Angeles seem to know how to direct the teams to the Metro and the Flyaway Bus that takes them directly to the airport. Okay, I’ll let my screw-you-Porsche-drivers rant go now.

Phil has already told us that the first three teams will make it onto a plane that arrives in Chile one hour earlier than the second team. And Joe has already declared to his teammate wife Heidi that they’re in the lead, which, of course, is wrong. But it’s just the first of what is sure to be plenty of opportunities for Joe to make himself look like a fool. He’s told us with apparent pride that he’s going to be the ”problem child” of the race. ”Joe is very confrontational,” his wife Heidi tells us. ”He certainly has said things that really piss people off.” Is it his obnoxious demeanor or simply the puffy-faced disdain for his wife that makes him somewhat resemble Jon Gosselin to me?

Nonetheless, Jeff and Jordan (the absolutely adorable — if occasionally lacking on the IQ front — couple from last year’s Big Brother house), Monique and Shawne (moms/attorneys who wear shirts that say cutesy bumper-sticker-sayings like ”Mompreneurs”), and Dana and Adrian (the doomed but lovey dovey high school sweethearts) luckily secure the only three spots on that first flight. And I say luckily because even after assuring Jeff that she knew Chile was a country, Jordan still showed up at the ticket counter and asked for a flight to China. Should we give her a free pass and say it’s easy to confuse Chile with China? Both start with C. Both have two syllables and end in a vowel? Or should we be irate that the $1 million $500,000 winner of Big Brother couldn’t even use a drop of that money for enrollment in a ”Hooked on Geographic Phonics” seminar? For now, I’m still Team Jordan.

NEXT: Jet and Cord show us the money

And just when you thought an hour’s lead would be significant, along came Brandy and her fascinating-if-somewhat-disturbing connection to the gods of aviation and weather. ”We’re praying for weather in Dallas and/or a major mechanical failure,” she says. Um, did she actually just hope a plane breaks into pieces in mid air so she could take a leisurely jog instead of a sprint to the finish line? Wrong or right, there’s something to be said for Brandy’s mojo because that first plane did indeed have mechanical problems and everyone ended up on the same flight.

On the alarmingly opposite end of the mojo spectrum are Jet and Cord, the cowboy hats who think Amazing Race can’t be much harder than riding a bull. After buying their tickets to Chile they decide to change money. Though we don’t see the footage of them changing money, I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Person behind desk: Can I help you?

Jet and Cord: Yes, we’d like money to use in Chile.

Person behind desk: We don’t have that currency here.

And let’s pause here. The appropriate response would be for Jet and Cord not to change money. After all, if you specifically need an apple and the store is out, you simply don’t come home with an apple. And unpause.

Jet and Cord: You got anything close?

Person behind desk: Close to Chile? Well, Brazil’s on the same continent. You mean close like that?

Jet and Cord: Sounds good to us!

And scene.

Once in Chile (no, not China, and no, not Brazil), teams headed to Valparaiso which Phil tell us is the ”San Francisco of South America.” Everyone hops on buses, except for our favorite money traders who quickly found out that Brazil and Chile are not, in fact, the same country and therefore do not, in fact, share a currency. ”Should I admit this?” Jet asks Cord about fessing up to his faux pas. Amazingly, Team Cowboy Hat doesn’t lose that much time.

Perhaps even more amazingly, models Caite and Brent were in the lead when they hit the roadblock where one person had to partake in ”cable walking,” which meant walking the length of a football field, 120 feet above ground, on what looked like a laundry line. ”I kind of get scared but I’m not as scared as him,” Jordan said of Jeff’s fear of heights. And off she went, trying to chase down Caite. In her one endearing moment in the episode, Caite said, ”This is absolutely gorgeous.” I’m always relieved when a contestant stops for a second to appreciate the scenery. Heidi was ready to try her skills on the laundry line until she was informed by Jon Gosselin that she’s scared. Um, okay. Then came Dan and Jordan Pious, the brothers from Rhode Island who’d already made me laugh with their intro package (Jordan: ”Gay all the way. Gay is the only way.” Dan: ”Not true”). Jordan shrieked with younger brother adoration, ”I love you bro!” Even after Dan fell, Jordan came out with the glorious, ”just try to zhush yourself along!” The American Dialect Society has defined the word as ”to primp or fluff up.” So while Dan thought Jordan was telling him to move along, he was really being told to get his butt across that laundry line in the most fabulous way possible. Regardless, it worked, and the brothers were off.

NEXT: Brent and Caite take a long walk

Brandy could use some zhushing as she shook in terror on that wire. ”I am fearless,” she said with a smile a few moments before showing a tremendous amount of fear. ”Please help me. I’m going to throw up,” she said once on the wire. I wondered why Carol didn’t’t tell her there was a new branch of Louis Vuitton at the far end of the laundry line.

Other teams that I’m already feeling bored with (Phillies coach Steve and his daughter Allie, triathlete granny and her blah granddaughter Shannon) make it across with little screen time. I guess Betram V-M isn’t that excited about them either. In the end, it’s the detectives (Louis and Michael, in complementary facial hair) and the high school sweethearts (Dana and Adrian) that are bringing up the caboose. Poor Adrian had an early lead, but the self-described ”Big Dog” didn’t quite have the bark — or balance — to finish the challenge.

After the cable walking, teams had to go down the hill in a funicular to the next challenge of painting part of a house. Silly me, I thought funicular was a word almost everyone on the planet knew, but apparently not. Brent and Caite simply decided to ignore the clue and walk down the hill. What exactly went through Brent’s mind? ”Brent, there are words on this clue card. Let’s ignore them”? Jeff isn’t sure what to do either, as he asks, Jordan ”What’s a fan-a-cular?” At least he’s smart enough to ask a local who points him in the right direction. They share a funicular down with the brothers and Dan said, ”Gosh, I guess I underestimated that team.” Less true words were never spoken. (However, more inappropriate ones were, when brother Jordan said earlier in the episode ”I almost pooped in my pants when I saw” the former Miss Teen South Carolina. But we’ll forgive it because of the killer impersonation.)

Teams then had to choose four cans of paint and supplies and find a house with an empty area to be painted. ”We’re looking for the Martha Stewart seafoam green. From the 1997 collection. Before jail,” Carol said. Love her and her two-tone hair. Of course, carrying the equipment wasn’t so easy for everyone. Dan lost a paintbrush, Jordan could barely carry the ladder (Jeff ended up lugging everything), and Monique managed to compare her difficulties to Jesus Christ. ”I thought if Jesus can do this I can do this. I’m trying to be like Jesus,” she said.

Nope, she wasn’t talking about turning the other cheek. She was equating the cross with a local ladder that’s maybe kinda heavy. I don’t know if Jesus is an Amazing Race fan and even if he is I don’t know if he gave up after last season. But I do know that he doesn’t want that kind of shout-out.

NEXT: Color Steve and Allie chagrined

In the least astute move of the episode, Steve and Allie went inside a house and started painting a wall red, much to the hilarious chagrin of the local painter. Well, at least they had a sense of humor about their flub. ”I went from genius to ‘are you kidding me, Dad?”’ Steve said. Louis and Michael, the cops who made the unfortunate proclamation at the top of the episode that ”I hate to be cocky but I see us winning every leg,” try to convince themselves that painting light blue over an already-painted patch of violet is a good idea. One of them sounds exactly like Ray Romano. Not sure which. Not sure why I can’t tell which. Maybe their facial hair blinds me. Sure enough, all the teams (except poor Dana and Adrian who were back on top of the laundry line from hell) finish. ”Danke!” said Caite when she was handed the next clue. Just to recap, people: Chile is not China, Brazil, or Germany.

Finally, it was time for the pit stop at Palacio Baburizza, a 90-year old chalet. Jeff and Jordan won a trip to Vancouver. Caite and Brent arrived second only to be told of their 30-minute penalty for avoiding the funicular. At this point we learned that they wrote the word ”details” on their hands to remind themselves of paying attention to details. It’s not like these clues resemble the reading comprehension section of the SATs. There aren’t too many details to follow in 2-3 sentences. But hey, whatever works. I wonder what slogans didn’t make the cut. ”Open mouth before speaking?” ”Close eyes before going to sleep?” They were finally checked in as team number seven, but Caite insisted ”technically we really are second.” Well, technically, one could refer to Iraq as ”The Iraq” but that doesn’t make it any more correct. Bringing up the rear were Louis and Michael (who, sorry, didn’t win even their first leg) and Triathlete Granny, who’s got a hell of a lot more fight in her than Shannon, the ”healthcare outreach contract analyst” (whatever that means) granddaughter.

Alas, Phil had to abandon the Chilean musicians and the emotional comfort of the Amazing Race picnic blanket to go back up Laundry Line Mountain in order to put Adrian out of his misery. ”My arms were fatigued. My heart was racing,” Adrian said after failing attempting to cross the line. His wonderfully patient wife could only say, ”The main thing is that he tried his best. And by him trying his best I can’t help but be proud of him.” And cue the tears.

What did you think of the first episode? Who are your early favorites?

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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