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February 21, 2011 at 05:05 AM EST

Welcome to Palm Springs, CA. “It’s the second windiest place on Earth,” proclaimed Grandmaster Phil, “a city on the forefront of modern energy technology!” Which is a kind way of saying that Palm Springs is a perma-sunny Retirementville, populated almost entirely by senior citizens whose hobbies include “shopping,” “the steam room,” and “slowly burning away all those pesky brain cells while playing unbearably hot rounds of golf.” (Dear God: Please let me live in Palm Springs when I retire. Also, please let me retire tomorrow.) It’s a true American city — terraformed out of the desert, subsisting purely off of tourism and excessive air conditioning — and it served as the kickoff point for season XVIII of The Amazing Race (broadcast, at long last, in glorious Technicolor Cinemascope HD.)

The cast this season is composed entirely of teams with “unfinished business,” which makes them sound like angry ghosts trapped in a haunted mansion. Although that would be a pretty fun haunted mansion: This contestant pool is stacked tall with fan favorites, like Harlem Globetrotters Flight Time and Big Easy, cowbros Jet and Cord, and oddly adorable Goths Kynt and Vyxsin. And give the Race producers credit for going deep into their bench — Zev and Justin were only around for four episodes back in season 15, but they’re back in the mix this season. Justin explained that they were here to win this time, leading Zev to note, “I was here to win last time, but somebody lost my passport.” If you’re a Race newcomer, or you just need to refresh your memory about these teams, check out our cast gallery for more info on the teams’ ignoble exits in their first go-round. (I love how Phil described the Globetrotters’ defeat: “They were stumped by Franz Kafka in Prague.” Who hasn’t been?)

Phil gathered the teams in the middle of a wind farm and gave them their initial instructions, noting that the first team to hit Pit Stop Uno would get an Express Pass. (That’s a powerful reward — recall that, when it was introduced last season, the team that carried the Express Pass made it to the final three.) To get the first clue, teams had to wade into a search field filled with paper airplanes. In the strangely unhelpful words of Phil, “You have to bring me what I need: Queensland and Northern Territories Area Services.” Another twist: the last team to find what Phil needed would get a double-detour U-Turn. And a final gameplay quirk: The last three teams to bring Phil what he needed would get on a second flight leaving 90 minutes behind the first one.

The airplanes were marked with the names of different Airlines. The goal was to find the correct acronym: QANTAS. Naturally, some teams mistook the clue and grabbed “Queensland Pacific.” (Ron, bizarrely, just grabbed “Pan Am,” leading Christina to gently but firmly explain, “It’s QANTAS, daddy. They fly to Australia.” Clearly, another season of father-daughter fun awaits!)

NEXT: And the last shall be first…

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Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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