The season 27 premiere is full of tears, tears, and more tears. And fist-bumps, also a lot of those.

By Jodi Walker
September 26, 2015 at 12:28 AM EDT
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Welcome back TAR historians—27 seasons, can you believe it?! Though last season experimented with pairing strangers together to drive Phil crazy with the anticipation of eventually getting to officiate a wedding born of The Amazing Race (damn you, Chris Harrison!), this season is back to the normal TAR we’ve grown to love through 26 seasons of life-threatening massages, impossible memory challenges, and more helicopter rides than the Bachelor franchise could ever hope for (hah, take that, Harrison!).

Well…it’s mostly back to normal. The goal of the casting folks this season seemed to be to get as many bonkers occupations in one cast as possible—goat farmers and Globetrotters be damned, paparazzi has to be the most unexpected occupation we’ve seen yet. And we’ll get to the TMZ employees… oh, we’ll get to them. Personally, I’m feeling very excited about this cast. Even though the most obvious Villains have already gone home, there are plenty of solid Underdogs left to root for, a few obvious Frontrunners, and some Seemingly Silly Teams That Just Might Surprise You—SSTTJMS for short. I find something very endearing about those cheerleaders and their masters degrees and their crocodile tears and the way they say “fustrated” with only one of the Rs. (Sadly, the risk we ran of TAR‘s first-ever homicide with Hayley and Blair has almost entirely diminished this season)

So let’s get right down to the 11 teams who have come together at Venice Beach—possibly the hippest beach in the world, according to Phil, wearer of cargo pants and a Panama hat—to compete for $1 million and the glory of being the 27th champion of this rrrrrrrrace around the world!

GREEN TEAM, Justin & Diana: These two are fans of The Amazing Race. Justin tricked now-fiancé Diana into thinking they were competing in an online version of the Race, hired a cameraman, planned Road Blocks and Detours over six states, two countries, and 5,000 miles to propose to her under the Northern Lights in a video that went viral. And while Diana was probably like, “So… we’re not on The Amazing Race, then?” it’s still cool, and hey, they’re here now! Jason’s personal, uh, passion for the Race will become abundantly clear throughout the episode.

THE TEXANS, Tanner & Josh: This episode’s titular beefcakes say flirtation is “probably our biggest strategy.” While that is a truly useless TAR strategy, and I doubt they’re exactly Parvati from Survivor, I will give it to these bros that they can really wear a tank top.

COUSINS, Alex & Adam: These cousins have a form of dwarfism called Pseudoachondroplasia, but they’ve never let it slow them down; they say they’re planning to be a sleeper team.

THE DOCTORS, Cindy & Rick: We’ve had our fair share of doctors and dentists lately, but Cindy (the dentist) and Rick (the OBGYN) seem to be slightly more laidback than the typical Type-A TAR MDs (TATARMDs, for short).

TEAM ALABAMA, Denise & James: Okay…these two have some things riding on The Amazing Race. Denise and her son James were close as could be when he was growing up, and they have the ’90s karate mall pics to prove it. But Denise didn’t originally handle James coming out as gay very well, and while she’s grown a lot now, they still have some room to go: “I used to be his hero and I don’t feel like I’m his hero anymore, but maybe after this race, I will be again.” Oh my gosh, PLEASE LET THIS WORK OUT OKAY!

THE RUNNERS, Jazmine & Danielle: Sporty, spunky, and gorgeous, part 1, Jazmine and Danielle were champion track runners and college and best buds now.

TEAM PAPARAZZI, Logan & Chris: I am just fascinated by this profession, and especially, these two people in it. Logan and Chris seem totally laidback and nice, and not at all like the jerks professional celebrity photogs are often depicted to be. But they’re pretty clear about why they chase Kanye and Bieber for a living: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

THE CHEERLEADERS, Krista & Tiffany: Sporty, spunky, and gorgeous, part 2, Krista and Tiffany are former NFL cheerleaders from Staten Island and New Jersey, but they say not to be fooled by the makeup and perfectly teased hair… they’re smart cookies with the will to win.

REPORTERS, Kelsey & Joey: These news anchors from Santa Barbara have the unfortunate task of talking like news producers anytime the producers tell them to, which includes, in the cab, getting off the plane, at the Pit Stop mat, etc.

TMZ SMACK-TALKERS, Kelly & Chevonne: Okay. OKAY. I’m not going to say that these two aren’t funny sometimes—they are. But it’s hard to root for a team whose background footage has one of them saying, “She’s, like, the most awful pregnant person,” and then following it up with this explanation of their job as TMZ gossipers: “We’re truth-tellers.” Even Team Paparazzi is like, “These effin’ guys…”

STREET DANCERS, Ernest & Jin: On the opposite end of the lovability spectrum, but equally full of eye-bugging quotes are these professional street performers: “A lot of people get eliminated, they get to go back home. We get eliminated there’s no home to go back to.” H’oh boy These earnest pals are living in their cars right now, dancing for a living. Rarely is there such a solid reason to root for a team to take home the million.

NEXT: Fast Forward to Rio!

So, with the stakes set, the teams learn that their first destination is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! From Venice Beach, they’re to catch as cab to Mother’s Beach and race water bikes to get their plane tickets to Brazil. One small thing—there’s only one ticket on the first flight, with the second flight leaving 30 minutes later. I’ll give you one guess as to who makes it to that earlier flight ticket first: It’s the Green Team, who are basically competing in their own personal all-star season. But even all-stars must fall, and while the TMZ Ladiez are busy bragging about their ability to “judge anyone for anything,” and calling Team Alabama—you know, the mother/son team trying to rebuild the bond they lost—”Norman Bates-y,” Team Green totally loses their 30-minute lead due to flight delays, making it out of the Rio airport just moments before the other 10 teams do.

But they do still make it to the LaGoa Helipad first for the next clue, and in what you might call a make-or-break moment, they must decide whether to take the FAST FORWARD: Leap of Faith, which comes with the warning that its completion will be weather dependent. Justin immediately declares that they’ll be risking it on the Fast Forward without consulting Diana, and so, as decided by the TAR gods, that Fast Forward will completely and entirely break him into a shell of a man until he has learned his lesson. The Green Team arrives to the Fast Forward to find that the wind is too strong for them to paraglide, effectively putting them in last place as they have to go back to the…

ROAD BLOCK: Teams take a helicopter tour of Rio de Janeiro one at a time, after which they’ll have to answer one quiz question about the landmarks that they’ve seen. And given that the question is about Christ the Redeemer, the 125-foot monument that towers over Rio, everyone answers pretty handily. Only the Street Performers momentarily stumble until they pull out a little notebook where they’d written every single thing they saw down, and answered, “Christ-the-Re-deem-er,” endearing me to them forever.

As the other 10 teams enjoy gorgeous helicopter rides over Rio, Justin is completely breaking down into sobs in a taxi back to the helipad that is costing Team Green the last of their money: “When you want something so bad … and you have the possibility of being the first team eliminated—it really just rips your heart right out of your chest!” Bro, I appreciate the passion, but you’ve got to pull it together and get your attitude right!

The other teams are arriving one-by-one for the DETOUR: SAND or SIDEWALK. In Sand, the teams play Foot Volley—a combination of volleyball and football/what we call soccer in the U.S.—against professionals, but while the pros can only use their feet and heads, the Racers can use their hands to try and score six points before the pros score 18. Sand seems tough to even the most athletic of teams at first, but it seems to be one where if you stick with it, you’ll get the hang of it (The Runners, Texans, and Cousins all seem to cruise through pretty quickly). But because these Detours are close to each other on the beach, there’s a ton of switching back and forth.

In Sidewalk, the teams must solve a geometric slide puzzle forming the wave pattern of the mosaic pavement that runs along Cocacabana Beach. I have, “Seems easy enough!” written by this one in my notes, so of course, it proves to be incredibly difficult for almost every team except Team Alabama who zoom through it while the Doctors and TMZ Ladies try not to break the tiles by beating their heads against them out of frustration.

Speaking of FUS-tration… for some reason, the Cheerleaders’ cab driver kicks them out of their ride early, meaning they start way down the beach from the Detours, and after wasting a little time at Sand, they eventually make it over to Sidewalk right after Team Green has finally caught up to the end of the pack at the puzzle. But Green quickly figures out they need to switch to Sand, and while they make it to six Foot Volley points pretty quickly, the Cheerleaders and Team TMZ struggle to solve their puzzles. And what a pressure-filled, karma-fueled battle it is! The Cheerleaders are basically crying and trying not to get frustrated with each other for the entirety of the Detour, but they want to prove themselves so badly, they continue to calm themselves down until they get it and make their way to the PIT STOP at Arporador Lookout.

“You know what’s so sad is I really thought we were smarter than the Cheerleaders—and we’re not.” –TMZ, at least owning up to their snap judgments

1: TEXANS! Perhaps I shouldn’t have underestimated these bros’ gameplay plans, but to be fair, they made it to first place and the Express Pass through hard work and, as far as I can tell, very little strategic flirting. They’re not even skeevy to the beautiful Brazilian representative at the Mat even though Phil is dying for them to hit on her.

2: RUNNERS, screaming all the way.

3: TEAM DOCTOR—Rick still proudly wearing the Rio wardrobe of short-shorts that his wife hates.

4: ALABAMA—Denise put lipstick on before their arrival, so you know she’s truly southern/my mom.

5. PAPARAZZI—still eerily not being at all obnoxious.




9: TEAM GREEN—All the Emmys to the editor who cut between Justing saying, “No more crying,” to him sobbing to Phil that their experience has been “very humbling.”

10: CHEERLEADERS, who are a teary wreck by the time they make it to the mat, but thrilled to not be…

ELIMINATED: The TMZ Ladiez, who finally completed the puzzle (seemingly by accident) after 3 hours and 35 minutes, forcing Phil to come eliminate them right on the beach. They were judgmental until the very end, but at least they turned their deprecation inward, as well, I guess: “I’m the biggest loser that’s ever played this game.”

So, how did the season 27 premiere stack up, TAR historians?! Are you finding as many teams worth rooting for in this crew as I am? Or you at all sad to see such willing Villains depart so early? And finally… did I catch someone walking a tiger in that season preview? So glad to have you back–sound off in the comments!

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.

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