Season 28 gets off to an entertaining start with social media stars that you may not know now — but they'll make sure you know (and subscribe to) them by the end

By Jodi Walker
February 13, 2016 at 05:46 AM EST
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Let me tell you a few things off the top, TAR historians: 1. I am what might be considered a “young person”; 2. I am not quite a young enough person to know who any but one or two of the “social influencers” featured on season 28 of The Amazing Race are; 3. I am no TAR purist.

That last one is probably the most important because while I was hesitant of what seemed like a gimmick TAR season, I’m already pretty excited about this crew. Going into this premiere, I wasn’t sure what to think of Phil gathering together a bunch of YouTube and Vine stars to exclusively compete in this season of The Amazing Race. Would this be like when they forced everyone to take selfies all the time? Would there be Road Blocks for who could do the most symmetrical winged eyeliner and Detours on who could, like… execute the most plot twists in a 6-second time frame?

But no, these 11 teams seems to be pretty standard TAR couplings — engaged, siblings, besties, child/parent, etc. — who happen to also be total hams, used to showcasing for the camera. Remember how last season consisted of one, uh, dominant personality and the rest mostly lurked in the background? I don’t think we need to worry about that in this season, where we have 11 teams who were specifically chosen because they’re always ready for their closeup, Mr. DeMille. And that dynamic seems to be offering a buffet of entertainment: There are teams like Tyler and Korey who are accustomed to always having a funny one-liner at the ready, teams like Cole and Sheri who are literally a tinderbox of emotion (most of them involving tears), and then there’s that factor that just can’t be explained…

I cannot recall a single scene a recent TAR memory that made me laugh harder than watching Scott (a dad, not a digital influencer) check a tool shed for to see if there were any tribal drummers inside (while his daughter said, “He’s kind of amazing, I’m not going to lie,” in the background), then somehow manage to drop all of his puzzle pieces and have to retrace his steps while an Instagram model asked him in all sincerity if he was “finding little drums on the ground.” I think I might love this season. And with that, let’s get into the teams, who got extra lengthy team introductions in this premiere:

TEAM TYLER, Tyler & Korey: I don’t mean to take away from Korey’s contribution to this team, but since CBS is only providing us with Twitter handles this season, we’re going to have to workshop the team names, and Team Tyler has a ring to it. Tyler and Korey have arguably the most well-known social media presences in this cast; we see Tyler Oakley get asked for his autograph by a taxi driver which is certainly… new. He and Korey are besties who met in college and have been making videos online and hosting a podcast (“Psychobabble!”) together ever since. They say they’re TAR superfans, and judging by their performance in the premiere, I believe them.

THE DANCERS, Dana & Matt: Dana explains that she has “kind of a high-stakes relationship” with Matt, by which I think she means that they’ve been engaged for three years but haven’t set a wedding date. They’re both big deal dancers, and produce the “largest dance YouTube channel in the world” (Dance Tutorials Live).

TEAM CLEVVER, Joslyn & Erin: Clevver is more than just a spell-check nightmare — it’s the number one entertainment media channel on YouTube, where Joslyn and Erin are producers, hosts, and BFFs.

THE KINGS, Zach & Rachel: If you want to fall into a deep internet black hole, go check out any of Zach’s six-second “magic” videos (@zachking on Instagram), which his wife Rachel helps produce… they really are magical, and these two seem like good, wholesome fun.

TEAM JUICYSTAR07, Blair & Scott: Juicystar07 is the name of Blair’s mega-successful YouTube channel that she left home to pursue at the age of 17 — the modern day YA-American dream! It’s also a hilarious name to call Scott, her dad, who is both a lawyer and an OBGYN, and provided a comedy of errors of Shakespearean proportions in tonight’s premiere.

TEAM ALABAMA, Cole & Sheri: Cole is a “Viner” and at 19, he is very young. He’s bringing a lot of energy to the table and his tolerant mom Sheri is bringing a lot of…anxiety. I’m afraid she’s putting a little too much pressure to prove herself with this TAR experience, but highly emotional might just be how this team roles. There’s a really excellent smash cut between all the other teams rushing out the door to start the race, and Team Alabama just weeping and slowly hugging each member of their family as they say goodbye.

THE GAMERS, Burnie & Ashley: Burnie is a veteran online video maker, and creator of the Rooster Teeth YouTube channel, where he met former pro-gamer Ashley, who now works with him on the “longest running webseries in the history of the internet.” (I will give it to TAR that they really dug deep to find some social media stars with serious credentials!)

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TEAM FRISBEE, Brodie & Kurt: Brodie is the social media guru of these two best friends who’s gained fame by posting videos of Frisbee trick shots, and Kurt is the Normal (though also an Ultimate Frisbee enthusiast).

THE MODELS, Brittany & Jessica: Not quite as Insta-famous as the rest, these two bring the classic “We’re not afraid to flirt to get ahead” vibe to this season of TAR.

SMILE HIGH CLUB, Marty & Hagan: Y’all, I’m not being disrespectful, that is Marty’s YouTube channel name, which is hilarious. This mother and daughter aren’t exactly social media gurus, but Mary is a Southwest flight attendant who’s “HILARIOUS SOUTHWEST FLIGHT ATTENDANT” YouTube video went viral last year with more than 22 million hits.

THE BROTHERS VINE, Darius and Cameron: These bros are Viners and owners of the prestigious title of The Only Team Whose Social Media Clip Actually Made Me Laugh in the premiere (“So my brother thinks he’s running for president.” “Barack Obama.” “It’s class president, dude.” “Haters gonna hate.”) I’m still kind of laughing about it.

NEXT: Goodness gracious, great bulls of fire…

So, yeah, that was a lot more detail about the 11 teams than usual, because right out of the gate, these teams have much more defined personalities than a normal TAR haul. But one-by-one, we still must lose them, so let’s get on to the competition. The teams have to go straight from their homes to the L.A., Dallas, and Atlanta airports to Mexico City and find Phil at Monumento a la Revolución, which Tyler calls “one of my favorite monumentos” on the cab ride over. Cole, who hasn’t taken many cabs in his Alabama life, describes the experience thusly: “We’re in a car right now… and we don’t know whose car we’re in!”

From Phil, the teams get their clue for their first DETOUR: MARIACHI MADNESS vs. GREAT BULLS OF FIRE. It’s hard to tell from the jump which one of these will be the best pick, as they’re incredibly different. In Mariachi Madness, the teams must walk among a 350-piece mariachi band and find the mariachi member whose instrument is not actually producing any sound. It seems chaotic, but actually proves not to be too difficult for most of the teams, even though a lot of them keep going up to the players and just screaming, “ARE YOU PLAYING MUSIC RIGHT NOW?!”

Great Bulls of Fire, on the other hand, involves a lot of detail work, always a maker or a breaker. The teams must construct a firework frame and papier-mâché bull from an example, load it up with fireworks, and set it off. It involves a lot of tying and knotting and gluing, and even the teams that work really well together like Tyler and Korey come in behind most of the teams that chose Mariachi Madness. And the order they arrive at CUEVAS DE TEOTIHUACAN determines what time they leave the next morning for the ROAD BLOCK: DIGGING UP SOME DIRT

7:30 a.m.: The Dancers, Team Frisbee, Team Clevver, and (against all odds) Team Alabama

7:40 a.m.: The Kings, Team Tyler, Smile High Club, and Juicystar07

7:50 a.m.: The Models, the Brothers Vine, and the Gamers

As you’ll see, those start times don’t matter too much once you stuff everyone in a cave and make them dig through dirt for an hour or so. Some of these teams kiiiiind of lose their minds and it was pretty glorious to behold. In Digging Up Dirt, one member from each team must go into an underground cave and dig through a boxed-off patch of earth to uncover 13 pieces of a Teotihuacan mask and piece them together to reconstruct the mask. Just reading these instructions, everyone assumes they need to find 13 pieces and get to puzzlin’. But once they start on the provided frame of the mask, they realize that not all of these pieces are the right size and color, and in fact, they need to find the correct 13 pieces in their boxes of dirt to complete the mask. Of course, that’s if they even make it to the mask at all…

Even though everyone from the earlier heats are still inside the caves working on their masks, Scott (of Team Juicystar07) and Jessica (of the Models) find themselves back above ground searching for the drums that will lead them to the mask assembling station. I recommend you watch this scene a couple hundred times, as Scott accidentally Hansel-and-Gretel’s his 13 pieces all over the place and spends a large amount of time tracking them down, not even knowing that most of them probably aren’t pieces he’ll end up needing, and Jessica at one point just picks up a random shovel and starts moving around a pile of dirt, presumably…searching for drums? I couldn’t tell who it was, but whichever enemy team member was screaming, “Yaaaaas, shovel, yaaaas! That’s why it’s there!” from the sidelines is my new hero.

Sheri and Erin manage to get themselves really worked up going between the mask station and the excavation station to find the right pieces (they’re also the two who say they really hate tight spaces, so that could be a contributing factor), and there’s brief (insane) talk of taking the four-hour penalty, but everyone eventually assembles their mask and heads to the PIT STOP at MUSEO SOUMAYA.

1: DANCERS: It comes down to a foot race between the Dancers and Team Tyler, and it’s the sassiest headwear (a rhinestone toboggan on Dana and a biker bandana for Matt) that prevails. As huge TAR fans, they say coming in first is “a dream come true.”

2. TEAM TYLER: Korey and Tyler brought really impressive attitudes and really impressive windblown hair to their first leg. But when Phil attempted to come for Tyler’s coif he got some specific instructions: “Don’t come for me Phil.”

3. THE KINGS: You can take the online stars offline, but you can’t stop them from taking selfies with Phil.

4. THE BROTHERS VINE: I don’t know who went down into that cave, but they must have DONE WORK, because Darius and Cameron were one of the very last teams to make it to the Road Block.

5. TEAM FRISBEE

6. GAMERS

7. MODELS

8. THE SMILE HIGH CLUB

9. TEAM ALABAMA

10. TEAM CLEVVER

NOT ELIMINATED: JUICYSTAR07: You didn’t really think CBS would let any of these semi-celebrity teams go on the first leg did you? Scott and Blair will live to race another day; let’s just hope Blair handles the puzzles from here on out. Actually, I take that back—let’s hope we get to watch Scott put together a mask in every leg from here until the finish line!

Welcome back, folks! What did you think of this very special social episode of The Amazing Race? Are the teams jumping out at you as extra entertaining this season, or are you cringing at the gimmick? I’ll take any and all team name suggestions, and would love to know if you’ve heard of any of these social media stars outside of TAR — sound off in the comments!

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The Amazing Race

Phil Keoghan hosts the globe-trotting adventure series.
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