''The Amazing Race'': Meet the new duos!
Families. They're the backbone of our society. Where would we be without them? Nowhere, that's what I say.
And America. Can you find a greater country? You've got mountains and prairies. And the oceans? White with foam.
Okay, then. I just wanted to establish that I was a family-loving patriot before I said the following: Thank the God who blessed America for the fact that The Amazing Race has done away with families and gotten the hell out of the America that God blessed. Last night's premiere, which headed instantly for Brazil with the traditional teams of two, was a giant two-hour mug of Listerine that finally washed the lingering bad taste of trailer-park food and Wally Bransen sweat out of our mouths. So let's meet this year's new ahhh, it feels good to say it duos:
Ray and Yolanda After last season's one African-American family was actually called ''the Black family,'' I was pleasantly surprised that the new Race's sole African-American couple were not named He-Black and She-Black McKwanzaa. As for their personalities, we saw many scenes that hinted that Ray has a bad temper that might eventually blow (Yolanda calmed him down when he was ordering around a cab driver), and so I feared that the scene in which the Brazilian men loudly catcalled Yolanda as she reassembled a motorcycle was leading up to Ray attacking them all with a carburetor. But instead, the couple just finished the scooter and went on their way. Talk about your misdirects: This was like finding out in last season's finale that the Weavers were actually Jewish.
Danielle and Dani This season's occupants of the bimbo slot. The two friends wore matching pink outfits, talked about makeup, flirted with the frat boys, and proved incompetent at fixing a motor. The only way they could have been more stereotypical would be if they had rented a room at São Paolo's Unique Hotel to have sex with a That '70s Show production assistant because he assured them he could introduce them to Wilmer Valderrama. Historically, bimbo teams have announced at the onset that their opponents will see them as ditzes and underestimate their cunning, but you know what? That's always exactly the right estimation.
Wanda and Desiree This Puerto Rican mother-daughter team could be a powerful force. In a flip on the usual parent-child archetype, daughter Desiree is the levelheaded one responsible for calming down her feisty mother. I like it when teams defy the usual Race quotas. Unfortunately, that trend stops at the next team....
Lake and Michelle This Mississippi dentist and his wife fit neatly into the type-A-husband-and-browbeaten-spouse slot. (Although they did add a new shading by wearing motion-sickness patches next to their ears: They're actually the mildly nauseated type-A husband and browbeaten wife. Haven't seen that twist before!) We usually don't witness schadenfreude this early in the season, but it took only about a half hour before Lake misread the clue instructions and demanded that Michelle pull over and call ahead for plane tickets, even though that was forbidden. When he realized he had screwed up, he said, ''I'm sorry, that was...partially my fault, really.'' What was her part of the blame: agreeing to marry him? We can tell that the Race producers already have Lake framed as the villain, as they were careful to insert sound bites of him referring to Ray and Yolanda's race a couple of times: e.g., ''That black girl's gonna beat you!'' Whee, racist by implication! Hate away, viewers!
Joseph and Monica The all-American couple whose names you'll never be able to remember. (They must have suspected this ahead of time, thus the helpful ''Mo Jo'' T-shirts.) He's a little competitive and bullying he asked her, ''Are you really about to cry?'' when they were last in line for plane tickets in Denver and she's a bit submissive and panicky, but neither are as extreme as Lake and Michelle, so they just fade into the background. Come on, people: Jonathan and Victoria didn't become the Hall of Fame psychos that they are with an occasional bicker. If these two want to get picked for the next Battle of the Network Reality Stars, they'd better start digging into each other's flesh.
Fran and Barry As usual, they're the sweet, loving older couple who you want to root for but who make it very hard to do so. We know, we know: You're more experienced, you've traveled extensively, you'll surprise the young 'uns, and yet you never do, do you, my AARP friends? A half hour spent walking past a route marker and never seeing it? And even more time spent staring forlornly at a spark plug, willing it to say, ''Hi, Grandma! I go in the motor!'' After they miraculously scrambled to eighth place, Barry said that their forte is mental ability, but it let them down. Wow, that was their forte? What's their Achilles heel, breathing?
David and Lori They are constantly ID'd as nerds, but aside from their constantly stating, ''We're nerds!,'' I'm not seeing enough illustrative behavior. All they do is kiss each other and go down kiddie slides together. That's not nerdy, that's just goofy. I want to see some 20-sided dice, people! Or at least a ''Hobbits Do It Barefoot'' T-shirt. And do you mean to tell me that two nerds went on a helicopter ride and no one made a Matrix reference? The only possible nerd accoutrements were the oddly shaped protuberances underneath both of their shirts. To give the couple the benefit of the doubt, these could have been hidden, sheathed toy light sabers. But they could also have been colostomy bags, and those aren't really specific to nerds unless they've ruptured their digestive tracts by eating too many Battlestar Galactica Sour Patch Cylons. So it could go either way.
Eric and Jeremy If your kids watch the show with you, and you want them to grow up and go to college, this might be the season to skip. These muttonhead slackers might win it all (judging from their strong, $20,000-winning finish this week), and their ''I work just enough to eat'' ethos might turn them into horrible role models. They're not unlikable, just not that bright, and indifferent to their lack of brightness. Their travelogue while flying over São Paolo went like this: ''Dang, this is cool....This is most sweetness right here.'' Perhaps Brazil should adopt that as its new tourism slogan, because the old one, ''Brazil: Not grody to the max!'' was getting a little worn out.
BJ and Tyler These merry pranksters are the Spenser Gifts version of hippies. Their bio on the CBS website says that they met on Semester at Sea and have traveled together to Burning Man and that BJ moved to California to pursue ''surfing, karate, and frisbee.'' Any other stereotypes you boys would like to check off while you're at it? Have either of you ever set a world Hacky Sack record? Or eaten a vegan burrito while sitting on Jim Morrison's grave? Or maybe traded all your grilled-cheese sandwiches at a Phish concert for a Phil Lesh-autographed pack of rolling papers? At the end of this leg (during which they finished a respectable second), Tyler and BJ announced that they hadn't eaten or slept enough but they were ''powered by the fuel of this race.'' Somewhere on the cutting-room floor is the end of that sentence: ''...though the 'shrooms we bought off that college student at the Denver airport gave us the nice afterburn.''
Lisa and Joni The ''Glamazons,'' as they call each other, swerved close to the line of caricature but always managed to stop just short of it and still remain charming. Would I want to spend a long car ride with them? No. But their endless enthusiasm and shrieking was amusing in short bursts, especially with the power of the volume knob at my disposal. The goggle-eyed shot of one of them (and really, does it matter which one?) screaming silently from inside the helicopter looked like something Munch would have painted had he hired his models at a suburban shopping mall. They won me over when their hysterical antics at the finish line forced a cringe out of Phil, proving he is not a robot programmed by Bertram Van Munster to simply walk and recite detours. (After eight seasons, why is he still forbidden to show any personality other than a starting-line eyebrow raise?) And finally, call me immature, but anyone who uses the exclamation, ''Crap a big load of turds!'' as the Glamazons did, is all right with me.
John and Scott Longtime pals from Boston, they seem to have entered the race solely to help the timid John face all his fears and stop living a ''scared life.'' Unfortunately, they only had time to tackle his fear of flying before they got booted off the show. (Unless, of course, John also had a fear of losing, and then I guess he confronted that one, too.) So he'll have to find another reality show to help him conquer his fears of heights, darkness, deep water, spiders, apricots, knock-knock jokes, Dolph Lundgren, ambrosia salad, and culottes. He may also go home with a brand new phobia...of guys named Lake. But hey, even Fear Factor wouldn't go near that one.
What do you think? Is The Amazing Race back up to speed? Which teams look like eventual winners, and which seem destined for early dismissal?