''The Amazing Race: All-Stars'': And they're off!
Phil set the Amazing Race all-stars free last night, and as 22 backpacks went bouncing across one of Miami's most sprintable lawns, I wondered just how much faster, stronger, smarter, and more efficient each team would be than when they last went extreme jet-setting. No doubt as they traverse the planet, they will impress us with their practiced savvy and skill, serving as a moving example of America's ever-evolving brilliance!
Well, as it turned out, in just the first leg, many of these teams made the same damn mistakes they did the last time, albeit with a lot more bluster and protestations of how much ass they're going to kick. And that, my friends, is not the greatest analogy for the U.S.A. right now, so rather than dwell on it, why not just meet the teams?
Dustin and Kandice Many of you who read my column last season complained of my dislike for the beauty queens. So I decided to watch them with a fresh attitude this time. When they declared that they didn't want to be known as just ''the blondes,'' they wanted to be known as the first all-female team to win, I said, ''Yay, girl power! Boo, stereotypes!'' And that's about all I got out of my mouth before they cut to the women in their car yelling to each other, ''The blondes are back!'' So I guess if they're not going to live up to their end of the bargain, neither will I: I want them out. Now.
Uchenna and Joyce When we met them in season 7, they explained that their marriage was on the rocks because they were unable to have a child. And then they won the million bucks, and rediscovered their love. And now here we are, four seasons later, and their marriage is in trouble again because they can't have a child. Now, I may go to hell for this, because I know how painful infertility can be, but for a moment I wondered, ''Are the only past winners just faking unhappiness so no one will begrudge them another victory?'' I pictured them being interviewed for the intro and saying, ''Yeah, we're just barely keeping it together,'' when the director yells, ''Cut! Sorry, Uchenna and Joyce, but that giant pile of cash you keep in your backyard got into the shot.'' And then the two giggling like ninnies, running and diving into their stack of $100s, finally composing themselves and returning to the couch. ''Sorry, where were we? Oh, yeah, unhappy marriage, unhappy marriage....''
Joe and Bill Frankly, I think not enough credit is given to Team Guido for their cultural significance. People forget, but back in 2001, when the couple were on the first season, TV was different. America was different. Their kind wasn't so readily accepted in society, and certainly not in many parts of the world. And when they first came on, some unforgiving voices weren't happy to see them, warning that these two men's behavior would rub off on impressionable viewers. And now look: All over the Race and all over the world, you see people doing what seemed so brave just six years ago wearing matching outfits. Nowadays, it's just as acceptable as having long hair, or being a vegetarian, or being gay. So as an act of solidarity, next time you sit down and watch these self-styled ''gutsy grannies'' dash to a clue box in identical sweat suits, please chant along with them: ''We're in, we're dressed like twins, get used to it!''
David and Mary Sigh. Let's be honest, we may love 'em to pieces, but really, the best of the best? It looks like the only take-home lesson they brought back from last season was that backpacks go on your back. Mary talked big at the beginning, saying she didn't need any alliance to keep them in the race. And yet, on the very first leg, she asked the travel agent which was the earliest flight after she'd already booked tickets on the later one. And then she attempted a mind game by trying to lure the beauty queens onto their flight by telling them it was the earliest. A valiant attempt, except for the fact that then David scurried to the back of the line, warning Team Guido to go to American. As they tore away, the BQs knew something was up, and followed them. Nice con, Keyser Söze!
Oswald and Danny They were just as smooth and easygoing on this trip as they were back on season 2, and yet every time they were on last night, I was distracted by thoughts of what horrible argument could have broken up their friendship for a year. I keep thinking it must be Amazing Race-related: Was Danny furious over Oswald's almost quitting? Or was Reichen somehow involved? He always seems to be. But now they're back and best buddies, so perhaps I shouldn't let it bother me. This new friendliness means that after Oswald pays a compliment, Danny can say, ''Keep stroking me, I like it,'' and the producers can snickeringly edit it in. Those producers do prefer highlighting double entendres like that with their straight-male teams (their season 9 raison d'être was making Eric and Jeremy look like lovers), but the only heterosexual buddy team they've got this season is Kevin and Drew, and, well, the less visual image we all get of those two kissing, the better. Speaking of...
Kevin and Drew From certain angles, Drew looks like he's 95 years old. And I hope he is, because that's the only excuse for his performance. He injured his shoulder falling out of a car, got lost, thought he was in Peru when he was in Ecuador, and couldn't outrun Charla. I think all his hair fell out because it was sick of being near his brain. I know he and Kevin are here for comic relief, but it's starting to seem like tragic relief.
Teri and Ian I remember them least out of all the teams, but I certainly recall their bickering, and they seem intent on bringing that back. We didn't see too much of them this episode, except for Ian's hope that people called them ''the big kahunas.'' Imagine how disappointed he was watching the episodes and seeing that instead, Team Guido called him ''crotchety and old looking.'' I know it's not as snappy a nickname, but maybe Ian can shorten it and just call himself ''Crotchy.''
Eric and Danielle Awww, isn't that sweet? Two racers found love in the game. And they couldn't be more suited for each other: both dedicated, kind, and unrestrained by those pesky things called ''thoughts'' that might slow other teams down. At one point, when Eric pulled his SUV ahead of another team's on a bouncy road, he said, ''He hesitated, and I don't know what hesitate means, so I just drove over it.'' And the loving look Danielle gave him said, ''I have no idea what that word means either, but when we get married, we are definitely going to register for one of them dictionary things.''
Charla and Mirna When I first saw these plucky cousins, I worried they wouldn't get past the intro: Charla looked like she was seconds from being blown backward right out of the motorboat. And once the race started, I wondered whether that wouldn't have been a more graceful exit. So much heart in these two, so little ability. That isn't a height thing, that's a drive-to-the-wrong-entrance-of-the-park thing. And after it was clear they were going to the wrong place, Charla said to press on, that maybe it'd be okay. How many seasons of this show do you have to watch to know that the clue directions are never just ''suggestions''? And here's something else you might learn watching this show: Speaking at someone in English but in an accent is not the same as speaking in his language. At least Mirna put a twist on it: When she said, ''This is too little rapido'' to their Ecuadoran cabbie, it sounded like a Russian accent. Check it out, she's trilingual!
Rob and Amber Now, I like these two, mostly for the way they drive everyone else nuts. In their last season, the other teams all grumbled about Romber's Survivor legacy, while the couple just kept their eyes on the game and made it to second. But when they start acknowledging their own fame, that's when I start to get uncomfortable. I cringed when Amber said, ''If you asked us who we'd really like to race against, there's really nobody. But if you ask anybody else, they'd say Rob and Amber.'' Easy there, hotshots, don't start believing your own hype: I saw Rob & Amber: Against the Odds, so I know you guys aren't infallible. As a matter of fact, in this first episode, Rob made the most rudimentary of Amazing Race mistakes: In the detour, he opted for the find-the-uniform-pieces challenge instead of wrangling and clipping a horse. Those needle-in-a-haystack games are always crapshoots that most teams lose. Not that it mattered, though. Even after stumbling around looking for a button for a while, he still was able to go for the other challenge, finish it, and land in first place. Is it any wonder David was so starstruck when he introduced himself to Rob the Master? And considering Rob still does all the hard work, is it any wonder that David called Amber ''Kim''?
John Vito and Jill We hardly knew ye. Literally. I didn't remember them much from season 3, and now they're gone, for no better reason than they were slightly more ridiculously late than the other ridiculously late racers who went to the wrong park entrance. It was always in the cards that whenever they finished the race, they would come to realize that they should get back together. And so, after only one night of racing, they said it ''reunified'' their relationship. A little premature, but hey, these people are all-stars. They do everything fast, including getting lost.
What do you think? How long can Kevin and Drew hold out? Which teams are you happiest to see again? And does anyone stand a chance against super-all-stars Rob and Amber?