Since its 2001 debut, The Amazing Race has been the most unassuming reality show on television. Even after collecting nearly every best-reality-show Emmy, it has never gotten cocky. For example: now entering its sixteenth season, it humbly resists switching to HD cameras (unlike its CBS sibling, Survivor), even as its global scenery cries out for it. And it has no ego about being a star-maker, happily recruiting D-list cast-offs from other reality shows as stunt casting. It just wants to entertain you, and usually does, demanding little in return except that you forgive it when your DVR cuts off its last half when football runs long. The Amazing Race is the friend-who-helps-you-move of reality television, and for that, we happily recap it. So let’s meet this season’s teams.
JEFF AND JORDAN: Speaking of reality cast-offs, this duo were the popular romance in last season’s Big Brother. The apple-cheeked Jordan, who won the grand prize, was most famous for the kind of cluelessness (she wasn’t quite sure how to tell time) that is only tolerated in the apple-cheeked. The two remain charmingly dimwitted, with Jeff serving as the voice of reason only until he butts up against something that he doesn’t know, which is an only slightly less frequent occurrence. One can’t help but suspect that they have been prompted to act even more oblivious than usual, because that’s what their fans love and expect. How else to explain their reading a clue telling them to fly to Santiago, Chile, only to have Jordan slam into an airline ticket counter and demand “We need tickets to China!” And yet, they not only found the correct country, but they finished the leg in first place: More fodder for conspiracy theorists who believe CBS reality shows protect their own.
BRENT AND CAITE: Dating models, though Caite is by far the more well-known; She was the Miss Teen USA finalist who delivered the infamous, viral “everywhere like such as”answer when asked why many Americans can’t find the U.S. on a world map. After that debacle, she apparently designed a two-step plan for saving face: First, prove she’s not a complete dope and has a sense of humor about herself, which she did in winningly ditzy appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Tosh.0. Second: prove she can find not only the U.S. on a map, but many other countries as well by going on The Amazing Race. The geography angle of step 2 is going well so far; she and Brent initially finished second. However, she’s backsliding on step 1: They received a 30-minute penalty for skipping a clue direction, and when thanking a Chilean, she said, “Danke.”
DAN AND JORDAN: Brothers from Rhode Island, one straight, one gay. To make it clear who is who, their introductory video had Jordan unable to catch a football, presumably because the footage of him watching Project Runway and snapping his fingers was deemed by producers to be too subtle. Jordan, who could snickeringly quote Caite’s “such as” speech verbatim, was shocked to be left in the dust by her, and he learned an important lesson about easy stereotypes. And then he dropped another football.
JET AND CORD: Speaking of easy stereotypes, these two rodeo riders are always shot for their interviews while leaning against a wall as if it were a corral, and every move they make is scored with Aaron Copland knock-off music. These two want to prove that cowboys aren’t dumb, though their case took a hit when they changed all their money to Brazilian currency before heading to Chile. They later redeemed themselves, coming from behind to finish third, and Jet proudly declared that they’d proved that “Cowboys aren’t necessarily just some hicks from Texas.” It was hard not to focus on his use of the word “necessarily.”
JODY AND SHANNON: Both female triathletes, though one is 22, and the other is her plucky 71-year-old grandmother. Every year the Race features a couple of senior citizens who say they are there to prove what older people can do, and yet they usually end up eliminated midway, dazed and wheezing in matching track suits. On the surface, Jody’s physical fitness makes her seem like she could break the cycle, but her tenth-place finish and proclamation that she has “the balance of a drunken elderly woman on stilts” does indicate that perhaps AARP Magazine shouldn’t go about booking that triumphant cover shoot quite yet.
CAROL AND BRANDY: Lesbian partners, notable for two things so far: 1) When Brandy did the Roadblock, in which one teammate had to cross a 100-yard-long cable 120 feet in the air, she so psyched herself out that she had the cables vibrating like piano wires. 2) Carol looks like a really irritated Annie Lennox.
MONIQUE AND SHAWNE: Friends and attorneys who coined the term “mompreneur,” and should probably apologize for it. They are energetic and enthusiastic, which is always welcome, though not necessarily a must-have for winning. During the challenge in which each team had to find and help repaint the outside of a colorful house, Monique was lugging a ladder and happily likened her task to Jesus’ carrying of the cross: “If Jesus can do this, I can do this.” Granted, he was about to be publicly crucified for his beliefs, while she was about to paint a four-foot-square spot of wall in order to get another game-show clue, but other than that, the comparison stands. Can’t wait for the loaves or fishes Detour!
LOUIE AND MICHAEL: Another team from Rhode Island, this one a pair of undercover detectives. (And judging from Louie’s epic handlebar mustache, he is the most conspicuous undercover agent since Mrs. Featherbottom.) For all their bluster, they staggered badly out of the gate, only eventually scoring a ninth-place finish because of one team’s paralysis on the Roadblock. (Details later.) At the mat, they declared that they had learned their lesson and were coming back strong, but on the Race, macho confidence and longevity are usually inversely proportional.
JOE AND HEIDI: Husband and wife, and he proudly identifies himself as bossy and confrontational. No actual evidence of that yet, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to see airline ticket agents and/or wives treated very poorly, then this could be another hallmark season.
STEVE AND ALLIE: He’s a former Phillies coach, she’s his daughter. Could be a strong team, because they clearly care about each other (he was moved to tears by her succeeding in the first challenge: wait until the jet lag really starts jangling his emotions, then he’ll be sobbing in the fetal position every time she successfully ties her shoes). Plus, they don’t blame each other when something goes wrong, like when they stumbled into a renovation site and started sloppily painting a random person’s interior wall, much to the confusion of a foreman who must have wondered if he was now on Extreme Makeover: Really Shoddy Workmanship Edition.
DANA AND ADRIAN: Married high-school sweethearts who stuck together even after Adrian lost their life savings in a bad business idea. Adrian is scared of heights, but volunteered to do the cable-walk Roadblock because “I’m the big dog.” After multiple teams passed him, he froze up midway, fell off twice, and was eventually unable to finish at all. It’s always sad to see a team leave first, but this was even sadder because this man clearly needed a win: He likely thought the challenge was a metaphor for his professional future, and then the challenge suggested he start selling his own blood. We’re sorry to see them go, and hope they don’t next pop up on The Marriage Ref.
EW.com’s Jessica Shaw was amazed at Caite and Brent’s misreading of the clue, even though they’d written “Details” on their palms: “I wonder what slogans didn’t make the cut. ‘Open mouth before speaking?’ ‘Close eyes before going to sleep?’”
TV Fanatic says, “You have to love CBS essentially admitting that it put Caite on the show simply because of her infamous moment from the Ms. Teen America competition in 2007.”
NPR’s Linda Holmes thinks that recently Race has been casting people more likely to make mistakes in order to get more drama. “It’s a battle to make fewer screw-ups rather than a battle to be crushingly efficient and physically dominant.”