The Amazing Race is back, and it's finally in HD! The better picture definitely came in handy in the season premiere, which focused more on reintroducing teams and panoramic overhead shots, and less on tasks and running from clue to clue (there wasn't even a Detour!). The race opened with eleven teams as usual, but, this being the all-star season, all teams were ones we've seen before.
To quickly remind you: father/daughter Gary and Mallory (got lost in Oman in season 17), sisters Kisha and Jennifer (stopped to pee in Beijing in season 14), cowboy brothers Jet and Cord (eliminated in Shanghai in season 16), mother/deaf son Margie and Luke (lost on season 14's last task), engaged couple Amanda and Kris (U-turned in Siberia by Margie and Luke in season 14), Harlem Globetrotters Flight Time and Big Easy (took a time penalty in Prague in season 15), former NFL cheerleaders Jaime and Cara (got lost in Hawaii in season 14), father/daughter Ron and Christina (got lost in Alaska in season 12), goth couple Kent and Vyxsin (got lost in Italy in season 12), best friends Zev and Justin (lost their passports in Cambodia in season 15), and father/son Mel and Mike (got lost in Thailand in season 14).
Once assembled in a windy spot in Palm Springs, Phil explained some of the new rules: last season's express pass (allowing a team to skip a task) would stay and be awarded to the winning team, but the last team to leave the starting line would be given an automatic U-turn. No team would be allowed to leave without first bringing Phil a paper airplane from a giant field of paper airplanes that reflected "Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Services." Naturally, very few teams put together that this equaled QANTAS right away. It took Kisha and Jennifer, Gary and Mallory, and Amanda and Kris (hi, U-turn!) the longest to figure this out, sticking them on a later flight than all the other teams.
The other eight teams hopped on their LAX to Sydney flight gleefully, prompting us to write a "hope they don't end up having to go to the Island!" joke. Right after we wrote this, the pilot announced that there was a medical emergency and the plane would be landing in Honolulu. Do we have good timing, or what? (Do you think the pilot was named Frank?) Everyone was pissed off except the Globetrotters, who were just happy the dude who needed medical attention was okay. Oh, Globetrotters, still our favorites all these seasons later.
Once in Sydney (with the second flight now landing before the first), teams took a train and then a ferry to a place called Oceanworld, where the Roadblock asked, "Who's ready to get tanked?" It's shark-tank swimming time! Teams had to find a decoder compass among the sharks and stingrays and then use it to decode a message written out in a series of flags. Was anyone else surprised that Vyxsin was allowed in with all that pink and purple hair dye? (The goth thing doesn't bother us, but we'd love if they got kicked off quickly because we have to look up how to spell her name every time.) Vyxsin ended up having the most trouble of all the contestants who took the Roadblock and was only able to calm herself down from underwater panic by thinking about Kent's dad, who died recently. Thinking about the loss of a loved one usually has the exact opposite effect on us, but whatever works. Maybe he was a famous scuba diver? Or half-shark?
For reasons we cannot understand, even though it happens every single season, a number of teams had trouble decoding the flags, despite the fact that the compasses clearly matched every flag to a different letter. The Globetrotters gave up pretty quickly and got Justin and Zev to give them the clue, because the Globetrotters are "their boys." (Take note: If you ever want a favor from a pair of buddies, just give them your cool T-shirt.) The next task, sailing a sixteen-foot skiff across the bay to get a clue, went surprisingly swimmingly for all, with Kisha and Jen happy they didn't have to do any more swimming. (If you recall, that also set them back significantly in their season.)
The pit stop was a cruelly gorgeous beach to show on North American TV in the middle of February, complete with a half-naked dude (and Phil in a FANTASTIC hat) to greet the arriving teams. Gary and Mallory arrived first, but their express pass-winning celebrations were cut short by Phil's announcement that this was not a resting pit stop and the leg wasn't over yet. The producers treated us to a nice montage of everyone's face falling as they were told they had to keep going — all except the cowboys, who were still stuck trying to decode the flags. And then TO BE CONTINUED. DUN, DUN, DUN. You're going to be worrying about what happened to them all week, aren't you? Anyway, go Globetrotters! Also Margie and Luke.
Next week: Everyone looks exhausted! The cowboys are still struggling to read the flags! Ron yells at Christina, just like he did their season! Mel and Mike cry!