The Amazing Race 19.01 “Kindness of Strangers” Review

Last season on The Amazing Race, the wheels started to come off the bus more noticeably. Although the show won its 8th Emmy earlier this month, the Unfinished Business season as a whole was pretty underwhelming, with relatively easy challenges, alliance domination like no other season, and a winner that never rose above the pack during any particular part of the show, minus the finale.

Which is why I’m so disappointed in “Kindness of Stranger”, the show’s 19th season premiere. It seems that instead of tightening up the proceedings, casting strong, capable teams, and getting back to what made the show so great in the first place, the powers that be decided to go in the opposite direction and made the show that much more maddening.

The challenges during the premiere were a little silly and seemed too easy to be getting the response they got from the teams. I understand the show mixing in an occasional challenge that was based on luck, but having it be the opening challenge again set a poor tone for the rest of the episode. It essentially boiled down to who had better luck picking the right brightly colored umbrella with a word on it. The teams didn’t even have to name the city they were supposed to be headed to (Taipei, Taiwan) and the initial word they were given (Wan Pei) wasn’t scrambled to make them have to think. They did have to think during the road block, at least, but did a number of teams really have trouble using the phone and remembering a compound sentence? I can only imagine that with adrenaline pumping, the sun beating down on you, and the pressure of winning a million dollars, you could become a little scatter brained, but man, it almost made me sick to watch team after team of full grown adults fall apart trying to use the phone.

Speaking of the teams, there weren’t a lot of great first impressions made, which hints at another ho-hum cast. Thus far, I like the first leg’s winner, Ernie and Cindy, the best, only because they seem prepared and focused while still making the race fun. We were warned that Cindy’s a bit of a control freak, so hopefully she can keep her head and continue her team’s winning ways. After the engaged couple, the only team I had a strong-ish positive response toward were the dad/son adventurers (Laurence and Zac), but after that, it was a mix of teams with not enough coverage to form an opinion on (Sandy/Jeremy, Team Flight Attendants), teams with one person that seemed okay and one rubbed me the wrong way (Marcus/Amani, Justin/Jennifer), and teams that should have been eliminated in a massive three-way (ooh) elimination of ineptitude (Bob/Cathi, Team Showgirls, Team Twins). Part of the reason to watch The Amazing Race is to have someone to root for and judging by the crop of teams thus far, there won’t be much to choose from in the final weeks of the season.

The non-elimination element of tonight’s episode was just frustrating to watch. While I think that Bob and Cathi seemed like nice people and it’s a shame they were on the verge of elimination, they did so poorly in the opening leg that it’s clearly just delaying the inevitable. On top of that, there’s a chance that a team with potential could be knocked out based on the newly instituted double elimination. Having it be so early in the race feels like a copout, in the sense that “we want to try something new, but we don’t want double-eliminate any of your favorite teams, so we’ll do it early in the race before you get attached”. I think the double elimination could be an interesting card to pull during a season, but if it’s used too early, it doesn’t have as much impact. It would be awful to lose one of your favorite teams midway through the race due to the double elimination, but there’d at least be serious stakes to that leg. Here, it just leaves me cold, but I hope that we don’t lose someone who could do some damage later.

The Amazing Race‘s season premiere wasn’t the rebound that I was looking for after a lackluster last season. We obviously still have time to get to know the contestants, but the challenges weren’t the best and the twist at the end is only prolonging the elimination of Team Grandparents. I have faith that the rest of the season will pick up in quality and in urgency, but for now, the wheels on the bus are just barely hanging on.

Thoughts, Quotes, & Observations:

  • ‘I feel so Asian right now.’
  • ‘Well, color me stupid.’
  • “Maybe I’m dyslexic.” “It’s a phrase!!!”
  • “Who’s ready to play telephone?”
  • “Those are race boxers.”
  • Final Order: (1) Ernie/Cindy, (2) Sandy/Jeremy, (3) Justin/Jennifer, (4) Ethan/Jenna, (5) Marcus/Amani, (6) Laurence/Zac, (7) Andy/Tommy, (8) Ron/Bill, (9) Kaylani/Lisa, (10) Liz/Marie, (11) Bill/Cathi.
  • Of the last five winners of The Amazing Race, the average finish in the first leg has been about 3rd. If you’re looking for a horse in this race, I’d take one of the top three, but season 16’s Dan and Jordan finished in 8th during leg one, so anything’s possible.
  • I was seriously coveting the jacket that Phil wore before officially beginning the race.
  • I don’t know if the non-elimination/double elimination one-two will go through the entire race. The show typically has three non-elimination legs and I think three double eliminations would be a little excessive.
  • The Hazard was a joke of an addition to the show. It’s basically a renamed speed bump and didn’t affect the Showgirls whatsoever. (Not that I was rooting against Kaylani and Lisa, but the Hazard should have been more time consuming that going to bungee jump in the mall.)
  • The Express Pass can only be used through Leg 8 this season. Is that new? I could swear that they didn’t have any restrictions on it before.
  • If Bob and Cathi had been able to find the first clue in Taiwan in only a couple of hours instead of the four that it took, they would have been in at least 9th place going into next week’s episode.
  • The dragon boat challenge, while my favorite of the three, wasn’t ideal because there was no way for the teams to change positions while in the boat and it took about the same time for each team. I’m okay with those type of challenges existing on the show, but it feels like they’ve been a crutch, especially in premieres/finales.
  • First team to implode seems to be Jennifer and Justin. Before the race, I assumed it was either going to be Ernie and Cindy or Sandy and Jeremy, because it seems like the young couples always are the first to crack.
  • Say what you want about how they raced in the opening leg, but I like how Bob and Cathi were still so supportive and kind to one another.
  • What do you think about Team Survivor (and Marcus) trying to hide who they are for fear of people gunning for them? Ethan and Jenna weren’t successful, but nobody knows who Marcus is yet.
  • Next week: Justin and Jennifer get into it (again) and the double elimination has everybody panicking. Predictions on who goes?

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