Monday, October 1, 2012

Amazing Race 21-01 recap: "Double Your Money"

Last night was the debut of Amazing Race season 21; as usual, my recap follows. I won't bother with initial thoughts on the cast - you can read them in my post from last Saturday. Some minor points of interest are best friends Gary & Will applied to the show seven times before being cast; twin sisters Natalie & Nadiya have exploited their looks to cheat on tests and break up with the other sister's boyfriend; and Sheila (engaged to Rob, a lumberjack) works in cosmetics. Let's get to the main course!
We open in Pasadena, California, where Phil assembles the 11 teams of Racers on a bridge (closed to traffic) where he explains they'll be facing 12 legs and 9 countries, while also detailing how the prize money will be doubled if the winners of leg 1 ultimately win the Race. Their first clues are waiting for them with their backpacks at the bottom of the bridge; to reach them, they'll have to rappel over the side of the bridge! After giving the teams word to go, they all dash to the rappel location.
Trey proves to be exceptionally fast-footed (being a football player, after all) and, with his girlfriend Lexi, is amongst the first to begin the descent. Gary had earlier mentioned a fear of heights and is extremely nervous about rappelling. Trey/Lexi, Chippendale dancers Jaymes/James, best friends Caitlin/Brandy & life partners Josh/Brent reach the bottom of the bridge at about the same time; their clues tell them to journey to Shanghai, China! Marked Ford automobiles are nearby and a video from Phil is included in the car to prove further instructions about the flights; one flight arrives about 3 hours before another, but can only take seven teams. Knowing that first place on this leg could mean an extra $1 million, you can assume everyone is desperate to be on the first flight! And then we go to the opening credits:
We resume at the airport as Caitlin/Brittany, rock 'n rollers James/Abba, Jaymes/James, Natalie/Nadiya, dating couple Amy/Daniel, dating couple Abbie/Ryan and married monster truck drivers Rob/Kelley claim the first flight; Josh/Brent narrowly miss getting on the first flight and Brent blames Josh for allowing Rob & Kelley to get ahead of them.
Josh: "Are you going to be like this all the way to China?"
Brent: "Maybe."
Josh: "I'm gonna - I'm gonna get a sleeping tablet somewhere."
This leaves Josh/Brent, Trey/Lexi, Gary/Will & Rob/Sheila on the second flight. I have no idea why Trey/Lexi were one of the first teams done rappelling, yet wound up on the later flight; I suppose they had trouble finding the airport. Regardless, the producers aren't interested in showing us transit and airport drama at this stage, instead we cut ahead to almost a day later as teams arrive in Shanghai!
In Shanghai, the first seven teams arrive and take taxis to the Yuanshen Sports Center. Jaymes/James, Caitlin/Brittany, Amy/Daniel, Abie/Ryan, James/Abba & Natalie/Nadiya arrive at about the same time and discover it's a Roadblock: one of them must score a point against a ping pong prodigy, who will switch to common household items while playing them because she's that good; if the prodigy scores a point, she'll move to another table and they'll have to wait for their turn to come around again. James (of Jaymes/James), Caitlin, Natalie, Abbie, James (of James/Abba) and Daniel represent their teams. Meanwhile, Rob & Kelley haven't seen the cluebox and are still searching. Teams at the Roadblock quickly realize it's not so easy to score a point; Natalie & Nadiya are both experienced table tennis players and Nadiya can't help yelling advice to her teammate. The producers include a graphic of the player's face on a paddle as points are scored. Abbie is the first to score a point, gaining she and Ryan the next clue: travel to Cui Ping Jiu Jia restaurant. James/Abba finish soon after and wind up getting ahead of Abbie/Ryan thanks to their taxi.
Rob & Kelley finally locate the cluebox and Kelley is elected to the Roadblock, just as James finishes, with Caitlin soon after. Nadiya has begun grousing about how she should have been the one performing the Roadblock, which is never constructive. Daniel finishes the Roadblock, while Nadiya keeps complaining about Natalie's performance and yelling out strategy. Natalie pointedly says "Be motivational," but is drowned out by her sister. At this point, I'm gonna declare the supposed "special connection" between twins is a lot of hooey. Natalie finally wins when the child switches to a pencil case for a paddle; maybe the pencil case made the difference. Rather than being proud of her sister, Nadiya just shakes her head in a disappointed way. The child soon switches to an Amazing Race clue as her paddle, as Kelley manages a point. All seven teams are now headed to the restaurant.
At the restaurant, James & Abba discover it's time for a second Roadblock, which the teammate who didn't play table tennis must complete; I believe this is the first time a double Roadblock has appeared on the first leg! This time, the teammate must devour hasma, a delicacy of frog fallopian tubes served inside of a papaya. Abba begins his, noting by the rules he can't lift the plate or papayas and the substance has a difficult time staying on his chopsticks; he has to stick his face close to the papaya to shovel it in his mouth. Ryan soon begins this Roadblock as well.
Ryan: "Amazingly good. Have you not had fallopian tube, Abbie?"
Abbie: "I have two, but please don't eat mine."
Brittany and Amy begin the restaurant Roadblock, just as Abba finishes. Their next clue directs them to a waterfront area called the Bund, where they must find a woman holding an abacus. This prompts Abba to mimic a kiss at James = an Abba-kiss! Ryan is soon done the Roadblock, just as the second flight arrives and the four errant teams head to the Yuanshen Sports Centre. At the restaurant, Jaymes begins the Roadblock and quickly out eats Amy and Brittany, even though he drops some on the tablecloth and has to eat off the table! Amy finishes as Natalie & Nadiya arrive and Abiya begins the Roadblock. Natalie tries to be very supportive for Nadiya, which is a nice reversal.
At the first Roadblock, Trey & Lexi arrive; Trey takes the Roadblock and is also experienced with table tennis; he gets a point on his first attempt and they head to the restaurant! At the Bund, James/Abba & Abbie/Ryan go looking for the woman, but Abba unknowingly looks past her; the abacus is on her lap, so it's not clear from a distance. At the Sports Centre, Rob gets his point on the second attempt and departs with Sheila. At the restaurant, Nadiya finishes the Roadblock just as Rob & Kelley arrive; they high five and Rob begins the Roadblock. Unfortunately, Rob picks up his papaya as he eats. At the Spots Centre, Gary wins the Roadblock just as Josh & Brent arrive in last place. Josh gets it on the first attempt, despite being self-declared unathletic.
At the restaurant, when Rob finishes and they don't receive their next clue, Kelley realizes the mistake was picking up the papaya; Rob has to eat two more hasma, despite his disgust with the food. It's a tired refrain, but seriously folks... can you be a contestant on the show at this point and have not learned from earlier teams to read your clue? As Rob begins round two, an unimpressed Lexi arrives with Trey; Lexi has to perform the Roadblock. At the Bund, the top five teams are all searching, but it's Amy & Daniel who find the woman first. The clue directs them to travel on foot to the Pit Stop: the Bund Observatory! It's a 100-year old signal tower along the waterfront; Phil confirms it's also an elimination point.
Caitlin/Brandy & Abbie/Ryan ask Amy/Daniel if they found the clue while the couple are getting directions to the observatory. Daniel affirms they have and directs them in the right direction, which is a little surprising. Is there a 3-way alliance already forming amongst the pretty people? Consequently, Abbie/Ryan wind up outrunning Amy/Daniel to the Pit Stop, although Ryan does apologize as they run past (considering he claimed in the introductory video he'd do anything to win, at least he's showing manners). Phil rewards Abbie & Ryan with 1st place and the chance to win $2 million if they win the final leg of the Race.
Amy is tearing up as she and Daniel arrive in 2nd place but Ryan is good enough to compliment them. However, in a confidential video, Ryan admits he considers Amy "more of a threat than any other man or woman running this race." He says he'll take any advantage, although I doubt teams will be so rash as to literally hand him a victory in the future.
Elsewhere, Jaymes/James see Caitlin/Brandy running to the Pit Stop and think they must know the location of the woman with the abacus. They brashly follow the ladies all the way to the Pit Stop, but Jaymes realizes their error as soon as he sees the Pit Stop mat; they turn around and head back to find the abacus.
Meanwhile, Lexi finishes the 2nd Roadblock while Sheila begins the task. At the Bund, Natalie & Nadiya find the woman with the abacus almost immediately. Rob & Kelley ask them for help, but they don't admit they found the clue already. At the Pit Stop:
Phil: "Natalie and Nadiya, you're team number four and that's pretty good news!"
Natalie: "No! We wanted one!"
Of course, Phil means it's good news because they overtook two teams at the Bund. While Sheila finishes the Roadblock (Rob misreads "abacus" as "a basket"), Will begins the Roadblock and just about buries his face in the food, which seems to get it done quickly. Rob & Sheila don't know what the Bund is and some locals tell them it's the Bank of China. Whoops! Brent begins the 2nd Roadblock and soon finishes it, while Rob & Kelley locate the woman with the abacus; they claim 5th place, much to their amazement! James & Abba, who have been at the Bund the longest, finally locate the woman with the abacus! Josh & Brent get a huge advantage when they ask a local for help on the Bund and the local knows exactly where the woman with the abacus is! Perhaps she's been paying attention to all the teams who have been looking for her? James & Abba are a little deflated to learn they've fallen to 6th place, while Josh & Brent are elated with 7th, having been in last place for so long.
Having corrected their error, Rob & Sheila arrive at the Bund and another local happens to know where the woman with the abacus is, only for Sheila to look right past her. Whoops again! Gary & Will do find the woman; Jaymes & James are still searching fruitlessly, but Gary & Will don't tell them they've found the clue. As long-time fans of the show, Gary describes how they're aware a winning strategy means being willing to let other teams be eliminated, no matter how nice they are. Trey & Lexi are directed to the woman by a local and Rob & Sheila follow them; Trey & Lexi also tell Jaymes & James where to find it. Gary & Will take 8th place and are soon joined by Trey & Lexi as team nine.
Jaymes & James see Rob & Sheila running to the tower, so now it's a foot race; the Chippendales just barely manage to win 10th place, although Gary admits to Trey & Lexi he wanted them eliminated. Rob & Sheila are disappointed to find themselves eliminated, although Sheila is glad they didn't clash with each other, which she feared they might. When she speaks of choosing Rob to run the Race with her, he counters: "You didn't choose me: I chose you."
Rob & Sheila made quite a few errors around the Bund clue, even when information was fed to them; it was ultimately something of a luck-based challenge and not really indicative of the teams' particular strengths. It could have been anyone who wound up eliminated, considering how much time some teams lost.
So far as a look at Shanghai, I'm not sure what viewers can take away about the city from this episode; the Chinese like table tennis, disgusting delicacies, ancient calculators and lighthouses. Well, at least they were all colourful tasks.
Here's how I view the remaining 10 teams:
  1. Abbie & Ryan: I'm uncertain of Ryan because of how past Racers with strong aggressive streaks have overcompensated for themselves (ie, Australia's Paul this past summer), but he at least keeps up the pretense of being a nice guy around other teams; there's nothing unpleasant about him so far and I do wonder if we'll see a $2 million winner this season.
  2. Amy & Daniel: I'm disappointed to see them lose first place; Amy seems incredibly tough to have overcome the challenges she faced and Daniel seems genuinely supportive. Hopefully they've learned a harsh lesson about when not to help other teams (that is, not when you're en route to the Pit Stop).
  3. Caitlin & Brittany: They didn't receive much focus in this episode, but soldiered through tasks pretty well. Hopefully future episodes will develop them further.
  4. Natalie & Nadiya: I'm surprised at Nadiya's behaviour at the 1st Roadblock, but otherwise they seem like a fun pair and could be contenders all the way to the finish.
  5. Rob & Kelley: They made a few blunders earlier on, but the Bund task put them back in the Race. They seem like very average people, unlike the "model types" which make up most of the cast. We'll see well they carry on.
  6. James & Abba: I had high hopes for these two as well when they nearly took first place; they seem like a great pair with a strong bond of friendship and good sense of humour.
  7. Josh & Brent: Putting aside their cattiness at the airport, they did well with the Race, particularly lucking out at the Bund. It's hard to tell whether they have staying power.
  8. Gary & Will: Gary seems very focused on the attitude it takes to play the Amazing Race (being a great fan), but it's hard to see them actually excelling at the Race when they aren't the fittest or the strongest... hence, why he'd want a very strong physical team like Jaymes/James eliminated. As a fellow fan, I hope they stay in the game for a long while.
  9. Trey & Lexi: Another couple I don't have a very good feel for; they seem pretty pleasant for now.
  10. Jaymes & James: I was seriously concerned about seeing these two eliminated; they're funny and down-to-Earth, which you wouldn't expect to look at them. I'd like them to last a good long while; at least they've earned this respite!
Next week: The promos show clips from the entire season, which I'm not so keen on, but it seems to be how CBS likes promoting the series now. We see teams succeeding, teams having troubles, teams arguing, yakata, yakata. So, presumably some of that next week.

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