'The Amazing Race': I survived a Japanese game show
"Amazing Race," which kicked off its 15th iteration tonight, has already proven that it means business this season, with producers quickly cutting one team from the pack before the racers had even left the starting line. It's a brutal beginning to what will likely be an even more demanding than usual jaunt around the globe. But it's also a cause for celebration as obnoxiously upbeat yoga instructors Eric and Lisa — whose blessedly limited on-screen interactions screamed "extreme yoga!" — were the ones who got the boot.
The series' producers did me a favor by getting rid of one of my least favorite teams before they even left the Los Angeles River. I have to say that right off the bat, before host Phil Keoghan had even announced the elimination twist, I was hoping that the yoga brats or overblown engaged couple Lance and Keri would be booted from the competition sooner rather than later. While Eric and Lisa were amusingly irritating, the combative Lance and Keri (well, Lance specifically) just make my skin crawl. We've had aggressive players on "Amazing Race" before, but Lance takes this character profile to a new low, instantly rubbing me the wrong way with his hyperactive personality and lack of a verbal filter.
This week's episode had the teams in high water literally, as they found themselves contending with the wet season in Vietnam and a live Japanese game show in Tokyo. Despite the playing field being a little crowded with ABC's own reality series "I Survived a Japanese Game Show," I found the game show interlude absolutely hysterical, as it forced the contestants to quickly adapt to the searing heat of wasabi, the luck of the roulette wheel, and the throngs of excited Japanese viewers in the studio audience. Some teams rose to the occasion, while others — Brian and Ericka, I'm looking at you — succumbed to the pressure and, well, heat.
My favorites are already emerging from the large number of teams, including the irrepressible Harlem Globetrotters Herbert and Nathaniel (a.k.a. Flight Time and Big Easy), construction worker father Gary and pink-haired son Matt, gay brothers Sam and Dan, and best friends Zev and Justin. Zev, who has Asperger's Syndrome, is one of the funniest contestants on the series in a long time and his comments are right on the money; not only is he hysterical, but he is a canny observer of certain truths. (I was a bit worried about them when Justin lost the clue in the water, but they quickly recovered.)
I'm less certain about professional poker players Maria and Tiffany, who decided before the start of the race to lie about their jobs and instead say that they work with homeless youth. Not exactly the most altruistic move. Plus, the duo are already acting distantly toward Zev and Justin while flirting mercilessly with gay brothers Sam and Dan, who themselves are pretending to be straight to mess with the poker players. Touché. Sam and Dan know Maria and Tiffany's secret, but it's still unclear whether the rest of the players do, though Zev is attune to others enough to know that there's something off about their story.
As mentioned before, Lance and Keri are certainly no faves of mine. He is actually terrifying, a hulking brute of a man with a seething anger to match. I'm also not a fan of "sexually pure" dating couple Mika and Canaan, whose new relationship seemed to hit the rocks during the duck herding road block in the second hour when songwriter Canaan began screaming his head off at his aspiring singer girlfriend when she failed to herd the dozens of quacking ducks properly. I hate to say it, but the dude might calm down a bit if he gave into his, uh, sexual urges.
And then there were Garrett and Jessica, who seemed pretty low-key through the first two legs but who managed to shock the hell out of me when engineer Garrett slammed his hand against the wooden boat when they were eliminated. I understand your frustration, but really? Do we need to arrange for an anger management course? At least he didn’t take it out on the ducks.
It was, without a doubt, one of the more memorable openings to an "Amazing Race" season, offering conflict, culture clash, and a new slew of schemers and dreamers. Who will take home the million-dollar prize and who will get left with nothing more than the taste of wasabi in their mouths? It's still anyone's game, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
-- Jace Lacob
Photo: Matt performs a Roadblock in which he must participate in the Mekong duck herding festival to receive his next clue during the season premiere of "The Amazing Race." Credit: CBS