As always, let's start by meeting our racers, somewhere in Southern California (in this case, the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena). Trey & Lexi are a young jock/cheerleader couple from the University of Texas, because we can always hope for another Colin & Christie. Nadiya and Natalie are identical twins, which are always fun to recap, but at least this pair grew up in Sri Lanka. James and Mark "Abba" are a heavy-metal musician and the lawyer-manager of his current band, so it's hard to see how this could go wrong. Josh & Brent may already be known to some viewers (myself not included) as the stars of The Fabulous Beekman Boys, a couple of city mice who moved to the country and bought a goat farm.
Amy & Daniel are a pair of dating snowboarders with one pair of original feet between them, since she lost her lower legs and several organs to bacterial meningitis at 19. There's a pair of nearly-interchangeable college-girl blondes with the interchangeable names of Caitlin & Brittany, and Rob & Sheila are owners-operators of a lumberjack-themed "Medieval Times" kind of place. There are a couple of best-friend substitute teachers of wildly varying heights named Gary & Will, who are apparently also superfans.
Then there's Abbie & Ryan, your basic super-competitive young dating couple. And get this: there's a team named James & Jaymes. How am I supposed to recap three Jameses, two of whom are on the same team? Fortunately J&J are also Chippendale dancers, so they're not terribly differentiated to begin with. And Rob & Kelley are this season's other Middle-Aged Couple With a Weird Profession, namely monster truckers. So there are also two Robs, an Abbie, and an Abba. It's like the casting people are trying to make me crazy.
The teams convene before Phil on the bridge, where he tells them that if any team wins both the first and last leg, that team will win two million dollars. But first they'll have to rappel ten stories off the side of the bridge. Which, since there aren't 22 ropes, spreads the teams out right from the jump. Seven of the teams get to the airport first secure tickets on the early flight and land an hour and change before the other four in Shanghai and race to a sports arena, where they have to score a single point against a junior table tennis champion who is using increasingly ridiculous items in place of a paddle. Abbie & Ryan finish the Roadblock first, followed by Mark & Abba, then Jaymes & James and Caitlin & Brittany. Nadiya & Natalie quickly fall to bickering while Rob & Kelley become the season's first team to get lost looking for the clue (but eventually Kelley scores against the champ using a clue envelope).
The teams move on to a "double Roadblock," in which the partner who didn't play table tennis has to eat a heaping helping of frog fallopian tubes. Then, while the four trailing teams play table tennis, the leaders are off to the Bund to find a woman using an abacus. Fortunately, some of the teams seem to have preexisting knowledge of what an abacus actually is. Rob and Kelley's poor racing continues as Rob fails to read the part of the clue specifying that he needs to eat the frog-goo with chopsticks, and thus has to put away a second serving.
Amid all the teams lost on the Bund, Amy & Daniel are the first team to find a woman with an abacus, who gives them the clue sending them to the Pit Stop, the Bund Signal Tower. But they end up in a footrace with Abbie & Ryan, whom they gave directions to and everything. Abbie & Ryan win the leg (and Ryan acts like the two million is already his), and there's a bit of awkwardness at the mat when Amy & Daniel show up moments later, filled with regret over helping the team that ended up beating them to the mat.
Jaymes & James follow Caitlin & Brittany to the Pit Stop before finding abacus-lady, so the blondes take third. Nadiya & Natalie come in fourth, three spots behind where they wanted to, and Rob & Kelley somehow make it to the mat in fifth place. Rob & Sheila are misdirected to the Bank of China while James & Abba come in sixth. Josh & Brent recover from the last-place position they held at the end of the double Roadblock to make it in seventh place.
Meanwhile, everyone else is hung up looking for the abacus lady. And, in the case of Sheila, obliviously walking ten feet in front of her. Gary and Will come in eighth, closely followed by Trey & Lexi. The Chippendales end up in a footrace against Team Lumberjack, which the former team narrowly wins. And thus the lumberjack team is the first to get the axe. It's still early, but here's hoping for the emergence of a team we can actually root for.
Over some cheesy surf music and footage of a garishly-painted hippie school bus traveling down the Pacific Coast (both sufficiently generic as to not be actionable by either the Beach Boys or the estate of Ken Kesey), Phil narrates, "Eleven new teams are groovin' on down from Southern California's sunny coastline to the crown of the valley: Pasadena." Yes, you waited all summer for Phil to come back and open the new season with a sentence that included the word "groovin'." However, I do like the sound of the phrase "eleven new teams." Phil's coming to us from Pasadena City Hall for no reason other than it's pretty, and "just one of the many iconic structures seen throughout the city." Because the actual starting line is going to be the Colorado Street Bridge, over a mile away. Phil continues that the stakes are higher than ever for this batch of teams who will race around the world for one million dollars. "And a chance to win [eyebrow pop] The Amazing Race." Phil's still holding out on us. I can tell.
But before we make Phil tell us what else he knows, let's meet the teams, who are seen getting off the bus one by one. First are Trey and Lexi, a dating couple from Austin, Texas. We see them frolicking on a field in their licensed Longhorns-wear as we learn that Trey played football at UT-Austin and Lexi was a cheerleader. And that's exactly what they look like, too. "We're pretty traditional people," Lexi says unnecessarily, adding that they want to get married before moving in together. They also feed cows, practice archery, and row a boat on a tiny pond as they tell us they're hoping to win the race so they can get married. Well, that's not very traditional. Don't a lot of people get married without first winning The Amazing Race?
Natalie and Nadiya are "twins, born in New York and raised in Sri Lanka." They certainly assimilated there, as they look and talk like natives. As they do yoga and play rugby in a park, they VO about how they've done stuff like taking each other's tests and breaking up with each other's high school boyfriends. They seem pretty happy together. For now.
James and Abba are a "rock star and lawyer from Los Angeles," but since they're both in their late forties (or later) with long hair and beards, you're not going to be able to tell which is which at first glance. It's actually going to take a lot of glances. James, the one with the darker beard and straighter hair, tells us that he started out playing in White Lion (and just when you thought you were going to go the rest of your life without hearing a note of "Wait" ever again, the Amazing Editors unearthed part of the video), then joined Megadeth, as well as having played with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Slash. Abba explains that he's an entertainment attorney, and as we see the two of them hanging around the studio and the guitar shop, he says they've already traveled plenty, with their extensive touring experience. "We're comfortable being uncomfortable." Then they remember to vow to "rock the race." Or, more likely, someone off-camera made them say it.