From a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles that will serve as the starting line, we waste no time meeting the 19th (!) batch of teams: Andy & Tommy, who are Olympic snowboarders and yet think the other teams will underestimate them; Ethan & Jenna from Survivor, one of whom is also a cancer survivor; Laurence & Zac, who are not just father and son but father and son adventurers; a recently engaged couple named Ernie & Cindy; siblings Justin & Jennifer; grandparents Bill & Cathi; blonde twins Liz & Marie; dating couple Jeremy & Sandy; domestic partners and flight attendants Ron & Bill; married couple Amani & Marcus, the latter of whom is an ex-NFL player; and ex-showgirls Kaylani & Lisa, who seem to have a lot to prove.
Before they even get to head to the airport, the racers have to do a complicated letter puzzle involving searching through hundreds of umbrellas for ones that have letters on them that will help spell out their first destination: Taipei, Taiwan. Kaylani and Lisa are the last to finish the puzzle, which means they're going to have to do an additional, new challenge on this leg called a "Hazard." But that's only the beginning of their problems, because when they stop for directions to LAX, they drive off and leave one of their passports on the ground next to the gas pumps. Meanwhile, Jenna and Ethan are trying to keep their Survivor experience quiet, but wouldn't you know it, other racers recognize them anyway. Kaylani's passport is returned to her through the combined magic of a Good Samaritan and Twitter, so they're not out of it. Yet.
In Taipei, everyone has to search a busy business district for a specific animated billboard that almost everyone walks right under without noticing. Eventually, teams start figuring out with the help of locals that they're looking for the Confucius Temple. That's the site of the first Road Block, where they have to memorize a proverb recited over a phone and repeat it back to a monk. Ernie and Cindy finish that first and head on over to Dajia Riverside Park. There, they join the crews of dragon boats to row down the river. Then it's to the first Pit Stop, the Martyr's Shrine, as they continue to lead the pack.
Kaylani and Lisa's Hazard turns out to be a bungee jump inside a mall atrium, which they complete while Liz is still stuck on the road block all alone, getting no help from her twin sister.
Ernie and Cindy are the first team to the Pit Stop, which means they win the Express Pass for the season. Ethan and Jenna end up in fourth place, so they've got a ways to go for their next million from CBS. The passport-losers end up in ninth, and despite shitting the bed on their first Road Block, the twins come in tenth, thanks to former educators Bill and Cathi first falling behind and then going completely astray in downtown Taipei. However, the grandparents are in luck, because the first leg is non-elimination. Thanks for getting one out of the way, I suppose. But next week will be a double elimination, so… it averages out?
Here it is, the nineteenth season. Hard to believe, isn't it? Soon we're going to have to stop counting.
Over lots of shots of shoreline porn, Phil declares, "This is the western edge of the United States." Could you be a little more specific, there, Phil? "And the world-famous coastline of California." Well, that only narrows it down by half, but there's the Santa Monica Pier, so I'm starting to get my bearings now. The camera zooms up along the Pacific Coast Highway to where Phil stands at a scenic pullout, telling us that from here, eleven teams will embark on a race around the world for one million dollars. He leaves out how it's the nineteenth time, though. Probably can't believe it himself.
You know how the teams are often conveyed to the starting line in some kind of interesting way? They're skipping that this time, just driving them all there in a bus with one of those full-body decal condoms on it, this one featuring the Amazing Race logo and the slogan "The World is Waiting," because some non-English major failed to realize that despite its length, "is" is a verb and thus should be capitalized. This show has gone so far downhill. Phil says the bus is bringing the teams to the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in the L.A. foothills, which has roofs like a Chinese pagoda. Very confusing to my six-year-old, who's watching with me. The teams start hopping off the bus one by one, so it looks like it's already time to meet them.
Andy & Tommy are former Olympic snowboarders from California. Over lots of footage of each of them snowboarding and wakeboarding and various other types of boarding, Tommy, the less shaggy one, says he was on the U.S. team in '02 and Andy in '06. He expects the other teams to see them as slackers, "but when it's time to get serious, we'll get the job done." Andy dubs them "the Machine and the Animal." I hope I'm not expected to know which is which any time soon.
I've watched all of one episode of Survivor in my life, and even I know who Ethan and Jenna are, although I don't think I was fully aware that they'd both won before. Or that they've been dating for seven years. Over footage of them exercising together, Ethan adds that he also had a rare form of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which fortunately is in remission now, but which is gives their team that extra hook that The Amazing Race is looking for. Jenna basically says if they can beat cancer they can beat anything. The other teams had better hope there's no Road Block where they have to battle a tumor.