Phil leads the teams on bicycles to the starting line in California Wine Country. They are "married clowns" Dave and Cherie, dirt-poor Kentuckians Bopper and Mark; golfing sisters Misa and Maiya; Brendon and Rachel, whom I've already been hating for a year and a half on Big Brother but who are already getting a head start on earning the enmity of a whole new audience; proud self-described Guidos Joey "Fitness" (seriously) and Danny; Feds Nary (not a typo) and Jamie; Army couple Rachel and Dave; twins Elliot and Andrew, who are considerate enough to have different hair for once; southern cousins Kerri and Stacy; dating couple and mutual home-wreckers Vanessa and Ralph; and border patrol agents Art and J.J.
The racers start out by searching for clues hanging from balloons, which tell them to fly to Santa Barbara (that's Santa Barbara, Argentina, according to the lengthy instructions provided by Phil on the video screen of the product-placed cars they drive to LAX). Misa and Maiya take almost two hours finding their clue, but everyone makes it to Salta, Argentina via Buenos Aires, from whence they must drive into the small town of Santa Barbara. The teams are soon spread out by being on separate flights hours apart, and last-place Cherie quickly gives me the first opportunity to make a "sad clown" joke.
The front of the pack soon arrives at a regional airport, where a Road Block switcheroo requires one racer from each team to find their partner -- who will be tandem-jumping out of an airplane. As it turns out, the finding isn't hard at all, because everyone lands in the same spot. Art and JJ leave that task in the lead, with the two Rachel teams close behind. Then the teams have to go to a plaza to make ten dozen empanadas, in just the right way. In the back of the pack, Maiya drives her car off the road in the wrong spot and gets stuck in the sand, Joey Fitness demonstrates that he's unfit to drive stick, and Stacy is this season's first idiot who doesn't realize that The Amazing Race tends to have altitude-based challenges. But of course all of these subplots reach inspirational conclusions.
Rachel and Dave end up being the first to finish their empanadas and are the first to find Phil at the Pit Stop. That means they win the Express Pass, just ahead of Brendon and Rachel, who I'm sure will have a meltdown over it later. Art and JJ come in third after struggling with the empanadas, followed by Nary and Jamie, Vanessa and Ralph, and Elliot and Andrew. Mark and Bopper are leading the second pack at the empanadas, but Kerri and Stacy pass them up and secure seventh place, with the clowns locking in eighth and the Kentuckians coming in ninth. That leaves the sisters and the Guidos, but Misa and Maiya have to run back for their backpacks before finding Phil. And they blow that too, as Phil sees them first, then watches them run in the other direction. That allows the Guidos to bring it in at number ten, and Misa and Maiya suffer a Philimination that is unprecedented in its moronitude. But the worse news is that given the number of obnoxious loudmouths we've met in addition to the ones we already knew, this could be a very long season.
"This is California," Phil says with a surprising lack of specificity before adding, "The heart of America's wine country." We're supposedly flying over the vineyards of Santa Barbara as Phil says this is the perfect place for cycling enthusiasts "like me." Hey, who is this show about, anyway? Actually, I shouldn't mock, because with the crop of racers we're about to meet the more Phil the better. He's currently leading a flock of identically-dressed racers on bicycles as he tells us, "These racers riding the in the peloton behind me have no idea what lies ahead." Or what peloton means, most likely. But Phil says that one of them will win The Amazing Race. Except they'll have to catch Phil first.
So let's meet the teams. We start off whimsically, with Dave and Cherie, "Married clowns from Tampa, Florida" although they introduce themselves as "laugh ambassadors," which is like a real ambassador only less funny. We see them clowning for a group of kids, and their strategy for the race seems to be to rely on all the good karma they've built up over their lives. We'll see how that goes. Of course, this is not the first clown team that's ever been on the Amazing Race, but on the other hand, Jon and Al were amusing, charismatic, and cheerful.
Bopper and Mark are an interracial team of best friends from Clay County, Kentucky, which is shot to look like the poor side of town on Justified. "We never had nothin'. Never thought we'd get nothin'," one of them says. They're shown eating with their families on a picnic table in an unfinished garage as Bopper talks about how they haven't helped their families if they don't win the money. "We are going to win the money!" And then maybe they can take their meals on the inside of the house. I just have one question: "Bopper"?
Misa and Maiya are nearly identical sisters from San Diego, and professional golfers. They frolic on the beach in bikinis for the cameras as they assure us that they're nothing like people think they are. Well, thanks for going out of your way to set us straight, ladies. "There will be no crying," Maiya vows. It's always good to get these predictions on record.
Do you realize that the last time we met 22 racers who had never been on this or any other primetime CBS reality show was in September of 2010? This is my way of trying to ease into the whole Brendon and Rachel thing. You either hated them on Big Brother the last two seasons, or you don't watch Big Brother because it always has people like Brendon and Rachel on it. It was bad enough when Jeff and Jordan got cast on this show, even before Jeff turned out to be a homophobic, self-righteous bully, but now I'm going to have to spend even more time with this obnoxious, braying sore loser with bipolar disorder and her fiancée pursuing his PhD in anger issues (spoiler: he will never catch it). Naturally, in their introductory interview they've got their cliché-o-tron cranked up to eleven, as Brendon says they've proved they're "strong competitors" (Brendon's favorite phrase, and Rachel's second-favorite) by winning Big Brother. Rachel points out she won BB13, although she leaves out the part that it was solely due to the kind of producer interference that would have gotten a real game show sued. But then Brendon also leaves out the part where he was evicted from the Big Brother house three times in one year. Rachel actually -- with a straight face, in 2011 -- says they're not here to make friends... they're here to win a million dollars. I don't think there's much danger of either, but it'll be interesting to see whether being in a game where popularity is mostly immaterial can be set off by lack of rigging the game in their favor -- assuming either of those premises is correct. "Nobody comes between me and my million dollars," she says. Yeah, there's her first-favorite phrase. Oh, their Philimination cannot come soon enough. Now wouldn't be soon enough.