This season's race starts in Gloucester, Mass., of all places. The teams are "home shopping television hosts" Brook & Claire; Chad & Stephanie, who have been together only eight months but are already buying a house together and bench pressing each other; Katie and Rachel, beach volleyball players; a capella singers Jonathan and Connor; doctors Nat and Kat; father/son-slash-"internet sensations" Michael and Kevin (yes, I remember them from the meetings); bikers Nick and Vicki; best friends Ron and Tony; dating/hating couple Jill and Thomas; father and daughter Gary and Mallory (the latter of whom is yet another beauty queen, and a screamer to boot, so, awesome), and recently reunited birth-mother and daughter Andie and Jenna. Many of these folks have really unrealistic expectations for the race, but as usual, that can wait until the full recap.
Before even starting the race, Phil tells everyone that the winner of this first leg will win the "Express Pass," a new thing that allows its holder to skip a task at any point in the race. The eleven teams race their Smart Cars to Logan Airport for the three available spots on the first flight to London, which go to Ron/Tony, Jill/Thomas and Chad/Stephanie. Upon arriving in Heathrow, almost everyone gets into the wrong side of the car, but it's Andie who almost grinds her engine into dust and Gary who flattens a tire. Stop one is Stonehenge, but all they have to do there is figure out how to get to Eastnor Castle. Which they have to literally storm, climbing ladders in the face of shouting peasants hurling buckets of sludge, then negotiating kiddie-pool-cover-sized boats across a lake. From there, it's a "joust" in which one racer has to take on an empty suit of armor with a giant slingshot that fires watermelons. You may have already seen how that goes for Claire, if you have an Internet. Jill and Thomas are the first to the Pit Stop, so the Express Pass is theirs. While the first five teams finish the leg (including the melon-victim), the back of the pack is persistently and spectacularly lost. Chad and Stephanie, who seemed like early frontrunners, are so befuddled by the boating and the part where they actually have to find Phil that they end up in eighth. Ron and Tony seem doomed, but Nick and Vicki are dumb enough to let themselves get caught -- almost. Sad to see Ron and Tony go, because they got along really well even when sucking wind.
"It's morning in Gloucester, Massachusetts," Phil announces over sweeping helicopter shots of the town. The views are breathtaking, as is the realization that this season isn't starting in Los Angeles. Phil himself is on the picturesque grounds of some sprawling seaside estate (which is actually ten miles away in Ipswich, according to reader Mary), telling us that it's from here that eleven teams will join a race around the world. "We're about to begin...The Amazing Race." And that ellipsis was my way of expressing a pause that could have accommodated all of the first sixteen seasons.
A small fleet of lobster boats is making its way across the bay, carrying the teams to the starting line. The editors make sure we see that one of the boats is christened No Excuses. Before we can wonder about whether the other craft have names like Non-Elimination or Killer Fatigue, it's time to meet the teams.
First are Brook and Claire, who Phil describes as "home shopping television hosts from Reno, Nevada." Brook, the blonde one, thinks they'll do well because they're such good communicators and manipulators. "Brook and I can sell ice to an Eskimo," Claire boasts. Well, now I know not to watch their channel.
Chad and Stephanie are "dating, from Miami, Florida." We see him bench-pressing her, so they've probably been together a while, right? That's not something you do on the third date. Actually, Stephanie says that they just met eight months ago, and just bought a home together. Yikes, I hope it's a condo. Chad says that the two of them balance each other (see, they're even riding bicycles together), and that he's going to ask her to marry him on the race. I assume he just means asking her on the race, not actually marrying her on the race. Although I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Phil is an ordained minister. And really, if he's not, he should become one. You never know. [Performing wedding ceremonies on the spot could certainly soften the blow of getting Philiminated. -- Angel]
Katie and Rachel are beach volleyball players who have been partners for five years. They look like beach volleyball players, and Katie (the one with the longer face) says they're strong, tough, and athletic, and the other teams had better look out for them. Is this a team of blondes that might actually make it to the halfway point?
On the opposite end of the high-school social spectrum are Jonathan and Connor, a couple of "Ivy League a capella singers." Seriously. We see them harmonizing on a version of "Amazing Grace" with the title changed to "Amazing Race," which I'm sure no one has ever thought of before. Jonathan, the one who wears glasses, says he thinks they'll sing a lot during the race, "to make the other teams like us [because that works so well for Andy on The Office] and to say thank you to our cab drivers [which, if there isn't an international blacklist of taxi passengers, that right there is a good way to get one invented]." They claim that tenors are the bad-asses of the a capella world, and I assume they're kidding. They harmonize, "We'll do anything for money." Except stop singing, presumably.