has come roaring back this week with 11 of fans' most favorite and abhorred teams, and is sending them across the globe to Guangzhau, China. From picking out wedding dresses to riding in slow-moving gondolas and spinning cartwheels at major athletic stadiums, there's plenty of
Just from this episode, we can already see internal team dynamics taking place and know who our frontrunners will be throughout the season. There's not enough backstabbing as I'd like, but we have plenty of more episodes to get to that.
Strike Up the Band at UCLA
The teams get their start on the field of UCLA's marching band, eagerly awaiting host Phil Keoghan's starting call. But emotions start churning when Phil announces that one team wasn't cleared to play.
Flashback one night prior to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where the lovable Kentucky bromancers Mark and Bopper are anxiously awaiting the results of Bopper's medical examination following his bad stomach pains. Having given so much bad news to so many teams over the years, Phil is the most qualified to tell Bopper he's not cleared to play, causing a waterfall of grief to overcome Mark. It's a very sorrowful but also bizarre moment, with Phil essentially telling a team the Amazing Race equivalent of them having a terminal illness, all in the setting of a hospital no less.
But wait, there's more! Mark is still handed the option of competing on the race with another teammate. The thought at first is incomprehensible to the bubbling man, and is faced with the toughest decision of his life to go on without Bopper.
After reverting back to present moment at UCLA, we see that Mark has been paired up with the other Kentucky native (and name starting with a letter M), Mallory from The Amazing Race seasons 17 and 18. It's as if Mark needs a new kidney, and Mallory is the only match. This team's encounters will be very entertaining to watch unfold throughout the season.
After starting the race, teams frantically rush through the marching band lines, trying to find the Chinese symbol that correlates with their conductors. The first teams to identify correctly are the Afghanimals Leo and Jamal, cowboys Jet and Cord, father/son Dave and Connor and twins Natalie and Nadiya, landing them a much coveted seat on the first flight to China.
The second and third flight includes the Globetrotters Flight Time and Big Easy, singers Caroline and Jennifer, YouTubers Joey and Meghan, odd couple Mark and Mallory, mother/son Margie and Luke, Express Pass screwups John and Jessica and husband/wife Brendon and Rachel (or Brenchel, as they like to be called).
While waiting for their planes at LAX, all the teams express their condolences over Bopper's absence to a grieving Mark, while Mallory tries to make the most of the situation. You have to give her credit for working with someone who clearly doesn't want to work alongside her.
Trouble Finding the Perfect Wedding Dress
After landing, the teams need to locate one of three wedding gown stores in China's largest bridal district in Guangzhou, China. Dave and Connor get a very early lead when they smartly utilize a local to help them locate their next clue at the Silver Gorgeous Wedding Dress Shop. The Afghanimals and twins set out on an alliance to locate their destination, but it seems that having four heads isn't better than having one. So much bickering between the paired siblings causes them to meander through alleyways and across streets aimlessly as other teams slip right by.
When the singers Caroline and Mallory get there, the Afghanimals are more than happy to ditch the twins and head out solo, finally finding their shop and getting ahead. But one by one, teams pass up the singers and twins, with the singers looking deadpan into the camera and their expressions saying "We would kill the twins right now if it weren't for your criminally implicating video footage." Finally, an eager Chinese man points the singers and twins in the right direction, probably because he's sick of seeing them run up and down his store so many times.
Trying Their Odds on the Ferris Wheel
Cowboys Cord and Jet once again utilize the native Chinese population to navigate their way to the top of the Canton Tower. While their first ride around is incorrect and slow moving, they luck out the second time, picking an even-numbered stall and quickly getting forward to their next stop. Maybe other teams don't think that the local population speaks English, or they're just too intimidated to actually converse with them. Regardless, Cord and Jet's lack of apprehension in talking up locals will be a huge advantage to them in this race.
The teams fumble into the bubbles and awkwardly try to piece together which ones are correct, with even-numbered stalls providing clues and odd-numbered ones telling teams to try again. Mark clearly is having none of it from Mallory, and you can tell from the sad gleam in his eyes that this race isn't amazing without his boy Bopper. Mallory's doing all she can to cheer up the emotionally fatigued Mark, but being stuck in a bubble with an unfamiliar talkative girl isn't boding well for him.
And of course, the twins bicker even more and come up with inane and illogical ideas on how to conquer the seemingly difficult bubbles. While slowly spinning around is like a long overdue counseling session for the sisters, they still can't agree on what strategy to do next. Try more bubbles? Wait to see which teams are right and try theirs? But indecision is often more harmful than the wrong decision, when the twins choose not to get in a bubble car in fear of making a mistake. This allows Joey and Meghan to slip a few paces ahead of them, and waste enough time to assuringly put the twins in dead last.
Flipping Out at Haixinsha Stadium
Cord and Jet get to Haixinshea Stadium first, followed closely by Brendon and Rachel. Dressed in a leotard similar to that of Jon Heder in the comedy film Blades of Glory, Cord happily flips through the air five times before being lowered to the ground below. When Margie and Luke approach the stadium, Margie is nearly in tears over having to deal with her fear of heights. Luke explains that Margie loves having her feet firmly planted on the ground, but the mom still pulls through, doing five flips before happily being released from her harness.
Leo clearly has the most fun as he continues flipping even after he meets the requirement. When Meghan and Joey and the twins finally get to the stadium, Joey quickly changes into a leotard while the sisters once again bicker and finally decide who will go up.
Finish Line at the Opera
Capping off an amazing opening performance, Cord and Jet get a well-deserved first place at the gorgeous Guangzhou Opera House, along with an Express Pass for themselves and one for another team that they need to give out before the fifth leg. Who they end up giving that pass to will be a huge shift in momentum for the race, and could come back to haunt the cool cowboys. But if they are wise enough with it, just as they've been with their other challenges, then expect Cord and Jet to tie up their bootstraps and easily haul a place in the final three.
Following Cord and Jet in order are Brendon and Rachel, Dave and Connor, Margie and Luke, and Leo and Jamal. Mark and Mallory get a seemingly appropriate sixth place, indicating that this new team isn't necessarily stronger or weaker than Mark and Bopper, but just right in the middle of where they need to be. Mark's attitude, though, will be the telling factor in whether they succeed.
Flight Time and Big Easy follow in seventh, and Jessica and John are happy to get eighth, making a comment about how the Express Pass is more trouble than it's worth. I sincerely hope that Cord and Jet pass on their extra one to Jessica and John, just to see them fumble over the seemingly simple decision again. Caroline and Jennifer sneak into ninth, and definitely seem relieved to still be alive after nearly losing it with the wedding dresses. Joey and Meghan place in 10th, just narrowly avoiding elimination due to twins' poor decision making.
And finally, Natalie and Nadiya trudge to the finish line, citing their arguments and differences as the faults in them placing so far behind. Nobody likes to be the first team to go. But frankly from a viewer perspective, the obnoxious level of the twins has been off the charts. With many new team dynamics in place and the twins finally gone, this promising season of The Amazing Race: All Stars is far from identical to the series' past installments.
The Amazing Race airs Sundays at 8pm on CBS.
(Image courtesy of CBS)