It used to be that watching The Amazing Race was about the race itself: the places they go to, the oddities they experience, the fact that armchair travelers like me can go “woot!” at it all. Now, sixteen seasons in, it’s about the racer. When the eleven teams approach the starting line, I start thinking about how they’ll deal with the race: the ones that annoy the hell out of you, the ones that become an easy favorite, and the ones that run a race so solid, you can predict their win from the very beginning.

This season’s teams quite an interesting bunch. There are the familiar faces: Jordan and Jeff from Big Brother, and Brent and Caite… well, it’s Caite who’s famous for going “South Africa, and the Iraq, everywhere like such as” on us three years ago. In between, there’s your usual married couple, parent-child team, sibling team (although one of them, the other Jordan of the season, is gay)… and cowboys, and a triathlete grandma-grandkid pair and undercover detectives, and a lesbian couple. Interesting bunch, more or less.

Phil’s little twist on the starting line: We start in Los Angeles again, where Phil tells the teams that they have to race to the airport using public transportation. The first three teams to hit LAX will get tickets to the first flight, while the rest have to settle for the next flight an hour later. Their destination: Chile.

But the idea of public transportation has some of the teams flustered. The lesbian couple, Carol and Brandy, started dreaming of valet parking. (Then again, I do understand LA is a struggle when it comes to buses.) Joe’s confident because he knows the downtown area, so he decides to take a train to the buses. Bringing three other teams with him, he’s confident that they’ll get slots to the first flight. Well, not really: the easiest (and fastest) way is a bus going straight to LAX a few blocks from the starting line.

Imagine Joe’s face when he learns that the first flight is full. I had the urge to go “ha-ha!” like Nelson from The Simpsons. While waiting, the other Jordan launched his impression of Caite (yes, that “everywhere like such as” line again), causing an awkward moment. Carol and Brandy barely missed out on the first flight, and started praying for a “major mechanical failure”. It did happen: the three teams on the first flight–“mompreneurs” Monique and Shawne, high school sweethearts Dana and Adrian, and Jordan and Jeff–were forced to move to the second flight after their plane was delayed. Hello again, bottleneck.

Hanging on to dear life in Chile: Or, as female Jordan was absolutely convinced of, China. (“We need tickets to China.” Poink.) Upon touching down, they have to take a bus to the city of Valparaiso, some 60 miles away from the capital, Santiago. The cowboys, Jet and Cord, got delayed since the bus driver refused to accept their Brazilian money. (So much for the logic that they’ll be accepted in Chile because they’re close to each other.) Brent and Caite were the firs to get their clue–at the Ascensor Villaseca, one of the city’s famed funiculars, which is pretty much like a cable car running on steep slopes–and were faced with a Roadblock.

Simply said, it’s cablewalking. Specifically, it’s walking on a cable as long as a football field and raised 120 feet off the ground. Caite breezes through it, never mind the very windy conditions, finishing first. Female Jordan was close behind. Dan struggled with the wind and lost his balance, but he was lucky to have caught the cable, so he had to drag himself to the end. Brandy was pumped before the deed, but had a panic attack halfway through.

They’re not making this paint job as easy as it should be: Brent and Caite were the first to finish (and male Jordan admits he underestimated the beauty queen) so they had to take a funicular down to the next clue box. They did get the clue, but they walked to get there. (Male Jordan, you can take what you said back now.) Next stop: a row of painted houses along Templeman Street, where they have to grab painting supplies and paint a portion of the house they’re assigned to. Isn’t it cool, Phil’s story, of the government constantly having these houses painted?

The hard part is looking for the houses: the frontrunners were literally walking around in circles. So hard, in fact, that Dan and Jordan lost their paintbrushes on the way. Once you get past that, it’s a pretty easy task: the unpainted portion of the wall’s just a three-foot square. Jordan and Jeff finished first, and breezed to the pit stop at the Palacio Baburizza, earning them a trip to Vancouver. Brent and Caite were close behind, but they were slapped with a 30-minute penalty at the pit stop for not taking the funicular earlier.

Still, the painting didn’t go smoothly for everyone. Louie and Michael were painting over graffiti on a blue wall, perhaps a throwback to their civil service background. Steve and Allie, on the other hand, must’ve missed the instructions completely and painted the inside walls of someone else’s house! (Then again, it’s a red wall, and they have red paint.) The person in charge’s annoyed at the entry, but ended up laughing because the team “don’t know how to paint”. It took them a while to realize they’re doing it wrong–Allie was already looking for the next clue.

Who’s the unluckiest person? Definitely Adrian, who got stuck with the cables. See, he’s a big dude, and he’s afraid of heights, but he’s doing the Roadblock for the love of Dana. (Aww shucks.) Add the windy conditions and you know he’ll definitely lose balance. Unlike earlier, though, he totally fell off the cable and was hanging by his harness. The safety experts brought him back to the starting line, where he tried, and promptly fell again. All the other teams have finished at this point, so it’s pretty obvious where this leads.

Monique and Shawne finished in second, while Jet and Cord caught up from their Brazilian mistake and finished third. Dan and Jordan arrived fourth, but they were slapped a 15-minute penalty for losing the paintbrushes; they ended in eighth. Brent and Caite eventually finished seventh. Steve and Allie were fourth; Joe and Heidi were fifth; Carol and Brandy were sixth; Louie and Michael were ninth; and Jody and Shannon were tenth.

And the last team at the pit stop: Dana and Adrian. Well, they didn’t really make the pit stop. Phil just visited them and told them they were eliminated. It sucks leaving first. It sucks leaving without finishing the leg. By the laws of mathematics, those two together? That sucks a lot more.

So, after day one, I’m growing fond of Jody, curious about who between Caite and female Jordan will reign supreme, and interested in all these budding bromances. Louie and Michael? Jet and Cord? Dan and Jordan? Oh, wait, I’m not sure about the last one.

Next week: We continue in Chile, where teams form alliances and people get shut out. It depends on who’s shut out, really. I might like it. I might not.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Henrik Batallones

Staff Writer, BuddyTV