'The Amazing Race' recap: Watermelon TO THE FACE

Here's Bucky on last night's Amazing Race premiere! Take it away, Bucky, and thanks again!

Welcome to the 17th season of the Emmy award-winning (but not this year, for some inexplicable reason) competitive reality show, "The Amazing Race."  I am honored and humbled to have been invited by SarahKK to provide weekly recaps for y'all.  

We kick off this season in Gloucester, Mass, where Phil greets the teams and lays out the rules.  New this year:  the winner of the first leg will win an "Express Pass" — a sort of get out of jail free card that will allow the holders to skip any one challenge they select.  (Hmmm ... if I was in charge, we would have a twist where, once used, the Express Pass goes back into play, but I've been watching "Survivor" too long.)

We also learn that eight Pit Stops will be elimination points which, if my math is correct, (and because I was an English major, there's the distinct possibility that it isn't) means that there will be three non-elimination legs.

Phil says go, and the racers open their first envelope:  they have to drive (cute little Smart cars) to Boston's Logan International, where they will board one of two flights to London.  From there they will make their way to Stonehenge for their next clue.  The twist: There are two flights to London and the first (which has seats for only three teams) arrives a half an hour before the second.


My own opinion:  the first flight is on American Airlines, the second on Virgin Atlantic.  I’d take the second, because I don’t think 30 minutes is that much of a time penalty and Virgin Atlantic is a way better airline.  We’ll see.

All the teams head to Logan without incident except for the Nerds from Princeton, who end up on the west side of Boston when they need to be on the east side.  It’s really easy:  just head south from Gloucester and stay close to the ocean, because Logan International is on a little island in the middle of Boston Harbor, which is why I don’t like flying there; I fear flying AND I can’t swim.  I’ve always figured my plane would crash in the ocean and I would survive the plane crash, but then I’d drown.  But I digress ...

Teams making the first flight:  Ron & Tony, Jill & Thomas and Chad & Stephanie.  The rest take the Virgin Atlantic flight and, I guarantee, have a far better flight.

In London, the teams get their cars which are right-hand drives, of course, and ... stick shifts.  All together now, TAR fans, what do we do if we get selected to compete on The Amazing Race?  WE MAKE SURE WE KNOW HOW TO DRIVE A STICK SHIFT!

Thomas tells us that he and Jill decided to “bring their A game” as soon as they learned of the Express Pass.  I guess prior to that announcement, they were just going to bring their B or C game.  

Chad & Stephanie get hopelessly lost.  

Ron and Tony stop and get a map.  

The second flight arrives; the rest of the teams get their cars.  We learn that Dr. Nat is a diabetic as she pricks her finger to check her blood glucose level.  She does this while she is driving and Mrs. Bucky says, “Isn’t that just as dangerous as texting while you drive?”  Yes, I believe it is.

Nick and Vicki get hopelessly lost.  

Andie and Jenna win the award for being the first ones to have trouble with the stick shift.  Andie is driving and doing something that creates such a burning smell that the Nerds from Princeton, driving behind, can smell it.  Plus her car won’t go, it just sort of revs. (We later learn that Andie used to drive a stick shift, but it’s been a long time and she forgot that after you shift, you have to let the clutch back out.  What?  Really?)

Ron & Tony get hopelessly lost.

So, the first three teams to arrive at Stonehenge are The Doctors, Jill & Thomas and Kate & Rachel, the Volleyball Players.  The 30-minute advantage is gone for two of the three teams that had it and I’m feeling pretty smug about my Virgin Atlantic recommendation.

At Stonehenge, the teams get a clue that sends them to find, this being England, a castle, which they will have to storm for their next clue.  Storming a castle is a lost art, isn’t it?

We see that, on the way to the castle, the Volleyball Players are having trouble with the stick shift but, too late!  The award has already gone to Andie & Jenna.

Brook & Claire, the television shopping hosts, surge into the lead and are first to storm the castle.  There they find that the teams have to take a flag off of a battlement, go down to a nearby river, get in this little boat that is totally unstable, pull themselves on a rope stretched over the water across the river, give their flag to a Knight and ride on a horse with him and get another clue.  Whew!  I hope they can remember all of that.

The whole boat challenge is difficult because it takes great balance and the teams have to distribute their weight just right, so as not to sink the little boats, which look like inverted sea turtle shells.  Every teams struggles with this at least for a while.  Some, for a long while.

The Doctors and Jill & Thomas storm the castle next, in that order.

Meanwhile, we learn that Gary & Mallory (father and daughter) have a flat tire on their car.  Gary seems to change it pretty quickly, however.

Ron & Tony, Nick & Vicki and Chad & Stephanie remain hopelessly lost.

The castle storming isn’t difficult and the whole Knight encounter doesn’t take anyone much time, once they start it.  From the Knights, they get directions to tonight’s Roadblock, a task only one of the team members can perform, while the other one offers encouragement.

The Roadblock requires the competing team member to shoot melons at a suit of armor, using a big slingshot device.  When they knock down the suit of armor, they get the next clue.

If you’ve seen the promos for the show, you know what happens here.  Claire, shooting the big slingshot for her team, shoots a melon towards the armor, the slingshot gets twisted and, on the rebound, lets loose of the melon towards Claire.  It hits her smack in the face, at full speed (which I estimate to be about 1,000,000 feet-per-second) and at point blank range.  We cut to commercial, thinking Claire might be dead.  No, really.  That’s how hard that melon was flying.  And Claire, unlike the suit of armor, wasn’t wearing a suit of armor for protection.

We come back and learn that Claire is alive, but has a terrible headache and can’t see.  This is when Brook sympathetically reminds her she has to finish the challenge, because it’s a Roadblock and only one member can perform it.  There’s no switching in the middle.

Let me tell you right now:  Claire is my hero.  She actually finishes the challenge, even though she was blinded (and practically beheaded) by the flying melon.  She finishes.  I haven’t watched all 17 seasons, and I have a pretty bad memory, but I think this has to be the gutsiest performance in the history of TAR.

But, unfortunately, Claire doesn’t finish before Jill & Thomas, who brought their A game, remember.  They get the next clue and it is to go find the Pit Stop, which they do, finishing first and winning the coveted Express Pass.  Brook and Claire finish second, with The Doctors third. The doctors finish second, Team Glee comes in third and Brook and Claire come in fourth.

The real drama was who would be eliminated.  Nick & Vicki, Andie & Jenna and Ron & Tony spent large parts of the day hopelessly lost.  But the most hopelessly lost were Ron & Tony who, when they finally got to the boat task, couldn’t balance it because Tony weighs 100 pounds more than Ron and they just couldn’t figure out how to distribute their weight correctly.  They actually give up on that task, and are they first team eliminated.

All in all, a good first episode.  No taxi drivers to screw up any teams.  No language barriers to overcome.  Just racing, and some interesting tasks.

And Claire, who earns a pedestal in the Bucky Hall of Fame, for her performance after taking that melon in the face.

What do you think?  Any prognostications this early? 

(Photo courtesy of CBS)