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An Amazing Race painted bus (you know the kind, the ones where even the windows become part of the design) makes its way to the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, CA in the hills above L.A. When it arrives, it disgorges:
Andy/Tommy – former Olympic snowboarders from California (’02 and ’06) who think the others will view them as slackers, but when it counts, they’ll get the job done. They are not the hippies some of us thought them to be, but dudes.
Ethan/Jenna – both winners of Survivor and dating for 7 years. Ethan is also a survivor of a rare form of Hodgkins Lymphoma and wants to prove to the world that there is life after cancer. They don’t want to tell the others about their Survivor involvement, but they are recognized at the airport and word spreads among the other teams.
Laurence/Zac – a father and son team of adventurers from Thousand Oaks, CA. In 2009, Zac set the record for the first person under age 18 to have sailed around the world and, as we will discover in a later challenge, Laurence was a Coxswain for a rowing team in England.
Ernie/Cindy – recently engaged from Chicago, IL. Cindy admits to being a control freak while Ernie thinks being on the race will open her up to seeing the side of life he likes – a little of the dark side. Will they be this seasons’ Bickersons?
Justin/Jennifer – At least the first couple of episodes, this brother and sister from Stone Mountain, GA will prove to hold that title. Sibling rivalry doesn’t begin to explain their fights for control. They admit they do argue loudly in their pre-race package, and we get to see the truth of that.
Bill/Cathi – married retired school teachers from Albany, OR. They live on a farm in the north-central Oregon city (which I remember from childhood being covered by the stench of a paper mill.) They are thoughtful and deliberate and sort of worked out to prepare for the physical challenges. We will discover with them that sometimes too much thought can be a bad thing.
Liz/Marie – twin sisters from Deerfield, IL. They think their twin communication skills will come in handy. But…it doesn’t always work as we will see.
Jeremy/Sandy – a dating couple from the San Francisco Bay Area. Both have been previously married and are not currently living together so think the race will give them the time they need. Jeremy states that it is like taking a car into the shop and seeing if you want to buy the car. Okay. Good luck with that.
Ron/Bill – flight attendants and domestic partners from Southern California. Even though they aren’t as young and fit as other teams, they know how to work together and think their travel experience will help them.
Amani/Marcus – married 10 years from Pine Mountain, GA. Marcus played professional football as a tight end for 10 years (now retired) for the Indianapolis Colts. He doesn’t want the other teams to know his background as it might put a target on their backs, but he can’t wait for the challenges.
Kaylani/Lisa – former showgirls from Las Vegas, NV. Neither looks old enough to have retired from the entertainment field and their one concern is that everyone else will be looking at their bodies and then they can pull out their smarts when everyone is distracted. But, who is distracted? This we will find out as the theme of this episode comes into play.
All the teams of two gather in the enormous paved courtyard of the temple where Phil has magically transported himself from a Cliffside in Malibu. He gives his opening speech with a few added extras. There will be twelve legs of the race that have been designed to test them as they have never been tested before; the first team to check into the finish line at the end of the first leg will win the EXPRESS PASS which they can use before or during any challenge they don’t want to complete up to the end of the eighth leg.
The opening challenge begins right there at the temple. Rows of closed umbrellas are hung on lines across one of the walls and the teams must open them to find an umbrella with the letters TAI painted on the top. Combined with the clue letters, WANPEI, they make up the two words, Taipei, Taiwan, which is the name of their first destination.
As each team finds the correct umbrella, they will receive a key to a Ford Explorer and take off for LAX. The last team to find the letters will receive a new penalty called a HAZARD, which they will have to complete at some point along the leg of the race. The new penalty isn’t the only twist coming early in the show this season – stay tuned.
Phil: Good Luck, Travel Safe…GO!
Andy/Tommy figure it out first and run to their car. They are followed by: Amani/Marcus, Liz/Marie, Ethan/Jenna, Jeremy/Sandy, Ernie/Cindy, Ron/Bill, Bill/Cathi, Laurence/Zac and Justin/Jennifer; which leaves ex-showgirls, Kaylani/Lisa to face the HAZARD penalty somewhere along this first leg.
While driving downhill toward LAX, they all receive onboard computer instructions from Phil giving them their destination and the flights. The first flight on China Airlines will carry eight teams and the second flight on Eva Air departing 20 minutes later will carry the remaining three teams. Andy/Tommy ask for directions at a gas station and other teams jump ahead of them already knowing from maps about the 605 freeway direct shot to the airport. However, Kaylani/Lisa run into a personal hazard when they stop at the same gas station Andy/Tommy used to ask for directions. Unlike Andy/Tommy, they exit their car and in doing so, Kaylani drops her passport on the concrete. Ruh, Roh. Are they doomed before they can board the second flight? Will we even get to see the HAZARD penalty played out? Tension mounts for us as well as for them.
After much frantic discussion, they decide they have to turn around and go back to the station. They run inside to ask if anyone has turned the passport in and are told no, so they head toward the airport once again without a plan as to how to proceed. However, miracles do happen and thanks to the social site, Twitter, a customer at the gas station found the passport, tweeted his find and got a reply that he needed to get it to LAX as she is on the Amazing Race. After a race of his own, the stranger exhibiting kindness found an excited Kaylani and a bit of face time on TV. The ex-showgirls are the last team to purchase their tickets on the second flight and all teams are off to Taipei, Taiwan.
Once in Taipei, they need to make their way to the Ximending Commercial District where, rather than a clue box they need to LOOK UP to find a neon sign with the name of their next destination in Chinese characters. This proves tough as there are many signs and people wearing the race colors, yellow and red. The teams take Express buses to the district and wander around wondering what it means to look up. Marcus almost figures out that the red/yellow sign with the popping balloons could be the clue, but Amani convinces him to move farther into the district. Justin/Jennifer demonstrate why they will receive the Bickerson title when they argue over how to look for whatever they are looking for. A small group finally realizes the balloon sign means something. Cindy copies down the characters for translation as she had some training in the language during seven years at a Chinese school. However, they are behind the first group who found the translation to mean the Confucius Temple. Everyone else follows in quick edited succession except for Bill/Cathi who miss-translate the Race clue to mean look up and find the tallest building; which they did. (Wouldn’t it have been hysterical if they had chosen the same building used in the Hazard penalty and found the clue box. Would they have thought that was something they needed to do?) Anyway, they travel to the tallest building and wander around while the other teams travel to the Confucius Temple.
You all remember playing telephone when you were in elementary school, right? Well, this is the challenge set up at the Temple. One team member must find the pay phone, which is around the side of the building, punch in 1-800 Confucius, and listen to the recited proverb. They must then run back around the building to the stoic monk (who looks regretful when he tells them no) standing on the steps, and repeat the proverb word for word. As we all know it isn’t easy as a chain to produce the original, but this is one person who must have a good memory under stress. Not easy, as the teams find out. I’m not going to type out the proverb here as I can’t remember it. The first person to receive her clue from the monk is Cindy and she and Ernie take off for the next destination, Daija Riverside Park.
Meanwhile some struggle, running back and forth to the phone while others are just finishing up at the balloon sign, which Andy/Tommy think is knarly. When Andy takes his first try at reciting the proverb, we discover that the post-film editors have given the boys their own theme music – kind of light and funky. And then there is Bill/Cathi walking across town to the tall building, saying how embarrassing it would be if they were wrong. *sigh* They are wrong and Bill says, “Color me stupid.” All right, if you insist.
DRAGON BOAT RACE
Shades of this past Bachelorette…only this time the boat is propelled by professionals, not amateurs pulled off the street. One member of the team must join the paddlers and the other will beat out the stroke on a drum. If the team successfully takes their boat around the race course, the captain will give them their clue. Beating out the stroke proves right up Laurence’s alley as he was a Coxswain at one point in his life.
The long boats with the dragon heads are lined up along the pier and full of cheering paddlers, which pumps up the racers as they run to take their places. Marcus is particularly jazzed by this reception as it is like the warm up to a football game and he is ready to play. Cindy feels so Asian as she beats the stroke for the first boat to leave the pier.
Kaylani/Lisa along with Liz/Marie arrive at the temple about (according to editing) the same time as everyone else takes off in the dragon boats. Kaylani/Lisa complete the proverb recitation ahead of beleaguered Liz/Marie and receive instructions in their envelope to head to the Core City Pacific Mall and the 11th floor to receive their next clue.
Bill/Cathi finally find the temple clue after four hours of misdirection and arrive after memory challenged Liz has completed the proverb and received her envelope from a very relieved monk. Cathi redeems her team by a one run to the telephone and a correct recitation and they take off to the lone Dragon Boat remaining at the pier. They complete the course and take off for the finish line.
This new penalty is called the Hazard for a reason. One team member must perform a dangerous task in order for the team to continue. In this case, it is a bungee jump from the 11th floor inside railing down the central core of the building. As Kaylani prepares for her leap, crowds line the railings on all the floors of the mall, breathless in anticipation. We learn that she has bungee jumped off the Stratosphere in Las Vegas and her harness started to undo, so I am also breathless waiting to see if she pulls out at the last moment. She doesn’t, and after a slight push, she and the strong harness fall and bounce in mid-air. They receive their clue and run off to the Dragon Boat Race where they arrive somewhere in the last third of the pack as they beat Liz/Marie to the boats.
Ernie/Cindy complete the race first and take off for the Pit Stop, the Martyrs’ Shrine, where the thousands of soldiers who died protecting Taiwan are honored with an hourly changing of the guard. They are greeted by an Army person with four stars on the epaulet of his uniform. Their reward for first place is the Express Pass.
6. Laurence/Zack (though they hit the mat at the same time as…)
HOWEVER, this is a non-elimination leg and Bill/Cathi are still in the race with a Speed Bump looming.
This, along with the Hazard Penalty is a new twist to this season – a NEL on the first leg; but this will be followed by a double elimination at the end of the next leg – another new twist. Good times ahead. Way to keep it fresh, TAR!