The Amazing Race: Eat the Wasabi!

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And they're off! Last night our crazy new friends who've decided to take a month-long sprint across the world kicked off their Amazing Race in typically frantic fashion. The cast is full of different sorts of pairings, with two of the unlikelier duos climbing to the top of the Interesting pile. Let's talk more!

The crazy journey began at the bottom of one of those cement aqueducts that some huckster once named the Los Angeles River. Avian-faced host Phil Keoghan met the 13 teams and gave them some bad, scary news. One team wouldn't even make it out of Los Angeles. Because of all the crime there. No, no. I kid. Because there was already a challenge! There were hundreds of license plates all affixed to a fence, and each team had to find one that was for a specific district of Tokyo. Once they'd found a correct plate (the trick was in a little symbol on their clue that matched a symbol on the plates) they had to run to Phil to get a plane ticket to Japan. It took most people an alarmingly long time to figure out the little symbol code, but eventually pretty much everyone figured it out, and they zoomed off to the airport.

Finally everyone else had left and it was down to just two teams. The inevitable Boston-area couple (shahp-accented Bawstin types bein' a pawpulah meme awn reality shows) was duking it out with two badass biker... yoga teachers. Everyone scrambled around, desperate to not be the first eliminated. As they often do (though not recently), the Boston people just barely clinched it in the end, meaning it was the end before it began for the yogic Hell's Angels. They sighed and hugged and the lady yoga person said that by being the first team eliminated, they had freed everyone else from that burden. It was their final gift. Their beautiful sacrifice. Then they flew off into the hazy California sky and disappeared. Yoga people can fly right?

Japan! Crowded and modern city of steel and glass and industry! Ancient home to traditions of honor and tranquility! Place where we get our electronic shit from! Also, apparently, Japan is the land of insane old ladies. In hilarious, slightly mocking, definitively strange fashion the racers who touched down in Tokyo hoofed it to a big TV studio where a made up Japanese game show was waiting for them. It came complete with creepily grinning host, gaggles of be-visor'd Japanese ladies (and some men) all shrieking things like maniacs, and gross eating challenges. It was pretty much standard boilerplate Japanese game show, in that it was strange and scary and wonderful all at once.

The actual challenge was to spin a giant Wheel of Fortune-esque wheel, except instead of money, each little section of the wheel contained a sushi snack. Though, one of the snacks wasn't sushi at all. It was just a huge mash of hot wasabi that was the racers' key to their next clue. If the hideous and horrible Wasabi Bomb ended up in front of you, you had two minutes to eat the horrid spicy thing. If you didn't swallow the last bit before the time ran out, you had to start all over again, no matter how much you'd eaten. It was cruel and probably physically dangerous, just like the Japanese like it.

Most people got through the nastiness in one attempt. The actual winning of the game had more to do with luck. If the wheel spun the wasabi to you early on, you gained the simple advantage of a little extra time. Once the hunk of sinus-clearing green gunk had been eaten, the teams had to lead a group of 20 visor-clad crazy Japanese women through Tokyo's busiest intersection to a temple or dojo or something funny and foreign! That was sort of the name of the game for the editors of this episode: Make Japanese people look funny and foreign. And they mostly succeeded in kindly fashion. Though having one team running through Tokyo followed by a gaggle of middle-aged Asian people screaming "Go Yellow! Go Yellow!" could maybe have been rethought. Ah well. The losing folks for this leg were Tiffany & Maria, two professional poker players who lied and told their competitors that they work at a homeless shelter in LA. Liars! Clever liars. But when they got to the Pit Stop, they couldn't tell Birdman Keoghan any lies. They had lost two of their Japanese ladies somewhere in the crush of Tokyo and there was nothing they could do about it. So they got two hours docked as punishment, but got to stay in the game. No one seemed terribly concerned that two ladies wearing foam visors were now lost in Tokyo. I'm worried about them.

Next it was on to Ho Chi Minh City to ride crazy buses, wade through floodwater, and scoop mud. Ah the wonders of Asia! Though The Amazing Race isn't necessarily supposed to be a tourism brochure, it might have been kind to somehow not depict Vietnam as a waterlogged horror show. Don't get mad! I've always wanted to visit as I'm sure it's a beautiful country in real life. But on the show last night? It looked a mite scary. Anyway, everyone found out that Tiff and Maria were super sketchy liars and decided to never trust them again. Only the team of two gay brothers didn't seem to care who the heck they were. The poker girls think the brothers are in lurve with them, because they don't know that both boys like other boys. That will be fun when they find out!

Newly mad at the card sharks and sopping wet from the street floods, everyone tromped onto little skinny boats and then they scooped mud. Yep, a challenge was to fill a little fenced-off area with mud up to a certain point so a tree could grow and they'd get their clue. Everyone slopped and slogged and seemed utterly miserable in the quicksand-like clay mud, but all admirably prevailed. Then it was on to ducks.

Thousands and probably millions of quacking ducks who all had to be herded from one place to another and then back again. This is the Vietnamese version of NASCAR, I'm told. The whole herding ducks thing sounded kind of easy in theory, but of course proved to be pretty difficult in practice. Well, not difficult for everyone. See there's a guy with Asperger's on the show this season, and for whatever reason (probably unrelated to his syndrome), the kid could just herd some ducks. He herded those quackers up their little bridge and down the other side and then back again in no time flat. It was, well, amazing! Also good at herding ducks was the son half of an estranged father/son team and the Harlem Globetrotters. Yep. In addition to Crazy Ball-Spinning and Wacky Juggling and Daffy Dribbling skills, the Harlem Globetrotters (or at least one of them) can now add "Vietnamese Duck Herding" to their resume. Impressive!

In the end the father/son dudes got to the Pit Stop first, and yay good for them. The gay brothers posted a strong second place finish, with the Globetrotters taking bronze. Meanwhile, back at the AT&T; Duck Herding Stadium, two teams were lagging behind. They were Brian & Ericka, an interracial married couple from Tennessee, and Garrett & Jessica, an intense on-again-off-again couple from California. The girls just couldn't herd those cluckers. They yelled and bellowed at the ducks. They plead with the ducks. They offered the ducks money. They tried to seduce the ducks. Nothing worked.

Finally, after what must have been hours, Ericka took a deep breath, went into a zen place, and got all her ducks in a row. She and Brian sprinted to the end and became the last team to keep trucking in the race. Garrett & Jessica were pretty po'd about the elimination, especially because they got eliminated by stupid ducks. Phooey. They were sent then to the Elimination Station, which is a gorgeous resort villa on a Vietnamese beach. Not too shabby. I'd take that for a month. Plus, in a little online-only video, Garrett proposed to Jessica to raise her sore-loser spirits, and she said yes. So good for them!

And good for us! Another season of Race means another couple months of nervously sweating and gripping the edges of the couch. I love this show, but it sort of gives me a heart attack. Next week they're headed to Cambodia, another place I want to visit but will probably be scared of when I see it on this whirling dervish of a television show. I can't wait.

What'd you think of the premiere? Bummed about who went home? Too soon to care? Who are your early favorites? Against my better judgment, I'm rooting for the poker chicks. Just because it'd be crazy if they won.

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