by Lyn Jensen
Let’s enjoy Season 29 of The Amazing Race while we can, since we’re not likely to see Season 30 for another year or more. I don’t know if I can post recaps of every episode, but I’m posting my recap of the premiere and then I’ll see how the rest of the season unfolds.
As has been heavily publicized, this season is not being raced by teams that applied to be on the show together. Instead 22 individual contestants–eleven men, eleven women–are assembled at the starting line and host Phil Keogh tells them they’re going to be paired up into eleven teams.
Season 29 starts at a gated park in downtown Los Angeles, where Phil assigns the 22 contestants their first task. He gives them verbal directions about walking (or running) to a luggage store several blocks away. At the luggage store are at least 22 bags tagged with small Panama flags. Each racer is to bring one bag back to the park. The order in which the racers return with a proper bag will determine what order they get to choose a teammate.
Some racers introduce themselves on the way to the store, two women bicker about the directions. It’s up to the racers to recognize the Panamanian flag tags at the store, because some bags are tagged with different flags. Policeman Joey is the only racer that picks the wrong flag, however, and has to return to the store. That puts him last in line.
Once the racers are all back at the park, lined up in the order they returned from the store, Phil instructs policeman Seth, first in line, to pick his partner. As the teams form, it appears most people are picking an attractive member of the opposite sex. (Why not?) There are a few exceptions:
- 1st–Policeman Seth picks firefighter Olive, the top-finishing woman.
- 2nd–Pro snowboarder Matt picks one-legged vet Redmond. (Their team handle is “the boys” as they turn out to be this season’s only male team.)
- 3rd–Black wall street banker Shamir (who admits he wants to be teamed with a “hot chick”) picks pretty brunette real estate agent Sara.
- 4th–Redheaded Harvard grad Scott picks young lawyer Brooke. (He later tells her he’s gay, and she suggests they be “Team Will and Grace.” Interestingly, Seth also tells Olive he’s gay.)
- 5th–Rock climber Becca, with braided hair, and a “fun meter” pinned on her shirt, picks black CU student Floyd.
- 6th–Vanck, a brainy, nerdy Asian-American stock analyst, picks pretty blonde real estate agent Brooke. (They’re candidates for this season’s oddest couple–she notes he’s a math person and she’s a people person, so they constantly struggle to communicate smoothly, as we see.)
- 7th–US army officer Tara picks policeman Joey, despite his last-place finish.
- 8th–Team LoLo results when pretty blonde artist London picks handsome salesman Logan.
- 9th–Jenn, a swimsuit model, picks long-haired surfer Kevin. (She earlier remarked how they’re both Asians.)
- 10th–Red-bearded butcher Mike picks farm girl Liz.
- 11th–Six-foot-three policewoman Jesse and army sgt. Francesca are left. They’re the ones that had an argument on the way to the store. They’re the only female team this season.
Phil next tells them their first clue is in the bags they just fetched from the store, and the only express pass of the season is in one. He continues, “When I say go, run out of the park, grab a taxi to Los Angeles International Airport. There are two flights to your destination. The first flight gets there sooner.” Except he’ll drive Jesse/Francesca to the airport, as compensation for them being the last team to be paired up. (On the way to the airport, he tells them that at least they’ve had their first fight already.)
Phil’s got the signal to “Go!” down to a fine art after 29 seasons. Ten teams run out of the park, hail taxis, and search their bags. They find their destination is the Mira Flores locks on the Panama canal in Panama City. Floyd/Becca find the express pass.
(Side note: typically racers pick up their backpacks as they leave the starting line, and the first clue is with those. This time racers start out carrying the pushcart-style luggage they picked up at the store. Racers must have switched to their backpacks off-camera, because some are shown with backpacks at LAX and when teams check in at the first pit stop.)
First flight to Panama, which arrives at 7 a.m.: Becca/Floyd, Seth/Olive, Matt/Redmond, Team LoLo, Brooke/Scott.
In Panama everyone picks up rental cars but promptly gets stuck in traffic for hours. Teams try to get directions and encounter a language barrier. One racer complains, “No one knows where the Panama canal is!”
Seth/Olive are the 1st team to get to the canal locks. The clue they get here directs them to drive to a nature resort and climb to the top of an observation tower, where they’ll find the next clue.
Becca/Floyd arrive in 2nd place. They encounter Scott/Brooke, arriving in 3rd place, and Brooke practically becomes hysterical, asking if they’re in last place, because they’ve been lost for three hours (an indication of the time teams have spent driving in Panama). Becca/Floyd assure them they’re not because there are still plenty of clue envelopes left. Team LoLo is the 4th team, and Matt/Redmond the 5th team, to find the locks.
About the time Olive/Seth, still in 1st place, are climbing the observation tower, the second flight arrives at about 9:35 a.m. Now it’s the six trailing teams’ turn to spend hours navigating Panama City traffic.
At the observation tower, Seth/Olive find the next clue is for a detour. Both choices involve dugout canoes. One (“shoot”) requires archery. The other (“scoot”) requires competitive-level rowing.
Seth/Olive pick “scoot.” The challenge is to win a 400-meter rowing race against a competition-level team. For the first attempt, the canoes start at the same line. For the second attempt, TAR teams get a 50-meter head start. For the third attempt, they get a 100-meter head start. They need three attempts, but as Seth notes, each time their rowing and teamwork improve. They’re the first team to finish either detour. They get the clue for this leg’s pit stop.
Becca/Floyd reach the detour in 2nd place, pick “shoot.” They must, from a dugout canoe, shoot two targets with a bow and arrow. The targets are shaped like fish (some silver, some gold, but only silver targets count). After much trying, they hit two silver fish, putting them in 2nd place. They’re the only team that completes this challenge.
Scott/Brooke are 3rd to reach the detour, and pick “shoot” but they soon give up and switch. Team LoLo, in 4th place, do the same thing. Matt/Redmond are 5th to reach the detour, but they muscle through the canoe race on their first try, enabling them to jump to 3rd place.
Via pre-taped clip Phil explains the location of this leg’s pit stop. A big bridge wraps around Panama City from one end to the other. (Seeing it reminded me of the Coronado Bridge in San Diego.) Near one end is a park with a large flagpole. If teams can find the flag, they can find Phil and the pit stop mat.
Olive/Seth reach the pit stop 1st and win the leg, but there’s no extra prize. Becca/Floyd are 2nd, Matt/Redmond, 3rd. Scott/Brooke finish the canoe-race detour and arrive at the mat in 4th place.
Front-running teams from the 2nd flight are by now attempting the detour. Several of them get dunked trying to row the canoes. Sara/Shamir finish the canoe race and arrive at the pit stop in 5th place. Ashton/Vanck try rowing, switch to shooting, switch back to the canoe race. Four teams finish the canoe race in a cluster–Team LoLo, Tara/Joey, Ashton/Vanck, and Jesse/Francesca.
At the back of the pack, Jenn/Kevin are having trouble finding the observation tower at the nature resort. Liz/Mike are having trouble completing the canoe race.
By now the sun is setting. Four middle-of-the-pack teams check in at the pit stop: Tara/Joey in 6th place, Ashton/Vanck, 7th, LoLo are 8th (they lost several slots), and the female team is 9th.
When Jenn/Kevin arrive at the detour, they and Liz/Mike are both heartened to see another team is still on course. Liz/Mike finish the canoe race and get their pit stop clue, putting them in 10th place. Jenn/Kevin attempt the canoe race, only to be told that the detour is being called off on account of darkness. They’re given their pit stop clue, but they’re in 11th place.
Liz/Mike get lost trying to find the bridge and the flagpole. At the mat, Jenn/Kevin arrive and Phil informs them they’re the 10th team to arrive, “However, for not completing the detour, you have incurred a two-hour penalty.”
Before the two hours are up, Liz/Mike arrive at the pit stop. (The show doesn’t indicate just how much time elapses here.) Phil checks them in, putting them in 10th place. Jenn/Kevin slip to 11th place and are eliminated. If this season continues to feature twists like this, it’ll be an amazing race.