The Amazing Race Season Premiere Recap: Swimming With Sharks

Last night’s premiere of The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business set up a show-within-a-show premise that could bring new, unexpected, and horrifically compelling meaning to its title. Picture this: Over the course of the next few months, we’ll watch 10 returning teams from previous seasons travel the globe and encounter the types of entertaining misadventures we’ve come to expect from CBS’ venerable reality franchise. Meanwhile, back in Manly, Australia, we’ll focus on two affable cowboys and their Sisyphean journey to translate a coded message of nautical flags. By season’s end, the duo, dressed in tattered rags and 10-gallon hats and sustained by a diet of seagull meat and discarded scraps of aquarium cafeteria snacks, will finally approach a bored-looking dude in a sailor’s uniform, whisper the decoded message (amazingly, not a variation on “This is the tent sea, eighteen commodore, at the Manly Four Sea Sailing Club”), and promptly receive a video message from Phil Keoghan telling them they’ve been eliminated. No disrespect to Jet and Cord, but who else thinks they shouldn’t get sprung from the race until their work is finished Down Under?

The cowboys’ trials and tribulations aside, let’s break down the other highlights of last night’s premiere:

Phil Keoghan, Litterbug?
The Race kicked off in Palm Springs, CA, “the second-windiest place on earth,” said Phil, who informed the contestants that instead of just handing them their initial clues, they’d have to work for ’em. “Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Services,” he shouted, unleashing the teams on a field full of paper airplanes emblazoned with the names of various airlines. The first eight teams to figure out that Phil wanted “QANTAS” planes would wind up on Flight No. 1, departing a good 90 minutes before Flight No. 2. What’s more, the last team to report back to Phil would receive an added penalty: Getting saddled with a U-Turn (and being forced to complete both halves of the season’s initial Detour).

I liked how this twist gave the season an immediate jolt of adrenaline, with Luke face-planting in the dirt and Mallory calling for help from St. Anthony. Unfortunately for her, Mallory was calling on the patron saint of lost things, not reality-show contestants who can’t figure out acronyms, and she and her dad, along with Kisha/Jen, and last-place Amanda/Kris wound up on Flight No. 2. Still, for me, the most shocking part of the contest was watching Phil casually toss aside any paper airplane handed to him that didn’t contain the word QANTAS. Did a fleet-footed production assistant have to chase down all those discarded decoys, or did they simply become so much trash sullying the pristine scrub brush of the Palm Springs desert?

“So the last shall be first, and the first last…”
Proving that even reality-show contestants sometimes have to deal with real-life issues, a passenger on Flight No. 1 suffered a heart attack, resulting in an emergency landing in Hawaii. Zev and Justin immediately sighed about losing their 90-minute edge on Flight No. 2, but thankfully Big Easy maintained a little perspective: “The most important thing is this person is okay.” Exactly. And anyhow, the medical emergency meant Flight No. 1 only arrived in Sydney some 27 minutes after its rival airplane.

“You wouldn’t have that sea-monster in a twin-size, would you?”
Once the teams arrived in Australia, they had to rush to Manly OceanWorld, where their clue read “Who’s ready to get tanked?”; frankly, I might’ve needed a little liquid courage before submerging myself in an aquarium containing sharks up to 16 feet long and stingrays the size of queen-sized mattresses. “I’m from Oklahoma. I don’t do water. I don’t even take baths,” said Jet, but everyone managed to find their decoder compasses on the tank floor without too much drama, except for maybe Vyxsin, who didn’t want to get out of the water and confront her boyfriend’s terrifying brow situation got discombobulated and couldn’t find the exit to the tank.

Puzzling Developments
Anyone else wish that Race would institute a new policy forcing teams to translate their own puzzles for all future legs? Yeah, okay, you could say there’s a certain element of strategy when teams pair up to crack the kinds of mundane codes of nautical flags and letters that our contestants faced last night, but I really hated seeing Zev and Justin simply give away the answer (“I am between the devil and the deep blue sea”) to the Globetrotters, and then Ron/Christina and Mike/Mel do exactly the same for Jaime/Kara and Margie/Luke. And then you had Margie shouting the answer to Kent and Vyxsin, just because she wanted to help a team she could “beat to the finish.” This left Jet and Cord as the odd team out, trailing badly not because they were any more inept than any other team, just because they hadn’t arbitrarily benefitted from what’s recognized in grade schools across America as good old-fashioned cheating.

The Order of Finish
The final act of the episode found the teams having to sail 16-foot skiffs through a water course and grab clues (containing the location of the pit-stop) off a buoy. This task proved utterly uneventful, with the exception of a momentary capsizing for the cheerleaders. I will say, though, that Mallory’s bizarre hands-over-eyes move (pictured) upon arriving first at the pit-stop very much reminded me of Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. The moment was made even more entertaining by Phil’s use of the term “dilly-dallying” after he’d told the Gary and Mallory that there’d be no rest for the winners, and that the race was continuing immédiatement.

So to recap, the order of finish at the pit-stop went: Gary/Mallory, Amanda/Kris, Kisha/Jen, Zev/Justin, Big Easy/Flight Time, Jaime/Cara, Margie/Luke, Ron/Christina, Mel/Mike, and Kent/Vyxsin. And then, of course, there’s Jet and Cord, still trying to crack the code, getting the “to be continued…” treatment to end the show.

Do you think they’ll be eliminated once they get to the pit stop with Phil and the hot, shirtless surfer dude? Or will they race onward to the next task, rewarded for not getting another team’s help in translation? What did you think of the season premiere overall? And who are you rooting for at this point to take home the crown? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.