Having barely recovered from the surprising team choice  for this All-Stars season (John and Jessica? Dave and Connor? Caroline and Jen? – REALLY?!), we encounter another surprise right at the start line.

This time the surprise seems to be the one out of anyone’s control: Bopper (of Mark and Bopper team) cannot race due to a sudden health problem. However, the teams’ and fans’ disappointment is somewhat mitigated by allowing Mark to race with a new teammate – Mallory Ervin (from TAR 17 and TAR 18).

Start  TAR 24 (All-Stars)

I personally don’t mind Mallory – she was somewhat annoying in her exuberance, but her enthusiasm and joie de vivre were contagious. I do think though that changing the dynamics of a team so abruptly and putting together two people who barely know each other is almost a guarantee for a failure. So I will not be surprised if this newly made team will be eliminated very soon. Still – it is fair to give Mark a chance even if Bopper cannot run, and such solution is definitely better than eliminating the whole Mark-and-Bopper team right at the start for something beyond their control. So it is what it is.

As soon as Phil gives his famous “The world is waiting for you – GO!”, the teams have to find the right match for a Chinese spelling of the name “Guangzhou” – their first destination. The order in which they find the correct match would determine whether they get on the first or second flight to China. The “Afghanimals”, the “Cowboys”, the “Twinnies” and Dave and Connor get on the earlier flight.

Phil, TAR 24 (All-Stars)

The first task in Guangzhou is to find one of three specific bridal dress shops among tons of similar shops to receive the next clue. The streets are narrow and the layout of the area is confusing. The dresses are too puffy and the shops are too look-alike. The Afghanimals and the Twinnies are looking for the right shops together. Unsuccessfully, I must say. So unsuccessfully that people from the second flight catch up and surge ahead. In fact, the Twinnies are among the last teams to arrive to the next destination – Canton Tower, where the teams have to ride the world’s tallest “Ferries wheel” and look for their next clue.

The clues – it seemed – are placed only in the even-numbered cars of the “Ferris wheel”, and some teams that are more lucky than others discover them on the first ride. Our Twinnies – alas! – are not one of those lucky teams. They have to ride the “Ferries wheel” again and try their luck again. It doesn’t help them that they cannot come to a decision. Fighting and yelling at each other might make for an amusing TV, but it does not help our Twinnies at all.

Meanwhile, the teams with the clues are directed to the stadium where one member of each team has to perform a Roadblock – 5 high-wire flips. Here we get a chance to take a longer look at each team.

The Cowboys are quite efficient. The Globetrotters never lose their sense of humor. The Afghanimals are cheerful and joyful – Leo finishes his 5 flips but keeps going – just for fun. Joey (of the You Tube team) is acting even dorkier than he is – faking it for the cameras, no doubt.

Rachel calls her new husband “Pookie”. Seriously – “Pookie”?! That is quite a puke-y. Margie is quite a puke-y, too – whining non-stop (through the whole episode) how she (at 56) is such an old, old, old woman. And how she needs to prove to all old women something or other. Such clichés are just s000 puke-y!

Look, Margie – yes, you ARE an old woman. But not because you are 56 though. I know 60 and 70-something who are upbeat, optimistic and  fun, and they come across as youthful. But you – even your voice sounds like worn-out creaking joints. O-l-d. Not because you are 56 – because you are sour and humorless. And full of clichés. And boring.

The rest of the teams are remarkably unremarkable, so I won’t waste the time.

The Cowboys are the first to arrive to the Pit Stop, and they get 2 Express Passes – one for them and one to be given away to the team of their choice by the 5th leg of the Race. Jessica and John (who arrive closer to the bottom) assure us that they are very happy precisely because they did not get the Express Pass this time. They want to avoid an “oy vey” moment. But happiness resulting from not getting an Express Pass – isn’t it an “oy vey” moment in itself?

At the end it’s between the You Tubers and the Twinnies. I wish that order was reversed, but – alas! – the Twinnies are the last team at the Pit Stop. Too bad. In the past – they annoyed some fans and delighted the others. But no one was left indifferent, no one could call them “boring”. Isn’t it what an ideal team on TAR should be? – fans can disagree about liking them, but none of the fans can sincerely call them “boring”.

Twinnies (TAR 24, All-Stars)

Good-bye, Natalie and Nadiya. I was and am a fan. And I will terribly miss that “Come on, Twinnie!!!”  As will many, many, many of us.

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TAR 24 OR ALL-STARS (mostly waning or non-existent)

So…this blog is back because CBS announced that The Amazing Race is returning to the TV sets near you  on February 23, 2014! This would be Season 24 of the show.

The production calls this season “ALL STARS”. Quite a presumptuous title, and I beg to disagree. The “Returning Players” would be closer to the truth. Or I wouldn’t even mind them calling it “Season 22 & Co” (since 8 people come to this Race from Season 22). But “ALL STARS“? Seriously?!

Since “stars” are supposedly so well known that no introductions are needed, I will not devote a separate entry to each team (like I normally do in this blog), but rather talk about them as a whole. But don’t be surprised if you are asking yourself “wait – who is that??”

To me “stars” on The Amazing Race equals “memorable” and “entertaining” regardless of whether I personally like them as a team or not. And some of this cast are just that. Yet so many are not.

TAR 24 "All Stars"

Let’s start with those who can at least somewhat qualify to be called a “star team”:

1.”Flight Time” & “Big Easy” (Globetrotters teammates from Seasons 15 AND 18) – these guys can be qualified as “stars”, no doubt. They delighted me the first time around, I still enjoyed them the second time, but I have a huge issue when a team comes back for the third time. No matter how much you love, let’s say, chocolate – too much of it will make you sick. Same with returning teams – it’s good to know when enough is enough. Even if you like the team. But they are the only team whom I at least can tolerate the third time around.

2. Jet & Cord (Brothers “Cowboys” from Seasons 16 AND 18) – these guys amused me the first time around. The second time around their “aw-shucks” attitude (along with their cowboy hats) seemed annoyingly fake. After all, by that time I knew they were not these humble innocent small town guys that knew nothing about the world – their mother was a professional photographer, they were competing (and extensively travelling for competitions) in various rodeo championships. And once you detect a false note – it’s not the same anymore.

3. Margie & Luke (mother and her deaf son from Seasons 14 AND 18) – to me personally they were annoying – humorless overprotective Margie as well as her primadon-nish son…I know there are some who get moved by their “sob story” (Luke is deaf), but a grown-up strapping lad throwing childish tantrums and his mommy hovering around him, ready to wipe her baby’s mouth and one step from wiping his butt, too. So joyful team they were not, but in that weird way they still were entertaining to watch.

4. Brendon & Rachel (aka “Brenchel” – newlyweds from Season 20 of The Amazing Race and also from like four different seasons of Big Brother and who knows from where else) – this couple seems to get recycled again and again between reality shows. To most people they seem awfully annoying and therefore they evoke extremely strong (and mostly negative) emotions in the viewers. This, in turn, gets them casted again and again. I never watched Big Brother, but based on TAR 20 I sort of liked Rachel. Against my better judgement, I know!  But still – there was something vulnerable yet tenacious about her. Anyway, since it’s only their 2nd time on The Amazing Race – I am not unhappy to see them again.

Now let’s move to the teams who I would not call “stars” just yet, but who were quite memorable and entertaining regardless of whether we liked them or not. Let’s call them “potential stars”:

5. Leo & Jamal (cousins from Season 23, aka “Afghanimals”) – they were definitely entertaining! The cousins strongly annoyed some fans and endlessly delighted some other fans. I don’t know if they really qualify being called “stars” (after all, we’ve just met them in the last season), but entertaining they definitely are. So I am glad having them back.

6. Natalie and Nadiya (“Twinnies!” from Season 21) – many fans find them too annoying and too loud. I personally liked them a lot. They definitely have strong personalities, they were fun, capable, decisive, risk-taking, brutally honest and very entertaining. Very! Glad to see them back as well.

It is all sort of downhill from here.  The further you go, the more you want to ask: “What the …casting was thinking getting these people back?” And why?!

7. Bopper and Mark (best friends from Season 20) – now, if you manage to remember who they actually were, you would agree -they were awfully nice guys. One black, one white small town guys with seemingly not a mean bone in their body. Genuine, supportive of each other and nice. But! Is it enough to be a “star”? I actually don’t mind them, I just think that “stars” they are not.

8. Joey and Meghan (You-Tube “personalities”  from Season 22) – they, as well as the three teams listed below them, came from a particular boring season. Boring not in terms of locations – boring in terms of rather bland teams running pretty much holding hands throughout the season. This particular team seemed quite immature and ear-splittingly shrill. And Joey was faking it for the camera way too much – be it his excitement or his fear of scorpions. Mildly annoying at best, “stars” they definitely are not.

9. Caroline and Jennifer (friends and singers from – again – Season 22) – young, sweet, blond. I bet you won’t be able to tell them apart even by the end of their second Race. They are the ones who called Berlin Wall “the Great Wall of China” – I will forever remember that. Although some other fans of the show might remember them as the sidekicks of the professional hockey players that won that season. So – maybe their role in “All Stars” is to serve as new “race wives” for the Afghanimals? Who knows.

10. David and Connor (father and son from – once again – Season 22). Both are competitive/professional cyclists, both are cancer survivors. The former fact was underplayed while the latter was grossly overplayed on the show. When you felt like “o-k. I get it. but enough already!“, the father injured his leg on the Race. And – for as long as his physicians allowed him to stay on the show – it stopped being The Amazing Race, it became “David and Connor show” – complete with X-Ray showing, teary confessions and what not. It was the only time in The Amazing Race history that I seriously considered not watching any longer. That “sob story” was milked for way (WAY!) more than it was worth. There is not much beyond the “sob story” – both father and son appeared to be perfectly nice people but bland and unexciting contestants.

11. John and Jessica (dating couple from – what else? – Season 22). Their “claim to stardom” was the fact that they were the only team in The Amazing Race history that got eliminated from the show with the Express Pass still in their pocket. John’s stubborn denial any regret prompted exasperated Phil say his unforgettable “Oy vey!”. Other than that – nothing star-like about them. Besides, they were eliminated very early in the show – you can’t even say anything definite about their personalities.

Phil Keoghan, TAR 24

What can I say in summary? That I hope those with the “star potential” will save us from the yawn-inducing “non-stars”…that at least nice locations and challenges would help make the season interesting…

And for the future of TAR –  I hope that  half the teams from one season (especially as “blah” as Season 22 was) would not compose almost half the teams of the next (especially if it calls itself “All Stars”)…I hope that “sob stories” don’t get jammed down our throats to the point of nausea…I hope that no team gets cast 3 (!) times – after all, I am absolutely sure there are plenty of great but yet “undiscovered stars” in the world…

What do you guys think and hope for?

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