The Amazing Race 12 Episode 1
Donkeys Have Souls, Too
By Reagen Sulewski
November 7, 2007

We were certain that our awesome head kerchiefs would carry us to the win!

Thanks to the ineptitude of Hugh Jackman and his foray into network TV, Viva Laughlin, we're treated to our favorite globetrotting reality show a couple of months early. Yes, it's the return of The Amazing Race for its 12th(!) edition, and they've really upped the ante for freak show contestants this time around.

Our ever-present host and task master Phil Keoghan greets us from the top of a skyscraper in Los Angeles to introduce our eleven teams for this season, who are:

Marianna and Julia, sisters from Miami. They win the Kellen Winslow Jr. Award by comparing themselves to soldiers, while the video cuts to them in bikinis on a speedboat. Julia says they'll triumph because they have the beauty of women and the strength of men. Just like Secret deodorant.

Ronald and Christina, a father and daughter team from Tacoma. This is our annual team with parental issues, as Christina says she doesn't really know her dad all that well because of her father's travels for work. Good luck with working out those issues on the road. Also, Ronald is wearing an über-disturbing "Who's Your Daddy?" shirt, which he plainly doesn't understand.

Kynt and Vyxsen, "dating Goths" from Louisville. Oh, where to begin with these two. The pretentious names? Kynt's obvious desire to be Marilyn Manson? The pink, oh God, the pink? These two are a comedy vein that will certainly keep on giving as long as they're in the race. It's like Cryptie the forklift driver got a TV show (Google this, trust me).

Nicolas and Donald, a grandson/grandfather team from the Chicago area. Nic is 23 (but looks like he should be in the cast of Friday Night Lights) and flies planes, while grandpa is a dirty old man, apparently.

Nathan and Jennifer, a dating couple from the LA region. When Jennifer mentions the "trust issues" in their relationship, I excepted them to dance around the euphemism, but no, she comes right out and mentions that he cheated on her, which at least makes them the most honestly dysfunctional team in the history of the race. But hey, team chemistry isn't an issue in TAR, is it?

Azaria and Hendekea, a brother and sister from New Orleans who seem just a leeetle to close for comfort if you know what I'm saying and I think that you do. Their plan for the race apparently involves mixing glowing chemicals in beakers and kicking soccer balls. So that's what happened to Carlton Banks.

Lorena and Jason, a couple from Los Angeles. Lorena is trying to get Jason, a Mark Wahlberg-lookalike, to take it to the next level, and thought that mentioning this on national TV would be the best way to do this. Jason says he already has a foot out the door, which strikes me as a relationship-ender, but apparently you can continue on after that.

Kate and Pat, a lesbian couple from California, and unfortunately not the fun kind, as they're also ordained ministers. "We're not wimps for Jesus," says Pat (whose name could not fit more perfectly – Julia Sweeney gon' sue somebody), but my fear is that these two become this season's God Squad, who mention Jesus at every turn. We shall see.

Ari and Staella, co-workers from LA. Although they're not specific about this, Ari's pretty obviously gay and apparently still in the stage where he thinks that it's outrageous that he's a big queen. Note to gay men – listen, it's great that you're gay, but we've all seen this before. It's 2007 – we're not really shocked by bitchy behavior from gay dudes anymore. These two seem to be seeking out villain status.

Shana and Jennifer, friends from Los Angeles (they certainly cast their net wide for teams this time). I think we can go ahead and dub them Team Hilton, as the two bottle-blondes are apparently all about the clothes. They, like Marianna and Julia, plan to flirt their way through the race, and somewhere Gloria Steinem is weeping. But just because this strategy has failed for every other all-female team before is no reason to think it can't work now, right?

Finally, TK and Rachel, a couple from the LA area (did they just grab people walking by the studio??). TK may call himself that, but he's actually Axl Rose ca. 1992 and still has hopes of releasing Chinese Democracy while he's still relevant.

The race starts at the Playboy Mansion – which I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Shana and Jennifer have been to before – though it could really just be any other estate for all they use it for. Phil sends them off and it's the mad dash to their bags and the first clue, which sends them to Shannon, Ireland.

There's a small logistical problem, as all the vehicles are parked in a one-lane driveway, and Nicolas and Donald are in the first one, taking their sweet time, counting their money and blocking the path. That's a good way to make friends right off the bat. Nicolas, the big dork, doesn't even seem to realize that the other teams are honking their horns at him, and starts honking back in "celebration". Finally they get a clue and the turtle race gets going.

The first secret task is as always to not get lost on the way to the first airport, which leads to our first split in teams, as about half go the wrong way, including some of the LA teams. Really, there's not a lot of drama in this, but it does lead to a clip where Kynt uses the phrase "Oh my Goth", so that's something right there.

The teams are given two flights to catch, the first on British Airways, and the second on Aer Lingus. The scramble and general chaos to get there puts Lorena and Jason, Shana and Jennifer, Kate and Pat, Nathan and Jennifer and Marianna and Julia on the BA flight, which leaves first and gives those teams a 45 minute lead. There are a few teams that had a really shaky start in this, the simplest of tasks they'll have all race, and really need to pull their acts together to survive. Shedding time in the airport parking lot is bad news.

The remaining teams are booked onto the Aer Lingus flight, but catch a break as the BA flight is delayed in London, the first of what I'm sure will be many times when competent racing leads to punishment. This vaults Azaria and Hendekea into the lead, as they had the foresight to book taxis at the Shannon airport when they arrived (and what a bill the person they borrowed a cell phone to call with will get). The other taxi was for Ronald and Christina, with whom they've formed a loose alliance, but Ari and Staella nab it and speed off. This strikes me as very bad juju for Ari and Staella, as there are powerful forces at work in this race surrounding taxis.

The teams are now on their way to a ferry port, which will take them out to an island off the coast of Ireland. On the island, they have to find Teampall Bheanain, the smallest church in the world (judging by the picture, I'd have expected it to be smaller), where they have to sign up for another ferry the next morning. So far, it's the return of The Amazing Wait Your Turn, although we can't expect too much out of teams that just crossed the Atlantic.

The Great Taxi Scramble becomes more complex as the British Airways flight has just landed, putting all the teams on more or less the same footing. Out on the road, Ari and Staella have their first sign that stealing a taxi might not have been their smartest move, as they got a driver with a sense of whimsy. He realizes that they screwed over another group and refuses to put the pedal to the metal for them, although it ultimately amounts to nothing, as every single team makes the first ferry. Hooray for our first pointless drama of the year!

As the teams attempt to find the church in the middle of a fine drizzly Irish day, we get our first relationship spat. If you guessed it would be Nathan and Jennifer, you get a no-prize. Nathan starts yelling at Jennifer to run instead of walk, and then calls her the worst person ever at the race. C'mon Jen, just stick with him ten, 12 more years, you can change him! Then Nathan says the magic words of "every other girl..." which, class, is the... wrong thing for a cheater to ever say. Dear Nathan: as an adulterous bastard, you are not allowed to acknowledge the existence of other women anymore. Sorry, but them's the breaks if you're going to continue to stick this out. Jennifer may not be the best racer, but you know what she is good at? Not sleeping with other people!

The teams split into two packs getting off the ferry, one getting good directions and the other pack being sent off on a wild goose chase – oh, those wacky Irish pranksters – leading to Lorena and Jason, TK and Rachel and Kynt and Vyxsen getting more or less a free pass to take the lead on the first ferry. Jennifer bleeds off all the sympathy I had for her from Nathan's abuse by claiming that climbing the hill to the church was the hardest thing she's ever had to do. That's close to the most pathetic thing I've ever heard from a supposed adult.

The teams that were led astray are split between the ferry that's a half hour behind and the one that's 90 minutes behind, which seems like an actual penalty for once in these kinds of things. All in all, it's been an apparently trying day for all these teams – but for the teams in this last pack, it's only ten and a half legs or less to go for you! I'm betting less.

The next morning sees the teams heading back to the mainland, where they then have to navigate themselves around the Irish countryside to a far. The first three teams decide to work as a pack to get directions, and then Jason decides that he's going to lone wolf it. One problem: he and Lorena didn't get the actual directions. Lorena begs him to turn around and follow the teams that know where they're going, which seems like a reasonable request, until she starts to put some whiiiiiiiiine in it. Suddenly I'm flashing back to Flo, which, I know, strong words, but it's just not a pretty moment for her.

The two leading teams that didn't decide to just go for a drive around Ireland reach the far, where they're told to ride a bike to the next clue box. Kynt and Vyxsen lead the way, and while I hate to give these guys the attention they so desperately crave, they're already on my TV, and pink-clad "Goths" riding a bike in the middle of Ireland is just about the most damned surreal thing you can get on a network like CBS these days. I can hardly wait for these guys to get to Africa. Also a mitigating factor – they're damned solid racers so far and can deal with adversity. When the chain on their bike breaks, they don't fall apart and just decide to carry it. That's good hustle.

This puts TK and Rachel into first place at the cluebox, the first Roadblock of the race. This has them performing a bit of a high wire act, pedalling a bike across a canyon on a wire, while their partner hangs below on a pole. Suddenly it's Cirque du Soleil, and if they ask the teams to open a jar of rainbows, I'm calling shenanigans.

This isn't particularly challenging as roadblocks go, but it does require a bit of nerve, and it's good to get these teams into full adrenaline mode as much as possible, to test their decision making skills under stress.

TK powers across with ease and this gets them to the next task, which has them lead a donkey carrying peat blocks down a path to the next clue box. Donkeys aren't the most pliable animals ever, so this has a pretty good chance for a "My Ox is Broken" moment. Fingers crossed, you know.

Azaria and Hendekea get some luck with their donkey, which seems to want to race, while Ari and Staella and Nathan and Jennifer find the ones that just want to sit put on the pathway. This just goes to show that donkeys can sense evil. Amazingly, these two teams resort to the "yank as hard as you can" method, falling right into the cliché trap. Nathan morphs into Napoleon Dynamite right in front of our eyes, yelling "GOSH!" repeatedly – if he starts dancing to Jamiroquai, I'm outta here.

Team after team now passes by them, including Lorena and Jason, who had fallen to sixth after their driving misadventure. The race is ticking away for both of these groups.

In contrast, TK and Rachel are just blazing through this first leg, and are the first to receive the location of the first Pit Stop, at the Connemara Heritage Centre. Azaria and Hendekea are hot on their tail and take advantage when TK takes a wrong turn driving to the Pit Stop. Hendekea was apparently on the ball and spotted the centre on the way in, which is a habit that could serve this team well. Kynt and Vyxsen also pass TK and Rachel, who've run a great race until this mishap.

Azaria and Hendekea land on the Pit Stop mat in first spot where they're greeted by an extra from Braveheart (yes, I know that was Scotland – there were Irish people in that movie too), and amusingly, whiff on the celebratory high-five. Their bonus prize for this leg is a trip to Banff and a stay at a swanky hotel. Hey, that's my stomping grounds! It really is a great hotel. Kynt and Vyxsen come in for second spot, with TK and Rachel recovering for third spot.

Back on the path, Nathan and Jennifer and Ari and Staella are still stuck, and have seem to be hoping to move the donkeys simply through the power of staring and yelling.

Ronald crosses the canyon singing the most god-awful tone-deaf variation on Danny Boy you've ever heard, and it's surprising that a thousand Irish people don't descend on him immediately to pummel him. If I'd been hanging below the bike here, I might have jumped off. At this point, every other team has caught up to the two stalled teams, and panic is starting to set in. Christina rightly notes that these are animals that don't take kind to being yanked around, but this is ultimately a very revealing task.

Lorena and Jason finish up the leg in fourth spot, taking advantage of the animal troubles to make up for their own navigational issues through the leg. Nicolas and Donald come in for fifth, but look like the most worn out fifth place team of all time. Shana and Jennifer motor through the last portion of the leg for sixth. Ronald and Christina and Kate and Pat slide in for seventh and eighth, who seem far too happy to be below the middle of the pack.

Finally, Nathan and Jennifer hit upon the idea of pushing the donkey – just like every other team did – and we have ourselves a race, with Ari and Staella and Marianna and Julia representing the other incompetents.

Ultimately, Ari and Staella fall too far behind and are eliminated, behind Marianna and Julia and Nathan and Jennifer in ninth and tenth, respectively. Rarely has taxi karma kicked in so quickly and so thoroughly on this show, and it's saved us from a team that might have ended up as one of the most annoying of all time on the show. This season is looking up already!