In the annals of entertainment, the word "family" conjures up anxiety like few others, with connotations of watered-down, edgeless fare. So you can imagine my trepidation regarding the new season of The Amazing Race, dubbed "The Family Edition". Then again, we are talking about the Amazing Race, which dealt with tons of family relationships in the first place and was never the edgiest show on TV. Mostly, it's a bit annoying to have twice the number of people to deal with.
The Amazing Race 8: Family Edition Episode 1, Part 1
By Reagen Sulewski
October 5, 2005
We begin this edition with the now-familiar Kiwi strains of our host Phil Koeghan, as boats carrying the ten teams of family members to the starting point, a park in Brooklyn.
The initial rundown of the teams:
The Gaghans, made up of husband and wife Bill & Tammy, and children Billy and Dakota Fanning... I mean Clarissa. The first of three teams with young kids along in tow, this family expects to be underestimated, but the entire family appears to be made up of Cylons, all capable of running elite times in long-distance runs. If one of the challenges takes them to the Kenyan plains, they've got it made. Billy and Clarissa indicate their plan is to infiltrate the other teams for information. Yeah, that's exactly what I'd expect a Cylon to do.
The Linzs are comprised of three brothers and a sister, Tommy, Nick, and Alex, and Megan. Expect me to not have a clue which of the brothers is which through the whole time they're in this. Alex derides the life skills of his two younger siblings, saying that he and Nick should lead, because they have more experiences paying electric bills and landlords. Something tells me that's not really going to be a challenge on this race. Early odds on this team getting into a fistfight in the middle of Germany and quitting just jumped to 10:1.
The Paolos are made up of husband and wife Tony (an Italian immigrant and garbage truck driver) and Marion, and sons DJ and Brian, with their interview getting almost immediately into what worthless bums their sons are. I'm sure this bodes well for a harmonious trip around the world. It's passive-aggressive fun for all!
Let's get this joke out of the way right now, Okay? The Black family is, well, black. We get it, and now we can move on. They consist of husband and wife Reggie and Kim, and young sons Kenneth and Austin. This team also plans to use the "underestimation and cuteness" ploy, and failing that, look to employ their mad karate skills to kick the other teams's asses.
The Bransens are next, with, father Wally and daughters Beth, Lauren and Lindsay, who if they end in Italy, I'm sure will be watched like a hawk. This team gets the first class clown award, revealing that the daughters like to call their dad "Wal-der" instead of "Wal-ter". Why, that's the funniest thing I ever heard! Er, I don't get it. I'm sure these and other witty bon mots will keep us endlessly entertained by them. Are we sure these guys aren't supposed to be The Flanders?
The Weavers consist of mother Linda and children Rachel, Rebecca, and Rolly, who make it very hard to make fun of them at the moment by bringing up their dead father who was killed (and I'm not kidding here) when he was hit by a car during a NASCAR race. Way to keep the spirits high, guys! This team is another of the infamous "teams on a mission", and appears to be attempting to re-bond. So, we can pretty much say right now they have no chance of winning.
The Aiellos are Tony and three of his sons-in-law, Kevin, David and Matt, who are probably going to have an advantage in that they're not all already sick of each other yet like so many of the other teams. The awkward father-in-law comments come out quickly, though, with promises made not to spoon on the trip. Okay, just... dude. Remember, those aren't pillows.
The Schroeder family is husband and wife Mark and Char along with children Stassi and Hunter. It's the first step-family in the game so far, although I don't see any evil stepmom tensions. Mark clearly believes he's some sort of modern rebel, declaring his love of eating small animals (what, like squirrel?), with his daughter Stassi about to die of embarrassment right then and there. But then, that's any teenage kid, really.
The Godlewskis are four sisters, Michelle, Christine, Sharon and Tricia, who, like what seems to be the case with every team so far, expect to be underestimated by all the other teams, in this case because they're four blond women. Hey, newsflash: every team here thinks they should win and that all the others should lose.
The patriarch of the Rogers family, Denny, plays the scary religious card early, saying he will be taking control in the race because "it's a Biblical thing". I can't wait until later in the race when "Who Would Jesus Yield" comes up as a decision. He's joined by wife Renee and children Brittney and Brock. And hey, what do you know, they think they'll be underestimated! All the teams can't suck, can they? Right?
There's a few things to watch for this season with the change in format of the teams, starting with how they deal with double the number of racers. Are they going to be able to work in tasks that utilize all four members of the teams? Will double the number of attempted decision makers lead to chaos, confusion and lost time? Will certain tasks be geared towards the teams with smaller children (my money's on yes). Will they outright manipulate the final leg by holding up a plane again? We're on to you, Bruckheimer.
The running start is about as crazy as you might expect for 40 people running en masse, and we appear to have three or four injuries right off the bat. Always stretch, people. The first task directs the teams into the SoHo district of Manhattan, find a sporting goods store and "stock up for the trip", including camping gear. Wait, are they just going to send them out to Yellowstone for three weeks?
Tensions run high among a few teams pretty quickly, especially between sons and fathers when one or the other doesn't move quite fast enough. It's just like summer road trips, but with money at stake! The Gaghans get out ahead of the pack first, and also grab an early lead in "most annoying" family, especially after Billy decides "SoHo is a nice place, I think". Yes, he's quite the raconteur at his gentle age. Man, I hope they get better, because I don't feel that good about picking on little kids. But I will if I have to, okay?
Ah, but wait, it's The Godlewski sisters (or as another team dubs them, The Desperate Housewives), screaming their heads off about being able to find the Brooklyn Bridge. If this is an achievement for them, I fear for what they do if they actually won. Mind you, other teams have managed to end up on the wrong side of one way streets, so I can't sell them short just yet, but please, act like you've already been to the end zone, okay?
All the teams eventually make like the Muppets and take Manhattan, but this sequence could probably use a musical number, as most of it is taken up by jockeying for position and battling the notoriously tricky New York City traffic and is about as entertaining as watching someone else backseat drive sounds like it would be. The Paolos are fine examples of this, turning into the Bickersons almost immediately. I fully expect Tony to tell one of his sons to get out and walk at some point.
The Linz family manages to find the sporting goods store first, followed quickly by the Gaghans. There is virtually nothing to this task after reaching the store, and the items are even laid out for them by family. They then are directed to go to a hotdog stand on the other side of the city, about 90 blocks away. Yay, more driving.
The Godlewski sisters come in third and park directly in front of the store, which feels like the fiendish hand of the producers already, since if Seinfeld taught me anything, parking in New York City is virtually impossible at the best of times. Their intro said these sisters were supposedly from Illinois, but at least one of them comes in with a perfect Minnesota Nice accent, which I will mock mercilessly, donchaknow. The Schroeders pass the Godlewskis in the store, moving from fourth to third. As we go to commercial we join the Paolos again, who are making great use of the home court advantage by managing to get lost in their home city which has a chance to go down as one of the all-time boneheaded moves in all of TAR.
The next teams in are the Aiellos, the Weavers and the Bransens, with the Weavers being entirely too excitable over seconds, yet again, knocking over a store display and screaming when the Bransens enter the store as they are leaving. You're all going to the same places, so please try not to be shocked when you see another team, okay? The Rogers, Blacks (dressed in matching tie-die T-shirts – wait, are you guys together?) and Paolos bring up the rear of this first section.
Meanwhile, back at the front of the pack, tensions are running high with the Linzs already, when, for the crime of suggesting they follow someone, Megan is told by Alex to "speak, when spoken to". It's amazing she doesn't break his nose right then and there. Thankfully other teams are just as or more acrimonious, with the Paolos literally getting into a screaming match. Ah, familial love.
The Linzs do get to the next checkpoint first, and while her brothers engage in some counter-productive razzing, Megan runs to the hot dog stand for the clue, which sends them through New Jersey to Pennsylvania and Washington Crossing State Park. In a nice bit of stunt casting, the hot dog stand is manned by Kevin and Drew from Season One. Something tells me there's going to be more of these kinds of cameos throughout. The order doesn't change through to the Aiellos, who send poor poppy out to run for the clue, which causes Drew to remark that he looks like he's about to have a heart attack. Hey, you're not so svelte yourself.
The Bransens have moved up to sixth, with a fairly meaningless dead sprint taking place between the Weavers and the Rogers for seventh and eighth. Mama Weaver manages to get confused by what seems to me to be a rather straightforward clue by asking if "Pennsylvania means the state of Pennsylvania". Granted that there is a Pennsylvania Avenue in Brooklyn, but if you aren't really sure if they're referring to the state, then perhaps a race around the world isn't the game for you.
The Blacks get their clue ninth, with the Paolos, the native New Yorkers, pulling up the rear. To their credit, they are the only team to recognize Kevin and Drew at the hot dog stand.
On the road, confidence does not reign, with both the Linzs and Gaghans driving somewhat blindly towards Pennsylvania, although virtually every team is forced to stop and ask directions. The Weavers, who still aren't sure if Pennsylvania is a state or not, manage, in a somewhat awkward moment, to proselytize to the trucker that lends them his map. Er, hey, you're losing valuable seconds there, right? Right?
The Paolos, displaying some bizarre overconfidence in last place, think they could be in first place and not know it, with Mama Paolo not quite getting the race concept by wondering if they should stop for snacks. It's a not a trip to the Poconos, you know?
The Linzs have managed to lose their lead entirely on the road by stopping for information, with the Aiellos making a big move up to first place. The clue has them row across the Delaware River as George Washington did in the Revolutionary War, retrieve a flag and bring it back to have it folded. There are only four boats available, which could lead to bottlenecks. The Bransens have also raced efficiently to this point, moving up into second. With four strong rowers, the Aiellos make short work of this task, while the Bransens manage to get hung up momentarily on a sand bar. The Aiellos manage to make the family edition not so family by sneaking in a masturbation joke that The Todd would approve of highly.
Back on the road, we see the hazards of just being followers as the Schroeders get lost behind the Godlewskis. Being a follower in this race is a very good way to ensure that you never actually win. More teams have managed to make a move, with the Rogers and Weavers making it to the clue box third and fourth, respectively. Apparently, they realized that it is a state, after all. The Gaghans arrive shortly after, having fallen to fifth.
The Aiellos finish their task and get their next clue, which sends them to Philadelphia and Fairmount Park, where they will have to set up their camping equipment in Belmont Plateau and tent for the night. The fastest groups get earlier departure times, presented by Boy Scouts, complete with whooshing sound effects.
The Schroeders make it to the clue box in sixth, meaning that all four boats are in the water. The guide for this team, seeing the relative ineptness of their paddling technique and realizing he doesn't want to be out in this river all day, finally gives them some encouragement and pointers, and we have a real race. However, no positions change among these four teams, despite the Gaghans' obvious physical disadvantage.
The Blacks get to the clue box seventh, while back on the road we see that the three remaining teams, the Linzs, Godlewskis and Paolos have managed to get really, really lost. This does not bode particularly well, although they may run into Debbie and Bianca at some point, still looking for that pitstop in Argentina.
The Blacks are a bit dismayed at the challenge, with Reggie commenting that "it's those kind of paddles", leaving me to wonder exactly what kind of rowing he's used to. The current of the Delaware River proves pretty difficult for this team and they start to drift, and with some pretty shoddy effort from all from a rowing standpoint. They could end up in Philadelphia the hard way. However the deceptive editing, they're not really that bad off and get it together.
The Aiellos make to the tenting area in plenty of time to hold onto their lead, while the Weavers (SCREAM!) have made up some ground and are now second. Little do they know it's fairly irrelevant at this point. Both receive 10 a.m. departure times for the next morning. The Gaghans make up more ground still, taking the last of the 10 a.m. slots, with the Bransens getting the first of the 10:30 times.
Back with the stragglers, the Godlewskis get to the boats about the same time the Blacks are making their way back, with the Linzs just behind them. This is becoming the Worst. Vacation. Ever. for the Paolos as they bring up the rear once again, and have not, from what I can tell, even seen another team since leaving the starting line.
At the tenting rounds, the Rogers get a little help from the Aiellos with their tent, securing fifth and a 10:30 time, with the Schroeders getting the same time with sixth place.
The Paolos' day gets just that much better, as after finishing their crossing, they drop their clue on the way to the vehicle. After nearly going the wrong way on the freeway (and some verbal abuse from their kids – personally I find it astounding they didn't give these kids away to the neighbors) they decide to head on without the clue, luckily having read it first. We'll see if this ends up with any repercussions.
Co-operation is the spirit of the day at the tenting spot, with both the Blacks and the Godlewskis getting help setting up their tents, although at this point there's no competition as it's all 11 a.m. departure times left. However, one would hope these teams realize the importance of standing on their own two feet, as it would be odd for this much helpfulness to continue in later stages of the race. Or maybe this is going to be the kinder, gentler, wimpier version of The Amazing Race. The Linzs wind up in ninth spot, dropping heavily after getting out to an early lead, and the Paolos finally join the race, coming in last in this first preliminary stage.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two