The Amazing Race Ep. 21.1, “Double Your Money” is entertaining but restricted by its running time

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The Amazing Race, Season 21, Episode 1, “Double Your Money”
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

The Amazing Race premiere offers so many possibilities for the upcoming season. There are 22 new players to meet and lots of unknown challenges ahead. The potential is exciting, but it can lead to information overload because so much is happening. This isn’t the type of show that takes its time and clearly introduces its cast. Once the action gets rolling, it’s easy to forget which Chippendale spells his name “Jaymes” instead of “James”. This material demands an extended premiere so it can breathe and start on the right foot. Showcasing Phil’s introduction, 11 teams, and a complete leg in the regular hour is difficult to say the least. Survivor has the luxury of ignoring certain players who aren’t pivotal to the game. That doesn’t really work in this case. Even a fast-paced show like The Amazing Race needs time to gets its footing.

While the timeframe is difficult, the opener still includes plenty of entertaining moments. Phil gives his speech from the top of Pasadena’s Colorado Bridge, and teams must immediately rappel 10 stories down to the ground. There’s no time for the usual excitement, and duos like best friends Gary and Will start bickering right away. These guys are super fans but not one of the more athletic teams. Even so, this leg offers a stark reminder than brains should not be underestimated. The first destination is Shanghai, and seven teams make the first flight and arrive well in front of the last four. The first Roadblock requires players to win a point in ping pong against a young champion. If they don’t succeed on the first try, the superstar uses random household items like a clipboard and even the clue envelope to make it easier.

There was a similar ping pong challenge way back in the first season, but that was a more straightforward and difficult task. It also didn’t include a creepy image of the taunting player on the screen with each defeat. These random video and sound add-ons lighten the mood, but they also cheapen the show. Instead of stressing the amazing side of traveling the world, they turn it into a carnival game. The editors try way too hard to push the fun and don’t just let it happen. After completing this task, teams head to Cui Ping Jiu Jia Restaurant to enjoy bowls of hasma, the fallopian tubes of a frog. This second Roadblock forces the other player to eat this delicacy with chopsticks and their face. This leads to some pretty nasty images, though it doesn’t match the craziest past eating challenges. Monster trucker Rob gets the unfortunate opportunity to repeat the task after using his hands the first time. The big guy takes it in stride and finishes quickly to keep them in the top group.

Heading into the back end of this episode, there’s more suspense than usual about who will take the top spot. The reason is the new twist that will award $2 million to the winners if they also won the first leg. While this seems like a long shot, it’s fairly common to see the eventual champs take the opener. This prize comes down to a foot race with “dating divorcees” Abbie and Ryan challenging double amputee Amy and her boyfriend Daniel. After finding a woman in red holding an abacus, they must locate the Pit Stop at the Bund Observatory.

Amy and Daniel have the lead and seem destined to win, but they’re overtaken by Abbie and Ryan at the last minute. The defeat is rougher because they gave information about the abacus to the trailing team. Even so, both of these pairs seem like strong competitors who will be around for a long time. On the other end of the spectrum are Chippendales Jaymes and James, who are strong but may be lacking mentally. They wander aimlessly for a long time searching for the abacus and seem pretty confused. It’s an extremely close footrace in the end, and they eke by Rob and Sheila to survive. The engaged lumberjack and retail manager seem like nice people but take misguided detours that cost them in the end.

Another team that struggles to find the abacus is James and Abba, who lead after the restaurant. James actually played guitar for White Lion and Megadeth, and Abba is an entertainment lawyer. Both guys look the part and seem like a capable team, but they drop to sixth place. Arriving in third and fourth are the two all-female teams, and they both do very well. Caitlin and Brittany are the young blondes who are required for every season. They don’t get much screen time but compete well to reach third place. Arriving in fourth are twins Natalie and Nadiya, who grew up in Sri Lanka. The athletic and energetic sisters are charming and should go far.

Looking forward to the upcoming season, Abbie and Ryan stand out as the most likely winners. His arrogance makes them less desirable for the top prize, but it’s hard to say at this point. It’s difficult to draw too much from the first episode because teams were split by the two flights. A young team like Trey and Lexi is physically capable but has little chance to move up this time because of the deficit. There are a lot of solid teams who could do well. While it isn’t one of the stronger premieres, “Double Your Money” shows enough promise to keep expectations high for a fun season. It’s interesting to note the smaller number of countries and overall miles this time, but that isn’t the deciding factor in a season’s success. It comes down to game design and challenge originality, and it isn’t clear from this brisk episode how good those will be down the road.

Dan Heaton

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