What's truly amazing is that I haven't watched a full season of The Amazing Race (TAR) since its inception in 2001.  And the only reason I watched it then is that I had heard that a college-mate had been cast.  In the end, he and his team partner ended up winning and made history as the first-ever TAR winners.  So that was fun.

But then I had a short attention span and drifted to other networks and channels.  I tried reality of different forms (music, dance, cooking, decorating, etc.) and calculations (contrived, really contrived and full-blown totally orchestrated). 

And now I've washed my hands of that (well, except for American Idol … and I'll have more to say about that come January 2010) and am back to where I started:  The Amazing Race

Fresh off its seventh straight Emmy Award win for reality-competition program, The Amazing Race began its fifteenth season recently with a two-hour whirlwind premiere.  I can safely say that it's great to be back and on this side of the action (fire-hot Wasabi and gunky mud pits anyone?).  And I'm happy to break down what you missed, in case you were wondering.

First, a very basic refresher on the way the game is played:

There are 11 teams (two people per team) and one show host (Phil Keoghan) at the beginning of the race.  The connections are all relationally-based (married, dating, siblings, family members, friends, co-workers, etc.), so each team has a preexisting relationship in some form or fashion.

The race is broken up into different legs.  Cash and clues are handed out at the beginning of each.  The clue leads teams to destinations anywhere in the world by car, plane, boat, rickshaw, whatever.  The goal is to be the first to arrive at each predetermined location and to complete a challenge (always related to the customs or locales of whatever country they are in).  Once the teams are successful, they are then given the clue for the Pit Stop (of that leg) where they must step onto the Check-in Mat where each team finds out its current standing (1st, 2nd, 3rd place, etc.).  The last team to check in is eliminated (if it is an elimination leg; sometimes they are not and carry a significant disadvantage for the last team).  Kinda confused?  Me, too.  But Wikipedia (it's the "free encyclopedia," you know … so you get what you pay for) has some helpful information about it here.

The final leg of the race is run by the last three teams and whoever comes in first is the winner of that season of The Amazing Race.  The grand prize is a whopping $1 million.  Hello.

So that's the basic gist of the show, and if I got something wrong then I'm sure someone will kindly let me know in the Feedback section below.  (Be nice.)

Next, let's discuss the teams of Season 15:

[NOTE:  If you don't want to know who was eliminated in Episode One, stop reading right now.  I'm going to spoil away!]

• Meghan & Cheyne:  A young couple.  Dating for five years.  Meghan is an account exec at a public affairs firm and Cheyne works for a social change marketing company.  Both blonde, both positive and both very "Up with People."  Ish.  They're athletic, work well together and have good communication skills.  They're definitely ones to watch.

• Maria and Tiffany:  Professional poker players who "make a lot of money" (we're told).  They lie about their profession in the beginning and instead say they work with homeless teens.  But alas.  Their cover is blown during the first leg when a poker fan (are there such people?) recognizes them.  Another team (which is ALSO keeping a BIG secret … details eight teams down) is a little annoyed by this. 

• Marcy and Ron:  The token "older couple" for this season (each is hovering around 60).  They met via an online dating site and have been dating for a year.  Marcy (the photographer) is a little free-spirited, while I think I saw Ron (the stock trader) roll his eyes at her at one point right before they reached a pit stop.  That should make for some interesting interaction in the episodes to come.

• Lance and Keri:  The "meathead" lawyer and his fiancée finance manager.  Lance seems to be a little hot-headed while Keri appears to be a little more calm, cool and collected.  Will this experience test their engagement staying power?  Will TAR keep working that angle over and over AND OVER again?  In every single scene featuring this team?  Probably so.

• Herbert and Nathaniel:  Can you whistle "Sweet Georgia Brown"?  ‘Cause you'll really want to while you're watching these Harlem Globetrotters teammates playing a whole ‘nother kind of game.  At 6' 3" and 6' 9" they will have no problems standing out.  Very likeable.  Very huggable.  Not sure if they've got staying power or not.  They're definitely making friends and not enemies amongst the other teams.  That could be a good thing.

• Gary and Matt:  Father and son.  This Montana-based duo admits they've never really been that close.  So here's to hoping that a crazy, break-neck speed television reality show will do what hours of daily living or some family therapy probably couldn't have.  Right?  That, and Matt has flaming, dyed neon pink hair.  Nice.

• Garrett and Jessica:  "She's spirited … she's fiery … she's got a temper."  Okay, Garrett.  We've got it.  Translation:  Jessica's difficult.  You can decide for yourself whether that's the case or not as you watch this on-again/off-again couple in action.  Will their experience on TAR help them decide whether to tie the knot?  Or not.  Or naught?

• Brian and Ericka:  Ugh.  I think Miss America 2004 brought her crown and her pageant ways with her to this competition.  Very annoying (especially when "cheering" her husband on during a challenge; is that what that was?  ‘Cause I thought I heard nails on a chalkboard somewhere).  And I feel for Brian.  Really, I do.  But I'll try to wish "the first married interracial team" on TAR a good game nonetheless. 

• Eric and Lisa:  The yogi couple!  Or rather, the couple "helping people connect to their supreme self."  Okay.  They've been married for 18 years, live a vegan lifestyle and own four yoga studios and are also instructors.  We'll see how flexible they really are as time goes on in this competition.

• Sam and Dan:  They're 20-something brothers from Missouri who grew up Christian and in a conservative community.  Last summer, both came out and told each other that they were gay.  None of the other TAR teams knows this yet, though.  And they hope to use this info to their advantage, i.e. the poker players still think that the brothers are pretty cute. 

• Zev and Justin:  "Don't judge me because I have Asperger's Syndrome."  That seems to be the semi-implied message we've already heard from Zev (and Justin) several times just in the first episode.  And you know what?  Fine.  I like Zev.  He and Justin have been friends since they were camp counselors six years ago, and they might be the underdogs this season. 

• Mika and Canaan:  Christians can race, too!  Mika and Canaan are newly dating and are committed to remain pure ‘til marriage (as we're told on camera, even though Canaan's listed one of his favorite activities as "making out" with Mika).  Both from Nashville, Mika is an aspiring singer while Canaan is a professional songwriter.  A little weaker and whinier, Mika is definitely the sour note on their team.  I don't see a long future for them.

And now a quick recap of what happened in the premiere:

For the first time ever, a team was eliminated before the race even left the starting line.  Beginning in Los Angeles, the first challenge required teams to identify a license plate (among hundreds, maybe thousand … I wasn't paying that close attention) of the Japanese destination where the teams were headed to for their first leg of the race.  Their clue was on the clue.  Really!  The symbols of the destination were printed at the top of the clue and matched the logo at the top of the correct license plates.  There were other Asian license plates mixed in amongst all of the other ones, so many teams selected the wrong ones and were denied when they tried to turn them in to receive their clues.

Ten teams finally figured it out and selected the right license plates and were on their way to Tokyo.  The last team left looking at the wall of plates was Team Yogi (Eric and Lisa).  And thusly eliminated.  Namaste.

Once their flights arrived, the teams followed the clues and found themselves at the taping of a Japanese game show.  The studio audience was full of people wearing different colored visors (details to come).  The teams lined up around a "Wheel of Fortune" type of contraption where plates of sushi were on display.  But wait … there were also Wasabi bombs interspersed between!  In order to proceed, one member from each team had to land on a Wasabi bomb, ingest it in under two minutes, open his or her mouth to prove it has been swallowed and then move on.

Two different team members had to ingest the Wasabi bomb TWICE (Maria and Tiffany and Brian and Ericka), as they were unable to finish it in less than two minutes.  So I give them each props for that. 

One by one, the teams landed on the Wasabi bombs, inhaled and grabbed their clues and a colored flag.  The audience members wearing the visors with the same colors had to follow their coordinating team.

The clues lead the teams to a shrine somewhere near a busy intersection in downtown Tokyo (where Phil's narration explained that approximately one million people cross per day).  Each team had to guide their audience members (all of them … there were about 20 people following each team) through this congested area and somehow find the shrine.

All teams arrived at the Check-in Mat for that Pit Stop with all of their people in tow, except for Maria and Tiffany who had lost one member in the process and were told they would have to face an upcoming Road Block (later on, they ended up having to find a restaurant which gave them ingredients for a local dish that they had to assemble and serve to someone; they completed this task in good time, plus making up time and staying in the race.  These gals have moxie, for sure.).  The teams were then given clues that they needed in order to travel to Vietnam.  Some made their flight reservations at an Internet café, while others decided to head straight for the airport and try to secure tickets there.

At the ticket counters, Maria and Tiffany were recognized by a poker-playing fan and their secret was out!  Sam and Dan seemed a little miffed that someone would lie (the nerve!), but decided that they would continue to keep their own secret of being gay under wraps, especially since it seemed as if Maria and Tiffany were attracted to them.  Perhaps they can continue to use this to their advantage.  We'll see how long that lasts.

Due to flight availability and who got their tickets first, the teams were dispersed onto two different flights (an hour apart in departure times).  The first flight arrived in Vietnam where the rain was pouring like cats and dogs and had caused the waters to rise to a dangerous flood level.  The first group of teams crammed into one of the buses to make their way to their destination.  And then the other flight landed 30 minutes ahead of schedule.  Fun!  The second group of teams then proceed to get the second bus to leave ahead of schedule (money talks).  And so the tension mounted.

The teams arrived at a dock where they had to take rickety, wooden motor boats to a farm (of sorts) where they had to transfer mud (from mud pits … as in, sink-in-to-up-to-almost-your-waist type of pits) to the bases of surrounding trees and cover the roots (fertilization!) and on up until a red marker on each tree's trunk.  Once the mark was reached with the right amount of mud, team members had to find Mr. Farmer to approve and then he gave them their next clues.

I'll skip to the chase and will just say that that whole part of the leg was just a big ol' messy mud bath.  Lots of slipping and sliding while balancing bowlfuls of sloppy earth and trying to pat it all down.  The teams all did their jobs and got their clues.  They hopped back into their boats, got back to the dock and then made their way to a place where they had to herd ducks.  That's right.  Waving two long flags, a member from each team had to corral the ducks through a set of maze-like fences, over a little bridge and back and into a sectioned-off area and then secure a gate, get the next clue and run to the Final Destination.

Okay, now I'm tired just relaying all of that.  But a few quick things to note during the duck herding:  Brian and Ericka and Garrett and Jessica don't do so well under pressure.  Tempers were flaring and words were flying (unlike the ducks).  On the other hand, a Zen-like Zev (deemed "The Duck Whisperer" by some of the other teams) had no problems guiding and steering his ducks in a row.  Will this sense of calm under pressure be his secret weapon in the challenges to come?  We shall (calmly) see.

All teams made it to check in and were counted, but who would the last team be?  Brian and Ericka and Garrett and Jessica were tailing and had the most trouble with their ducks.  Alas, Garrett and his "spirited" Jessica were last and were thusly eliminated.

Until next week, stay tuned to The Amazing Race.  And I'll be back to blog about another episode which hopefully will not include Wasabi, mud or annoying former beauty queens (did I just say that?).


WANT TO WATCH?

The Amazing Race airs on CBS on Sunday nights at 8/7 Central.  Plan your schedule accordingly.

You can watch "Elimination Station" interviews with the most recently eliminated team here.  Or to watch Episode One in its entirety online, go here.