The Amazing Race: Season 13 Premiere

You’re supposed to know how to do Spanish!

— Tina

For its 13th season, The Amazing Race is not adding an extra host. It’s not setting up controversial teams, bringing back popular contestants, or building a Detour challenge around a stripper pole and Jell-O. No — judging by the season premiere, this fall’s race around the world is just going to be more of the same.

It’s true that TAR‘s website is touting first-time destinations such as Cambodia and Kazakhstan, as well as “an unprecedented mistake” by one team that, the copy suggests, will be a you-gotta-see-this moment. But otherwise, Jerry Bruckheimer and company seem content not to mess with a six-time Emmy-winning formula. What elevates TAR above its reality-TV brethren is not only its exotic locales, thrill-a-minute editing, or oddly likeable host Phil Keoghan. The key ingredient is that the contestants have to think. How often does that happen on television?

Of course, schadenfreude-seekers that viewers tend to be, it’s fun to watch certain racers make asses of themselves, too. And so the new season offers affable Terence whining about his Type A New Yorker girlfriend, Sarah outrunning him a little or talking to other teams during some downtime. (He actually says, while she’s chatting away, “I need to be held and connected with.” They are the requisite Newly Dating duo, after all.) You’ll also snicker at the shocking number of contestants who don’t seem to know that Brazilians speak Portuguese, particularly Tina, a middle-aged, mega-worked-on blonde who’s married to a former pro football player, Ken. They’re separated since he cheated on her, a fact you’ll likely hear about more than once. In the first episode, she proves bossy, generally unpleasant (at least when she’s not saying things such as “Yikey schnikeys!”), and especially displeased with the “loose alliance” they forge with perky hottie Starr and her similarly shiny brother, Nick.

Other potential irritants include “Southern belles” Marisa and Brooke (“We always wear our pearls, we’re into fashion, and we love to make cupcakes! [Giggle!]”), recent Texas divorcees Kelly and Christy (“Go, go, go, mister!” one yells at a cabbie while clapping her manicured hands), and longtime couple Anthony and Stephanie, who say they signed on to test whether he should give in to Steph’s ultimatum that they either get married and start a family pronto, or he’s history. (I’m guessing the latter.)

On the flipside, self-proclaimed “supernerds” Mark and Bill (“I wear geek like a badge of honor,” Mark says, along with wacky t-shirts with slogans such as “disconcertingly spontaneous” and “This is my secret identity”) are sure to be favorites, as are Anita and Arthur. Their label? “Married beekeepers.” Their look? “Old hippies” is the quickest description, though it’s more like an explosion of tie-dye and gray hair that hasn’t seen a pair of scissors since the Summer of Love.

The other teams so far are decidedly meh in their first round of challenges. This season’s race kicks off at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, then sends the herd off to Salvador, Brazil, where they have to maneuver a narrow, wobbly vendor’s cart down cobbled streets before running across town to choose their Detour, named “Hard Way Up or Soft Way Down.” Contestants must decide whether to climb a set of stone steps on their hands and knees and then answer a “mystery question,” or spider their way down a cargo net from an outdoor elevator that stands 240 feet above street level.

With 11 teams to meet in just one hour, that’s about all the excitement there’s time for, before everyone has to hustle to the pit stop, Forte Sao Marcelo. (Keoghan, ever the tour guide, tells the audience that the location is a “floating battlement [that] once defended the city from pirates.”) As usual, the scenery in TAR-13 is gorgeous, though with so many contestants to follow at this point, the first episode is reduced to profile-establishing soundbites, a lot of running and plenty of encouraging “Gos!” The best line, courtesy of Anita, is easily this: “Bees are much calmer than all this!”

The first looks suggest that weeks to come may include a romance between Starr, who favors active wear that pushes her boobs to her neck, and Dallas, a 20-something who entered the competition with his mother and prefers to go shirtless to show off his ridiculously ripped abs. Otherwise, it’s business as usual, including Keoghan’s always-entertaining attempt and inevitable failure to look like he cares, as the eliminated team yammers about their “journey.” This time, he has to listen to the first victims claim, “It was a good run.” Uh, not really — you didn’t make it through one leg! Whoops, there’s that schadenfreude again.

RATING 8 / 10