The 17th season of “The Amazing Race” starts Sunday, Sept. 26, on CBS. This season promises new destinations — Gloucester, Mass., Ghana, Bangladesh and the Arctic Circle among them — and the cast seems a little less stunt-castey than recent seasons. (There’s still an overabundance of beauty queens and blonds though.) This season actually has sort of a musical theater theme: A couple of guys in an a cappella group, a Broadway director and former stage performer, and a handful of others who love singing and performing. Maybe they’ll put on shows during Pit Stops.
Here’s a closer look at the 11 teams, with bio summaries (click on the links for the complete CBS bios), my first impressions and predictions.
Andie & Jenna: Team Feel-Good Story
Bio: Andie, 43, of Atlanta, gave up her daughter for adoption two decades ago. Now she’s a mother of 10 and recently reunited with the daughter she gave up: Jenna, 21 of Athens, Ga. Sounds like a Lifetime movie of the week. They say they’ve only met twice before (I’m also thinking that’s a total exaggeration), so this will be a getting-to-kn0w-each-other kind of trip. Might not be the least-stressful way to reconnect, but hey, they’ll sure know each other better when this is done. But as nice a story as it is, their unfamiliarity with each other could be a big drawback. Trust and the ability to deal with each other’s ups and downs plays a big part, and that’s the wild-card for them.
First impression: They seem nice enough, and will probably be a fan favorite.
Prediction: They could very well be the first to go, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they last a surprisingly long time. Top 5.
Brook & Claire: Team Home Shopping
Bio: Brook, 27 of San Diego, and Claire, 30 of Reno, are friends and co-hosts of a home-shopping jewelry show. Brook’s hero is E TV host Giuliana Rancic, which tells me she really needs to aim higher. She says she knows the chemical makeup of pretty much every gemstone in the world, which is a skill that almost certainly will do her no good on the race. Brook thinks Claire can be bossy and overly sensitive. Claire says Brook’s the bossy one. Hmmm, possible fault line there? Claire doesn’t like running and is afraid of the exotic food. That doesn’t bode well. They say they’re going to play the dumb, frou-frou-girl card. Sigh.
First impression: Clarie’s OK, but Brook is annoying with her nonstop motormouth. And her hair looks fake. But the fact that’s they’re already used to working together could help.
Prediction: It won’t help enough; they’ll go home quickly.
Chad & Stephanie: Team Taking It Too Fast
Bio: Chad, 26, and Stephanie, 23 , both of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., have been dating about five months, and new relationships historically have been a recipe for disaster on this show. She was engaged when they met, and he stole her away. Classy. So a month after they started dating, they moved in together and bought a house. Wow, these two don’t seem stable at all. Chad can be “brutally honest,” which is code for being an a-hole. And he says he doesn’t mind playing dirty, which pretty much confirms that. They’re doing the race to see if they’re really meant to be together. Um, might have wanted to figure that out before you bought a house together. Chad seems a little dopey (come on, his hero is Matthew McConaughey) and is terrified of getting arrested and imprisoned abroad. Luckily for him, this isn’t “The Amazing Drug Mule.” Apparently he has a bit of a temper and can be inconsiderate. Stephanie’s a hair stylist and former Miss USA contestant who loves Celine Dion. Yep, they have the makings of Team Annoying. As a teenager she was a nationally ranked swimmer, which is a skill that could come in handy. She also loves singing and performing, which is a skill that probably won’t come in handy.
First impressions: I hate them. I’ll bet their bickering ultimately does them in.
Prediction: Early exit. Maybe even the first ones out.
Connor & Jonathan: Team Glee
Bio: Both 22, they’re best friends and members of an a cappella group at Princeton. Connor’s also student body president and loves show tunes. If he won the million bucks, he says he’d get it in $1 bills and take a money shower. I like that, it sounds like something Scrooge McDuck would do. Jonathan looks like Milhouse on “The Simpsons” and fancies himself to be wittier than most folks. And he probably is. I can’t tell if his professed admiration for Yanni and Kenny G is real, but based on the rest of his bio, I’m guessing he’s being ironic. Oh, what a little scamp! They seem to be a little too clever for their own good, bordering on obnoxious.
First impression: They seem like a smarter version of the annoying Frat Boys, Dan and Andrew, from Season 13.
Prediction: Dan and Andrew were idiots yet somehow made it deep into the race; I think these guys can go even farther. Top 3.
Gary & Mallory: Team Beauty Queen
Bio: Sorry for the label Gary, but your daughter is the requisite beauty queen of the season. Mallory, 24, was Miss Kentucky 2009, and good lord, her bio reads like her onstage Q&A, all perfectly rehearsed and a little too perfect: “My dad’s my role model,” “I’d give my winnings to charity,” “My biggest pet peeve about my dad is that he’s too selfless.” Ugh, way too saccharine. Her dad, Gary, 53, is an entrepreneur and commercial pilot. He’s run at least 13 marathons and a half Ironman, so the dude’s in shape. They could be a force to be reckoned with. They’re both superfans of the show, and that could help in a pinch. She hunts, so may be a little grittier than some pageant girls of the past, but otherwise sounds pretty much like every beauty queen who’s come before.
First impression: Meh. They don’t wow me over.
Prediction: On paper, they sound impressive. But I don’t see them lasting past the middle of the race.
Jill & Thomas: Team Cliche
Bio: JIll, 27, and Thomas, 30, both of Marina del Ray, have been dating for four years. She’s a hair stylist and sounds like she wants to have her own “Eat, Pray, Love” experience. He’s a sports nut and a Notre Dame grad. He’s stubborn and she gets snappy. That’s about it — they sound kinda dull.
First impression: They seem potentially volatile, but in a boring, seen-it-before way. This type of couple is kinda a “TAR” cliche.
Prediction: They’re going to have a meltdown and won’t last past the fifth episode.
Katie & Rachel: Team Volleyball
Bio: They’re a pair of Jersey girls and beach volleyball players. Katie, 23, loves to travel and talks a lot. Katie isn’t very punctual and Rachel, 24, freaks out when she gets frustrated. Those qualities could spell doom. To their credit, they’re the first team of hot chicks in many seasons who aren’t all “We’re going to use our looks to our advantage.” They have experience as teammates (two years playing together), which can count for a lot. They’re super competitive and athletic, and seem confident and used to performing under pressure.
First impression: I like them more than I thought I would. They seem real and fairly down to earth. Sort of reminiscent of the Beauty Queens, Dustin & Kandice from Season 10.
Prediction: Top 3, and more than that, my early co-favorites to win.
Michael & Kevin: Team YouTube
Bio: Kevin is a YouTube sensation who has a million subscribers following his comedy exploits. He’s even gotten his dad, Michael, 58, to join him as a guest star. The Sugar Land, Texas, duo say they’ll use their brains to make up for a lack of brawn. Michael seems a little stiff — he’s not a fan of the foul language his son uses, and he doesn’t seem to have a competitive bone in his body. That could hurt. At 20, UC Davis student Kevin is the youngest “TAR” competitor ever. Lack of maturity sure didn’t hurt last season’s 20-year-old finalist Caite.
First impression: Kevin’s surprisingly less obnoxious than I thought he’d be. I like these two, they could be a lot of fun to watch, as long as Kevin doesn’t overdo it with self-promotion.
Prediction: Fun might not get them far, but far enough. Middle of the pack.
Nat & Kat: Team Dr. Seuss
Bio: Nat, 31 of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Kat, 35 of Santa Monica, are best friends and doctors. Nat likes scuba diving and skiing, but is terrified of heights. So naturally there’ll be a heights-related challenge somewhere along the line. They both seem well-traveled, which could be an advantage, but they also say they’re not good navigators, which could be very, very bad. They’ve worked together in the past and know how to work in stressful situations with very little sleep — that could really help when killer fatigue sets in. They want to play nice, which is sweet but not always the winning strategy.
First impression: They seem OK, but that I don’t see that competitive fire.
Prediction: They’ll go early.
Nick & Vicki: Team Tattoo
Bio: The 26-year-olds from Henderson, Nev., have been a couple for two years. They say they look scary and extreme but are really super nice and down to earth. He’s a bartender who loves pit bulls and motorcycles, and she’s a(nother!) hair stylist. She’s sick of people judging them by the way they look, but they’re covered in tattoos so I think they kinda like the attention.
First impression: Vicki seems to be obsessed with how people perceive her and her voice is too high-pitched. Kinda annoying. I like him, and I’m curious to see how that mohawk fares on the road. I can see these two growing on me.
Prediction: I think they’ll last a while. Top 5.
Ron & Tony: Team BFF
Bio: Best friends for 22 years, Ron’s a 45-year-old director/choreographer from Los Angeles who’s a Broadway veteran, and Tony, 42, is a former performer, now a doctoral student in Tucson, Ariz. Tony’s super competitive and Ron’s good at getting things done. They know the ins and outs of each others’ personalities, and they’re both well-traveled. All qualities that bode well.
First impression: They seem likable, pretty good-natured and good-humored.
Prediction: This is the type of team that historically does well. Top 3 and co-favorites.
So what do you think? Got any early favorites? Or least favorites?
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