Today’s cuppa: Iced Newhall coffee, Patriot Blend

I live in Los Angeles, where a fixer-upper cottage in Venice can cost over a million dollars (OK, I know it’s over 2 million in the listing, but that was back in May), where the rent on a one-bedroom apartment on the Westside will get you a house with a yard and an above-ground pool in much of America, and builders have been throwing up half-million-dollar and up (and up and up) condos as if there was an endless supply of people making six-figure-plus incomes in search of starter homes.

Sadly, while L.A. is the poster child for the housing boom and bust, it’s not alone in this, and we have all now learned how far, deep and wide the effects of irresponsible mortgage lending and borrowing can be. Hope may temporarily drown out reality, but reality always has the last word.

Speaking of reality, today’s liveblog focuses on the winner and still champeeen reality-competition show, CBS’ "The Amazing Race," which launches its 13th season on Sunday, Sept. 28. They’ve handed out six Emmys in the category, all into the hot little hands of producing partners, spouses and new parents Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri.

(Click here for a link to a edited version of my syndicated feature story on the new season — complete with target moose — courtesy of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Click here for another version of the story, from the Brantford Expositor in Ontario, Canada, edited in a different way. Ah, the travails of a syndicated writer.)

So, as reality reasserts itself in the financial and housing worlds, perhaps it’s a good time to head out into the real world and be reminded that there are places where granite countertops and travertine tile are not considered necessities, where teams of two can spend a month living out of a backpack, making do along the way and overcoming challenges — all in search of a million-dollar prize that might come in very handy in the current financial climate.

And if home prices continue to fall, it might even buy the winners that Venice cottage with some to

WARNING: If you’re super-mega-clever or just a very good guesser, this could
possibly be considered spoiler-ish. So, if you fancy yourself either of
the above, run, do not walk, in the opposite direction.

We begin with, as ever, with America’s favorite Kiwi, the lovely and talented Phil Keoghan (that man can rock a sweater — or in this case, a snazzy black jacket — like nobody’s

Phil’s on a skyscraper rooftop in Los Angeles. Wonder what the mortgage is on that thing. Phil’s rockin’ the brown leather; the contestants are motoring in classic cars to the L.A. Coliseum.

And here we go:

Mother and son Toni and Dallas, who are not from Dallas, but instead from Woodside, Calif. (Maybe if they were from Dallas, she’d have named him Fresno.) They make sammiches together.

Siblings Nick (actor) and Starr (cheerleader) from New York and Texas. Gosh, they’re perky — and they always get what they want. Could they then want a huge government housing bailout for Galveston? Even the Kuwait Times is concerned.

Separated Ken (ex-NFL, ex-cheater) and Tina, from Tampa, Fla., and San Diego, Calif.

Long-distance sweethearts Aja and Ty, from Los Angeles and Southfield, Mich. How will they deal with constant togetherness?

Pink-as-all-get-out Southern Belles Marisa and Brooke from Columbia, S.C. The gal pals are "very classy," and make cupcakes.

Phoenix frat brothers Andrew and Dan, grippin’ those red plastic cups and eyein’ the honeys.

Daters Stephanie and Anthony from Los Angeles. He’s a mortgage broker. Boy, if he didn’t win this, bet he’s cranky now. She wants a ring. Good luck in this housing market.

Tie-dyed, hirsute-but-cute married beekeepers Anita and Arthur from Fall Creek, Oregon. The shirts are OK, but that Michael Jackson cap’s an iffy choice, there, Art. Art chops wood; they have black-and-white dogs.

Blue-on-blue Kelly and Christy, Texas pals helping each other through bad breakups. They’re both just 26.

Freshly minted daters Terence and Sarah from New York. She works on Wall Street. Yeepers. He’s a faux-hawked free spirit, she’s bespectacled and works her butt off.

San Diego comic-book geek pals Mark and Bill. Mark is the CFO of San Diego Comic-Con International. Don’t forget to book now for 2009! Seriously. Do it. They play chess.

I think there should be some Vegas odds-makers working out whether people who dress alike win more often than those who don’t. Just a suggestion.

You’re going around the world — but first you must run to the parking lot and try not to get lost on the way to LAX. (Hmmm, Coliseum,110 to the 10 to the 405, or the 110 to the 105? Number two would be my choice. Trust me, after getting to LAX from downtown, getting to Brazil will be the easy part.)

Oooh, Terence is taking surface streets. He’s a native.

Hah, exit to the 105! I was right.

Just so you know, I don’t plan to liveblog the boring highway and airport stuff (honestly, I’ve been known to fast-forward it all, and I may again). We’ll catch up with our intrepid travelers in Brazil.

Brasilia! Take a taxi through Salvador, find a sandwich shop. Pretty airport, nice new taxis. Go, Brazil! No, cheated-on Tina, they don’t speak Spanish in Brazil. Portuguese, my dear. Bet the tax driver heard that and now will go the long way.

Pretty city, but no sandwiches, just a clue for the geeks, who are wearing disturbing shades of orange. "Become a barista, old-school style." What is this, some kind of proto-Starbucks? Oh, you get to be a tippy cart vendor, which the geeks master in "a split second."

More with the Texas divorces and the matchy-matchy. Ooh, somebody speaks Portuguese? No, I’m not referring to Tina saying, "Yikey, schmikey." Oh, the carts are so cute, they have tiny big rigs on the front of them, so it’s sort of like Cobblestone Street Truckers. Somebody wins and has a very good accent.

Starr gives huggies to the guy at the finish. Very nice, Starr. but Sarah plants one on the hot soldier.

Divorcees are confused. Mom and son are in red and lack sleeves. The frat guys and the beekeepers are stuffed in cabs. Pink Belles are worried about being in an unfamiliar airport in a foreign country. Um, what part of the briefing did you miss?

Stephanie of the L.A. Daters voices over about wanting money to get married and have kids. Did I mention that Anthony’s a mortgage broker?

Baristas, round two, much like round one.

Baristas round three, mother and son lose it in the street. The frat guys don’t hug the guy who gives the clue. He looks glad about that.

Go, go, go! Go, go, go! (Yeah, that always makes them go faster. Works about as well as "Stop, thief!")

Time for a nighttime picnic in the woods, and one of the girls starts macking on Dallas. Sarah yakks up the other teams, making Terence feel all alone. Poor Terence.

A bug! Dirty shoes! Eyebrow pencil!

More taxis, to a pretty church in a pretty square. There are places I may never want to visit after seeing them on this show, but so far Brazil is not one of them.

"You said go a million times." State the obvious, much?

Sarah regrets making the nice with Nick and Starr. Terence is antisocial. Poor Terence. Poor Sarah. Terence whines because Sarah runs faster. Did I mention that, along with being a faux-hawked free spirit, Terence is a running coach? Way to advertise the old fitness, there, Terence. Be nice, dude, she speaks Portuguese.

Pilgrimage up stairs on your knees, or climb 240 feet down a cargo net from an outdoor elevator. You decide.

Oops, Terence and Sarah. Down is popular for the moment. For heaven’s sake, don’t stand under the net without an umbrella, that’s all I have to say.

Terence and Sarah start over. They’re "spazzing." How do you say "no kidding" in Portuguese?

Pit stop at the battlement — no pirates allowed.

They’re at the docks! They go to the docks in reality shows, too. Can a warehouse be far behind?

Phil welcomes team number one, and they win a romantic trip. Not sure if a romantic trip is appropriate
here. Hi, Travelocity gnome!
(I held one at "Amazing Race" HQ. Pretty cute — and kinda heavy.)

Sarah shows off that fancy accent again.

The second wave arrives — and down is still more popular…except with the frat boys.

Geeks rejoice; frats climb;, drummers drumming; watchers watching, Spider-women descending; drummers drumming; climbing, ripping, drumming; Pinks may pee; drumming; happy mom; sad frats.

Beekeepers hold hands. Sweet.

Frats go for two; Phil makes blues happy; down, down, don’t look down; long silver hair blowin’ in the wind; more drumming, more ripping, more beekeeper love; Pinks didn’t pee; it’s an elimination round!

Up, kiss, down, drum, up…how many? Yes!

Applause! Slurp, run, taxi; puzzled Pinks realize this isn’t America (again, what part of the briefing did you miss?). Back to the docks; Phil double-teams it.

Trudge; cross; cross the water; run, trudge; tired but happy.

We’re here! But, you’ve been Philiminated! Phil has the sad face on, but it’s OK. Awww.

Next week…geeks want charity, and an alliance goes pear-shaped. "They didn’t even say hi to us!"

Posted by:Kate O'Hare