Phil leads the teams on bicycles to the starting line in California Wine Country. They are “married clowns” Dave and Cherie, dirt-poor Kentuckians Bopper and Mark; golfing sisters Misa and Maiya; Brendon and Rachel, whom I’ve already been hating for a year and a half on Big Brother but who are already getting a head start on earning the enmity of a whole new audience; proud self-described Guidos Joey “Fitness” (seriously) and Danny; Feds Nary (not a typo) and Jamie; Army couple Rachel and Dave; twins Elliot and Andrew, who are considerate enough to have different hair for once; southern cousins Kerri and Stacy; dating couple and mutual home-wreckers Vanessa and Ralph; and border patrol agents Art and J.J.
The racers start out by searching for clues hanging from balloons, which tell them to fly to Santa Barbara (that’s Santa Barbara, Argentina, according to the lengthy instructions provided by Phil on the video screen of the product-placed cars they drive to LAX). Misa and Maiya take almost two hours finding their clue, but everyone makes it to Salta, Argentina via Buenos Aires, from whence they must drive into the small town of Santa Barbara. The teams are soon spread out by being on separate flights hours apart, and last-place Cherie quickly gives me the first opportunity to make a “sad clown” joke.
The front of the pack soon arrives at a regional airport, where a Road Block switcheroo requires one racer from each team to find their partner — who will be tandem-jumping out of an airplane. As it turns out, the finding isn’t hard at all, because everyone lands in the same spot. Art and JJ leave that task in the lead, with the two Rachel teams close behind. Then the teams have to go to a plaza to make ten dozen empanadas, in just the right way. In the back of the pack, Maiya drives her car off the road in the wrong spot and gets stuck in the sand, Joey Fitness demonstrates that he’s unfit to drive stick, and Stacy is this season’s first idiot who doesn’t realize that The Amazing Race tends to have altitude-based challenges. But of course all of these subplots reach inspirational conclusions.