It's a new season of "Amazing Race" and the all-star cast includes some fan faves -- hello, Oklahoma cowboys and Harlem Globetrotters. It also includes a whole lot of hot messes, so you'll be delighted by who gets Phil-iminated tonight.
But first, UCLA's marching band has a little treat for us, as they come marching across the Bruins' football field, playing the brassy "Amazing Race" theme song and sporting Chinese characters on their elaborate hats. In a moment, those poor trombonists and drummers are going to be attacked: Eleven teams are heading for China and a double-express pass win, Phil tells us, but they can't leave until they've found band members with the correct characters on their hats. (By the way, the word "hats" will not stop country singers Caroline and Jennifer from lifting musicians' capes to see if any words are lurking there.)
But before Phil turns the racers loose, he has distressing news. Kentucky buddies Bopper and Mark were supposed to run this race but Bopper has been sidelined with an inflamed pancreas. Mark has been given a chance to run the race for the two of them, with a little help from a fellow Kentuckian, Mallory -- the perky blond who ran the race a couple of seasons ago with her dad. It's an emotional moment. Mark weeps. Rachel -- of team Brenchel -- does too.
Then we're off. Cowboys Jet and Cord are the first off the field, followed by the Afghanimals, Leo and Jamal; father-son cancer survivors Dave and Connor (Dave was sidelined by a ruptured Achilles tendon during their season); and the shrill Sri Lankan twinnies, Natalie and Nadiya. All four teams will be on the first flight to Guangzhou, China.
The bridal district
It's a lead that only benefits the cowboys and dad-and-lad, who knock out the first task swiftly. The Afghanimals and the twinnies team up in their search for clues at three shops with awesome names -- Silver Gorgeous -- on the Street of Wedding Dresses. First the unfabulous foursome walks up to the right dress shop and decides they're in the wrong place. Then they go into the wrong place, decide it's the right one and start randomly pawing wedding gowns.
Meanwhile the cowboys are heading for a building in the garden zone "with bubbles on top." It's the impossibly high Canton Tower, which has a Ferris wheel -- "bubbles" -- on the slanted roof. Board a bubble, read a clue (which says "Try again") taped to the door, board another bubble and repeat. The cowboys watch with incredulous delight as Brenchel, Margie and Luke from the second flight -- not the first -- head into a bubble and start looking for the clue outside in the cityscape.
Soon the cowboys are headed for Haixinsha Stadium, where Cord dons a colorful little onesie and heads up the tower to do five high-wire flips.
"Those were your colors," Jet tells him. "They matched my hair," Cord says.
Brendan -- from Team Brenchel -- heads up too with a wry comment about having "the world's biggest wedgie."
Back on bridal row, the twinnies have become even more whiningly, nasally insufferable than ever before. Things do not improve when they arrive at the tower, where they begin shrieking recriminations over bubble choices. Other teams watch from their bubble cars, first amused, then horrified at the meltdown.
The pit stop
Meanwhile Phil awaits at the Guangzhou Opera House, the pit stop for this leg of the race, and suddenly all is right with the world.
In first place -- with an express pass for themselves and a second one to share -- are the cowboys. Dad-and-lad Dave and Connor are team two, followed by Brenchel, Margie and Luke, the Afghanimals, Mark and Mallory, Globetrotters Flight Time and Big Easy, and engaged couple Jessica and John in eighth place. John, you may remember, is the obstinate guy whose incredible refusal to "waste" the express pass during their season cost them the race.
"I'm kind of happy we don't have the express passes this time around," Jessica says, "because we don't have to worry about using them." Nice. One. John glares at her.
The country singers come in ninth place and Joey and Meghan squeak out at No. 10 -- and the twinnies are headed back home.