Season 24: Episode 1 - Back in the Saddle
Posted on Feb 24, 2014 11:40am


After a shocking start line where Mallory replaced Bopper as Mark’s Kentucky partner, cowboys Jet & Cord won the leg and two Express Passes in Guangzhou, China while twins Natalie & Nadiya were eliminated.


Stepping in perfect formation to the percussive beats of the drums section with brass horns blaring out the Amazing Race theme song, the world famous UCLA marching band greeted eleven of the most memorable all-star teams returning for a chance to rewrite their race history as they ran onto a football field in Southern California. Cowboys Jet & Cord, Harlem Globetrotters Flight Time & Big Easy, and mother and son Margie & Luke all hoped the third time would be the charm. Also hoping for a better result this time included father and son Dave & Connor (Dave tore his Achilles tendon on his last race), country singers Caroline & Jennifer, cousins Leo & Jamal (aka the Afghanimals), YouTube hosts Joey & Meghan, twins Natalie & Nadiya, newlyweds Brendon & Rachel, and the now engaged couple Jessica & John who famously chose not to use their Express Pass and were eliminated because of it. Oy vey.


At the starting line, those ten teams gasped with shock and concern when Phil made an announcement regarding the eleventh team, Kentucky friends Bopper & Mark. The previous night Bopper had to make an emergency visit with the Race doctor because of a pancreas attack that started the day before he arrived in Los Angeles. As the doctor performed his examination Bopper remained confident he would receive a clean bill of health to race. But the news wasn’t good. With best friend Mark sitting next to him, Bopper listened as Phil and the race doctor told him he was not healthy enough to race. Shocked, Bopper said, “This is devastating to me and my family.” The doctor further explained that Bopper had an inflamed pancreas that could become a problem and even be fatal if the condition worsened. In tears, Mark didn’t believe Phil when he told him there was still some good news in this incredibly sad moment. Because Mark was in good health he could still run the race with a new partner chosen for him. Phil told a still emotional Mark, “You would be doing it for Bopper.” After giving Mark his blessing to keep racing, Bopper added, “I would not ask you to take something from your family.” With tears streaming down his face, Mark told Phil, “I’ll do it, but this is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.”


Back on the starting line, Phil announced a new partner for Mark, someone also from Kentucky: Mallory. The pint sized blonde bundle of energy ran onto the football field as she later commented, “I couldn’t leave Mark on the starting line. We’re gonna make our state proud and Kentucky we got each other’s back.” After a hug between Bopper, Mark, and Mallory, a tearful Bopper gave an equally emotional Mallory his daughter’s bandanna she signed for her dad, telling Mallory, “I want you to wear it for her.” With more hugs goodbye from Brendon & Rachel, Bopper said of the new Team Kentucky, “I couldn’t have put him [Mark] in better hands. I think they’re going to do great.”


With the eleven teams now set, Phil revealed their first destination: Guangzhou, China. As always, the team that wins the first leg will receive two Express Passes, one for themselves and one they had to give to another team before the end of the fifth leg. To win seats on the first flight to Guangzhou, teams had to search for the Chinese symbol representing the city hidden on some of UCLA band members’ hat. When they found the symbol, they needed to bring the band member to Phil to receive their ticket on a flight. Then, they would get into a Ford Fusion Energi and drive to LAX where they would plug in the hybrid before catching their flight. With the world waiting for teams once again, Phil signaled the start of the race that sent the 22 racers sprinting onto the football field where the UCLA band marched in formation. After taking a moment to study the Chinese symbol for Guangzhou on the hats of the drum majors for reference, teams ran down the rows and rows of band members who acted as moving targets marching and turning away from the racers in their formation on the field. Cousins Leo & Jamal and cowboys Jet & Cord found the first two band members with the correct symbol and earned tickets on the early flight when they presented them to Phil. Father and son Dave & Connor found the third band member meaning only one set of tickets for the first flight remained. Twins Natalie & Nadiya and engaged couple Jessica & John both found a correct band member within moments of each other, but the twinnies won the race to Phil to snag the last seats on the first flight as Jessica & John settled for the second flight with the other six teams.


While every team had to adjust to being back on the race, Mark & Mallory had the added task of learning how to work together to form a new Team Kentucky. Mallory commented, “It’s really tough traveling anywhere with someone that you don’t know as well…I didn’t even know his last name.” Mark added, “We gotta get to knowing each other’s weaknesses and strengths. Whatever we got to do for Bopper is what we’re gonna do.” Of course, Mark still missed Bopper, but he got some comfort and cheering up from the twinnies and newlyweds Brendon & Rachel at the airport. Mark told the teams, “It’s gonna kill me when we go to China and he’s not there.”


Landing in Guangzhou, teams had the option of taking a taxi or the metro to the street of wedding dresses which boasts the largest collection of bridal gowns in South China. While Dave & Connor, Natalie & Nadiya, and Leo & Jamal all took taxis, cowboys Jet & Cord played the lone rangers by jumping on the metro alone. The subway decision paid off for the cowboys who arrived in Guangzhou’s wedding district in first place. Now, they had to search among hundreds of dress shops to find one of three stores (The Precious One, Silver Gorgeous, Rich Forest & Beauty) each containing a limited number of clues. Just as the other three teams arrived in the district, the cowboys found a local who directed them into an alley that led to the Silver Gorgeous wedding shop where the owner handed them their clue, a clear plastic bubble. They had to figure out they needed to travel to Canton Tower, the tallest tower in China and home to the world’s highest Ferris wheel. Teams would find their next clue in one of bubbles that circled the rooftop.


With father and son Dave & Connor finding Rich Forest & Beauty dress shop in second place, twins Natalie & Nadiya and cousins Leo & Jamal thought joining forces in their search would help but it only made matters worse. The two teams ran around unable to find anyone who could direct them to one of the three stores, and became increasingly less focused as time slipped away. The twins called the Afghanimals “a hot mess, worse than us.” Their frustration and concern only heightened when teams from the second flight began to appear in the wedding district, prompting Nadiya to wonder, “How long have we been running in the streets?” Unbeknownst to the twins and Afghanimals, newlyweds Brendon & Rachel, Team Kentucky Mark & Mallory, Harlem Globetrotters Flight Time & Big Easy and mother and son Margie & Luke all swooped into the district and found a store quickly leaving Jessica & John, Caroline & Jennifer, and Joey & Meghan to battle it out for last place with Natalie & Nadiya and Leo & Jamal. Calling their situation with the Afghanimals “a train wreck” [The two teams walked right past one of the stores at one point], the twinnies decided to ditch them when country singers Caroline & Jennifer wanted to find an English speaking local. Seeing the twinnies and country singers walk away together, Leo & Jamal didn’t even care because they finally found a local who quietly led them straight to Silver Gorgeous wedding dress shop, landing them in seventh place. After briefly connecting with Jessica & John and Joey & Meghan in the hunt for a dress shop, the twinnies once again made the decision to break away with Caroline & Jennifer leading nowhere while the engaged couple and YouTube hosts found the Silver Gorgeous shop. Sensing the situation spinning out of control, Caroline suggested, “I don’t feel like we have a plan. We need help.”


When Caroline & Jennifer and Natalie & Nadiya realized they were the only teams remaining in the wedding district, panic and frustration set in. One twinny exclaimed, “I’m going to take one of these dresses and strangle myself.” A disappointed Caroline added, “It’s over now. I feel like I’m in a nightmare.” Finally, the twins found a man who knew the location of all three shops as Natalie asked, “Where was this guy hours ago?” The local led the two teams to the Silver Gorgeous shop, but all the clues were already gone. The same happened at Rich Forest & Beauty shop. Finally, at the Precious One, the twinnies and country singers finally found their plastic bubble clue and had a lot of ground to make up.


At the Canton Tower, cowboys Jet & Cord took an elevator to the top of the 1,968-foot building and marveled when they walked onto the rooftop where the bubble cars of the ferris wheel slowly circled the circumference. Cord joked, “If you fall from this far, a bubble ain’t gonna save ya.” Figuring their clue would be inside one of the large orange bubble cars, the cowboys chose number 15 and stepped inside. After briefly enjoying a full 360 degree view of the city, Jet noticed a clue attached to the door when it slid closed to begin their ride on the ferris wheel. However, lifting up the clue, it said Try Again. Immediately, the annoyed cowboys realized they would have to slowly circle the entire rooftop before getting out and selecting a different bubble car. A cheery Cord told his brother, “Might as well enjoy the ride, man!” Still with no other teams appearing at the tower, Jet & Cord completed their ride in bubble car 15, exited, and entered the next available one, number 16. This time, when Jet lifted up the clue, he and Cord cheered when they saw instructions to search for their next clue at the stadium on the river below (Xaixinsha Stadium). As they waited for their second ferris wheel ride to end, Jet & Cord were shocked when Margie & Luke and Brendon & Rachel [second flight teams] arrived along with Dave & Connor and Mark & Mallory. Cord exclaimed, “Talk about a flip!” In their bubbles, Brendon & Rachel had an actual clue for the stadium while Margie & Luke, Dave & Connor and Mark & Mallory all had to try again. Trying to lighten the mood, Dave joked, “Our bubble just burst.” Noticing that the teams in bubbles on either side of them didn’t seem to react like they had a clue and remembering Jet & Cord being in bubble 16, Rachel correctly pieced together that teams would only find actual clues in the even numbered bubbles. Exiting the bubble in hot pursuit of the cowboys who departed minutes earlier, Rachel shouted to Brendon, “We can totally win this Express Pass!”


While the Afghanimals luckily selected an even number bubble on their first try, Mark & Mallory, along with Dave & Connor, chose wisely their second try by entering bubbles that had been occupied by teams they knew got their clue. Seeing the Globetrotters (clue on the 1st try), Jessica & John (also got a clue), and Joey & Meghan (try again) all entering bubbles, Mallory became nervous about the race tightening up so she started to question Mark’s logical assessment of which stadium (the only one in eyeshot below them along the river) they needed to travel to for their clue. Mallory insisted, “I just want to make sure to be sure. We gotta second guess it.” Mark replied, “No we don’t. I see it plain as day.” Mark later added that trusting each other’s decisions wouldn’t happen right off the bat until they got to know each other better.


Finally arriving at Canton Tower in last place just behind country singers Caroline & Jennifer, who walked into an even numbered bubble, Nadiya wanted to pause for a moment to make sure no mistakes were made, but Natalie insisted that bubble choice didn’t matter so the twins took the next one available. When Natalie then lifted the clue to see Try Again, Nadiya snapped, “I told you! You’re such a fool…idiot.” The bickering between the twins worsened when Natalie turned the tables accusing Nadiya of not giving her a warning about getting in the bubble. Nadiya fought back, correctly asserting that she questioned how to choose a bubble and wanted to make sure before stepping inside. The twins did agree on one thing: “This is the worst day.”


Arriving at the awe-inspiring Xaixinsha Stadium that hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Asian Games, cowboys Jet & Cord ripped open their clue to find a Roadblock. In it, one team member had to perform five high-wire flips as they traveled 300 feet to the top of the stadium. After putting on a bright yellow and pink jumpsuit (with fringe on the arms resembling flames) that complemented his red hair, Cord ran to the demonstration and watched a professional spin mere feet off the ground in a harness to understand the task he was about to undertake. Taking an elevator to a platform 300 feet above the ground, Cord joked to the operator, “You guys have something about heights in this town.” While not excited at the prospect of spinning so far above the ground connected only to two thin wires, Cord knew he had no choice if he and Jet wanted to win the Express Passes. After getting raised by the wires above the platform, Cord began to spin as the wires took him even further into the air. By the time the cowboy reached his pinnacle he completed his fifth backward revolution to complete the Roadblock and shouted, “I’m ready to get back down!”


Retuning back to solid ground, Cord opened up the next clue with Jet instructing the cowboys to find the next Pit Stop on foot at Guangzhou Opera House. With Brendon only starting his spinning in second place, the cowboys easily sprinted to the opera house where they claimed first place and the two Express Passes. While happy to win the Express Pass for his team, Jet voiced some concern about giving the other one away and joked he would tell teams he left the decision up to Cord. Cord quickly replied, “Don’t do that.”


With Brendon & Rachel finishing the day second, Dave & Connor third, and Margie & Luke fourth after fifty-something Margie triumphed at the Roadblock, Natalie & Nadiya watched all the teams leave the Canton Tower rooftop except YouTube hosts Joey & Meghan who correctly chose their second bubble, one that Caroline & Jennifer took before them. Now back at the beginning, the twinnies exited their wrong bubble still unsure of how to find a correct one. They knew the Globetrotters found a clue in bubble 12, but they also suspected all even bubbles had one, but the twinnies didn’t know for sure because they didn’t pay attention when other teams exited their bubbles. Now standing on the platform as bubbles slowly passed them, Nadiya wanted to play it safe until bubble 12 pulled up, but Natalie countered, “Just wait 25 minutes more? We’re gonna be out!” Natalie started to step into bubble 2, but Nadiya hesitated forcing an increasingly frustrated Natalie to step back out, yelling, “You’re an idiot!” When Natalie pointed out that Joey & Meghan were already halfway through their second ride, Nadiya relented and took the risk with Natalie by entering bubble 4. Seeing the clue inside, a vindicated Natalie exclaimed, “We should’ve gone in 2 from the first place,” but Nadiya simply told her to shut up. Finishing the leg in sixth place behind Leo & Jamal and just ahead of Flight Time & Big Easy, Team Kentucky Mark & Mallory clapped at their solid performance together after such a turbulent and emotional beginning. Mark told Phil, “We’re trying our best for Bopper.” Mallory added, “Even though this is hard and we feel like we have other teammates that we can’t let down, it’s still about two people trying to make it around the world. It’s gonna be great.”


With Jessica & John and Caroline & Jennifer taking eighth and ninth place, Joey & Meghan arrived at Xaixinsha Stadium just ahead of twins Natalie & Nadiya. As impending elimination loomed just ahead, Joey stepped up to try and keep Team Youtube in the race. Running to get harnessed for his spins atop the stadium, Joey squealed over his costume, “Look I’m a dragon!” His excitement soon turned to panic and terror, gripping the wires as he rose into the air. Starting to make his revolutions just as Natalie rode the elevator to the platform, Joey maintained his composure just enough to finish five turns and descend back to the ground. On the mat in tenth place, he and Meghan cheered wildly at surviving to race another day. Watching Natalie perform the Roadblock, Nadiya graded their performance for the leg by saying, “We just sucked today. We did terrible.” After being eliminated by Phil at the Pit Stop, Natalie told him, “I can’t even look at you.” Nadiya added, “The worst day to have a bad day for us. We’re twins for God’s sake. We can work together so well and today we just tore each other apart. Why can’t we just get it together?”


Roadblock: A Roadblock is a task that only one team member can perform. In this Roadblock, that person had to perform five high-wire flips as they traveled 300 feet to the top of the stadium. Performed Roadblock: Cord, Brendon, Margie, Connor, Leo, Flight Time, Mallory, Jennifer, John, Joey, Natalie

Order of Finish: 1. Jet & Cord 2. Brendon & Rachel 3. Dave & Connor 4. Margie & Luke 5. Leo & Jamal 6. Mark & Mallory 7. Flight Time & Big Easy 8. Jessica & John 9. Caroline & Jennifer 10. Joey & Meghan 11. Natalie & Nadiya