‘The Amazing Race 15’: 5 reasons you should get on this trip

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Entering its 15th season, the Emmy Award-winning ‘Amazing Race’ has probably already won you over with its combination of global thrills, interpersonal strife and eye-opening experiences. It’s proved itself to be both slickly produced and a paragon of class in a television category that’s more often than not devoid of either. So when a screener for the two-hour season premiere, which airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS, fell into my lap the other day, I quickly devoured it with the appetite of an obsessive devotee.

If you were on the fence about tuning in for another season of squabbling spouses and bickering best friends, here are five reasons why you must tune in Sunday. Starting line shocker: I jokingly called this twist during the opening seconds of the episode, but my jaw hit the floor when I saw that producers were willing to go through with my little wishful prediction. Within the first few minutes of the two-hour opener, the contestants are shown in no uncertain terms that this season of the ‘Race’ is serious business and that the stakes are higher than ever. It’s a major game-changer, and a first for ‘Amazing Race’ that speaks volumes about just how surprising this season has the potential to become.


Wasabi bombshell: One of the episode’s most hysterical sequences is the team’s first challenge, where they have to participate in a torturous Japanese game show segment called ‘Sushi Roulette.’ In front of a manic host and a deranged audience, the contestants must spin a gigantic wheel and eat various sushi before landing on a Japanese horseradish-stuffed “wasabi bomb,” which they must swallow within two minutes. Seeing the contestants deal with the searing heat of the wasabi and the howls of laughter from the amused audience (and the wacky on-screen graphics) is an experience you won’t soon forget. Or stop laughing from.

Scam artists: Not one but two teams attempt to pull off scams in the opening episode, with one team -- professional poker players Maria and Tiffany -- going so far as to pose as underpaid social workers who deal with homeless youth in order to throw off the scent of the other contestants. After all, there’s a long-standing stigma on the ‘Race’ against wealthy competitors, so either the poker-faced women are pulling off a major coup or they are going to quickly become despised by their fellow racers once they find out the truth about their financial status and champagne lifestyle. Still, turnabout is fair play, as Maria and Tiffany will find out, as gay brothers Sam and Dan pretend to be straight and flirt with the women in order to form an alliance. Who’s holding the cards now, ladies?

Underdogs aplenty: Every season needs a good underdog, and this season of ‘Amazing Race’ has more than one. There’s sexagenarian couple Ron and Marcy from San Francisco who happen to kick the asses of some of their younger competitors on the first leg of the race. This duo proves that fitness doesn’t know age; they’re into rock climbing, Kung Fu, archery, kickboxing and trapeze work. There’s also Gary and Matt, a mismatched father and son team from Montana who seem diametrically opposed: dad’s a hunter, son’s a gamer; dad’s gone gray, son has vivid pink hair. Plus, Matt was nearly killed when he was hit by a car and has gotten himself into shape again. ‘Amazing Race” does love a story about overcoming adversity. ... And then there’s best friends Zev and Justin from Los Angeles. Justin works for National Lampoon, and Zev has Asperger’s syndrome; despite their differences, these two have an unbreakable bond of friendship that was forged via Zev’s unexpected (and wicked) sense of humor. Look for this duo to face down some challenging odds and hopefully come out the other side even stronger.

You don’t want to see this Hulk angry: What season of ‘Amazing Race’ would be complete without a villain? This season, that role falls to overbearing self-described ‘street lawyer’ Lance, who is racing with his fiancée, finance manager Keri. Lane, whom one contestant calls a ‘meathead’ early on this season, has a hyper-aggressive manner and a decidedly lacking verbal filter that quickly put him at odds with his fellow racers ... and the audience at home. After all, there’s always one team that you want to see eliminated just for running the race with the wrong attitude, and this hulking testosterone factory fits the bill. But there’s a reason we love to hate these misguided villains, and Lance adds the necessary tension and drama to sustain the early rounds of the competition.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the exciting two-hour premiere, but hopefully your appetite has been whet for the further twists and turns this globe-spanning adventure has in store for the rest of the season. See you at the Pit Stop.

-- Jace Lacob