It's a new season of "The Amazing Race" and stagecoaches are racing through an old Western movie ranch -- a photogenic ghost town in Newhall -- to deliver 11 teams to the starting line.
Among them: NFL teammates Chester and Ephraim; exes Tim and Marie, the drama magnets who don't get along; theater performers Rowan and Shane, currently starring in "The Queen of Bingo" as bingo queens; and Leo and Jamal, the self-styled Afghanimals.
Also Ice rink girls Ally and Ashley, who like "sparkly things"; married ER docs Nicole and Travis (I'm calling front-runner right now); doctor-dad Hoskote, who wants to set up an arranged marriage for his horrified daughter, Naina; oil plant workers Tim and Danny; bearded besties Brandon and Adam, from Chico; major league baseball wives Nicky and Kim; and dating couple Jason and Amy. He runs a snowplow biz, she graduated from high school at 16, got her bachelor's degree three years later, then snagged two master's degrees.
They're all headed for South America's coastline and their first clue lies in the product placement cars, where they can dial Javier in Iquique, Chile.
Seven teams make it on the first flight; the rest -- including the bearded besties and the oil workers, who say they're already "having language barriers in LA," are on the second flight.
The Road Block
In Chile, one member of each team will be paragliding, while his partner follows by cab. Nicole discusses the route with her taxi driver -- her Spanish is really impressive, especially when we watch NFL Ephraim miming instructions. Bingo-playing actor Rowan dons the paragliding harness, saying, "I'll drop like a prom dress."
And we catch the first big mistake of an error-prone race: A handful of racers -- including Nicky and Jamal -- have let their taxis go. They have to call for new cabs.
Meanwhile, the first three teams -- the bingo guys, NFL and ER docs -- have landed and are headed for Muelle Prat on the waterfront. The next challenge: The paragliders must row a heavy boat into the harbor and collect five fish from three specific crafts out of hundreds of possibilities. And the fish supply is limited.
"My name's not Rowan for nothin'," Rowan says, lifting his oars.
Pit Stop #1: The Express Pass
This first episode is moving at a brisk, error-filled pace. Once the fish task is complete, teams will head to the first pit stop at Teatro Municipal. The first to arrive will collect two Express Passes. The ER docs are the first to arrive, but they came by cab, not on foot.
"What's the first rule of Amazing Race?" Phil asks them.
"Ahh, read the clue!" they chorus. They've incurred a 30 minute penalty.
Back at the boats, the girls tell Leo that he didn't read the clue. He was supposed to have done the rowing task. He starts screaming for Jamal to come back.
Back at the mat, the exes collect the double passes. "See?" Marie says. "The nagging and yelling worked!"
The docs are in second place and the actors take third, shrieking, of course, "Bingo!" The NFL duo is fourth, followed by the baseball wives, ice girls, Afghanimals, the happily dating couple and oil workers. It's a race between the last pair, the bearded besties and the father-daughter team, who finally read the clue when it's too late. Hoskote and a tearful Naina are out -- and this many major mistakes in one episode must be some kind of Amazing record.
Next time: Breaking rocks, lots of bikinis and plenty of angst.