Recap: The Amazing Race 1, Episode 1 – “The Race Begins”
Original Airdate: Wednesday, September 5, 2001
Phil Keoghan stands atop a New York City high rise introducing us to The Amazing Race. A brand-new show that sees teams of two everyday Americans with pre-existing relationships Race around the world for one million dollars.
The 11 teams include separated parents Frank & Margarita who are hoping to reconcile, recently engaged Paul & Amie, single teachers Kim & Leslie, dating and marriage-considering Lenny & Karyn, grandparents married 40 years David & Margaretta, Matt & Ana who met and married while serving in the military, life partners together for 14 years Joe & Bill aka Team Guido, working moms Pat & Brenda, best friends and attorneys Rob & Brennan, “conservative mother and adventurous daughter” Nancy & Emily and frat brothers and best friends Kevin & Drew.
Phil welcomes the 11 teams and explains the simple rules. Avoid elimination and reach the Finish Line first.
Telling teams the world is waiting for them, Phil signals “Go!” and the teams run to their bags and their first clue at the top of the stairs. That first clue tells teams to travel to Johannesburg, South Africa via one of three flights.
The teams scramble to figure out which airport they will be flying out of. Some teams hop into taxis while others take the subway. Paul suggests to Amie that they settle for the later flight so they can just take the subway and save money.
On the first flight via South African are Rob & Brennan, Joe & Bill, Pat & Brenda, Frank & Margarita and Lenny & Karyn?
Upon arrival in Johannesburg, teams must head to Lanseria Airport to sign-up for a charter flight to Livingstone, Zambia that leaves tomorrow morning. On that first charter flight are Joe & Bill, Frank & Margarita and Rob & Brennan. Frank is upset that this is now the second time the ‘goofy” Joe & Bill have beat them to a Route Marker.
On the second charter flight are Pat & Brenda and Lenny & Karyn. On the third are Kim & Leslie. And on the last flight are Paul & Amie, Nancy & Emily, Matt & Ana and Kevin & Drew.
At the Livingstone Airport, teams must choose a waiting vehicle to find their next clue. Teams have the option of hiring the driver or driving themselves to the Knife’s Edge at Victoria Fall for the next clue.
After a frenzied drive, teams reach the next clue telling them to find Batoka Gorge. The clue also contains a clue for the right to skip all tasks on the Leg by searching for the Fast Forward pass. To find the pass for this Leg, teams must hike down to the Boiling Pot.
David & Margaretta decide to go for the pass, but Rob & Brennan (who had been in the lead) have claimed the Fast Forward first. That pass allows them to go directly to the Pit Stop at Songwe Village. Before leaving, Rob & Brennan hand out flags to little children as impromptu diplomats for America.
Meanwhile, Joe & Bill and Frank & Margarita maintain their apparent leads at Batoka Gorge where they encounter the first Detour: Air or Land. In Air, teams will zipline and bungee to the bottom of the gorge. In Land, teams must walk to the bottom.
Joe & Bill are already jumping as Frank forces a tepid Margarita to do the same. After she does, Frank welcomes her back to solid ground with a hug and kiss.
All the other teams also jump, though Paul needs some convincing.
Over at Songwe Village, Rob & Brennan check-in at the Mat and claim 1st place. Joe & Bill, Frank & Margarita, Lenny & Karyn, Pat & Brenda, Kim & Leslie, Dave & Margaretta and Paul & Amie are teams 2 through 8 respectively. Kevin & Drew and Nancy & Emily are 9th and 10th.
While the other teams are already celebrating and having a good time with the local peoples, Matt & Ana arrive at the Mat. Phil emerges for the first time since the Starting Line to announce they are last and eliminated.
Well! This is the first time I rewatched the full episode in at least ten years. I actually popped the DVD in a couple of months ago and didn’t finish it. I think I actually dozed off while watching the episode.
It’s just so interesting to watch season one again. Especially after 31 other seasons have come and gone. There is such a stark difference in the way the Legs are designed and the episodes are edited. Kind of like the first season of American Big Brother is completely different once they changed the format the following year.
But for The Amazing Race, it was more working out the kinks moving forward.
Anyway, season one was much slower. Definitely took on the vibe of a travel documentary rather than a reality television competition. And at first, that’s what the show was being marketed as. Both TAR and NBC’s kinda similar Lost (premiering the same night) were all about the travel and adventure rather than fierce competition which reality TV competitions would become known for.
The Leg design here, compared to future seasons, is absolutely horrible. And the way the episode was edited really exacerbated that. You didn’t get a sense of time of where the teams were until Phil randomly updated the placements in the middle of the Leg. We don’t even know which teams made it to which flights. Obviously, one of the signature premiere episode elements.
The editing was also weird as they kept playing up the fact that Joe & Bill would randomly arrive before Frank & Margarita at every Route Marker. We wouldn’t see Team Guido at all and then *poof* they’re already there in the middle of the task.
The tasks themselves were pretty procedural. And again, this is looking at it from a 2021 lens. Back in 2001, seeing Americans bungee jumping in Batoka Gorge and running through the spray at Victoria Falls was truly AMAZING!
I remember rushing to show my parents and grandparents what was happening. I’d never seen anything like it on TV. And obviously, this first episode immediately hooked me since I would come back for episode two. (Two weeks later, but more on that when we talk about that episode.)
I think even without rewatching the episode, the one moment I would remember is Rob & Brennan going for the Fast Forward. With Dave & Margaretta going for it also, and of course not getting it. I’ll always remember this because Rob & Brennan, obviously the most fit team of any team this season, going for the Fast Forward on the very first Leg?! When they were in the lead?! Come on now.
Obviously, there was nothing for them to base their decision on. First episode of the entire franchise of course. But even funnier was Rob saying walking down to the Boiling Pot was the hardest thing he’s ever done. And David & Margaretta were right behind them. After 32 seasons, it’s still a wonder why they went for it.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how anyone else could’ve done that.”
Cut to Dave & Margaretta having just done it and then finishing the Leg in a reasonably good position too. Very funny.
It’s so weird to not see Phil checking in all teams at the Pit Stop. I think having him do that is one of the best decisions they made going into season two.
Also, at the Starting Line, the teams weren’t even set to sprint to their bags. They were just standing there before Phil tells them “Go!” Another thing fixed for future seasons.
And finally, watching the opening credits, it’s funny how they give the first half of teams significant time then rush through the last half of teams at the end. Phil’s narration will be iconic, but it’s good the show tweaked its opening credits also.
Overall, with a 2001 lens, this was a truly amazing episode. With my 2021 glasses on, it was slow, kind of boring and a relief that the show made the necessary changes moving forward.
My Subjective Team Rankings
My favorite team right off the bat is of course Dave & Margaretta. I always loved seeing the “older” teams on the Race. And while it’s sad they don’t cast many older teams anymore, it was great to always see them in earlier seasons. Even if they were cast for early boot fodder, sadly. Still, Dave & Margaretta were impressive this Leg especially with that whole Fast Forward situation. They were unlucky in not getting it before Rob & Brennan, but they showed they could hang with the rest of the teams. (The earlier flight helped too I assume.)
Nancy & Emily would be the template for all parent-child teams of the future. The conservative parent, the more outgoing child. And the clash of personalities. I forgot how much that dynamic already came out in this first Leg. And they definitely made one of the biggest first impressions here.
Rob & Brennan look like the stereotypical alpha male team. And they may soon prove that. But they were also just nice guys. They weren’t these cocky guys obsessed with their image or looks or wanting to stir up trouble. Them handing out American flags (and remember this is before September 11th) was actually an interesting contrast to the other teams who were definitely settling into that “Ugly American” stereotype. They might not be your favorite team, but you also can’t bring yourself to dislike them either.
Watching Frank & Margarita now, it’s actually kind of jarring. Frank is such a character. He can be a fun, energetic guy. But he can also be a bit abrasive sometimes. I did not remember that going in to this rewatch. Some of the moments with Margarita might feel a bit awkward. But honestly, back then, I don’t think many people batted an eye at his behavior. Not saying it’s on the level of other infamous hot-blooded boyfriend/husband teammates of the future. But you can definitely see the fascinating nature of their relationship. Especially when they are separated and wondering if they could reconcile.
Lenny & Karyn would be the template for every bickering couple in the future. But just watching them this episode, they came across as just a nice couple. You definitely would never expect what was to come from them this season.
Paul & Amie and Matt & Ana, however, gave us our first tastes of the bickering couple archetype. Both were very similar here. Though I think Matt & Ana would’ve been a bit more fiery and explosive had they survived this Leg. Paul & Amie’s big moments would come in later Legs, I remember. So they really did give us just a glimpse of what was to come from them too.
Kim & Leslie and Pat & Brenda were also similar types of teams. You wouldn’t see both of them on a season together in the future. They definitely fit the female team archetype that would emerge in other seasons as well. With Kim & Leslie, they were the young BFFs. With Pat & Brenda, the moms who wanted to go on an adventure.
Back in 2001, I hated Joe & Bill as soon as they emerged as these sneaky villains. No sign of that here yet. They just seemed like fun guys who annoyed Frank so much by actually Racing very well right off the bat. It will be interesting to see how they evolve into the personalities that they are best known for.
Kevin & Drew really fit the frat boy characters to a tee. The arguing, being upset. They admitted themselves that they were ugly Americans. And they couldn’t help themselves. Somehow, that was endearing in 2001. Obviously endearing enough to get them asked back for All-Stars. But it’s easy to see why they were well-liked back then.
Kim: “What concerns me the most is dying!”
Margarita: “Leon, you just might be our ticket out of the ghetto.”
Drew: “Here, Zambia. That’s where we are.”
Kevin: “That’s Namibia, jackass.”
Frank: “You’re gonna bungee jump your ass off right now girl.”
Amie: “Oh my God, I’m gonna kill you.”
Kim: “God, there are a lot of bugs in the jungle. Go figure.”
Paul: “I look like a big puss.”
Kevin: “Swing you fat bastard, swing!”