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Scott D. Pierce: 'The Amazing Race' revs up once again

Jordan Lloyd, Jeff Schroeder
Jordan Lloyd, Jeff Schroeder
Monty Brinton, CBS

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. The 16th season of TV's best reality show is about to get under way.

Yes, it's the season premiere of "The Amazing Race" (Sunday, 7 p.m., Ch. 2). And Season 16 gets off to a promising start.

If you've never watched the show, the concept is actually quite simple. Eleven two-person teams race from country to country, where they have to complete a variety of tasks as they try to reach each episode's pit stop first.

With the exception of a couple of non-elimination rounds, the team that gets there last is eliminated. And the team that reaches the final pit stop first wins $1 million.

That brief description doesn't do the show justice, however. It's part travelogue, part competition, part psychological drama.

The teams travel to some pretty spectacular locations and do some pretty cool things. In Sunday's premiere, they're off to Chile. And they're performing a bit of a high-wire act.

A key element in the show is the casting. There are, as always, people to root for and people to root against.

There are a few somewhat familiar faces this season. "Newly dating couple" Jordan Lloyd and Jeff Schroeder met on last summer's edition of "Big Brother." (She won; he won fan favorite.)

And Caite Upton — half of the "dating models" team — is the former Miss Teen South Carolina who became an Internet sensation in 2007 with her nonsensical answer to a question about why many Americans can't locate the United States on a world map.

("I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as …)

She tells viewers she's trying to redeem herself on the "Race," but, uh, she'll have to do better than she does on the premiere and such.

But then she does seem smarter than Lloyd, who asks for tickets to China when she really wants to fly to Chile.

As the race gets going, some of the contestants crack under the pressure. Or just do dumb things.

Actually, there are several dumb things done in the first episode. You'd think people would know enough to actually read the instructions they're given, wouldn't you?

And there's no way to predict that somebody would be dumb enough to change their American dollars for Brazilian currency to use in Chile.


The good news is that "Amazing Race" is just as entertaining as ever.

A 'BIG' SEASON: I hope that the creator/executive producer of "Mad Men" is watching "Big Love" this season. Because Matthew Weiner could learn a thing or two.

There's been more action and plot in a single episode of "Big Love" than in the entire third season of "Mad Men." And that continues on Sunday (10 p.m., HBO), when there are so many "Whoa!" moments you'll lose count.

I don't want to give too much away, but there are major developments involving all of the major characters — and a bunch of the minor characters, too.

"Big Love" is having what can only be called an outstanding season. Having established its characters in the previous 34 episodes, executive producers Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen and their team have been burning through plot at a remarkable rate. And yet it doesn't seem rushed or forced.

As opposed to "Mad Men," which burned through astonishingly little plot and then ended its season with an episode that seemed both rushed and forced.

Not that "Big Love" is perfect. One of this season's major plot lines is about Bill Hendrickson's (Bill Paxton) run for the Utah state Senate. And, for anyone who lives here, the size and scope of the campaign is, well, laughable.

And, of course, if you've been offended by "Big Love" in the past, you'll continue to be offended this season.

But this is fictional drama about a family of polygamists. And far more often than not, it rings true. Even when we wish it wouldn't.

And stuff actually happens in every episode.