I'd say they did exactly that.
Pretty much everything delivered. The route was amazing, with some repeated countries like the Netherlands, Italy, India, and Japan being visited, as well as five brand-new countries like Ireland, Burkina Faso, Lithuania, Croatia, and Taiwan getting their first visits. Pretty good roster of new countries for being the twelfth season of the show.
Also good was the tasks. The premiere's tasks were sort of lame, with the only real tasks being the tandem bikes, the high-wire bike, and the donkeys, but hey. The latter task had some hilarity with two of the more hateful teams of the race. There were also the Hoist It/Hunt It Detour in the Netherlands, the ditch-vaulting Roadblock in that same country, the camel-milking Roadblock in Burkina Faso, the Teach It/Learn It Detour in that country, the Shake Your Pan/Shake Your Boot Detour, the Count Down/Step Up Detour in Lithuania, pretty much every task in Croatia, the Invention/Tradition Detour in Italy, the tattoo Fast Forward there, the acrobatic car Roadblock in Taiwan, and the killer final Roadblock in Alaska. Plus, some others I might've forgotten.
Naturally, what made this season really great was the cast. There were some really great, likable teams, as well as some not-so-likable ones that were at least interesting. Obviously, Kate & Pat, the first lesbian team (who were also ministers!), fall under the former category, as do Azaria & Hendekea, Kynt & Vyxsin (the Goths, who were much better this time than they would be six seasons later), Nicolas & Donald, Ronald & Christina (they were polarizing, for sure, mainly due to Ronald, but by the end, he'd definitely mellowed out), and, of course, eventual winners T.K. & Rachel. The latter three teams gave us perhaps our first truly likable, memorable F3, where anyone winning would've been a great sight to see! (Of course, then, we got the least exciting winners of the three, but at least they were likable.) Lorena & Jason and Shana & Jennifer obviously fall under the latter category, as they weren't really likable, per se, but both teams definitely invited some interest.
The tension was high in every episode. My interest, personally, was held as I actually wondered who'd win and lose each leg, each week. The only boring, anticlimactic leg (at least in terms of the losers of said leg) was the Japan leg.
This season also did away with the Yield and introduced the much better U-Turn, which sends teams back to complete the Detour they did not previously complete. Of course, this delay mechanism had its problems, but at least it'd be corrected five seasons later (but that's for a thread to be started five weeks later). Its first use went swimmingly for the team who used it, but the next team to do it stupidly wasted it. . . .
This season also introduced the NEL penalty known as the Speed Bump. Since its introduction, there've been good ones and bad ones. The one Kynt & Vyxsin had to do, the yoga one, obviously falls under the former category, while T.K. & Rachel's run through fireworks obviously falls under the latter category since it was too quick and easy.
Are there flaws? Well, yes. Some of them were in the casting. Ari & Staella were a truly dreadful team to watch (mainly due to Ari -- I don't think Staella had much time to really show herself as likable or not), so it was kind of fun that they got paid back with karma for stealing Ronald & Christina's cab by getting that ornery donkey that took them out right on the first leg. Marianna & Julia, while not bad, were non-entities until their early boot in Burkina Faso. And of course, there's Nathan & Jennifer, the couple on the race to fix their issues with cheating (he cheated on her, to remind you). They certainly kept things interesting, but it was still so much fun to see them just miss the F3.
Also, here's where the editing patterns changed dramatically. After eleven seasons of focusing on everyone as evenly as possible, this season introduced the pattern of only focusing on the longer-lasting teams and shafting the earlier-booted ones. Early-ousted teams like Kate & Pat and Marianna & Julia got little airtime, while the entire F6 (perhaps F7!) got the bulk of it. The story edits also started making some teams' portrayals more about one member than the other (this season, Nathan & Jennifer were one such team, with Jennifer getting nearly all the confessionals, team or individual, and Nathan only being confined to team confessionals). Also, it started heavily foreshadowing the eliminated team in each episode way too strongly. It'd started doing that perhaps in either TAR10 or All-Stars, but it got really heavy-handed in this season.
Still, on the whole, I think this is a season in which the positives truly do outweigh the negatives. Great cast, great locations, great fun. Easy 9/10. Full ten if Ronald & Christina or even Nicolas & Donald had won instead of T.K. & Rachel.
Enjoy this discussion if and/or while you can, because the next four weeks will be about the sucky ones.
Edited by Arlo Rowan, Jul 17, 2011 @ 7:32 PM.