Amazing Race has been one of our fave reality competitions since the beginning. And we're not alone. The show has won 11 Emmys since its 2001 premiere, with no other competitor able to take away its Outstanding Reality Program Competition crown since the category was first created in 2002.
But this season is extra-special. If you aren't already setting aside an hour on Sunday evenings for this fabulous show, we have 13 incentives (one for each decent season of the show—we don't acknowledge season eight's unfortunate Family Edition) for you to travel the world from the comfort of your sofa.
1. Phil Keoghan: He's the best reality host on TV. Period. No one seems more delighted to bestow a trip for two from Travelocity (or his signature arched eyebrow) on deserving players. And when he signed to Margie and her deaf son, Luke, that they were team No. 1 on the first leg of the race? Still. Have. Tears. Can Phil be any more perfect? Why, yes, he can: Dude is about to ride his bike across America to raise money for MS and promote cycling for health, the environment and the economy. Swoon.
2. Cool, Cool, Cool, Cool Places: It's safe to say we'll never make it to Siberia (brrr), except as armchair travelers with the Racers, so how else are we going to get a peek into how ordinary people survive out there? (Hint: vodka!) And Transylvania? Shut up!
3. Cool People: Personal conflict is the foundation of most reality shows, but honestly, we prefer filmmaker Mike White proudly celebrating "Dad, you did awesome!" after Mel's triumph in a physical challenge. Even when Mel was struggling, son was worried but never critical. Aw.
4. More Dramatic, Less Traumatic Challenges: This may change as the competition gets tighter, but so far, no one has been asked to shave their heads or eat four pounds of meat or a live (and wriggling) octopus. Sure, they had to run across Novosibirsk in their underwear, but surely it was worth it to see Phil in his skivvies? (It was to us.) The Vampire Remains Detour—dragging around coffins in the shadow of Dracula's castle, complete with bloody impaling—was just inspired and wonderfully creepy.
5. Air Traffic Control: Airport footage has been drastically curtailed this season. As Phil told us, "An airport in Istanbul looks like an airport in Houston," and we'd much rather see where the Racers are going, not where they're waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
6. Quality Control: Nearly every single team in season 14 is better than nearly every single team in season 13. (We are looking at you, third-place finishing oafs Andrew and Dan.)
7. They Got Game: With the exception of some early eliminees, most of the contestants in this season are reasonably fit. Sure, some may be disadvantaged by age (Mel) or height (4'9" brothers Mark and Mike), but absent are the bumbling oafs of seasons past (see item 6).
9. Breathing Room: As Phil told us, this season is more about "letting moments breathe, where people look out into the landscape and really soak in pertinent moments, like Gus in season six walking the paths of his ancestors and...out to the ships that brought the slaves out from Africa. [Or in season three when] Ian looked out over Vietnam and remembered when he was there last during the Vietnam War. Those moments have always resonated with fans. And I think we're facilitating more of those this season."
10. Pass the Kleenex: The season 14ers also take the prize for the most compassionate. In the slums outside Jaipur, India, Luke (who was born deaf) sobbed as their taxi passed children eating garbage, and we just wanted to hug him along with his mother, Margie, who later said, “It makes us realize how lucky we are.” Noble much?
11. Smashing Stereotypes: It was Harvard-grad lawyers Tammy and Victor who wandered lost and squabbling in the woods (epic fail), while the makeup mavens (NFL cheerleaders Cara and Jaime and flight attendants Christie and Jodi) have proven to be savvy and surprisingly unflappable competitors.
12. Rule Reversal: Adding anonymity to the U-turn may result in less direct confrontation, but it's more fun for us to see the Racers trying to figure out who was responsible. And no one guessed that sweet Margie and fresh-faced Luke were responsible for ousting Amanda and Kris—their strongest competitors.
13. Playing to Win: Despite some halfhearted caravanning alliances (with the inevitable ditching), these teams seem to be more cognizant than their predecessors that they are here to win a million bucks, not make besties or hook up with the competition (ahem, Dallas and Starr). And that's why we're rooting for all of 'em!
The Amazing Race airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS.