They're savvy, they're determined and now: They're off!
Trailing a cloud of road dust and Emmy glamour (as last season's outstanding reality-competition program), "The Amazing Race 5" gets underway on CBS with a special 90-minute premiere on Tuesday.
As in previous years, the competition sends 11 two-member teams, each with a preexisting relationship, on a high-intensity race around the world for a $1-million prize.
While previous editions of the race got off to fairly genial starts, this fifth round feels different, as injuries and hard feelings surface almost right from the Southern California starting line.
"This is by far the most cutthroat season I have seen in terms of how people have played the game, because the teams have worked out where the equalizers [in the race] are -- airports, say, where the teams tend to stack up -- so they know when they really need to push," says Phil Keoghan, returning for his fifth stint as host.
"This particular season really has an edge to it in terms of the teams we have chosen. They're edgy, engaging characters, contrasting teams that rub one another the wrong way from time to time.... The players that come into the game now are just much more charged-up and competitive from watching previous seasons."
That's certainly true of Marsha McCoy, the 26-year-old Florida law student who hopes she and her father, Jim, can work as teammates and pull out a victory, although no parent-child team has fared well in previous races.
"The most important thing is to have mental toughness," she says. "I loved [gay teammates] Danny and Oswald from the second race, because they didn't stress themselves out. They stayed calm and made good decisions. Our big goal is to make as few mistakes as possible, so we don't wind up 30 miles out of the way."
"We both can get an attitude at times, so mainly we've been working on trying to think and work as a team," Jim McCoy adds. "As a military father, I tend to treat her like one of the troops, but this race is a 50-50 proposition, so I am working on being more flexible."
Three of the four previous races have been won by two-male teams, and the lone exception, in "Amazing Race 3," occurred when Zach Behr all but physically carried his spoiled, petulant girl pal, Flo Pesenti, through much of the competition.
This year's lineup includes no "alpha male" teams, just Dallas restaurant owners Marshall and Lance Hudes, two brothers who are no gym bunnies.
"We are not going to win this race by sprinting," concedes Marshall Hudes, the older brother at 31. "We've seen a lot of very fit people lose this race early on, because they don't think it through and they make major mistakes. We hope to avoid that."
Anyone who doesn't make a major mistake will get at least halfway through."
Other teams include:
* Twins Kami and Karli French, 26, of Eugene, Ore.
* Colin Guinn, 24, and Christie Woods, 26, a dating couple from Corpus Christi, Texas.
* Chip and Kim McAllister, 46 and 44, respectively, a married couple from Coto De Caza.
* Alison Irwin, 23, a former (and widely loathed by viewers) "Big Brother" house guest, and her browbeaten boyfriend, student Donald Patrick, both Pennsylvanians.
* Linda Ruiz, 45, and Karen Heins, best friends from Palmdale.
* Dennis Frentsos, 27, of West Nyack, N.Y., and his former fiancee, Erika Shay, 25, of Piermont, N.Y., retesting the romantic waters.
* Charla Faddoul, a store manager who has a form of dwarfism, and her cousin, Mirna Hindoyan, both 27-year-old Marylanders.
* Houston model Brandon Davidson, 25, and his girlfriend, Los Angeles actress Nicole O'Brian, 21.
* Bob Barron, 61, and Joyce Nicolo, 54, a couple who struck up their acquaintance via the Internet.
"The Amazing Race 5" includes a new feature called "yield," which allows one team to slow down a competitor. Used shrewdly, it can eliminate a rival team, although that same team can become an enemy if its members manage to survive elimination despite the yield.
"Race 5" also offers new challenges in terms of the sheer distances they are forced to travel.
"This season was one of the toughest yet," Keoghan says. "We traveled more miles than ever before, about 75,000. Most previous seasons have been around 50,000. To put that into perspective, to go around the equator once is 23,000 miles, so we did the equivalent of looping the world three times, although we were zigzagging, of course."
Although "The Amazing Race" draws rave reviews from critics and a cult following among viewers, its ratings have lagged behind less classy fare, such as the voyeuristic "Big Brother." Encouraged by that Emmy win, however, CBS already has greenlighted "Amazing Race 6," to air during the 2004-05 season.
John Crook writes for Tribune Media Services.
'The Amazing Race 5'
When: The show debuts with a 90-minute broadcast at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Time slot: The series will regularly be seen at 10 p.m. Tuesdays.