The new season of “The Amazing Race” is off to a good start, although its ratings were no doubt blunted by competing with the Oscars this week. I don’t know why CBS insisted on beginning this edition of the show two weeks ago, knowing it would then be up against one of the most-viewed shows of the year, when they could easily have debuted it this Sunday instead.

Still, “TAR” continues to be the best reality competition on television, with the fascinating travelogue and detours (and less emphasis on airport drama) adding stress to the pre-existing relationships and quirks of the well-cast and extremely diverse teams. This season, along with some of the usual types, we have not only the mother-and-deaf-son team of Margie and Luke, but also the gay-guys team of screenwriter Mike White (“School of Rock“) and his father Mel. It was thanks to Mel, whose groin pull added extra drama to a hang-gliding roadblock Sunday night, that we got something rather unusual in reality TV, as Alan Sepinwall observes:

The drama with the shifting winds led to one of my favorite reality show moments ever, in Mel White’s refusal to pray for them to change in his favor. It’s such a staple of reality TV (and sports, for that matter) for people to crassly assume that God cares about who wins a game show (or a football game) and will reward whoever makes the loudest/earliest/most frequent prayers in His name, that it’s so refreshing to hear someone instead believe that God has more important things to worry about. It sort of reminded me of David Cook’s refusal to pimp out his dying brother for votes last season on “American Idol,” in that reality TV has so lowered the bar for what we accept as human behavior in certain situations that it’s almost startling to see people behave reasonably, or in any kind of manner that favors dignity over personal gain.