This is it, "Amazing Race" fans... season 12 starts tonight! And thanks to the implosion of "Viva Laughlin" (No songs for you! Next!), it's arriving about two months sooner than expected.

“The Amazing Race” is the fastest hour on television, and probably the most thrilling. How can a relatively straightforward reality competition be so exciting? By appealing to your inner 12-year-old boy -- it’s all game and no gab, like an action movie without a pesky plot to bog down the chase scenes.

The race, played by 11 teams of two, is a kind of round-the-world scavenger hunt for hidden “clues.” Getting from country to country is part of the challenge -- finding the best flight, or navigating the highways and public transit in a strange city, or getting directions in a country where few speak English.

Along the way, there are physical and mental challenges that mix “National Geographic”-style travelogues with local culture (if you’re not careful, you might just learn something). The last team to complete the challenges and find the “Pit Stop” is usually eliminated from the race (there are a couple bye weeks where the last-place finishers get a reprieve).

Each episode is a marvel of quick-cut editing and breathless pacing, condensing 24 or 36 hours of competition into a single hour. Like I said, they only keep the good stuff. “Amazing Race” also don’t rely on the fragile egos and flawed personalities of reality TV “characters” to simulate tension. The sweat, tears and sometimes blood are real, for the most part.

All season, I’ll be blogging in this space after each episode -- following the action, and handicapping the teams. In the meantime, to whet your appetite for tonight’s premiere, here’s a rundown of this season’s competitors:

Ari & Staella (best friends) Azaria & Hendekea (brother and sister) Kate & Pat (married) Kynt & Vyxsin (dating “goths”) Lorena & Jason (dating) Marianna & Julia (sisters) Nathan & Jennifer (dating) Nicolas & Donald (grandson and grandfather) Ronald & Christina (father and daughter) Shana & Jennifer (friends) TK & Rachel (dating)

“The Amazing Race” 8 p.m. Sundays, CBS