TV Talk: The Amazing Race

I forgot all about the cheerleaders until I saw this photo.

TV Talk: The Amazing Race
Starring: Phil Keoghan, 12 two-person teams of contestants

Series Creators: Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster

I wasn’t originally going to write one of these for The Amazing Race, as I’ve met this season with what I can at best describe as amused indifference. On a base level, the season has been entertaining enough that I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time watching it. But, it rarely ever truly grabbed me; it failed to capture my attention and fill me with a sense of anticipation in a way that this show usually does.

It wasn’t a bad season, like the previous two had mostly been (especially the dire Family Edition), it was just thoroughly mediocre. Having “blah” feelings for something doesn’t usually lead to the best reviews or discussions, so I wasn’t going to bother. Then, I decided to examine why I felt this way about the tenth season of the show, and figured such a discussion could have value, especially if others feel similarly.

The show itself, from a production standpoint, did its best to make things better this season. They relied much more heavily on clue-based instructions to racers, instead of simple “go here and do this” instructions, and more importantly, did not force-feed the racers transportation as often as they had in recent seasons (after the initial sets of flights out of the U.S., which are always given to the racers, there was only one other instance I can think of when they told the racers of a specific flight, and even then, the racers were given the option of finding better flights, which all of them did). They provided a nice variety of tasks, and less needle-in-the-haystack type random tasks that aren’t ever that entertaining to watch.

To start the season, casting seemed to be a strength of the season, as no out-and-out jerks presented themselves to start the race. Recent races had been marred by sexist jerks (Eric and Jeremy), shticky camera-hogs (BJ and Tyler), horrendous families (The Weavers), or self-righteous hypocrites (most of season seven). I’m not even including the legendarily horrible Jonathan and Victoria from season six, as I was lucky enough to have missed them. Reality shows love casting over-the-top “intense” people (“intense” is reality tv-speak for “asshole”), but this is a show that really doesn’t require antagonism to be entertaining, because contestants are competing against each other in a race format, instead of a voting-out format, a la Survivor and Big Brother.

I suppose sometimes having assholes on the show can be entertaining, as long as they’re not very good and are eliminated. Seeing them lose can be very gratifying. Eventually in this season, a true asshole did emerge, Peter, but he was paired with Sarah, who seemed rather nice. So seeing them eliminated wasn’t so much celebratory as it was a relief that poor Sarah would no longer be stuck with that jerk (although it was satisfying to see that she intended to rid herself of him at the earliest opportunity, so yay!). Finalists Rob and Kimberly were the token “intense” couple that bickered their way through the race, but they weren’t nearly on par with other bickering couples to come off as villains. They seemed to deal with each other’s frustrated yelling fairly well, and generally made up after little spats fairly quickly. I’m not saying they’re a couple I’d invite over to play Boggle, but they didn’t really bother me that much.

The beauty queens Dustin and Kandice eventually became tirelessly cocky, but the reality tv show gods of hubris struck them down for that offense, as they usually do. And Karlyn was often a hateful pill, but she and Lyn usually got the irrelevancy edit for being near the last to attempt tasks, so they didn’t impact the show too much. So overall, it wasn’t an overabundance of jerks that hurt this season, which is why I say it as “blah” more than “blech”.

Ultimately, I think I can pinpoint my lack of enthusiasm for this season to one source: the backpack/six pack alliance.

Initially, I found the idea of back of the pack teams united together to be charming. Why not try and help each other out while having fun? Most of these teams didn’t seem like legitimate threats to win the competition, so I found it rather sporting of them to offer assistance and cheer each other on, even when competing with each other to avoid elimination.

But as the season wore on, and they renamed themselves “the six pack” (featuring the Cho brothers – Erwin and Godwin, Lyn and Karlyn, and Dave and Mary), their whole concept of alliance ran counter to the nature of the show, robbing it of its inherent excitement in the process. It’s all well and good to cheer for one another, to provide information to one another, to congregate in rest periods, even to share the odd resource. But these teams were sitting around waiting for one another, and walking their way from place to place en masse. It was frustrating to see how little they seemed to care about the competition, which ultimately made me less invested in the competition myself.

Worse, the Cho brothers especially seemed to think that helping the other two teams out by constantly waiting around for them made them morally superior, as though friendly competition in the middle of a competition is somehow distasteful. Fuck you Chos. You seem like perfectly nice dudes and all, but this is a race: trying to win doesn’t make you a bad person, particularly when you don’t have to do anything underhanded to your competition to do so. You just have to get to the finish line ahead of them.

So I think I can pinpoint my lack of enthusiasm to the times where those three teams were lollygagging their way through the race, and it never really recovered. Another problem with their alliance is that it set up the dynamic of the race to be the stronger teams versus the weaker teams, which wasn’t that interesting. I’d rather have seen the stronger teams competing against each other, with the weaker teams fighting to stay alive. By the time it got down to the final four, I realised that I didn’t care who won at all.

I was fine with Tyler and James winning, as they were probably the best team throughout and decent enough guys. They had their flaws as competitors, but no more so than everyone else. In fact, they had the same flaw most of the teams seemed to have: poor navigational skills and an unwillingness to attempt to find their own way around locations. It got to be a bit boring seeing every team hire a taxi to lead them from place-to-place as they drove behind (or worse, following a team following a taxi).

There were a few things I liked about the season, other than the show’s attempts to make clues more difficult and the avoidance of uninteresting tasks. I loved the change to the non-elimination penalty, as I always found it distasteful to watch team’s beg for money, particularly in poorer countries. Nothing like seeing Americans competing for a million dollars begging for money to continue on in a manufactured situation! Also, it rarely ever actually served as a penalty, as teams usually are able to get a lot of money via begging with a film crew.

The season finale was a lot of fun for me, albeit for a different reason than normal. It started off from last episode in Barcelona, which was probably my favourite city from our European vacation this summer. They left Palau Nacional de Montjuic just as the Magic Fountain was going (which was awesome), heading to the Sagrada Familia, which might be the coolest building all of Europe. From there, they flew to Paris and on to Caen, where we also went on our vacation. It was fun to be all “that was the train station that was being renovated so we couldn’t leave our bags”. Then, they went to Bayeux, where we stayed as well, so we were all “I hope the vending machine at the train station is working now” and “that post office was right across the street from our hotel! We mailed postcards from there!”.

Which is the most fun part of any season, seeing different parts of the world in interesting ways as people race their way around it. The show got that part right. In fact, they got a lot of the parts right this season, but were undone by some uninteresting and unmotivated contestants.

Thoughts? Disagreement? Reactions? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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