TV Review: The Amazing Race – Season One

I would do this show in a heartbeat. America would fall in love with The Saints.

The Amazing Race Season One

Starring: Phil Keoghan, 11 two-person teams of contestants

Series Creators: Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster

I didn’t start watching this show until the seventh season, when I was brought over from Survivor by professional reality couple, Rob and Amber Mariano. I quickly grew to love the show, even though each subsequent season failed to recapture the excitement of that season. So when I heard that they were putting the first season out on DVD, I was excited to see it. Normally, I wouldn’t be that interested in seeing a reality show DVD, even though I’m a huge Survivor fan I don’t think I’d ever get one of its available box sets. Without the suspense of the outcome, I can’t imagine it’d be that interesting to watch, like knowing the outcome of a sporting event before watching it. Luckily, I didn’t follow the show at all for its first six seasons, so I knew I could watch the first season with the drama intact.

Unfortunately, when the box set came out, it was nowhere to be found. My ritual when visiting stores that sold DVDs quickly became the same: look in the TV section under A, then come up empty. Hell, I worked in a store that sold DVDs, and still couldn’t track it down. Seems kinda stupid that I couldn’t find it, since The Amazing Race is usually one of the highest rated shows in Canada. In the time I spent looking for season one, I ended up getting spoiled every once in awhile on little details of the show. I knew who finished third, as it is a famous moment of the show that fans continually mention. When they announced the All-Stars edition of the show was coming up, I knew I’d get spoiled further, so I stopped wasting time and just ordered the set off the internet.

Sadly, I didn’t get the season watched before All-Stars began, so I ended up getting spoiled further, to the point where I ended up knowing the top four positions before I finished watching the season. But you know what? Didn’t matter. I was hooked, and the show enthralled me even if I knew the ultimate outcome.

The first thing you’ll notice watching season one, filmed in 2001, is that it looks drastically different than the show you see today. It took me two to three episodes just to get used to the cinéma vérité (i.e., lower budget) style of filming, lack of scoring, and editing choices. I knew it would going to be odd watching teams compete without any idea of what they were getting into, as they had nothing to base their expectations on, but I didn’t know that the same standard would apply to the designers of the show.

The film quality for the early episodes are reminiscent of shows like Cops, which is fitting, since co-creator and executive producer Bertram van Munster used to serve as a field producer for that show. But the bigger concern as a viewer is the show’s gaps in storytelling. The show doesn’t provide subtitled updates on the racer’s positions throughout the show (i.e., “Currently in Fifth Place”), and misses checkpoints for certain teams early on. I’m not sure if they did this because they stuffed too much into the early episodes, didn’t think the shots were relevant, or, very likely, the camera operators missed the shot. The result was in the first episode, dating couple Lenny and Karyn were featured so infrequently that when they checked in, I was all “who the hell are they?”. The effect, early on, is one of chaos, where the viewer is unsure who is where, other than in clusters (a group of front runners, a middle group, and the back of the pack). Another odd difference from current races is the lack of host Phil Keoghan, who doesn’t appear in the show as often, and only shows up at the finish line to greet the last place team (making him a spectre of doom).

Luckily, after the first couple episodes, which make up in excitement what they lack in organization and polish, the show finds its feet and gets a handle on the mass of characters and where they place (of course, it gets easier as more competitors are eliminated). Once I got used to the new feel and look of the old show, I was impressed by how much better a race it used to be. Racers are given actual clues to figure out, instead of simple directions. Legs are longer than they’ve become, the challenges are interesting, and the editing and character development less predictable. Interesting wrinkles for the original race include Fast Forwards in every leg (that teams can only use once, so they have to decide when it will help them most) and no Yields (which is good, cause I don’t think the Yield is all that interesting). The casting is really good, featuring the villainous (but really sweet) lifemates Bill and Joe (AKA Team Guido), the competitive but sporting lawyers Rob and Brennan, the fun-loving fraternity brothers Kevin and Drew, the sweet mother/daughter team Nancy and Emily, and nicest, sweetest, most inspiring grandparents in reality show history, Dave and Margaretta. The teams offer a good mix of drama, entertainment, competitiveness, and camaraderie that makes following their adventures a pleasure.

If you’re like me, and caught onto The Amazing Race later on in its run (which is common for many viewers, as it didn’t get very good ratings this first season, as Americans were less interested in a show whose central theme is global exploration in the months following the attacks of September 11th), do yourself a favour and track this set down. You’ll come to realise, as I did, that while The Amazing Race has certainly become a better produced show over the years (probably the best produced reality show on TV), it used to be a much better competition, and thus a better TV show overall. Now I just need them to put out season two.


Related Reviews:
The Amazing Race – Season Seven
TV Talk: The Amazing Race
TV Talk: Survivor: Cook Islands

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