Sunday, December 6, 2009


I'm sure I've mentioned it here once or twice, but The Amazing Race is one of my absolute favorite programs. There have been good times, like Season 5 when Colin had his awe-inspiring "My ox is BROKEN!" meltdown while the ultra-religious models were literally toiling in the mud (oh, how the editors had fun with them). There have been some not so good times, such as the ill-conceived Family Edition and the introduction of the Black Family (who were the only team of color that season). Regardless of the quality of the season the show is able to make me feel all misty-eyed at the finish line. Tonight's finale was no exception.

This season was rather bland across the board. I didn't think the itinerary was all that interesting -- I've found that I haven't really been wowed by the westbound seasons. This season's itinerary in particular featured a number of locations that had been visited before and, aside from the Dubai legs, the environments didn't really seem to test the teams' resolve. Call me old fashioned, but I am intrigued by how ugly Americans can get when they are in the final five and need to cram themselves into an over-crowded train in Mumbai.

The casting was also surprisingly dull. My instant loathing team was eliminated at the start line (we'll get back to that) and just about all the other teams were perfectly pleasant. Most of the teams were eliminated at about the point that they became annoying, so it was difficult to find someone to root against. Type A Lance was the only one who got under my skin rather quickly, but even he and his partner were eliminated before they became unbearable. Instead, this season's "villains" were gay brothers Sam and Dan (Team BroYay). Yes, they pulled a couple of dick moves (that weren't curiously blurred out) during the race, the biggest offense being stealing another team's taxi. Sorry, but unless you incur a penalty (ref. last season's brothers) or create a potential international incident (ref. first season's Team Guido at the airport), you don't even deserve to be called a bad guy, much less a villain.

In terms of race construction, there were some issues this time around. I'm not a fan of the "The World is Waiting for You, except for that team." twist at the beginning because it just seemed so unnecessary. I like the idea of a task to separate the teams before they get to the airport (much more interesting than airport drama) but knocking out a team seems unnecessary. Also, the premiere featured two legs, so the drama was undercut with the early elimination. The show was not going to get rid of 25% of their cast on the first night, so the audience knew that there would be a Non-Elimination Leg somewhere in the mix. In terms of tasks, the bag was mixed as usual. However, the speed bumps were really half-assed. Go sit in a sauna for five minutes. Drink a shot of absinthe. I know the task isn't intended to derail teams but the purpose of a speed bump is to penalize a team for being spared by a NEL.

The final leg actually did a pretty good job of encapsulating the blandness of the season. The final three teams, Meghan/Cheyne, Team BroYay, and Brian/Ericka received their first clue: Go to the Final Destination of Las Vegas. Another downside of the westbound flightpath is that you don't get an intermediate stop on the final leg, such as Alaska or Hawaii. Anyway, the leg primarily featured casino hopping along the strip. Brian/Ericka had an early lead until a Cirque Du Soleil challenge caused them to fall to last place. Then the teams had to count out $1 million in casino chips for their final challenge. Most of the time the final challenge is a road block completed by one person based around the theme of "I hope you were paying attention." After teams counted their chips correctly, they received a clue that led them to Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton. Really, show? The finish line was at Newton's Shenandoah Ranch. The race was won by blonde and objectively alright looking Meghan/Cheyne. More satisfying than Team BroYay winning, but I would have preferred a Brian/Ericka win.

However, I had the same physical response as I did when Team Boston won season two, the loathsome Freddie and Kendra won season six, or when genuine hippies TK and Rachel won season twelve: I started to tear up a bit. Despite all the flaws this season had, particularly with the blandness streak the show has been riding since TAR13 (this is TAR15), the program still manages to poke that sweet spot that I am usually able to heavily guard. Even with the teams that I despise, it is not enough to golf clap for them when they reach the finish line. What they have accomplished is incredible.

The moment that did it for me tonight was when Brian and Ericka finally arrived at the finish line in a distant third place. Phil tells them that they are officially team number 3 and Brian fakes shock as he looks at the other two teams standing there. It was an incredibly charming moment for him, one of many on his race. Phil asks what this means for their relationship and Ericka starts speaking about how she hopes that this will prove to her family that Brian is a stand-up guy even though they are of different skin colors. As she speaks, Brian sniffs as he starts to well up. Ericka tells him to shush, most likely because she if he starts she would soon follow. It was one of the best moments on this race and one that I would quickly point to to show why this is one of the best programs on television.

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