“Bees Are Much Calmer Than All This!”
September 28th, 2008
I probably wrote something very similar to this last season, but the best Amazing Race premieres are quite simple: they feature no objectionable individuals, they feature interesting tasks, and give us a good introduction to the teams without feeling like we’re spending more time watching them fulfill their stereotypes than watching them enjoy the chaos that is The Amazing Race. Invariably, though, this is what happens: every thing people do becomes about their cliche: when the separated couple bickers, it’s about his cheating. When the pair of Comic Book Geeks figure out a way to solve a challenge, it’s about their unique intuitive thinking skills. And when someone is particularly objectionable, what reality producer isn’t going to put them front and center?
So, since it’s the only thing we can really judge, this group of competitors feels like one that could be fun to watch beyond its cliches. The first episode follows the usual pattern: the flights, the bunching, the elimination that feels slightly undeserved if perhaps a bit welcome. But whether it’s Superbad, our villains less objectionable than most, or the suprisingly level-headed nature of the young siblings Nick and Starr, the stereotypes feel like they are less blatant, that these people aren’t just mugging for the sake of being on reality television. Yes, Terence and Sarah are perhaps as objectionable a team as the race has seen this early on, but let’s focus on the broad strokes, shall we?
And the broad strokes are as enjoyable as ever.
Traveling from Los Angeles to Salvador, Brazil, the race is exactly as it always is: two flights a certain distance apart, followed by an overnight stay that allows for scheduled departure times to bring everyone even closer together, and then a Detour which offers plenty of opportunity for scenic views, and then a regular old pit stop. It’s entirely designed to focus on trials and tribulations: cab drivers who don’t know where they’re going, people walking by clue boxes, split-second decisions that mean the difference between 1st/2nd or in/out, and personal team breakdowns that lead to mistakes.
Sometimes, this can be really annoying: it focuses all of the attention on the negative as opposed to people enjoying the race for what it is, a chance to see the world. Luckily, this episode doesn’t fall too far down this path: yes, there are plenty of mistakes here, but there’s also a team like Mother and Son, Dallas and Tori, who present our most heartfelt racers (who are still in the race), who are there because she wants to be able to spend time/compete alongside her son. Others are more pragmatic: Anthony and Stephanie are only in it for the money, so that they could get married.
Generally speaking, the tasks were of your regular sort: on landing in Salvador, the groups have to handle an unwieldy candy cart. Considering the amount of help they get from locals, though, it’s not much of a task: it doesn’t really result in any shifts in the order, and there isn’t any drama that feels like anything we haven’t seen before.
However, the Detour brings something more interesting. First and foremost, there’s something very exciting about the cargo net challenge option of the detour, but the real secret here is the hidden aspect of the challenge’s other side. Only Frat Boys Andrew and Dan actually complete the task, but the fact that the “mystery question” is so practical and that it requires a second run up the stairs is a nice little twist that actually kept the challenge quite close. Combined with the episode’s two missed flags (both at the Airport and at the Church), there was some nice little bits in the race that, while subtle, did make a difference in keeping things interesting.
But, of course, in the end it all comes down to the teams. Let’s focus on the ones we get a lot of time with.
Nick and Starr: The race has a fairly good past in terms of having reasonable siblings with strong relationships, and this is a fine example of a good Amazing Race team. They are well-mannered, step back from the brink of overreaction on numerous occasions, and are friendly without being spastic. Sure, latching onto Ken and Tina as Mom and Dad is a bit precocious, but considering their youth they are bringing to the Race a smart strategy and making for enjoyable television in the process.
Ken and Tina: Speaking of the other half of their Nuclear Family Alliance, they show those signs of tension without being driven by them. Yes, she tends to nag him along, but the fact that he is trying to serve penance for cheating means that he isn’t going to talk back, and without that sense of confrontation the couple hasn’t devolved into one that bickers: just one that occasionally features some (perhaps justifiable) one-sided complaining.
Terence and Sarah: They’re the worst team on the race, by quite a large margin, primarily because everything about them is the worst part of The Amazing Race. They’re a couple who is still testing their relationship, Terence has no patience for anything Sarah does, and they present a wholly self-centered sense of the race where anyone who won’t talk to them on one occasion becomes evil in their eyes. From the preview for next week, their delusions continue: this is just a couple that’s no fun to watch, which makes me hope they don’t stick around as long as some of those teams tend to.
Andrew and Dan: They’re frat brothers, dubbed Team Superbad by the rest of the teams, and the only way they’re really “villains” is that they’re way too talkative in times when they shouldn’t be talkative. They seem the most like people who are just mugging for the camera without much other purpose on the race, but that doesn’t mean they’re (super)bad – just kind of obnoxious.
The Other Teams: Toni and Dallas seem nice enough, long-distance Aja and TJ are friendly, the blondes are thus far a total non-event, the divorcees are reasonable, the comic book nerds were stronger than one might anticipate, and Anthony and Stephanie might be the most lifeless team in recent memory.
The Eliminated Team
Arthur and Anita were friendly, kind, and were in this race for the right reasons: unfortunately, they were also elderly beekeepers who were unable to catch up once they got behind at the initial stages of the race. This early, slow just isn’t going to cut it unless you get lucky, and they just didn’t have luck on their side. At least they got an episode title before they left, though.
- It’s a real pity that Phil Keoghan wasn’t nominated for the Emmy for Reality Host, if only so that we could have one classy individual amongst those who hosted the ceremony. That said, it makes sense: he really doesn’t do much in the span of an episode, so he doesn’t have a real showcase.
- In case it wasn’t clear from the comment, Nick and Starr are definitely my favourite team, something I don’t think I would have presumed from “Actor/Cheerleader” being their professions of choice. Shows that the power of sibling bonds does trump all other stereotypes.
- Liked the note that Arthur and Anita made on their exit: that they leave the race with a vow to tell their friends and families that, if they ever get a chance like this, they should take it. That’s the real message of The Amazing Race, and I hate that they keep tempting us with it when we Canadians aren’t able to take part.