“Having a Baby’s Got to Be Easier Than This”
April 26th, 2009
One of my favourite travel stories from my trip to California was that, when I was waiting for a late flight from Toronto to Halifax, I sat down in the departures area to watch the previous night’s episode of The Amazing Race. Now, admittedly, I shouldn’t watch TV in public as a general rule: I tend to be fairly reactive (aren’t we all?), and while an airport creates a cramped space that gives you some pause before overreacting an airport lobby feels open and results in some rather embarassing outbursts of laughter or shock.
However, I should have been doubly aware of this when queuing up last week’s episode of The Amazing Race, which I had no idea featured a spectacular meltdown of epic proportions as Jen and Luke got into TWO consecutive footraces resulting in TWO highly physical confrontations where a combination of aggressiveness and Luke’s sensitivity to physical contact (as he would be unable to hear them coming) created a whole overblown scenario. Killer fatigue playing the role that it does, emotions were high, but I tend to be on the side that Margie crossed a line when she attempted to claim it was deaf-bashing, an argument that felt like a defensive action she had in her pocket the entire race almost searching for an excuse to pull it out. This is a highly competitive race wherein emotions are high, and the best course of action in conflict is to chalk it up to a misunderstanding: lobbing accusations never gets anyone anywhere, except for the Amazing Race editors who got material to make an unsuspenseful episode extremely engaging.
Unfortunately, or fortunately for the racers’ sanity, there is no such event this week, as the teams travel to Beijing for a mostly uninteresting leg that seems almost mean in its efforts to accelerate the teams’ killer fatigue to the point of outright exhaustion. While last week’s episode may have been about personal exhaustion creating drama, I have slightly more of an issue when the producers are outright creating these kinds of reaction.
I almost feel as if this leg was designed so as to keep Tammy and Victor from gaining too much of a language advantage. In casting a team who understood Chinese and who had even traveled extensively in the country, they knew they would gain an upper hand if pivotal legs in the race were held in the country. Perhaps this is why the two tasks here were either a test of one’s pain threshold (the excrutiating foot massage roadblock) or a task that was American as Apple Pie (at least in the Michael Phelphs-inspired half of the challenge); other than being certain they would get to the proper gate of the sport complex, they were once again kept from using the skills for a definitive advantage. I loved Tammy’s observation last week that, most of the time, all their language skills give them is the ability to know that what their cab driver is saying is that they have no idea where they’re going – other than that certainty, they’re no better off than any other team.
What I found fascinating about this episode was that neither of the two teams who tried the Synchronized Diving task seemed to actually know what synchronized diving was, or at least not as far as I could see. I understand that you might have trouble figuring out which of you is too early or late, but it’s a fairly simple concept in terms of the basic idea: you jump at the same time, at the same height, and hit the water at the same time. I can understand how they did have some trouble: there didn’t seem to be two divers available to demo the task (that seems a bit unfair), and Tammy and Victor’s highly different weights (well, not HIGHLY different, Victor’s skinny as a rake), but at the same time they seem to have edited out the scene where they honestly knew what synchronized diving was. Maybe it’s just that the Canadian Olympics coverage is far more extensive, and that our diving program is somewhat closer to the Chinese in terms of quality than the Americans, but I certainly would have known what I was doing wrong.
I thought that the Michael Phelps thing was going to be cheesy at first, but then I realized that it was all a way to make fun of the teams for being so slow (or Margie and Luke being less slow and therefore more impressive), and I was okay with that. Humility is an important part of the race, and there is certainly room late in the race to point out the teams struggling at tasks for the sake of our enjoyment. However, at the same time, there is a fine line between appropriating their struggles and exploiting their fatigue for the sake of creating struggle.
At times, this leg felt like it was all about hurting these people: there were enough groans of pain during the Roadblock to make me question its real value considering there was no skill involved, and the Detour (while certainly skill-based) was designed to exhaust the teams either mentally or physically, or both in the case of Jen and Kisha whose fear of water took them from speedy to, well, not speedy. Watching Jen break down wasn’t entertaining in the least: killer fatigue exponentially increased her fear of water, just as Kisha’s killer fatigue made the swimming task too hard to bear, and neither of them had the determination to step up on those diving boards once more after struggling to get a combined total of 5.
And considering that the leg eventually didn’t end at all, the dreaded “To Be Continued” rearing its ugly head (which I could have foreseen if I had paid attention to the episode numbering system, but I’ve been out of the loop while catching up; instead, I had it figured out when Phil mentioned nothing about elimination in the clue), everything from Jen’s trauma to Victor’s charlie horse are going to carry on with them. And I don’t know if that’s going to make for good TV, instead being tough to watch: of course, surely an hours of operation break is on its way considering this seems as if it’s in the middle of the night, so they’ll get a chance to get a bit of a break to rest themselves soon enough.
But this leg just seems like it was trying to hurt them, and I guess I want the producers to be a little less culpable in the pain next time.
- I don’t dislike Jaime and Cara: yes, Jaime’s a lunatic, but her impatience with cab drivers and locals is always honest. I actually found her more unlikable here when she was being a total jerk to Cara during both challenges. Turning on your partner is far more self-destructive, and frustrating, at this stage in the game.
- On that subject, though, their tragic celebration at episode’s end was like the absolutely perfect karmic moment: here’s this team who has never been in first place, who finally leave a task in first and arrive at the mat, and they ignore every sign (no mention of elimination on the clue, no greeter at the mat, etc.) and just keep on celebrating until Phil delivers the bad news. I saw via Twitter that Phil was watching the episode live while traveling across the country on his bike tour, and I’m sure he loved reliving that particular delivery.
- Remember when Victor was a douche? Yeah, I don’t really either – I don’t know if it’s just the editing, but he’s made a pretty miraculous turnaround in this Race, and if I had to choose a team to win at this point it would likely be Tammy and Victor.