“We’re Not Working with Anybody, Ever, Anymore!”
November 22nd, 2009
When we get this close to the end of The Amazing Race, the show’s interest in its characters begins to shift. At certain points, the show allows the racers to appear as comrades, laughing together and competing against the race itself more against each other. However, by the time you get to the final four teams, the show wants every chance to pit the teams against one another in a fight to get to the end, trying to breed the sort of competitive fire that you want to see at this stage in the game.
And while most of the google hits from last week’s post seemed to indicate that the biggest piece of news from the leg was crotch censorship, the real story was the way the producers turned Dan and Flight Time’s altercation into a sign that, from this point forward, things are personal. In reality, the clip was only really edited this way (Big Easy clarified, as they did at the start of this leg, that they had no personal vendetta), but what it does signal is that all bets are officially off.
And this week, as the teams head to the Czech Republic, we realize that this season these teams are perfectly built in order to enter into this competitive stage. There is no team in this race that is what one would call a “feel good” team, and the result is that we’re effectively watching to see how well these teams are able to embrace this competitive spirit. And while this might not fit into a narrative of personal achievement or self-realization, it does fit into what makes these final legs of the race suspenseful: all of these teams are both ultimately capable of being competitive (athletic and strong-minded), but they also tend to create an enormous amount of drama in the process.
As someone who likes this competitive side of the race, I’m pleased by this, but I can see how someone looking for more of a fan favourite finish to the race may be disappointed.
Some of my favourite moments on the race are those where a team becomes divided on an issue as integral to the race as competition. You start to see how people choose to ignore certain realities (like, say, teams not losing sleep over taking someone’s taxi in a race for a million dollars) in an effort to rationalize this crazy process: at this point, they’re suffering from killer fatigue, someone like Brian actually expects that Sam and Dan should apologize to him for stealing a taxi. Perhaps months later, as they share a lunch over all their adventures around the world, they can get together and clear the air, but in the context of the race this behaviour would make no sense.
But it’s the sort of behaviour that emerges when you have teams interacting with one another as the race gets more competitive. Meghan and Cheyne get into a fairly heated argument over whether or not they treated the Globetrotters poorly after the detour, and you can sense that the two are thinking about this race very differently. Meghan is thinking in the short term, feeling that they agreed to work with the Globetrotters and they should continue honouring that agreement. However, Cheyne is thinking in the big picture, believing that the Globetrotters could have just as easily taken the taxi, and that any advantage is a key to staying in the lead and staying in the race. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cheyne is in the right here: heck, if Meghan was able to see what we saw, she would know that the Globetrotters have intended to simply follow Meghan and Cheyne anyways before they agreed to work together, so this isn’t exactly some sort of long-term alliance that both teams are really devoted to. So much of the sense of an “alliance” on the race is convenience, whether in the form of a calculator or in the form of someone who has directions from a local, so to expect those sorts of relationships to remain sacred is inherently false.
Brian and Ericka’s beef with Sam and Dan is even more intriguing when you consider that, when Brian and Ericka are eventually spared by a non-elimination leg (get to that in a minute), Brian argues that he is out to prove that you can win this race honestly. This is noble, certainly, and makes for a nice sort of “good vs. evil” narrative for the show’s producers, but it’s also something that ignores the balance of the material (the million dollar cash prize) and the immaterial (personal satisfaction) that exists in the race. There is no one way to win the race, and in some instances dishonesty has triumphed over honesty, just as blind luck has triumphed over skill. While the taxi theft is something the producers like to be able to build up to create tension between the teams, it’s less about the tension between individuals and more the tension between competitive and non-competitive within each individual racer, within each team, and in the teams’ relationships with one another.
So I love moments like Cheyne losing his temper (and dropping an f-bomb) with Meghan over her conscience getting the best of her, or Ericka proving the voice of reason by pointing out that Sam and Dan aren’t likely detouring to the nearest confessional to wipe away their sin. As the teams begin to grow more and more competitive (with the finish line growing closer in each leg), they begin to either buy into the sense that this is a race or resist turning into “one of those racers” and losing some sense of their humanity in the process.
And one of the things that has been so interesting about the Globetrotters is that they don’t seem to care about any of this. Yes, this is a team that wants to win, but I don’t think that Flight Time was purposefully slowing down Meghan and Cheyne at the Detour. Sure, I may be naive for believing him to be telling the truth, but to this point in the race they’ve shown no sense of being coy with their strategy: while Meghan and Cheyne briefly plot to mislead other teams about what the “Vintage Praga” might be, Flight Time and Big Easy are more blatant when they try to “game the game.” You notice that they never debate about whether or not they should be competitive because they’ve always agreed: this is a game, and they want to win, whether it means freaking out a terrified southern belle in water wings or getting into a physical confrontation of sorts on a boggy boardwalk.
I guess it’s no surprise that players on a team that never loses are willing to be competitive to keep from losing, but I think it’s the kind of attitude that the other racers seem more reticent to employ. Sam (who initially insisted “No, we can’t” when Dan suggested they bribe Brian and Ericka’s cabbie), Brian and Meghan all tend to resist these attempts at being cutthroat or competitive, which creates tension in a way that doesn’t seem to exist between Flight Time and Big Easy. And while it’s true that competition between the teams can create plenty of tension this late in the race, like Big Easy nearly throwing a guitar at Meghan for yelling “Cheyne!” in the opera house, it is the tension between racers that will eventually bring you down. And while Meghan and Cheyne argued in the cab, and Ericka’s attitude has proven difficult in the past despite Brian’s supportive stance, and Dan and Sam had a hay bale-style meltdown on the rapids, the Globetrotters have stuck together through both stupidity (the briefcase in Dubai) and sloth (Big Easy in this Detour) in a way that could take them a long way.
As for the leg beyond this particular theme, though, it was actually pretty much killed by the non-elimination. I distinctly remember them saying that all but two legs were non-elimination earlier in the season, but I likely misheard; accordingly, Brian and Ericka earn their third life (they would have been eliminated in Holland too, if not for Tiffany/Maria’s struggles) and live to fight another die, which sort of flies in the face of the spirit of competition. In the case of the Hay Bales, where Gary and Matt were saved just two weeks ago, I thought it worked because of how much that Roadblock inspired a sense of personal achievement that could be celebrated by being saved. Here, though, Brian and Ericka made a critical mistake inspired by an effort to be more competitive (taking the train/subway as opposed to a cab to the first clue in Prague), and it put them behind for the rest of the leg – there’s nothing unfair about this, so there’s something dissatisfying about them remaining for another week.
Personally, I like these kinds of episodes because they’re a sort of psychological experiment, but I can see how they might not be quite as engaging for some viewers. There’s no one left that you can really root for unconditionally, and that’s an integral narrative for some viewers. What will be interesting is seeing what happens next week when we really do get down to the Final Three, and we see whether Meghan and Cheyne’s domination to this point can extend into a finale regardless of their competitors. This won’t be the most emotional of conclusions, but I think that there’s a chance for a real race to be had here, and personally that’s all I hope for in the end.
- I also hope for teams that are capable of creating some enjoyable comedy, which Flight Time (and his graceful dance moves and operatic serenade) and Sam (who knew the Opera in question, and who was hilariously humming it in the taxi as they drove to the pit stop) are able to offer. Brian and Ericka are also capable of this, don’t get me wrong, but they were a bit tied up with the competitive side of things this week.
- In case it’s confusing to have this as Episode 10, when it’s likely labeled as Episode 9 in some circles, the two-hour finale threw things off, so this is technically the 10th leg.
- Always fun to see how the times work out when the teams leave the pit stop: while last week’s editing indicated that Brian and Ericka were fairly far behind the front teams, they were actually right on top of the Globetrotters (and were likely just out of the camera shot when they went wide on the showdown between the Globetrotters and the brothers).
- The Don Giovanni challenge felt like it was trying to create a memorable character in the laughing opera singer who insulted the contestants when they brought him guitars and instruments which clearly do not qualify as “tiny,” but I don’t think it really worked. The show is best when its hilarious facilitators are inadvertently hilarious.
- And, maybe it’s just me personally, but I’d much rather have a final leg with no team I hate than one where there are teams that I both love and hate: whoever wins this race, I don’t think they’ll be an undeserving or dissatisfying winner, which is better than if that remains a possibility even with one team I enjoy still in the running.
- Thank you, Amazing Race, for no more crotch censorship.