Back to the (Reality) Future: The Amazing Race and Survivor
February 20th, 2011
Watching the Survivor: Redemption Island premiere, I listened to Jeff Probst with a certain degree of skepticism. His argument was that Rob and Russell both had their own form of unfinished business, having played the game multiple times without ever having won. However, really, their presence is not about their story – they are there because Survivor needed a hook, and pitting two of its most infamous players against one another. While I think Russell probably believes that he is there to prove something, I think that Rob is just there to have fun, which for me makes him much more enjoyable to watch.
The fact is that seeing reality contestants try to “prove” something holds very little value for me. I appreciate a good reality storyline, and I think that every great reality show needs a great narrative or three in order to sustain itself. What is always difficult about all-star driven seasons, like both Redemption Island and The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business, is the way in which the narrative is defined for us: in the latter case, the teams are all introduced based on the reason they lost, and the season becomes more about them moving past that initial defeat than anything else.
I know my Amazing Race history, and so I remember almost all of these teams (like many others, Amanda and Kris were too short-lived and too generic to make an impression, but I did remember them eventually). There are also many stories here that I am inherently attached to: Zev and Justin’s early exit thanks to a lost passport and Mel and Mike’s charming father/son dynamic were two narratives that ended too early, and that I was excited to see more of. On the other hand, the idea of seeing more of Margie and Luke is somewhat terrifying, given the fairly odious behavior which characterized their more tense moments back in Season 14.
The difference between Redemption Island and Unfinished Business is simple: while the former has the ability to create new narratives early on, both based on the minimal all-star presence and the structure of the game, the latter is not built for the same type of instant narrative. This does not make it a failure, as the opening episode is filled with spectacle designed to highlight the switch to filming in HD, but it does mean that the season’s real value won’t be certain until we get a bit deeper into the race and see if any new narratives might be able to emerge.
Although there is evidence to suggest that the show is well aware that you can’t coast your way to the finals with just Unfinished Business.
“She’s a Little Scared of Stick…”
March 15th, 2009
I spent a great deal of this, the fifth leg of The Amazing Race’s fourteenth season, wishing that last week’s blind U-Turn hadn’t happened, or that Kris and Amanda had been able to make it past the Detour in time to keep it from affecting them. While I understand that it’s part of the game, this race is weaker without them: a team that were likeable, fun to watch and competitive is the kind of team you want to have while you get rid of the weaker teams who are, well, not those things. Kris and Amanda may have been a threat to the competitive spirit of other teams, but they were much better from my own perspective – selfish, I know.
This week did little to assuage my concerns that we’re dealing with a slightly less interesting race as a result, although I’ll admit that this remains one of the most genuinely inoffensive group of racers in a long time. While there are a few teams who are legitimately struggling, it seems less as if they are just really bad at this race but rather that their skills lie in certain areas that don’t happen to come into effect when the teams are trapped in the depths of Siberia. We’re getting to the point where frontrunners are quite clear, and where the people who struggle are becoming more clearly identified, but there exists no one team that I would U-Turn if I was running this race with them.
But, of course, I’m not in race mode, so perhaps my rationality would go out the window when the time came.
“Your Target is your Partner’s Face”
February 22nd, 2009
When this, the second episode of The Amazing Race’s fourteenth season, begins, there’s a sequence where the teams all start talking about how much they are inspired by Margie and Luke, the latter of whom is the race’s first deaf contestant. To be honest, I was frustrated with this: not because they’re not inspirational, but that we are capable of discerning for ourselves how impressive his work is: in this episode alone, we see Luke making friends with Jamie and Cara (without his mother being present), and even offering his own individual interviews wherein he questioned his mother’s decision making and gave a glimpse into their team dynamic.
This is how you inspire us with Luke: not by shoving down our throats that he’s overcoming diversity, but showing how he is just another contestant in the end, how despite not being able to take part in tasks that require verbal clues he is an active participant in this race. He’s a heck of a lot more observant than some of the other teams in this leg, as massive errors continue to define the bottom section of the racers, and at this point it’s clear that there isn’t another Nick & Starr in the race: no team looks like it will be devoid of mistakes and drama both, and this could lead to some teams’ undoing.