If you've been reading this blog for any serious length of time you will know that I am a huge fan of The Amazing Race. I watch Survivor, I tolerate Big Brother, I enjoy Hell's Kitchenand I am occasionally amused by Beauty and the Geek, but for me the best reality-competition series on television - bar none - is The Amazing Race. I love it because of the people, the originality of the tasks but most of all for the different locations they visit. Often enough the American contestants find themselves amazed at how giving the "foreigner" can be and the audience often get to wonder whether they would display the same attitudes that people on the show do. Most of all, The Amazing Race is the most accessible of the Reality-Competition shows. I couldn't imagine myself on "the island" in Survivor, and I'm not pretty enough to be on Big Brother (although I'm getting to "sacrificial wily old guy" age), but I could very easily see myself with a partner being "Philiminated" late in the game. I can't see myself actually winning anymore but the thing about this show is that just about anything is possible.
While I wouldn't rank this season of the race up with the best ever (my absolute favourite has to be TAR7 - the season of Rob & Amber and the miracle airplane situation that allowed Uchenna & Joyce to get on the plane and win) I has been a pretty good one. The show managed to add another six countries to the list of places they've taken viewers to - Mongolia, Kuwait, Mauritius, Madagascar, Finland and Ukraine - and without the showiness of Survivor's "segregated tribes" managed to have one of the most diverse casts ever, including two South Asian players (Vipal & Arti), two followers if the Islamic faith (Bilal & Sayeed), two people of Korean descent (Irwin & Godwin Cho), two African American single mothers (Lyn & Karlyn), a pair of recovering drug addicts (Tyler & James), a father trying to restore his relationship with his Gay daughter (Duke & Lauren), a Kentucky coal miner and his never travelled before wife (David & Mary), and an amputee who runs triathlons teamed with the guy who built her prosthesis (Peter & Sarah). It made the requisite Gay couple (Tom & Terry) seem positively pedestrian.
There were several changes from previous seasons, one good, one bad, and one which needed some work. In the first episode, two teams were Philiminated, one without warning. This was not received well by fans of the show. On the other hand the punishment for finishing last on a non-elimination round was changed from losing your possessions to having to finish first in the next leg or being "marked for elimination", an automatic thirty minute wait after reaching the mat before checking in at the Pit Stop - if there was at least one other team behind you when the penalty expired you were safe otherwise you were out. That was well regarded by the fans. As for the one that needs work, that would be the newly created Intersection. This forces two teams to work together as a four person team until they are told to stop. This one showed up when there were six teams left and teams essentially chose who they would work with. Things would have been much better both in dramatic terms and probably in show terms if the Intersection had been implemented earlier in The Race when there were more teams and if the teams had been forced to team up with the next two players to arrive, given the animosity between a couple of the teams.
But the big thing in The Race are the people and how they faced the tasks. This season's most memorable team was the Dave & Mary a couple so isolated that they didn't know any Asian people and had never met any Gays until they met Tom & Terry: "But I like 'em!" It was hard not to enjoy the enthusiasm that Mary felt at every new experience during The Race, and even the most hated and aggressive team on the show - Dustin & Kandice, "the Beauty Queens" - regarded them as good people. They managed a first for The Amazing Race, an alliance that lasted longer than the time between tasks and where alliance members actually stuck together and tried to help each other. The "Back Pack" and later the "Six Pack" alliance died after Dave & Mary left but it was amazing while it lasted. There were other things to remember as well. There was Tom & Terry who, failing to defeat the currents in a Vietnamese bay by rowing a sampan jumped into the water and pulled it in the style of Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. There was the sight of Sarah, the woman with a prosthetic leg and a "racing" foot climbing up the Great Wall Of China, up a cliff, and up the outside of one of the famous Kuwait Towers, while her able bodied partner waited on the ground cheering her on. There was a Beauty Queen driving a Ukrainian T-64 tank like a pro while her male counterpart from the Models team of Tyler & James stalled it, got soaked to the skin crossing a small stream, collided with the only other tank on the course and - as he put it - "drove like a girl"
So we come to the big questions: Who remains and who will win?
Lyn & Karlyn - Team Bama: These are the single mothers. Based on the way the show has been edited I don't like them. They don't seem to take any joy in the places they're visiting. They're in it for the money and that seems to be it. They have endured a great deal, and if I'd been asked at the start I would have picked them to be eliminated very early in the game, not to be the first all-female team to make it to the final three and to actually cross the finish line. They aren't particularly fit physically but they have a ton of grit and determination plus a willingness to be unsentimental. They are definitely tougher than they look. I still see them as the probable third place team.
Tyler & James - The Recovering Addict Models: The Amazing Race has a tendency to cast Models. It's an occupational advantage for them since the show requires all participants to be able to take off about 30 days from work. Models are able to arrange their schedules to do that in the same way that struggling actors, self-employed entrepreneurs and retired people can. What makes Tyler & James unusual is their back story. They are both recovering from serious drug addictions, and in fact they met in rehab. This has definitely made them a strong team. They are the team in this season of The Race that has finished first in more legs than any other team. And yet there sometimes seems to be something lacking in them. I wouldn't be surprised to see them finish first but I also wouldn't be surprised to see them make some minor error and finish second or even third.
Rob & Kim - Relationship Challenged: Every season there is a team that is testing their relationship, trying to see if it will survive going to "the next level". Actually there are usually several. This season there was Rob & Kim and Peter & Sarah (who ended their romantic relationship after they were eliminated). It's a dumb Idea unless you want to spend 30 days, literally 720 hours together, usually no more than 20 feet apart as mandated by the Race rules. This more time in one stretch than most adults ever spend with another adult. The situation is full of stresses that are nearly impossible to describe. Teams usually end up fighting with each other, and again there is usually one team that stands every season for their fighting. That was Rob & Kim. Everything was drama with them and they wouldn't be in the final three if I had anything to say about it, but I, and the other fans, and the producers, don't have any say which is the great thing about The Amazing Race - it is all the abilities of the players, not popularity. Rob & Kim have only finished first in two legs, but after the first two legs they've never finished lower than third. I'm willing to suggest that they are the team that Tyler & James are going to have to defend against most if they hope to win the million dollar first prize.
The Amazing Race has had it's best season ever in terms of ratings helped, ironically enough, by the thing that fans of the show feared would hurt it the most, overruns of NFL football games on CBS. Ratings on nights when football games ran long, delaying the start of 60 Minutes have been among the highest that the show has ever experienced. The one hour finale of the 10th Amazing Race airs this Sunday following the Denver San Diego football game and 60 Minutes. After that the show will be on hiatus until February (I believe) when the All-Star version of The Amazing Race begins. I have some thoughts on that, but they'll keep until the teams are announced.