Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Amazing Race - Season 1 Episode 2

The second episode of the first season of The Amazing Race is, in some ways, better than the first. The episode’s musical scoring seems better, and the producers also seem to realize that as an audience we need some sense of where the teams are during the course of the leg. The episode introduces the “Roadblock” task to the show; there had been a Roadblock in the first episode involving cooking and eating an Ostrich Egg but it hadn’t made the finishing cut for the first episode and it isn’t seen on the “side trips” feature of the DVD box set.

Of course circumstances conspired against the show. The second episodes of Lost and The Amazing Race were scheduled to air on September 12th, but on September 11, 2001 the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington Virginia were attacked by terrorists using commercial aircraft. This meant that entertainment programming was immediately pulled from the four major networks for the remainder of the week, not restoring regular programming until the weekend. The Amazing Race returned on September 19th, while the remaining episodes of Lost would be burned off later in the year. The ratings for the second episode of the show were lower than the ratings for the first episode, which some people attributed to a backlash against international travel in the aftermath of the attacks. There’s may be some truth to this, but it isn’t an easily proven theory, and some aspects of the drop in ratings have other the viable explanations. Still, the first season of The Amazing Race, and the second episode in particular are inextricably linked to 9/11.

The episode opens with a review of the first episode of the show, from the departure from New York to the late night arrival of Matt & Ana at Songwe Village. After the credits they show us a village that they say is Songwe but as I said in the previous post on The Race, the real Songwe Village is – or was – a resort. There is a nearby village but strictly speaking it isn’t called Songwe Village. In a voiceover Phil Keoghan tells us that the next clue is simple but tricky. They have to find the Songwe Village Museum, a tiny building less than 100 yards from the starting point. No cars are needed. The problem is that while the local people are totally aware of the museum’s location (oh yeah?!) outsiders have no idea that it even exists, and the drivers are all outsiders. We are also informed that  the teams will leave the Pit Stop at Songwe Village in the order that they arrived, twelve hours after they checked in at the Pit Stop.

The order of departure is:
  1. Rob & Brennan – 11:23 p.m.
  2. Bill & Joe – 11:37 pm  +14 minutes
  3. Frank & Margarita – 12:05 a.m. +42 minutes
  4. Lenny & Karyn – 1:52 a.m. +2 hours 29 minutes
  5. Pat & Brenda – 3:35 a.m. +4 hours 12 minutes
  6. Kim & Leslie – 5:33 a.m. +6 hour 10 minutes
  7. Paul & Amie – 5:50 a.m. +6 hours 27 minutes
  8. Dave & Margharetta – 6:24 a.m. +7 hours 1 minute
  9. Kevin & Drew – 7:09 a.m. +7 hours 46 minutes
  10. Nancy & Emily – 7:26 a.m. +8 hours 3 minutes

Rob & Brennan are given their “travel packet” (the term they used in the first season) not by Phil *who is nowhere to be seem) but by the local greeter from the previous episode. It states: “You are well acquainted with the Songwe Village. Now make your way to the Songwe Museum.” Rob & Brennan decide to team up with the next two teams and inform their driver that the first three teams in their cars will be travelling together “for safety.” They all pledge to an alliance to the end because they feel they are the strongest and smartest teams in the whole competition…and besides Margarita is certain she saw a sign for the Songwe Museum somewhere down the road. So off they go, an hour and forty-seven minute ahead of the next team to leave, Lenny & Karyn don’t feel the need to travel in a convoy for “safety.” They also go out on the roads looking for the museum. An hour and a half later Pat & Brenda leave and like the teams that went before them they take off in their car looking for someone who can direct them to the Songwe Museum.

So we have five teams on the roads looking for a museum that was almost literally right under their noses when they left. Eventually the “alliance” of Bill & Joe, Rob & Brennan and Frank & Margarita have to pull into a gas station. Frank is seriously mad at Margarita for saying that she saw a sign, and she insists that she thought she had seen a sign. This gives them a chance to consider their choices, and reread the clue. Rereading the clue, particularly the part where it says “You are well acquainted with Songwe Village…” This suggests to them that maybe the museum is located at the village. Someone claims that they had lost two hours; if we take this seriously and add the two hours to Frank and Margarita’s departure time of 12:05 a.m. it means that they make this discovery at around 2 a.m. when the only other team to have departed is Lenny & Karyn. Also assuming that they don’t take the same amount of time getting back to Songwe Village as it took them to get to the gas station, they could easily have found the clue before Pat & Brenda leave. For their part Lenny & Karyn find out about the museum when they stop to ask for directions. Karyn specifically says that they don’t want Songwe Village but the man they’re talking to tells them that there is a museum at the village. They find the clue while it is still dark.

Both Kim & Leslie and Paul & Amie head out by car but somehow Kim & Leslie find the museum first, driving right up to it in their car. They do find it after everyone else leaves though (or at least that’s the way it’s edited). Dave & Margharetta, leaving at 6:24 a.m. are the first team to be able to ask any of the people at Songwe Village how to find the museum. They get directions but unfortunately the directions, which start from the car park take them off on a ten minute walk down the road that turns into something a lot longer. When they see Drew & Kevin drive past they start to think that they should have driven too. Nancy & Emily, the last team to depart run into Paul and Amie who inform them that someone told them that the museum was in the village. The two teams come together with Dave and Margharetta, still on foot who confirm that the museum is within walking distance but they haven’t found it yet. The three teams working together are able to find it while Kevin & Drew are the last to find it.

The clue, when the teams find it, is a Detour called “Near or Far.” In the “Near” option teams have to travel to the nearby Mosi-Oa-Tunyu Wildlife Reserve and photograph three relatively hard to find animals using Polaroid cameras. The “Far” option requires them to travel to the Chobi National Park in Botswana and photograph one elephant. These photos have to be presented to Chief Mukini at Mukini Village, which is near Songwe Village, and is a landmark that at least some of the teams are aware of. All of the teams (except of course Pat & Brenda who are doing the Fast Forward) decide to do “Near.” It’s the right choice as Dave points out that Chobe National Park is nearly 90 kilometres beyond the Near destination. What he may not have known is that the most direct route to the park involves passing through Zimbabwe which was beginning to be increasingly isolated internationally at the time, though not to the levels it has reached today. The route to the park through Zambia included a ferry crossing of the Zambezi.

TAR1-1Pat & Brenda take a different approach.Unable to find anyone who can direct them to the museum they decide that it might be advantageous for them to use the Fast Forward. The clue for the Fast Forward is somewhat cryptic: “If you know what to do, then we’ve one name for you – Bundu.” Bundu Adventures is the name of a white water rafting company on the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls where the rapids are amongst the best in Africa. It’s daylight and the first three teams are already at the game reserve taking their photos before Pat & Brenda find Bundu Adventures and the clue is farther down the Zambezi in an area only accessible by white water raft. It’s an adventurous ride over some significant rapids, but when they get there they find the location of the leg’s pit stop, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

TAR1-2For the other teams discovering where they have to go next isn’t as easy. At the wildlife reserve they have to shoot photos of three animals; a buffalo, a giraffe and a rhinoceros.  According to Wikipedia finding the last animal on that list might not be as easy today as it appears to have been when the Race was shot. The local Black Rhinos have been wiped out by poachers in the Mosi-Oa-Tunyu reserve and a handful of White Rhinos have been brought into the park. Some teams take what appear to be extreme risks to get pictures. Nancy in particular tries to get fairly close to a Rhino standing in the road, much to the exasperation of her daughter Emily. And Emily’s mood isn’t improved when the camera doesn’t take the picture because the film pack hasn’t been put in properly. Still all of the teams manage to get their shots.

Once the teams take their photos they have to deliver them to Chief Mukuni at Mukuni Village. He is a descendant of the Chief who met Dr. David Livingstone when he became the first white man to see Victoria Falls. Before they can deliver them though they have to participate in a ritual blessing in which the Chief takes a sip of water from a gourd and essentially spits it out over them (a procedure looks like a spit take). Extra footage on the DVD also indicates that there is dancing involved, but that could be just as the teams wait to see the Chief. Once the ritual is done the Chief hands them a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower, their next destination. Most of the teams are elated, the exception is the team of Kim & Leslie: “Who wants to go to stupid Paris. I hate Paris.” As we shall see, they may have very good reason to hate Paris.

The teams are next shown back at the Johannesburg Airport although it’s not shown how they got there. Then the scramble for airline seats begins. There are no pre-booked seats for the teams to get to Paris which means trying to book the flights at the airport ticket counters. Pat & Brenda believe they have seats but nothing is immediately confirmed. A worse blow-up though happens between Amie and Kim or Leslie (I’ve never been able to tell the difference between those two). The Teachers are at the Air France counter booking a flight (it’s worth noting that she asks for four seats; teams in the race have to book seats for themselves and their camera crew – a total of four seats – but in every season since this one teams have been shown booking just two seats, with the camera team’s seats being booked off-camera). Amie is also at the counter. The one who is trying to book the flight holds up her hand and says, “And she’s not with us.” It seems like a perfectly normal thing to say, although the tone is a bit brusque, but Amie explodes. She walks away from the counter and is determined to stick her foot up their asses. Paul isn’t exactly a peacemaker; he tells Amie to punch in the jaw and the nose. As for Kim & Leslie, they don’t entirely understand what the cause of the problem between them and Paul & Amie is, but they basically automatically hate them. It takes the intervention of a lady, probably from South African Airways, to at least calm things down a bit, although Amie is still mad, because the woman doesn’t understand that this is a race.

These aren’t the only machinations going on. Bill & Joe have already cut Frank & Margarita loose from their alliance during the photo safari portion of the day claiming Frank was uncontrollable. On the flight to Paris Bill & Joe – who never tire of telling the camera that they lived in Paris for two years – discover that Rob & Brennan have never travelled outside of the United States before. For them, that’s reason enough to end the alliance because after all what can two guys who have never been outside of the USA help two guys who have lived in Paris. Thus when the first plane arrives at Charles De Gaulle Airport, Bill & Joe immediately head for the RER – Reseau Express Regional (Regional Express Network) – commuter train, abandoning  Rob & Brennan. Of course Rob & Brennan were fully expecting something like that to happen so presumably there were cracks in the alliance that even they noticed before they got to France. The other teams on the first flight are Frank & Margarita, Lenny & Karyn, Kevin & Drew and Pat & Brenda. The latter of course are able to go straight to the Arc de Triomphe where they are welcomed by a Parisian Police Officer who doesn’t look like our image of a French police officer; no Kepi but rather a standard military style hat. They’re the first team to check in.

Bill & Joe are there first to the Eiffel Tower, and are of course very pleased with themselves. They find the clue box fairly quickly and find out that they are facing a Roadblock. This is the first Roadblock that we see on The Race so Phil has to explain how they work. Teams have to decide who will do the Roadblock based only on a fairly basic clue before they undo the clue to find out the full details. In this Roadblock the first part of the clue says that the player who does it needs, “strong legs and sharp eyes.” The person doing it has to climb the stairs to the second deck of the Eiffel Tower and then “check out the telescopic view; we hear it’s monumental.” They’re supposed to obtaining a 10 Franc coin (this was pre-Euro) use one of the telescopes on that level to locate a Paris monument with a yellow & white Route Marker flag flying atop it. Bill & Joe are slightly ahead of Frank & Margarita and Rob & Brennan who are followed by Kevin & Drew. Frank, Rob and Drew all follow Bill (the dark-haired member of Team Guido) up to the observation level. While Kevin stops to catch his breath on the first level, Frank and Rob make it to the second deck and try to find the flag. This is somewhat hampered by the fact that Rob doesn’t know the Paris monuments. Bill does; he spots a “yellow flag over there” and heads down. Meanwhile Lenny & Karyn arrive and Lenny starts up the stairs. Frank eventually spots the flag on the arch but until it blows out isn’t exactly sure what it says. When he figures out it says “Monument” (actually it says MONUM’) he tells Rob and they both head down. Kevin, having finally reached the top level doesn’t seem to know what qualifies as a monument in Paris. A lady points out the arch and he looks through the telescope to see the flag. This is more than poor Lenny is able to do. He can’t see the flag so he decides to come back down. This upsets Karyn, who sends him back up again. Well sends him might be the polite ways of saying it; nags  and yells at him is closer to the truth. Lenny apparently decides that any monument will do gets a friendly tourist to point out some place to him and decides that Notre Dame is as good as any so he heads down and tells Karyn that they’re going to “Notre Dame” (pronounced like the University).

While the lead teams – less Lenny & Karyn – are heading for the Arc de Triomphe, the second flight arrives with Paul & Amie, Kim & Leslie, Nancy & Emily and Dave & Margharetta. The war between Paul & Amie and Kim & Leslie escalates over a cab. Paul & Amie seem aware that there is a line for cabs at the airport and you take them in order. Kim & Leslie appear to believe that lines are for people who aren’t from Texas and jump the line. Paul & Amie and Kim & Leslie both reach a cab at about the same time but Amie sits in the back seat first. Kim & Leslie basically bribe the driver to throw Paul & Amie, and their luggage out. This really upsets Amie. and Paul responds by telling her that they should just quit and fly back to New York! And if it gets any worse he’ll just go back to the States on his own. For their part Kim & Leslie are laughing their heads off.

Surprisingly it is Paul & Amie who are the first from their flight to arrive at the Eiffel Tower, ahead of the “party girls.” Paul goes up the Tower, so we all know that this is not going to end well. And sure enough it doesn’t. Initially unable to get change he finally is able to mime what he wants a 10 Franc coin for to a young couple and looks through one of the telescopes. He does not get instant gratification – that is he doesn’t see the flag on the Arc de Triomphe , and so he reacts in a typical Paul manner; he spins the telescope around angrily, kicks the guard rail on the observation deck and says “That’s it, I’m quitting.” Three times in one episode: must be some sort of record.

Meanwhile Kim & Leslie finally arrive at the tower. They are totally oblivious to the flag at the clue box and while hey might have seen Paul or Amie, they absolutely wanted nothing to do with them. Instead they get in a line for the elevators to go up to the very top level of the Tower. They make the assumption – based on their own odd logic – that if they’re going to send you to the Eiffel Tower, naturally they’re going to want you to go to the top, so that’s where the clue box will be. When they get there they keep asking people if they’ve seen a yellow and white flag. It gets worse when they try to say it in French and it comes out in Spanish (blanco instead of blanc).

While the teams from the second flight are arriving at the Tower, the teams from the first flight start arriving at the Pit Stop. Joe & Bill are in second place followed by Rob & Brennan, Frank & Margarita and Kevin & Drew, who are quite happy with the degree to which they’ve improved their position. Meanwhile Lenny & Karyn have arrived at Notre Dame and they suddenly have their doubts as to whether they’re at the right place. Karyn asks Lenny why he thought this was the right place and he came up with a cock and bull story – which those of us who have seen the earlier scene know to be untrue – about the telescope as you came out of the stairs pointing in the direction of Notre Dame. Karyn is dumbfounded; it might have been pointing that way because someone had just been looking at Notre Dame through it. This has cost them time and worse, precious money.

TAR1-3By the time that Lenny & Karyn get back from Notre Dame, and Kim & Leslie return from the top of the Tower, Nancy & Emily have already arrived and Emily has reached the Observation Deck. She has just one tiny problem – no change for the telescope. She manages to get a guy to toss her a 10 Franc coin from the upper story of the second deck but she can’t figure out what she’s looking for and gets frustrated. Paul is still up there, the temper tantrum having been exhausted, and he eventually spots the flag on the Arc de Triomphe. Meanwhile Lenny joins Emily and they are frustrated together. Lenny tries using the telescope and Emily mentions that the only Paris landmark she knows is the “Arc de Whatever.” Lenny and Emily take turns looking through the telescope and Emily sees the flag on the Arc de Triomphe and then lets Lenny take a look. They head down. At some point Kim (the dark haired Teacher) reaches the observation level and uses a borrowed pair of binoculars to find the flag.

The last group of teams are all headed towards the Arc de Triomphe. They’re all in cabs, and when they arrive most seem intent on crossing to the Arc the most dangerous way possible, by running across the Etoile – the giant traffic circle that surrounds the actual structure of the Arc de Triomphe – on the surface dodging traffic, rather than using pedestrian tunnels that are provided. David & Margharetta arrive at the Arc in sixth but while it’s not explained in this episode there is a problem with how they ended up in sixth which I will go into shortly. Paul & Amie come in seventh, The editting makes it seem as though Kim & Leslie arrive before Nancy & Emily and Lenny & Karyn but that they are delayed in a dispute with a cab driver who wants more money and refuses to give them his name. This may in fact be true but it seems somewhat at odds with some of what we’ve seen earlier. Suffice it to say that enough time passes for Kim & Leslie to finish last in this leg and be eliminated. Karma it seems is a bitch.

Final Order of Finish at the end of the episode:
  1. Pat & Brenda
  2. Joe & Bill
  3. Rob & Brennan
  4. Frank & Margarita
  5. Kevin & Drew
  6. Dave & Margharetta*
  7. Paul & Amie
  8. Nancy & Emily
  9. Lenny & Karyn
  10. Kim & Leslie – Eliminated
* Dave & Margharetta will receive a penalty at the beginning of the next stage for not completing the Eiffel Tower Roadblock.

– As I said, Dave & Margharetta’s penalty is not discussed in the episode, but it is explained in the next episode. Arriving at the Eiffel Tower they didn’t see the Route Marker and Clue Box. Independently they climbed to the second Observation Level together where they encountered Paul. He told them where the clue was. They then went down to ground level where they found the Clue Box. To complete the Roadblock one of them should have gone back up to the Observation Deck and then come right back down. They didn’t do this so a penalty was applied. In this period of The Race it was the procedure that penalties for missed or improperly completed tasks like this Roadblock would be applied at the beginning of the next stage unless adding the penalty would eliminate the team. This has changed in more recent seasons of the show where penalties are either served before teams check in or teams are sent back to where they missed the task to complete it. In the current version of the The Race, Dave & Margharetta would probably be sent back to the Eiffel Tower and one of them would have to complete the requirements of the Roadblock before they could check in.

– Paul may have been the whiniest person on this season of The Amazing Race, but in reviewing the first two episodes I’ve come to the conclusion that Emily may be the second whiniest. She is alternately impatient with her mother and whining about something not going her way. In the first she got mad with her mother for trying to tell her the directions that the lady in the rest room had tried to give her. In the second episode she got mad at Nancy for trying to get a good shot of the Rhino, and then whined at her to fix the camera when it wouldn’t shoot. She was impatient and whining again at the airport in Johannesburg when first she couldn’t get an answer on the telephone and then thought that they couldn’t make their flight. She was whiny on the Eiffel Tower, but at least then she wasn’t directing anything at her mother. When watching the show initially I quite liked her, and maybe she improves, although I know that the worst is yet to come in India. But in the first two episodes I think Nancy exhibited the patience of a saint when dealing with her daughter.

– A pet peeve of mine when discussing people on the show is that they seem to depend to an insane degree on cabs. Bill & Joe are the only team to use the RER to get from Charles De Gaulle Airport to central Paris, and no one used the #6 Metro line from Bir Hakeim station to the Charles De Gaulle Etoile station right under the Arc de Triomphe. This is in spite of the fact that the Metro can be as fast if not faster (not to mention cheaper) than taking a car depending on traffic patterns. At least a couple of teams wise up in the third episode.

– A brief talk about the ratings for this episode. The ratings for this episode were 6.8/10. The source I used to get that information didn’t have the information on the 18-49 demographic. This represents a drop of about 10% from the first episode rating of 7.5/11. Both times the show finished in second place, but in the second week the show lost to a repeat episode of The West Wing, which drew a 9.5/14 rating. In the show’s first week it was opposite the season finale of Fear Factor.

At the time, and for some time to come there was a belief amongst some fans of the show that the 9/11 terrorist attacks had hurt the show; that the American people weren’t going to be attracted to a show about international travel at a time when they were cutting back on their own travel and many Americans had the attitude that international travel was dangerous. I’m not entirely sure today that there wasn’t some of that coming into play, but I’m becoming less convinced that this was a primary, or even a major factor in the ratings decline. Instead I’ve come to the conclusion that 9/11’s real impact on the show was more pedestrian. It’s generally accepted today that most new shows will experience a drop in viewership from the first to second episode; I think the usual percentage quoted is about 10 to 20%. But remember, most of those shows air their second episode a week after the first. That didn’t happen with The Amazing Race for obvious reasons. And I think the delay between the first and second episodes help to hurt viewership. Of course the fact that they were going up against a encore episode of The West Wing, then a ratings juggernaut even in reruns, didn’t help it either. And things wouldn’t improve much as new episodes of popular series began running as the new season began.

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