Thursday, August 18, 2005

Okay, That's It...

Summer is officially over. Forget about the temperatures. Most of North America has been sweltering under temperatures that pose a danger to the elderly and small animals if they don't have air conditioning. I wouldn't really know about that - Saskatoon hasn't had a really hot day yet in August and the past few days the night time temperature has been dipping to around 5 Celsius (that's 41 for those of you who still think in Fahrenheit). The networks have been running ads for their "new Fall programs" practically since the end of May Sweeps, so that isn't exactly an indicator either. I suppose we could talk about "Back To School" ads - I'm waiting for the Alice Cooper ad from last year, probably in vain - but the school supply companies and the office stores have been sending those out to battle since the beginning of August. No for me the true indicator has been the posting of the new players for Survivor and The Amazing Race. That's the true sign that it's time to start worrying about when to put on a jacket when you're going out.

The Survivor cast looks like, well your average Survivor cast. There's your requisite old guy - this time he's a former marine who joined the Aurora Colorado Fire Department and rose to the rank of captain over a 30 year career. There's the usual complement of "pretty" young people, some of whom are models/actors - which usually means waiters - looking for their "big break". (Actually most of the time all of the contestants on this show and other reality shows tend to be "pretty people" even the old ones. This is television after all.) There are a couple of interesting stories. There's the first female sergeant in the Revere Massachusetts Police Department, a woman who lists her occupation as "fishmonger" - actually she's the assistant manager at a seafood company but what the heck - a woman who's a sports talk show host and a former NFL quarterback (Gary Hogeboom who I expect to be gone, probably during the mid-game phase - too dangerous in individual competitions). Actually I think that the most interesting thing about this season is going to be the location. They'll be living in the ruins of an actual Mayan city. I'm not sure - someone will probably correct me if I'm wrong - but I seem to recall that the original plan for the fourth "season" of Survivor was to have the players living in the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, but ratings for Survivor: Africa weren't as good as desired and a lot of people were nervous about running the show in the Middle East right after September 11, 2001. It took a while but it appears as if the basic concept is finally going to be used.

Of course, those of you who know me realise that as much as I like Survivor, I am absolutely passionate about The Amazing Race which is why I find the cast announcement for that show by far more interesting. This time around TAR is running a "family edition". The format for this "family" version has teams of four instead of two, all of whom must be related to each other in some way. Moreover the minimum age for the show was lowered, eventually to 8 years old instead of the usual 21 and the originally announced limit of 12. This has set off a firestorm amongst fans who like the show just the way it was, with teams of two going around the world. "Family edition" implies children on all of the teams and the hard core fans (and yeah I did think I was hard core but compared with some of these people I seem like a dilettante) don't want the show corrupted by children (said with a horrified shudder - or perhaps a horrifying shudder - implied in the way they write it). Children (shudder) would mean that the Race would have to be simplified, made safer and "child friendly" with rappelling and such replaced with visits to amusement parks. The fear and loathing wasn't being reduced with a number of spoiler sightings of teams, all of them being restricted to North America. "They were at the Kennedy Space Center!" "Someone saw a team at the CN Tower in Toronto!" "They were in Vancouver! I swear it's true!!" (Visits to Vancouver are a bit of a joke in the Amazing Race newsgroup.) And then to top it off, Hera McLeod - part of the TAR6 cast with her father Gus - wrote on the Survivor Sucks! message board "From what I hear, they are having a lot of problems with it and it may actually not be a rumor that it all gets canned. Personally, I think it would be a blessing in disguise because TAR is not meant for children!" (Although oddly enough I can't seem to find her original posting, and how would she know anyway.)

So what have we got now that the actual contestants have been revealed? Well there are 27 Racers over the age of 20, and only three under the age of 12. Eleven are between the ages of 12 and 20. There are a couple of intriguing relationships. There is a team of four adult sisters. One team consists of a man and his three sons-in-law, the youngest of whom is 26. There's a 46 year old widow with her three kids, the youngest of whom is 14 and a father with his three daughters who were in a shampoo commercial together a few years ago. One team has two children under the age of 12, including the youngest competitor (aged 8) while another family has a 9 year-old and a 12 year-old. Beyond a significant absence of openly gay team members, the most significant thing to me seems to be that The Race actually seems to have attracted more older racers this time. There isn't the usual crowd of wannabe models and actors. Instead over a third of the competitors - fourteen in all - are 40 and older. That's "geezerhood" to many fans of The Race. I suppose that's necessary if you're going to have a race with the restrictions of familial relationships and the reduced age limit but still, when you consider the uproar about letting younger people compete in the race, the fact that there are as many people over 40 this time around as there are under 21 and as many people over 50 (advanced geezerhood) as there are under 12 would come as a big surprise if any of the raging fans bothered to notice.

I haven't pre-rendered judgement on the upcoming edition of The Amazing Race. I want to see at least the first before I do that. I don't take the spoilers all that seriously - yet - simply because the show has traditionally been very stringent when it comes to security. It's entirely plausible that the producers have hired families to show up at famous locations for the specific purpose of being noticed. That said, I will be happy when the producers take the show back to its roots with the ninth series of The Amazing Race. It isn't that the family idea is necessarily a bad one. Simply it is a case that I think that teams of four are harder to relate to than teams of two. I also think that teams of four are going to be more difficult to manage. Most of all I don't like the implication that the changes occurred as a backlash to incidents in a couple of earlier season - like the one where Jonathon, a racer in the sixth race, pushed and berated his wife Victoria leading to charges of spousal abuse. Worst of all I fear that changing The Race will lead to some of the hard won momentum that the show gained in its two series last season. Of all of the "Reality-Competition" shows on the air, I think that The Amazing Race stands head and shoulders above the rest and I'd hate to see it lose the ratings strength that it has so richly earned and I worry that changing the format could hurt the show more than it helps.

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