Monday, July 12, 2004

Playing the 'Race' Card

Television's best reality show has returned, and airs its second episode of the season tomorrow night. CBS's nifty The Amazing Race relaunched last week by sending its 11 two-person teams from Los Angeles to Miami and then on to the unlikely destination of Uruguay. (Don't worry, it's a real country -- I checked.) Each week the teams will scurry across the globe, completing challenges, dealing with all sorts of foreign inconveniences, and trying to avoid finishing last during a leg, until one teams finally returns first to L.A. to claim the first-place prize of a million bucks. For a few seasons now, CBS has seemed uncertain on bringing the show back, and each time, thankfully, the network has made the right call. The Amazing Race is hands down the most exciting and honest show of the reality genre, which I realize is the very essence of damning with faint praise. Just trust me: If you're not watching, start.

What distinguishes the show from its peers is that there is no filler. Nobody's lying around, scratching their bug bites while they try to catch fish. Nobody's trying to "find love," which is TV code for "get laid by a bunch of hotties while simultaneously avoiding any semblance of commitment." Nobody is lying and cheating to win a chance to be mercilessly browbeaten by Donald Trump for a year. Nobody is abusing the nation's canine population with unbearably off-key singing. From the minute it comes on the air to the minute the last-place team gets booted from each leg of the global pursuit, The Amazing Race is an undiluted adrenaline rush of pedal-to-the-metal excitement.

And personality clashes. Unlike other reality competitions, which pit individuals against one another, The Amazing Race is team-based. Each pair has an existing relationship, which creates some enormously entertaining mini-psychodramas each week. Dating couples who somehow think the stress of a nationally televised chase will bring them closer; fathers and daughters seeking to gain each other's respect under difficult circumstances; best friends who have done nothing more challenging together than drink beer over a backyard barbecue -- just about any two people wrapped up in the cloak of mutual dysfunction seem to find their way into sketchy backwater airport terminals, checking their watches every five seconds and worrying that they're losing ground to the other teams.

The whole game is entirely merit-based. If you breathlessly reach each week's pit stop and check in with the refreshingly un-Probst-like Phil Keoghan after all the other remaining teams have, you're gone. You can be obnoxious, annoying, or even outright evil, and it doesn't matter. This is, praise the Lord, not a popularity contest.

And speaking of the Big Guy upstairs, my favorite moment from last week's premiere came when the twentysomething team of Brandon and Nicole, models and self-professed Christians, noted the confidence they're placing in God to guide their success. I observed out loud that I sincerely doubted the Almighty's interest in helping these clowns carry a 50-pound side of beef a half-mile to a Uruguayan butcher shop, given the other slightly more pressing issues in the world demanding His attention. The missus trumped me by smartly noting, "Uh, God allowed a gay team to win last time."

It's too early in the race for me to have a favorite team for which to root, but I certainly have targeted some I don't want to win. I'm hoping the God Squad drops out soon -- banished to last place, perhaps, but a group of slow-driving atheists. I'm also pulling for a quick demise for the pizza-making brothers from Dallas (just go with it, folks), a couple of big, honkin' tools who have already shown themselves to be sexist and bigoted. Undoubtedly they also kick puppies. God wants them to win even less than He did Reichen and Chip, I'm guessing, and that's good enough for me.


At July 13, 2004 at 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i recently realized that i badly want to be on Amazing Race. Its head and shoulders above the like and i really dig roadtrips. I only lack a compelling story/teammate. Can anyone help? I'll drive!

At July 13, 2004 at 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was me, by the way. i keep forgetting to sign off. damnit.


At July 13, 2004 at 9:24 PM, Blogger Tom said...

Can't help you, Greg. I've been trying to convince my brother-in-law to try out with me for a couple of years now!


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