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'Amazing Race' Might Be Just That

TV Review: CBS hopes for another reality ratings winner.

by Mark D. Johnson
September 6, 2001

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'Amazing Race' Might Be Just That_Mark D. Johnson-TV Review: CBS hopes for another reality ratings winner. Once again, as The Partial Observer’s intrepid Reality TV correspondent, I am courageously taking the arrows of ridicule so that you, who are far too cultured to sit through such low-brow fare, can keep up with television’s biggest programming craze. This time the show is “The Amazing Race” (“from the network that brought you ‘Survivor’”), in which eleven teams of two race around the world on a limited budget to win a million dollars. Each week, the last team to reach the designated Pit Stop location is eliminated. If you’re rolling your eyes already, you may as well move on to some other article. For everyone else, though, this is something you may want to check out!

The race began in New York’s Central Park. There are several locations each team must reach between Pit Stops, and at every destination point they are informed of the next destination and the available means of transportation. In New York, they learned from a small packet given to each team that they must choose one of three flights to Johannesburg, South Africa, then figure out on their own which airport to go to, and which flight would get them to Johannesburg first. From there, it was on to Victoria Falls, where the leading team, after a vigorous hike, could earn a “Fast Forward Pass” to the Pit Stop. The others would have to find Patoka Gorge in Zambia and either hike to the bottom or bungee jump to discover where the Pit Stop is located.

The cast is an interesting mix of personalities, diverse in age, race, and lifestyle. Twenty-two contestants would be a lot of people to keep track of, so the show wisely chose pairs that could be easily identified by category (older married couple, engaged couple, single teachers, gay partners, frat boys, mother-daughter, and so on). With the specter of elimination looming on each leg of the race, panic sets in among the stragglers, tempers flare, and we all know how tension can rise when traveling in an unfamiliar place with an eye on the clock. How else can we excuse one contestant snapping at an unsuspecting native for not knowing the territory well enough (“You live here! How can you not know where it is?!”)?

This show has a lot of potential to generate the kind of buzz that surrounded “Survivor.” The concept of a race around the world is exciting, full of intrigue and the exotic imagery of foreign lands. Some viewers may have a preconceived notion of how such a race should be conducted and will be disappointed to find that the rules of “The Amazing Race” greatly restrict the contestants’ options. This is a necessary evil given the logistics of following these people around with cameras and making the whole thing easy to follow for viewers at home. After all, this is not a real sport, and it has much less to do with “the game” than it does with the drama that transpires among the players. Nevertheless, there are some irksome times when the show glosses over the details, leaving us to wonder about the timeline specifics, where things were clearly edited to maximize the dramatic elements. This is where reality has been sacrificed for the sake of entertainment, but I expect the confusion to decrease with the number of teams.

If “The Amazing Race” manages to keep up the pace set in the first show, it deserves high ratings. It belongs to the small, elite class of reality-based shows worth watching, which I will continue to defend in an age of unimaginative sit-coms and traditional dramas. You television snobs too good for these shows can just keep watching PBS.

"The Amazing Race" appears Wednesdays on CBS for thirteen episodes. The debut episode will be rebroadcast Sunday, September 9.

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