The Amazing Race is, as everybody who reads my blog knows, the best goddamned show on television, and it is no small wonder that CBS was planning to hold off on it for midseason because of the impending writer’s strike. Unfortunately, Viva Laughlin was exactly the farce that everybody predicted it would be and got cancelled after two lousy episodes, so lucky us, we get the Race sooner than expected.
And, once again, it is instantly the best show on teevee, but initial signs point to a step up from previous seasons. There’s much less stunt casting, for one (yes, okay, the team of Goths and the team of married lesbian ministers, but two out of eleven is pretty forgivable). More notable from a casting point of view is the devout lack of the traditional Team Of Two Athletic Twentyish-Or-Thirtyish Men Who Win The Whole Damn Thing, not one but three all-female teams (the show’s producers pretty obviously want an all-female winning team, if you couldn’t tell), and the first ever grandparent/grandchild team who are the only all-male team on the race. (And, let’s be honest – not likely to win, because Donald the grampa, while definitely possessed of sand, seems to lack the shrewd racing instincts to make up for his lack of youth.)
Of course, we still have the usual healthy array of dating heterosexual couples, with initial signs pointing to at least one representative of each of the three traditional types of Amazing Race dating couples: Eerily Complimentary And Perfect For Each Other (TK and Rachel), Slightly Dysfunctional But Generally Healthy (Lorena and Jason), and What The Hell Are These People Doing Together (Jennifer and Nathan).
Plus, there are the Goths, Kynt and Vyxsin, who really seem like very nice people once you get past the fact that they thought to bring a lot of pancake makeup with them on the Race, that their names are Kynt and Vyxsin, that they wear matching outfits, that their names are Kynt and Vyxsin, that one of them actually used the phrase “oh my Goth,” and that their names are Kynt and Vyxsin. Luckily, Kant and Victoria seem like strong, intelligent racers and thus I will probably get over the name thing in maybe two or three years.
(Kynt and Vyxsin. What the hell.)
First episode features: the gorgeous countryside of Ireland, the highwire bicycle, the proof of the old advice to never, ever try to force a donkey to move (seriously, Racers – I’m a city boy born and bred, but even I know not to yell at a donkey), the elimination of a team who clearly thought they were hilarious and entertaining and were in fact just really painfully annoying, Ronald and Christina exploding with father-daughter pride for one another, Azaria and Hendekea showing off serious race smarts (now I want to go and check to see if a brother-sister team has ever won the Race before), and finally and most importantly this wonderfully insightful line from one of the married lesbian ministers (who are instantly one of my favorite teams) which sums up the entire appeal of the Race, an appeal that no other competitive reality show has:
“The Amazing Race is a love letter to the planet. The beauty of this Earth comes from God, and we get a chance to sort of hopscotch around it, and love it, you know? What a gift.”
That nails the appeal of the Race so precisely. The one truth about the Amazing Race is that to win it, you have to throw yourself with abandon headlong into other cultures and experience them, first-hand and up close (where their breath might not be pleasant). You have to be willing to partake of what is given to you. In other reality shows, you have to scheme and plot and brown-nose your way to success. In The Amazing Race, you just have to be faster and smarter and wiser and stronger and, on occasion, as in life, just plain luckier – and you have to reach for the human experience with both hands. That’s how you win the Race, and that’s why it’s the best show on television. Here’s to the new season.