In a few days the year 2013 will be forever gone. On the eve of the new year we often look back at the past year’s ups and downs, successes and failures. Another year is gone, and another season of TAR is history.
And maybe “postmortem” is not the best word for it, but it’s only natural for a fan of The Amazing Race to look back and reflect upon the past Race. The great things about this show are obvious, so I will not focus on those. I’ll focus on what (in my humble opinion) can make TAR more interesting and fun.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad season. We had some potentially interesting teams that unfortunately got eliminated early, yet it didn’t spoil the rest of the season.
Three of the more entertaining teams made it almost to the end: the Afghanimals – Leo and Jamal (entertaining because they were mischievous, light-hearted and fun); the Exes – Tim and Marie (entertaining because we loved to hate their bickering and hated to love the fact that it worked for them); the Doctors – Travis and Nicole (entertaining because the whole evolution from “very likable” to “very unlikable” was slowly and amusingly unfolding right before our eyes).
And even though the winners of the Race (Jason and Amy) was one of the most bland and boring teams there could be, their win did satisfy those of the fans who want to see the “most deserving” team win. They definitely were deserving – nice, even-tempered, helpful, non-controversial. I am sure they are very nice people in real life. It’s just that “nice” in real life does not necessarily translate into “entertaining” on a reality show.
But all in all – the cast of this season was alright, and it gave us our share of smiles, laughs, head shaking and eye rolling. Some yawns, too, but not terribly many.
However, what would I like to see changed on the future seasons of TAR? Here goes…
1. Eliminate the equalizers!
It was especially noticeable in the past two seasons – TAR 23 and TAR 22. I realize that for the production of the show it is very difficult logistically to have teams separated by a day or so. But! it is frustrating to watch when someone’s lead completely evaporates, and all the teams run together as one big happy group. Most of the contestants feel safer within the group, but “safer” for them translates into “less interesting” for the viewers. I want to see them guessing, worrying and not knowing where the competition is at the moment. I don’t want to see them running and working side by side.
What would I do about it if I were in TAR production? I would probably give them extra tasks to separate them a little. I gave this example on one of the fans forums: supposedly the teams receive a clue “your next destination is the city whose symbol is a bear and a tree” (like on the picture below that I took this past September). If the team knows the answer without looking up on the internet or receiving any help from anyone (the answer is “Madrid”, by the way) – they automatically get a seat on an earlier flight or some time advantage (because they can move on while those who don’t know the answer keep guessing until getting it right or take, let’s say, an hour time penalty).
Doing this will not only add some time gaps between the teams, but also reward those more knowledgeable about the world. That leads me directly to the next suggestion:
2. More mental challenges, please!
This past season we had a couple of tasks requiring memorization (like in Leg 7 in Abu Dhabi where team members – while in a race car – had to memorize the name and record time of the fastest driver). But there are no really challenging mental tasks. If I had a school age child watching this show, I would want him to see that knowledge and erudition are desirable and rewarded. I would not want him to see that confusing Berlin Wall with the Great Wall of China (like the blondes from TAR 22 did) is funny. Pitiful and embarassing – maybe. But not funny.
I don’t mean I want to see calculus tasks on the show, but I do want to see people using their brains, not just their muscles. If I want to watch intense and physical race – I would watch Tough Mudder, Spartan Race or whatever obstacle race I choose. As in everything – balance is good. So – let’s balance physical challenges and mental.
3. Eliminate non-elimination legs!
Non-elimination legs are my personal UNfavorite even when my favorite teams benefit from them. It’s a race – if you are last, you should be gone. That simple. I know that for production reasons something like this is sometimes a necessity, but why not substitute them with “to be continued” legs?
4. Please disallow the team work!
Yes, “teamwork” sounds good in real life, but on the Race – let each team fend for itself. It is more fun to watch, not to mention the fairness factor. If I were on the Race – I would (much like Leo) totally destroy my creation so that nobody can copy from me (yes, I am evil! but isn’t it fun?).
What made you laugh more – watching Leo hiding his creation from the desperately begging Nicole who was trying oh-so-pathetically to steal a glance? Or watching Amy doing Nicole’s Roadblock? The former was really amusing, the latter – not so much. Besides, it’s not fair to the rest of the teams when four people run almost as a single unit. After all – it’s a show featuring teams of two, not groups of four.
5. TAR prides itself on being a show about relationships, yet…
Yet we keep seeing again and again the same pigeonholed stereotypes and sob stories. Stereotypes: Your typical look-alike blondes, often boring but young and cute. Your typical fighting couple. A token “hillbillies”. A couple wanting their relationship to be tested by TAR. And so on, and so forth. Can we see something new? Some different relationship, perhaps? Some refreshing angle?
As for the”sob stories” – remember last season’s father and son team? They were quite bland, but they had a big “sob story” – firstly, surviving cancer; secondly, getting injured on the Race. The show hammered away at this “sob story” so much, you would think it’s a one team show. Please don’t do it again – you’ll get the opposite of your intended effect: you want to get more people glued to their TVs when TAR is on, but instead you will have many of them tuning out.
And while we are at it – can we please cut down on nauseating clichés as well? (“I want to prove to___that___“, “It’s not over until it’s over!“, “I am doing it for my____”, “I am not a quitter!“, and so on). These phrases have been so overused on the show that they lost their meaning. They only succeed in triggering eye rolling. If that.
6. Let the teams be in charge of their own luck!
No Express Passes (and no – it’s not loads of fun to watch one team sucking up to another in hopes of obtaining the second Express Pass). No U Turns. I get the intended “shuffling” effect of a U Turn, but! U Turns eliminate certain fairness. It’s more palatable when you have to bow to the power of the circumstances or blind luck (or lack of thereof) than when you have to bow to the power of some other team to ruin your race by U Turning you. I would suggest to replace U Turns, Fast Forwards, Express Passes with the Amazing Wheel of (Mis)Fortune (or some such) where each team spins to find out their destiny – whether it is a U Turn or Yield or Fast Forward. This way – we’ll have all the U Turns, Yields and Fast Forwards without the hurt feelings and unfairness.
7. Make final leg less linear and more exciting!
The winners of this season were basically determined by their luck in the final Roadblock. They had to drop a bag of flour from the plane and hit a target on the ground. Not too much skill was involved in the task – it was pure luck. The order in which they finished this task was the order in which they arrived to the Finish Line. No surprises there, no drama, no unpredictability. The scenery (it was in Alaska) was gorgeous, the rest – ho-hum. I wish – at least in the final leg – the luck factor is minimized and the skill factor is emphasized.
I know it is customary (and I think – very fair!) to have at least one “mental” task during the final leg. But usually it’s just a memory task. Since all the contestants keep detailed notes and are allowed to use them, it does not become a challenge at all – every team takes about the same time to complete it. Why not make it more challenging? Use memory without the notes? use your knowledge and erudition? use your brain? That would definitely spice things up and make them more exciting.
I can go on and on, but I should better know when to stop 🙂
If you have any thoughts – please post them. And in any case – Happy New Year! May it be peaceful, healthy, prosperous and exciting for all of us.
And may each new season of The Amazing Race be better than the previous and not the other way around! 🙂