TAR 23 “POSTMORTEM” (Or Lessons From This Race That Could Help Make Future Seasons Better)

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.

TAR 23 Cast

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).

Symbol of Madrid

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!  🙂

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Since due to my being on the road I was only able to write this recap two days after the TAR 23 finale, it’s fair to assume that most fans know by now which team won this season. And most fans – much like myself – were very sad to say goodbye to the Afghanimals in Japan (at the end of the first hour of this 2 hour finale).

The Afghanimals are the first to arrive in Japan. It’s weird, but the rest of the teams run as a 6-people-pack – more preoccupied with all things about the Afghanimals than with the race itself. Even their taxis run together as a cortege of 3 until finally Marie and Tim break away. The challenges are fun, and the Afghanimals quickly complete their Speed Bump. But! Once again TAR allows two teams work together on the Roadblock  – which puts the teams who work alone at a big disadvantage. I don’t know about you, but I have huge issue with TAR allowing Team Roadblocks! If it were not for that, if it were not for Amy almost single handedly finishing Nicole’s Roadblock (again!!!), I am sure the Afghanimals would be one of the three final teams (and I am pretty sure Nicole would still be trying to figure out how to assemble that robot in Japan). Some people might say that Amy was too nice, but I believe she actually was mean – after all, it’s because of her that we were deprived of the Afghanimals!

TAR 23 finale

And without the Afghanimals it was all downhill to the finish line. No lightheartedness, no amusing mischief, not much joy – just dead seriousness and sheer determination to win that million dollar prize. Yes, it’s a lot of money. But divided by two and taxed at 40% plus – is it worth it to sacrifice the joy of the race for?

Anyway…Amy/Jason, Marie/Tim and Nicole/Travis run neck in neck  (or rather – fly together) from Japan to Juno, Alaska. We are treated to gorgeous shots of lakes, forests and glaciers. It’s amazing how gorgeous shots always save the race.  The first task is the Roadblock that is supposed to simulate a supply drop from a plane. All the ladies are performing this task where they had to throw something (a bag of flour, I believe) from a small plane and hit the target painted on the ground. I doubt there is much skill involved in this task – it’s mostly luck. The luckiest one is Amy – she is the first to hit the target. The second one is Marie, and hapless Nicole is the last. This order stays exactly the same until the Finish Line. I have no idea why Phil called it an unpredictable finish – if this is UNpredictable, what would he call predictable?!

So yes, Amy and Jason won this season of The Amazing Race. Exciting? Not really. Deserving winners? I guess. They were relatively nice, relatively strong, relatively even in their performance.  Yet the only somewhat memorable thing about them was Amy’s penchant of doing other team’s Roadblocks. Jason called himself and his girlfriend one of the best teams ever. Get a life, Jason. Six 2nd place finishes might make you one of the strong teams, but “best” is not the same as “strong”. “Best” does not include “bland“, “blah” and “boring” even if it begins with the same letter. Deserving they might be, but interesting and entertaining they definitely were not. Even at the Finish Line, they were promptly forgotten by Phil and the rest of the cast once a more interesting team – Tim and Marie – arrived. And no wonder – Tim and Marie are more fun, their relationship is unorthodox, their chemistry is charmingly quirky – even their pre-race arrangement  (to divide all the future winnings 60-40 rather than 50-50) was quite curious! Tim got the warmest round of applause – perhaps as a reward for putting up with Marie. But I actually think these two are pretty happy with each other’s company.

TAR 23 winners

Travis and Nicole were the third team to arrive. You know, there was time when I almost wished that they won the Race – just to see if Amy would regret those Team Roadblocks. But that would be a total fluke. I actually do not know what I find more repulsive – Nicole’s ineptness and constant crumbling under the slightest of pressures or Travis’ terrible treatment of his hapless wife. I almost wanted to feel sorry for Nicole, and I would if it were not for her smugness, hypocrisy and righteousness. I guess those two deserve each other.

Well, what do you think? Are you sad the Afghanimals did not make it to the final three? Do you think TAR production should make the rules clear and not allow Team Roadblocks in the future? After all, the show is about the teams of two, not the teams of four, etc. Are you happy or disappointed the next season will be All-Stars?

And here you can find the most up-to-date links on all things The Amazing Race:



Watching the previews of this episode I was thinking it would be all about cobras – I even thought to name this recap “One man’s snack is another man’s poison.”  But! The episode turned in a different direction. The first task – eating cooked cobra meat – was more about rolling eyes, making faces and raising eyebrows than about real drama or fear. All the teams, even Marie – the pickiest of eaters – ate their grilled cobra  servings without much problem.

We see some hand holdings in this episode (between Travis and Jason), some snide comments (from oh-so-nice Amy), some panicky cries of Nicole (what else is new). We hear multiple repetitions of the fact that Marie does not know how to boil an egg. In other words – nothing too exciting or fun.

Roadblock (Episode 10 TAR 23)

For those who have not watched this episode – please be warned that in the next few sentences I will reveal the “winners” and “losers”. But don’t fret if your favorite team is in the wrong “camp” – this was a non-elimination leg. Not a terribly exciting leg, too – the Roadblock (“Who is feeling hard boiled?“) was about boiling eggs in steaming volcanic spring. The Detour was a choice between “Paint your partner” (applying Indonesian bridal make-up on each other) and “Turn over a new leaf” (looking for a pair of clipping shears hidden in the bushes of a tea plantation). Amy and Jason (finally) won this leg of the Race, and the Afghanimals (who had to switch the Detour twice) were the last to arrive. But – as I mentioned – it was a non-elimination leg, so they still live to see another leg of the Race.

Now, back to my musings. Why did I name this recap the way I named it? Why “Ode to the Afghanimals“?

If you read this blog in the past, you might have noticed that in the beginning of the season, before the start of the Race , I wrote some  “introductions” – my first impressions of the teams. And you might recall that I generally disliked team “Afghanimals”:


My first recap or two were not favorable to this team. However, over the course of this Race they have proved themselves more entertaining that possibly all of the other teams combined.

Detour 1 (TAR 23 Episode 10)

To me personally – it’s absolutely not important if the teams are nice or not, good-looking or not, famous or not. But! They must be entertaining. Entertainment is the reason I turn on the TV. That’s the reason I watch this show. And that’s the contestants’ “job” – to entertain us, the viewers. Do they seriously think they are on the show because they are oh so nice or oh so honest or oh so pretty.?! They are there to entertain the viewers. If they don’t do this “job” – there soon will be less and less viewers, and the show might cease to exist. That’s my defense of the importance of being entertaining.

I read a lot of fan posts and forums, and I see there is a good proportion of people who find the Afghanimals annoying.  I hear also that many of their fellow racers disliked them. But I can only go by what I see. Yes, sometimes they are annoying (who isn’t?). Yes, sometimes they are show-off-ish (tempted by cameras perhaps?. But their joy for life and enjoyment of the Race are so palpable and infectious. They come across as mischievous, light-hearted, sometimes silly,  sometimes playful. They don’t give us solemn (and oh sooo overused by other contestants!) proclamations of how “we are not quitters” and how “we must prove this or that“. They (unlike most others) don’t take themselves too seriously. They bring fun to the Race. They spice up the not-so-exciting cast. They do their “job” of entertaining very well, much much better than the rest.

And during this episode, when the possibility the Afganimals being eliminated became so real, I felt sort of sad: I normally so much look forward to the finale, but without the Afghanimals (and with what’s left now), I doubt the finale would be that fun.

Detour 2 TAR 23 Episode 10

Yes, this was a non-elimination leg. But my gut feeling tells me the Afghanimals still will be eliminated next. Between their Speed Bump in the next leg and Amy’s penchant for completing Nicole’s Roadblocks, they stand very little chance.

And most likely the winners will be either Nicole/Travis or Amy/Jason. Marie and Tim get lost way to often for us to hope that they wouldn’t get lost again, somewhere between the beginning of the leg and the Pit Stop. Amy/Jason and Nicole/Travis are now like one single team instead of two separate competitors: Amy finishes Nicole’s tasks, Nicole cries on Amy’s shoulder, Travis and Jason run to their Roadblocks and back holding hands. B-O-R-I-N-G (and I am not even going into that being unfair).

Think of it…5 seasons from now, would you really remember inept Nicole-and-hypocritical-Travis? Would you really remember sort-of-nice-but-oh-so-bland-Amy-and-Jason? You might vaguely recall the pink tips of Marie’s hair. But the Afghanimals – the Afghanimals you will remember. You’ll see.

And here you can find the most up-to-date links on all things The Amazing Race: