RACE DOWNHILL (TAR 26)

By now 4 episodes of the current season have been shown to the dwindling audience, so everybody who cares to know already knows what’s the “catch” in this season. Gone are the times of established relationships, gone is diversity of the relationships – the whole cast this season is made up of dating couples vs couples on a race-long blind date (the matchmaker is being played by TAR production). No parent/child, no friends, siblings, co-workers, spouses – this season it’s a dating game, baby!

I actually considered calling this post “Race to the Altar” (that’s what the production is counting on, no?), but then I discovered that there has been a show with that exact name. Check this out (courtesy of Wikipedia):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_to_the_Altar

If there must be a twist, a “catch” – can it be something original? Or all the production can do is recycle old ideas?

I also considered a quote from Hamlet for the title: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Seriously – why else TAR would be so desperate for some (any!) novelty, for some (any!) sparks between the dating and blind-dating couples? Why all these pathetic annoying selfies we are “treated” to? Why let the camera linger in the bedroom of blind-dating couple instead of over some exotic landmark?

TAR 26

And I can’t help but feel that TAR is trying to imitate Survivor. Survivor has those great mud challenges, so TAR now makes the contestants crawl through the mud right off the start line. The only difference – on Survivor mud is part of the challenge itself, on TAR it was a completely pointless unnecessary exercise.

Then – Survivor has all these “…vs…” seasons – “Blood vs Water“, “Blue Collar vs White Collar vs No Collar“, so of course TAR now needs “Dating Couples vs Blind-Dating Couples.” They say – imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and true – Survivor has been great fun the past few seasons while TAR has been racing downhill. Only imitation will never lead to greatness.

I have not finished watching the last season of TAR. It was too ho-hum for my taste. I know a female team won, but I hardly remember who they were, let alone their names. This season I dutifully watched the first four episodes. I still don’t know who is who. Some athletes. Some ex-members of ancient rock band. I hardly know anyone’s name. The personalities are just too bland to stand out in a crowd. I won’t forget Charla and Mirna, or the Cowboys, or the Twinnies (btw, congrats to Natalie for winning the last Survivor! Great game! Loved you on TAR and loved you on Survivor!)…or Jonathan/Victoria, or Rob/Amber, or the Globetrotters, or Kynt/Vyxsin…You can like some of them, hate the others, but you know who they are. They have never been the specks of drying paint on the wall. Unlike the contestants of the past few seasons.

What else can I say? Challenges so far are so-so. What’s with the two back to back dance challenges? Can we do something else but the dance routine? Oh yes, and we got “treated” to a cheesy proposal at one of the Pit Stops. It felt like it was staged by TAR production. Maybe not, but it felt that way. Corny, awkward, insincere. But I bet the production finds it great success nonetheless.

It genuinely pains me to see the show coming to this. I used to love it so. And I wonder if maybe the Race needs to reach the very bottom to start finally crawling up….

And here (in case you still care) you can find the most up-to-date links on all things The Amazing Race:

http://www.sirlinksalot.net/amazingrace.html

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PRETTY IRRESISTIBLE PONIES (TAR 25, Episodes 1-3)

I haven’t been deliberately ignoring The Amazing Race; it’s just that there are too many shows, too little time. Gone are the times when TAR was my # 1 – with blindsides on Survivor and some drama even on Project Runway (not to mention some gorgeous clothes!), who has time for that “let’s all be nice and play well together” type of fun that became so common (and so boring ) on TAR? But then –  purely by chance –  I caught a glimpse of Shetland ponies in a preview to TAR 25 episode 3…There were sheep, too. And animals on TAR are always irresistible and fun to watch (which you cannot say too often of the contestants). And that’s how – thanks to the ponies! – I got finally caught up on the current season of TAR.

Ponies

I actually liked the first episode a lot. It was nice to have a different startline for a change – in NYC, surrounded by fans (not in some guarded location in LA or the vicinity). It was also nice to see an homage to TAR 1 by featuring its finish line in the first episode of TAR 25.  A new feature is introduced – “Save” – the team that has it can save itself from elimination if it comes in the last place. Did TAR “borrow” it from Project Runway where “Tim Gunn’s save” has been  a feature for a couple of seasons? Either way – it seems more valuable than previous incentives.

But the most delightful for me personally was the Roadblock in the US Virgin Islands where the contestants had to find treasure chests using a traditional liquid compass and shovel with 1-yard markings.  Finally, finally!  Such a rarity nowadays on TAR! – the contestants’  mental abilities are put to test!!! Finally!  And of course – the majority struggles. Delightfully so. You don’t really need to know how this compass work, but if you have reasonable intelligence and minimal knowledge – it’s not too hard to figure it out. But then I hear one of the blonde sisters (presented to us as most successful real estate agents in Miami!) proclaiming that  “the sun rises in the north and sets in the east“…and – what can I say? I don’t even bother shaking my head or rolling my eyes.  But I made sure I learned the name of the only person who figured out the compass quickly and all on his own – Jim-the-dentist (a side note here: you don’t really need to be a dentist or even have a college degree for that matter to figure it out).  We had a little deja vu, too – much like in the first leg of TAR 22, several teams chose to take 4-hour penalties rather than finish the compass task. Tsk-tsk-tsk!. Anyway, Jim-the-dentist along with his wife Misti-the-dentist got to the Pit Stop ahead of everybody and earned the coveted “Save“. The blonde “most successful real estate agents in Miami” got eliminated . Not a huge surprise but hugely satisfying.

Ponies -)

Leg 2 was far less fun. The teams fly to the United Kingdom and then it’s a hodgepodge of Queen’s Guards, pancakes, London, Oxford, boats, bowler hats, umbrellas…The leg  was hard to follow and not that interesting to begin with. There was a little twist that allowed teams to make a little detour in search of the Express Pass, but since the first team – surfers Bethany and Adam – were safely ahead of the other teams, they could afford the luxury of spending time in search of the Express Pass. They got both – the Express Pass and the first place in this leg of the Race. Now I hear some rumors in social media, suggesting that the Express Pass thing was “rigged”/”tailored”/”designed” specifically to be found by handicapped Bethany and her sidekick husband, that ” it would improve her chances to complete (or bypass) future Roadblocks“. I truly hope it’s not the case. I would despise it if it were the case.

Sheep

In Leg 3 teams travel to the Shetland Islands of Scotland. Phil earnestly tries to educate us, the viewers:
the Shetland Islands are known for the  Shetland Pony“. No kidding! Who would have thought! It’s bad enough TAR has a penchant for choosing some rather ignorant contestants, but please don’t dumb down the show any further.

The stars of this leg were definitely the ponies – cute, diminutive, intelligent yet capricious. I know Detours that involve animals can become unpredictable and sometimes disastrous, but I personally would never have considered making a torch (the other alternative of this Detour) if  I could get a chance to be close to the ponies. But ponies were not the only animals in this Leg of the Race. There were Shetland Sheepdogs – well, the cameo appearance of one real  Shetland Sheepdog and the teams’ impersonation of the rest. There were flocks of sheep that our contestants had to corral. There was even a minor mystery clue to the Pit Stop. Nothing that would overheat the contestants’ brain (practically everybody got the answer right with the help of locals), but at least the directions were not spelled out. Good. Once again – Jim-the-dentist and Misti-the-dentist were the first team at the Pit Stop.

 

So, after 3 episodes, which team(s) seem to stand out and which are still a blur? Well, for me – Jim and Misti definitely belong to the former. And not only because of their blindingly white teeth. I find such unnatural whiteness a little too artificial for  my taste, but they are dentists, so I guess it’s a professional requirement of sorts. I noticed they are somewhat disliked by TAR fans in the social media. Mostly Jim,  since Misti is quite invisible (except for her teeth of course). But so far I dig his no-nonsense attitude. I imagine he can be ruthless and unapologetic. I imagine he wouldn’t hesitate to use a U-Turn on someone. I can’t see him holding hands of another team of finishing someone else’s Roadblock. Good! All fun qualities for a TAR contestant in my books. The qualities that make watching contestants (rather than animals) interesting. So I don’t even hold his fake white teeth against him. For now, at least 🙂

Next team that stands out to me is Bethany and Adam, the surfers. For obvious reasons – she has only one arm (the other one she lost to a shark). So of course she is noticeable. But she comes across as artificially childish (“Ohh, can we play with the Puffin?” “Ohh, can I go for a swim?”) rather than genuinely exuberant and excitable (like Mallory Ervin – remember her?). She is quite bland even though she has an unusual story (which she worked into  various book deals, movie deals, endorsement deals and what not). Her sidekick husband is largely invisible – even after 3 episodes I wouldn’t be able to pick him from a lineup even if my life depended on it. I don’t mind them though, but only because they pick my curiosity – how would she do in Roadblocks with one hand? So far she hasn’t done a Roadblock, but the talk in social media is that “they’ll tailor a Roadblock to her“. I hope not. But when people ask “so why there were no Roadblocks in Episode 3 but 2 Detours instead?” – it makes me wonder. Why indeed? It also makes me wonder – does she have priority boarding as a handicapped person? Do people go an extra step in helping her seeing that she has only one arm?  The step they would not make for the others? All this would be very commendable in real life, but on TAR – everybody should be equal, no special treatments. Well, we shall see.

Phil and Puffin (TAR 25, Ep 3)

Another team that stands out to me is mother/daughter Shelley and Nici. Mostly because they look like sisters rather than mother and daughter. But also because they seem full of life and sound very genuine when they talk about being real fans of the show. I somehow doubt though that they would go far.

The rest of the remaining cast is sort of a blur – two pretty interchangeable female teams (one team is the cyclists, another – the food scientists), a cute (but nothing more) college sweethearts team, a team of ex-Survivors (were pretty much invisible then and are pretty much invisible now) and a team of pro-wrestlers. The pro-wrestlers are walking stereotypes of their profession – both  a he and a she appear overly muscular, overly tattooed and not overly bright. The appearances can be deceiving of course, but they have not yet managed to deceive by the end of the Episode 3.

 

That’s where we stand so far from my humble point of view. I might or might not return for the future recaps. Depends on how entertaining the contestants prove to be (the only one I am willing to bet on right now is Jim-the-dentist and – largely by association – Misti). But TAR always has a foolproof way of bringing the viewers in – just bring back the ponies! 🙂

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

http://www.sirlinksalot.net/amazingrace.html

THE MILESTONE EDITION – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE USUAL (TAR SEASON 25)

So TAR 25 premiere has been announced, the date has been set for September 26, and the teams have been made known. Whether or not I blog about it depends on how the first episode goes – after all, the past few seasons did nothing to ignite the inspiration (to say the least).
But for a milestone like this – Season 25! – there must be something special in stock. Right? Well, let’s see.

Let’s start with the start line. New York City! Times Square! Nothing against LA and vicinities, but starting every Race there has become stale and predictable. So – yay to the new start line location!

The next change: CBS moved The Amazing Race from Sundays to Fridays. On the surface it seems like a good idea – after all, how many times have we all seen TAR being delayed on Sunday evenings because of some sporting event? But…But – how many people sit home and watch TV on Friday nights? Friday nights are get-together nights, date-nights, drinks-with-collegues-after-work nights. Yes, there is always your trusted DVR. Yes, you can watch episodes online the next day. But there is still the danger of decreased number of viewers, decreased ratings and eventual demise. Especially if the show continues to be like the last season’s.

Let’s see if the cast is fun for a change. We’ll learn more details closer to the premiere. At the first glance – the cast looks diverse: white, black, asian, straight, gay. But all relatively young, all relatively buff – not much diversity in the age department, nor in physical. Where is brawn vs brains here? Where is wisdom vs youth? Not so diverse, after all. No repeat players, no so-called “stars” (thanking the literal stars for that!). So far so good. A team of blonde Barbies – the usual nuisance we are made to put up with. A couple of recycled second-tier Survivor contestants. More like tenth-tier players really – I do watch Survivor, but they don’t look even vaguely familiar. So – yes, the usual again. No recycled Big Brother contestants – I guess at least that’s good. Who else? A surfer whose arm was eaten by a shark (and whose experience the movie “Soul Surfers” was based upon) – once again TAR production shoots for a sob story. With an “inspirational” twist – “don’t give up!” The usual. Nothing against inspirational, but they somehow manage to make it so cheesy. Let’s hope it will not be the case in this milestone season.

Another thing – Phil Keoghan looks suddenly old and worn out. I like Phil and don’t really mind, but somehow it is so obvious. Maybe he should get some “beauty tips” from the Survivor’s Jeff Probst or maybe – just maybe – if his own show becomes more fun, the youthful spark will return to his eyes and his delighted smile will smooth out the wrinkles?…just saying…

Cast TAR-25

What do I hope to see in this milestone season? First and foremost – I don’t care whether the cast is diverse and “politically correct” – I want fun, daring, entertaining teams. I don’t want them run around holding hands and helping each other. I want drama! Otherwise – why waste my time? It’s a reality show – I don’t want “lessons to learn”, cheesy proclamations (“I don’t give up!”) and sob stories repeated ad nauseam or masquerading as inspirational. Call me bloodthirsty, cruel, shallow, what not, but I want drama. And most viewers do. We want something to talk about, to gasp at, even something that some love to hate (hello, team Brenchel! Hello, Twinnies!). Not perfectly nice but perfectly boring people. “Perfectly nice” is good in your next door neighbors. But this is a reality show – we want Drama. Not only dramatic shots of far-away places (National Geographic does a better job at that anyway), but contestants-related drama. No kumbaya, please. No hand holding. No collectively done challenges.

Also – against all hopes and against all odds – I hope for intellectually stimulating show. At least somewhat. No contestants that do not know the difference between the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall (hello, the blonde Barbies from the most recent All-Stars!). If you want to travel the world – care to learn at least a little bit about the world. Dumbness is not entertaining nor it is amusing. Instead of dumbing it down, why the production can’t set the standard a little bit higher? This way the viewers with higher standards would not be totally bored, and the viewers with lower standards have “room to grow”, so to speak.

In my ideal scenario a clue would read something like this: “You are going to the country that is the largest landlocked country in the world. You have two attempts to correctly name this country in order to get on the  flight that lands two hours ahead of other flights”. Perhaps (hopefully) at least one of the teams would name the country correctly, and their knowledge of world geography would be rewarded by some advantage in the Race (landing two hours earlier than others). For the teams that did not name the country after two attempts (and without any help from the internet or passer-bys!) there would be the next clue: “The capital of this country is named Astana and was moved from Almaty in 1997. You have two attempts to correctly name the country in order to get on the second flight that lands 1 hour after the first flight.” If after 4 attempts (2 in the first clue and 2 in the second clue) the teams still cannot name the country correctly, then the production could dumb it down with the third question: “This is the country where fictional personality Borat is from“. The answer is – Kazakhstan, by the way. But if some teams still cannot name it – well, maybe they take an hour penalty before the destination is revealed to them. Fair and fun. And the viewers might learn a thing or two. Maybe for the production it is cheaper to let all the teams run together, but for the viewers it’s more fun when the teams separate from each other, especially based not only upon pure luck, but rather their wit (or knowledge, or risk-taking ability, or daring and bold decisions).

As I said – I am not sure yet whether or not I will be blogging about this season. Depends if I find it fun – the previous few were not great fun to watch, let alone blog about. I know, it can be said “blog or don’t blog – who cares?”. And perhaps it’s right, perhaps only a few people care. But in the long run – it’s one drop at a time, one blogger at a time, one viewer at a time that can lead to a demise of once great show.

Hope it does not come to that.

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

http://www.sirlinksalot.net/amazingrace.html

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW (TAR 24 “All Stars” Finale)

Dear TAR production – you reap what you sow. You hastily sowed a cast with perhaps a couple of decent teams among the majority of boring and unexciting ones. You labeled them “All Stars” while “Leftovers” would have been more appropriate. And you hoped for a great season?! What you reaped was a boring season and disappointed fans. The locations were alright, there were a couple of decent challenges, the animals (elephants, donkeys, Bernese mountain dogs) were as cute as ever. But without a good cast it is all lost on you. Read the Facebook comments from the fans, dear TAR people. Read the fans discussion threads. Talk to the fans. You will know. Meanwhile, the Survivor is having a nail-biting season, one of the best ever. So I can’t blame it all on CBS, it’s TAR production that’s not up to par.

I have always been a big fan of TAR and watched every season (except the family edition). I just returned from an almost three weeks long trip to Europe, and normally it would have been unthinkable for me not to catch up on TAR episodes that I have missed while traveling. Especially since I had a few lazy, care-free days at home upon my return. But this time it was kind of “meh”. I watched the Survivor, binged on Netlix’ “House of Cards” (finished the whole season in 2 days) and didn’t even think of TAR until the finale.

TAR 24 Finale

And speaking of the finale – one of the most boring ever! Neither the glitter of Vegas, nor the magic of David Copperfield could fix it. There were no memory challenges, nothing that would require any mental exertion, let alone mental power. Not much physical power either – unlock the locks, unscrew the bulbs. The rest was in the hands of the taxi drivers. The most drama was provided by the bickering Brenchel. Sad.

The final parachute jump was a nice visual, but it would have been infinitely better if the contestants had to complete some memory challenge or mental task or solving a puzzle or something to make them earn the order in which they jumped. Alas!

“Sob Story” (David and Connor) got on the ground first. They are our “All Stars” winners. Who cares if they are the first parent/child team? Who cares if David is 58 (not 60 as he whined to us when they were U-turned by Brenchel)? They are just a boring-boring team. The flowers wilt when they talk, the babies fall asleep instantly. That monotone, that boring. Petty, too. And vindictive. That’s our winners. They are also clear winners on my poll  “Which team on this “All-Stars” season you find the most boring?”  As of today 160 people have voted, and more than 31% of them named David and Connor the winners.

Here is the link to the poll – see for yourself:

https://amazingracefan.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/the-only-all-stars-were-the-elephants-episode-6-tar-24-all-stars/

The second place on that poll corresponds to the second place in this season of TAR. Jennifer and Caroline (aka “Country Singers”, aka “Over-botoxed Barbies”, aka “Lookalike Blondes”) got the second place. They might be sweet and maybe not quite as “blah” as David and Connor, but they are probably the most undeserving team ever to get to the final three. They were helped along the way many times by multiple teams. They never won a leg, not in any one of their two seasons. They got lucky twice (twice!) to be saved by a “non-elimination” leg.

The third place on this season of TAR goes to Brenchel. They are not as highly placed on my poll of the most boring. Because boring they are not. They are annoying (in all fairness – mostly Rachel; Brendon is just by association). What’s with all this talk about winning the Race to have a baby? I partly blame TAR production for all this annoying “baby” talk edit. They get something catchy – a phrase, a fact, a revelation, whatever it might be – and keep drilling it into our heads again and again and again. Enough already. But other than being somewhat annoying, Brenchel is not an undeserving team. They are strong, supportive of each other. They have never received any help from any of the teams. In fact, several teams united against them. So they faced the adversity that other teams didn’t have to face.  Yet they got in the final three. In my view it’s quite deserving.

Amazing_Race_24_Cast:Finale

Anyway, what can I wish for the next season? First and foremost – an interesting cast. People who are exciting, entertaining, fun, unpredictable, not afraid of taking risks and facing adversity.

Please-please-please – no “group” challenges where one team practically does the challenge for another team (or greatly helps another team). It is unfair to the other teams and boring to the viewers.

Give time penalty for help from passerbys. That Roadblock in Italy where most teams had to know Roman numerals, remember?  In my humble view – you ask a passerby to help with the Roadblock – you should get a time penalty. This will let contestants that DO KNOW the answer get ahead. Knowledge should be rewarded. Dumbness should not. Asking help from a passerby for a Roadblock is not the same as asking a passerby for street directions.

No third-timers please. Even if they were good in their first season, in majority of cases it is all downhill from there. Besides, let us see new faces – we might discover the real stars, not the arbitrarily (by whom, I wonder? ) designated ones.

And have I mentioned a fun, interesting cast and no group challenges? 🙂

Hopefully (although after this lackluster season – no guarantees) till next season, fellow TAR fans. Our numbers have dwindled. Let’s hope the next season can bring them back.

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

http://www.sirlinksalot.net/amazingrace.html

TAR 24 OR ALL-STARS (mostly waning or non-existent)

So…this blog is back because CBS announced that The Amazing Race is returning to the TV sets near you  on February 23, 2014! This would be Season 24 of the show.

The production calls this season “ALL STARS”. Quite a presumptuous title, and I beg to disagree. The “Returning Players” would be closer to the truth. Or I wouldn’t even mind them calling it “Season 22 & Co” (since 8 people come to this Race from Season 22). But “ALL STARS“? Seriously?!

Since “stars” are supposedly so well known that no introductions are needed, I will not devote a separate entry to each team (like I normally do in this blog), but rather talk about them as a whole. But don’t be surprised if you are asking yourself “wait – who is that??”

To me “stars” on The Amazing Race equals “memorable” and “entertaining” regardless of whether I personally like them as a team or not. And some of this cast are just that. Yet so many are not.

TAR 24 "All Stars"

Let’s start with those who can at least somewhat qualify to be called a “star team”:

1.”Flight Time” & “Big Easy” (Globetrotters teammates from Seasons 15 AND 18) – these guys can be qualified as “stars”, no doubt. They delighted me the first time around, I still enjoyed them the second time, but I have a huge issue when a team comes back for the third time. No matter how much you love, let’s say, chocolate – too much of it will make you sick. Same with returning teams – it’s good to know when enough is enough. Even if you like the team. But they are the only team whom I at least can tolerate the third time around.

2. Jet & Cord (Brothers “Cowboys” from Seasons 16 AND 18) – these guys amused me the first time around. The second time around their “aw-shucks” attitude (along with their cowboy hats) seemed annoyingly fake. After all, by that time I knew they were not these humble innocent small town guys that knew nothing about the world – their mother was a professional photographer, they were competing (and extensively travelling for competitions) in various rodeo championships. And once you detect a false note – it’s not the same anymore.

3. Margie & Luke (mother and her deaf son from Seasons 14 AND 18) – to me personally they were annoying – humorless overprotective Margie as well as her primadon-nish son…I know there are some who get moved by their “sob story” (Luke is deaf), but a grown-up strapping lad throwing childish tantrums and his mommy hovering around him, ready to wipe her baby’s mouth and one step from wiping his butt, too. So joyful team they were not, but in that weird way they still were entertaining to watch.

4. Brendon & Rachel (aka “Brenchel” – newlyweds from Season 20 of The Amazing Race and also from like four different seasons of Big Brother and who knows from where else) – this couple seems to get recycled again and again between reality shows. To most people they seem awfully annoying and therefore they evoke extremely strong (and mostly negative) emotions in the viewers. This, in turn, gets them casted again and again. I never watched Big Brother, but based on TAR 20 I sort of liked Rachel. Against my better judgement, I know!  But still – there was something vulnerable yet tenacious about her. Anyway, since it’s only their 2nd time on The Amazing Race – I am not unhappy to see them again.

Now let’s move to the teams who I would not call “stars” just yet, but who were quite memorable and entertaining regardless of whether we liked them or not. Let’s call them “potential stars”:

5. Leo & Jamal (cousins from Season 23, aka “Afghanimals”) – they were definitely entertaining! The cousins strongly annoyed some fans and endlessly delighted some other fans. I don’t know if they really qualify being called “stars” (after all, we’ve just met them in the last season), but entertaining they definitely are. So I am glad having them back.

6. Natalie and Nadiya (“Twinnies!” from Season 21) – many fans find them too annoying and too loud. I personally liked them a lot. They definitely have strong personalities, they were fun, capable, decisive, risk-taking, brutally honest and very entertaining. Very! Glad to see them back as well.

It is all sort of downhill from here.  The further you go, the more you want to ask: “What the …casting was thinking getting these people back?” And why?!

7. Bopper and Mark (best friends from Season 20) – now, if you manage to remember who they actually were, you would agree -they were awfully nice guys. One black, one white small town guys with seemingly not a mean bone in their body. Genuine, supportive of each other and nice. But! Is it enough to be a “star”? I actually don’t mind them, I just think that “stars” they are not.

8. Joey and Meghan (You-Tube “personalities”  from Season 22) – they, as well as the three teams listed below them, came from a particular boring season. Boring not in terms of locations – boring in terms of rather bland teams running pretty much holding hands throughout the season. This particular team seemed quite immature and ear-splittingly shrill. And Joey was faking it for the camera way too much – be it his excitement or his fear of scorpions. Mildly annoying at best, “stars” they definitely are not.

9. Caroline and Jennifer (friends and singers from – again – Season 22) – young, sweet, blond. I bet you won’t be able to tell them apart even by the end of their second Race. They are the ones who called Berlin Wall “the Great Wall of China” – I will forever remember that. Although some other fans of the show might remember them as the sidekicks of the professional hockey players that won that season. So – maybe their role in “All Stars” is to serve as new “race wives” for the Afghanimals? Who knows.

10. David and Connor (father and son from – once again – Season 22). Both are competitive/professional cyclists, both are cancer survivors. The former fact was underplayed while the latter was grossly overplayed on the show. When you felt like “o-k. I get it. but enough already!“, the father injured his leg on the Race. And – for as long as his physicians allowed him to stay on the show – it stopped being The Amazing Race, it became “David and Connor show” – complete with X-Ray showing, teary confessions and what not. It was the only time in The Amazing Race history that I seriously considered not watching any longer. That “sob story” was milked for way (WAY!) more than it was worth. There is not much beyond the “sob story” – both father and son appeared to be perfectly nice people but bland and unexciting contestants.

11. John and Jessica (dating couple from – what else? – Season 22). Their “claim to stardom” was the fact that they were the only team in The Amazing Race history that got eliminated from the show with the Express Pass still in their pocket. John’s stubborn denial any regret prompted exasperated Phil say his unforgettable “Oy vey!”. Other than that – nothing star-like about them. Besides, they were eliminated very early in the show – you can’t even say anything definite about their personalities.

Phil Keoghan, TAR 24

What can I say in summary? That I hope those with the “star potential” will save us from the yawn-inducing “non-stars”…that at least nice locations and challenges would help make the season interesting…

And for the future of TAR –  I hope that  half the teams from one season (especially as “blah” as Season 22 was) would not compose almost half the teams of the next (especially if it calls itself “All Stars”)…I hope that “sob stories” don’t get jammed down our throats to the point of nausea…I hope that no team gets cast 3 (!) times – after all, I am absolutely sure there are plenty of great but yet “undiscovered stars” in the world…

What do you guys think and hope for?

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

http://www.sirlinksalot.net/amazingrace.html

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.

Happy-New-Year-2014-Wishes-Wallpaper

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!  🙂

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

http://www.sirlinksalot.net/amazingrace.html

MUSINGS ON THE EVE OF EPISODE 6 (TAR 23)…

Well, before the sixth episode of TAR 23 airs tonight, I can’t  help but make a comment on one puzzling  observation. Since I did not recap the previous episode due to being on the road much of the week, I felt like posting at least a quick poll:WHICH OF THESE TEAMS YOU WANT TO WIN TAR-23?

I know it’s “unscientific”, I know the number of participants was not huge enough to support a trend, BUT! still – would you believe it? – as of today more than 40% (!) of respondents want to see Leo and Jamal (the Afghanimals) win the Race!  At first I couldn’t believe my eyes – seriously?!! No way!

Leo and Jamal (the "Afghanimals")

But then I thought about it…Who else do we have left?

Jason and Amy? – Young, cute, nice and…well, that’s about it. Nothing too memorable or fun about them. Actually I kept thinking that the color of their t-shirts  is more noticeable and vivid than their personalities.  (Bright blue, in case you haven’t even noticed that).

Tim and Danny? Also young, cute, nice…with something more going for these guys: they are huge fans of TAR, they have an appealing and disarming “aw-shucks” air about them…deserving? – maybe.  memorable? – hardly.

Ally and Ashley? They, too, are young, cute and nice…But even if you can finally tell these two apart, what exactly sets them apart from all the other numerous look-alike-less-than-bright blondes from all the previous seasons? They just occupy some space, and I can’t help but think they are occupying someone else’s space – some team’s that could have been fun to watch if they had made it to the Race instead of these clones.

Tim and Marie? You might dig an evil streak in TAR contestants (I certainly do!), and at first I thought Marie was just that (Tim has been pretty much a silent ghost). But turned out she is more loud than evil. Sorry, Rowan – “la diabla” she is not.  Neither is she a bright strategist; otherwise, having used her own Express Pass, she would have had some sense to U-turn Travis and Nicole –  to try taking their Express Pass out of the game. She passed that opportunity with the Pass (yes, both pun and scorn are intended!).

Nicky and Kim? These ladies sometimes seem nice to the point of almost nauseating (“bunny!” “hunny!” – pleeease!).  They almost sparked my hope once when they managed to put themselves on a standby list ahead of others. But that hope was being consistently killed with that  never-ending ridiculous whining “ this is THE  h-a-r-d-e-s-t  thing I’ve ever done in my life!!!”  Once again – pleeease! What else is there about them? Some would say they are pretty. But I have very high standards when it comes to beauty. So I don’t find them especially pretty. I do, however, find them pretty boring. By the way – not a single person in my poll (at least as of right now) voted for them to win TAR 23.

Travis and Nicole? This, by the way, is the only other team besides “hunny-bunnies” that got zero votes in my poll to date. I guess he is likable enough. But she is quite pathetic: on one hand, she comes across as sooo full of herself:  “I am a doctor!”, “I am tough – I am from Brooklyn!” But her actions are the opposite of her words: she frazzles easily and always crumbles under the slightest pressure: “Help me!!! help me!!!” I wouldn’t even comment on how it reflects on her as an ER physician, but in the Race it is quite unlikable.

So that leaves us with Leo and Jamal – the “Afghanimals.” What can we say about them? Loud, obnoxious manners. Far (far!) from refined sense of humor.  But they toned down their ululating in the recent episodes. And when they fight – they fight with passion. And when they are happy – they are joyful and vivacious. Silly, at times annoying, but entertaining. Like them or not – hard to deny that they are colorful characters. Memorable. The most memorable from this bunch. You can yawn over any of the above teams, but – like them or not – the Afghanimals are not “yawn-inducing”.

So – somewhat reluctantly, I have to agree – maybe the Afghanimals is the most deserving team to win this Race. To me – the most deserving is not the team that is the nicest or needs the money the most – to me it’s the team that entertained me the most. Or you. Us, the viewers.

I do, however, reserve the right to change my mind about the Afghanimals in the future – after all, there are still quite a few episodes ahead 🙂

I hope those who voted for them in my latest poll would comment with their reasons for choosing this team (or any other team). I am very curious, so – please do comment!

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

http://www.sirlinksalot.net/amazingrace.html