By Katherine Schloss
Let’s talk about one of my favorite shows and why it should be yours, too.
What do you usually look for in a romantic partnership? A quick wit and dashing good looks? Watching The Amazing Race has made me realize that there’s so much value in someone who doesn’t piss off taxi drivers, has a stomach of steel, and, most importantly, can drive stick shift.
The Amazing Race is a reality television show that has been kickin’ it since its initial airing in 2001. Teams of two race around the world in a series of pre-planned adventures. Each leg of the race contains a series of clues that the teams must find, which then direct them to various tasks such as Roadblocks (tasks which only one team member can complete), Detours (here, teams must choose between two tasks), the occasional Fast Forward (if a team completes this before any other team, they can go straight to the end), and finally to Pit Stops which signify the end of each leg. As the show developed, producers added more twists and turns, making adjustments each season to keep fans and contestants alike engaged and guessing. For example, Yields (in which one team could yield another team, forcing them to wait until the sand had run out on an hourglass before they can complete the task at hand) would later become U-turns (where the first team to reach it can force another team to go back and complete the other task option for a Detour before they can continue on).
Each episode is hosted by a calming New Zealand television host: Phil Keogan, who reminds audiences that the teams need to find the perfect balance between “brains, brawn, and teamwork,” in order to win the million-dollar prize. I’m truly jealous of Phil’s rad choker necklace and laid back button ups in an ever-revolving series of earth tones.
Aside from Season 26, where the producers tried something new and paired some contestants up with other contestants that they’d never met before, essentially sending them on blind dates that could last up to a month, teams are made up of people with existing relationships. It is fascinating to watch these connections play out, especially in the realm of romantic relationships, as some teams are made up of fighting married couples while others are young people that have only recently started dating.
It’s a sort of a new experiment each time. Producers map out the race a month out from the time that filming starts, and casting takes months as well. When scouting locations, the production team has to keep in mind any political conflicts that are brewing, as well as the fact that natural disasters can strike, requiring back-up countries and alternative tasks to be planned out as well.
I think any reality television that showcases “ordinary people” is extremely powerful. Despite the fact that there is sometimes an overlap of contestants from other reality shows such as Survivor, The Amazing Race makes an effort to provide relatively unknown characters with the opportunity to travel the world and compete for a large chunk of money. This results in a lot of unfiltered reality gold for viewers.
Something that impresses me every time is the way that the camera crew is kept concealed so that viewers feel like they are the camera themselves, traveling with the teams every step of the way, whether it be scuba diving in vast oceans or jumping off of bridges. Sure, inevitably, you’ll catch a glimpse of cameramen here and there, but the only time that I’ve seen a cameraman’s face so far is when Brian and Greg, a hunky brother duo, accidentally flipped their jeep on a dirt road in Botswana and their cameraman was injured.
During quarantine, I’ve been throwing it back to the early 2000’s and nostalgically watching old seasons. While the show certainly still holds up, it’s really interesting to analyze the early seasons from the perspective of travelling in a world that was freshly post-9/11. Watching this show during quarantine has made me as sure as ever that I will continue to prepare for future travels. It’s trippy to watch couples take multiple plane rides in one day, haggle with taxi drivers, and sleep in the middle of the desert when I have barely left my own bubble. I’m sure that it will be a truly out-of-body experience the next time that I travel, but I really do hope to immerse myself in other cultures ASAP.
To say that we rely on our phones would be an understatement. I admittedly can’t remember the last time I had to use a physical map. If you were to be dropped off only in countries that were foreign to you, would you be able to make your way home? In these early seasons, many teams didn’t learn new languages or research other cultures before embarking on the race as later teams would go on to do. This results in a lot of requests that their taxi drivers speak English to them, and many teams end up exasperated. Maybe I’m biased, but it seems like a good strategy to learn a few simple words in more predominant languages such as French and Mandarin in an attempt to meet the taxi drivers halfway.
In the way that reality shows often do, I’m sure that there is some spin that goes into editing in order to make the winning team look good. However, I feel that The Amazing Race often shows couples just as they are. Freddy and Kendra who (spoiler!) won Season 6 didn’t hold back in their bigotry. Comments such as “I feel very unsafe. I feel… we’re in the middle of ghetto Africa,” and “This city is wretched and disgusting, and they just keep breeding and breeding in this poverty! I just can’t take it,” set off more than a few red flags for me. Freddy would go on to completely lose his temper on the other teams when a steel grate crashed down on his head. Infighting is not uncommon in the race, but his anger was completely misguided, as no other team was anywhere close to him when the supposed tragedy occurred. His “One of you, I’m gonna break in half,” and excessive yelling showed how some teams crack under the pressure. I appreciated that the editing team let viewers watch as the couple experienced culture shock at every turn.
On Season 5, my favorite team was cousins Charla and Mirna who emigrated from Syria to the United States at a young age. Charla had a form of dwarfism and wanted to show both American viewers and herself that she was just as capable as the other contestants. I was saddened to watch as other teams wrote her off from the get-go, calling her a “midget” and always displaying such disbelief that her team was so strong. Teams are constantly asserting that the race is, “Really anybody’s game,” but I feel that this grossly underestimates the physical and emotional challenges that the contestants have coming into the game. I’m continuously impressed by their ability to march on because of these setbacks rather than despite them, as many duos seem to have something to prove in the best way possible.
The Amazing Race also shows a lot about the toxic dynamics that can exist in romantic relationships due to ingrained sexism.
Example one: Johnathan and Veronica. Johnathan was a short man with a fiery attitude. He loved fast cars and dyed the underside of his hair bright blue. Throughout Season 6, I would cringe every time he yelled, “COME ON VERONICA!!!!!!” He even took to shoving her when they were beat-out to the Pit Stop, and she began sobbing uncontrollably. Later, she got injured in a subsequent Detour, and our fav Kendra yelled at Johnathan for actively ignoring her cries.
Example two: Ray and Deana. Ray was a real pain. He seemed to take a page out of Johnathan’s book, berating Deana whenever things didn’t pan out as planned. I took issue with the way that he told her that she lacked a confidence and drive that he saw in himself because it was clear to me that she was doing her best to perform tasks while also dealing with a team member who couldn’t stomach the idea of not being THE BEST. He also tended to take out his insecurities on Meredith and Gretchen, a sweet older couple. He called them “sacrificial lambs,” and couldn’t seem to comprehend that they actually were far stronger human beings than he was in the long run. “I can’t be behind the old ones,” he says, “This isn’t their place.”
Example three: Adam and Rebecca. They were described as an on-again, off-again couple. Adam lived at home and Rebecca tired of “babying him” and having to “run things.” Other couples commented that they felt bad that Adam couldn’t stand up for himself. From my vantage point, the relationship seemed to be toxic on both sides. Rebecca would taunt Adam for being a “sissy.” A particular road block comes to mind where Adam had to drag heavy buckets of salt out of the water. Female competitors were working much faster than he was, and Rebecca saw that as an opportunity to establish herself as the supposed “pants” in the relationship, saying, “Never send a woman to do a man’s job.” Not only does she consistently look down upon him, the relationship is clearly not healthy or sustainable, as every time Rebecca tries to tell him that it’s not working, he threatens to throw himself out of moving vehicles.
Example four: Ron and Kelly. Ron was a former prisoner of war, and Kelly was a pageant queen. With this duo, Kelly’s emotional side was treated as weak and a “woman thing.” Ron complains that, when he was an army man, he was able to do whatever and say whatever he wanted. He sees Kelly as the old ball and chain that signifies his “inevitable future” of settling down and becoming boring. Ironically, Kelly would continue to return to India in the coming years for nonprofit work (no longer accompanied by Ron, who I’m hoping she ultimately made the decision to ditch). How incredibly offensive that Ron acted as if dealing with Kelly’s existence as an emotional being was a burden to him. His, “Good job woman,” isn’t just a silly little comment, it reflects an ingrained sexism and the lasting effects of his time in the biggest boy’s club: the army.
I appreciate The Amazing Race for the way that it presents other cultures in a completely balanced way. The show encourages the viewer to analyze their own reactions as a bystander, watching the way that these random Americans make their way through crowded streets in developing countries (by Western standards), and asking them to question whether they would conduct themselves similarly. It’s a lesson on what sleep deprivation, fear of the unknown, and the possibility of a great fortune can do to one’s sanity. It tests relationships, forcing couples to be together 24/7, suddenly unable to ignore where their partnerships are “lacking” (it’s like the pressure that quarantine puts on relationships, but with a constant change of scene). I also commend this reality television show for unabashedly casting gay couples, elderly couples, and other pairings that perhaps weren’t as honestly represented at the time in an effort to show that the human experience is varied and that people are capable of looking normalcy in the face and spitting on its neck.
Applications to be my partner for The Amazing Race will be opening once I finish grad school. Only apply if you’re ready to provide that sweet sweet ~mind, body, and soul connection~. And be willing to skydive for me, because I’m not about to throw myself out of a plane with the kind of luck we’ve been experiencing this year.