”The Amazing Race”: Deadbeat dads
Last week I argued that setting the family edition of The Amazing Race entirely in America took the fun out of the show. To which some posters replied — and I paraphrase — that this great big land of ours is a majestic and beautiful country with many facets and fascinating places and it would be a pleasure to examine it more closely. This is a defense that veers disconcertingly into ”Love it or leave it” territory.
Let’s face it: Nothing spices up a Race more than watching Americans struggle to overcome a language barrier. So far, the only time we’ve gotten close to that was when Daddy Gaghan refused to ask directions at the wrong reflecting pool. Sure, America is fine and dandy, but that doesn’t make it a fun place to watch people race across. This season comes across more like a junior-high educational film than entertainment. And the presence of little kids doesn’t help. When the Gaghans finally got to the right pool, I was waiting for the little Gaghan to ask his dad, ”It sure took us a while to find the Capitol building. How does a bill find its way to the Capitol building and become a law?”
I can’t believe this show has barely gotten out of the Northeast. (Judging by the NASA footage, next week they?re still in Washington, D.C.) And the participants have remained hermetically sealed in their giant GMC trucks. Are the producers so worried about showing anything less than appealing about America that they won’t let their teams use public transportation? Oh, sure, in Third World countries they’ll stuff contestants onto a bus with 420 chickens, a shipment of human feces, and a tour group heading to a syphilis convention, but for this race, they’re kept preserved in their American SUVs. I say put these people on a Greyhound, sitting next to drunks being sent out of town by police and wheezing old people who fall asleep resting their goiters on the racers’ shoulders. Now that’s an amazing race!
It’s hard to work up any enthusiasm for last night’s episode. It began anticlimactically enough when Phil announced that the teams would have to first drive 15 miles. Fifteen miles? Is this a race or an errand? Their goal was a house shaped like a shoe, which did nothing to convince me that this season is meant for adults. If the next eating challenge consists of large quantities of green eggs and ham, I’m handing this column off to the first sixth grader I see.
From there it was off to the reflecting pool, leading to some confused teams going to the pool by the Lincoln Memorial, not the Capitol building. But the Rogerses had trouble finding either pool, since the my-way-or-the-highway dad gave his son, Brock, the wrong directions, in an error that would end up being fatal. My sympathy went out to Brock upon their ultimate elimination. The way he stood apart from his family in an angry slouch bespoke years of frustration with his father. But it almost had a bright side: Yes, his father’s error was captured on television, so Brock can pop that I-told-you-so moment into a VCR any time his Dad argues with him. Unfortunately, the son ruined the moment by wearing an ”I [Double Heart] Twins” T-shirt. Now, whenever he puts the tape on, instead of hearing ”You’re right, Daddy Rogers is fallible!” he’ll just hear choruses of ”Nice shirt, clown.”
In trying to find something specifically D.C. to represent this location, the producers came up with a spy theme. First, contestants had to receive a briefcase from a mysterious man in a limo. (Was this a Deep Throat allusion? Was it actually Mark Felt in the limo? They say he revealed himself last May because he needed money; did he need it bad enough to be an Amazing Race prop?) Then, the racers searched by the Tidal Basin for a ”spy” to trade cases with. They had to identify the spy by saying, ”The sky is blue,” to which their counterpart would reply, ”The sea is green.” It was funny watching Mrs. Gaghan actually whisper, ”The sky is blue,” as if she were on a mission for her country, not a game show. It was not funny watching Daddy Schroeder, after getting nixed by a female spy, joking, ”Maybe her panties were too tight.” I can’t believe they found someone with a worse sense of humor than Jonathan and Victoria.
(I’d like to add that they really weakened this challenge by not giving a penalty to contestants who approached the wrong spy. In past races, when contestants have had to find a specific person or item and they’ve chosen incorrectly, they’ve had to run back to the beginning and start again. But here the racers could just run around screaming, ”The sky is blue!” at everyone until they hit the right person. Bertram Van Munster, where has your sadistic side gone?)
Finally, it was off to a Civil War reenactment to decide whether to haul ”wounded” soldiers off the battlefield or fill up oil lanterns. The Bransens barely made it through, since a wheezing Pops Walter nearly ended up needing the stretcher himself. Notice the difference between him and the patriarch of the Aiello team. Mr. Aiello’s sons aren’t his by birth, so they had to speak reverently about their father-in-law’s gumption and bravado, even though he runs about as fast as a one-legged man with a shin splint. Meanwhile, Walter’s daughters rolled their eyes at their sputtering, failing dad. As a relatively new dad myself, there’s a lesson in there about fatherhood that I don’t care to look at too closely.
And speaking of not looking too closely, I have to come back to the spy roadblock again. Should the producers really be selecting the intelligence community as the mascots of D.C., considering how spotty their track record has been as of late? That’s about as inspiring a home team as the Washington Generals.
For all you people who might get angry at me for picking on my country, just remember this: You’re the ones who thought this show should take a deeper look at America.
What do you think? Do the teams need to get out of the country, or at least out of their cars? Are you enjoying the family dynamic, or does it make you cringe?