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''The Amazing Race'': In the disaster zone

On ”The Amazing Race,” the teams drive through pre-hurricane Louisiana and face a challenge that brings up tragic memories for one family

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The Amazing Race
The Schroeder family: Robert Voets

The Amazing Race

type:
TV Show
genre:
Reality TV
run date:
03/08/01
performer:
Phil Keoghan
Producer:
Jerry Bruckheimer
broadcaster:
CBS
seasons:
29
Current Status:
In Season

”The Amazing Race”: In the disaster zone

What is it with CBS game shows as the harbingers of doom? First Survivor taped in Guatemala before the country was devastated by mud slides, and then The Amazing Race trotted through Louisiana and Mississippi just a few weeks before Katrina hit. Any minute now the avian flu is going to take roost in the deserted Big Brother house.

Airing a game-show episode that uses the site of an enormous tragedy can be problematic and distracting, even if it was taped before anyone knew what was about to happen. But The Amazing Race found a way to divert viewers’ from the implications of this week’s setting. No, I’m not talking about dressing Phil like a 65-year-old retiree from Boca Raton. (Could you get those pants hitched any higher, Phil? With a good pair of suspenders, you might be able to ratchet them up to your nipples.) No, the show focused on an equally uncomfortable-to-watch angle: all of the teams bonding in hatred against the family with the recently killed father and husband. That’ll make you overlook a little jaunt over a pre-flood Lake Pontchartrain. It’s like standing up in front of a cinema showing Schindler’s List and punching a puppy in the face. The audience suddenly stops contemplating the true horror of the Holocaust and begins trying to stop the immediate problem of a psycho beating the crap out of a poodle.

The episode started calmly enough, with the teams, still happily ensconced in their SUVs, beginning this leg of the AAA Challenge with a drive to the World’s Biggest Office Chair. (Which, frankly, didn’t look that comfortable. To my eyes, it offered little to no lumbar support. I would think the World’s Biggest Pencil Pusher deserves an Aeron.) Once again, Phil was forced to oversell one of this season’s weak attractions, stressing just how high and, um, chair-y the chair was. Wally Bransen was heard to talk about how he had to rely on adrenaline…to climb a ladder 15 feet up? Come on, you wusses! With low-impact challenges like this, I’m guessing that this season’s food challenge will involve drinking flat Coke.

And just when you thought the challenges couldn’t get any lamer, off they sped to the Talladega Speedway. But not to drive a race car, mind you. That might involve speed and danger. No, they were put on an seven-seat cycle called a Party Bike, and that is one party I don’t want to be invited to. ”A party? Tonight? Great! Will there be beer? No? Food? No? No dancing either? What will there be? A giant bicycle that we can all ride for a couple of miles? Come to think of it, tonight I’m going to be busy slamming my head in my own car door.” This idea is so dumb I’d like to give the inventor a Party Kick in the Nuts. No, it’s fun, seriously! Why else would it have the word ”party” in it?

At this point, the Schroeders’ hatred of the Weavers really reached uncomfortable proportions. They called them ”white trash” and ”evil,” which, unless we’re not being shown something, seems a bit extreme. But when Mr. Schroeder recalled that Mr. Weaver had been killed at a speedway, he laughed about how ”pissed” that family would be when they arrived at Talladega. How dare the Schroeders desecrate the pure joy of a Party Bike with such nastiness!

But lo, just as their man Jesus persevered in the face of his oppressors, so did the Weavers. The mother rallied her clan to stay strong (and, to drop the cynicism for a moment, it was an impressive rally for her family), and they mounted their Party Bike and bravely completed the task! Never before have human beings overcome such a daunting hurdle by using such a dorky contraption. It was like watching someone climb Mount Everest while wearing Romper Stompers.

As someone who just last week chastised the Weavers for thinking that God could be bothered to intervene in a game show, I had a few chills when I later saw their tormentors get eliminated from the race. Could the man upstairs have decided to punish the Schroeders for their callousness? Of course, there is a more earthbound explanation: Daddy Schroeder was too much of a macho boob to stop and ask directions, losing crucial time. But no, it’s impossible to think that a human could make an error that colossal on his own; clearly a higher power nudged him to make such a stupid move. I subscribe to the unintelligent-design theory. (Granted, Mrs. Weaver wasn’t all God-given wisdom: She said Lake Pontchartrain was one of the Great Lakes. First she thought Philadelphia is a state, and now this? Can’t God get that woman a globe?)

Speaking of stupidity, what about the race to get the best times at the mobile-home lot? So many teams grabbed the 8:00 departure time without looking for the available 7:40 slots. The same thing happened last season in Peru, when tickets were buried in the sand, and the ditzy women took a later flight even though they arrived early, then directed the next couple of teams to do the same. All the more reason for last night’s teams to learn from those mistakes. Maybe it’s a good thing this season hasn’t gone on any flights: These contestants would probably take a later plane because there’s more leg room.

As for the rest of the show, there was just a lot of Paolo shouting (which is becoming argumentative white noise); the Gaghans completed their tasks happily and unitedly as if they were auditioning for a Kodak commercial; and there was an egregious product placement in the form of a BP gas station as a destination. (What next: a McDonald’s detour called Whopper With Cheese…or Extra Fries, Please?) And then, a flirtation was struck up between the Bransen girls and the Linz boys in the form of some pressed ham. This could spice up this race a little bit, although maybe it’d be better if one of the Linz brothers hooked up with his own sister. Because if the show ends up traveling through yet another disaster zone, a little incest could make for a very effective distraction.

What do you think? Did the show deal with hurricane issue appropriately? Are this season’s challenges too easy? And how happy were you to see the Schroeders go?