”The Amazing Race”: A twisted season premiere
After its low-rated initial seasons, The Amazing Race was doing quite well for a while. And then last year came the one-two punch of the egregious family edition and a middling normal race that CBS first tucked away at 10 p.m. So for this tenth season I wondered what they could possibly do to further turn people off. Set the entire race in a Maryland office park, and air it in the middle of the day opposite Oprah?
Well, after one episode I’m encouraged. We’ve got grueling challenges and an interesting, well-rounded group of contestants — as opposed to Survivor‘s, who, for all the talk of its race war, are just a melting pot of similarly failed actors. So let’s meet this season’s racers.
Kellie and Jamie Two perky cheerleaders (although perhaps that’s redundant: Is there such a thing as a logy cheerleader?) who say they can ”have a conversation with a doorknob.” Actually, that doesn’t say much about their level of conversation, now, does it? The producers clearly want us to think they’re dumb, spotlighting their confused murmurs over whether Muslims believe in Buddha, but so far the jury’s still out on just how dumb they might be. They look in good physical shape, but their game could fall apart if there is an upcoming spelling-bee challenge: If asked to spell ”rowdy,” they could go down in flames.
Tyler and James Two male models who became friends after recovering from drug addiction. And judging from the photo showed of one of them clutching a tank and a balloon during his dark days, it looks like he succumbed to the most destructive vice of all: helium. Dude, I know when your voice gets high like that, all your problems go away, but when your voice comes down, they’re right back where you left them. The producers seem to want to work up some tension by portraying these two as on the edge of relapse, because at one point, they slowed down the video of one of them in a cab clutching his head, as if to imply he was thinking, ”I’ll never make it through this cab ride without sweet, sweet heroin!” Well, their first-place finish on this leg proves they’re not so fragile. Or it proves they got some drugs that helped them go faster. Hmmm. Let me watch that replay again….
Duke and Lauren I must say I was a bit floored in their initial introduction when father Duke (or Captain Goatee, as I like to call him) said he loved his daughter Lauren but was a ”teeny bit disappointed in her as a daughter” because she was a lesbian. Ol’ Bertram van Munster really cuts to the chase, doesn’t he? I think we can all see where this is going: Duke learns over the course of the race just how capable and impressive his daughter is and accepts her for who she is. At least that’s what he’ll say to the camera. I suspect that all the while he may be thinking, ”I bet one of those male models could turn her around if they’d just take her out dancing.”
Rob and Kimberly Every race needs a beautiful couple whose clear antipathy toward each other can make us all feel better about our own lives, and these two bickerers are this season’s. You can always point this type out because the frequency with which they use the term ”baby” with each other is directly proportional to how often they scream at each other. They can also be easily spotted by how they talk to residents of the countries they visit as if they were idiots. This week, Kimberly ordered a Beijing cabbie to take them to ”the Great Wall,” then added, ”The Great Wall of China!” Oh, that Great Wall! Had she not clarified that, the driver would have taken them to see the really cool wall in his apartment.
Peter and Sarah These triathletes are supposed to be the inspirational team of the race, but unfortunately their behavior kind of muddied the uplifting waters. Sarah, who has an artificial leg that Peter built for her, is clearly a woman who has not let her disability stop her at all; just look at her mammoth, Keoghan-crushing arms. Hooray for her — she can do anything! On the first flight, however, she used her leg to get the stewardesses to let her preboard, and in China she put on a helpless expression and got someone to give up a cab for her. Which brings us to…
Lyn and Karlyn Two single mothers from Alabama who outspokenly trashed Sarah for using her disability to get ahead. ”She can run the Ironman, but she can’t stand in line?” fumed Lyn. It takes a lot of guts to trash the couple marked as the race saints. While they’re at it, why not just call Phil a pussy?
David and Mary It’s a sad sign of how superficial reality-TV contestants have made me that when I saw this couple, the first thing I thought was ”Ugh, why didn’t they have their teeth whitened like everyone else?” He’s a Kentucky coal miner, for God’s sake! What in his daily life would remind him and his wife that to go on TV you need frighteningly white choppers? Why must I judge them so? I think these two will give me and all viewers the opportunity to take a good look at our shallow attitudes and change for the better. Think about it: David and Mary snipe constantly and have no overt affection for each other. (When they finished the leg, Mary hugged Phil and his Chinese mat mate before having to be reminded to embrace her husband.) So how different are they from Rob and Kimberly, except for the fact that they have bad teeth, wear matching T-shirts with slogans that will get very very old by the time this race is over, and think saying, ”Quack quack!” is speaking Chinese? So to prove just how looks-blind we are as a society, I think we should all make a concerted effort to cringe at Rob and Kimberly just as much as at the Kentucky couple. It’s only fair. Wow, I already feel one step closer to heaven, don’t you?
Erwin and Godwin The Amazing Race is clearly dedicated to destroying stereotypes. Sure, when it cast Asian brothers, it could have gone for math geniuses, or computer scientists. But no, they went for something rarely seen on television: the frat-guy Korean. Good Lord, what’s next? The Deadhead African American? The Trekkie Latino? The extreme-sportsman Jew? Sure, these brothers are still book smart (both have advanced degrees), but they’re not that bright: They thought it would be funny to brandish squirt guns in an airport. Stay tuned for when the teams fly to the Middle East and the kooky brothers find it heelarious to doodle a picture of Mohammed on a bathroom wall.
Tom and Terry Speaking of confounded stereotypes, I don’t know where the Race gets its gay contestants, but I’m impressed at just how unglamorous they’ve been the past few seasons. After Team Guido and Danny and Oswald, there’s been a reverse evolutionary ladder as the gays get less and less fabulous. And why not? All homosexuals aren’t bitchy and fashion-crazy, so why not cast two balding, unkempt partners like Tom and Terry? Yes, they looked like a couple of Oompa Loompas dashing from their seaplane in the opening montage, but hey, I’ll bet one in ten Oompa Loompas is gay and has never seen anyone on TV who reflected his lifestyle. So hats off to you, Tom and Terry: You are the real heroes…at least to gay chocolate-making little people.
Dustin and Kandice One of these beauty queens is Miss New York, and one is Miss California, and really, does it matter which one is which? I haven’t gathered too much about them, except a nagging wonder over whether the name you’re given at birth determines what you’re going to be in life. If Kandice had been named Betty or Sally, would she have gotten into pageants? I can’t imagine it, just as I can’t imagine that with a name like Dustin, you could end up as anything other than Miss New York/California or a stripper.
Vipul and Arti This married couple got bounced at the pit stop. They seemed like perfectly nice people who didn’t really leave much of an impression, except for Vipul’s misspelled ”Colege” T-shirt, which I gave the benefit of the doubt for being an ironic statement on the state of education, and not just an iron-on gone horribly wrong.
Bilal and Sa’eed Two African-American Muslims determined to prove that their faith could coexist with their competitiveness in the race, they constantly stopped to pray to Allah, and, well, they were booted halfway through the first leg in a surprise elimination. (Quick note: Phil made a big deal about how this was a major twist. Does an early elimination count as a twist? I found it less an astonishing shock than just a dickish move. ”Guess what! You’re out of the game! Didn’t see that coming, did you?” No, and they also couldn’t have seen a kick in the balls coming either. Oops! Did I give away next week’s shockeroo?) Anyway, these two prayed often to Allah, who let them down, just as Jesus dropped the ball on the Weavers in the family edition. Sheesh, is there any god that is paying attention to The Amazing Race? Vishnu? Yahweh? Jah? Come on, somebody’s gotta be watching! When these friends did lose, Bilal said, ”This just goes to show you that you don’t have control over everything; the Creator does.” Ahhh, so that’s the God who’s watching: Bertram van Munster.
What do you think? Was that early elimination good television? Do you have any early favorites? And who do you want to see go next? (Extra points if you’re rooting against anybody but Rob and Kimberly.)