Monday, November 05, 2007

Amazing Race: Get Your Ass in Gear

The Race is back! Goths. Lesbian minister life partners. Hyper-competitive siblings. Dating couples on the verge of implosion. Let the fireworks begin.

In a television season that’s been disappointing to date—writers’ strike, bring it on if that means fewer episodes of “Carpoolers”—it’s good to have an old favorite back, particularly if it means a return to classic early form.

The first episode of every Race is always a challenge to viewers: too many teams, too difficult to distinguish between matching sets of overly emotional needy girlfriends and their commitment phobic boyfriends. (Apart from the lesbian ministers, this season is noticeably lacking in wedded couples. Are married folks inherently boring? Too busy raising kids and paying mortgages to go globetrotting? Afraid, like my husband, to even audition because he’s convinced the Race would lead to divorce? Discuss amongst yourselves.)

I’m not even going to attempt to handicap or recap at this point, until I figure out who’s who. (And I’ll probably never know which obligatory blonde team member is which, especially if they continue to dress exactly alike. One day, I expect the show to just feature a blonde and her clone.) But last night’s standouts were Kynt and Vyxsin, the afore-mentioned Goths, simply because it’s impossible not to notice them in a crowd. The other teams have already cleverly dubbed this pair “the freaks.” Seriously, they couldn’t come up with a better Satanic or Marilyn Manson reference? I’ll admit, I was surprised these two could actually ride a bike and I’m particularly keen to see how their eyeliner holds up over the course of the competition.

Another team to watch: the father-daughter duo of Ronald and Christina. Ronald says he was largely absent during Christina’s childhood. I think he was in sales and traveled a lot, or he might have been a government spy. Not important. What Christina would like us to know is that her dad’s about to turn 60, so she wants to make the most of the “time we have left.” Which, according to life expectancy charts, is another 20 to 30 years, unless the long-neglected Christina has something more sinister in mind. Keep on eye on these two. If Christina coerces Ronald into taking on the more dangerous challenges, we might want to alert the authorities.

While the Race typically lives and dies by its casting, the inventiveness of the Roadblocks and Detours are crucial elements as well. As long-time watchers of the show can attest, the airport is always the great equalizer. Who knew donkeys fit that bill as well?

Last night, a fairly simple challenge—get a donkey to haul a specified number of peat logs over a pre-determined distance—proved the undoing of Ari and Staella, and nearly one of the random dating duos, who literally couldn’t get their ass in gear. Hence the phrase, “Stubborn as a mule.” (I know, mules aren’t donkeys, and don’t get me started on burros, but close enough.) As late-arriving teams trotted past the intractable donkeys, the frustrated teams responded by yelling at their animals louder and louder, an effective management technique taught at all the best business schools and “how to win friends and influence people” seminars. The donkeys dug in further.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the show for me was that for the first time ever, except for the season where the show kicked off in my hometown, I’ve actually been to a race location. Teams’ first instruction had them flying to Shannon, Ireland, where we touched down ourselves back in August. Clearly we need to start planning a return visit, as our guidebook failed to inform us of the whole bicycling-on-a-tightrope-over-a-gorge tourist attraction the first go-around.

We did spend a lot of time in the car stressed out about driving on the wrong side of the road, negotiating “roundabouts,” and wondering why two-lane highways were only wide enough for a car and a half. This didn’t seem to bother any of the Race contestants, which, come to think of it, might be why more people like us aren’t on the show.


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