The Amazing Race – Good or Bad?

Howdy all. So, this is a travel blog, and you’re probably here reading today because, well, you like travel right? Yes, I’m segwaying here although I’m not really segwaying FROM anything as this is the start of today’s post. The Amazing Race. The TV show. Do you know it? Perhaps in some ways it’s the ultimate travel reality TV Show. For starters, I can’t think of many others except we do have one here in Australia called ‘Travel Guides’ or something where you just follow four groups of people travelling to various locations. But The Amazing Race is the only one I know of that sets challenges and has a winner and all that jazz.

The original show, the American version, has had 32 seasons thus far since 2001. Yes, that’s an average of more than one a year. Corona Virus has put a halt to it as you might imagine, I understand they just eeked out the thirty-second season before the thing struck. It finished its airing in Australia mid-December, as usual we get things a lot later than they originally air.

Australia though has taken to this show I guess, despite it airing these days at around 1030pm. So much so that we have had an Australian version produced, totally four seasons. It sort of appears spasmodically and unpredictably every couple of years I guess. Even in 2020 they did one that was totally encapsulated in Australia. I did not watch this one. I think I watched one season of the Australian Amazing Race a few years back now.

Phil Keoghan, host of The Amazing Race

When it first started, I was deeply into it. The American version I should say. But it’s the sort of thing you get tired of after a few seasons, because even though they go new places and have new teams, it gets predictable. It is however an interesting mix of challenges, travel, famous places, lesser known places and with any modern day reality show, personalities.

In November/December I had the TV on at the right time I guess and I caught most of the second half of the 32 season. Part of me was intrigued to watch again after so long now watching to see what had changed. 32 seasons – must have changed something, right? Actually, not that much. So, for those who don’t know what I’m on about but have nevertheless read this far –

Usually 11 teams or so of two embark on a ‘race around the world’. They go places and receive clues and do a lot of challenges, and most episodes see the final team to complete everything and get to the finish line eliminated. Except occasionally it’s a ‘non-elimination leg’, which you don’t know until the final team finishes. The challenges range from physical ones to others that require the participants to remember things, spot things, make things, there are so many possibilities. What I did notice in season 32 compared to season 1 is that it’s less of an emphasis on physical challenges. They would often end up running to the ‘pit stop’ at the end of the leg in a longish race and teams that weren’t as physically up to it would get passed right before the end. I think less of an emphasis in the challenges is a good thing because there are other shows such as ‘Survivor’ where challenges are more physical.

The teams rarely get that far ahead of each other because they usually all end up on one or two flights to the next destination which evens everything out. They made some adjustments on the flights at some point because very early on in the first few seasons the winning team would win by like a day. Which wasn’t very interesting! It’s a deliberate formula they use to keep all the teams reasonably close so it’s interesting and exciting.

They still have physical challenges, you can bet something will involve heights. And some will be petrified of said heights! And others will involve food and stuffing food as fast as possible. All in the backdrop of different places around the world. Which is great but sometimes they aren’t that representative of the country, or on the other hand, they enforce a stereotype.

What is the real appeal of the show? Well, honestly sometimes I thought it was just that they picked a bunch of stupid people to do the show so the audience could watch and be appalled, or laugh, or feel superior – genuinely something they try to do with reality TV! Yes it’s a tactic to make you feel better about yourself by watching someone else’s misfortune. On one of the earlier seasons everyone arrived in Morocco I think it was, and they had to drive 4WDs through the desert. They had to fill them up and inside the cap of the tank it clearly said ‘DIESAL FUEL ONLY’. Yet over half the teams filled up with Unleaded and ended up having pump the fuel out of their vehicles.

The teams are the thing though, and I think the more the series progressed through the years, they really focussed on getting teams that not only had a strong identity but also fulfilled certain stereotypes. For example, from day one they had the ‘Older Couple’ who would say things like ‘age is no barrier’ or whatever and then nearly always be the first eliminated in episode one. They always have at least one same-sex couple, who generally will be overtly stereotypical. They used to always look for a couple or two who were trying to fix their relationship. Whether it be a couple or a father and son, or something along these lines. “Cheerleaders” is another common couple that appears. Surprising number of ‘basketballers’ too, or athletes of some kind. These used to be heavily favoured in the early days when the challenges were often mostly physical.

I can say that a lot of the action often centres around couples who lose their shit with each other (pardon my French) or people having meltdowns. It’s not a travelogue – it’s DRAMA, right?

So I get to thinking – is this really a good show? Or is it mostly fake manipulated crap that is just supplanted into different countries and settings? Does actual travel knowledge help? I would say it’s somewhere between yes and no for all questions. Make no mistake – they are not trying to create a show that teaches the audience a lot about the world, they are using the locations as backdrops for drama. But the backdrops are interesting in their own right.

Does the show do good or bad things for the places they visit? Hard to say. Does the show feature the participants in a good light and does it represent the home country well? Well, generally no and no I would have to say. The show must shoot over like a short time frame – 2 weeks perhaps 3 weeks, and so the participants, crew and host move on quickly and visit 10 plus countries each season in a short space of time. The participants must be dog-tired pretty quickly. They will make mistakes and lose their cool. But hey – it’s for a million dollars

I would love to do some sort of travel challenge. I’d even film myself doing it. I don’t think I’d take on the Amazing Race though. I think it would at times bring out the worst in me. But then, maybe I’m just scared of looking like an idiot. You see moments where you can’t believe the behaviour or stupidity of the participants. But then again, they are only human, they are being filmed and pushed to physical and mental limits and really we should cut them a little slack.

Personally, when travel isn’t an option, the idea of sitting down to another season of ‘The Amazing Race’ doesn’t sound too bad to me. What do you think? Let me know in the comments! Thanks and May the Journey Never End!

8 thoughts on “The Amazing Race – Good or Bad?

  1. I was shocked when I read that there have been 32 seasons of Amazing Race. I was really into for awhile but haven’t watched it in years. There was a Canadian version but it wasn’t as entertaining. My sister and I had talked about entering (somewhat jokingly). We have a good skill set when combined but I’m not sure I could take the lack of sleep. Maybe I should tune in again!

  2. Tracey

    Currently watching The Amazing Race Australia (2020) and enjoying it. Lots of likeable characters and destinations and challenges. As Australia is most likely the only place we will be travelling for a while it’s relatable. Has increased the desire to revisit some places and discover others. Just as the overseas shows did.

  3. Interesting perspective. I watched a few seasons early on but as I was much younger I didn’t put much critical thinking into it. I just liked all the pretty views and exotic locations. Now I do have to wonder though how many inaccuracies there may be.

  4. BBQboy

    I used to love the Amazing Race and dreamt of actually being a contestant with Spanky. But with time I watched less and less – it got repetitive and there’s too many commercials on TV (Since we started travelling full-time we can’t watch cable tv anymore. Everything we watch now is online).

    I still love the concept but the first few seasons were the best.

    1. i think it changes a little over time and becomes more about celebrities from Survivor and Big Brother and tasks which are more akin to Survivor too. And then the travel becomes less of a focus. It was a real race in the early seasons, which although feel slow today, seemed fast back when they were first shown. thanks Frank!

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