Amazing Race begins another season of delayed episodes and familiar, if stupider, contestants

Last Sunday, The Amazing Race debuted, and something happened that just a few seasons ago would have been unthinkable: I didn’t even start watching it until Tuesday, and even then, I only made it through half the episode. Basically, I was uninterested and almost bored. I’ve gotten increasingly irritated with the show’s Emmy wins, because it seems to be getting worse. But really, it’s the same strong, well-produced series, it’s just that the format has made it age rapidly.

Season after season, the teams blend together. Another pair of blondes, another pair of frat boys, another separated couple, another pair of siblings. Perhaps the most distinctive couple this season was the hippie beekeepers, at least before they were eliminated. But what did we know about them other than that they’re beekeepers with crazy hair? There’s some degree to which the format consumes the contestants, and doesn’t let us really get to know them beyond superficial details and conflict. Hell, with the same-sex teams, it’s hard to learn individual people’s names until late in the season.

While shows like Survivor, Top Chef, or even Flavor of Love live or die on the strength of their contestants’ personalities and interactions, people are increasingly interchangeable on The Amazing Race. When there is conflict, it’s extremely familiar: arguments over directions, irritation because of jealousy and trust issues, debates with taxi drivers who don’t know where they’re going, the same stuff again and again.

The way the editing and music create artificial tension–whether that’s a race to the pit stop or an airline agent’s epic search for seats–also ultimately hurts the series, because everything is tense and crazy, and ultimately that makes nothing tense and crazy. As a result, the show has become increasingly less interesting to me. And CBS’ stubborn insistence upon scheduling the show at a time where it’s nearly always delayed–and since they don’t have the digital rights, it’s not online, so you’re screwed if you miss it–seems like an open invitation to give it up.

Having previously cited The Amazing Race as my favorite reality series, I don’t want it to die. Right now, I kind of just want the race to slow down: let us get to know the contestants, and the locations, much more than it does now. It is a race, of course, and so that may be impossible, but the challenges could borrow from The Mole, for example, and require a lot more thinking and strategizing.

That won’t happen this season, though. And there are still spectacular locations and funny moments. Here are the things that stood out from the second episode:

  • Why do Nick and Starr wear camouflage? Are they expecting combat? And do they realize that sleeveless camo kind of defeats the purpose?
  • During a cab ride, Terence told Sarah, “Find the spot, really stick this in there. … Now, if you will be kind enough, blow it.” The Parents Television Council is already filing a complaint (even though he was just asking her to fix a minor wound on his forehead caused by the cab driver slamming the trunk on his head, which is definitely a point for the cab driver).
  • Arriving at the airport, Ty asked Aja, “What do you want to do–do you want to buy the flight first or do you want to change the money?” Then they decided to change money instead of buy tickets. Did someone forget to tell them this is a race?
  • Tina got increasingly more annoying after convincing herself that she’d convinced an airline to get a bigger airplane so that all of the contestants would fit. Because the best way to endear oneself to others is to demand that they like you, Tina went around and told everyone what she’d done, and then instructed them to appreciate her. “You owe me,” Tina told Ty and Aja, and then pulled a horse head out of her backpack and dropped it on the ground in front of them.
  • “I’m going to start giving people candy!” one of the blondes, Marisa or Brooke, said, thinking that’d be an effective strategy to get people to help her rather than, say, call the police when she starts handing out candy to strangers.
  • Anthony and Stephanie foreshadowed their elimination by talking about how the abject poverty around them helped them to appreciate their lives, because there’s no better way to feel better about yourself than to compare yourself to someone whose life appears much worse upon superficial examination of that person’s community. It also helps if you’re condescending and insulting, like when Anthony criticized the country’s taxis and said, “If they learned how to fix a car, they’d probably make it rich.”
  • Deciding to do the more physical Detour challenge, one of the (not exactly Abercrombie) frat boys said, “Me and him lift all the time, so it’s not like we’d pull a muscle or anything.” And that, friends, is proof that lifting weights and physical fitness do not necessarily have anything to do with one another.
  • Any sentence that starts with “As Yoda would say” is a sentence that I wish I never heard.
  • Nick declared, “Taxi Parking: There’s a sign that I can read.” I think he meant, “there’s a sign that’s in English,” or even “there’s a sign I’m glad to see,” but it’s much funnier to imagine that anything more complicated than those two words represents a significant reading challenge for him, and that he really had to work hard for his Pizza Hut Book It! personal pan pizzas.
  • “Should we go in there and get an ice cream?” Terence asked Sarah, who replied, “Yeah, babe, because we’re sightseeing.” Seriously, did the producers forget to tell these teams they are racing?
  • Kelly and Christy raised their stupidity flag as they wasted time in one of the most incomprehensible ways ever: “We were searching in the sand, searching in the water for a container we did not need,” one of them said. Yes, after they completed their own Detour task, they read the clue for the other Detour, which talked about location a shipping container by number, and so they started digging in the sand, apparently not realizing that they were a) doing something completely unnecessary, b) digging in the wrong place, and c) looking for something the size of the trailer they will soon occupy if their intelligence is any indication of their future earning potential.
  • There was so much confusion between Spanish and Portuguese, the actual language spoken in Brazil, that I don’t even know where to begin except to just sigh.
  • Phil hasn’t been much of a presence this season, but he did get a little randy on the mat when Dallas and Toni, Terence and Sarah, and Aja and Ty showed up. “Maybe you should talk about this love that I’m seeing here,” he said. “You guys are hugging and kissing.”
  • As if their search for the shipping container wasn’t enough to demonstrate their cluelessness, Kelly and Christy stood around waiting for a taxi when theirs was sitting with the others the whole time.
  • “I have a lot of things in my life to be thankful for: I have my health, I have my parents, I have, you know, my looks, and I have Stephanie,” Anthony said. Well, three out of four isn’t bad.

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.