The Amazing Race is back for its 19th season, 10 years after its first season debuted. This episode seemed to be a kind of “let’s throw shit against a wall and see what sticks,” and I do admire them for trying new things. Few of them worked, however.
The ending was a good example of what it simultaneously did right and wrong: the editors didn’t try to fake us out about Bill and Cathi being in last place, which wasn’t surprising because they evaporated from half the race. Eventually, we saw them navigating around and the race’s pace slowed so we could actually get to know them a little. But then producers pulled out two twists: a non-elimination leg and a double-elimination next week. With the speedbump they’ll have to complete, that’s three chunks of nonsense in one episode, hooray!
My enduring question about The Amazing Race: Why don’t the producers and network trust their format?
Other observations from the first episode:
- Although I was excited about the complexity of the opening challenge, it ultimately made little sense. Teams grabbed random umbrellas and Phil said yes or no, and that was basically it. The correct umbrella contained three letters that repeated along with other letters that were displayed over the umbrellas, but they didn’t have to figure that out, and Phil told them their destination once they got into their Ford Explorer-brand product placement vehicle.
- Here’s a way to create drama: give the last-place team something to put them even further behind. The only reason that worked is because they came in ninth place despite that handicap. And like the speed bump tasks, the hazard penalty wasn’t a challenge at all: an indoor bungee jump. However, that was pretty awesome, and I wish all the teams had to do that.
- The lost passport was the highlight of the episode and incredible example of how social media and reality television impact one another. The full story of how it went down is even more interesting, especially since one contestant is accusing the show of cheating, which suggests bitterness and perhaps tells us a lot about how well that team does.
- On same-sex teams especially, I have no idea who is who. This is one of the race’s major failings recently: It pretends to be about character but instead gives us one-note edits instead. If I don’t know who is who, the show hasn’t done its job of introducing people as individuals.
- I love Ethan and Jenna as a team, and they are literally the only reason I tuned back in this season. But they didn’t impress me immediately, especially since, as Jenna said, “We’re not telling anybody we were on Survivor.” Ethan said that would put “a little bit of a target on our back.” But this isn’t Survivor! With the exception of the moronic U-turn twist, teams do not have to impact one another. And while it may say something about how humble they are, did they really expect no one to recognize two Survivor winners?
- In Taiwan, teams had to search for their next clue, and were only told to “look up.” This was one of those over-corrections: It’s great to not have teams just run from clue box to clue box, but this seemed very challenging because there was no clear indication of what the clue even was. One team thought a trash collector’s red and yellow boxers meant he had the clue; others ignored the actual clue, a billboard with red and yellow circles that disappeared to reveal writing in Chinese, because there was no indication it was a clue. One team member said, “it’s always stripes,” not balloon shapes. The editing suggested that the only reason most teams figured it out was because other teams were standing there looking at it.
- Because of Expedition Impossible, I appreciate how The Amazing Race shows us so many different places and people even in a single episode. But while ABC’s version focused on the same environment for 10 episodes, CBS’ goes way too fast, so it feels like they’re just using the place rather than showing it or exploring it.
- The memorization Roadblock was challenging but was, you know, memorization, which only makes for great TV when the editors subtly suggest that pot usage has dulled one team member’s memory. The dragon boat detour-without-another-detour-option task was far less of a challenge and the kind of stuff we’ve come to expect from the show: a by-the-motions task that they just have to do.
- The editing is so formulaic that it was pretty easy to predict the conclusion: the old couple came in last place. But oh, the twist. I did not see the non-elimination leg coming, and it’s mildly creative to put it first. Coupling that with a double-elimination, however, is just stupid; the odds are very much against Bill and Cathi, who couldn’t even handle the first leg of the race without having to complete an extra task and come in ahead of two other teams.