Outrage over Amazing Race tasks in Vietnam ignores that this is nothing new

The Amazing Race returned to Vietnam on Sunday’s episode, but a task and the location of a clue box have generated some controversy, though really, it’s nothing new for the race.

The roadblock task had contestants listen to a patriotic Vietnemese song that included the lyrics “Vietnam Communist party is glorious,” while a clue and the U-Turn were placed at the location of wreckage of a B-52 bomber.

The editing of the segment really is offensive: the wreckage of a bomber is played with the show’s usual zany, agitated music, and Phil Keoghan’s introduction doesn’t help, as he says “site of the wreckage of a B-52 bomber shot down during the Vietnam war, and where they’ll find their next clue,” giving those two things equal weight.

Fox News insisted that the “episode set in Hanoi sparks outrage,” but of course the outrage came from Fox News. In the segment, which is below, Greg Gutfeld said, “How did it not cross the producers’ minds that this might offend the men who fought in Vietnam and the families of those who died there?” And Bob Beckel, who is apparently a progressive on Fox News even though he has said some not very progressive things, said, “I’m so outraged by this I can’t believe it. CBS is idiotic; they’re stupid.”

Gutfield also said, “maybe the producers are really, really young.” Actually, no: executive producer Betram van Munster is 73, which is a well-concealed fact, not that I’d expect a cable news network to do such difficult reporting.

While their outrage for ratings and attention bores me, I don’t disagree with the argument about the use of bomber as backdrop (the song, whatever). But this is what The Amazing Race has done for its whole life: using nations, cities, people, and significant places as backdrops.

In season two, teams had to find a clue in Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell. Think about that for a second. I cannot find that footage, but my memory of it was that it prompted some reflection and comment, though I suppose you could still argue that it was just a place to put the clue box.

When I first started to lose patience with the series three years ago, locations had increasingly begun to fly by and become props rather than characters in the series. I wanted the race to both “slow the fuck down” and “increase immersion into local culture.” The show has real power to inform and educate its audience even in the midst of a competition, and I wish it would take that opportunity instead of just racing past things. Otherwise, they might as well just film it at Epcot.

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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.