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‘A very special Amazing Race’ started very much like every other Amazing Race

‘A very special Amazing Race’ started very much like every other Amazing Race
Art Velez (left) and Rupert Boneham had different experiences on the Roadblock challenge. (Photos by Monty Brinton/CBS)

For the first time, all three of CBS’ reality shows came together, competing on The Amazing Race 31. While this was framed as a “reality clash” or “showdown,” it was barely noticeable in the first episode, which took the teams from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

There was essentially no interaction between the teams, though the preview revealed that the U-Turn will involve some kind of vote, so perhaps it will find more ways to take advantage of its casting.

Eliza Orlins—who I’m so glad to see back on TV—pointed out that half of the teams have already been on The Amazing Race. Since, as part of its recent run of seasons full of stunt casting, TAR has regularly pulled contestants from Big Brother and Survivor, so even having teams who are new to TAR doesn’t feel special.

It just seemed like another season of TAR, which is fine, but the show itself is still a copy of a copy of its former self: familiar and faded, too often forgettable.

Oh, the premiere was fun, at times: I laughed out loud several times, like when Rupert nearly effortlessly scampered up that slippery slope on his first try, and then slid back down with a toothpick in his mouth.

Host Phil Keoghan fucking with Corinne and Eliza at the mat was also a highlight: “Corinne and Eliza, I’m sorry to tell you—you’re at the back of the pack, but you are team number nine.”

They were one of three teams convinced they were in last place. Without Art and JJ taking a four-hour penalty, Rupert and Laura may have been out of the race, but it wasn’t clear how much time of their penalty had elapsed by the time Rupert made his run.

Bret sliding down without grabbing a clue first was an instant classic, and so was Rupert and Laura spending more than two hours wandering around and missing the clue box that the camera operator was basically pointing at with the camera.

Phil Keoghan, Amazing Race 31, TAR31, season 31
Phil Keoghan in a video he posted from the starting line for Amazing Race 31, which features teams from Big Brother, Survivor, and Amazing Race competing against each other.

TAR did almost lose me when the teams arrived in Tokyo for their first leg of the race. The first 12 minutes were spent on a challenge, digging in sand, and it quickly became obvious that had zero consequence and no effect. (And there was a second challenge, too, one that was cut out of the final episode.)

They were all on the same flight, and then, in Tokyo, all on the same bus, so they all got clues at the same time. There was no reason to rush in L.A.—though of course, the teams may not have known that.

It’s a big part of what makes the race less engaging for me: it’s not about the discovery and stress of international travel, it’s about ticking off boxes: do a thing, go to a place, do another thing, repeat.

The challenges—two Roadblocks—were both framed as nods to Japanese game shows, but the first was essentially a game of chance (guess which sandal might be made of chocolate), and the second just felt like a second-hand Big Brother challenge (body suit + costume + slippery surface). Not the strongest start.

Those challenges came packaged inside The Amazing Race’s chaotic editing, which has stepped into compensate for the lack of actual travel. This is partially what killed my interest in the race in the first place: so many equalizers, so many sound effects.

I did appreciate how the show managed to introduce each of the teams, and give some backstory to those who newer viewers may not know, like Colin and Christie: My ox is broken! Although the editing kind of belittled their mediation practice, and I am expecting that the stress of the race will cause a crack, Colin so far seems like a much different person than he was before.

There wasn’t much more than a single note for each team, though: Here’s who they are, hammer, hammer, hammer. One of the reasons why I liked season 29 so much was that the pairing of strangers forced the show to do more with these team’s relationships, because they were developing and growing throughout the race.

Since then, though, it’s slid back into its old ways. Discussing the differences between Survivor and TAR, Chris said The Amazing Race “is go, go, go.” That’s the formula. Will CBS reality stars be able to break through it? I’ll keep watching to find out.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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