Tuesday, 10 May 2005

The Amazing Race 7, Episode 10

London, England (U.K.) - Kingston (Jamaica) - Montego Bay (Jamaica) - Lucea (Jamaica) - San Juan (Puerto Rico) - Aguadilla (Puerto Rico) - Miami, FL (USA) - Fort Lauderdale, FL (USA)

Most viewers were probably pleased that Joyce and Uchenna finished first in the final leg (largely because they did better at getting local people to help them find a particular shop on Calle Ocho in Miami's "Little Havana") to win the US$1 million grand prize in the seventh season of The Amazing Race .

But many of those same people, as well as fans of second-place Amber and Rib, are asking whether the television producers, or American Airlines, intervened to get Joyce and Uchenna onto the same final flight to Miami with Amber and Rob -- after the door to the plane had been closed, and the jetway pulled back.

I wasn't there, and my informant who saw the third-place team in the airport in San Juan that day didn't see any of what happened with the two leading teams. I have no knowledge of what happened, other that what I saw on TV.

But I believe that what we saw on TV is perfectly plausible, in the circumstances. I doubt that the race was fixed by CBS or the producers. And while it's certainly possible (especially in light of the sponsorship of previous seasons of the race by American Airlines) that some of the American Airlines staff recognized the racers or realized what television show they were with, I don't think that would have been necessary for Joyce and Uchenna to be allowed on the flight with Amber and Rob.

Normally, of course, additional passengers aren't allowed on a scheduled commercial flight after the aircraft doors have closed and the jetway has been pulled back.

But this wasn't a normal situation. Consider how it appeared to the airline staff who were making the decisions:

First, four passengers (Amber, Rob, and their accompanying sound and camera crew) rushed up to the gate as boarding was ending. There were four of them, presumably business travellers and certainly price-is-no-object travellers -- the sort of customers whose business is worth the most, and therefore whom airlines try hardest to please.

They had bought tickets at the last minute at the highest possible unrestricted walk-up coach fare, which permits date or flight changes at no charge. (If they had bought ordinary tickets with penalties for changes, it would have been more work and taken more time for the gate agents to change their reservations and tickets.) They had no checked baggage. (If they had checked their bags onto another flight, security regulations would have prohibited them from voluntarily changing to another flight). They were filming with a large broadcast-quality camera, so presumably they were at least moderately important people. (Even if the airline staff didn't recognize who they were or what TV show they were filming, they wouldn't want themselves or their employer to look bad on TV.) And there were enough empty seats on the plane. (If the plane were full, nothing else would have mattered.)

So Amber, Rob, and their crew were allowed to board.

A few minutes later, Joyce, Uchenna, and their crew showed up at the same gate, even more urgent to get on the same plane.

As far as the airline was considered, what they had was a group of eight full-fare VIP media passengers including two film crews, who had somehow gotten split up but urgently needed to get on the same flight together. The pilot, gate agents, and station manager probably wouldn't have had any way to know that Amber and Rob didn't want to be reunited with their "companions"; they would have known only that Uchenna kept saying, "We have to be on the same flight with them." There were enough empty seats on the plane to accommodate them all, and the plane wasn't going anywhere anyway.

Eight full-fare media VIP's have a lot more clout -- especially when it won't cost anything or delay anyone else to accommodate them -- than one or two ordinary passengers with cheap advance-purchase excursion tickets. Under those conditions, I don't think it would necessarily have required any intervention by CBS, the producers, or higher-ups in the know at American Airlines to get the gate agents and then the station manager to ask for permission to bring back the jetway and board more passengers, or for the pilot to grant that request.

The door was closed, and the jetway had pulled back from the plane, but the plane hadn't yet been pushed back from the gate. The pilot can't request clearance from the tower to push back until they are "ready to push", which requires that the doors are closed and the jetway is retracted. But if the plane wasn't pushing back immediately, that probably means that there was congestion on the taxiway(s) or runway(s), and that the pilot had been told to wait for other planes to move before pushing back. At that point, knowing they weren't going anywhere, they had nothing to lose -- and perhaps something to gain, by freeing up seats on the later flight for sale to other would-be customers -- by allowing more passengers to board while they waited.

Regardless of whom you were rooting for in the race, you have to give particular credit to Joyce and Uchenna for showing an integrity at the finish line that many travellers lack.

Contestants in previous episodes of the race -- and too many real-world, real-life tourists and travellers -- have sometimes refused to pay taxi drivers, or underpaid them, and have usually gotten away with it. They are rich Americans, leaving on a jet plane. Once they jump out of the cab and run off, a Third World taxi driver has no practical recourse to collect the fare they are owed -- even though an unpaid or short-paid fare might have more impact on their lives than missing a plane might have to a First World traveller.

Joyce and Uchenna had forfeited all their money for finishing last in the penultimate leg of the race, and didn't have enough money to pay for the final taxi ride from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale. But instead of letting their driver take them to their destination unawares, expecting to be paid, they warned the driver when the fare on the meter passed the amount of money they had been able to raise by begging in the airport and along the way. And instead of leaving the cabby in the street unpaid, and running off to step on the finish mat and claim the million-dollar prize, they insisted on raising enough money from passers-by to pay the fare in full before going on to the finish line.

If it weren't for the excitement with the final flights and at the finish line, attention would probably focus on the fact that this season, for the first time, The Amazing Race didn't go around the world. The racers returned from Eurasia to the Americas via the Atlantic, and never crossed the Pacific Ocean. In airline terms, their route would generally be described as a "Circle Atlantic" journey.

Should we care? Have we viewers, or the racers, been cheated out of the promise of "a race around the world"? No. I've known some people who cared deeply about achieving a path through life that forms a full circle enclosing the axis of the earth, but you could accomplish that on foot in a few minutes at either Pole. What matters more than the route, I think, is the experience of travelling to diverse destinations and places that are different from our own homelands.

Filming of The Amazing Race 8 will begin sometime this summer, for broadcast (I suspect) in late fall 2005. Keep your eyes peeled for yellow-and-red flags, or for camera crews following groups of four people through airports, and report any sightings.

Casting is now officially open for "The Amazing Race 9", which will once again have teams of two people. You can download the application form and instructions from the CBS Web site . I'm a travel expert, not a television casting director, but you can see my previous article for what little advice I can give on how to get yourself selected. And my most important advice is still that you don't have to be cast in a television show to have your own chance at the trip of your lifetime. Don't wait for TV to come knocking!

If you'll be travelling this (northern hemisphere) summer, as I will be, "Bon voyage!"

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 10 May 2005, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

For what it's worth: though Uchenna & Joyce stayed and begged for money for that final cabbie, (1) they admitted later that they only paid their generous Jamaican cabbie $50 for what should have been a $250 fare; and (2) some people have said that it's a Race rule for racers and cabbie to agree on the amount ultimately paid. These people say that Uchenna and Joyce COULDN'T have left for the finish line until their cabbie was satisfied.

Posted by: Jason, 16 May 2005, 18:07 ( 6:07 PM)

Hi.


Thanks for the plausible explanation. I don't think there was a fix plus, we, the viewers weren't really there. We don't know what happened and what the conversation was with the gate personel and the pilot. I know what happened to Uchenna and Joyce did happen to me in Los Angeles. I was SO late the plane nearly left without me. I was lucky and like Uchenna and Joyce were so it could happen to anyone.

Posted by: Einez Crespo, 17 May 2005, 04:39 ( 4:39 AM)

I don't think the "fix" was in, but I know the producers will do all they can from it being a one team race at the end. And if it was all luck...the people in San Juan who took them to the airport, the cabbie in San Juan who worked all day for 40 bucks, the hours of operation at the sugar mill, the AA flight and the cabbie in Miami...it will have to go down as the luckiest (by far) 30 minutes ever on TV.
Or as U&J seemed to think it was God looking out for them and consequently not looking out for the others.

Posted by: larry, 17 May 2005, 10:19 (10:19 AM)

I was so glad to see Uchenna and Joyce win. They were such good sports through the whole game. They never got mad at each other or yelled,and they helped the other teams. They had a purpose for the money unlike the other teams who just wanted the million dollars. I thought it was so sweet that the first thing they thought of was the money was going to help them have a family. Good for you!!! If Rob and Amber would have won I would have not watched the show again.

Posted by: Roberta, 18 May 2005, 18:25 ( 6:25 PM)

The first commenter is probably correct that there is (now) a Race rule that you can't stiff your taxi driver. It would make sense that they instituted that rule after the incidents in Tanzania and Dubai. Also, before they entered the park, Uchenna made a point of saying loudly "the taxi driver is okay with [the amount]" or words to that effect.

But even if there were no such rule, let's keep in mind that Uchenna and Joyce probably knew that there was just one entrance to the park (or whatever it was), and they were right outside it. In that sense they could afford to take time to "do the right thing" by begging for money to pay the cab driver. But what if they saw Rob and Amber approaching? Then they might have said screw the cab driver, we have to leave right now.

That said, do you really think it made good television to watch Uchenna and Joyce beg their way through the Caribbean and Florida? I just find it unseemly -- a "twist" that should never have been introduced. The only thing worse is the vomit contests where the best strategy to finishing the roadblock is forcing yourself to puke so that you can fill your stomach with more caviar or beef or whatever.

Posted by: Mathew, 18 May 2005, 20:34 ( 8:34 PM)

There's one more factor that doesn't appear to be discussed here. San Juan to anywhere in the U.S. is a domestic flight. So, it isn't as hard as an International flight.

Posted by: Travis, 20 May 2005, 01:33 ( 1:33 AM)

I know this is late, but if you look at other TAR sources and interviews, U&J ditched the driver, ran in, attempted to check in at the finish line, were told they couldn't finish until they'd paid their driver, and *then* went back to beg for cash to pay him.

So everything you wrote about what good people they are? It's the reverse.

Posted by: Milhous, 26 December 2005, 23:47 (11:47 PM)

Hi.

I am here in South Africa and we only see the Amazing race 7 on the telly now.

All i can say is The winners of it ( Joyce and Uchenna ) U stole all my respect cause of the way U guys tried to help the two old people even thou U were in a competition. My heart went out to them and also my respect for all they achieved at their age.

Hope U2 will come and visit South Africa again.
All the best for the rest of this year.

Roedolf

Posted by: Roedolf Calitz, 30 March 2006, 02:42 ( 2:42 AM)
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