Tuesday, 13 December 2005

The Amazing Race 8 (Family Edition), Episode 10

Absorokee, MT (USA) - Billings, MT (USA) - Montréal, Québec (Canada) - Toronto, Ontario (Canada) - Queenston, Ontario (Canada) - Lewiston, NY (USA)

To the bitter end, tonight's final episode of the Family Edition of The Amazing Race was, like this whole season, a series of missed opportunities.

Instead of having to locate a place on the ground in the real world, the "reality" television racers had, as their final task, to assemble a giant jigsaw puzzle of the states and provinces of the USA, Canada, and Mexico. Cute, but no substitute for real-world navigation.

In their earlier real-world tasks, I'm not sure which was more embarrassing as a sign of USA ignorance of even the most obvious trivia of Canadian geography: racers standing next to the Olympic Stadium in Montréal -- the most architecturally distinctive large structure in the city -- asking, "Is this the Stade Olympique?", or staring at the Toronto skyline and asking, "Where's the CN Tower"?

Along the way, the racers went to the Biosphère in Montréal (the world's largest Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome), built as the USA pavilion for Expo '67. The theme of the original expo was "Terres des Hommes", officially but inelegantly translated as "Man and His World". A more accurate rendering of the connotations of the name might be, "World of Peoples", and it was distinctive as the first world's fair to celebrate cultural diversity, rather than to reduce "otherness" to entertainment, "primitivism", or freak show, or to center on technology and artifacts rather than ways of life.

I don't think I bothered to set foot in the Biosphère -- we hadn't come to Canada to learn about the USA. But as someone who (like most Americans) never travelled outside the USA and Canada as a child, I learned a lot from my family's visit to Expo '67. In many ways it was my first real taste of what I would begin to discover "out there" when I began to explore the world for real as an adult.

The racers, however, were sent to this icon of cross-cultural popular education not to meet, observe, or talk to anyone, but simply to get out of their cars, climb the steps of the empty monument, collect their next clue from an unattended box, run back down, and get back in their cars.

The most serious missed opportunity was, of course, the opportunity to show television viewers what happens when families with children travel around the world: how much fun it is, how much easier it is than they expect, how much more quickly and easily children learn new languages and adapt to different cultures and ways of life than do adults, and how much children and adults learn from world travel together.

Before this season, I looked forward eagerly to the opportunity to showcase these lessons during the "Family Edition" of the race around the world. Alas, the producers of "The Amazing Race" fell prey to one of the standard myths about travel that I debunk in The Practical Nomad, How to Travel Around the World : the myth that having children is a reason not to travel abroad, when in fact it is one of the best reasons to travel to places as different from your homeland as possible. As I say in my top tips for travellers :

Children are another great reason to take a trip around the world. Few other gifts you could give your children could match the lifelong value of international experience and exposure to global diversity as a child. No one I know who has traveled abroad as a child would think of trading a year of world travel for a year of conventional schooling. Experience living abroad as a child is the single best predictor of success in international business as an adult.

Tonight's best news is that "The Amazing Race 9", to be broadcast in the USA beginning in February 2006, will return to the around-the-world format (although not, unfortunately, with children), with the preview including scenes in Russia, Japan, and Brazil, among other places -- and the by-now-obligatory bungee jumping.

Also as of tonight, applications from citizens of the USA (still no Canadians or other "foreigners" accepted) are now being invited through Friday, 13 January 2006 for "The Amazing Race 10".

Don't worry if you miss the deadline -- send in your application regardless of which season it specifies, and if they producers like it they'll keep it on file for future seasons. This is a television show, and the producers can cast whomever they want, however they want, whenever they want.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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