Tuesday, 28 February 2006
The Amazing Race 9, Episode 1
Denver, CO (USA) - São Paulo (Brazil)
The Amazing Race is back!
Back in São Paulo for the second time. (Don't be surprised if you've forgotten their first visit four years ago -- they didn't actually do much in São Paulo.) Back to teams of two adults, instead of teams of four that include children. (Too bad: As I've said repeatedly, the television producers missed a huge chance to show the world as children experience it, and to teach adult viewers how much more quickly and easily children adapt to unfamiliar settings.) But most importantly, back to travelling around the world (or at least to many continents), rather than just around North and Central America as in the most recent flop of a season of the reality-television race.
The lack of audience interest in the previous season of the race, as host Phil Keoghan has admitted in recent inteviews, suggests that the excitement and education we get from travel is as much about diversity of people as of places. Yes, the USA has both tropical jungle and arctic mountaintops. Yes, the USA is a melting pot of peoples. But the world is still a lot more culturally diverse than the USA or any one country, and changing scenery outside the window of your SUV is no substitute for cultural encounter and immersion.
But let's put all that behind us. What are the prospects for the new season as the racers head off to Brazil to the helicopters that will whisk them to the rooftops of their destinations -- when they aren't stuck in traffic in taxicabs on their way to (where else?) the Estádio Municipal (Estádio do Pacaembu)?
This season features some of the more experienced international travellers -- at least according to the highly selective profiles released by CBS -- since the first year of "The Amazing Race". B.J. and Tyler, in particular, appear to be the first contestants on "The Amazing Race" who took a trip around the world together before being selected for the cast of the show.
That doesn't make it certain, or even particularly likely, that they will be more adept at travel skills. Some people are "born travellers" more than others by temperament, regardless of experience. But a trip around the world together typically either makes or breaks a relationship: it's rare for two people to come back from a trip like that feeling only indifferent towards each other.
Unlike some of the other cast members who've never travelled together before, Tyler and B.J. each knew what they were getting into and what their partner was like as a traveller , which can be very different form how the same person behaves at home. If, after that, they both chose to apply for "The Amazing Race", I'm pretty confident that they've worked out a modus vivendi as companions on the road that will survive the race.
It also looks like they are doing some of the things I've been recommending, like using the time in airports and on planes to get fellow travellers to teach them key race-related phrases in the language of their next destination. For the racers, it's how to tell a taxi driver, "Will you please pass that car?" For real-world travellers, it might be, "Where is the toilet?", or "I can't eat meat." (Because it seems less judgmental, "can't" is more likely than "won't" to be understood and accepted without giving offense in a cross-cultural context.)
At the same time, this season's racers seem to be bringing along too much baggage -- physically if not (or not yet visibly) emotionally. The first time one of them has to run, they are crying out, "Holy big bag!" at the weight of their luggage.
Presumably, they knew that this was a race, and that they would sometimes have to run (for plane, for a train, for a bus, for a boat, for a taxi, ...) with their pack on their back. So if they were surprised at how difficult that was, it could only mean that they had never tested what it was like to run with their pack fully loaded.
We've seen this before, just as we've seen travellers -- on "The Amazing Race" and in real life -- throwing things out to lighten their loads. Let this be a lesson:
- Before a long trip, pack your bags completely and go out for a day of sightseeing and travel around town by public mass transit. Then reconsider which things are really worth their weight to carry.
- Plan on wanting to cut down the size and weight of your luggage, and bring as little as possible that's so valuable (in money or sentiment) that you'd be reluctant to abandon it, or pained if it gets lost, stolen, or broken.