Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Amazing Race 22, Episode 2

Bora Bora (French Polynesia)

Jamil and Idries were eliminated from The Amazing Race 22 this week because they couldn't swim. They didn't drown. The TV production team had lifeguards standing by to help them when they started swallowing water. Eventually they completed the second of the two choices of diving tasks. But their fear of the water and lack of swimming and diving skill made them lose too much time to catch up, even when one of the teams ahead of them got lost during the final Jet-Ski race across the Bora Bora lagoon to the finish line.

Normally I focus on lessons from the reality-TV travel show that are actually relevant to real-world travellers. You don't have to know how to swim to take a trip around the world. I've talked before about what real-world physical challenges travellers should be prepared for on a trip around the world, and swimming isn't one of them. On a real-world trip, you don't have to take part in water sports if you don't want to.

In the USA, passing a swimming test is often, but for no obvious reason, a requirement for graduation from high school or college, even in places far from any large body of water. That's not the case in many other parts of the world, where it's common for even people who live in coastal communities, sometimes even people who work on boats, not to know how to swim.

But with auditions for future seasons of the race coming up soon (more on that below), this seems a good time to respond to some of the questions and comments I get from readers about how to prepare for The Amazing Race if you are lucky enough to be selected for the cast.

Having invested the time and effort to participate in the TV show, Jamil and Idries should have paid more attention to some of the recurring themes of the scripted challenges:

Water: Beaches fulfill vacation travel fantasies and stereotypes, and underwater challenges provide an excuse for swimsuit photography of racers who have been cast, in part, for sex appeal. Almost every season of The Amazing Race has included swimming and some sort of diving or underwater challenge. Racers haven't usually had to know anything about sailing, but there has almost always been a task involving some sort of kayak, canoe, or other local variety of paddle-boat. Be prepared to swim a few laps and free dive to the bottom of the deep end of a pool, to use a snorkel, to get in and out and balance in an unstable small boat (a sit-on-top plastic kayak would be good practice), and to paddle and steer using both a double-bladed kayak paddle and a single-bladed canoe paddle.

Heights: There's always been at least one, usually more than one, challenge each season designed to provoke fear of heights: skydiving, bungee jumping, zip-lining, rappelling, etc. Most of these don't require much skill, but it might be worth investing in a lesson in rappelling, where practice can make a considerable difference in your rate of ascent or descent.

Bicycles: Phil Keoghan, the master-of-ceremonies/co-producer of The Amazing Race, is a bicyclist. Almost every season has included at least one task in which the racers have had to ride bicycles. Often, what catches Phil's eye and gets included in the race is some idiosyncratic type of local cargo or utility bicycle. Be prepared to ride a heavy, unfamiliar, somewhat ill-fitting bicycle with an awkward and/or unbalanced load (a beach cruiser with a bag of potatoes in one side basket, for example) for five miles on a bumpy, hilly dirt road. Don't forget the possibility that you might be bicycling on the left side of the road!

Driving: Nothing can really prepare you for Third-World driving (and you probably shouldn't attempt it anyway). But contestants on The Amazing Race can count on, and should practice, driving (1) a vehicle with a manual transmission (stick shift or maybe even column shift), (2) on the left-hand side of the road (some people find it easier than others to get used to driving on the "wrong" side, so take any opportunity to try it), and (3) the largest vehicle you can practice on, since on the race you might have to drive a truck, camper-van, etc.

Eating: There's almost always an eating challenge involving either something that looks, smells, or sounds revolting form its description, or eating an excessive amount of something that would be palatable in a smaller quantity. For the racers as for real-world travellers, the key thing to keep in mind is that if it's being served to you as food, it's probably not poison -- even if you can't tell (and maybe don't want to know) whether it's animal, vegetable, or mineral. Don't think about what it is. Just eat it.

In real-world travel, "caveat emptor". You can and should make it a point to pause before you commit to any potentially hazardous activity. Just because it's being offered by an organized, "legitimate" seeming operator, or "everybody's doing it", doesn't mean it's regulated, inspected, or -- most importantly -- safe. If you aren't sure, don't do it.

On The Amazing Race, you can't afford to hesitate. The challenges are designed and supervised by professional stunt-men and women,and vetted by Hollywood liability lawyers. Cast members have to sign releases, but the producers don't want the bad publicity of someone getting killed on the show. Production-team medics are standing by. Some of the challenges are intrinsically dangerous, but if you aren't committed to doing anything you've seen on any prior season of the race, without hesitation, don't apply for the cast.

Some couples plan to have one member of the team do all the tasks that require some particular skill. It makes sense to know your relative strengths and weaknesses, so that you don't have to spend time thinking about which of you is the better stick-shift driver, or which of you is better at steering and should take the rear seat of the double canoe. But you should both be able to do all of the things I've listed above. You can't always tell, when you chose which team member will take on a challenge, what skills it will require. Some challenges have to be performed by both members of the team, or by whichever team member didn't do the previous challenge. Not infrequently, one team member has to do a task because their partner is ill or injured.

For the first few seasons, the producers of the TV show relied on self-produced videos submitted by pairs of would-be cast members. They soon realized, however, that some couples who looked good on camera weren't good at filming themselves. So they began holding "casting calls" in targeted cities, where a film crew from the local CBS affiliate sets up for the day, usually at a shopping mall, and teams can line up to have their 2-minute audition filmed.

On Saturday, March 9th, the producers of The Amazing Race are holding one their periodic open auditions and screen tests in San Francisco for future seasons of the race. A Channel 5 TV crew will be at the Marmot outdoor clothing and gear store (165 Post Street near Union Square) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Get there early to minimize the wait (and to get a chance to see how other applicants pitch themselves). Bring your completed application forms, and practice your audition performance beforehand. It's an assembly line, and if others are waiting you won't have a chance for multiple takes of your screen test.

Those whose audition tapes are picked out by the "Amazing Race" casting team will be invited to Los Angeles for follow-up interviews and further auditions. You might hear from them right away, or not until many seasons after you first apply.

CBS and the producers of The Amazing Race have always thought of it primarily as a "relationship" show first, a travel show only second. You can tell that from the questions they suggest that applicants answer during their auditions:

  1. Why would you make a great team to win The Amazing Race?
  2. What do you hope to improve or change in your current relationship?
  3. What issues do you need to work on?
  4. How much have you traveled together?
  5. What team do you most relate to from the past season?

Reality-TV "contest" shows like The Amazing Race are subject to Federal laws and FCC rules that prohibit secret assistance to contestants or rigging of results. But those rules only apply to the competition between those teams that are selected for the cast.

Casting choices are not required or intended to be "fair", and are not based on what the casting director thinks would be your chances of winning the race. "We will win the race," even if true, is unlikely to persuade the casting director that, "You should pick us for the cast."

The Amazing Race is a commercial production whose profits are determined by how many people watch each season and episode. Casting decisions are made on the basis of only one factor: Will having these people in the cast make more people watch the show? It doesn't matter if they want to watch you because they identify with you and want to see you win, hate you and want to watch you lose, enjoy watching you make fools of yourselves, want to see you in swimsuits, or want to watch you argue with your teammate or other racers.

You'll have plenty of time to train and prepare for racing after you are called by for a second audition. For the first round of auditions, don't think about how to win the race, but think about how to present yourselves as people whom viewers will want to watch.

Good luck, and bon voyage!

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 24 February 2013, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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