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Edward Hasbrouck on "The Amazing Race 2"

Episode 6: Wednesday, 10 April 2002

Ampawa (Thailand) - Bangkok (Thailand) - Chiang Mai (Thailand) - Mueng Kut (Thailand) - Mae Ping Village (Thailand) - Mae Ping Karen Village (Thailand)


"Maybe I'm supposed to learn humility and patience."

Oswald may have been the only one to put it in words, but it seemed like many of the contestants on "The Amazing Race 2" could have used a lesson in humility and patience in this week's episode. Even though the teams knew that no one would be eliminated, it was one of the most tense legs yet, in either this or the first season of "The Amazing Race".

What went wrong? Not the tasks the racers had to complete on the way to a "hill tribe" village in northern Thailand, none of which significantly delayed any of the teams. That wouldn't have mattered much, anyway, since despite starting two-and-a-half hours apart the teams all ended up on the same overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. (Most foreign tourists get sleeping berths on a faster, more comfortable train that makes fewer stops, but it leaves so much later in the evening that it arrives slightly later in the morning. So they all took the local train in mid-afternoon. They whined at the lack of air conditioning, but there were windows that opened, working electric fans, cushioned seats, and plenty of room for each person to stretch out across an entire bench -- all a far cry from third class in India or "hard seat" class in China.) Instead, for almost the first time, personality conflicts between partners were more significant to the race results than external challenges. CBS's producers are finally getting the "relationship show" that they had hoped for from the start.

Tara and Wil had the greatest difficulty. Their inability to paddle (more precisely, pole) in sync with each other, on a bamboo raft down the Mae Ping River, was symbolic of their repeated inability to keep their agendas for the race (and, perhaps, their lives) in sync. Pushed in opposite directions from each end, their raft kept running aground and going in circles while they argued.

Of course, there are many stresses on Tara and Wil's partnership, particularly Wil's jealousy at his ex-wife Tara's developing romance with Alex. But something like that could have been foreseen, even if the specific partners couldn't have been. Given the romance of travel, it's almost surprising that it took this long for "The Amazing Race" to acquire a romantic sub-plot. And while it's rare for a separated couple like Tara and Wil to take a trip around the world together, it's common when a platonic couple sets out on a long trip together for one to fall in love along the way, leaving the other feeling somewhat abandoned.

Both Wil and Tara wanted "to go on The Amazing Race". But Wil wanted to race to win (wouldn't you, with a million dollar jackpot at stake?), while Tara wanted to have fun and be a nice person (wouldn't you, if you were putting your travelling lifestyle on display for a worldwide television audience of tens of million?). If "nice guys finish last", that difference is bound to lead to problems.

Perhaps it's natural that these tensions manifested themselves in Thailand. Thailand offers something for everyone -- but that's exactly why "We all want to go to Thailand" says so little about what each of you really wants or expects. Get together a group of people who all want to go Thailand, and what happens? When you get off the plane, one of you wants to head north to the mountains (as "The Amazing Race 2" did this week). One of you wants to head south to the beaches (as "The Amazing Race 1" did last season). One of you wants to go shopping. One of you wants to find a cafe and talk to local people. One of you wants to find a cybercafe and send e-mail to friends back home to let them know they've arrived. And one wants to go to sleep, so as to get up at midnight and go out to the bars and brothels.

What can you do to avoid this on your own trip? Nothing can guarantee that your partner won't fall in love with someone else. Still, you can take a lesson from "Team Guido" from "The Amazing Race 1": As Bill explained when I spoke with him and Joe last month, "We had a saying, ''Nuff said'. And whenever something got too stressful, we said, 'We don't want this to get on national TV. That's private. And no matter what, it's not worth winning the race if we break up.' So we said, when we get into that situation.... we'd say, 'Enough said.' And that meant, 'I'm at my breaking point. Let's deal with this later.' `Cause the cameras were off, when you slept -- they weren't shooting in your room at night. You had time where you could chit-chat, and talk about it as you're falling asleep or whatever. And what was amazing is that I can't remember a time when it was important enough that we talked about it later." If you discuss the possibility of disagreement in advance, and have an agreement like this, it's a lot easier to remember -- in the inevitable moments of tiredness and frustration -- that whatever is making you upset won't seem nearly so important after you've gotten settled somewhere comfortable and had a good night's rest. Getting along as a couple (or a group) isn't about never disagreeing; it's about finding effective ways to deal with disagreement, without turning it into anger and lingering resentment.

Each time my companion and I embark on a big trip together, we promise each other that whatever happens, we'll wait until we've gotten home, and had a chance to reflect on it, before we let it have any effect on our relationship. When we get stressed and bitchy, we remind each other of that agreement. And, indeed, the things we argue about on the road always seem trivial in retrospect when we get home. Usually, if we have a chance to rest and reflect (the one thing the racers lack, except at the "pit stops" where they also need to be interviewed about the previous leg of the race, do their laundry, try to sleep, etc.) we figure that out long before we get home.

Next week another pair of racers will be eliminated after a flight to Hong Kong. We'll see then whether cooperation and communication (or lack thereof) really are more significant components of "travel savvy" than raw strength or speed. Stay tuned!


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