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The Amazing Race 4, Episode 13 (season finale, 21 August 2003)

Ellis Beach (Australia) - Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park (Australia) - Cairns (Australia) - Kaulana Bay, Hawaii (USA) - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI (USA) - Phoenix, AZ (USA) - Tempe, AZ (USA) - Phoenix, AZ (USA)

It’s love that makes us go ‘round the world

The fourth season of “The Amazing Race” ended this week with married couple Chip and Reichen winning what was primarily a taxicab race through Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona, to the finish line after they and one other team got off the same flight from Honolulu, Hawaii.

“The Amazing Race” has been one of the most gay-friendly primetime broadcast television shows. The show hasn’t had a disproportionate number of gay, lesbian, or bisexual contestants — if the cast were selected by lot, one would expect at least one gay or lesbian team each season, and that’s about what’s there has been (at least that are out about their sexual orientation). But gay teams have done disproportionately well in the race around the world: in four seasons, gay teams have finished third, fourth, and now first. Is there anything significant in this?

Some viewers of “The Amazing Race 4” have complained that Chip and Reichen made too much of being gay. They didn’t win because they were gay, did they? “Gay people have nothing to prove,” some say: even homophobes know that there are capable, intelligent, gay people. What’s the big deal?

The big deal isn’t that a gay person won a race. The big deal is that a gay married couple won a race that has proved to be as much, or more, a test of the relationship between the teammates as it is a test of their individual aptitudes. However long Chip and Reichen’s marriage lasts (to put it in perspective, 40-50% of current marriages between men and women are expected to end in divorce), their victory in “The Amazing Race” is a victory for their relationship, and a milestone for gay marriage.

Travel, as I’ve often said, can both make or break relationships. “The Amazing Race” has come to be known as the “relationship torture test” of reality television shows, and some fans watch it for that element alone. So what can other travellers learn from Reichen and Chip, and how they and their relationship grew and were strengthened by the stresses of the trip?

At the finish line, Chip and Reichen talked about two things that made the difference: love and patience.

Love before competitiveness. Patience before haste. Those were the winning skills — in a 64000 km (44,000 mile) race around the world. All travellers could take these lessons to heart.

Love is about accepting and understanding people for who they are, on their own terms — even if we would prefer that they were different. Similarly, the key to understanding (and thus to being able to deal with) the places we visit and people we meet as travellers is to understand how they see themselves, and the internal logic of their ways of thinking and doing. Central to modern sociology and anthropology is the recognition that social and personal practices — even those that seem inexplicable to us — usually persist in a society only if, from the point of view and in the value system of their practitioners, they have a function and a meaning.

Those who learn most from the places they visit are those who relate to those beloved places and the people who live in them as they would to any person they love: who start from the assumption that places and communities, like people, are all seeking self-fulfillment.

And impatience is, for most travellers, spectacularly counter-productive. Both of the leading teams were throwing $50 and $100 bills at their cab drivers to motivate them in the final sprint. But the assistance from local people on which travellers depend is more often motivated by generosity than by greed.

(Having been allowed onto a plane long after it was scheduled to depart and the gate had been closed — escorted by a phalanx of kindly airline staff who ran all the way through the terminal with me in awkwardly high heels and tight skirts, and nearly got themselves shot by the National Guard when they tried to rush my bags through the security checkpoint to make sure I made the plane — I can’t help but wonder whether second-place Jon and Kelly would have gotten on the flight they missed in Tokyo if they had been more humble in their approach to the bowing Japanese staff at the gate.)

CBS hasn’t yet decided whether they will commission another season of “The Amazing Race”, and applications for the cast of another season aren’t being accepted. If it happens, it probably won’t be broadcast until at least the spring or summer of 2004. So if you want to take a trip around the world, I wouldn’t wait for CBS to pay for it! The good news, of course, is that you’ll probably have a more rewarding trip, more easily, on your own than as part of “The Amazing Race”.

Bon voyage!

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