Tuesday, 30 November 2004

The Amazing Race 6, Episode 3

Voss (Norway) - Stockholm (Sweden) - Häggvik (Sweden) - Stockholm (Sweden)

OK, call me a whiner: Last week I complained that the current “reality” television contestants on The Amazing Race aren’t like the real people who take trips around the world. This week my complaint is that the tasks the television producers are contriving for the racers aren’t like the challenges faced by real travellers. Or, in both cases, less so than in previous seasons.

It’s a race, of course, not a real vacation trip. This week’s episode featured such characteristically Scandinavian and touristic activities (not) as a visit to a brand-name home furnishings store — presumably a paid product placement in the TV show — and searching for clues in a field of round bales of hay. But surprisingly, the most realistic factor in the ability of the contestants to complete this leg of the race was that they were trying to do too much in too little time, on too little sleep, and making too little allowance for their sleep-deprived state of mind.

At some level, too many Americans live our lives as though we are always in a race. Not getting enough sleep on a daily basis goes right along with not getting enough vacation on an annual basis. That’s why Take back Your Time and Work to Live equate their campaigns for vacation rights and limits on the work year in the USA with previous campaigns for limits on the work day and the work week.

Not for nothing do labor unions advertise themselves on bumper stickers as, “The people who brought you the weekend”. Laws and union contracts entitling workers in most Western European countries to 4-8 weeks per year of vacation have come about through the same sort of struggle that led to the 8-hour work day and the 40-hour work week — movements whose 19th-century beginnings in Chicago (starting point for this season of “The Amazing Race”) are commemorated, ironically, by the observance of May 1st, almost everywhere in the world except the USA and Canada, as “International Workers Day”. North American workers will get the same vacation rights as Europeans only if the labor movement, individual workers, and voters make this an issue and a popular demand.

That’s an important agenda for those of us who want more time to travel, without having to switch to working as a freelancer or temporary employee, or to make special arrangements for a sabbatical or leave of absence.

In the meantime, we often end up, like the cast (and, for that matter, the production crew) of “The Amazing Race”, trying to cram too much into too little time, at the expense of getting enough rest and sleep on our travels.

As tonight’s episode clearly showed, sleep deprivation can be a problem for travellers even 4 days after they arrived in Europe, when they have probably gotten over their jet lag.

Awakening between 2 and 3 a.m. in order to be ready to leave the “pit stop” in Norway between 2:47 and 4:05 (according to when they had arrived) may seem a schedule peculiar to a race, but it’s actually common for travellers with morning flights who need to be at the airport, an hour’s journey or longer from a downtown city hotel, three hours before a scheduled international departure.

The racers might have gotten some sleep sitting up on trains or busses. That can be much easier than on an airplane, since even ordinary trains in Europe or North America have seats more comfortable and spacious than what airlines call “business class”. But they were on the go until they arrived at the store in Stockholm well after its 20:00 (8 p.m.) closing time, and they had to be back at the store at 10 a.m. when it opened.

They might have found hostels or cheap hotels nearby, as the racers have sometimes done in past seasons, but it appears that they probably spent the night in sleeping bags outside the store. Whatever they did, they didn’t get a good night’s sleep. The next morning, they were tired, impatient, and not thinking clearly — so much so that they didn’t even realize how impaired their abilities were. One of the most important skills in coping with sleep deprivation, jet lag, and the like is knowing when you need to slow down, do things more slowly, and if possible have your travelling companion double-check everything you do (and vice versa).

But instead of proceeding slowly and carefully with their tasks — counting the items in the bargain bins, or assembling prefab furniture — and checking each others’ work as they went along, most of the race teams divided up the work, hurried, made mistakes, and had to keep repeating their assignments until they got them right.

Depending on what happens next, saving money by sleeping on the ground instead of in a bed, and thereby getting so tired that their tasks took them hours longer than if they were rested and alert, may prove a false economy for the racers in time lost to mistakes and misjudgments, as excessive penny-pinching usually is for even budget travellers.

People who realize that travel can be tiring often plan a “vacation within a vacation” at the end of a strenuous trip, before they come home. But it can be equally important to plan rest days at intervals through a longer trip, and/or before a stint of hard travelling if you won’t be able to be well-rested when you leave home. Come on, ‘fess up: How often have you gotten a good nights’ sleep the night before a big trip, and how often have you been up late with last-minute packing?

The cast of “The Amazing Race” has usually stayed at luxury resorts during their 12-hour “pit stops”. This week’s pit stop was, for the first time, run by Hostelling International , offering dormitory berths for SEK200 per person per night (approximately USD30; Sweden is one of the few countries that could have joined the Euro zone but has chosen not to) on the historic sailing ship af Chapman moored in Stockholm harbor. We’ll find out next week, if the TV producers choose to show us, whether the racers actually spent the night on the ship, or in a luxury hotel nearby.

It’s odd to be writing about sleep deprivation in the middle of the night, while sleep deprived. Like the travellers I’ve been criticizing, I didn’t really think clearly, before I started these columns on “The Amazing Race” in 2001, that providing morning-after commentary on a prime-time evening television show would mean weekly all-nighters writing my articles after watching the show. Time to go to bed!

Sweet dreams (of travel around the world).

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 30 November 2004, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

When have the detours and roadblocks ever been "characteristic" of what tourists typically do?

How many travellers to St. Petersburg -- or locals for that matter -- play hockey with professionals? How often do tourists in South Korea go for a winter swim through cold water beneath a layer of ice?

I do agree that casting models and performers is stupid.

Posted by: Anonymous, 2 December 2004, 23:06 (11:06 PM)

Unions didn't bring us the weekend. Prosperity brought us the weekend. Without prosperity, people would still be willing to work a 6-day week. Whether unions brought us prosperity is another matter entirely. There has been a more-or-less steady improvement in people's lives for the last four hundred years. The growth and decline of unions in America haven't had much effect on that improvement.

For more, see the URL below.

I'll concur as well: the producers seem to be trying to second-guess who will be the most popular racers by choosing the most attractive ones with the skimpiest clothing who already work in the entertainment industry. Wrong move. The most popular racers in my house are the ones that work the best together, e.g. the sisters who just got eliminated this week.

Also, everyone in my house thought the choice between count and build was immediately obvious: build. Similarly, when offered a choice between searching and doing any damn thing else, don't search.

Posted by: Russell Nelson, 3 December 2004, 23:35 (11:35 PM)
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