Tuesday, 10 May 2005
The Amazing Race 7, Episode 10
London, England (U.K.) - Kingston (Jamaica) - Montego Bay (Jamaica) - Lucea (Jamaica) - San Juan (Puerto Rico) - Aguadilla (Puerto Rico) - Miami, FL (USA) - Fort Lauderdale, FL (USA)
Most viewers were probably pleased that Joyce and Uchenna finished first in the final leg (largely because they did better at getting local people to help them find a particular shop on Calle Ocho in Miami's "Little Havana") to win the US$1 million grand prize in the seventh season of The Amazing Race .
But many of those same people, as well as fans of second-place Amber and Rib, are asking whether the television producers, or American Airlines, intervened to get Joyce and Uchenna onto the same final flight to Miami with Amber and Rob -- after the door to the plane had been closed, and the jetway pulled back.
I wasn't there, and my informant who saw the third-place team in the airport in San Juan that day didn't see any of what happened with the two leading teams. I have no knowledge of what happened, other that what I saw on TV.
But I believe that what we saw on TV is perfectly plausible, in the circumstances. I doubt that the race was fixed by CBS or the producers. And while it's certainly possible (especially in light of the sponsorship of previous seasons of the race by American Airlines) that some of the American Airlines staff recognized the racers or realized what television show they were with, I don't think that would have been necessary for Joyce and Uchenna to be allowed on the flight with Amber and Rob.
Normally, of course, additional passengers aren't allowed on a scheduled commercial flight after the aircraft doors have closed and the jetway has been pulled back.
But this wasn't a normal situation. Consider how it appeared to the airline staff who were making the decisions:
First, four passengers (Amber, Rob, and their accompanying sound and camera crew) rushed up to the gate as boarding was ending. There were four of them, presumably business travellers and certainly price-is-no-object travellers -- the sort of customers whose business is worth the most, and therefore whom airlines try hardest to please.
They had bought tickets at the last minute at the highest possible unrestricted walk-up coach fare, which permits date or flight changes at no charge. (If they had bought ordinary tickets with penalties for changes, it would have been more work and taken more time for the gate agents to change their reservations and tickets.) They had no checked baggage. (If they had checked their bags onto another flight, security regulations would have prohibited them from voluntarily changing to another flight). They were filming with a large broadcast-quality camera, so presumably they were at least moderately important people. (Even if the airline staff didn't recognize who they were or what TV show they were filming, they wouldn't want themselves or their employer to look bad on TV.) And there were enough empty seats on the plane. (If the plane were full, nothing else would have mattered.)
So Amber, Rob, and their crew were allowed to board.
A few minutes later, Joyce, Uchenna, and their crew showed up at the same gate, even more urgent to get on the same plane.
As far as the airline was considered, what they had was a group of eight full-fare VIP media passengers including two film crews, who had somehow gotten split up but urgently needed to get on the same flight together. The pilot, gate agents, and station manager probably wouldn't have had any way to know that Amber and Rob didn't want to be reunited with their "companions"; they would have known only that Uchenna kept saying, "We have to be on the same flight with them." There were enough empty seats on the plane to accommodate them all, and the plane wasn't going anywhere anyway.
Eight full-fare media VIP's have a lot more clout -- especially when it won't cost anything or delay anyone else to accommodate them -- than one or two ordinary passengers with cheap advance-purchase excursion tickets. Under those conditions, I don't think it would necessarily have required any intervention by CBS, the producers, or higher-ups in the know at American Airlines to get the gate agents and then the station manager to ask for permission to bring back the jetway and board more passengers, or for the pilot to grant that request.
The door was closed, and the jetway had pulled back from the plane, but the plane hadn't yet been pushed back from the gate. The pilot can't request clearance from the tower to push back until they are "ready to push", which requires that the doors are closed and the jetway is retracted. But if the plane wasn't pushing back immediately, that probably means that there was congestion on the taxiway(s) or runway(s), and that the pilot had been told to wait for other planes to move before pushing back. At that point, knowing they weren't going anywhere, they had nothing to lose -- and perhaps something to gain, by freeing up seats on the later flight for sale to other would-be customers -- by allowing more passengers to board while they waited.
Regardless of whom you were rooting for in the race, you have to give particular credit to Joyce and Uchenna for showing an integrity at the finish line that many travellers lack.
Contestants in previous episodes of the race -- and too many real-world, real-life tourists and travellers -- have sometimes refused to pay taxi drivers, or underpaid them, and have usually gotten away with it. They are rich Americans, leaving on a jet plane. Once they jump out of the cab and run off, a Third World taxi driver has no practical recourse to collect the fare they are owed -- even though an unpaid or short-paid fare might have more impact on their lives than missing a plane might have to a First World traveller.
Joyce and Uchenna had forfeited all their money for finishing last in the penultimate leg of the race, and didn't have enough money to pay for the final taxi ride from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale. But instead of letting their driver take them to their destination unawares, expecting to be paid, they warned the driver when the fare on the meter passed the amount of money they had been able to raise by begging in the airport and along the way. And instead of leaving the cabby in the street unpaid, and running off to step on the finish mat and claim the million-dollar prize, they insisted on raising enough money from passers-by to pay the fare in full before going on to the finish line.
If it weren't for the excitement with the final flights and at the finish line, attention would probably focus on the fact that this season, for the first time, The Amazing Race didn't go around the world. The racers returned from Eurasia to the Americas via the Atlantic, and never crossed the Pacific Ocean. In airline terms, their route would generally be described as a "Circle Atlantic" journey.
Should we care? Have we viewers, or the racers, been cheated out of the promise of "a race around the world"? No. I've known some people who cared deeply about achieving a path through life that forms a full circle enclosing the axis of the earth, but you could accomplish that on foot in a few minutes at either Pole. What matters more than the route, I think, is the experience of travelling to diverse destinations and places that are different from our own homelands.
Filming of The Amazing Race 8 will begin sometime this summer, for broadcast (I suspect) in late fall 2005. Keep your eyes peeled for yellow-and-red flags, or for camera crews following groups of four people through airports, and report any sightings.
Casting is now officially open for "The Amazing Race 9", which will once again have teams of two people. You can download the application form and instructions from the CBS Web site . I'm a travel expert, not a television casting director, but you can see my previous article for what little advice I can give on how to get yourself selected. And my most important advice is still that you don't have to be cast in a television show to have your own chance at the trip of your lifetime. Don't wait for TV to come knocking!
If you'll be travelling this (northern hemisphere) summer, as I will be, "Bon voyage!"Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 10 May 2005, 23:59 (11:59 PM)