Tuesday, 6 December 2005

The Amazing Race 8 (Family Edition), Episode 9

Salt Lake City, UT (USA) - Park City, UT (USA) - Heber City, UT (USA) - Bonneville Salt Flats, UT (USA) - Garden City, UT (USA) - Big Pine, WY (USA) - Yellowstone National Park, WY (USA) - Dubois, WY (USA) - Cody, WY (USA) - Red Lodge, MT (USA) - Absorokee, MT (USA)

Throughout this season of “The Amazing Race”, loyal viewers of previous seasons have been complaining that there’s been less, this time around, of what makes world travel really attractive and rewarding. Certainly those complaints continued throughout the two-week leg of the race that concluded tonight in Montana.


It’s not, I think, because they’ve stayed in North and Central America. There’s plenty for travellers to see and do in the USA — arguably the world’s most diverse sovereign nation in physical geography (rivalled only by China) if not culture. There’s a world of difference just across the border in Mexico. And Canada, as I was reminded during my trip to Vancouver last week, is pleasantly different from the USA, albeit in sometimes less conspicuous ways.

Nor is it just because they’ve spent so much time in motor vehicles, although that did have something to do with it. The latest episode of the race featured product placements for a remarkable range of vehicles, from house trailers and trucks towing them to vans (chauffeur driven in what appeared to be a reenactment of a scene from an “SUV” advertisement, or perhaps the filming of a future ad that will play on the connection to the race), a car (a prize for the winner of the episode), and … golf carts (brand name identified). And a car or truck is remarkably effective at caging you in as a tourist, and caging out the world through which you pass. But a road trip — whether in the USA, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, or any other automotive society — can, if you make an effort to get out of your vehicle more often, be a great way to explore a country.

And it wasn’t even a lack of interesting challenges in this episode, which included laying railroad track (more complicated than most people who haven’t seen it don’t realize) last week, and building tepees this week.

The first time “The Amazing Race” had a tepee-building challenge was during The Amazing Race 5 in Alberta, Canada. It got edited out of the broadcast, as has happened to other challenges from time to time — the DVD of the first season includes bonus footage of an ostrich egg eating challenge that got left on the cutting-room floor. That left the eyewitness photos and descriptions on my blog, and a few less detailed photos on the CBS Web site, as the only record of the tepee building.

But I guess the producers really liked it, since they set the tepee challenge up exactly the same way again — except that this time they drove the racers out into the middle of a private ranch to build their tepees out of public view, instead of having them do it in the parking lot of a public park.

No, the real reason I think this season is so (relatively) uninteresting is that there has been so much less interaction between the racers and local people. And that’s primarily because they are travelling in larger groups than in the previous seasons: teams of four (each accompanied by a photographer and a sound technician) instead of two.

The larger the group with which you travel, the more your conversations and attention are focused on your travelling companion(s), and the less on the people and places along the way.

And large groups just aren’t as approachable as solo travellers. When six people get out of a van, they form a closed-seeming group of their own no matter how friendly they are, and most people will tend to “leave them to themselves” in a way that they wouldn’t a solo traveller or a couple. Solo travellers are immersed in, and experience, the places they visit in a fundamentally different and deeper way than is ever possible for group travellers. (Travelling with a companion has its own, different advantages, such as getting the benefit of your companion’s different perspective and insights into the new things that you are both trying to understand.)

Being in a larger group also slows the racers down, as was evident in this episode. As my usual travelling companion, a statistics teacher by profession, puts it, “The amount of time its takes to get out the door together increases exponentially with the number of people.”

So if you didn’t like this season of the race, let it be a lesson in the drawbacks of group travel compared to travel on your own or with fewer companions.

Fortunately (in the opinion of most viewers) this season of four-person teams is almost over, with the two-hour finale next week. The Amazing Race 9 is already being filmed, if (unconfirmed) reports of spottings posted in this blog and elsewhere are to be believed, and is back to teams of two. Keep your eyes out for the flags and racers!

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 23:59 (11:59 PM)


Posted by: Anonymous, 9 December 2005, 19:46 ( 7:46 PM)

I think the reason this season is horrible is that the distances are far less than the last seasons, and so mistakes, even though they are made, do not actually result in tightening the race, nor make a difference. If you have two flights and 3000 miles, plus a cab ride, plus finding the place, you're more likely to have one time make a mistake and lose ground. If you have 50 miles to drive, you could mess that up, but it's doubtful.

The competition factor is gone, really.

Another thing adding to the mistake factor is the lack of different cultures and languages. A team asking for directions in Texas will understand the answer, and in, say, India, it might be more difficult to get directions.

Interactions are less, and I agree that this contributes to the lack of entertainment, but to me, I know if a team has 50 miles to go, they're not going to lose their place in line.

Posted by: Lauch, 13 December 2005, 09:50 ( 9:50 AM)
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