Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Amazing Race 26, Episode 1

Los Angeles, CA (USA) - Tokyo (Japan)

When the first season of “The Amazing Race” launched in 2001, the producers of the reality-TV show thought of it as a “relationship” show about pairs of travellers, not a travel show.

On September 6th, the morning after the first episode was broadcast, the couple who finished last appeared on the “Early Show” — live from the sidewalk in Times Square in front of the CBS studios in New York with a “relationship expert” to analyze what issues between them might have contributed to their elimination.

As of the morning of September 11th, my book publisher’s publicist was finalizing arrangements with CBS for me to appear on the “Early Show” on September 13th, following the second episode, to analyze the race as a travel expert.

That never happened. After September 11th, CBS postponed the second episode for a week while it debated whether an international travel show would still attract a viewing audience or advertisers, and came close to canceling the rest of the season, and the show, entirely. Planned promotional activites for the show were cut back drastically, and it was only gradually that The Amazing Race found its audience.

While The Amazing Race defied expectations by succeeding in spite of September 11th, it also defied its creators’ expectations by succeeding primarily as a travel show. Sure, some viewers enjoy the soap opera in the relationships between the pairs of travellers. But travellers and armchair travellers watch The Amazing Race mainly to imagine what they would do in the travel situations in which the cast members are placed.

This season — perhaps looking for something new to refresh the show after 25 seasons with the same general formula — the producers of The Amazing Race are returning to their original vision of a “relationship show”. All of the teams this season are either “dating” romantic partners or pairs of singles, each of whom applied separately for a “blind date” travelling around the world with a race partner picked for them by the show’s casting team.

Does this dating game have anything to do with reality? I’ll have more to say about that as the “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” season unfolds. In the first episode, host Phil Keoghan focused his questions on whether one of the “already dating” or the “blind date” couples would win the race.

At least in this episode, the amounts of experience the eleven teams had with (a) big cities and (b) international travel appeared to have more of an effect on the order of finish than how long they had known their partners (from months or years for the already dating couples to meeting each other at the starting line for the “blind date” pairs).

As we’ve seen when The Amazing Race has been in Japan before, the public transportation system is fast and efficient but can overwhelm a newly arrived foreigner with its complexity. Taking a taxi and leaving navigation to a professional driver may seem simpler, but trains can be faster for many journeys within and between cities — if we can find our way through the seeming chaos of the megalopolis.

A big city and/or a different culture can overwhelm a new arrival. In a familiar setting, our minds filter out most of what we see, hear, feel, and smell, as “background noise”. We are aware of only the out-of-the-ordinary stimuli that pass through these subconscious filters.

In a strange environment, everything is out of the ordinary, and our filters work poorly, if at all. The result is a flood of unfiltered stimuli that can be as exciting or as panic-inducing as the states of mind produced by perception enhancing or altering drugs.

Sometimes we seek out this “travel high”. Sometimes we experience this sensory overload as “culture shock”. So much is clamoring for our attention that we don’t know what is significant and what to ignore, and can’t focus our attention on a task without distraction.

How can travellers avoid this sort of paralyzing culture shock? Here are a few of the things you can do:

Travel slowly. Don’t rush into trying to get things done in a new place. Don’t plan on accomplishing much right away, or make schedule commitments that will force you to try to do so. After a few days, as your mind adapts to a new culture, the jumble of confusing new sensations will begin to organize themselves into manageable patterns.

Come in through the back door. If you can, arrange your itinerary so that your gateway to a strange country or region is a smaller city, a rural place, or a border crossing with less traffic. The more unfamiliar a place is, and the more different from places where you have travelled before, the more important this is. The main airport serving the largest city is often the cheapest and seemingly easiest point of entry, but equally often the worst. I’ve never regretted spending extra money on airfare to fly into a “secondary” city or airport, or dealing with extra logistical or visa hassles in order to arrive through the provinces and leave from the capital, rather than vice versa. Think about how much easier it would be for a foreigner to cope with New York City or Los Angeles after spending some time in smaller US cities, rather than on their first day in the USA.

Stay aware of what’s happening. Just as it’s important to know when you are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, it’s useful to be conscious of when your thinking is impaired by an overload of sensations that you can’t (yet) filter or process. If you have a sense of where you are in relation to your limits, you can retreat to a calmer space before you reach the point of panic attack or mental paralysis.

Slow and steady wins the race. Some people prefer cultural baptism by total immersion, for the intense rush of that “travel drug” I mentioned earlier. Others hide in hotel rooms or tour buses or other sheltered and standardized, “What continent are we on?” environments at the first sign of disorientation, and as a result never really adapt to where they are. Most people are better off with a gradual but steady process of cultural engagement. Whenever things begin to seem familiar, you are ready to push your limits a bit further.

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 26 February 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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