Friday, 27 February 2015

The Amazing Race 26, Episode 2

Tokyo (Japan) - Nagano (Japan)

The obvious question posed by this season of The Amazing Race is how much the cast of dating couples and “blind date” couples matched up by the producers of the TV show, and meeting each other at the starting line, has to do with the way real people choose their partner(s) for a trip around the world.

My answer is that in this, as in many other aspects, the trips depicted on the TV show have more in common with real-world travel than you might expect.

Pairs of contestants on previous seasons of The Amazing Race haven’t been limited to romantic partners. Teams have included siblings, cousins, parents or grandparents and children or grandchildren, co-workers, and platonic friends who met in various other ways. One season consisted of larger family groups. And in the real world, groups of more than two people — most often a family grouping, a trio of friends, or a pair of couples — sometimes travel together around the world.

Yet the reality, as I know from analyzing who buys airline tickets around the world from, where I used to work, is that the overwhelming majority of around-the-world trips are taken by couples or singles, with about equal numbers of each — as on this season of The Amazing Race.

The difficulty of coordinating schedules goes up, and the chance of reaching consensus on an itinerary goes down, as the number of people in your travel party increases. Few people have the trust and confidence (and few people should have the trust or confidence) to commit to a long-term trip with anyone other than their best beloved, whomever that may be.

But what about the “blind date” aspect of this season of “The Amazing Race”? How many people who set off around the world alone hope to find love, much less a long-term partner, along the way?

A lot of people, I think, whether or not they admit it even to themselves. Part of the romance of travel is the possibility of a travel romance, whether with a fellow traveller or a local person. Even travellers for whom romance isn’t a travel goal often find it on the road unexpectedly.

Travel partnerships, like arranged marriages, aren’t necessarily romantic, or don’t start out that way, even if they sometimes eventually become so. It’s routine for single travellers headed the same way, especially in less-travelled and logistically more difficult areas or ones with poor or nonexistent mass transport, to join up to share transportation and sometimes hotel rooms. A travelling companion can provide a degree of mutual protection against harassment or assault (sexual or otherwise), a second pair of eyes to watch out for thieves, and companionship and conversation to mitigate sensations of isolation and culture shock.

Searches for riders to share the costs of a driveaway car across the USA have long been a fixture of hostel bulletin boards, and are among the progenitors of long-distance ridesharing services. “Travelling companion wanted” notices are a staple of bulletin boards in all sorts of other real-world and online gathering places for independent travellers.

Caveat emptor, however. Failing to hit it off romantically isn’t the only hazard to throwing your travel lot in with people you’ve just met. In Kashgar, my partner and I got together with two other couples to charter a jeep over the Karakoram Highway. We were a day into the journey before we discovered that some of our companions were financing their trip by smuggling Chinese silk sewn into their overcoats in place of the original cotton-batting insulation. By that point we were high in uninhabited desert mountains. It wasn’t as though we could get out of the jeep and walk. Luckily for them, and for us, the border guards weren’t searching American or European tourists like us and our companions, and were only extorting bribes from the Pakistani smugglers. The soldiers kept the local bus passengers squatting on the stony ground in the sun, while inviting us and our companions to take tea in comfy chairs in the shade of their commander’s tent. This, of course, was exactly why some of the locals had paid our companions to carry their contraband for them. But smuggling is never without risk, and we would rather not have been at risk of being associated with it. Don’t let this scare you away from ever getting into a car with strangers, but don’t be oblivious to the risks, either.

As with the “blind date” couples on this season of “The Amazing Race”, the nature of the relationship between a travelling couple is often ambiguous, even to the travellers themselves, and left to be determined during the trip. Sharing transport may or may not lead to sharing hotel rooms with separate beds, or to sharing a bed.

At the finish line of this episode, blind daters and first-place finishers Jenny and Jelani could only shrug at MC Phil Keoghan when he asked them (after only three days on the road together), “Is there any romantic connection between you?”

“This is a friendship. It’s a budding friendship,” Jenny answered. It’s too soon, she suggested, to think about whether it might become romantic, and no need to jump to conclusions.

The difference between the race and the real world is that travellers in ad hoc travel partnerships usually aren’t committed to stay together for more than a few days or at most a couple of weeks — basically until they get to the next fork in the road or transport hub. Travel can be a relationship “trial by fire”. But if it doesn’t work out, it’s easy to split up and move on in different directions or at different paces. The “blind date” couples on The Amazing Race 26 don’t have that option: they are stuck with the partners the TV producers have matched them with for the duration of a month-long (in real life) trip around the world. We’ll see how that works out as the season progresses.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 27 February 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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