Friday, 24 April 2015

The Amazing Race 26, Episode 8


[The line of people waiting to audition for The Amazing Race extended around the corner for two blocks.]

Goanikontes (Namibia) - Windhoek (Namibia) - Johannesburg (South Africa) - Amsterdam (Netherlands)

As soon as the contestants on The Amazing Race 26 got into taxis at Schiphol Airport (a waste of money if you aren't in a race, since there is a mainline train station directly under the airline terminal at Schiphol with rail service to Amsterdam's city center and many other domestic and international destinations) Mike's eyeglasses fogged up, and Rochelle criticized him for choosing glasses over contact lens.

I've sometimes worn contacts. I like their wider field of view and clearer vision in rain, snow, or fog. But for The Amazing Race or your own trip around the world, bring your glasses.

Here's the advice about this I give in the latest edition of The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World:

I recommend strongly against contact lenses for travel outside the First World, particularly in dry, smoky, polluted, or dusty areas. Contact lens supplies are heavy and bulky to carry and hard to find or expensive in many areas. Sterile conditions are hard to obtain, and eye infections are a serious risk. If you insist on wearing contact lenses, it's essential to carry medication for eye infections and to know how to use it. Eye infections can cause permanent vision damage unless treated immediately.

Travellers who have worn contact lenses for years, grown accustomed to them, and prefer them to eyeglasses may be tempted to disregard this advice. Lots of world travellers set out with contact lenses. Most of them soon switch to glasses, as I do whenever I leave the First World.

The racers had to ride bicycles, with their luggage, for about 10 km (6 miles) into downtown Amsterdam. Most of that distance was on a cycletrack (bike path) along the Amstelveen river.

Ten kilometers may not seem like far, but it was probably at least an hour's ride. Dutch bikes are heavy, and on crowded cycleways, just as in heavy automobile traffic on a two-lane roadway, passing is difficult and dangerous (and frowned upon). Everyone goes single file at the speed of the slowest vehicle in the line of traffic. Typically, that's a bakfiets ("box bike" or cargo bike) carrying two or three small children and/or a load of groceries.

One of the places where bike paths separated from the traffic of larger motorized vehicles can be most useful, even when they are shared with pedestrians and in some places (including the Netherlands) shared with small motorcycles, is as routes in and out of the centers of big cities. Traffic, road design, and navigation typically make getting in and out of big cities the bane of long-distance bicycle travel.

But as I've discussed previously, the existence of designated cycling routes doesn't necessarily translate into bicycle-friendliness or ease of route-finding for cyclists. The racers had difficulty finding their way along the bike route into Amsterdam, and it wasn't their fault. The Dutch wayfinding and signage system for bicycle routes is sufficiently problematic that English-speaking local passers-by had trouble giving any directions -- much less directions on the fastest or most direct route -- that they were confident the racers would be able to follow.

Anyone who signs up for the cast of The Amazing Race ought to be prepared for bicycling challenges. Cycling should be part of pre-race training for anyone who's picked for the cast. Host and co-producer Phil Keoghan is a serious cyclist, and bicycling has figured in almost every season of the race.

I spent a couple of hours last Saturday talking with would-be racers at a public casting call for future seasons of "The Amazing Race" in San Francisco. I was surprised that, while one couple showed up in riding kit with their tandem bicycle, they were unaware of Phil's interest in cycling or the edge that being cyclists might give them, either in being picked for the cast or in winning the race.

More than 500 people lined up for the chance to have their application videos for The Amazing Race filmed by a crew from the local CBS affiliate TV station. Some people camped on the sidewalk overnight to make sure they were among those who made it in front of the camera before filming of audition videos closed for the day. One would-be racer had flown in for the weekend from Kentucky to have her audition video filmed in San Francisco.

There was no chance for applicants to meet or be interviewed by any of the casting team. If anyone from "World Race Productions" was present, they were incognito. Each individual applicant or couple who showed up early enough got one take of less than a minute in front of the camera.

Why did so many people choose to wait in line for the chance to be filmed for the race in this setting, rather than sending in a video they had filmed themselves or had a friend film?

Some people said they lacked the technical skill to film their own video. Some had already tried sending in their own video, but hadn't been called back for a further audition. Others said they just wanted to meet other fans of The Amazing Race.

Most people at the casting call were applying as couples, but there were also a few individuals were hoping to be matched up for a month-long on-camera "blind date" trip around the world .

Some people showed up in costumes, with props, and with well-rehearsed 30-second pitches to deliver on camera. One couple in matching attire had brought a foot-tall Travelocity gnome statue to show their willingness to promote the reality-TV show's commercial sponsors.

Other applicants seemed to have given little thought to the differences between, (1) why they want to be on "The Amazing Race", (2) why they think they could win "The Amazing Race", and (3) why they think the casting team (led by co-producer Elise Doganieri) should pick them over any of the other people in the audition line, or who send in self-filmed videos, or who are recruited by the TV producers.

My advice to anyone selected for the cast is to read my archive of columns about The Amazing Race, which has lots of advice about what travel skills are needed and how to prepare for the race.

But getting onto the cast for a game show or "reality-TV" show is a different task, requiring different skills, from winning the on-camera competition.

The producers of The Amazing Race are casting a commercial, for-profit TV show. They don't care what you hope to get out of the race, whether you will win, or whether viewers will love you or hate you (as long as they want to watch you). The casting team cares about only one thing: Whether more (and secondarily, wealthier and more attractive to advertisers) viewers will watch the race if they cast you than if they cast any of the other applicants or anyone else they might be able to recruit. That's all you need to communicate in your application video: Why people will want to watch you more than any other potential racers.

I worked my way along the sidewalk (the line stretched around the corner for two blocks) asking people why they wanted to be in the cast of The Amazing Race. Some of the people waiting in line to audition said they wanted to win the million-dollar prize, or to get a chance to take a trip they didn't think they could afford or think they would find too difficult to organize on their own.

Most of the would-be racers I talked to, however, were more realistic. Many of them knew that there were other ways to travel. Surprisingly many had already travelled around the world, and/or lived abroad, on their own. In earlier seasons, the TV producers avoided casting anyone with international travel experience, presumably because they wanted a cast of "ordinary Americans" that viewers without international experience could identify with. But that bias seems to have faded. There are racers each season who have never been out of the USA before, but people who have travelled widely and/or lived abroad have come to be a routine part of the cast.

More of the people I talked to at the casting call were motivated to apply for The Amazing Race by the desire to test themselves against the challenges created by the TV producers than by desire to win the race, get rich, or travel around the world. They were all travel exhibitionists, of course. But most of them saw the race as a very personal individual or partnership challenge, like finishing (not winning) a marathon.

Take a lesson from these people trying out for The Amazing Race: You can take a trip around the world without having to be rich (at least not in US terms) and without having to take your long-shot chances on being picked for the cast of a reality-TV show. Just do it!

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 24 April 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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