Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The Amazing Race 32, Episode 9

Siem Reap (Cambodia) - Manila (Philippines)

The most interesting aspect of this week’s episode of The Amazing Race 32 was what was said at the finish line by DeAngelo Williams, one of the pair of racers who finished last and was eliminated.

“Any regrets about coming on the race?” host Phil Keoghan asked DeAngelo and his partner Gary Barnidge.

“Yes,” DeAngelo answered emphatically and without hesitation. “The bad outweighed the good. I’d never come back on the show again.”

“But you didn’t enjoy the experience?”

“Well, I could have paid for it myself, and not had to race around the world.”

I expect that DeAngelo will be criticized for these comments, but I commend him for speaking truthfully and insightfully. I think he has an important message both for potential applicants for the cast of The Amazing Race and for real-life travellers.

Some viewers’ responses to DeAngelo’s comments are likely to include:

  1. “He ought to be grateful for having been given a chance to take a trip like that.”
  2. “What’s wrong with him? How could he not enjoy a trip around the world?”
  3. “That’s easy for him to say. He’s rich, and could afford to pay for a trip around the world himself — not like me.”

Each of these responses would, I think, be mistaken. Lets’s take them in turn:

1. Grateful?

Why should participants in The Amazing Race be any more “grateful” to the casting director for the show than anyone else is “grateful” to their employer for having hired them? The company that produces The Amazing Race, “World Race Productions, Inc.”, is a for-profit corporation, and wouldn’t still be producing the show for licensing to CBS-TV in the USA and other TV networks and distributors around the world if it hadn’t proven profitable and wasn’t still profitable after 19 years and 32 seasons.

The casting team for The Amazing Race is making business decisions about which on-camera personalities and images will draw the largest audience. They aren’t running a charity. They are handing out jobs, not gifts. It’s not as though participants on The Amazing Race are being especially well paid, by the standards of the work they are doing as TV actors and actresses. One reason reality-TV shows like The Amazing Race are relatively inexpensive to produce is that the cast members are paid only the union minimum wage for performers with on-camera speaking parts, regardless of how popular and how much of a draw to viewers they turn out to be throughout the season in which they appear.

2. Enjoyable?

I think I’d enjoy the challenges and the experience of being on The Amazing Race, aside from the cameras. But not everyone who enjoys travel would enjoy that sort of trip, and there’s no reason to expect them to.

DeAngelo isn’t unusual in regretting having been too rushed on his trip around the world. One of the most common regrets of people I’ve talked to after their trips around the world has been that they tried to go to too many places in too short of time. I generally recommend that people planning a trip around the world cut their initial wish list of destinations in half, or double the time they take.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t applied for the cast of The Amazing Race, and don’t plan to, for a different reason: I don’t want to put my relationship with my partner on such public display, especially not at times when we would be under such stress. I value that relationship too much. An issue for us when we travel has always been trying to postpone arguments about travel issues until we could have them in private. I know myself and my partner well enough, after decades of loving and living and travelling together, to know that audience participation in our arguments is exactly what our relationship doesn’t need.

[Update: On DeAngelo and Gary’s podcast the day after this episode was broadcast, DeAngelo made clear that he enjoyed the competitive challenges and the novel experiences staged by the TV producers that he couldn’t have done on his own. As Gary explained, “The part he hated was being confined to a room and not being able to experience these beautiful things in the world” during the 36-hour “pit-stop” layovers between legs of the race. The frustration DeAngelo described at being confined at a resort in Siem Reap, knowing that the Angkor Wat temples were just a view miles away but off limits for the racers, or being tantalized by the view of the Eiffel Tower from his hotel room in Paris without being able to visit it, will probably resonate with would-be travellers trapped at home by COVID-19 and unable to visit the places they are seeing on The Amazing Race or reading about in armchair-travel porn.]

3. That’s easy for him to say?

DeAngelo Williams earned more than US$40 million during his professional football career. He’s probably the richest person ever to appear on The Amazing Race — and might be the only one wealthier than host Phil Keoghan, who now has income from “residuals” from worldwide syndication and distribution of 32 seasons for the show to add to the up-front payments he’s received as on-camera star and co-producer. DeAngelo could certainly afford to pay for his own trip around the world.

DeAngelo and his partner on The Amazing Race 32, Gary Barnidge, have been buddies since they played together as running back and tight end, respectively, on the Carolina Panthers offense. Gary made “only” a little over US$10 million during his time in the NFL, but that’s still plenty to be able to afford a trip around the world.

But does that really mean that it takes a net worth of $10 million to take a trip around the world? Of course not. The cost of long-term travel in proportion to median US wages doesn’t have to be any greater today than when I wrote the first draft of The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World 25 years ago. It’s still true, as it was then, that “Most people find that their total costs, including airfare, for an extended international trip are less than their living costs were at home.”

The possibility for Internet-enabled remote work in many office occupations makes getting time to travel vastly easier than it used to be. DeAngelo is unusual not in being able to afford a trip around the world, but in realizing that he could afford it. Most of those who are still working and still getting paid during the COVID-19 pandemic — a privileged minority, I know, but a large one — are saving much more than usual because they are spending less on travel, eating out, etc. during the pandemic. More people, than ever will be able to afford a long trip on their savings when it become safe to travel. (Although that won’t be for many months. For now, please stay home!)

I agree with DeAngelo completely on this key lesson about real travel and reality-TV: If you want to take a trip around the world to see and experience the world, pay for it yourself. If you want to compete in a race around the world, and have it shown on TV, apply for the cast of The Amazing Race.

What’s more important than DeAngelo being wealthy is that his wealth is independent of anything he does or says on a reality-TV show.

Many of the participants in some seasons of The Amazing Race have been aspiring actors, actresses, performers, social media stars, and the like — people hoping to parlay their appearance on the TV show into more lucrative longer-term jobs as public personae. We shouldn’t expect honest reviews or uncensored criticism from people in this position. You don’t get hired back for a job as a performer or rainmaker for someone else’s business by speaking ill of your sponsors. That’s especially true for the new breed of social media figures peddling their services to travel companies for “influencer marketing” — a form of advertising that’s almost inherently deceptive (that’s why marketing managers and ad buyers have concluded that it is more effective) and that’s increasingly displacing advertising that supports travel journalism published by outlets that separate plainly labeled advertising from editorial content.

Even with our friends, there’s a temptation to travel boasting. Most people like to be seen as people who have done things others would like to do — but haven’t. We are more likely to tell colorful anecdotes about the entertainingly bad moments on otherwise good trips to interesting destinations than to talk about the trips that were disappointing. We think we’d lose face with our friends if we admitted to having made a mistake or not done our homework about what to expect (or having done our homework but nevertheless having had expectations that weren’t met), or having spent money and valuable vacation time on a trip that didn’t prove to be worth it.

One of the hardest things about travel research and planning is getting good advice about places and activities that are popular but that we may not like. One of the key skills for guidebook writers is being able to give this sort of advice to a diverse readership.

We should be grateful to DeAngelo for using the independence his independent wealth allows him to speak the truth as he sees it, without having to demonstrate loyalty to, or curry favor with, the TV show’s producers in the hope of future paying gigs with them or others like them. All travellers need sources of information that aren’t beholden to travel companies and aren’t afraid to say what they like, what they don’t like, and, yes, which trips they wouldn’t take again and what places they wouldn’t go back to, given a world of choices.

What trips have you taken that turned out not to have been worthwhile? Please share your stories in the comments.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 9 December 2020, 23:59 (11:59 PM)

I'd never heard of DeAngelo, but I admire his candor. Personally, though, I'd decline to travel in that manner.

Posted by: Bernhardson Wayne, 13 December 2020, 19:09 ( 7:09 PM)
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