Wednesday, 2 March 2022

The Amazing Race 33, Episode 9

Thessaloniki, Macedonia (Greece) - Lisbon (Portugal) - Almada (Portugal) - Setúbal (Portugal) - Sesimbra (Portugal) - Lisbon (Portugal) - Portsmouth, NH (USA) - Los Angeles, CA (USA) - Carson, CA (USA)

[Lisbon city center and port, as seen beyond the Ponte 25 de Abril from the Belem-Porto Brandão ferry. So far as I can tell the white arched structure under the end of the bridge is just a folly, but I would welcome any further info or corrections.]

After another flight on their chartered Boeing 757 from Greece to Portugal, the cast of The Amazing Race 33 was driven across the Ponte 25 de Abril from Lisbon (on the north bank of the Targus River estuary) to Almada (on the south bank) to resume racing at the foot of the monumental statue of Christ the King.

That made for some good TV images. But I think a more interesting and enjoyable excursion across the river from Lisbon to Almada would be to take one of the ferries from Belem (the area of Lisbon just west of the bridge, and the site of several episodes of previous seasons of The Amazing Race) to lunch or dinner in either Porto Brandão or Trafaria. These two neighborhoods within Almada are chock-a-block with seafood restaurants. But they have managed to remain, at least as of my visit in 2008, both affordable and faithful to their past as fishing villages, without being converted to the sort of overpriced tourist ghetto that locals know to avoid. The location scouts for The Amazing Race missed a chance for a scene that could have been made for TV, but wouldn’t have needed to be staged or faked. At intervals as we ate, men in high rubber boots lugged buckets of fish through the dining room from boats tied up along the wharf in front of us to the kitchen in the back of the restaurant, quickly followed by updates to the chalkboard of daily specials.

The ferry ride also gives some of the best views of the city, the estuary, and the bridge. The “25th of April” bridge is named for the date of the so-called Carnation Revolution in 1974. Although this began with a coup by which one group of military officers displaced another, it marked the beginning of the transition to democracy and the beginning of the end for both fascist rule in Portugal and Portuguese colonial rule of an empire in Africa that until 1975 remained much larger and more populous than Portugal itself.

The history of the Iberian peninsula is a reminder, if one is needed, that World War II didn’t free Europe from fascism. There is argument as to whether Portugal’s “corporatist” and authoritarian government truly deserves to be called fascist, but I think it does. In neighboring Spain, Francisco Franco’s indubitably fascist regime lasted until his death in 1975. If the more recent saga of he-who-must-not-be-named in the USA and his contemporary populist counterparts in Europe have renewed your interest in post-World War II fascism, Portugal is a good place to learn about how it rose, how it endured, and how, in at least one country, it finally fell.

Despite a substantial increase in tourism from the USA, Portugal — especially outside Lisbon and the Mediterranean beach resorts of the Algarve region — remains on my short list of under-appreciated destinations for value-conscious independent travellers. It’s worth a stopover (Air Portugal has resumed a surprising number of its flights to and from the USA) or a trip of its own.

Air Portugal flies nonstop between Lisbon and San Francisco, but the racers’ plane landed in Portsmouth, NH, before continuing to Los Angeles. Given that a Boeing 757 doesn’t have the range to make it nonstop from Europe to the West Coast, Portsmouth isn’t as strange a choice of stopover as one might think.

In normal times, private jets often refuel in Gander, Newfoundland, which is closer than any US airport to the half-way point of trans-Atlantic routes to and from the US. But these aren’t normal times. Like every other country, Canada has its own COVID-19 pandemic rules for travellers. In some cases these rules apply even to passengers merely changing planes in transit between third countries, or on aircraft making a “technical stop” to refuel. So it’s understandable why the producers of “The Amazing Race” may have wanted to fly directly from Portugal to the USA, avoiding touching down in any more countries than necessary.

The closest US airport to Europe with scheduled trans-Atlantic flights is Logan Airport (BOS) in Boston. But there’s no need for a plane that isn’t headed for Boston to navigate crowded big-city airspace or pay big-city prices for ground services. Northeast of Boston, two former Strategic Air Command bomber bases are the closest US airports to Europe that have runways long enough to handle the largest jets. Both Bangor International Airport (BGR, the former Dow Air Force Base in northern Maine), and Portsmouth International Airport (PSM, the former Pease Air Force Base in southern New Hampshire) offer the full range of general aviation services including US customs and immigration processing. BGR is the standard US technical stop or diversion airport for trans-Atlantic flights, especially by scheduled airlines. Less-used PSM has less passenger terminal space than BGR to accommodate all the passengers from a diverted Boeing 777 or Airbus 380, but competes with lower fees than BGR (or BOS) for landing, parking, and refueling.

Neither the “technical stop” in Portsmouth nor any of the changes and requirements occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic — aside from the use of a chartered jet rather than scheduled airline flights — were shown on the The Amazing Race 33 as it was edited for broadcast, although some have been discussed in “behind the scenes” interviews with the participants. That’s probably what most viewers looking to armchair travel TV for an escape from the reality of the pandemic, and TV producers anxious to avoid alienating travel advertisers desperate for viewers to stop worrying about the pandemic and go back to travel (and travel spending) as usual, both wanted. The Amazing Race may call itself “reality” TV, but it’s an entertainment show, not a news or how-to program.

We did finally get a glimpse in this episode of something else that has previously been kept off-camera, or edited out: the crew that produces The Amazing Race:

[Some of the video, audio, and other production crew members at work at the finish line of The Amazing Race 33 inside the L.A Galaxy soccer stadium in Carson, CA (USA).]

At the finish line, one of the winners of the race called out the workers who produce the reality-TV show for doing a more difficult job than the cast of racers. This was the first time in 33 seasons that any of the racers have acknowledged the crew, or that the crew has been shown on camera (other than fleetingly when they couldn’t be edited out of the background of a key shot).

Camera and sound crews covering many sports can set up more or less comfortably in fixed positions. Filming The Amazing Race is another story: The crews “on location” have to be athletes themselves, keeping up with the racers on the run over all sorts of terrain while carrying heavy high-def video cameras, boom microphones on long poles, and other encumbrances. Some are hired locally, while others travel around the world with the on-camera talent. During the pandemic, members of the crew took at least as much of a risk to their health as members of the the cast. Props to Penn for giving credit where credit is due!

CBS is already advertising for applicants for the cast of the next season of The Amazing Race. We’ll have to wait and see whether the next season begins to acknowledge that travel A.C. (“After Coronavirus”) isn’t going to be the same as it was in the era B.C. (“Before Coronavirus”). If travel isn’t going to return to what used to be “normal”, what will the “new normal” of world travel be like? Stay tuned for the next season!

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 2 March 2022, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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