Sunday, February 15, 2009

Amazing Race 14: Go Team Schneebly!

After swearing off "The Amazing Race" (and, for that matter, "Survivor") a couple of seasons ago under the "I've seen all this franchise has to offer me" theorem, I checked out the premiere for two reasons: 1)One of the teams features screenwriter and sometime actor Mike White (aka Ned Schneebly, aka Kim Kelly's older brother, aka Buck), and 2)Several "Race"-heads whose opinions I trust, including Fienberg and Linda Holmes made it sound like this was one of the best season premieres in a long time. And so I watched, and I think I may have been sucked back in. A few reasons why after the jump...

• Though the bungee jump was in no way a game-changer (even if someone had needed a while to work up the nerve to go, no one else had the ability to jump the queue), it still looked awesome, even in standard-def, and was a reminder of the pure fun this show can be.

• The teams for the most part seem fairly likable, though I'm already done with the sibling lawyers. My rooting interest is obviously in Team Schneebly, but since I know they have no chance to win (the Race is heavily weighted in favor of more physically capable teams), I have a feeling I may be able to find some other groups to pull for.

• Phil signed "You are team number one!" for the deaf son and his mom! Big, fat, awwwwww for me from that one, even though I should have suspected he'd been working on his signing for just this occasion. One of a bunch of nice heart-warming moments.

• There was a minimum of time spent on drama at the airport, which I believe the producers have said was a change made to freshen up the franchise. As that was always one of my least favorite parts of the series -- it just reminded me of how much I hate the stress of air travel -- I'm in favor of the change.

What did everybody else think?


OleNelson said...

I've been watching the show for the last several seasons. But I've grown tired of how formulaic the episodes often feel.

This one, though, showed subtle signs that they're mixing things up at the margins. Less airport time, two completely different train routes, and... a NEW FONT for all the subtitles and such!

It says a lot about me that I'm most excited about the new font.

JAS said...

I actually cried a little bit when Phil signed for Margie & Luke. I am totally rooting for them and for Team Schneebly, and could be swayed to the wee stuntbrothers. I think that cheese challenge was the funniest/most ridiculous since the one where they had to search through a mountain of tomatoes for a clue inside ONE TOMATO(!) while the locals pelted them with tomatoes. that was a lot of tomatoes.

Alan Sepinwall said...

A question to ponder, which Dan also raised in his review: can you think of a Race-related circumstance where the deaf son is going to be at a significant disadvantage for not being able to communicate with anyone but his mother (or, if he's lucky, a random deaf person he encounters)?

Anonymous said...

I love this show even after umpteen seasons. Definitely thought this was a great premiere. Some interesting teams (although they seem a bit younger/more fit than past seasons) and there actually was a final two team pit stop where it was actually a race. Usually they have to edit it to make it seem closer than it is.

I can't decide if I like or am annoyed by the older husband and wife team where the wife's out of shape. They were so proud to have "outsmarted" everyone on the cheese challenge, only to not be able to find the pitstop...

I COULD NOT believe that the woman on the team that lost had to be CARRIED by her boyfriend on piggyback to the pitstop. Um, if you don't give it your all when you know you are about to be eliminated, you don't deserve to be on the race.

James said...

There's usually a few confusing roadblocks where a contestant is out in the world by himself/herself and needs the help of a local. I can see that being potentially difficult for Luke. Margie could probably do that roadblock, but they don't have advance knowledge of the roadblocks so they might not pick the right person.

Anonymous said...

I was also very happy with the changes they have made. The editing out of the airport drama which usually amounts to nothing anyway was the most pleasant surprise. It made the whole show feel faster paced, more like a race! I am totally on board for Team Schneebly and Team Margie/Luke.

Thank goodness Preston and Jennifer are gone, I never really like the young couples, it always ends up with the same old annoying bickering because the girl can't do anything on her own. You really couldn't even carry ONE block of cheese down the hill? C'mon.

That bungee looked CRAZY!

Anonymous said...

I watched with a group of my friends since we're in a betting pool, and it was LOUD. We couldn't stop laughing and yelling and just basking in the gloriousness.

I must say, Papa Schneebly's butt scoot down the hill was FTW.

My team came in first!

As for your question: I think the yodeling has some issues for Luke

Anonymous said...

I watched the first scenes that introduced the characters and was hopelessly confused by there being two young couples with dark-haired men and long-haired blonde women. Thankfully that confusion is over!

I also thought about some of the roadblocks where someone has to ask for something, but we'll see how that pans out.

Re: physical competitions, although there are a few, the first episodes usually have the big dramatic ones (like bungee-jumping) and then they mellow out a bit. I never know whether it's because bungee jumping is going to suck in viewers more than picking through a haystack, or if they think eliminated teams will be disappointed if it comes later in the race and they miss it.

But there have been non-young and non-athletic teams in the finals, so it's not all about being buff.

Side note: I've always been fascinated by people who can read lips. But it surprises me that a deaf person would not - it seems like it would be a help to navigate in the world, without having to be dependent on another person. Is it something that some people just can't master? Or is there another reason Luke wouldn't be able to?

Castaway said...

I've seen way too many of these Amazing Races, and I liked the changes but still didn't think it was that great of an episode. Phil's signing was touching though.

I think that Luke shouldn't be hurt too often unless he's stuck alone and has to ask for directions or help. That could come up at a roadblock.

In the early seasons, the race was usually won by the team that was physically the strongest, or one of the strongest with some intelligence thrown it. To remove this predictability, over the years the producers have cast physically weaker and weaker teams. I suppose this makes it more "fair", but they seem to have also cast dumber and dumber teams. (As opposed to "more obnoxious", as there were more jerks in the beginning seasons.) It used to be that as a viewer you were impressed by a team outperforming another to win. Now I feel like it's whoever is the least dumb...and that has dragged the show down for me. Anyway, not being "strong" isn't much of a hindrance anymore, so Mike and his dad or Luke and his mom might have a shot.

BF said...

Thanks to Shaq's extended dance routine, I missed the cheese-hauling rules. Were you allowed to just throw your cheese down the hill and collect it at the bottom? If not, Team Deaf is a bunch of dirty cheaters.

Oh, and Linda needs to go ... now.

Unknown said...

It was a pretty good episode I'm sure I'll watch the entire season. Mostly because there isn't really anything else worth watching in that time slot. I'm one of the DVRless, there are still a few of us left.

One thing I hope we see less of though is the "nobody thinks a deaf person can do X" statements. Does anyone really think that the deaf can't do just about anything anyone else can do? It's not like he's missing a leg or something.

BF said...

Sorry to disapoint Graeleight, but any minority/special needs/alternate lifestyle contestant on a reality show is more or less required to give the "I'm out to prove _______ people can do anything" speech. A couple of seasons ago, one of the gay teams (Tom & Terry?) gave the speech ... even though Richen & Chip won in Season IV. And this year, with all the "freak show" teams (deaf, gay, midget, old, redneck, all-female, Auburn fan), I suspect we'll be hearing it a lot.

Anonymous said...

I'd like Team Motherboy III (the Deafening) more if they didn't talk about how they were going to prove that deaf people can do everything that people with hearing can do. Though that may be more of the producers' fault for asking that question over and over.

Definitely like the stuntmen brothers and, of course, Team Schneebly (who may have trouble on the Race as a vegan.)

Anonymous said...

Great start for a new season of the race. But they always limit teams to two assigned flights in episode 1. If they are going to continue that scheme throughout the race and use assigned flights to limit the time spent on airport haggling that would be great, but I think that remains to be seen. So far they are not doing anything different from the past several seasons.

I think the deaf son will definitely be at a disadvantage. Communicating with locals is one of THE major challenges of the race. And smart teams ask for information and get help from whoever they can, whenever they can. If the mother has to handle all their communication with locals, airport workers, cabbies, etc, then that is potentially a huge disadvantage. On the other hand, they may have an easier time finding sympathetic people willing to help them so it could balance out. They seem like a fairly strong team overall, and are obviously off to a great start. I'm rooting for them, Schneebly and the stunt men.

Nicole said...

I don't know if being deaf will affect communication with the locals that much differently than those who are not deaf. There has always been a team or two who can't deal with the locals even with the ability to speak. Mirna and Schmirna come to mind. I would also think that the producers are not going to set up Roadblocks or Detours that would seriously impair that team's ability to compete with the others. The biggest disability is not being unable to hear, but being physically weak, which is why the Southern couple will be gone fairly soon, along with Team School of Rock.

As for the cheese challenge, I would have started to just roll them down the hill, especially when the wooden carriers broke, which I think happened for almost every team. I don't think it was specific as to how the cheese got there once the carriers broke.

I have found something to enjoy every season, even with the dreaded family edition, so formulaic or not, there is always something interesting about this show. I do appreciate the font change, and the change in intros where the teams do not do the "turn and look and the camera" pose anymore. That was dorky.

Anonymous said...

"There has always been a team or two who can't deal with the locals even with the ability to speak. Mirna and Schmirna come to mind."

Charla and Mirna will always be remembered for their ever changing accents and mixing up of foreign languages, but they actually utilized locals better than almost any team in the history of TAR. It was by far their greatest strength and the main reason they went far in the race twice. Charla got a great deal of sympathy from locals, and they were shameless when it came to asking anyone nearby for help. They often had a local guide for entire legs of the race. If anything, Schmirna was a team that proved that communication is about as important as running fast on TAR, if not more so.

This first leg of the new season took place in a country that is friendly to English speakers, and the teams were bunched up and following each other the whole way. I think its safe to say that all the teams are going to face much greater challenges in communicating with locals as the race goes on. I believe that will be extra hard on Luke and his mother, but every team has their own specific challenges.

As for the producers not letting his deafness interfere, thats already out the window. They had to listen for yodeling to find the very first pitstop! I believe the tasks are in place prior to final casting anyway. And these are the same producers that use fast forwards to trap girls into shaving their heads or make vegetarians eat meat. So I'm sure there will be disadvantages for the deaf son, and I expect it will be all the more entertaining when he overcomes them.

Anonymous said...

I also thought this was one of the strongest premieres of the Race in a long time. I laughed, I cried. It was fantastic.

Re: Luke, I'm no expert, but I'm a child of Deaf parents so I'd like to give some of my opinions...while most of us probably don't understand/get tired of the whole "deaf people can do it" speech, it's real in Deaf culture. They've been told over and over that they can't do anything, and their history includes proposals for eugenic eradication of deaf people (which some of them argue is what's happening with the cochlear implant...but I digress). So while I'm not saying it won't get annoying for some viewers, it's a very real mindset - the Deaf always feel like they need to overcome.

Anyway, JMO. Excited to see what this season brings!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and PS, to Alan: even if they should randomly come across some Deaf individuals in other countries, it'll be unlikely that Luke will be able to communicate with them. Each country has their own form of sign language, and many of them are nowhere near alike.

Anonymous said...

That entire cheese segment was brilliant. Best Race moment since that dude who couldn't march from last season.

Anonymous said...

One bickering couple down, one to go!

I hope there's at least a little airport drama involving the flight attendant team, especially if they come out on the losing end because that would be funny.

jcpdiesel21 said...

I am a huge Amazing Race fan, so I'm pleased to see the praise for last night's premiere. I've watched every season since the beginning, except for the family edition, so I've pretty much seen it all. Even when I don't care for the teams, there is still fun to be found in watching the show to see all of the different countries that I haven't had a chance to visit.

I thought the premiere was a great start to the season. The only team that I was disliking got eliminated, so I was very pleased. And there are definitely multiple teams that I may be rooting for down the stretch. I loved the cheese task, and was impressed with the subtle show improvements, like the remixed credits music, the fancy new travel lines on the map, and the split screens.

Anonymous said...

I also thought it was cheating by having the cheese roll all the way down the hill and then just retrieve it. Poor Gay Dad is scootin' down on his rear and a few other teams just grab the cheese at the bottom and stack it. I thought Phil was going to give them the 15 minute penalty or whatever it is.

And yeah, I call BS on having to ride piggyback to get to the finish line when you're literally right behind the opponents. They didn't deserve to be on the show at all.

This is my 3rd season watching TAS, love this show!

Anonymous said...

Does any show need to upgrade to High Definition more than "The Amazing Race"? I can only imagine how stunning it would be.

Anonymous said...

I was laughing so hard at the cheese task, that I my daughter ran in to see what was so funny. That was hilarious!!!

Anonymous said...

aimee - thanks for clarifing the ALS. I figured the A was for American not a universal language. I figured out that reading lips in English was probably not a skill that was too useful in other countries too, but forgot about the ALS.

I wonder if the deaf person would actually be better at communication with people in other countries, only because ALS is really a foreign language to most in this country. I assume he has aquired other communication skills to be able to live in a non-deaf community.

I laughed at the cheese almost as much as the guy who couldn't march from last season. That was so funny.

I've been watching since the 9/2001 premier, and still love it.

Bobman said...

bettyd : FYI, it's ASL (American sign language) not ALS (which is something much worse).

Also, can someone explain to me how, in 2009, a major network show like this isn't in HD?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, can someone explain to me how, in 2009, a major network show like this isn't in HD?

Because it's still a practical impossibility, given the amount of travel and the unpredictability of events. Survivor was only able to go hi-def because the show is filmed in a relatively self-contained area, and even they needed a long time to figure out the logistics of it.

HD cameras are much bigger and bulkier. I'm not sure you could easily get them into and out of taxis, for instance.

Bobman said...

Hmm. That seems reasonable.

I guess I thought the technology had matured enough that there wasn't such a difference in size anymore. I've seen marketing for consumer-level handheld-cams as "HD" (which I realize are vastly different than professional grade, but still figured it was a sign of change).

Anonymous said...

Agreed that this season if off to a good start.

A couple of comments:

One on hand, I think the communication issue will also come in to play when both mom and son are involved in tasks where their hands are not free to sign. Other the other he is used to adapting.

I'm glad they are going for less airport time. I do hope they dont' try to fake the race to the pit stop like they have in seasons past. It is quite annoying that they will show the last two teams in what looks like a close race. Then you see that the penultimate team arrives in daylight and then it's pitch black when the "oh so close" last team arrives.
The race is dramatic enough, no need to create false drama.

Linda said...

But they always limit teams to two assigned flights in episode 1. If they are going to continue that scheme throughout the race and use assigned flights to limit the time spent on airport haggling that would be great, but I think that remains to be seen. So far they are not doing anything different from the past several seasons.

Not true, believe me. Typically, the first episode involves heavy coverage of the drive to the airport, the precise order in which they arrive at the airport, parking at the airport, airport shuttles to the terminal, arriving at the ticket counter, standing in line, cutting in line, arguing over cutting in line, arguing over which of the two flights is better, etc.

Believe me, they cut about 90 percent of what would normally be the first third of the show. No fooling. You're right that it doesn't mean they won't do more airport stuff when the teams are getting their own flights, but it is absolutely different already.

Unknown said...

Just a quick procedural question:

Flight attendants are using wheeled luggage. Can anyone else remember seeing wheeled luggage before? I'm a big fan of the Romber philosophy of light, light, light.