Monday, May 11, 2009

Amazing Race, "This Is How You Lose a Million Dollars": Girls in bikinis, boys with surfboards

Quick thoughts on "The Amazing Race" season finale -- but really, thoughts about the difficulty of sticking with a reality competition show once the player/team you like is eliminated -- coming up just as soon as I change clothes in the back of a taxi...

Victor and Tammy won, which seemed the right outcome based on what I watched of this season. Victor could be overbearing and/or a weasel, but after his meltdown in Transylvania, he worked much better with his sister, and they tended to race harder and smarter than the competition.

Now, I say "based on what I watched" because my interest in the season dropped rapidly after Mel and Mike were eliminated. I'd put on each successive episode, sometimes make it to the end, sometimes not, and find it harder and harder to care, because I lacked either an emotional investment in another team or an admiration for them as pure Racers. (Tammy and Victor were good, but they weren't memorably good, or inventive; they just kept their mistakes, other than Transylvania, to a minimum.)

And that's become an increasing problem for me with virtually every reality show I used to follow more closely. The novelty of the genre in general and these formats in particular is long gone. So unless the show itself is irresistible in some way -- as, I hate to admit it, "American Idol" is for me, and as "Race" has (as it's focused more on character arcs and less on cool challenges and other tests of good vs. bad Racing) stopped being for me -- I have to develop some kind of allegiance to a contestant or team, and they have to last a long way, for me to keep watching. And the more of these shows I watch, the clearer it becomes that the chances of someone I like lasting to the end, let alone winning, are too small to make the time investment in the season as a whole.

"Survivor" already lost me as a concept where I'd seen every iteration I needed to see, and I thought "Race" had as well, until the casting of Mike White got me to give it another try. And for a few weeks, thanks to Mike and Mel, and to some legs that were better-designed than what we got as the season moved along, I got back into the franchise.

But barring the unlikelihood of the show casting another quasi-celebrity whose work and personality I've liked in the past, I suspect this will be the last season I watch on even a semi-regular basis.

What did everybody else think of the finale, and the season as a whole?


Adam said...

I watched one of the late All-Stars episodes a week or two ago, and literally the first 20+ minutes were spent on four teams going through (ultimately meaningless) airport intrigue before they arrived in the next city. While I appreciate airport routing questions on the termite level like few others, this was not good television.

They've moved a little too far away from casting Good Racers into casting for Good Stories, but they've moved significantly away from the Fear Factor challenges (in foods and heights) and from truly rough physicaly challenges towards things which are more cultural and in-the-enviroment in nature. That, I appreciate, because the dominance of the young-and-fit teams was getting annoying.

So, yeah, I missed Mel & Mike when they left, but overall it was a good season.

[That said -- I, too, have stopped watching Survivor. They're never going to top Tom/Ian.]

K J Gillenwater said...

Well, how long did you think a man in his 70s? 60s? would last on this show? I knew Mike/Mel wouldn't be there forever.

As for getting tired of the show? Not me. I find the travels to different countries so interesting...and when the contestants have to complete tasks that related to some oddity or local event, it is so much fun to watch. Remember the cheese carrying disaster? or even the make-up at the Chinese opera? or the one-armed tiger trainer at the zoo?

Those are the moments I love. Sure, I want to actually root for someone, but sometimes I enjoy hating bad contestants just as much as I enjoy nice contestants doing well. (My absolute favorite couple to hate was the guy who declared his 'ox was broken.' I think this team even went on to win the million dollars...the most hated winners ever!)

I left "Survivor" long ago because it is too contrived. I like that "Amazing Race" takes place in the real world, interacting with real people, and having to adapt to cultures and rules very different from what we know in America.

Anonymous said...

I just think it's hard to keep it a level playing field when you don't have the language barrier for one set of contestants, which was the case of Victor and Tammy in China. I think that may have been a huge factor in determining the outcome of this race.

Wholi said...

Agreed Alan - it's the emotional attachment to a team that helps keep things interesting.
Since the 'newness' of reality TV is gone, the work of the casting team becomes VERY important to get contestants we will REALLY love or REALLY hate. There is part of me that watches in hopes of seeing a team I don't like get eliminated just as much as watching to see a team I do like continue on.

Felt bad for Margie & Luke - being the first to arrive at the last challenge and being the last to leave. Luke must have had a brain freeze on the last two surf boards.

Good win for Tammy & Victor - especially Victor's work at the last challenge. A smart team that played well, but, as you said, didn't do much to enflame any passion to root for them.

Looking forward to the next season!

Anonymous said...

I lost interest in TAR after Mike and Mel were eliminated as well. They were pretty much the only reason I chose to watch this season. I did keep it going as background noise while doing other things on Sunday nights, though, and Tammy and Victor did become the team I wanted to win if M/M couldn't. Although, tbh, it hit a point where I didn't care who won as long as it wasn't Margie and Luke who went from one of my favorite teams early on to most loathed, right next to the cheerleaders. Points to the latter for coming off much better in the last part of the last ep than they had all season, though.

I don't really watch that much reality anymore, but I have stuck it out with both "Survivor" and "Big Brother", partly because there are certain points of each season that I like and partly because I frequently wind up with people who want to watch it and that's that. The last few seasons of "Survivor" have either been awful or totally unmemorable, but I'm really liking this season. I like an underdog story and the combination of fight from the JT/Stephen/Taj trio and the awesome stupidity on display from their opponents (who should and could have picked them off weeks ago) has been fun to watch. Might be boring having the "nice" people make it to the end for some folks, but it's been a fun game to watch for me.

K J Gillenwater said...

"I just think it's hard to keep it a level playing field when you don't have the language barrier for one set of contestants"

But none of the contestants know what countries they are going to visit or how much time they are going to spend there. I don't remember the show ever spending this much time in China. It just was luck that Tammy/Victor had the foreign language knowledge...and then it was during the last legs of the race. Pure coincidence.

Look, people come on this show hoping to be able to use what skills they have learned...many go on this show with language knowledge....that's nothing new. Just as some are very athletic, some love adrenaline rush activities, etc. That is what makes the show interesting. If no one with any foreign language ability was allowed to be on the silly and arbitrary!

BF said...

I couldn't have been happier to see Luke fail miserably at the last road block. He was just as awful a human being as Jaime: the only difference being that Jaime was actually able to verbalize her hatred in a recognizable way.

The thing I've always loved about TAR is, more or less, it's the only reality show that's a meritocracy: Race faster than everybody else to win. Every other show, you're being judged by your peers (Survivor), a panel of "experts" (Apprentice, Top Model), or the public at large (Idol). TAR is the only show where you hold your fate in your own hands (Yields & U-Turns being the exceptions.)

Nitpicky notes:
* The broken ox guy (Colin in Season V) came in second to Chip & Kim.

* Tammy & Victor's lack of a language barrier had no affect on the final outcome. The final flight carried all 3 to Maui where there was no language barrier for any team (well, except for Jaime's inability to speak cabdriver).

Word Verification: elfful -- full of elf. Which TAR certainly is thanks to Travelocity.

Nicole said...

I noticed on other boards that there was a belief that Tammy and Victor had an unfair advantage for knowing Mandarin. This is not the first time that contestants could speak the language of the country they were in, although it was usually Spanish or French. While there did seem to be many legs in China, it's highly unlikely that the producers somehow fixed it for Tammy and Victor. And out of the three legs, they only came in first on the last one, with any advantage removed with the airport bunch to Hawaii.

I was happy to see Tammy and Victor win out of the teams that remained. They were pleasant after the Romanian leg and weren't fighting over clue boxes or yelling at cabbies throughout the race.

The producers lucked out by having Luke freeze on the final roadblock, because otherwise there would have been no suspense. He seemed to have it locked up until Victor breezed by.

I am back into Survivor mostly because Coach is a clueless idiot, but I find him entertaining to watch. There is also some pretty good gamesmanship this season, with blindsides and switching allegiances, and contestants who have clearly seen the show before.

dez said...

(well, except for Jaime's inability to speak cabdriver). LOL! Although I thought the dispatcher was wrong for not being more helpful (isn't it a taxi company's job to get you to where you want to go?), it sure as heck was funny since it happened to Jamie.

I was rooting for Tammy/Victor to win (and for Jamie/Cara to be Guido'd), so I was happy with the outcome. A complete turnaround for me, as I didn't like them in the beginning and then softened as Victor became less whiny and more helpful with his sister. Same thing in reverse with Margie/Luke: liked 'em at first, then grew to dislike them a lot as their unpleasant natures came out. Never liked Jamie, so I was glad she lost (I kinda felt bad for Cara, though).

I'm also still enjoying Survivor, though I hate Coach, not love-to-hate him, so am bummed he is still on my TV. Hope that changes on Thursday (even if I dread his sure-to-be-bitter-and-pompous jury question). He's more like dragon food, not a dragonslayer.

Word Verification: elfful -- full of elf. Which TAR certainly is thanks to Travelocity.
Wouldn't that be more gnomeful? :-) Mine is skiest, which I imagine is a skiing priest. Unless it's "ski-est," in which case, it's the condition of Northstar when I was in Lake Tahoe this past winter (Northstar was the skiest of the mountains I skied that trip).

Hyde said...

TAR is the only show where you hold your fate in your own hands (Yields & U-Turns being the exceptions.)Those are pretty big exceptions, considering that both teams that were U-turned this season ended up being eliminated on that leg. Which is why I prefer the earlier, purer versions of the race.

I didn't have a problem with the race going to China and the fact that there were Chinese-speaking players--the race can't and shouldn't account for something like that. I do question the fairness of having a task in China on the next-to-last leg of the race that was essentially all about being able to clearly speak the language, a notoriously difficult feat for anyone who isn't familiar with the nuances of a language where inflection is key.

As for the number of legs in China, that was a real weakness this season--the lack of actual travel. Germany, Romania, Russia, India, Thailand, China. Don't we typically visit more countries than that?

I know why Margie wanted Luke to work that final task, but we had seen, and she surely should have known, that Luke has all sorts of trouble keeping his composure under pressure. If she had done the task, they would have won.

I understand Alan's point about the sameness factor with reality shows, but I believe Survivor is actually wearing better than The Amazing Race, because they keep adding little tweaks to the game. The players take it in unpredictable directions from there. This was a better season of The Amazing Race than usual due to the lack of focus on airport minutiae, but fatigue has set in somewhat with me as well.

Bobman said...

Luke definitely annoyed me more and more as the season went on, and last night cemented the fact that he's just a self-obsessed little kid. Phil was always going out of his way to compliment Margie, and Luke always went out of his way to bring it back to deafness. So last night, Phil says Margie is "The bionic woman", and all Luke can do is compliment her for LEARNING TO SIGN. No, not the fact that a 40-some year old woman could carry a pig on the beach when a bunch of people half her age couldn't, she's just amazing because she learned to sign for her son.

As for the cheerleaders, I kinda came around to Feinberg's thinking about them; Jaime came off as a bitch, and she probably is one, but I'm sure a lot of it has to do with editing, and really, you do what you have to to win.

Anonymous said...

@Dez: I hate Coach, too. I'm all for a "love to hate him" villian, but the weird and sad combination of self delusion, misogyny and the compulsive lying isn't all that fun for me to watch. It's really tedious and I can't see how he hasn't been murdered in his sleep at this point.

J said...

I don't watch many of these shows in general, but I think your assessment sounds right. There's no reason why reality shows - like dramas and comedies - shouldn't go stale after exhausting the types of characters and storylines they can conjure.

At this point in Idol's run - and I didn't start watching from the beginning - I've seen them recast through the various categories of singers and repeat song choices to the point where I imagine I'm finished with that franchise. If I root for someone, it's because they're interesting enough to defy either the creative or quality level of the format, and once they're gone I figure everything will settle into (yawn) familiar territory.

dez said...

@amysusanne, I figure if Coach really has been "almost killed" "seven or eight times," the universe is trying to tell him something and he should comply forthwith. What a tool!

Michael said...

I thought that the pig-carry task would have forced the racers to go back and reapply the red stuff because they dropped it in the water and it washed off.

I'm finally ready to do my video application this summer. I can do better than these guys!

Anonymous said...

Tammy & Victor's lack of a language barrier had no affect on the final outcome.I think it did. Being able to speak/write the language for two/three legs in a row cut down on "killer fatigue." Especially since one of the tasks dealt with speaking the language, one dealt with writing the language, and a ton of the problems the other teams had were based on an inability to communicate. (The hours spent trying to find that cluebox when they couldn't clearly ask "where is _____?" and the people who could figure out the question couldn't do more than gesture as to its location.) Even though they were all on the same flight, T/V came in way better rested and much less mentally drained.

I also thought that throwing the contestants into bikinis in the final task was more than a bit tacky.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering about Michael's comments related to the red stuff on the pigs. I was wondering if it mattered if the "red stuff" was still on them -- otherwise, why didn't the teams who were having a hard time carrying the pig down the beach just move into the water and sort of float the pigs to where they had to go? You'd only have to go about a foot or two into the water and it would have made carrying them down the beach so much easier -- they just would have had to carry the entire weight at the very end (I can't be the only person who sits and figures out how I would accomplish each task were I a racer).

Alanna said...

If I'm not mistaken, the producers map out the race route before they cast any of the teams - or at least early in the casting process. So, having a team fluent in Chinese was just a coincidence. The big problem, though, was three legs in a row in China. Before that, weren't there two in Thailand? And they didn't even make a complete circuit around the world, with the Hawaiian finish line. The show used to do so well with the route mapping -- I watch it mostly for the travelogues -- but they dropped the ball this time.

Andrew said...

Unlike Idol, TAR is a show that I enjoy whether or not it involves interesting personalities. The world is the star of the show, and while the show isn't always suspenseful, it always does seem real and of the world. The editors make the show engaging. I was more engaged than I epxected during the last task as Victor caught up with Luke, in large part because the music and editing.

Unlike the first few seasons, the show does feel very formulaic at this point. But, I think it's a formula that works.

I actually miss a lot of the airport intrigue from earlier seasons where some teams (Colin/Christie, in particular) did well by always working the airports to get better flights. In later seasons, it seems that the producers have paid much closer attention to the flight schedules to make sure that most teams will be on the same flight.

The Race should reward Americans with foreign language skills. If there are racers who speak the most-spoken language in the world (Mandarin), then it should provide them with an advantage. Were I to go on the Race, I would love to have multiple legs in Russia as there were in this one, to make my college major useful.

Anonymous said...

I suppose the best thing about TAR14 was also the worst thing about it: there were no teams that absolutely sucked along the lines of Jonathan & Victoria, the Weaver family, and Flo & Zach (where Flo was so horrendous that Zach being awesome could not cover up the stench of their win), but there were also no teams who were unquestionably fantastic (Kris & Jon, Nick & Don) so by the end I didn't fear any winning team which was good, but didn't have a strong rooting interest either. It's worth noting this was the first time in TAR history when there was no awful team in the final 3 AND all three teams had a legitimate shot to win (TAR12 was close, but Ron was so unkind to Christina I can't include them).

As far as Luke being a villain, or even Jaime...I don't agree with that. I thought Luke was a great player until that last task when he just kind of lost his bearings, and Jaime never crossed the line from "annoying but not harmful" to "angry ass****/Jonathan". Certainly, Margie and Cara were more pleasant overall than their partners. A win for either woman would have been as nice as it was for Tammy: a validation of being a tough competitor and a class act to boot.

I do agree with the basic point that compelling personalities are the only variable for an established reality show formula (see: Lambert, Adam). SURVIVOR's casting has been stellar for its entire run, coming up with fascinating folks even in the lesser seasons. If TAR continues to eschew over-stocking of dating couples (I like a lot of those teams, but too many of them and it becomes a bad episode of THE BACHELOR/ETTE), it'll keep going. See you at the starting line for TAR15!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this season a lot actually, and was really pleased o see Tammy and Victor win. They grew on my a lot, and were pretty funny a lot of the time. I don't think the fact that they were in China and knew the language was too much of an advantage. But it did provide some really funny moments like them telling various Chinese people that their parents would die of shame if they were unsuccessful on this leg.
Plus, the smile on Tammy's face in the cab right as they reached the end was pretty adorable. Pure unadulterated joy.

fgmerchant said...

Can't say I would ever get tired of Survivor, even when people I like go home. You learn to like someone else by the next episode, or at least you spend your time hating the people who sent them home and you keep watching so that they finally get stabbed in the back! One of my favorite things about Survivor are the challenges, I could care less about them meeting locals and so forth for rewards, I have TAR for that!

TAR is one of the best, but they need to re focus on challenges and not on the journey from point A to B. I'm in this to see people get torn down, re-united, and overcome, but without cheesy music or fancy edits. This can only be accomplished by progressively harder and frustrating challenges!

Also, you HAVE to start watching Big Brother, probably one of the best reality shows out there. But watch the U.S. version, I tried to watch the British version once and I was just bored out of my mind. Our kind is always exciting and I always look forward to the episodes!

fgmerchant said...

Forgot to talk about TAR:
Tammy and Victor deserved the win and they were one of my favorite teams. They really did play the race most intelligently, and managed to show, at the same time, that they are fun likable people! I'm soooo glad that Margie and Luke did not win. Luke just got more annoying each episode because of his whining and his dependence on his mother to do all the challenges.

I HATE when people come on a show to promote a message "deaf people can do this too" or "women are just as strong as men" and "it's time for a black person to win". That's fine if that's your reason for coming, just don't berate me and beat me over the head with it on a weekly basis! Just show me that you can do it, and by the end of the season, maybe I will say, "hey everyone who tries can do it"! If you become pedantic then I just start hoping you fail!

Stef said...

I was rooting for T&V, though the loss of Mel & Mike did change TAR from "appointment television" to "if I'm at home and not watching Netflix, I'll turn it on" for me.

My favorite moment was when Tammy, now the winner, was asked her reaction - "I'm not wearing any pants!"

Heather said...

Can't say I blame you really. I would have never watched the race unless I was in a bet. Even then, it was only since my team (Margie and Luke) held on till the end.

Mike F said...

Still love Survivor and feel like its actually gotten a lot better...and the upgrade to HD footage makes it some of best-looking thing on television ever...and I'll take Jeff Probst over any other reality or game show host out a wide margin

Amazing Race I really liked for a little while, but the concept got old for me...would probably have gotten less sick of it if they cut back on all the flying...I spend enough time in airports and on planes on my own, and would prefer my escapism to not involve air travel

Michaelangelo McCullar said...

Too bad you gave up on Survivor, Alan. This season Coach has worked himself into the top five all time memorable Survivor characters. If you get a chance you should watch this season when it comes out on DVD.

Anonymous said...

It is all about casting. In general I think Survivor does a better job than TAR. Although interestingly, apparently the shows tend to share potential cast memebers. Several TAR contestants have mentioned that Survivor producers suggested them for TAR.

Both TAR and Survivor suffer from the fatigue effect. My problem with Survivor for the last few seasons has been that most challenges now involve some sort of puzzle element. What happen to fire building, or the great water challenges? On TAR they have made a decision not to cast alpha male teams. Too bad. They didn't always win in early seasons, and the tasks have become less difficult. Throwing pies at each other, really.

Great challenges keep a show fresh. I think Top Chef has continually come up with new and interesting ways to challenge its cast.

Indeed said...

Regarding Survivor. I watched the first few seasons and then got tired of it and missed a whole bunch (I'm guessing 8 to 10 installments). For some reason I got back into it last season and this current season. I completely enjoy it now, but I recognize it's probably because I had a long break from it. Coming back to it last fall, I was just reminded about why this was so addictive to begin with. I don't have as many seasons to compare it with.
I've actually really enjoyed the cast this season. A few duds for sure, but some fun, obnoxious personalities that drew me in enough to keep watching.

Anonymous said...

An unexciting finish to an mediocre season, but I love TAR and will always stick with it. Even this not-so-great season had plenty of good moments and some laughs. The Whites were fun, I enjoyed laughing at that crazy chick Jamie, and they went to some cool locations as always. But I agree with whoever said they need more variety: 2 legs in Siberia, 2 in Thailand and 3 legs in China was way too much Asia. And India is always entertaining but they go there almost every season. Give me more countries please TAR!

I also agree with the comments about Survivor. Coach is hilarious and he has made the current season of the best in years.

Castaway said...

Amazing Race has been casting nicer people with little personality. Unfortunately even the people they want you to think are nice aren't even that nice, like whiny Luke (his mom was a badass though). There is certainly no one like Coach who, love him or hate him (and I don't like him), is at least interesting. On the plus side, they've made the show much smoother, cutting out a lot of the bunching and airport stuff and varying the challenges. As far as what someone said about The Amazing Race being more in the "real world" than Survivor, numberous past contestants on TAR have said that if the director doesn't get a shot of them doing, well, anything (like getting out of a cab if they want that shot), they have to go back and do it again for the cameras, even though it's a "race". So let's not kid ourselves about the "realistic" aspects of either show---they might not be totally scripted but the cameras come first. The question is, are they entertaining, and TAR and its players are pleasant but not compelling, while to me Survivor usually still finds a way to have several great episodes a season.

Anonymous said...

I'm particularly fond of reality shows that pit former contestants against one another such as vh1's "I love Money" or mtv's "Real World/Road Rules Challenges". These people hang out together outside the show, know that they're crazy and generally have some bad blood. Though I must admit when they tried to bring in some new cast members a la mtv's "fresh meat" the show went down hill because I didn't have previous seasons to get emotionally invested and I knew that the characters weren't bringing any real baggage but instead would have to create some

Chris S. said...

I guess I'm going to be in the minority here in saying that I thought this season of TAR was excellent. I thought the formula was fresh and fun this time around. The tweaks were perfect (cut down on the airport stuff) and the folks on the show were diverse, interesting and, more importantly, REAL. Most other reality shows, Survivor included, are just straight up manipulation to create drama. TAR is what it is: a race around the world. You get exactly what they promise, with the least amount of manipulation.

Bravo TAR! Great season! And Tammy & Victor were excellent racers. I too was moved by Tammy's exuberant smile as she sat in the taxi just knowing they had it in the bag.