Saturday, February 18, 2012

"I'm shocked to see you watch the Amazing Race." - a friend

When people who know me hear I'm a fan of television's the Amazing Race, it seems to surprise them. It's a little wonder, I suppose, since I don't like many television programs and I speak disdainfully about the medium. And surely, within the medium of television, no genre is more readily disparaged than the reality-television program.

And yet, here I am, blogging about the Amazing Race, one of the most popular reality shows. I didn't foresee myself becoming a fan; it began nearly 4 years ago as I was finishing a crossword puzzle while the television provided me with some background chatter. I was nearly done my puzzle and was about to turn off the set when the 13th season premiere of the Amazing Race began. Gradually I began to look up from the puzzle until I finally set it aside and watched the show; I was a very cautious fan - telling myself I would quit at the first episode where I stopped enjoying the show - but after four races (they run two races per year) I had to admit, I was hooked. What are the elements which make me enjoy the program?

First, I like that the Amazing Race is a little more real than some reality shows; the tasks which the Racers have to perform during the race are often artificial, but the work they do planning transportation around the world and subsisting on a very limited amount of money and food is all real; the people they meet during the race are real people; many of the problems which arise come from the real world environment and have included life-threatening accidents and Racers coming close to being arrested by the police.

Second, I like the competitive aspect of the show. Some people exhibit the worst parts of their personality under pressure, but others demonstrate real strength. I like that the Race often forces Racers to endure their greatest fears and step far outside their comfort zones, demanding they place a level of trust in their teammate and in random strangers which they would be less eager to grant in a more relaxed situation.

Third, I like that the teams of two who compete on the program have existing relationships with each other, so something personal is at stake for them in the competition. I feel strongly for Racers who are each other's family and have long-standing relationships which help or hinder their working together; I feel for couples who find their committment to each other tested or validated by how they race; I like to see friends try to support each other.

Fourth, I like how the program makes me feel about the world around me. Previously, I didn't hold much interest in international travel and didn't understand why I would want to venture outside my own country unless it were to visit a friend. The Amazing Race has helped me realize the real joy of travel is to experience another culture, something I kept in mind when I journeyed to Angola last year. Throughout the Amazing Race, teams have had encounters with locals who are outstanding in their generosity and good intentions; how can you not want to get out and be among people of every nation after this show has demonstrated how easily it can be done?

Tomorrow night, the Amazing Race season 20 debuts on CTV (Canada) and CBS (USA). I've decided I'm going to begin blogging about the series, episode-by-episode. I doubt any of my followers will be interested in these posts, but having had a look around at Amazing Race fandom, I'm troubled by how many people are eager to condemn Racers over their sometimes-poorly chosen words and at their willingness to claim interference by production whenever something surprising happens to the Racers. I'd like to change the tone of response in my own little corner by offering what I hope will be a fairly reasonable take on each episode of season 20. I don't know how this season will compare to earlier years - but who cares? As long as the program delivers on the four aspects I described above, I'll be pleased to welcome it to my home.

Look for my recaps each Monday following the previous Sunday's episode.

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