Sunday, September 30, 2012

Four things to consider while watching the Amazing Race

I've only been an Amazing Race fan since season 13, but in that time I've monitored the reactions of fans online and found it... wanting. It's part of why I began creating my own recaps, a feeling that fandom wasn't quite fair about many of the judgments they made about the program and the personalities. Therefore, as season 21 looms its debut this evening, here are 4 things I'd like you to keep in mind; I hope to remember them myself.
  1. You can't declare a team "deserves" to win or lose. So much of the Amazing Race comes down to luck. There are times when it seems unfortunate for a team which has been performing at the top all along is eliminated when a mistake causes them bleed 20 minutes... 20 crucial minutes. Meanwhile, the team who foolishly fell 6 hours behind the others are equalized when the next location doesn't open for 10 hours. You may feel a team with a heart-tugging personal story has a greater need for the $1 million prize than the team who already live comfortable lives as models/lawyers/entertainers. None of this matters. You have to accept much of this game comes down to luck. By all means, speak of which teams you prefer, but let's make a deal: I won't use the word "deserve" if you don't.
  2. There is no such thing as karma. Despite what many fans and contestants claim, there is no cosmic force which punishes teams for stealing taxis or U-Turning rivals while rewarding teams who help their competition or suffer a mishap. On the Race, stuff happens; it may be edited to appear as though a team's elimination or victory are directly tied to their code of conduct, but let's just stop believing in karma and start believing in happenstance and luck.
  3. The Racers are real people. Because of how the program is edited, it is often very easy to believe the narratives at face value as we would a fictional program: look at how mean this guy seems! He's a bad guy! Real people are much more complicated than fictional constructs. When a Racer makes an ill-considered remark or action, bear in mind it's not the single most representative moment of their character; extend the benefit of the doubt to them; always assume there's something the editing has omitted.
  4. Production decides how and when penalties occur. Fans are very confused about how penalties are applied because we're not briefed in advance about what all the possible penalties are. Some penalties are never aired due to circumstances (they don't create drama or they don't alter the rankings). Consequently, fans have funny ideas about what earns a penalty: "They just lied to another team! Will there be a penalty?" Most of the time, these are the only things you need to remember: penalties are assigned for doing something explicitly prohibited by the clues (ie, "travel on foot"); penalties are distributed to Racers for obstructing other Racers (ie, hiding equipment or clues, moving another teams' personal effects); penalties apply when teams are caught breaking local laws (ie, speeding tickets). Rule of thumb: if the show doesn't invoke penalties, relax and don't worry about it.

The season premiere is tonight! CBS in the USA, CTV in Canada!

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