I love The Amazing Race. I’ve written before about how perfect The Amazing Race is and how genius it is to dream up competitive travel. Behind the Internets and TiVo, it’s the greatest creation in the history of mankind’s unleashing of brain power on previously non-existent problems that, once solved, relegate any history without them as unimportant, and most importantly, useless and not worth remembering. Just like I can’t imagine the hollowness of my life before I started traveling to Europe, I stagger to think of the delight of competing against others on the journey. I would totally rock that adventure.
Last night’s episode showed that the potential zenith of competitive travel is so much higher than I ever imagined. I knew that The Amazing Race’s producers had “surprises” for us this season, but great googly moogly, I had no idea. Adding twists is nice, but dropping a boulder on the head of convention is brilliant, just brilliant.
In Season 6, I liked that non-elimination rounds added the challenging twist of taking away the last place team’s cash. Even though the team stayed another leg of the race, they shouldered a burden unique to them for the next leg. That’s fair. With last night’s episode being the first non-elimination leg in Season 7, we learned the first surprise. When Meredith and Gretchen finished in last, they had to give up their cash. They expected that, but we stared in stunned silence with them when Phil demanded their gear, as well, leaving them only the clothes they were wearing. The sweaty, bloody, cave dirt-covered clothes they’d worn that day. I can only imagine what’s in store for next season’s non-elimination legs. Perhaps a gunshot wound to the leg, or maybe a really itchy STD.
Who could’ve guessed that the second hour would demolish the first hour? Seriously, who?
And then it gets awesome. Brian and Greg wreck their Jeep, resulting in a pretty scary injury to their camera guy (that’s not what’s awesome). Lynn and Alex, to their credit, stop to see if they can help, and then Rob and Amber, to their non-credit, don’t — they at least should have slowed down and rolled the window down or something. They don’t, however, and so Lynn spends the rest of the episode telling everyone who will listen that the boys wrecked their car, but THAT’S NOT REALLY THE IMPORTANT THING, because the important thing is that ROB AND AMBER DIDN’T STOP. Basically, everyone is an idiot about this particular thing. But that’s not the awesome part either. The awesome part is that the boys have to wait around a long time for a replacement Jeep to come, but when they get to the Detour, they find that some teams are still there, including Ray and Deana, who apparently cannot work together long enough to complete a simple task, so intense is their dislike for each other. The teams finish different Detour options at about the same time, and they take off for the pit stop within sight of each other. Jeep race! And then they’re at the pit stop, and they get out, and Brian and Greg smoke Ray and Deana in the foot race, and Brian and Greg are saved and Ray and Deana are eliminated and I think I need to lie down. That was the awesome part.
I liked Brian & Greg when I first saw them, but I figured they were the frat boy type, so their personalities would become tiresome. I was so wrong about that. Not only have they not annoyed me, I like them more every week. I like them so much that, even though I’ve been rooting for Lynn and Alex, Brian and Greg might be my new favorites. That has a lot to do with the editing of last night’s episode, but I don’t care if The Amazing Race is manipulating me. I like it. From the moment Brian and Greg’s new Jeep arrived, I was hunching forward on my couch, bouncing my legs in anticipation. When they finished the task and got in their Jeep, just after Ray and Deana, I clinched my fists and started rocking in place. When the foot race began, I smacked the table over and over, all while screaming at the television, encouraging them on. I clapped when Brian and Greg overtook Ray and Deana. Brian and Greg deserved that “win”.
Rarely has reality television delivered so much honest emotion. Sure, Reality TV editors create tension and action but it’s mostly melodrama. I don’t care about fights or gossip or any other nonsense that passes for drama. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Mr. Trump.) I want people who compete just for the sheer joy of the competition. I want people who understand that drama and viewer investment comes from the meaning behind what happens. That can’t be manufactured. It can be edited into a tight package, no doubt, but we all have sufficiently trained bullshit detectors to figure out when a show condescends to basic titillation and when a moment is honest. Last night’s foot race was honest. Every person involved in reality television (and scripted shows, for that matter) should study the second hour of last night’s The Amazing Race. That’s how it’s done.