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The Amazing Race 10: Thinking Smart Before the Raceby Jeffrey Clinard -- 09/15/2006
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For the last nine seasons of The Amazing Race, I wrote up articles each week on how to think smart to remain in the game and ultimately win. Some teams did well because they thought things out; others did poorly because they refused to use their heads. So what does thinking smart mean in The Amazing Race? What should the teams be thinking of doing even before they leave the starting line? This article is a collection of what has been proven to be effective and led to the win of many teams of the race.
1) Follow instructions: It seems obvious, but so many teams have failed to do this and ended up either eliminated or lost so much time, it’s the number one tip of the race. In season 1, Nancy & Emily ignored the instruction on either taking a bus or a van and suffered a 24-hour time penalty, which ended up costing them the race. If they had followed the instructions, they would have beaten Joe & Bill to that pit stop and remained in the race. Other teams were given time penalties for not following instructions, or otherwise broke the rules, such as when Freddy & Kendra took a second clue envelope when they lost their original one during season 6.
During season 2, Blake & Wil both failed to follow instructions to complete all tasks before returning to their partners in Australia, and wound up having to re-perform some of the tasks. Heather & Eve from season 3 failed to walk to the pit stop and it cost them the race (and even provided a Reality TV Hall of Shame moment). In season 4, Reichen & Chip climbed into a carriage only to be kicked out by Jon & Al, who read the directions correctly and grabbed the ticket off it – the item which actually entitled them to use it. And in season 9, Lake & Michelle didn't read the very first clue correctly, and tried to book their airline reservations over the phone, despite the clue saying they could only gets flights at the airport!
The penalties for not following directions are getting worse. During one leg in season 7, Uchenna failed to pick up an entire post, and Meredith failed to take the clue envelope during the “real roadblock” roadblock. Phil refused to check them in until they had completed the task instead of assessing them a penalty.
However, while the directions need to be followed, often there are creative ways to follow them and save time, particularly if the task is open-ended. For example, getting to Tunisia in season 1 required a boat trip. All of the players took the same ship, but going on a cargo ship or chartering a vessel would have fulfilled the requirements. The train in France during the first race was another example; the instructions only said to get to a point, not how to get there. The smarter teams took the local’s shortcut. This is the edge that can help teams avoid elimination.
2) Time is Relative: Smart racing strategy means getting to the next clue box (or pit stop) as quickly as possible. What many teams do not understand is that sometimes this means the intermediate steps of getting there are the key factor. Getting the fastest (legal) transport to the clue box is where time becomes relative.
In all races except the special Amazing Race 8 (Family Edition), racers raced to an airport in order to obtain tickets on a flight. Most of the time, the best strategy is to get to the airport as quickly as possible. However, in seasons 1 and 6, teams were left to their own devices in how they got there. Teams in the first race wasted time by trying to call from pay phones to get information on the flights, while teams that raced to the airport were able to obtain the first flights. Matt & Anna from Amazing Race 1 tried to call, and ended up on the last flight, which helped contribute to their loss. However, several teams in season 6 used the subway and borrowed cell phones to learn about arrival times. It didn't do them much good as the flights were scheduled to arrive within minutes of each other, though smart teams asked about connecting cities and possible weather delays in each.
In fact, asking about arrival times is the key question many teams still fail to ask, whether it's on bus or plane transportation. In season 5, several teams booked the flight that departed first. However, Alison & Donny asked the key question as to which flight arrived first. Of course, in the next episode they were eliminated because they got on the first bus that went to their destination. Kami & Karli and Chip & Kim boarded a later bus, but neither was eliminated because they took the EXPRESS bus and passed their competitors. In season 7, Rob & Amber figured out another express bus and tried to keep it a secret. It didn’t work, but teams should take the extra time to find out the arrival time, not the departure time.
In each race, the teams had to get a flight to their next destination – with limited seating on each. The smart teams raced to the airport to claim the direct flights and gained hours. Other teams tried to call or otherwise get information and suffered for it. Matt & Anna from season 1 were in this group, and while it wasn’t the only reason they lost, it was one of the big reasons they were eliminated first.
Using travel agents is one of the better uses of minutes to save hours. In season 5, Colin & Christie visited a travel agency first on a few legs of the race - and it paid off with better flights than other teams. Jonathan & Victoria in season 6 copied that trick - and were once outwitted by Gus & Hera, who also figured out how to bypass a line. Using them would also have prevented Jeff & Dave from Amazing Race 4 from catching an ill-advised flight to Sydney which cost them any chance of winning the race.
3) Know when to cut your losses and when to gamble: Searching for the vans in India during the first race wasted a lot of time for several teams. If faced with a choice like that, teams should take 15 or 30 minutes, and then cut out and go for the sure thing. The working moms in the first race also faced this problem when they went to the wrong pendulum. After 30 minutes or so, they should have cut their losses and rung Quasimodo’s bell. Hayden, Aaron, Kris, and Jon took only one look at the inventory versus desk-building detour at Ikea in season 6 before switching tasks.1 2 3 4 Next-->
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