The Amazing Race, Episode 1: Let the Bickering Begin!
by Alex Amorim
The race is on! The teams haven't even made it out of New York before a number of partners start bickering with one another. But they have to make it to Africa and then hit a number of different points. The last one to make it to the final stop of the episode is eliminated. Who will it be?
CBS’s new reality show The Amazing Race launched its first episode on Wednesday. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know that this is the most anticipated new reality show of the season. CBS has spared no expense. They ran a weeks-long ad campaign for it, and the show has a huge budget and a slick production style reminiscent of Survivor. Indeed, CBS is counting on this show to get Survivor-type ratings.
The concept of the show is simple and original: starting in Central Park, 11 teams of two start on a 35,000 mile race to circle the globe. Along the way they will be required to complete a number of tasks. There are eight cut-off points in the race. The teams must complete their tasks as quickly as possible, because the last team to arrive at each elimination point is out of the race. The contestants are stripped of all cash, credit cards, laptops, cell-phones, and maps. They are not allowed to call friends, nor to contact American embassies for assistance. The first team back wins 1 million dollars. This is truly the mother of all races.
First I must say that I think Amazing did a really great job casting the contestants, and that is probably the main reason why I think this show is going to be awesome. The 11 teams are as follows: A married couple who are currently separated and hoping to reconcile, a recently engaged couple who have just started living together, two teachers who are roommates, a boyfriend/girlfriend couple who are thinking of marriage, a pair of grandparents who have been married 40 years, another couple who met and married while serving in the army, two male “life partners,” a pair of working moms, two Miami lawyers who work at the same firm, a mother and daughter pair, and two fraternity brothers who have been best friends for 17 years. (For more details, see our Amazing Race preview.)
As the race starts, the teams are given a “travel packet” which contains some cash and the information they need to get going. The cash is all they are allowed to spend until the next leg of the race. The first travel packet told the contestants to hurry to Johannesburg, South Africa. They are given a list of 3 flights; those are the only flights they are allowed to take. They are not told from which airport these flights leave, nor the time of the flights. The teams speed by taxi and train to the airports. The life-partners, Joe and Bill, had an early advantage. They apparently have done a fair bit of traveling, and knew immediately that JFK airport was their best bet. They were the first to buy tickets, and the first to reach Johannesburg.
The drama within the teams started pretty quickly. As can be excpeted, the married couples started bickering almost immediately. The separated couple, Craig and Margarita, already started butting heads in the taxi on the way to the airport (it’s very evident why they are separated). The mother and daughter team also have issues, their personalities seem as different as night and day. The fraternity brothers just argue all the time. The only teams that seemed to get along well were the life-partners, the attorneys, and the grandparents. I was already thinking “This is gonna be fun!”
Once the teams arrived in Johannesburg, they were told to go to another airport and charter a flight to Zambia. Since many of the teams took the same flights, they arrived in Johannesburg in bunches. The pace of the show is very frantic, and I must say it was highly entertaining to watch the contestants desperately urging their African cabbies to drive faster, and as they dangerously cut each other off in attempts to pass the next team on the narrow African roads. Waiting for the contestants when they reached Livingston Airport in Zambia was a fleet of SUV’s, and their next bit of route information. They could save money and drive themselves, or hire drivers. However the drivers were not allowed to give any directions; they had to find the way themselves.
The contestants were given only clues as to their next destination “the big white smoke that thunders.” It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that this was Victoria Falls, one of the largest waterfalls on earth, and as far as I know the only reason anyone would ever travel to Zambia. Their next route-marker was an overlook near the falls called the Knife’s Edge. On the way to the falls the contestants again drove like maniacs, flying along the dirt roads and trying to pass every car they saw. A few of them seemed to be having a problem grasping the concept of driving on the left side of the road. Once they reached the Knife’s Edge, they were instructed to go to a place called the Batoka Gorge.
I must say I was embarrassed a few times by the stupidity of some of these Americans. The fraternity brothers and one of the married couples, were frantically asking everyone in site for directions to the “Batoka George.” It was particularly humiliating to see a local Africans, who apparently read English better than our college students, correct them on their pronunciation of the word “gorge.” Also, the recently engaged couple was rude to the locals. I realize they were in a hurry, but I just don’t see why the girl had to keep criticizing tribespeople if they failed to know the directions they needed, or to speak English. She scolded them to their face, “You live here! How do you not know the way?!”
Once the teams reached the Batoka Gorge, they encountered their 1st physical challenge. They had to ride on a narrow wire across the gorge, and then bungee jump all the way down to the bottom (either that, or walk all the way down – none of them did that). It was the highest bungee jump I’ve ever seen, and not a few of the contestants let out blood-curdling screams on their way down. Once they got there they were told to race to the next location called Sambwe Village, which was nothing but a group of huts on the top of a ridge in the middle of nowhere. This was to be the first elimination point. Over the course of the day and night, teams arrived one by one at the village. The last team to arrive that night was the couple who met and married in the army. They lost basically because they got lost several times, couldn’t pronounce the word gorge, and argued the whole time. I guess that is the last we will be seeing of them. There the episode ended.
So far I really like The Amazing Race. The dynamics of the show are different from other reality shows in many ways. Firstly because the contestants are not strangers, and the teams are composed of people who have known each other for years. Secondly, there is really no group dynamic like Big Brother or Survivor, because the teammates really only have contact with each other. Lastly, there is no voting, you are kicked off the show because you are too slow, not because you are unpopular or perceived as a threat. This does not mean there is less drama. It was evident early on that there is more tension between married couples and friends then there would be if they were grouped with total strangers. The show has a really fast pace, and is kind of like the Speed of reality shows. I also like the host a lot – not so much for what he did, but what he didn’t do. I have seen him on a few interviews and he has a real good philosophy of how the host shouldn’t try to be the star of the show, and I like that. The scenes from the next episode looked very enticing, and I for one can’t wait to see where The Amazing Race leads us next.
Special Note: CBS will be rerunning this first episode again on Sunday at 8/7 Central, in case you missed it the first time around.