Reality Hit List, June 5: Welcome Back, The Amazing Race!by Brian James -- 06/05/2003
For those of you who followed my last column, Reality High Test Results, and are wondering what happened to it, Iíve decided to put it on indefinite hiatus. While in some ways it was fun to write, in other ways its gimmicky nature was quite restrictive and constraining, and I donít think it worked as well after the first season. I may choose to revive it at a future date, or I may not Ė weíll see.
In its place, Iíve come up with a new column concept, Reality Hit List. Basically, itís just a weekly column of my thoughts and observations on the various reality shows that I follow that aired that week. This format is a lot more flexible and will give me the freedom to talk about dating and performance shows Ė The Bachelor, American Idol, etc. Ė that wouldnít have worked in Reality High. Some weeks Iíll talk about a bunch of shows; other weeks, maybe only one or two shows will give me things to say.
This first column was originally supposed to cover the premieres of The Amazing Race 4 and For Love or Money, but because they were both long and in the interest of timeliness, this column will just stick to The Amazing Race. For Love or Money will follow shortly, either as a separate column or in tandem with the second episode of The Amazing Race Ė as this is a new column, Iím still working out some of the scheduling specifics, but within the next week or two itíll get to a point where things wonít be covered a week later like this!
Anyway, enough explanations and backstory Ė on to the column!
The Amazing Race is back with its fourth edition, and not a moment too soon. Host Phil Keoghan sent off our latest crop of twelve teams with his usual proclamation: "The world is waiting for you!" Too bad CBS didnít quite see it that way. Did anyone actually watch Star Search besides our recappers?
First, though, the ever-inquisitive Phil wants to know, "Can these teams stand up to the stress of traveling together for over 40,000 miles? Will the competing teams become friends or enemies? Who will come up with the right strategy Ė the right combination of brains, brawn, and teamwork Ė to win the one million dollars?" My own questions are more along the lines of, "Who will be the first to bitch about their cab driver?" (Tian.) "Whoíll be the first to call their partner an idiot?" (Kelly.) "Whoíll be the first to be reduced to tears?" (Steve of Debra & Steve.) "Whoíll have the first supercolossal pyrotechnic complete meltdown?" (Only a couple minor hissyfits this outing Ė stay tuned!) To me, itís the little details that count.
Speaking of the teams, we have three Steves, two Jons, and a David and a Dave. This is coming hot on the heels of a Survivor season that started with Jeanne, Jenna, JoAnna, and Janet on the same tribe. Is this Torture Recappers and Columnists Year at CBS or what?!?
From the opening credits, I see that David & Jeff have been assigned the patented Teri & Ian 90E synchronized head turn, while Jon & Al prove that clowns in their costumes sans makeup look frighteningly like Liberace. Speaking of Jon & Al, they seem nice enough, but I have feeling a little bit of them goes a long way. One more cackle out of them and they would have conjured up The Surreal Lifeís Emmanuel Lewis.
Perhaps at some point, Iíll stop cracking up every time I see "Best Friends/Clowns" and "Dating 12 Years/Virgins" on the screen. Perhaps. But not now.
Speaking of our "Dating 12 Years/Virgins" (I mean, come on now Ė do any of the other couples get labels like "Married/Twice a Week"?), Millieís taken a stand: "If Chuck does not ask me to marry him soon, I think our relationship will be over." Whoa! Letís not be hasty here, Millie. Are you sure you donít want another twelve years to think it over? Chuck, meanwhile, says marriage scares him. Fine, but after twelve years, what, pray tell, is he waiting for? An engraved invitation to fall from the sky like so much manna? Appropriately enough, the first time we see them, itís on a carousel. A carousel going around and around without ever actually going anywhere Ė why, itís just like their relationship! (Or, come to think of it, Passions. Hell, on that show it would probably take twelve years for two people just to have a first date.)
All snarking aside, though, I think this couple Ė Millie in particular Ė may be worth keeping an eye on; they seem focused, athletic, and get things done with minimal bickering.
As far as labels go, I was happy to see that Reichen & Chip were simply listed as "married" with no additional qualifiers. It may seem like a minor thing, but itís significant nonetheless. From poking around on various message boards, I think some people seem to think that theyíre making too big of a deal about worrying about telling the other teams theyíre a couple, but I can understand it in a way. Iím openly gay myself, but I donít rush into every new situation declaring, "Hi, Iím Brian and Iím gay!" I like to assess the situation and the people first to make sure no oneís a raging homophobe or anything. And, to be honest, sometimes it just never comes up because the conversation or interaction never heads in that direction Ė I mean, could you picture the following?
"So what did you think of American Idol?"
Plus, Reichen said, "I have a personal vendetta against all the times that I have been made to feel inadequate because Iím gay, and I am not going to be made to feel that way on this race," which would lead me to believe that heís had some really bad experiences with homophobia in the past. Itís a shame; he seems like a nice guy. But that would certainly also explain their caution in revealing theyíre a couple.
Debra seemed to figure it out when Reichen & Chip let her & Steve stay in their hotel room, asking Steve matter-of-factly, "Do you have a feeling the boys want to sleep together?" (Incidentally, on the extra video footage at the cbs.com website, Reichen & Chip report that Debraís a snorer.) Meanwhile, Kelly accused them of being... Californians! "Theyíve got the look!" she insisted. So did Roxette in 1989.
Reichen & Chip decided to form an alliance with David & Jeff, but were hesitant to out themselves to them because they found them "very straight." Iím not quite sure I understand what "very straight" means. Do they have deflector shields that repel quiche or something? (Whatís truly depressing is I just realized that that pop culture reference is to a book that came out in 1982. If it were a person, it would now be old enough to drink legally. Yíall excuse me while I go play with my Ginsu Knives, wonít you?) In any event, I certainly hope Reichen & Chip arenít relying on them for directions; in this episode alone, David & Jeff managed to get lost going to the airport in their home city and stumble onto the other half of the Detour while looking for the pitstop. Meanwhile, David said with a straight face, "We took the train and we thought we were going to beat the other teams; unfortunately, we came in as one of the last groups." Well, yeah, because the other teams took cabs! Just about anywhere in the world except for going crosstown in Manhattan (trust me on this), cabs beat trains! Oy. Then again, after the first episode last season I was thinking Derek & Drew were dim, and they proved me wrong and made it to the Final Four, so you never know.
Also having a lot of bad luck this round were Monica & Sheree. First, the airport shuttle bus took off without them at Jon [of Kelly &]ís urging Ė although this didnít seem personal; it seemed like he would have said the same thing no matter what team showed up at the door at that point. Then, once they got inside the airport, they became embroiled in Ordergate. Josh, at the front of the line at the Swissair counter, decided seemingly right then and there that he wanted to be in an alliance with Steve & Dave, holding up the rear of the line, because he noticed their air traffic controller hats and he "wanted people who were familiar with that" in with him. Now, Iíve heard a lot of asinine reasons for alliances in my time, but this has to take the cake. I could understand if he wanted to carry Steve & Dave because he thought theyíd be easier to beat than Monica & Sheree, but how in the world is it helpful that theyíre air traffic controllers? That only means theyíre familiar with their own airport! Considering theyíre at the back of the line, itís certainly not doing them much good, is it? Anyway, he got tickets for Steve & Dave as well, freezing Monica & Sheree out of the flight even though theyíd been waiting patiently ahead of Steve and Dave. Legal? Sure. But I donít blame Monica & Sheree for being royally pissed, even if "Cheaters never win and they cheated!" sounds like something out of The Cindy Brady Guide to Life. Monica fretted that other teams would think she & Sheree were "prissy little housewives," but I generally donít picture prissy little housewives snapping, "Donít say sh*t to me right now!" After all that, quite frankly, while it may not have been the smartest idea to use up their Fast Forward this early as it didnít get them all that far ahead, I can certainly understand why Monica & Sheree did so. Besides, Rob & Brennan used their Fast Forward the first leg in the first season and went on to win the entire race, so you never know.
Josh later made up for it by helping Monica & Sheree by leading them to the last tickets for the second bus. This was smart, because as he pointed out, it didnít hurt him any and it made Monica & Sheree feel better toward him. However, he had less altruistic motives for helping them: "I really donít want those two blonde chicks with the fake tits up in there, so..."
Combine David & Jeffís directional impairment with Monica & Shereeís bad luck and you have the allegedly breast-enhanced blondes, Tian & Jaree Ė who, with those names, sound like the long-lost members of Jem & the Holograms. At one point, a gas station attendant barked at them that heíd given them directions three times Ė at which point they promptly asked him again! Speaking of barking, hereís Jaree to Tian about their faulty hatchback door (which caused them to have to wait for a new vehicle): "Just shut it!" Funny Ė I felt like telling them the same thing a few times over the course of the episode. Like shortly thereafter when we had the following exchange:
Jaree: "Donít even irritate me right now!"
Oh, this bodes well.
Their smoking might do them in before their bickering, however. As they huffed and puffed to the finish line, Jaree moaned that after twenty years of smoking it was "too much cardio in one day!" (someoneís been spending a little too much time at the local Ballyís), while Tian swore sheíd never touch another cigarette. (Incidentally, when it comes to that, the house brand patch you can get at Walgreens, Duane Reade, RiteAid, etc. Ė theyíre all made by the same company, Habitrol Ė not only is significantly cheaper, but works much better than the name brands, believe it or not. I say this because Iím only three patches away from successfully finishing the program, and I smoked for fifteen years.)
Tian & Jaree were hands down my least favorite team upon initial viewing, but when I watched it again, I didnít mind them nearly as much. Jaree didnít really stop for coffee so much as have some while she was waiting for the cab; she left it as soon as the cab was there Ė although itís a shame she didnít think ahead and get it in a to-go cup; did that cafť perhaps not have any? (Iíve never been to Europe so I donít know what cafťs there would have.) At first I thought Tian bitching, "I canít believe we got behind the slow team!" was rather rude; then I realized that if I were in last place in a race and stuck waiting behind another team, I might very well be fuming too; I also noticed that she did help Debra off the zipline and apologize for going ahead of Debra and Steve after they finished. Also, I realized Tian reminds me a lot of my last roommate, and we got along incredibly well. So I guess for now Iím neutral on them Ė I donít hate them, but at the same time I havenít seen much reason to like them either.
Speaking of resemblances, hereís Russell & Cindy next to The Captain and Tennille:
Uncanny, isnít it?
Meanwhile, hereís Amanda on her relationship with Chris: "Iím oversensitive and heís overcritical, and you get us together and itís going to be difficult." Well, by all means choose him as your partner for a race thatís going to put you in some of the most stressful situations youíll ever experience in your life, then. This episode alone, Amanda got bleeped seven times for saying the "F" word, and the bonus footage of the two of them having an argument on the cbs.com website makes The Osbournes look like The Sound of Music. For his part, Chris may have said, "Come on, Flo!" but somehow I canít picture Zach ordering Flo to "move her ass," much to most viewersí apparent dismay. If anything, Chris and Amanda seem like a younger Teri & Ian or a more functional Tara & Wil. If Iím getting Flo & Zach vibes from anyone, itís Kelly & Jon. Between Kelly saying, "Jon has a calming effect on me. He just knows how to handle me," and then calling Jon an idiot when they were looking for their bus tickets, the dynamic (as we see it on the show, at least) just seems familiar somehow.
Chris & Amanda, Millie & Chuck, Steve & Josh, and Steve & Dave (and, according to the bonus footage on the cbs.com website, Jon & Al) formed an Łberalliance of sorts. When Josh finished the Detour, he was surprised to find Chris & Amanda and Millie & Chuck had stuck around: "I canít believe they hung out and waited for us with the cabs!" Quite frankly, neither can I. I mean, thereís "nice," and then thereís "doormat." In the end, though, it didnít hurt them any (this time at least, although they need to be less altruistic in the future) and they wound up in a three-way tie for first, which meant that three Hawaiian vacations needed to be doled out. That wailing sound you hear is the ambulance rushing the producers to the hospital after their coronaries.
Kudos to Steve & Dave for being supportive and hanging in there, most definitely, but their performance this leg doesnít bode well for them in the long run. Still, Steve got in one of my favorite sound bites ever at the pitstop: "We have our strengths. We donít know what they are yet..."
In the end, Debra & Steve were eliminated. They raised my suspicions in the beginning because generally people who feel compelled to point out, "Weíre fun!" are anything but, but they did seem like a genuinely nice couple. Just, unfortunately, not fast enough to win the Race.
Iíve come to the conclusion that The Amazing Race is one of the best and definitely the classiest reality TV show on the air. It has the elimination aspect, but itís through peopleís own choices and actions (and sometimes good and bad luck), not backstabbing. In fact, while on a lot of reality shows itís everyone for themselves, here teamwork is vital. Itís not sensationalistic, the suspense is absolutely nail-biting and sustained at a fever pitch for the entire episode, and teams almost always seem to walk away from the experience feeling good and with a better understanding of themselves. Itís great to have it back again!
Meanwhile, on the other end of the quality spectrum, thereís a show that seems to have been written by macro. One where just the thought of describing it as "classy" makes me laugh so hard I canít breathe. Next up: For Love or Money!
Brian James is an actor/writer/singer in New York City. An avid reality show, Passions, early Ryanís Hope, retro music, and Internet discussion board junkie, he can be found holding up "Will Snark For Food" signs in subway stations as he continues to search for that elusive "day job." Brian would like to stress that his writings are based solely on what he sees in each episode, and realizes that there may sometimes be more to the story and that people may behave quite differently under normal circumstances. Comments and cybertomatoes accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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