I have to admit, I always feel like CBS puts the screws to TAR and its fans. I don't feel that's unjustified on my part, given that the other big reality series on CBS (Survivor and Big Brother) always have a place on the network. With TAR, fans have to go on a year-by-year basis waiting for word on when a new season will air. In my head, I feel that TAR deserves two editions ("cycles" never caught on for me) within a standard network season. The reality is that it would probably be one . . . maybe in the spring, probably in the summer. The fear is that CBS would pull the plug. The glass-half-empty part of me fears that if the team of "stars" from last summer's Big Brother (Cody & Jessica) win, CBS would cancel the series, because Big Brother contestants have been inflicted on TAR for years. A win by Cody & Jessica might be seen as the "perfect" ending, by which there could be no better note to go out.
Yes, I will also admit that I am unreasonable about TAR, to the point where if that were to get canceled, Survivor should follow it into oblivion. I know Survivor has the ratings to -- well -- survive, and then some. But it's not the "water cooler" show it used to be. If you haven't been following the series lately, it's drowning in twists and gimmicks, and most of them involve host Jeff Probst trying to cater to alpha males. For him, a buff dude winning is way more necessary than a balanced season. The upcoming edition premiering next week -- Ghost Island -- looks to be more of the same.
I feel that TAR30 has been pretty good. The show abandoned gimmicks after two seasons (online celebrities in TAR28, eleven teams of strangers racing in TAR29), going with a "soft" theme of "winners." I take that as a subtle jab of the current president of the United States, who hated how TAR kept winning Emmys over The Apprentice. Right now, we're approaching the final two legs with four teams vying for $1 million: Cody & Jessica, Alex & Conor (IndyCar drivers; Alex won the Indianapolis 500 in 2016), Kristi & Jen (extreme skiers and friends), and Henry & Evan (dating debaters from Yale). The odd thing is that unlike the past two seasons, the better teams haven't skidded out of contention prior to the finale. I won't bore you with the math; just know that if you take the leg averages of all teams, they almost line up in order of elimination. Also, there were only three legs where teams finishing sixth through eleventh finished in the top three. I'll go over the stats after the finale.
As for problems this season, there were three. Here they are, in order of annoyance:
3. The Partner Swap
Going into TAR30, fans heard that teams would be switching partners. Needless to say, that didn't go over with fans that well. I thought it would have been more appropriate in TAR26, where five of the eleven teams were strangers set up for "blind dates" while racing around the world. Mixing things up gave me the image of host Phil Keoghan throwing a glorified "key party."
What ended up happening was a bit of an anticlimax. Teams wound up in Zimbabwe, camping out overnight. The follow morning, Phil woke them and revealed the twist. The teams that had arrived at camp first and successfully set up a tent would pick another team, and partners would be chosen from there. Cody & Jessica chose Kristi & Jen and Lucas & Brittany (dating lifeguards, until Lucas popped the question in France) picked Conor & Alex, leaving Henry & Evan to mix with Eric & Daniel (twins/firefighters/unrepentant punsters). The new pairs wound up performing two tasks before arriving at the Pit Stop, where the teams had to wait to reunite before proceeding to the next leg.
The stupid thing is that TAR already did something close to that. The Intersection debuted in TAR10, and would be used in the following season and TAR16. Instead of switching partners, two teams would combine to form a foursome and perform tasks until they were told to separate. The Swap was basically a more-hyped Intersection. In the end, it didn’t upset me so much as make me wonder how badly the producers wanted to create drama.
2. The U-Turns
I have come to accept some gimmicks to be adopted. The U-Turn evolved from the Yield, where one team would pick another to wait for a predetermined amount of time before proceeding. Originally, teams would perform a Detour, choosing one of two tasks, each with its own pros and cons. Upon completion, a team would arrive at a Route Marker with the U-Turn. If they chose to do that, another team would have to go back and perform the second Detour task. Last season, the format was tweaked. Now, the U-Turn would be set up before the Detour, meaning teams could perform that, and the affected team would have to perform both tasks. Suddenly, a team could throw a roadblock (small letters) at a rival without much effort.
I’m being pedantic, but I think the original format worked better. Or maybe I was just “butthurt” that Cody & Jessica (fresh from a series of which I have no interest) pulled that on Trevor & Chris (violinists, nicknamed “Well Strung” after the quartet for which they play), leading to their elimination. I get really picky about U-Turns in general. In my mind, they should come after a Detour, and a U-Turned team would not be able to do that to a rival until they performed both tasks. I don’t get that anal about it, but I can burn up a forum thread. But that’s nothing compared to this season’s “twist.”
1, The Head-to-Head
Okay. So . . . you’re running the Race, and you’re doing pretty good. You see Phil at the Pit Stop mat, but you can’t check in. No, you have to play a game with another team. If you fail, you have to wait for the next team to arrive and play them. The last team remaining gets eliminated.
There are many reasons to loathe this twist. For one thing, while the Head-to-Head was only done in two legs (second and fourth), they were at the very end, potentially negating all progress made by teams. It didn’t help that the game involved team members pushing a cart of frites through a course, while being dressed as a bag of frites. Henry & Evan arrived at the Route Marker in third place, but then proceeded to lose match after match, dropping further down the leaderboard with each failure. Finally, they managed to best April & Sarah (mothers, practitioners of “Goat Yoga), checking in eighth.
It got worse. From what I heard, April & Sarah waited for the last team – Eric & Daniel – for three hours, then proceeded to lose the final Head-to-Head, earning an elimination. While most of the editing suggested that the women were snippy towards each other I their two legs, it didn’t seem fair that one team would have that large of a lead negated without getting an advantage for their patience. The second (and final) Head-to-Head involved a less ridiculous game of pétanque (or bocce, if you’re Italian), and that led to elimination for Cedric & Shawn . . . which was a relief after Cedric interviewed in the prior leg about having three heart attacks. That was also the episode when he elected to perform a Roadblock (running the streets of Tangiers in search of a Travelocity Gnome) while wearing a huge backpack, something he could have left with Shawn. While I’m certain all contestants had to go through physicals, and a quick online search reveals that Cedric’s heart attacks were “small,” it still felt like a relief for him and Shawn to bow out, albeit in the dumbest way imaginable.
Bottom line: I feel that Head-to-Head is a cheap way for a team to get eliminated. I prefer the more conventional methods . . . like losing a foot race to the Pit Stop (models/”ring girls” Dessie & Kayla), not being able to figure out how to open a puzzle to get a clue (competitive eaters Joey & Tim), or misplacing a passport (Lucas). Also, I did not mention that the Head-to-Head matches had Phil doing running commentary from the Pit Stop. He has never done that in the prior 29 seasons, and it showed. That is more of Jeff Probst’s deal, albeit with more shaming of women and beta males for poor performances.
Despite my problems with this season, I am convinced that average TAR is better than most reality programs. We’re going into the finale with four strong teams, and there’s no one favorite to win. I’m good with anybody getting the $1 million save for Cody & Jessica, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. After tonight, I will have to hope that The Amazing Race gets renewed by CBS. That, and hoping Survivor: Ghost Island won’t be a dud. But I doubt the latter.
PS: Here are Trevor and Chris -- along with their fellow performers of Well-Strung -- performing the theme music of The Amazing Race.