Monday, September 29, 2014

The Amazing Crisis

I spent part of tonight watching CBS. Not because I give a crap about The Good Wife or CSI, but because I was looking for commercials for The Amazing Race. I didn't find any. I don't think CBS is trying to screw TAR fans like ABC did to The Mole, but I can't help but to be a little distressed.

For a long time, TAR used to be on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. Actually, it was scheduled for 8, but it would usually air later thanks to overrun, usually from the NFL. Football would run past 7, and CBS would run 60 Minutes afterward. It wasn't like I was expecting the network to shorten or to pre-empt their prestigious news program, and it's not like CBS can shut down the NFL at the stroke of 7 (see: "The Heidi Game"). That was frustrating for me, especially when I'd go to TARCon (a fan-hosted finale party) and I wanted to record the episode while I was out. One time, it was 7 p.m., and the Packers were wailing on the Raiders, 51-3. I don't remember if that was the final score, but it was the score going into the fourth quarter when it was 7 o'clock.

Well, CBS decided to fix that, by shifting the show to Friday nights. The good news: no more NFL overrun. Bad news: a lot of people figured it was a move for a show that was about to die. I figured that there might be a ratings hit. It was a hit, all right . . . more of an open-field tackle. The first episode of the season finished a dismal second, behind ABC's Shark Tank. The only solace was that it outdid Utopia, Fox's freakshow of mental patients trying to build a society. Reading about that show, I actually look forward to the next season of The Real World, because you only see young adults act like assholes, as opposed to the Utopiots of all ages.

I try not to be an alarmist, but it is enough for me to write this entry. I've been watching the show since the second season in 2002. There have been times where I worried about the show's future, even in the (retrospectively) safety of Sunday nights. I know that nobody really reads this blog save for friends and friends-of-friends. But I don't know what else to do aside from yelling into the abyss of the blogosphere. Why don't I want The Amazing Race to die after 25 seasons? In no particular order:

1. Quality Travel Porn

I'm 38 years old, and I haven't been outside of North America yet. Watching TAR, I get to see the world. For instance, I didn't know about the African country of Burkina Faso until the show visited it. You get to see everything from landmarks to out-of-the-way places. And, more importantly, there's a good chance you get to see locals laugh at Racers as they struggle while performing tasks. Sometimes, the Racers don't deserve it, but it's still fun to watch.

2. Phil Keoghan Is Still The Man

Twenty-five seasons and thirteen years into TAR, the host is still worth watching. Unlike Jeff Probst over on Survivor, Phil doesn't get off on misery and the fumes of alpha males. Remember the times Probst was hugged? Those are few and far between. Phil can hold his own, whether he's providing narration before the credits, explaining tasks, or greeting teams at the end of each leg. For instance, he quipped about the shiny teeth of Missy & Jim (the orthodontists) to the local greeter. And I can count the times Phil has pissed me off on one hand. On the other hand, Probst manages to irritate at each once per episode. And he's the one with multiple Emmy awards. Meanwhile, Phil hasn't been nominated for Best Host in the past few years. Sometimes, life is unfair.

3. I Might Have Missed My Chance To See It

Let me explain: In May, CBS announced that the latest season of TAR would launch from Times Square in New York. That would have been a relatively short drive from my home on Staten Island. Worst case, it would take about an hour and change to get there through mass transit. The problem? It was 3 a.m.

I couldn't do it. Sure, New York is a lot safer than it used to be, but I didn't want to take any chances. Looking at the first episode, I probably wouldn't have been as nervous had I gone. There were lots of people there, as well as a few ex-Racers. In fact, one of them was Frank Mesa, who had finished second with his estranged wife Margarita in the show's first season. If you go to the 2:15 mark of the video below, you can see him telling teams where to find the finish line of TAR1: at Flushing Meadow Park. Given that the show starts and ends in the United States, and I don't get around, the odds of me seeing the show up close and personal are pretty slim. Well, there was Family Edition, but oaths were taken never to bring that up, even with the happy ending.

4. Anybody Can Run The Race

This season, the promotion people at CBS has flogged us with the show's inclusion of Bethany Hamilton. I don't follow pro surfing, but I know about the girl who lost her arm to a shark. You probably saw the commercials as well, as she was featured front and center for TAR, even more so than John Fucking Rocker was for the current season of Survivor.

I write for a magazine that's geared towards the disabled community. One of TAR's greatest strengths is casting people who might not have made the cut on other shows due to their shortcomings. For instance, Bethany is the third handicapped athlete to compete on the show, after Sarah Reinertsen (TAR10) and Amy Purdy (TAR21). You might have heard of Amy . . . she lost two legs to spinal meningitis, and she would later compete on Dancing With The Stars last spring, finishing second overall. Three contestants have multiple tours of duty on TAR while being disabled: Charla Faddoul (dwarfism), Luke Adams (deaf), and Zev Glassenberg (Asperger's Syndrome). If you consider having cancer to be a disability (like my editor does), then we had our first winners last season in father/son survivors Dave & Connor O'Leary. The contestants are rarely coddled, and most of the aforementioned Racers have managed to hold their own . . .  particularly Charla, who competed with Mirna, her total pill of a cousin.

5. Karma Might Be In Effect This Season

Usually, the team that goes off first is one you would want to start. This season, it was Lisa & Michelle, sisters/realtors from Miami. They came across as inoffensive in their preseason introduction video, but they were elevated to villain status during the first leg, when one of them ripped a pen from the hands of one of the Boston-based firefighters (Michael & Scott), when one of them was trying to sign up for a seaplane flight in St. Thomas. Eventually, Lisa struggled in a treasure chest-hunting Roadblock, when she was unable to use her compass correctly. She and Michelle eventually took a penalty along with two other teams . . . including the firefighters. And happily, they were beat out to the finish by Michael & Scott and Keith & Whitney (aka "Team Nashville"; a pair who met and fell in love while playing Survivor). So far, there hasn't been a team that has officially bugged its way out of our hearts (though Jim does seem a little intense), but there is one less noisome pair to get irritated about.

It's getting late, so I'll stop here. Please watch and support The Amazing Race. Don't judge it harshly for being a reality show, or because of how obnoxious one set of alumni (Nadiya & Natalie Anderson, aka the "Twinnies") act on the current season of Survivor (Nadiya was the first person voted off). If you go out on Friday nights, record the show. Hopefully, you'll fall for the show like I did all those years ago, and you won't look back.

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