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TV Preview: The Amazing Race – Cycle 17

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At the start of the new season of The Amazing Race, host Phil Keoghan promises us that this will be one of the most “grueling” races ever.  That news will no doubt please long-time fans of the series who suffered through two less-than-stellar outings last season including the Spring one which was certainly far more simple than what we have seen in the past (on more than one occasion I have described it as being a “remedial” version).

For those not in the know, The Amazing Race is a reality competition show which follows teams of two as they venture around the world and complete specific, culturally-based (usually) tasks in the countries that they visit.  Most episodes end with a pit stop that sees the last arriving team eliminated, although every season does feature a couple of “non-elimination” legs.  The last leg features the final three teams competing for a one million dollar prize.

Going back to the “grueling” promise, the most recent cycle of the Race felt as though it contained tasks that were far more simple; a minimal number of legs where there were options at airports; and, most distressingly, a whole lot of teams who seemed as though they wouldn’t have been able to handle it had they been asked to do even a little bit more.  Simply put, not only were the tasks too easy, but the teams were almost uniformly unimpressive.  Teams always face some difficulty on The Amazing Race, but last time out, even when the difficulties were minimal, teams balked.  When told that they hadn’t completed a task correctly at least one team threw a tantrum and threatened to quit.  It all made for a distressing season for fans of the series and hopefully Phil’s message up front means that things will in fact be different this go round.

What is certainly not new are the types of we see.  Perhaps more than any other reality show, The Amazing Race seems to have a standard set of types of teams that they look for and those types – the parent/child one (actually, three this time out), recently dating couple, personal friends, work friends, etc. – are all certainly represented.  The most noticeable type that is missing this season is the slightly-older-than-just-middle-aged couple.

The show may be sticking to a formula, but it’s a formula that has helped The Amazing Race win the Emmy for the Outstanding Reality-Competition Program from 2004 to 2009.  It was nominated again this year, but failed to take home the trophy (possibly because neither the Fall nor the Spring cycle were overly compelling).

Also not new this year is host Phil Keoghan whose main task is to explain the challenges to the audience and stand at the pit stop and great the times as they arrive.  Phil routinely manages to inject some sort of humor and honestly seems to feel bad when he has to send teams packing.  In a world in which so many reality show hosts either seem uninterested, solely out to publicize themselves, or overly-involved in the outcome, Phil maintains the air of a classic, competent, and truly compelling master of ceremonies.

It is difficult to tell from just the first episode whether or not this year’s crop of contestants are better than what we saw last year – and it is impossible to know whether or not the tasks they will be given over the course of the season will be good ones.  The best we can hope for is that the producers realize exactly where they went wrong the last time out and have opted to correct their errors.  Yes, putting one’s faith that they have made the necessary course corrections simply via Phil’s promising a “grueling” competition may be either a little overly-enthusiastic or naïve, but after so many excellent seasons it is a trust that The Amazing Race has most deservedly earned.

The Amazing Race premieres September 26 at 8:30pm with a special 90 minute episode.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.