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TV Review: The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business

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Since I first heard what this newest edition of The Amazing Race would feature—folks who didn’t win but nearly did or lost for horrible reasons—I’ve been referring to it not by its correct title, The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business, but rather as The Amazing Race: First Loser Edition.  That is of course unfair, only three of the teams racing this season came in second in their original runs, but the title also signifies my increasingly negative feelings about the show.

For a number of years I recapped the series on a weekly basis and I really enjoyed the show both before and during much of that time.  I thought it was fun and different and I completely understood why it took home so many Emmys.  Then, a funny thing or two happened – the number of teams who were shrill and annoying seemed to multiple, the number of bottlenecks seemed to increase, and the tasks seemed to get easier and easier.  At first I couldn’t decide whether I had simply outgrown my love of the show or if it was in fact kind of coasting on past success.  After The Amazing RacePhoto Credit:  Monty Brinton/CBS failed to win an Emmy last year, I decided that even if it wasn’t the show, I wasn’t alone in how I felt about it.

I pointed out in my review of the fall cycle of the series that The Amazing Race excels at throwing types of teams at us—engaged, parent/child, friends, coworkers—the show also seems to give us nearly the same mix of nearly the same type of people every season.  While that makes it easier for the audience to get a handle on which team is which, when you see the same types year after year, it’s easy to lose the distinctions between them. 

Think about it, how many dating/engaged teams have we seen where the guy is a wholly inconsiderate jackass?  I’ve grown to hate every dating/engaged team because after watching so many seasons I’ve lost the ability to differentiate between them and just as I start to think that maybe this new team is different, the guy starts yelling at the girl about how she’s incompetent and how if she would just focus they might not lose.  Then I have to swear off the dating team for another cycle.

Hope, however, springs eternal.  I have started the past few seasons of The Amazing Race thinking to myself that maybe, just maybe, this season will stop the series’ slide, that this season will be the season that the show manages to turn it all around and make it fresh again.

Perhaps counter intuitively I wonder if a season which features previous contestants couldn’t actually succeed in fixing the problems with the show.  If the problems lie both with the contestants and with coming up with new, different, and difficult tasks & twists, maybe the second half of that could be tackled here.  What we’re getting this year are folks who have already been on a race, who already know exactly what is expected of them not because they read a handbook, but because they’ve Photo Credit:  Monty Brinton/CBSalready experience first hand what to do.  The producers can now think outside the box far more than they they’ve actually been on the race.  That ought to give the producers some more leeway with tasks and twists than they’ve had in recent seasons.

I don’t know that it will all actually play out that way.  I was hopeful at the beginning of the fall cycle that we were going to get a harder race and I don’t think that we did.  Phil told us we would, just as he said that this cycle’s race would throw a whole lot more curveballs at the teams.  Once bitten, twice shy.

We did, however, see some interesting things tonight on the first episode.  We saw teams forging strong alliances early on.  Answers to clues were actually given from some teams to others and yet denied when teams from a different season asked.  Beyond that, we saw an extra U-Turn thrown in and an underwater task which seemed like a whole lot of fun.  Unfortunately though, we also saw a number of teams performing dismally on a task, performing so badly that they just pressed forward and hoped that someone down the line would be in a position to give them an answer. 

That is most definitely not the way I want to see the race run.  It doesn’t violate the rules, but it seems to be against the spirit of the game – it’s one thing to work with another team to get an answer and a completely different thing to ask someone who has already completed the task to share their work and the fact that teams did that in droves was troublesome.

After watching the premiere episode, I hold out hope that we’re looking at a strong season of the show – we already know that some (and only some) of the teams are very good teams.  But, even if the show has decided not to coast, what now worries me us that it appeared during the premiere that some of the teams have.  If the show can step up its game, make all the teams work to the best of their ability, and show us a few new tricks I think The Amazing Race could be as good as its ever been.

If you want to talk about unfinished business—going incredibly far in something only to falter when you’re pretty far along—and needing a shot at redemption, well that’s something that The Amazing Race knows about.  This season is going to be as much about the show’s redemption as the redemption of the teams on it.  I hope they get what they’re so desperately searching for.

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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.