This season of The Amazing Race isn't a "celebrity edition" but between a former Miss Teen USA contestant, two members of Big Brother, and a World Series-winning third base coach, it at least half feels like one. The show seems to have an increasing reliance on casting individuals with a name and/or face recognition, which doe seem to hamper it somewhat, although not as much as the lack of ability illustrated by the contestants in the season premiere.
Although one might have expected Caite Upton, the former Miss Teen USA contestant who became an internet sensation with her all but incoherent speech during the contest, to be the dimmest bulb in the pack this season, there are certainly others accompanying her on the race who will give her a run for her money. For instance, there is the winner of the most recent Big Brother, Jordan, who is competing with her boyfriend whom she met on the show. Although an adult, Jordan doesn't fully comprehend discussions about time, like when she should arrive somewhere if she is meeting a person at a quarter to two.
And those are just the people who give the audience pause before the race even begins. Once host Phil Keoghan sends the contestants on their way and before they reach the first Pit Stop at the end of the episode, no fewer than three other teams do things that are completely and totally perplexing to an outside viewer. Without delving too greatly here into what takes place in the episode, it is more than fair to say that plenty of people watching at home will find themselves shaking their heads at the teams we have before us this cycle.
That is an incredibly disappointing statement, as The Amazing Race is one of the best – if not the best – conceived and put together reality show on television. The amount of effort that clearly goes into working out the locations and challenges is immense, and even here, where the contestants are found wanting, the show is able to pull through due to the travelogue it puts together. Watching the funiculars and seeing the multi-colored houses in Valparaiso, Chile – the first stop this year – is fantastic. Unfortunately, some in the audience may choose to mute their television as they see the sites so that they need not hear a discussion about why a contestant thinks it ought to be okay to use Brazilian money in Chile (it's a geographical thing).
Every season of The Amazing Race tends to feature at least one couple whom everyone else is sure simply shouldn't be there – people who don't know geography, people who are afraid of heights, people who need to spend four hours on their makeup prior to starting a leg, people who can't perform physical activities, etc. There are certainly times when these teams astound the viewer, either winning the competition or lasting an incredibly long time in it. Such teams make for a good underdog story and a great through line during the season. However, when the majority of teams seems to have such an issue, it feels much more like the producers are stacking the deck so that they can force such a story upon the audience, not as though it's a natural outgrowth of the competition.
Yes, reality shows are edited to enhance tension and create a more cohesive story than might otherwise exist, but they work best when the artifice is invisible, when one can't see the show forcing any number of underdog stories on the viewer. And, if a large number of teams could be classified as underdogs, are any of them actually underdogs? Following something of a generic cycle of the show in the fall, this new one is that much more disappointing.
At this point, The Amazing Race is still a fun show to watch and still takes viewers to new, interesting, and wonderful places. It would, however, behoove the producers to find the best contestants they can – people who won't mind competing in physical & mental challenges and who can find at least a dozen different nations on a map. There are certainly some teams who meet that description this year, but fewer than there should be. With luck, all the teams who don't belong will be swiftly eliminated (a difficult task as there seem to be so many), thereby leaving the audience with compelling racers and a compelling race.
The Amazing Race 16 premieres Sunday, February 14 at 8pm on CBS.