Unlike a lot of competition-based reality shows, The Amazing Race has never felt much need to change its fundamental format. There have been "All-Star" seasons, sure, and I think I remember at least one iteration that called for 100 percent same-sex teams (I am 100 percent misremembering this). But those are cosmetic changes. The Road Blocks, Detours, and Pit Stops that have been there since the beginning — they remain, to this day, mostly the same as they've always been. Those table-resetting "park doesn't open 'til 10am!" moments will never go away, nor the "whose plane will actually arrive first?" question. And you'd think, 37 seasons in, that all of this would be boring.
But it's not.
For starters, the theme song is a classic composition that will one day be remembered alongside the greats of the medium. But more to the point, the show offers a RACE AROUND THE WORLD… and an opportunity for us viewers at hime, however well- or insufficiently-traveled, to imagine ourselves facing the same challenges and cultural exchanges. That will never get old!
Last night's episode saw our 10 teams (now nine) jet from Shanghai to Surabaya, Indonesia: a place where complete strangers entertain children in the park, Taxi is spelled "Taksi," and bull racing is a much-loved pastime. Did you know any of this before The Amazing Race? I mean, be honest with yourself.
Athletic San Diegoans Abbie & Ryan kicked things off, but their backstory (I think they like the beach?) was quickly overshadowed by the revelation that Married Monster Truckers Rob & Kelley were only married after the death of her first husband (who was his best friend). Human interest, right? When everyone made their way onto the same flight to Indonesia, it was Rob & Kelley who bucked the company line and found a new route. "Did it turn out well?" I can hear you asking, to which I respond "They didn't lose."
That would be Amy & Daniel, actually, two incredibly nice and motivated people who just… didn't have luck on their side for the duration of the day's events. Perfectly great racing did them no good when they hopped in a cab that couldn't figure out where it was going. They got to their destination eventually, but eventually don't count. You watch enough of this show and realize that so much is predicated on happenstance. It's a cancelled flight, or a blind taxi driver, or a plague of locusts. It's anything but you, but it's indiscriminate — and it could strike at any time. Better to get five to six legs in before having the rug pulled out? Or is it somehow more painful to have met the law of international travel averages so early in the journey? Something to ponder for the Race alumni reading this!
The leg's first challenge, "Bull Racing," wasn't really a challenge so much as it was an opportunity to relax before stepping up to a Roadblock/Detour combo. Teams literally had to do nothing except survive the 300-foot motorcycle ride. And they all did.
One of my favorite things on the show is contestants answering, on camera, the questions posed by their clue. "Who likes to party?" it might ask, as it did last night. The teammates probe each other's faces before one of them finally, awkwardly says, "I… I like to party" with a sort of yearning, half-questioning lilt. "Yeah, yeah," their body language tries to reinforce. "I'm a big time partier! Let's do this." Of course those PARTYING skills get holstered when it's time to blow up the balloon animals while peddling a merry-go-round for Indonesian children, but you get it. Most every team managed to breeze through the challenge with relative ease. (Except Substitute Teachers/Best Friends Will & Gary, the former of whom just couldn't work the balloons.)
After partying came our Detour, and its two choices: ice block carrying or fish re-arranging. And, as is so often the case on Race, almost no one opted for the second option. Only twins Natalie and Nadiya, who went on to win the leg (and an Express Pass, to be used to bypass a future miserable challenge), tried FISH. And it paid off. The ice block carrying option wasn't very challenging, but it was far and away the more physically strenuous of the two. Lexi was glad for her boyfriend Trey's "big macho arms." But she didn't dismiss her own gender-specific strengths, either, suggesting that it's because of her womanhood that she's managed to become a great multitasker.
I could go on and tell you about the Pit Stop, where Phil waited with a great sun hat and new friend to welcome teams to Surabaya. Or the way Josh & Brent are just NOT living up to the sort of sassy bon mots they were dropping last week. (And the Chippendales, it must be said, remained very un-shirtless once more.) But let's call it a morning for now, maybe watch Treme? We'll meet back next week, ready to just PARTY.
[Image Credit: CBS]