There are very few reality shows that have wormed their way into my scripted television lovin’ heart. Syfy’s short-lived Who Wants to be a Superhero hosted by Stan ‘The Man’ Lee was one; another was the controversial one season wonder that was CBS’s Kid Nation. Apparently it’s okay to starve and pit adults against each other in physical and mental challenges in a contained location with camera’s rolling, but kids? Someone call Child Protective Services!
Okay, seriously, Kid Nation definitely had some kinks to work out, but IMO CBS’s heart was in the right place it was a family-friendly kid-centered reality show that aimed to educate kids about politics, government, and the running of a community. Think Model UN set in a rustic dude ranch. It was like a hard core summer camp! Sure, the kids looked a little worse for the wear and more than one parent had an ‘I let my kid sign up for this?’ bewildered expression on their face in the finale when the kids were reunited with their parents and got to show off their community, but no one starved or had to perform dangerous tasks. They simply had to figure out how to earn their keep with no moms or dads around. Without killing each other.
But I digress, as I always do when I talk about television, for I am a sucker for tangents. While Who Wants to Be a Superhero and Kid Nation both hold a special in the small area of my heart reserved for reality television, the number one spot goes to that glorious, heart-stopping, whirlwind, brain and physical teasing wondrous awesomeness that is the Amazing Race.
This is my kind of reality show: a true competition that pits teams against each other, testing their book and common sense, social savvy, courage, and physical prowess in a race around the world (a prize in itself) in order to win a (modest by today’s standards) cash prize of 1 million dollars. Forget living in Big Brother’s claustrophobic glass house under the watchful eye of Julie ‘Chenbot’ Chen or growing hairier, smellier, and thinner while I live in fear of a freshly showered, well-fed Jeff Probst extinguishing my torch on Survivor- I’m all about getting that big smile from Phil ‘Tight Pants’ Keoghan at the pit stop mat.
This is the one reality show that I would totally LOVE to be on (after I get myself into fighting shape) for the travel factor alone. Given that I can drive a stick shift, can swim, paid attention in history and geography classes, would LOVE to be forced to parachute out of a plane, and grew up on Southern food and so can eat just about any weird item you can think of for a food challenge (if you can eat chitlins, aka pig intestine, you can pretty much work yourself up to eat anything), I think I could go far in the race.
How can you not love a show that has Bunny Steeple Chases? Or working with leading St. Bernard’s through the snowy mountains in Germany or rolling cheese wheels down a mountain or have someone actually utter ‘My Ox is Broken!’ in disgusted anguish or has people parachute over Bora Bora or swim with alligators.
Okay, swimming with alligators may be a bit much but the thing about the Amazing Race is that it is never boring. What’s fun about the Amazing Race is that while it’s a raaaaaaaace it also looks fun as all get out compared to its sister reality competition shows on CBS. You get to go to exotic locales and hit all but one of the continents in your journey (if you last far enough into the race); you are ‘forced’ to participate in crazy, local customs, eat weird but non-lethal foods; and you get to see the world and have your mind blown and expanded by stepping beyond the borders of the US to see the world at large.
Also it’s an educational reality competition. The tasks are not just random, but questions and tasks related to the locale of that particular leg. You can’t be a dummy on this show or else you get exposed. Big time. Like in last night’s episode when racers had to answer what I thought was a simple question (“What US president said ‘Tear down this wall?’) in order to unlock their product placement car and drive themselves to the next task. It was alternately bewildering and hilarious to see so many races frown as they tried to puzzle out the answer. Considering they were in Germany, you’d have thought they’d realize the wall in question was the Berlin Wall which came down when Ronald Reagan was President. But no. We’re in a generation where the fall of the Berlin Wall is old school history (along with the political figures involved.) There was much brow furrowing as some racers tried to figure out which wall the question was referring to, with some venturing to guess that maybe it meant the Great Wall of China.
Viewers face palming-themselves in the course of watching the fatigued, confused, brain farting contestants every week is part of the fun of the show. They are the comedy moments to counter the drama of a missed flight, bad cab driver, sprained ankle, misread clue, and other randomly lucky or unlucky twists of the game that can make or break your favorite team. For me, the Amazing Race is the perfect ultimate game show: a high stakes all-in-good-fun thriller that has the world and all its interesting people and places as its game board.