Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Debunking Myths About The "Amazing Race" Finale

Amazing Race 17 is over, and we have another million-dollar winner! (Yes, I actually care about The Amazing Race. Indulge me for a moment, here.) But before we start looking forward to Amazing Race 18: Unfinished Business, we should take a look back at the finale to the last Amazing Race and briefly debunk some of the myths circulating around the events of the last leg of the race. This is spoiler-heavy, so if you're one of those people that waits a few days to watch, wait a few more days to read.

With that in mind, let's move on!

Myth #1: It was bad race design because there was no chance for the racers who were behind to gain on the leading team.

Actually, there were two big chances and one small chance for racers to swap positions. At the float road block, teams that made mistakes could and did lose time on the racers who did it right the first time. (Although I would agree with anyone who pointed out that usually, the judge at a "assemble this thing" challenge doesn't point out what the racer did wrong, only whether or not they did it right--without that advantage, this would have been a third big chance.)

After that, the puzzle represented a huge opportunity for one team to take the lead. If anyone had known the answers to those questions without having to look it up, they would have jumped ahead. And one team did come up with a speedy, clever way to look up the answers without having to drive out of their way, giving them a huge speed advantage over the other two teams. Unfortunately, it happened to be the team already in the lead. Likewise, the "game show" memory challenge could have been a huge stumbling block to any of the three teams, allowing the other two to pass. It wasn't, but it could have been.

Myth #2: It was unfair because one team got a bad taxi, which lost them the race.

Jill and Thomas didn't lose the race because they got a bad taxi. They lost the race because they let their taxi drive around aimlessly for long periods while shouting, "Do you know about the Internet? Can you Google something for us?" instead of just saying, "Take us to the nearest hotel," or "Take us to the nearest Starbucks." By the time they did realize that the cabbie was not going to look up the answers to their clue for them, which was officially Way Too Long, they were in full-on panic mode and just started stopping at random places hoping they had Internet access. I'm not saying they were stupid, or bad racers--just that they had a brain-lock moment at the worst possible time. The taxi driver had very little to do with it. "Taxi roulette" is real, but it's not what lost Jill and Thomas the race.

Myth #3: If the teams are going to have a puzzle clue, they "shouldn't be allowed to look it up on the Internet".

Technically, this isn't a myth, it's an opinion. But it's an opinion that doesn't take into account the facts, which makes it worth debunking anyway. The fact is, any kind of puzzle clue that actually takes local lore into account (which they should, being Amazing Race clues and all) is probably not going to be one the racers know off the top of their heads. Which means either asking locals (and replacing "taxi roulette" with "knowledgeable stranger roulette") or going someplace to look it up. At that point, you might as well send them to the local library and put the clue there. (And technically, Nat and Kat called the local library, making their strategy more in line with the supposed ethos of the "puzzle clue" than either of the other two teams.)

Myth #4: The Race was "stacked" this time around to allow a female/female team to win.

This myth centers on two arguments: One, that they allowed an "unusual" number of female/female teams, and two, that they purposefully chose "weak" male/male and male/female teams so the female/female teams wouldn't be challenged. As to the first...there were eleven teams racing, same as usual. There are three possible gender combinations: male/male, male/female, and female/female. Four teams out of eleven is about a third, and a third of the teams being one of the three gender combinations is perfectly sensible. And as to the's a circular argument, and a sexist one to boot. How do you define a "weak" team? If, as many commenters seem to be doing, you define it as "a team that loses to a pair of GURLS!", then by definition any female/female team that wins is beating a "weak" field of competition. Whereas in fact, Nat and Kat beat out several teams that had as good a chance as any to win. Some of the teams were obviously DOA, but the same is true in any season of the Race. Nat and Kat won because they were smart, and because they stayed calm under pressure and didn't make mistakes. And as a result, they're each $500,000 richer. Good for them!


Michael Hoskin said...

You're correct on every count, John. Another popular one thrown out every race by people who don't like the results is that a leg was changed in progress to make it easier/harder on another team. In spite of all the documenting from the producers on how difficult it is to arrange the tasks in advance, it still gets trotted out so I wouldn't be surprised to hear it again for 17.

I'd like to say I'm looking forward to 18, but 5 different teams from 14? Bah.

Kal said...

I have these same arguements each time I see this show. It's all about how you keep your cool and support your partner and it's vital that you get a good cabbie or have the courage to bail on a bad one before it's too late. I love the challenges that drive the couples crazy like the piano music one in St Petersberg. That was pure evil and that is what I want from my challenges. I don't want it to be a cakewalk to the end which this one seemed to be more so than in previous years. I understand the next one will be returning teams but I hope they put them through more torture like rolling cheeses or navigating some of those wild west markets like in Ghana. Just give me a few teams to hate also so that I can feel good when they get the screwgie and get eliminated. Cool post.

Anonymous said...

Those were NO myths but pure facts.

1. Exactly so. No chance for any team to surpass other in the tasks because they were too straight forward and linear (= easy). First come first served in the bungee jump and helicopter ride gave Nat and Kat tremendous time benefit towards others.

2. The taxi driver was horrible. Just ridiculous dumb ass I didn't know to exist in the US. I think 90% of taxi drivers in India know what is Internet and Google. Why was the driver just driving aimlessly to the ghetto and refused to borrow his cell phone or call someone to help? I hope he got fired just being such an incompetent fool who can't even speak English.

3. All the same to me. They can do whatever they want but Googling the result will give the answer fast and simple.

4. So many strong female-female teams and men-men teams were losers. What is strong woman you ask? How about 20-30 years of age, in very fit condition (does a lot of sports), has a doctoral degree. How about those. Men were ridiculously weak like the one with Chinese daddy of age 80 or something. Not a chance in hell to win! Acapello singers, just a bunch of nerds with limbs as thin as my fingers and probably never had any real exercise. And those couples were equally idiotic like the tattooed ones. How can you GIVE UP a task just because you don't feel like doing it?! And the host of the show was constantly chanting: "Are you the first female couple to win and make history, Are you the first female couple to win and make history, Are you the first female couple to win and make history". Seriously! Is the gender more important than the personas and the actual million dollar?

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Unknown said...

Actually, I felt like it was skewed, not because of that racist/chauvinistic rant of the last anonymous commentor, but because the very first boat challenge seemed to give lightweights an advantage that was an opportunity to kill off a physically larger team. Granted, the guys were supposedly *educated*, like the doctors, and SHOULD'VE figured out a way to balance it, but they were so far behind after getting lost, they simply didn't have the time. Given that they did get lost, maybe they wouldn't have made it anyway. For the final leg, it definitely wasn't the cabbie's fault, as the racist said. The cabbie was under NO obligation to provide them with a smartphone, not EVERYONE can afford one (no matter what the upperclass thinks). Season 17 seemed to be more about smarts and, if that gives women an edge, whose to say it was unfair? Should it always be about strength with no intelligence necessary? Technically, its already designed so that overweight people have absolutely no chance. Or am I the only one that remembered the rope walking incident that killed one hefty dude right out of the gate?

Actually, the main problem was that it had previously been skewed towards strength and TAR improved the design so THAT wouldn't be an *unfair* advantage. Its an adventurous race around the world, not the Olympics.