Somewhere after the less than spectacular family edition of The Amazing Race (season 8) the show has become more controlled. Gone are the days of the specific twelve hour rest period at the Pit Stop. No longer do we see teams with one or two hour leads on the competition.
Most of the time the result of these changes has been that teams are bunched closer together making for more drama on the final race to the Pit Stop. What is also possible is what we witnessed last night on “Tastes Like A Million Dollars,” a leg where virtually nothing happens.
During the early seasons the legs were longer and more stretched out. Navigation played a much bigger role in each leg. This created two scenarios. First, if a team had a lead and avoided mistakes, it was very difficult to catch them. The second, however, was that if a team made a mistake, another team (or more) could catch and pass a team without needing the benefit being better at a challenge.
The earlier formats made the first and last places finishes less dramatic because those teams either had a substantial lead or deficit. However, the middle of the legs was more dynamic. Being able to watch a team make up a thirty minute deficit on another team during the middle of the leg only to lose it again after struggling at a challenge was riveting television.
While the finishes may be closer on these later editions of the show, rarely does it seem that whatever place a team leaves the last challenge isn’t going to be the place they finish. That’s not to say the earlier editions didn’t also suffer from that problem, but it at least seemed more likely. Additionally, when there actually was a tight race, the action was even more dramatic because it wasn't seen every episode.
What this meant for Katie and Rachel was that they were stuck with a challenge where it was very hard to make up any ground. Ironically their (now rare) two hour and 30 minute deficit to start the leg didn’t help their quest. But, where could they have realistically made up ground? The only place was to choose Boats over Bikes, but the time difference seemed so incremental and they were fighting, at best, a 20 minute deficit to Chad and Stephanie alone.
The result was an episode with no drama or excitement to it. Even Nat and Kat took and completed the Fast Forward guaranteeing that team that left the Pit Stop in first place ended it in first place. In fact, the only change in the standings was Jill and Thomas and Brooke and Claire switching up the 3rd and 5th place finishers. The leg was so similar, Michael and Kevin got to the Detour in first place, but had to lose ground with the slower option, just as they had last week.
For my money, the fun of the show is watching the teams attempt to navigate to the various places they need to find on the race is as interested as the challenges. This includes movement between countries and areas via plane flight. However, The Amazing Race has cut back on air travel because it can create large time disparities between the teams and thus - potentially anyway – reduce drama.
There has also been the elimination of the specific mandatory twelve hour rest period at the Pit Stop. This used to mean that if a team arrived at 9:02pm, they’d depart at 9:02am. Observant viewers will notice we’re no longer told what time a team arrived at the previous Pit Stop when the depart at the start of the leg. The reason? Seems likely that the rest period now varies.
Why change something like this and how does it matter? In previous seasons a team would arrive at, say, 7:48am and depart the following leg at 7:48pm. If the last flight out was at 9:00pm, only one or two teams would make the flight and the rest would have to wait until the next day. The huge 12+ hour lead was impossible to catch.
Leg after leg of such disparity would certainly not be interesting. While I used to lament the “unfairness” of when a team would depart the Pit Stop at 1:36am and have to wait until 6:00am when the airport opened having their lead destroyed, this is necessary a few times a season. But, every week? The intrigue of a restart isn’t as interesting if it happens every week.
Of course, let’s be clear about something: I still love The Amazing Race. This week’s episode just wasn’t the one they’re be sending to the Emmy committee.
More from this week:
- Michael and Kevin are my sentimental favorites. For one, I really appreciate how much they know their own strengths and weaknesses and work well as a team. Beyond that, how endearing is Michael?
- Nick and Vicki do not understand what “Fast Forward Taken” means? Even after the episode? Huh? I knew they were not going to be a mental team, but that’s ridiculous.
- Who else loved the music at the Roadblock?
- Why didn’t Katie and Rachel choose the Bike Detour option? What about Boat sounded faster to them? Did they figure Chad and Stephanie did the Bike option so the only way they’d gain ground was to do the option, no matter what it was? Even if that’s the case, that’s faulty logic. As athletes, they’d have to figure they could do Bikes faster than Chad and Stephanie.