Around the world in an entertaining daze
The Amazing Race 9.30pm, Seven
ONE of the most fascinating things about reality television is the pithy way in which people are reduced to traits. It’s probably a hangover from daytime talk shows in the late 1980s and early ’ 90s, when the likes of Phil Donohue and Sally Jessy Raphael had guests who would be summed up in a sometimes hilarious on- screen caption, such as ‘‘ Doesn’t know her boyfriend wants to become a duck’’.
The excellent 2003 reality spoof The Joe Schmo Show had great fun mocking reality show stereotypes, with characters who were named in the credits as ‘‘ the smarmy host’’, ‘‘ the gay guy’’, ‘‘ the veteran’’ and ‘‘ the rich bitch’’, but that has not deterred the emergence of these characters in show after show.
It’s kind of fun to speculate what character you’d be after you eliminate the obvious ‘‘ person who would never, ever be on a reality show under any circumstance’’, because it’s not as if the ‘‘ person who is not as clever as they think they are’’ suspects that’s the way they’re going to turn out in the final edit.
When it comes to these characterisations, it’s hard to go past The Amazing Race, the reality show in which teams of two people in a preexisting relationship compete in a series of challenges in a race that takes them across the globe. Part of the reason is that, perhaps even more than Survivor , The Amazing Race is a reality show that casts its net pretty wide instead of just selecting a bunch of six- packs and boob jobs.
So in its 12th season we have dating goths Kynt and Vyxsin, married lesbian ministers Kate and Pat and grandson and grandfather Nicolas and Donald.
As well as a more diverse casting pool, what makes The Amazing Race unique is that it relies very little on the interaction between the couples or teams for its entertainment value. Sure, travelling with someone gets tense at the best of times ( my husband and I once spent several hours of a 12- hour train ride not talking to each other over the purchase of an untoasted blueberry bagel), so doing it with time constraints makes for squabbles aplenty.
And, yes, it’s endlessly funny seeing how clueless some Americans can be about other cultures.
But what sells the show is the travelogue — we get some great shots of Amsterdam in this episode — and the race. We all know how tricky lining up travel arrangements can be, and how missing a bus can create considerable drama, which is why the show still works seven years after its debut. It also means it’s one of the few reality shows that’s absorbing to watch even if you are not a regular viewer, because you can follow what’s going on.
Not that it’s free of interpersonal drama. It’s heartbreaking watching pompous Ronald constantly belittling his mostly stoic daughter Christina. Perhaps being on the show has forced him to realise who he is, announcing sadly at the end of the episode: ‘‘ I’ve become the Archie Bunker of the home.’’ Here’s hoping that with awareness comes change.
Beyond the reality stereotypes: Goths Kynt and Vyxsin in The Amazing Race