The Amazing Race: Eleven seasons of vicarious living
The Amazing Race: Eleven seasons of vicarious living
I remember watching the very first season of The Amazing RaceSurvivor had piqued my interest in good reality television, but none of the shows that Survivor had spawned were any good.  Then, when I stumbled across The Amazing Race, that was it.  I had found the show for me.  No one I knew was watching the show at the time, so it became a little secret, a treasure that I, and I alone, enjoyed on a weekly basis.  I remained a Survivor loyalist, but I had a new favorite reality show, and it involved traveling around the world.

The Amazing Race debuted during my Freshman year of college and, quite literally, changed my life.  Watching those first couple seasons, all I could think of was venturing outside the US and visiting the places I had seen on TV.  Inspired, I studied abroad twice while in college, realized that there was absolutely nothing I enjoyed more than discovering new places, and have been filling my passport with exotic stamps and visas ever since. 

The Amazing Race has since become an institution, pumping out season after season of the same type of formula that had initially hooked me and millions of others (Except for, of course, the abortion that was The Amazing Race: Family Edition).  From what I've gathered from fellow loyal viewers is that the way I ingest the show seems to be, in part, universal; we like to live vicariously through the teams.  We visit these exotic locales with the teams, take those flights with them, and share their frustrations with cabbies and surly airport officials.  

I'm not so naïve as to believe the way I take in The Amazing Race is exactly the same as everyone else.  I'm sure the pure competition/elimination aspect of the show is the main draw for a fair portion of viewers, and I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that the competition used to be quite intriguing to me as well.  I still root for/against certain teams, my heart still beats a little faster near the end of a particularly close leg, but that has ceased to be a requirement for my enjoyment.  

As much as CBS has tried to incorporate new wrinkles into the game, the formula remains fundamentally unchanged.  More so than almost any other reality competition, luck plays an overwhelming role in the outcome.  I've said this before, but it is still the most important truth of The Amazing Race: it's hard to win with luck, but easy to be eliminated by it.  From this season alone, Rob/Amber and Uchenna/Joyce were both eliminated due to bad luck through little fault of their own.  This relatively unjust facet of the competition, though, is something a long-term viewer like myself has come to terms with.  Reality TV is rife with manipulation.  Editing surely plays a part, but Amazing Race is famous for negating well-earned leads by allowing all teams to catch up with each other at some point in almost every leg.  I bring this up because anyone who has watched more than a couple seasons of The Amazing Race has surely caught on to this formula.  If they are still watching, then, it's obvious that viewers care less about the machinations of the competition, of the race, then either they themselves or CBS would care to let on.  To me, I can look at the show as a simple, fast-paced travel program and be just fine with that.  

In essence, The Amazing Race is an extension of the way I have, and want to continue, to live my life.  The literal appeal of The Amazing Race has become its portrayal of perpetual motion, and that perpetual motion is a symbolic reflection of my personal desires.  It's impossible to know whether The Amazing Race is any way responsible for my positive feelings for different aspects of traveling, but there's got to be some correlation.  For instance, I love flying.  I love being in airports.  It's difficult to explain, but the feeling is almost euphoric, the sense of begin granted to passage somewhere new and exciting is exhilarating.  Could this be a subconscious reaction to the hours and hours of enjoyment I've received from watching The Amazing Race contestants toil away, strategizing in countless airports across the globe?  

Eleven seasons in, The Amazing Race has grown into something more than just a weekly hour of popcorn entertainment.  This is the kind of thing that happens when a show gains the type of longevity that eliminates all surprise and freshness from its proceedings.  You evolve as a viewer and find yourself ingesting the show differently then you had initially.  And, this is typically not a conscious decision.  For me and The Amazing Race, I've discovered both (and in relative tandem) that 1) the basic premise and formula of the show does little for me anymore as a viewer, and 2) that doesn't matter, because it turns out that it wasn't all that important to me in the first place.

After eleven seasons on the air, The Amazing Race remains my favorite reality show, but probably for different reasons than CBS had originally intended, and I couldn't be more thankful for these unintended consequences.


-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer

(Image Courtesy of CBS.com)

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