Why I love the Amazing Race

I know season 22 of the Amazing Race wrapped up on Sunday night, but I didn’t watch the two hour finale until last night. It reminded me why I have continued watching this particular reality TV show since it debuted in 2001.

I also love the mix of contestants they get. I mean, a guy with a permed mullet, hockey players, country singers  and father-son cancer survivors, among others.

I love the mix of contestants they get: a guy with a permed mullet, hockey players, country singers and father-son cancer survivors, among others.

1. It’s still about travel and seeing the world

Yes, the show gets into the human dynamic a little bit — alliances are formed, teams dislike one another, there’s some drama around the U-turns — but I think people tune in because all of that happens against a backdrop of beautiful scenery from far-flung locales, taxi rides through congested streets and famous sights and monuments (in the season 22 finale we saw the White House, Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, not to mention sights in Edinburgh and Belfast). Of course, the teams competing on the race hope to win the million bucks, but they’re there for the travel experience. And most teams that get eliminated don’t spew vitriol or voice regrets, they say things like, “This has been an amazing experience,” “It’s brought us closer,” or “I wouldn’t trade the travel for anything.”

Exploring the Okavango Delta, Botswana by dugout canoe.

Exploring the Okavango Delta, Botswana by dugout canoe.

2. The challenges rock

I stopped watching Survivor after about the 8th season because I got bored. It was the same scheming, hard-bodied 20-somethings doing the same challenges while Jeff Probst said the same cliched phrases (“The tribe has spoken,” etc.). You’d think the show’s creators could get a little more, ahem, creative instead of making teams do the giant puzzle, weird food and water relay challenges every edition. In 22 seasons of the Amazing Race (which works out to almost 500 challenges between Detours and Roadblocks, given there are 11 legs each race) the show has never duplicated a challenge except once (the giant hay bale unrolling challenge). In this latest installment we got to watch teams dig for live scorpions, play bagpipes and go bog snorkelling — all activities that reflect what locals do in the various destinations. Awesome!

Bog snorkelling in the U.K. -- so weird and kinda gross, and yet so genius!

Bog snorkelling in the U.K. — so weird and kinda gross, and yet so genius!

3. The good teams often win

Not to rag on Survivor, but it always bugged me how the most scheming, back-stabbing contestant would win (or at least make it to the final two). I found it hard to watch a show where I didn’t like the people and wasn’t rooting for anyone. For whatever reason, on the Amazing Race, at least one (if not two) of my favourite (or at least tolerable) teams makes it to the final three. And probably a third of the time my favourite team has won: Bates and Anthony, Nat and Kat (the doctors from season 17) and the “hippies” from season 9, among others. I don’t know what this means exactly; maybe that good people like to travel?

Did the right team win season 22? I'd say yes.

Did the right team win season 22? For Canadian fans I’d say yes.

4. Phil is awesome

I had the opportunity to interview host Phil Keoghan when I worked at the Calgary Herald for a “behind the scenes” travel story that ran in advance of the premier of season 5. He was hilarious during our telephone interview, a personality trait that doesn’t always shine through when he grills contestants on the Pit Stop mat. But even though he’s often serious, I love that these interactions don’t seem scripted and that he calls it like he sees it. When the surfer team didn’t use their Express Pass during the most recent season and got eliminated because of it he said, “Oy vey,” on the mat, shamed them about it by pointing out that they were the first team to ever get eliminated without using the pass, and then raised his famous eyebrow and said, “Really?” when John claimed it was no biggie, they didn’t need a million dollars. You gotta love Phil.

5. There’s going to be an Amazing Race Canada!

As most fans know, the Amazing Race is currently filming a Canadian edition. No, Phil likely won’t be the host and unfortunately Canadian contestants will only be travelling in Canada (not that I don’t love this country, but a lot of the fun of the original show is watching Americans fumble in foreign countries… sorry fellow Americans…), but it’s still cool we get to have an Amazing Race. The teams aren’t racing for $1-million, but the prize is still worth racing for — a $250,000 cash prize, 10 free trips in executive first class anywhere Air Canada flies and two 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingrays. The Canadian version premiers July 15 on CTV (the show is filming right now).

Canadians finally get to compete on the Amazing Race -- in Canada.

Canadians finally get to compete on the Amazing Race — in Canada.

As for me, I’m holding out for when the original Amazing Race decides to let Americans living abroad apply for the race. If that doesn’t happen, I may have to move the family to the U.S. for a year so that Blake and I can compete. We’d make a great team, no?


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