With almost 30 seasons completed, The Amazing Race
has tried many gimmicks. One of its most shameful, though, was season 26, when it tried to convince viewers that it was secretly a dating show. Season 26 was filled with complete strangers who were matched together by producers based on their "romantic compatibility." It was a complete mess and a boring season to boot but for season 29 The Amazing Race
brought back the stranger format and just removed the romantic element. Even without the pressure or intention to make a love connection the teams are just as combative with one another, if not more so, than before. The difference though is that in season 29's case it might work to the show's benefit.
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Teaching an Old Show New Tricks
Not everyone on The Amazing Race season 29 hates their partner. There is always an element of luck on the race but for the most part the teams who get along the best are the ones who are placing consistently great at the end. The element of luck in the race is the reason that the first three eliminated teams were those who not only got along very well with one another but were very likable. Putting aside those eliminations, the teams ending the leg in first, second and third place are those who are able to put their differences aside and work well with each other. It adds a whole extra element to The Amazing Race. The teams are not just navigating the world but each other, trying to determine their strengths and weakness as a team. This is, in part, exactly what The Amazing Race probably wanted to happen with the return of the stranger twist.
Everything in season 26 was viewed through a lens of romance. The contestants constantly were talking about whether they could or could not see themselves with their partner after the race. It was forced, distracting and didn't make anyone happy. Season 29 just views the contestants as people trying to work together and not potential lovers. This is the right way to go with the stranger format and adds something to the race rather than detracts from it.
The other leg up that season 29 has on season 26 is that the cast is much stronger. The Amazing Race has found a number of weirdos, wackos and just interesting people to run the race this season. The Amazing Race casting has always been built on the chemistry and personality of the team as a unit, but for season 29 they had to find compelling individuals not compelling pairs, and they pulled it off. While season 26 was a bland smorgasbord of nobodies, season 29 has a ton of characters. Between completely analytic, hyper-detail-oriented Vanck and high-strung whiner Brooke there is a rainbow of personalities. The cast isn't always likable but they do make for good TV and that is really the most important thing for The Amazing Race.
The Thin Line Between Hate and Hilarity
While it is better to be good TV than a good person on The Amazing Race, there is a downside to the wealth of personalities on display. It's caused the arguments between contestants to be fierce and frequent. There is no clear upside and downside to this bickering either. It really is a matter of perspective. The arguing can be draining and toxic. When Brooke and Scott are on screen it might be a good idea to turn the sound down or off entirely and subsist on subtitles to be spared Brooke's high-pitched wailing. At the same time, Scott slowly losing his patience and openly mocking Brooke is part of the fun of the season. Scott has as little patience for his partner as some viewers do and he is blunt with her in a way that he wouldn't be if he hadn't just met her.
The same can hold true of other dysfunctional pairs like Vanck and Ashton. Vanck and Ashton appear to be making no effort to get to know one another or to get along. Ashton is more aggressive than Vanck but their stubbornness makes for a frustrating viewing experience. There is an overwhelming urge while watching them to bonk their heads together and force them to listen to each other rather than constantly talk over each other. Yet without Vanck and Ashton's dysfunction you wouldn't have the comedic gold moment that was Ashton listing Vanck's many "failings" while he stands right next to her. Scott verbally sparring with the hysterical Brooke and Ashton being constantly disappointed with Vanck isn't the kindest form of humor but it is humor nonetheless.
All the bickering is reminiscent of the highlight of season 26, which was the disastrous partnering of Blair and Hayley. The dislike that Blair and Hayley had for one another could not be plainer and it was clear from the first episode there would be no hint of romance between them. Yet the longer the season went on the more fed up they became with one another so that it was eventually really a comedy of errors. Blair grew increasingly sarcastic, bitter and hilarious in the face of Hayley's blind disdain for anything and everything he did. Season 29 is that situation multiplied many times over. While the negativity and arguing can be off-putting, in the right frame of mind it is some excellent and fun TV.
But what do you think? Is the bickering hurting or helping the season? Was The Amazing Race right to bring back a cast full of strangers or should they have just done a normal season? Are you exhausted or amused by watching the teams argue? Who is most entertaining to watch this season?
(Image courtesy of CBS)