''The Amazing Race'': Eliminating the negative
In the best of seasons, a two-hour Amazing Race episode is too much. But in the disastrous family edition, it was the equivalent of a road trip from Topeka to Indianapolis with a fly stuck in the car the whole way: way too long, flat, and impossible to sleep through because of the constant buzzing in your ear.
As soon as the teams hit the go-cart track at around the 30-minute mark, I knew the rest of the show would be a wash. How? The promotional logline on my TiVo for the episode said, ''A family must look on as one of their own takes an uncontrollable spin in a car.'' Could they possibly have been referring to the Weaver-Linz near collision? The one that the producers had to clumsily edit around, sticking in a scream and a squealing-tires sound effect to avoid showing just how minor this no-contact traffic accident was? Once I realized that the producers considered this anticlimax the most dramatic and publicity-worthy moment in the whole show, I knew the next 90 minutes would be very long indeed.
This month's Radar magazine has a roundtable with reality-show producers who describe all the editing tricks they use to create story lines that might not exist in, well, reality. Every trick in the playbook was used to create the ''cart crash,'' but the producers could do little to salvage the rest of the challenges. What magical splicing powers would it take to make painting a wagon wheel interesting? Or bailing a boat? Or anything the Godlewskis do?
Take Pops Paolo's near-death experience, when he had to swim to the buoy. The family gasped, we heard him moaning, ''I can't, I can't!'' and the rescue squad came in. Then, a couple of minutes later, we saw him swimming back in on his own power. So what was all the hubbub for? Not that I wanted the guy to drown, but the way they set it up, you'd expect him to be airlifted to shore. You've heard the phrase ''Don't write checks your ass can't cash?'' Well, don't set up story lines your ass can't edit, either.
This was also true at part 1's pit stop, when the Paolos, thinking they were last, started putting on all their clothes. (Watching Moms Paolo pull her granny panties over her shorts while giggling like a ninny was the complete opposite of a striptease chronologically, stylistically, and erotically.) Suddenly, the Bransens appeared, and one of the Paolos, in mid-underpant, yelled, ''Wait, here comes another team!'' For a moment it seemed we might have a footrace, all the more exciting considering one family was wearing tighty whities on the outside. But you never saw the Paolos and the Bransens in the same shot, and when the Paolos hit the pit stop, the Bransens were nowhere in sight. What kind of fakery was this? And as long as the producers are creatively editing, could they please cut the sight of Moms Paolo's panties out of my memory?
The show itself seems to be giving up at this point, sending the teams back to the U.S. I found it odd that the editors included Moms Paolo whining, ''Phoenix? I want to go to New Zealand!'' Is there anybody happy about this race at this point? At an upcoming pit stop, will the teams run up to the mat, only to find Phil sitting on a deck chair, smoking a cigarette, barely looking up and saying, ''You're team number whatever. Woo-hoo. Now get out of here before I break off the head of a Travelocity gnome up your ass.''
This general laziness was also evidenced by Phil's second Arizona pit-stop partner. Usually it's someone with some sort of local flavor; in part 1 it was a Native American. But at the end of the episode, Phil was just standing next to some anonymous blond kid. Who was he? The Arizona state tot? The illegitimate son of Drew and Kevin? Billy Gaghan, growing up before our eyes? Or just some boy they yanked off a tour bus to stand near Phil and manually raise his eyebrows when he'd lost the will to do it himself?
And as long as I'm complaining, I've previously addressed the uselessness of taking a team's money away in a non-elimination round. But now I'd like to suggest either not taking their possessions away at all or specifying that teams are allowed to keep only one outfit, period. When every losing team knows the loophole and wears its entire wardrobe to the pit stop, what's the point of the punishment? If the producers insist on keeping this rule, they should at least make it more interesting: Teams can only keep as many possessions as they can hold...in their mouths. Watching a Bransen girl try to unhinge her jaw so she can fit an entire sweatsuit inside would make up for five minutes of watching sugarcane get stacked.
Before I close up and suggest we all forget about this episode and just be happy we're one step closer to the finale, I must return to the subject of the Weavers. I have to say I started off this week with a little more sympathy for them. A second racetrack challenge made me think that the producers are deliberately trying to give them all nervous breakdowns. This one didn't work, so what's next? Make them mow Dale Earnhardt's lawn?
And then Mama Weaver showed a glimmer of slyness when she cornered DJ Paolo and asked why he yielded them. He could come up with no rational reason, since there was no rational reason, and, killing him with kindness, she suggested an alliance, coyly reminding him that it was in his best interest, since her family still had a yield and his didn't.
''Oh, Weavers,'' I thought. ''I had you pegged all wrong! You're clever and human, and I'm sorry I mocked your constant praying. I hope your big guy in the sky does deliver you to first prize!''
And then they proceeded to throw trash out the window at the Godlewskis' car, attempt to stall the Linzes, mock Pops Paolo's garbage-truck livelihood, and, finally, complain to Phil that it was hard being the only family trying to lead a Christian life. Oops. Never mind, God, please ignore them. I'm really unclear which Bible they're reading for instructions on how to be a good Christian. Does theirs have that whole ''do unto others'' thing in it? Or how about the ''turn the other cheek'' business, does that make an appearance? I think the same company that puts out their Bible also puts out the atlas they use. You know, the one that leaves out the fact that Philadelphia isn't a state.
Ultimately, it was the Paolos who were eliminated, having made it farther than I ever thought they would, and blissfully ending all that buzzing in my ears. As with all of the episodes, this one ended with the family declaring how much love they share even as they scream at each other. I suppose there's a metaphor in there for me and The Amazing Race. I love the show and wouldn't want it out of my life. But I just can't stop screaming the most awful insults at my TV when it's on.
What do you think? Is the show just getting old? What changes does it need? Or are the flaws mainly due to the decision to cast families?