There are times when reviewing TV shows is just a job: I get paid to tear down ''Still Standing'' for the same reason a demolition man sets dynamite to a condemned building -- for the money, and for the public good. But there are times when my work is inseparable from pleasure. Because of them, I have a professional excuse to avoid barbecues, hikes in the hot sun, and bad summer action movies. I have to stay in my house and watch other people run around in foreign countries with heavy backpacks and plead for taxis and seats on airplanes.
And even though the Emmy-winning The Amazing Race is a game show that pits disparate couples (coltish blond twins; two suburban ''bowling moms'') against each other to win a million bucks, ''Race'' has a gloss of classiness because, as they sweat and berate each other, they do it against such settings as the Egyptian Sphinx.
The ''Race'' contestant getting the most attention is Charla, a little person teamed with her cousin Mirna. Charla won many hearts in the debut episode by showing moxie (''People love to help me,'' she said blithely) and by carrying a 55-pound side of beef on her small back in a ridiculous competition. Charla had better watch it, though: Using her tiny stature to wangle priority standby status at an airport on the July 20 episode, she risked seeming, oh, a little cynical, maybe? But the least likable couple, squabbling Donny and Alison -- the latter a contestant in ''Big Brother 4'' -- has already been eliminated, so it's clear sailing for adventure now. Fans may want Charla and Mirna to win, but I'm putting my money on Linda and Karen -- middle-aged, sensible, cagey, and able to eat large quantities of caviar.