”The Amazing Race”: Meeting the families
For two hours I put aside everything to watch ten clans dash around America for the new family edition of The Amazing Race. Bills went unpaid, books went unread, family members were ignored, all so I could devote my evening to one of my favorite shows. After 120 minutes, it all ended with two small children being brought to tears when their dreams were crushed by an Amish man. And as I turned off the TV, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ”So this is what you consider entertainment. Are you proud of yourself?”
Was it not bad enough to snuff these upbeat little guys’ hopes so quickly? They had to get an Amish guy to do it? (Or at least an Amish-looking guy.) Everything these kids have learned in school about the Amish has taught them that they are a peace-loving people who just want to live in happiness — and yet the one time they meet one, he’s giving them the heave-ho. ”Why, yes,” he likely said to their confusion. ”I do normally shun the modern world, but I thought I’d take a few minutes away from doing that to appear on a game show to make you kids cry.” At least now there are only two little kids left — the Gaghans — to possibly see fall apart. Who will the producers have at the pit stop to break that news: Santa Claus?
The Blacks were a great, loving family, though, and will be missed. Which is another problem with this show: There’s nobody to really root against. (Except for the Paolos, but even they have a certain charm. More on them later.) They’re all families, for God’s sake! Who can root against a family? Give Saddam, Uday, and Usay matching T-shirts and make them choose between ”Build It” and ”Buggy It” and you might even find yourself rooting for them.
My other quibble with the show is that it’s staying in America. I realize that small kids wouldn’t be able to hack the jet lag that comes with international travel, but once you’ve seen a show fly from Botswana to India in one episode, spending two hours watching families take I-95 through New Jersey is a bit anticlimactic. For the big finale, will the last teams standing have to get from the Roy Rogers at exit 18 to the Sbarro at exit 24?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Now that the first team has gone (and one quick note about the Black family: were they cast by the most literal-minded quota-hungry TV exec ever? Because every time I saw the ID ”Black Family” under them, I pictured some simpleminded CBS exec proudly leaning back in his chair, saying, ”That will prove to the NAACP that we don’t only have white people on our network”), let’s take a look at the remaining clans:
The Gaghans When they were first introduced, I groaned at the kids’ bragging about how they could trick people, and the parents’ bragging about what fast runners their kids were. Oh, great, another family way too proud of the kids. We’ll see, I figured: The first time things get close, the kids will get distracted arguing over who gets the last Fruit Roll-Up, and that will be that. But the Gaghans really showed me something — not only in the way they dominated the buggy race, but damned if those kids didn’t beat the Weavers in a footrace at the end. My apologies. Now please just don’t cry if you eventually do lose.
The Bransens Three daughters and a dorky dad named Walter. They lose major points from me for one reason: The daughters say that to tease their father they sometimes call him ”Wal-der.” Don’t they know the correct mockery would be ”Walturd”? Girls, you had your whole childhoods to figure that out: You disappoint me.
The Godlewskis These four sisters probably seem like tourists even when they’re in their own living room. When they hit Manhattan with their fanny packs bouncing and asking drivers how to get to ”the town of Soho,” I was surprised they made it all the way to EMS without losing all their money in a three-card monte game.
The Linzes Three brothers and a long-suffering sister. I had high hopes for them at the beginning, but they were terrible competitors, somehow always managing to end up in the back of the pack. They always seem to make the wrong decision, but through it all they love each other like true siblings: by which I mean farting on each other and torturing their sister.
The Rogers Though the dad’s opening pronouncement that ”biblically” the father should always be in charge made me cringe in anticipation of inevitable Great Santini-esque temper tantrums, this family was actually innocuous all through the episode. Perhaps they’re just holding off for a future show entirely devoted to Daddy Rogers throwing a basketball at his son’s head and calling him weak. Look for that during sweeps.
The Schroeders Papa Schroeder is the wacky dad, always ready with a quip about handicapped people or breast implants that’s guaranteed to make his family cringe. In other words, he’s just like your dad — except he’s on TV. Now don’t you feel better about your father, who at least has the courtesy to only humiliate you locally?
The Weavers The sheer weight of the fact that this mother and her three kids are trying to rebuild their family after the death of the dad colors everything about this team. For instance, if I saw a woman get run over by a runaway Amish buggy anywhere else, I would rewind it over and over again and never stop laughing. This is America’s Funniest Home Videos material, people. But when it happens to a woman whose husband was killed in a freak car-race accident, it becomes horrifying. Keep that in mind, Tom Bergeron: It’s all about context.
The Aiellos Pretty shrewd of the Aiello patriarch to assemble a team of his three sons-in-law. This way, they all have to suck up to him and can never complain that he is, in fact, the dead weight of the group. His slow running is the reason they invented the word ”trundle.”
And, lastly, the Paolos Patriarch Tony said at the beginning of the show that the most important moment of his life was when he moved from Italy to New York. But I think the editors cut off the rest of the sentence, which might have been ”because some night, when everyone is sleeping, I will slip out the door and move back to Italy and my loud, obnoxious family will never, ever find me.” When his sons and wife were all yelling at each other, Tony could always be seen driving or riding with the most placid, faraway look in his eye, one that can only mean that he is just biding his time until his escape. Is it considered racist if I say that watching these two punks of sons yell at their parents, I couldn’t tell if I was watching The Amazing Race or Growing Up Gotti? Oh, wait, this is a show that had a ”Black family.” I’m surprised this family wasn’t called the Gottis.
What do you think? Who are your early favorites, and who are you rooting against, even if they are families?