I guess we might as well get this out of the way up-front, since there’s virtually nothing worth discussing from Sunday’s (March 24) installment of “The Amazing Race”:
Sunday’s hour began with a rather lengthy narrated apology for last week’s Leg, directed specifically at veterans and anybody else offended by the episode, which took place in Hanoi and included both an extended challenge built around a Communist anthem, as well as a key route marker at a monument built around a downed B-52. The apology referred to the show at “insensitive” and was probably sufficiently self-flaggelatory to placate some of the outraged viewers (though not the commenters who posted on my recap and ratings posts last week vowing never to watch again).
Here’s the thing: I understand completely why certain people were disturbed and pissed off about the scenes. Totally. I think that a lot of the vitriol that was spewed on Fox News was over-the-top, but that’s par for the course. If you want to say that last week’s episode was insensitive? I wouldn’t dare quibble. If you want to say that CBS and the show are un-American and deserve punishment? Well, yeah. I can’t go that far with you.
Because I watch the show, I know this is what “The Amazing Race” does. If the show is in a country that has a particular relationship with the United States, that relationship is acknowledged, even if it’s not pretty. The most obvious examples have involved African countries, where the slave trade has been specifically addressed. But it’s really not uncommon. So I wasn’t surprised that “The Amazing Race” didn’t shy from the Vietnam War when the teams went through Vietnam. Pretending that racing through Vietnam is identical to racing through Bali would be disingenuous and not the way “The Amazing Race” operates. The show is about world citizenship and the Vietnam War is a fair part of the discussion to a group of Americans racing around Vietnam. It just is. But could it have been addressed in a different way? Well, yes. Absolutely.
My question: The “Amazing Race” producers planned, shot and edited those sequences. CBS must have known where the show was going and somebody at some point must have watched the episode. Could the “Amazing Race” producers and CBS *seriously* have been taken by surprise that some people were uncomfortable? Were they relieved when it took Fox News two or three days to get pissed off? Or were they shocked that anybody got pissed off at all? So either they were oblivious that anybody could be offended or else they were too spineless to either stand by the show’s choices or to attempt to explain the show’s reasoning and intellectual strategy. To my mind, an apology-with-explanation would have been justified and educational, rather than just a blanket kowtow. “Here’s why we did what we did. Here’s why we understand we could have done it better.” If the intent wasn’t malicious — and I don’t believe the intent was malicious — own the intent.
I just suspect that “The Amazing Race” is so acclaimed and over-honored that either it’s immune to CBS oversight or there’s a commonly held assumption that whatever “The Amazing Race” does will be worshipped, even when the show picks at one of the rawest wounds in semi-recent American history.
Anyway… they apologized. And that was the most interesting part of Sunday’s episode. And the apology was over with 59 minutes to go.
A few more words after the break…
Before the start of the episode, I tweeted that if I was going to be missing several potentially intriguing NCAA Tournament basketball games for “Amazing Race” recapping duty, at the very least “The Amazing Race” needed to deliver a good episode.
Alas, “The Amazing Race” came out flat in every way: The Roadblock mostly asked one player on each team to freak out a little, but didn’t force anybody to do much of anything. The Detour was fundamentally misunderstood by nearly every team in a dramatically frustrating way. The Africa-set episode was full of weird cultural imperialism and Ugly American moments. And then, of course, it was a Non-Elimination Leg, which was probably inevitable, but it was still frustrating.
So what am I supposed to say about a weak and ultimately irrelevant episode of “The Amazing Race”?
The first thing I’d like to say is that the Kalahari native people have specific cultures. The indigenous people of Botswana are different from the indigenous people of Namibia and from the indigenous people of South Africa. There’s a school of sensitivity that says that the term “bushmen” is at least somewhat racist, but once the show is just depicting the indigenous tribesmen as wacky, smelly blonde-loving perverts prone to chomping on scorpions, there isn’t much point in quibbling about what it called them, is there? When “The Amazing Race” has gone to Africa in the past, I’ve usually felt like some effort was put into teach the racers about the culture they were rampaging through. This episode played the natives for comedy and little else.
The Roadblock that started the episode asked one person from each team to wander out into the wilderness and dig up a scorpion and put it in a jar. We didn’t learn why the San people like to catch scorpions or why they like entertaining gringos by putting the scorpions in their mouthes or much of anything. And the players doing the roadblock barely contributed to the task. They did a little digging and then a lot of squealing and in most cases when the scorpions had been found, the guide actually caught the suckers and picked them up. In most cases, the scorpions were put into the contestant’s hands exactly long enough for them to drop the scorpion into the jar and no longer. I get that there are liability issues, but why bother. Who *did* anything on that task? You came away respecting the players who were amused and interested and minimally afraid. You came away really wishing Joey would shut up. But nobody learned anything about handling scorpions or why you would want to put a scorpion in a jar, so what was the point?
Then teams had to pack their three “bushmen” into the back of their SUVs and drive them to the next task. The cool teams were friendly and tried to communicate. The Country Blondes speculated that the “bushmen” probably thought they were hot. Ugh. Max & Katie complained about how the “bushmen” smelled. Ugh. It all should have been amusing. It was not.
The Detour was the choice between Fire and Fowl. In Fire, teams had to use sticks and dung to start a fire. In Fowl, teams had to set up a trap for guinea fowl.
Somehow, teams blew this one and nearly everybody initially selected Fire. Did they think that Fowl would be hard because they had to catch poultry in their trap? Because they didn’t. You just had to set up the trap and prove that, under hypothetical circumstances, it could be activated. In Fire, however, you had to start a fire and that isn’t easy. Have none of these people watched “Survivor” before? Yes, fire can be started, but sometimes it takes hours and produces pain and blisters and sweat and frustration. Why would you invite pain and blisters and sweat and frustration when the alternative is setting up a snare?
Hockey Brothers Bates & Anthony did Fire and because they’re strong guys in good shape, they did it fairly quickly and won the Leg. Good for them. Nobody else was able to start fire, but multiple teams sure tried for a while and failed and failed.
Meanwhile, Pam & Winnie, who fell to the back of the pack by getting on a late charter, immediately knew to do Fowl. As Winnie put it, “It’s because we watch a lot of TV. We’re very well prepared.” They knew making fire is hard, so they didn’t try to do it. Instead, they did Fowl, completed it fast and finished second for the Leg.
Heck, Chuck and Wynona have been inept at nearly everything this season, but they heard the Detour choice involved setting traps and they went to do that one immediately and moved all the way from last to third place. Plus, Wynona learned that Chuck used to do a bit of poaching back in high school.
The Leg ultimately came down to which teams were smart enough to quit Fire fastest. That’s kinda annoying. So Max & Katie quit Fire last and thus finished Fowl last and, although it briefly looked like the Roller Derby Moms might make a transportation blunder, Katie & Max ended up in last and were spared by the NEL. Whatever. I suspect that this was just a single Leg aberration and that Team Alabama will find a way to work itself back into last by the end of the next episode.
So it goes.
A few other thoughts on Sunday’s episode, before I go and watch the end of the other two basketball games:
*** “The Amazing Race” did much better in its safari Leg last season.
*** I’d forgotten that Katie has a doctorate. Weird episode for that to get brought up. Katie also hadn’t been a bad person for a long time, so it was good that she and Max made such a big deal about the aroma of their car companions, just to remind us that she and Max aren’t great people. I appreciated that Bates & Anthony preferred to make fun of their OWN body odor.
*** Katie and Max aren’t racist/xenophobic, of course. They’re just unlikable people. Note their sour expressions at having to share a puddle-jumper with Team YouTube. Yes, Team YouTube is annoying, but come on… Try to be human.
*** But if we *must* mock another team, did you prefer Team Alabama listening random countries at the travel agency in Hanoi or Chuck’s “This is where ‘Lion King’ was made, right here” excitement?
*** The thing with Caroline’s guide running up a tree because a lion was somewhere in the vague vicinity was ludicrous. If the lion was close enough to cause harm to anybody associated with the production, the production wouldn’t have been there. And I refuse to believe that actual Kalahari natives climb trees to flee lions whenever a lion is anywhere within eye-sight. So it was really just a “The Gods Must Be Crazy” sort of low humor.
*** I’m growing to like Pam and Winnie somewhat.
*** Next week? Donkeys. I’m hoping for some “My ox is broken”-style hijinks.
Thoughts? Did you enjoy the half-baked African challenges? And was the apology necessary? Was it satisfactory?