Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Amazing Race - 17x10 "I Hate Chinese Food"

After years and years of intensely watching reality programs, I'm pretty certain that the one thing that makes or breaks a season is not the exotic locales, it's not the twists and challenges thrown at the contestants, or any other idea cooked up by the show's producers. Instead, the most reliable thing that determines the quality of any given season of a reality program is the cast. If a season features a memorable contestant, whether a villain or a hero, then that season goes a long way to cementing its place as a classic.

Obviously, getting great contestants is easier said than done. Would-be villains are little more than creeps who see the show as their chance to indulge in sociopathy; similarly, would-be heroes usually come off as sanctimonious, self-styled martyrs. Really, reality programs are littered with terrible, annoying contestants, as finding one indelibly wonderful contestant is a rarity. Think about the exponentially dwindling odds, then, of a show like TAR finding two great contestants, and then putting them on the same team, and you'll understand why I've been thinking about giving up on the show for the past couple seasons now. (Quick aside, or, considering the show I'm talking about, quick Detour ha ha ha: since I started watching TAR in its fourth season, I really only count about 3 teams as enduring favorites: Chip and Kim, Al and Jon AKA the Clowns, and the Beauty Queens.)

Defying all odds, then, this season of TAR has had an embarrassment of riches, and not just because of the Pitstop Hottie greeting the racers as they reached the mat in Hong Kong.

(I don't have Asian fonts installed on my computer, so I had to make do with old-school calligraphy.)

By "embarrassment of riches," I mean contestant-wise (both people we can root for and jeer at), and thus this season ranks as one of the best in recent memory. (To digress from my "Only Contestants Matter" thesis, this year is also one of the few times where I, as someone who patently dislikes travel, envied the contestants for one particular challenge: the accordion-playing Detour in Russia. I would've killed to do that.)

Perhaps not coincidentally, season 17 also features two of the most redoubtable, not to mention likable, all-female teams to have been on the show and who are both on the verge of reaching the final leg of the race: Kat and Nat, and Brook and Claire. Kat and Nat are not big personalities, but they have been smart, professional, and immanently competent, and if they win, I would be quite content. However, I would be over the rainbow if Brook and Claire win, because they're no less competent than the Docs, but also... well, find out why after the jump.


In addition to her sweet moves, Brook is a dynamo of unabated, manic, sugar-high energy; my favorite moment (well, second-favorite moment, as her sudden move-busting above has catapulted (like a watermelon) to my top spot) happened right before the Roadblock on the bridge in Sweden, when she strong-armed Claire into doing it and then practically broke into dance:

It's her shameless glee that really does it for me.

Brook isn't all pixie dust and Rainbow Brite all the time, though. She can (and does) back up her fun-loving goofiness with serious Racing chops (she's a marathoner(!), for starters). With Clair, she's as strong a competitor as my beloved Beauty Queens.

Still, I'll admit that neither team quite matches my transcendent love for Dustin and Kandice, and in fact, if either of Kat/Nat or Brook/Claire wins, I'll be a little wistful that Dustin/Kandice weren't the first female team to win.

Anyway, there's a point to these constant comparisons to the Beauty Queens beyond nostalgia; I initially had dismissed Brook and Claire as prissy Race lightweights who wouldn't make it past the halfway point of the season, which is exactly what I thought of the Dustin and Kandice. But what can I say, I'm not impervious to the charms of an impressive string of strong performances in which a team acquits itself with uncommon grace and maturity good cheer, which is what I can happily say about both Brook/Claire and Dustin/Kandice. So, again:

On the flip side, we've got a bonafide villain with Nick, though I'll be the first to admit that I'm not reveling in his villainy at all. He's something of a classic wrestling heel: starting off as a heel, he undergoes a face turn, only to revert to being a heel, a reversion that brings him more heat than before. Nick started off as a tool by unceasingly berating his partner and girlfriend Vicki who, in a redemptive moment, realized how awful he was treating her when she suffered from an asthma attack in Ghana. This face turn didn't last of course and he returned to his fully toolish ways of belittling and undermining Vicki -- at one point in the Hong Kong leg, he betrayed his one redemptive moment when he kept telling Vicki to run even as she was suffering from another asthma attack.

Like I said, I don't get much pleasure in his oblivious villainy, mostly because I feel bad that Vicki has to endure his assaults. I wish she could've been partnered with someone else because she has largely stomped the competition as well as any other racer (male or female) and seems to get on great with the other racers (if this adorable video is any indication), and I would've loved to watch her having the time of her life (like Claire and Brook) instead of having to deal with being verbally beaten down by an abusive boyfriend every week.

After 10 episodes, I've finally managed to connect names with faces for same-gender teams. With Team QVC, you never hear energetic cries of "Brook!", so the chipper, hyperactive blonde must be Brook; with the Doctors, the Asian-looking doc is the one who's always encouraging her teammate by calling out, "Go Natty!" Ergo, she's Kat, since I'm pretty sure I've never heard anyone this season yell out, "Go, Katty!"

Not anything to do with any of the all-lady teams, but I was inordinately amused by Thomas (of Jill and Thomas fame) defaulting to "Ching Chong" when he couldn't quite pronounce "Cheung Chau."

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