Commentary

Episode One

But more than anything, I think it’s the incredible mix of teams and the chemistry that existed between them.
Meet the Teams

While we wait for Season Five to begin, and hope that the casting agents aren’t aiming for The Amazing Sideshow Freak Race, or that the surprising changes planned by Bert & Co. are no more surprising than traveling westward, I’ve been thinking about what makes The Amazing Race special. Or, more specifically, what makes Season One special, and why it’s remembered with such fondness by most of us who saw it.

Yes, Season One had more clues that were really clues, and less spoon-fed transportation. And it had the same great camerawork, amazing editors and fabulous locations that were evident in all subsequent seasons. And PHIL. They all have Phil. But more than anything, I think it’s the incredible mix of teams and the chemistry that existed between them. These people seemed to be relatively “normal” with real relationships. It appears that they weren’t cast specifically for the drama that they would bring to the race. Instead, it felt like the ensuing drama developed naturally from the situations and the grueling reality of the race. Also, it’s a pack of racers seemingly devoid of the fame whores that populate other reality shows.

In this first episode, we’re introduced to the teams:

RobERT and Brennan. Was he ever referred to as Robert again? I don’t think so. Two young, good-looking, physically fit guys. At the time we didn’t know what a huge part those physical attributes would play, in this and every race to follow. Thinking that a Fast Forward would give them an early, insurmountable lead, they went for it in this first leg. Rob proclaimed that the climb to and from the Boiling Pot was too difficult for any other team to accomplish. He was, of course, proven wrong by the geriatric set. Between that remark, and playing “impromptu diplomats” by passing out little American flags and cash, they weren’t particularly endearing this early on in the race.
Wow. How we loved Team Guido in this early part of the Race!
Joe and Bill. Wow. How we loved Team Guido in this early part of the Race! The fact that they were a step ahead of Frank, and it was driving Frank crazy, was enough for me to pledge my eternal love to them - through the first episode anyway. They really did come across as the team to beat.

Frank and Margarita. Separated couple with a baby daughter. Frank established himself in the very first episode as hyper-competitive and often abrasive. Frank’s yelling and screaming grate on my nerves more each time I watch this episode. Frank’s convinced that he has to come in NUMBER ONE at every freaking task, and practically has a stroke every time he pulls up behind Team Guido. At this level of intensity, you’d think he’d burn himself out by the third day or so. He’ll always be Loud Pushy Frank to me.

Lenny and Karyn. It’s hard to look at our first impression of a team in retrospect, since we know all that came afterwards. For example, in this episode, we learned nothing about this team other than the fact that they were dating, and that Lenny hoped to buy Karyn the “ring she deserves” if they were to win it all. Other than that? They barely exist in this episode, and their power of invisibility enables them to land on the mat in fourth place.

Pat and Brenda. Or, as Phil insists on calling them “Patricia and Brenda.” They are working moms and friends, whose husbands weren’t too thrilled about them taking off on this adventure. From what little we see, Pat and Brenda appear to enjoy themselves immensely on this first leg of the trip, and one of my favorite shots is of Pat, her sunglasses completely askew, talking about how terrified she was of the bungee jump, but was going to do it anyway. They finish in a solid fifth position.

Kim and Leslie. The teachers from Texas were only mildly annoying at first, and Dark Hair Kim is portrayed as a bit of a ninny and a scaredy-cat. Her hyperventilating at the bungee jump was so intense that she should have passed out on the way down. Despite Kim’s fears, and her inability to do math, they stayed in the middle of the pack.
Theirs is the marriage that we all want to have in thirty years. Hell, I want that marriage NOW.
Dave and Margaretta. She claims that he’s a bit bossy, but all we see in this episode is a man completely supportive and loving. Theirs is the marriage that we all want to have in thirty years. Hell, I want that marriage NOW. In the meantime, I’d settle for having them as my pretend TV grandparents. Considering the time they wasted in following Rob and Brennan to the impossibly difficult Fast Forward, it’s amazing that they arrived on that pathetic mat in seventh place.

Paul and Amie. The engaged couple who have just started living together. Paul’s a tall, strong-looking guy who is, in his words, “a big puss.” Amie shrieks a lot and is obsessed with not being in last place. They argue a lot in the car. And Paul wants to quit. It won’t be the last time he makes that threat.
Oh, and by the way, in the scene where they get off the charter plane in Africa, I cannot keep my eyes off the bottle of piss in Kevin’s hand. Thanks for that, Brennan.
Kevin and Drew. The Kevin that we are first introduced to is very, very intense, yells at Drew a lot and seems quite unlike the Kevin we soon grow to love. Drew is the polite one who knows that you have to approach people in a friendly and affable way. The classic “That’s Namibia. Jackass” and “Swing you fat bastard, swing” lines are both in this episode. And thus began the love affair. Oh, and by the way, in the scene where they get off the charter plane in Africa, I cannot keep my eyes off the bottle of piss in Kevin’s hand. Thanks for that, Brennan.

Nancy and Emily. We don’t learn too much about Nancy and Emily other than Nancy’s slow, Emily’s fast, and Nancy’s afraid that Emily’s inability to look before she leaps will get them in trouble. Nancy keeps up pretty well though, and the sight of her fear as her precious daughter takes the zip-line ride across “Batoka George,” reminds us of the all-important “pre-existing relationship.”

Matt and Ana. Boy, am I glad they went first. I don’t know that I could have tolerated them even one more week. Ana’s monotone voice and Matt’s overgrown hippie look were not my cup of tea. Bye-bye Matt and Ana. We barely knew ye. And that’s just fine with me.

It’s funny to watch the first episode of the first-ever season because these people didn’t know what to expect, really, since it was all new. What stands out the most, to me, is the fever-pitch level at which everyone is operating in the first episode. The road race in Africa actually seems dangerous, with everyone angling for first place at every turn, and at high speed. Knowing what we do now about how the race works, you just want them to dial it down a notch on the intensity meter, especially Amie, Kevin and Frank. Well, Frank needed to dial it down nine or ten notches.

Later seasons of TAR brought us lots of teams to love, but no other season – I think – provided the complete package of the first, in terms of chemistry and diversity. Lots of teams to root for, a few teams to root against.

Casting is absolutely everything on this show. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the casting people for TAR5 won’t depreciate this single most important element, in the quest for ratings and cheap theatrics. Leave the lesbian midget hula dancers for Jerry Springer.
–– by Tribefan


The Aussie Review

Well, this is where it all started for many of us - 45 minutes of television that turned us into the TARflies we are today. I can still vividly remember the excitement I felt watching TAR for the first time - but 51 episodes later, does the original still hold the power it once did?

There are three basic positives about this one that still make it work - the locations, the Detour and the teams. It works to this leg's favour that the show has never seen fit to return to the plains of southern Africa, and there's no doubt that the lush greenery of the vegetation and the awesome might of Victoria Falls were a powerful element of attraction for many first-time viewers. This premiere firmly establishes the fact that the show is usually gorgeous to look at.

Then there's the famous “Zambezi Swing,” which forms the main part of the Detour. Its impact has been diluted a bit by what has come after it, but you can still see the sheer terror it injects into some of the racers. It's the reactions that make it really fun - at one extreme you get Leslie (who doesn't even have to be counted down before leaping off!) and at the other, the clearly terrified Paul. You couldn't have asked for anything better to kick-start the show.

But there are problems with this episode that become increasingly apparent the more you watch it. The most obvious and major problem is the rather confusing editing. The pace of the action is commendably quick, but it often seems as though other requirements, such as conveying important information or clearly displaying where the teams are in relation to each other, have been tossed out the window. [Were those things ever “in the window” on TAR? – miri]

On so many occasions during Episode 1, we simply don't get any accurate sense of what is truly happening. In what order do the teams arrive at JFK Airport, which counters do they go to, and how do they end up on their respective flights? We see the first three teams arrive at Lanseria Airport, but how about the others? And how far apart do the charter flights leave? Then there's the race from Livingstone Airport to Victoria Falls. Although it all looks very exciting, the editing suggests that everyone is doing it at approximately the same time - there's no sense as to who is where at all.

Then the pitstop, Songwe Village, is revealed to us just 20 minutes into the episode - before the teams even touch down in Zambia! Although it is certainly necessary for Phil to explain the concept of pitstops and the 12-hour rule, giving away the final destination so early in the show is awkward and rather anti-climactic.
Other gripes include: an eerie lack of music for much of the show...
Other gripes include: an eerie lack of music for much of the show; the sudden uncomfortable plonking of the Fast Forward into the game with little real explanation about it; no explanation at all for what a Detour is; and a very low-key and subdued elimination that seems more like an afterthought than a celebration of Matt and Ana's virtues. Add a very different-looking Phil, a different Amazing World Map and captioning font, and at times it's difficult to believe this is the same show as later seasons!

This isn't the best season premiere the show has ever had, and in many ways it does suffer from the refinements made to the show since it aired. But there are many strong points, and if you're in the right mood for it, few episodes of The Amazing Race can produce the same sense of giddy excitement and wonder that this one can.

The Australian's Rating: 8/10
–– by The Australian



Why I Watched

How does a person who hates reality TV get sucked into TAR so much that this site exists? Let’s enter the time portal to find out…

It was fall 2001. A pending writers’ strike and the success of Survivor had network TV loving the idea of reality TV. I’m on a mailing list that includes someone who writes for TV – needless to say, she was not happy about this new infatuation. And I agreed. I couldn’t understand why any sane person would want to be followed around by cameras 24/7 and embarrass the hell out of themselves on national TV. I put it down to more of the “I’ll do anything to get on TV” trend that gave talk shows like Jerry Springer’s a huge pool from which to pull their guests. Yes, I was one of the few people in the US who didn’t watch the first season of Survivor – who actually didn’t watch it – as opposed to those who did watch it, but refused to admit it.
So, there you have it: I was dared to watch the episode…how could I not?
So, what happened? Given the above, why did I even tune in and watch the first episode of TAR? Well, this same mailing list had one person who liked reality TV and had watched Survivor. He watched the first ep of TAR and talked about how great it was – how it wasn’t like Survivor in that the politics was missing (thanks to a lack of voting) and, besides, there was this one really great and funny team on the show that everyone needed to see. He dared us to watch the repeat of the first ep (yeah, CBS repeated the first ep, trying to help the show in the ratings – not that they’ve showed it much support since) and see if we could name the moment when he fell in love with the show. So, there you have it: I was dared to watch the episode…how could I not?

A few days later, I found myself watching…and rolling my eyes at the show’s introduction and overly serious, self-hyping voice-over. I was completely prepared to be underwhelmed. Who were these idiots and why were they doing this? What was up with the matching, dapper, always well-pressed gay team? The pretty-boy, spoiled rich lawyers? The separated couple who really seemed to be better off separated? The loud, obnoxious, ugly American, skinhead, frat brothers? Wait…is that them being nice to the locals? Is that one of them insisting that the locals be talked to in a friendly, affable manner? Is that them arguing about a map and cracking me up by calling each other jackass? Is that them realizing they are the idiots for not being able to speak the local language and not expecting everyone to speak English? Is that them sweating, huffing and worried about being lost, but not giving up? Is that one of them yelling, “Swing you fat bastard, swing” while another bungee jumps? Yep, that must have been the moment that hooked the fellow on my mailing list…and you know what? It hooked me, too.

I had to tune in the following week to see what happened to them. And, as the weeks went on, I found new TV friends, changed opinions of some teams, and had some opinions reinforced. The pretty-boy lawyers? Still pretty and spoiled, but not stuck-up and not afraid to get dirty to get the job done. The dapper gay guys? A hell of a lot of fun to hate. The separated couple? Well, I never really got over my dislike of one of them, but so what? They and all their on-air playmates were fun to watch, and while watching them, I got to see places I’d never seen before and probably never will get to see in person, so who am I to complain?
–– by miri