Commentary

The Magic of TAR

Just what is it about The Amazing Race that makes us love it so much? Regardless of the arguments about CBS not promoting the show enough or why more people aren't watching, it seems that whenever people start watching TAR on a regular basis they become ardent fans. You're always hard-pressed to find folks who just like the show...everyone appears to love it and thinks it's the best reality show there is. Why is this? Is there something magical about the show that spellbinds the viewer, and if so what are the main ingredients?

First of all, the very idea behind the show is high-concept. Whatever it was that drove Elise Doganieri to imagine a series where couples in various types of relationships raced each other around the world, with the back markers being progressively eliminated throughout, her vision was a brilliant, one-of-a-kind idea with the kind of infinite variety and scope that is so lacking in other reality shows. Nothing like TAR had ever been attempted before (remember Phil's narration over the credits in TAR1?), and there's nothing else in the genre that can match its breadth of vision.
The core strength of The Amazing Race is that it's impossible to pin it down into a set category.
The core strength of The Amazing Race is that it's impossible to pin it down into a set category - it's not a simple dating show, strategy show, talent quest or makeover show. Things aren't so crass with our show. More than any other reality show ever, TAR's central conceit is incredibly strong. It's a great big game...the kind of game you play as kids, with puzzles and riddles and physical challenges and stuff. You don't have to stab anyone in the back, you don't have to fake romantic chemistry at the producers' behest, you don't have to go under the knife - you just have to play a game, on the widest playing field imaginable. It's little wonder the show has achieved a real reputation as a "family show" you can happily watch with your kids. They're drawn to the game, and the inner child within us all is, too.

There's also a very heavy travelogue aspect to the show. There are very few episodes that don't give some prominence to the astonishing variety of interesting and usually beautiful locations you can find in this world of ours. It's not just surface-level glossy pictures, though - we've met all sorts of fascinating local people through the racers, and the show always takes care to portray a well-rounded view of the world with the negative aspects never forgotten. As the racers learn about other cultures and find themselves changed forever by their experiences, hopefully we viewers learn something along the way, too.
It's the relationship dynamics both within and between the teams that really put meat on the bones of the basic game.
But there's much more to it than cavorting around the world solving puzzles. If you're participating in the show you form a team with someone close to you, and have to endure fatigue, culture shock, misunderstandings, and arguments with strangers, as well as with each other. It's the relationship dynamics both within and between the teams that really put meat on the bones of the basic game. There are always people we can identify strongly with and can root for, and people whose personalities and tactics grate on us and whom we wish to see fail. But unlike other shows, there's no real humiliation or vilification...even such legendary villains as Team Guido, Wil, and Flo all had their share of warm, caring moments. Nobody is all good or all bad on TAR, just the shades of gray that make up the tapestry of life.

Any good idea needs to be shown to best advantage, and the show is truly blessed in this department. From the astonishing skill and stamina of the camera and sound guys who capture everything that goes on with remarkable precision, to those Amazing Editors who can make us laugh, gasp and cry all within the same sequence, to all the backroom boys and girls who furiously apply the grease to the logistical Ferris wheel to keep it going, to the creators of the incredible music that adds so much mood and atmosphere to the show, to the charm and sincerity of the best host you could hope to find, Phil Keoghan - the dedication of the entire production crew shines through in every minute. That Emmy Award, quite apart from its highly positive impact upon TAR's survival, was richly deserved because of the tremendous artistic quality that everyone in the television industry recognised.

So as we get set to immerse ourselves in the magic of TAR once again, we can all take pride in the fact that we're fans of a very special program. It's a superb central idea, magnified through the many aspects it can reflect, and iced by some of the best production values you'll find anywhere. A show that can attract admirers of all age groups from all places of the world, all drawn into the intricate web of challenges, relationship dynamics, glamorous locations, fast pace and overall wonderfulness that is The Amazing Race.