Commentary

Racer Mechanics: A Pre-Race Look at the Season 6 Racers

Before the Race airs, any effort made to handicap the relative strengths of teams based on the very limited information provided by CBS is fraught with difficulties.
With the release of publicity information about each of the teams in the sixth edition of The Amazing Race, there is now a basis to make some preliminary evaluations of the racing skills of the 11 teams. Before the Race airs, any effort made to handicap the relative strengths of teams based on the very limited information provided by CBS is fraught with difficulties. While some racing skills are evident or can be reasonably implied, the obverse has often proven not to be true Ė teams may have other undisclosed skills and experiences that become highly relevant in the context of a Race. (As an example, in retrospect, it became highly relevant that season 3's Ian had served a wartime tour of duty in Vietnam. It wasnít mentioned until the first of two legs in Vietnam and, as it turned out, Ian spoke a little Vietnamese and had knowledge of Vietnamese culture that was useful during that pivotal leg of the Race.)

Predicting which teams have the best combination of racer skills from that limited information is, as best, an art derived from a combination of experience watching prior seasons and a dollop of instinct. But there are some factors that seem relevant from that sanitized information in determining which of the teams end up as one of the final four teams. These include at least the following five factors: (1) the nature and strength of a teamís relationship; (2) whether team members have experience traveling and living abroad (although travel by teammates together within the United States also seems to be a positive factor); (3) having fluency in one or more foreign languages; (4) each teammateís occupation or profession (and that can often imply a whole battery of useful experiences and racer skills); and (5) the presence of specific skills or personality attributes or combinations of skills or attributes mentioned in the biographical information about the team.

It also seems that teams whose relationships are founded on blood relationships do more poorly on the average than teams whose relationships are based on friendship and have been stable over a period of time (married couples, best friends, and so forth). On the other hand, dating couples who are not at a stage of being engaged donít seem to do as well. While a racerís foreign language fluency is often a useful predictor of racer skills, the skill itself is not useful unless the Race reaches a country where that language is spoken or can be used. And at least one racer team has won the Race without any identified foreign language skills.

One thing is evident. In this new edition of the Race, a casting trend continues in which there are more and more teams with a clear mixture of mutual strengths and weaknesses, and in which there are fewer and fewer teams that clearly stand out and have most or all of the skills and experiences to be clearly successful as racers. Letís take a look, then, at the Season 6 racers:


Adam and Rebecca Ė There are mixed signals about this teamís racing skills. As a formerly dating couple who remained friends, that status may be a plus for working as a team. Theyíve traveled and worked together and that is also a positive element. As instructors at a fitness center, they are obviously physically fit. Rebecca has experience living and traveling outside the United States and she speaks some Spanish and Hebrew. Adam doesnít appear to have lived outside the country and doesnít speak any foreign languages. This team does have negative factors, since Adam has several phobias that may be a problem in some tasks, and Rebecca admits she has no map reading skills and no sense of direction.

Avi and Joe Ė There are mostly positive signals about this team. Although this team has not traveled together before, they have been close friends since high school, which implies strong skills in communicating and working with each other. Both team members are in occupations that imply skills that ought to be useful in a Race setting, as one teammate is a high school science teacher and the other is an advertising agency owner. The teammates have acknowledged a number of useful skills such as map reading, attention to detail, and negotiation and persuasion. One team member speaks several foreign languages (Spanish, French, Russian, and Yiddish) and both have significant travel experience in Europe.

Don and Mary Jean Ė This team is a set of grandparents who were married to each other after each teammate had a prior marriage. They also have an impressive array of experience in traveling all over the globe, and knowledge of four foreign languages. Itís not clear whether their occupations (as a physician and an interior designer) provide useful racer skills or not. A major concern about this team is their ages, 69 and 65, their travel experience notwithstanding. They are the oldest team to ever compete on the Race. (Other older teams near this age range have not fared well, lasting only a few legs.) The question is whether their extensive travel experience can outweigh the impact of both the physical demands of the Race and of the fatigue that usually develops for racers as the Race proceeds to the later legs.
Freddy and Kendra may be described as "engaged models," and they may have little in the way of language skills, but they definitely do have some things in their favor.
Freddy and Kendra Ė Freddy and Kendra may be described as "engaged models," and they may have little in the way of language skills, but they definitely do have some things in their favor. First, both teammates have lived in Europe and have traveled in Europe, Asia, and South America. Second, Freddy is a licensed pilot. That implies all sorts of useful racer skills, such as map reading and navigation, as well as understanding flight limitations in airline travel. This team also appears to have a balance of skills where one or the other team member is organized, detail-oriented, or good in dealing with people. Being a pilot didnít hurt Reichen in TAR 4, and being engaged and models didnít hurt Kelly and Jon that season, either.

Gus and Hera Ė A retired covert operative for the CIA? An adventure pilot who has flown over the North Pole? That should imply all sorts of racer skills, one would think. Or does it? Gus asserts that he is a "world traveler," but between the father and daughter they have had limited opportunities traveling together as adults, surprisingly limited foreign language skills (some French, some German) especially for Gus, when his first career before becoming an adventure pilot was as a covert operative. Hera has lived and traveled in southern Africa. Hera is also a special education teacher with some type of specialization that concerns different cultures. All of this could imply some very strong racer skills, especially in dealing with other countries and cultures, or it might have no value whatsoever. It is really hard to say.


Hayden and Aaron Ė This is a team that seems to have primarily physical skills as racers. Itís hard to interpret what skills being actors might bring to the Race with no context; after all a mime might do well communicating with people who donít speak the same language. On the other hand, many actors are very observant about people and behavior, and that could be a useful skill in some situations. While both teammates have experience with road trips in North America, they have little experience traveling together and only one of the teammates has even limited foreign language skills. Thereís an implication that the teammates have, between them, some of the other skills (such as map reading) but there isnít much in the publicity materials with which to evaluate other Racer skills.

Jonathan and Victoria Ė This is one of three married couples racing this season, but what may be more telling in terms of this teamís racer skills may be the fact that Jonathan and Victoria have traveled together to different areas of the globe (Jonathan claims to have traveled to "rich" and "poor" countries), and the fact that Jonathan is an entrepreneur. (Think Blake and Colin.) What racer skills does Victoria brings as a "pop artist, painter, model"? Somehow, I have a feeling thereís a hidden occupation involved that may be significant as to this teamís skill level. Victoria also appears to possess whatever linguistic skills the team has; while a number of teams have claimed to have knowledge of French and Spanish, Victoria may be the first racer that has claimed to have studied both Japanese and Chinese. There really isnít a lot on which to otherwise judge the skill level of this team.
For no apparent reason, my instinct is that Kris and Jon may end up being a team to be reckoned with in the Race...
Kris and Jon Ė I have no idea why, but Kris is the third Iowa native to appear on a major reality show this season (two Iowa natives are on Survivor: Vanuatu), and before this season, no one had represented the state ever. (For the record, Kris is from Seydel, a suburb of Des Moines.) What is interesting is that although they have a "long distance" relationship, and only met within the last year, both Kris and Jon seem to have some substantial skills in their backgrounds that may be significant. Kris is a geography major at UCLA, and she is definitely a jock Ė what else could you say about someone who includes as her hobbies snowboarding, beach volleyball, and golf? Jon has an entrepreneurial background as a part-owner/partner of a nightclub. He is also a jock Ė he plays at an organized level of water polo, surfs, and he also snowboards. (Water polo is an especially difficult sport.) Both Kris and Jon have significant travel experience outside the United States and have traveled together since they became a couple. They assert that they are very compatible traveling companions, although neither has a lot of foreign language knowledge. They appear to have some balance in their personalities Ė Kris is patient, organized, and pays attention to details, while Jon is calm, intelligent, and has strength and endurance. For no apparent reason, my instinct is that Kris and Jon may end up being a team to be reckoned with in the Race, especially if the fact that they have only known each other for less than a year does not become an issue within their internal team dynamics.

Lena and Kristy Ė This team of sisters brings an unusual mix of identifiable skills and experiences to the Race. Essentially, both sisters are still college students, but each of whom has taken a break for different reasons. Both have lived and traveled abroad, as well as in North America. They have lived together at one point as adult roommates, but they havenít traveled together much as adults. Like many of the other teams this season, this team has contrasting strengths and weaknesses, and in the context of racing skills, itís difficult to say whether that will work to the benefit or detriment of this team. Other than a basic knowledge of Danish, itís hard to tell whether Lena really does have the rudimentary knowledge of Japanese, German, or Spanish that she asserts.


Lori and Bolo Ė There isnít a lot to work with for a preliminary analysis of this team. This is the third of three married teams in this edition of the Race. Bolo is a professional wrestler and Lori was a professional wrestler before she took up racing horses instead. Whether those professions imply any particular racer skill is difficult to ascertain. Bolo has served in the military (but weíre not told in which service or where) and he has traveled outside the United States. In contrast, Lori has never traveled outside the country. Itís hard to say if this is a team that will race well, such as Jon and Al from TAR4, or Teri and Ian from season three, or whether they will only last a few legs.

Meredith and Maria Ė This is the latest "best friends" team, a category that usually does well. What does it mean in terms of racer skills that Meredith is a "licensing manager" and Maria is a "registered sales agent"? These teammates backpacked through Europe together the summer after their senior year in college and have taken other trips together. Meredith is able to speak elementary Spanish, and Maria can speak basic French. The fact that Meredith and Maria want to party their way around the world does not imply that this team is the reincarnation of "the way of the Chas" of season two, however.

There are certain things that are apparent with this seasonís 11 teams. It seems that the selection of many, if not all, of the teams has an underlying theme. For the most part, these teams appear to have noticeable flaws. Each team is composed of members with contrasting traits and experiences. These contrasts imply either that a team has an internal balance that will work to their benefit in the Race or that the team lacks some useful and necessary skills or attributes as racers that may well lead a team to an early elimination. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. In past Races, the ability of certain racers to speak particular languages has turned out to be clues as to some of the countries on the Race itinerary. If past seasons are any guide (and it is speculation), the Race may include legs in countries such as China, Japan, Russia, Denmark, France, Spain, Israel, and Germany. (Yiddish is primarily derived from German but written in the Hebrew alphabet.) The Race most likely does not include that whole list, but it would not surprise me if this edition of the Race goes to at least some of these countries. Itís also intriguing that so many racers have "significant" international travel, but there is no disclosure in many instances as to which countries particular racers may have traveled. What is difficult to ascertain is whether the travel was of a nature useful to having necessary racer travel skills.
In any event, from what is known so far, it is difficult to see whether any of these teams could be seen as a favorite to be one of the final three or four teams toward the end of this edition of the Race.
In any event, from what is known so far, it is difficult to see whether any of these teams could be seen as a favorite to be one of the final three or four teams toward the end of this edition of the Race. Much depends on whether the skills and experiences of each team give them an advantage or disadvantage in each country, or for each task and location the racers encounter along the way. Lastly, itís important to note that the season six racers apparently began racing shortly after season five began to air, so they would have had little knowledge, other than what they were told by the producers, about the rule changes that came about for the fifth season.


Each fortnight over the course of the season, there will be other installments of Racer Mechanics. Each installment will look back and examine the most recent examples of the best and worse decisions made by this seasonís racers and the best and worse examples of racing skills. Is it significant that teams were cast that could speak languages such as Danish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Yiddish, as well as French, Spanish, and German? Will the number of teams with significant international travel experience be a factor? Will physical endurance be as important this season as it usually has in prior seasons? Is having a "sense of direction" the same as being able to "read a map"? Do any of the teams possess undisclosed skills or experiences that become relevant over the course of the Race? As the sixth edition of the Race begins, there are plenty of questions; itís now time to watch the racers provide some answers. To quote Phil Keoghan (again): "The world is waiting!