Commentary

A TAR1 Virgin Speaks . . .

I started watching The Amazing Race near the end of the fourth season after being intrigued by Miss Alli's recaps on the web site Television Without Pity. I wanted to see if "that Millie person" was really as annoying as she seemed in the recaps. I tuned in to see the epic showdown between Kelly & Jon and Millie & Chuck, and I was hooked!
As a relative latecomer to TAR, I've always been jealous of those who got to watch from the beginning.
As a relative latecomer to TAR, I've always been jealous of those who got to watch from the beginning. I've read all the recaps and met some of the teams at various TAR gatherings, and the first season of TAR, aka TAR Classic, has always seemed cool. So when I heard about the GSN showings of TAR this summer, I was ecstatic.

It's different watching a reality/game show when you know the outcome. I remember how the top five teams placed, in fact. I also have many impressions of many of the racers that were formed outside of the show-from how they posted on message boards and answered questions in post-show interviews to how they acted at TARcons. Some people were worried about that, but I wasn't. I figured that I wasn't watching the show to learn the outcome but to measure my preconceived notions against reality. Would Team Guido be as amusing as I found them in the recaps or would I start seeing the EVIL that so many saw in them? (Still Amusing.) Would I finally figure out the Momily love? (No.) Did Brennan really speak as little as it seemed? (Yes.)

So, with great anticipation, I tuned into the first episode and . . . was disappointed. At least for the first half hour when it seemed as if all the teams did was drive and fly. The editing was so chaotic that I couldn't follow much at all. It was hard to figure out who was in first and who was behind and how they were all getting from point A to point B. When they hit Africa, it started to pick up a bit with gorgeous Victoria Falls and the most impressive bungee jump I've ever seen. But, still, I was disoriented. There was Phil talking about something called a Fast Forward Pass (why Pass?) and not saying "most advantageous to go for it" and the Amazing Yellow Line didn't move.
We're at about the halfway point now, and the editing is getting tighter, and, over time, more and more of the familiar catch phrases have started to appear.
Some of the changes I had been warned about (like no Phil at the Pit Stop until the last team and the color of the flags) but that didn't stop them from adding to my Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass feelings. The second leg and episode continued to disconcert, but, suddenly, in leg three, I heard Phil say, "Each with its own pros and cons," and it felt as if "my" TAR were back! We're at about the halfway point now, and the editing is getting tighter, and, over time, more and more of the familiar catch phrases have started to appear.

But I'm still left with the feeling that I never would have become such a big fan if this had been my first season. They still haven't added the "currently in sixth place" graphics to teams as they show them progressing through the Race. For some reason, many of the people shown on camera other than racers are blurred out. I'm not sure what that was about (perhaps production wasn't as diligent about getting releases as they are now?), but it really lessons the impact of racers fighting with their cabbies if you can't even see the cabby's face, as happened in leg seven. But my main disappointment is with the tasks.

Every season, you hear people complain about the clues and how they've been dumbed down compared to season one. I have always been vocal in my support for more clues that are puzzles, but now that I see how it works, I'm not so sure. I do like that the racers have to figure out more transportation themselves, leading to results such as teams getting off a train early to take a shortcut they discovered while on the train. But, in general, it seems as if so much energy was put into coming up with clever clues to tell the racers where to go, that not much energy was left to come up with something interesting to do once they got there. Detours that consist of visiting a tea room and not even doing a task? Roadblocks that consist primarily of driving from one place to another? We get to see that in between the tasks already. I'd like more variety on the tasks so they aren't all mental challenges and puzzles.
The things I don't like:
  • The credits. The flashy stuff around the teams' names is very distracting.
  • Phil not greeting every team at the Pit Stop.
  • Yellow-and-white flags (not a good color combination).
  • Not enough variety in the tasks.
  • The teams are so ramped up. They were already in hysterics by the third leg when they couldn't get airline tickets immediately.
  • The teams all hanging around the Pit Stop to greet other teams.
  • The vertigo-inducing camera-work.
  • Not enough Phil.
The things I do like:
  • Showing the teams eating, sleeping, and mingling in close to every episode.
  • The credits. Only Team Guido does the patented turn head to the camera that is so cheesy and cliché in later seasons.
  • The clothes. Because this was run when it was winter in a lot of the places they visited, we didn't have to watch a bunch of Americans run around half-naked in countries where that wasn't appropriate.
  • The theme song. I'm glad they never changed it. It rocks. [I believe it was altered a bit at some point, but it's back to normal now. - miri]
  • All the interaction between the greeters and the teams.
  • Fast Forwards in every leg.
  • No Yield!
  • Phil!
The other thing that strikes me every episode is how ENORMOUS everyone's backpack is. What makes it even more amazing is that the racers have told us about all the things they started chucking almost from the first leg. Yet they still have backpacks bigger than I am. When Kevin got on the camel, I thought he was being smart carrying his and Drew's backpack, but then I realized that he was only carrying his own backpack-that's how large it was compared to later seasons' racers'.

The other thing that's interesting about this season is the debut of many of the antics we have since seen in later seasons:

Ugly Americanism: The most obvious is Momily (Nancy & Emily) in the India leg, but, even as early as leg three, Drew comments that Paris is "nothing special."

Killer fatigue: See Momily above.

Calling on the Deity for help when in fear of elimination: Karyn in the taxi in India when she called out, "Oh, Jesus, help us!"

Obsessing about other teams: In season three, it was the Twin Hunt. In season seven, it was Romber. This season, it's Team Guido with whom everyone seems obsessed.

Speaking Spanish in a non-Spanish-speaking foreign country: Emily saying, "Andale," in the taxi in India.

Speaking English with an accent when you don't know the local language: Guido Joe trying to figure out what country to go to next (leg four).

Attributing other racers' placing above them to good luck instead of good Race skills: Emily, again, talking about how the other teams have all this luck and she and Nancy can't catch a break when they are clearly not as strong a team as the consistent front-runners.

The Luck of the evil: Let's face it, this phrase was invented because of the Guidos.

Teams calling each other by nicknames: The Frats calling Team Guido "Bert and Ernie" all the time.

Telling taxi drivers to "go faster" and that "we're in a race:" Karyn in leg five.

Complaining about other teams screwing you after you've just screwed them: Frank & Margarita when Rob & Brennan wouldn't call them a cab after they tried to steal that same cab in France.

Mispronouncing names of places that are hard to say: Team Guido mispronouncing Tataouine.

Mispronouncing names of places that are easy to say: Karyn calling New Delhi, New Del-HIGH.

Teams thinking they are farther ahead than they are: Team Guido saying, "Fourth?" in complete disbelief in Avignon.

Teams thinking they are farther behind than they are: Momily thinking they were last in India.

Teams going from first to worst: Pat & Brenda in leg three.

Racers threatening to quit all the time: Paul of Paul & Amie.

Teams who only came on the Race to please their partners: Mr. "Let's Quit" Paul.

Strong racers complaining that bunching keeps eating away at their leads: Rob & Brennan on the way to Tataouine and Kevin & Drew on the leg after they took the Fast Forward.

Racers who seem boring on TV but turn out to be lively later: Brennan of Rob and Brennan, who was outgoing and talkative when I met him but barely opens his mouth any time we see this team on camera. (Note: this may be true of Rob, too, but I've never met him.)

Using locals (or "Ferns," as they were dubbed in honor of Oswald & Danny's Bangkok guide) to get from place to place: Most of the teams in the Tunisia marketplace.

Hiring a taxi to go somewhere so you can follow them: Loud Pushy Frank in Italy (leg six).

Insulting your cabdriver while you're still en route: Emily in leg five.

Upset racers telling their less upset partners to RELAX!: Frank in France yelling at Margarita.

Vomiting on camera: Amie, lost in the desert in leg five.

Feeling envy at what the teams get to do: Me when teams got to go to Notre Dame and ring the bell. I'd kill to do that!

So now I know why it's called TAR "Classic." Because it all started here, and, in spite of my complaints about lack of variety in the tasks and lack of information to help viewers to follow along, watching the birth of TAR as we know it makes up for any production deficiencies.