Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hopping for hope

I must make it clear up front: I am not a fan of so-called reality television. That's not saying I never watch any shows that fall into that category; it's saying that I tend to do so with emotional distance (if not outright ironic intent), where I really don't care about what happens to the people on the show. That's probably more due to the way that the folks featured in these shows tend to be self-absorbed and generally unlikable than me being a script-TV snob.

This season, for the first time, I have watched The Amazing Race. Initially this was because my fiancee was watching it while I was in the room. However, over time I did get caught up in it, because the premise does make for captivating television, with teams of "regular people" traversing the globe and performing tasks in order to get to a particular spot before other teams.

What intrigues me more than the obvious elements of seeing who'll successfully reach the end without coming in last is watching what must be genuine moments that get captured by the camera. Because while they're engaged in the competition each time is constantly filmed, it's impossible to be on their best behavior every second. While anything can be manipulated through selective editing, I do get the impression that enough of the real personalities of the participants comes through over the course of the season. And from that perspective, I couldn't help but conclude some of these people really are seriously awful human beings.

What's further intriguing is that they clearly don't grasp this about themselves. I am at least vaguely aware of my negative side (I like to think), and therefore I consider myself wise enough to not go on such a show; I feel no need to have my moments of glib frustration broadcast every week to an audience of millions. (I prefer to occasionally have them be read by an audience of occasionally double-digits.)


Of course some part of me liked to believe there is some modicum of justice in the universe, and that part wished for the non-awful people to succeed over the awful ones. That often was not the case, but the aspiration existed nonetheless.

Watching the episode from this past Sunday (the last one before the finale), of the four teams there were three I considered non-awful and one awful team. It was a dating couple who fought every episode, bitching at each other at virtually every opportunity. They were also risibly ignorant at times (for example, when in Taipan, Taiwan, they alluded to liking Thai food as though it was from there; they were not being ironic).

And at one point in the middle of the episode, I said aloud to my fiancee that I could live with any of the other three teams winning. As long as it wasn't them, it would be okay.

At the end of the episode, the awful team came in last and was eliminated from competing in the finals. And both of us jumped up and down in genuine glee that they were out of the race.


We leapt up from the couch, simultaneously, without premeditation; it was a genuine and, yes, emotional response. Granted, on the surface it's not admirable that we reveled in this moment of defeat. (And it became impossible to retain the glee of the moment, as shortly after they were told of their elimination, they wandered away—with the camera following them, of course—and the man began to cry. Part of what made them awful was their self-absorption, so in a way this was entirely in character. However, it transformed them from personalities to be despised to personalities to be pitied; I still felt no empathy, even though I could understand the immense disappointment of the moment.)

Deeper, however, their defeat represented the triumph of (relative) good over bad. The teams that qualified for the finals were the teams who had done better to overcome their pettiness and cooperated (or at least that's how it got edited). Even if only in the way it came across through production staff manipulation, it represented at least the appearance of justice.

And that was worthy of jumping up and down for.


I'm not suggesting this has transformed me into a fan of the reality show genre or anything. It may help me understand why other people are: It's not mere WGA-less entertainment; at times it's a tiny beacon of hope, in a semi-metaphorical sense.


  1. I am in total agreement. I also like all of the three remaining teams, and I also jumped last week. I may have also pointed at the TV and yelled HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEE-ATCH! I was so sad when the Goths were eliminated, though.

  2. I haven't watched this season of The Amazing Race, however I once had a momentary lapse of personal reality and considered applying for the reality of TARace--with my mother.

    She's one of a kind and trust me, it would make for some entertaining reality television. The one-liners alone.

    Yet, she said there was no way in Hell she would pitch herself off a peak, but I tend to disagree; she posed nude with me and my friends two years ago for a Spencer Tunick shoot. What's the difference? She said the difference was between tolerating the funk of nervous, stranger sweat and "the possibility of plunging to my death."

    Then again, I'm not a big fan of travel--actually, the idea of travel, the once I"m there is intriguing, it's my physiological system that is not the biggest fan of travel; it revolts.

    Not that it stops me, but it certainly factors into a rapid-fire travel equation that TAR would present.

    Once the art of travel is perfected into a cheaper, quicker version of beam me up Scotty, then I'll consider pitching myself off a peak.

    I love that you guys jump together! The couple that jumps together, stays together!

    be well,

  3. Remember, Tracy: They weren't just Goths; they were "dating Goths" (their romantic status makes all the difference, apparently).

    And thus, had Jenji and her mother been contestants, every time their names were imposed on screen they'd be identified not merely as "mother and daughter" but as "Former nude model mother and daughter" (gotta spice it up for ratings).


So, what do you think?