Judge David Johnson once won an amazing race. It was potato sack race in second grade and he was amazing!
Five continents. Twenty-five cities. More than 40,000 miles. One million dollars.
Watch relationships crumble in the face of greed! Now with airplanes and bungee-jumping! The Amazing Race is here with what it is widely acknowledged as its best season.
Facts of the Case
The Amazing Race is another wildly popular CBS reality television series, this one courtesy of Jerry Bruckheimer. The show pits teams of two (normally, save for this most recent "family edition") against each other in a race around the world. Teams have some kind pre-existing relationship with each other (e.g. "dating" or "engaged" or "married" or "boyfriends") and it helps if they're good-looking with bulbous chests. The race is hosted by Phil Keoghan, one of the most laid-back reality show hosts ever, who sends the racers racing and meets them at the end of each leg.
Legs begin and end at a pit-stop, a location where the racers rest up for the next bout. Unfortunately for one team, the pit-stop also is where the last-place finishing squad is sent packing (though there are a handful of non-elimination rounds). As each leg begins, teams are given clues and a wad of cash to take them through to the next pit-stop. Clues will lead them to different challenges, which they must overcome before moving on, or be penalized. Aside from a few gimmicks thrown in—the "Fast-Forward" allows teams to skip challenges and go straight to the pit-stop and the nasty "Yield" holds up a team in transit—that's pretty much how the race plays out.
Season Seven brings another 11 teams of two to compete for the cool million. The biggest stars this go-round are Rob and Amber, the engaged celebrity couple from Survivor, who immediately stir the pot. They race with a variety of others, including an older married couple, a POW and his beauty pageant winner girlfriend, two gay boyfriends, a couple with fertility problems, a pair of knock-out blondes, two hicks, a pair of brothers who don't know how to drive, a mother-son-team, two best friends, and no-nonsense couple that likes karate and scowling.
The race is on.
I don't have much use for reality television. With much exhalations of relief do I look at the airwaves and find them a lot lighter in the load with reality shows, as compared to several years ago, where Fox was trotting every half-assed midget-marrying concept it could think of. Following that unsavory onslaught, and presumable the fallout of public opinion, the tide of non-scripted fodder has receded—save for a couple of standouts.
One of these is The Amazing Race. There's a reason that this show is consistently awarded the Emmy for best reality show: it's very good. Even for a genre malcontent like myself, I have to admit this show is engaging and, at some points, nerve-wracking. From the great opening credits, with the swelling overwrought theme music to the relentless pacing to the mad dash foot races to the pit-stop, there is no reality show out there that can compete with the suspense The Amazing Race generates.
Normally I wouldn't waste my time with this show, but my wife is a huge fan, and by proxy I found myself watching. And watching. And watching. Sure I took a time-out from this past "family edition," which, judging from my wife's critiques, was lame-o, but I have fond recollections of this season. The competition was just as heated, the participants were charismatic and entertaining, and the winners…well, you won't get that out of me.
Bringing Rob and Amber aboard, while at first looking like a contrived ratings stunt (which I guess it was), proved to be an inspired choice by the producers. Rob's mere presence prompted competitiveness that I hadn't ever seen. Everyone was gunning for the arrogant Bostonian and his cupie doll wife-to-be, and the resulting fireworks and conflicts made for great television. The rivalry Rob and Amber fostered with Lynn and Alex—a juxtaposition for the ages—was priceless.
Typical to these seasons, teams often struggled under the pressure and it took a toll on their relationships. There was arguing and hurtful words uttered in a few moments, with the crown going to Kelly for mouthing off to her boyfriend Rob, the P.O.W. But seriously, I found this element less in this season than others. No one here approaches the venom spewed by that jackass Jonathan to his wife Victoria in the previous season. For the most part, the teams kept their cool and didn't come across as bombastic as their counterparts from seasons past (who can forget the idiocy of Freddie and Kendra, last year's winners?!).
The challenges and venues are as creative and exotic as always. Teams run around Peru, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, India, Turkey, and England, and challenges including sky-high balancing acts, eating huge amounts of meat, golfing, equestrian antics, and even some bat-infested cave spelunking. It all leads to one place: the final pit-stop in Florida, where Phil awaits to bestow $1 million on the winner. And this race goes down to the wire.
All 12 episodes are presented in full screen 2.0 stereo format, spread over four discs. Video quality looks perfectly fine and the sound is adequate. The real meat of these DVDs is the extras. Over three hours of never-before-seen footage has been reinserted into the shows. Contestants Rob and Amber, Brian and Greg, Lynn and Alex, and Uchenna and Joyce provide audio commentaries on four episodes. A featurette, "Reliving the Race," offers a retrospect on Season Seven's competition.
The commentaries are a lot of fun, with Lynn and Alex's endeavors taking the prize as most entertaining. All of them, though, give up juicy tidbits and inside scoops to the race dynamics, which should be appreciated by the fans. The featurette is okay, shedding light on a few perceived controversies and giving teams a chance to do some bitching and moaning, but what was lacking was a look at how the producers pull of the staggering logistics of this show.
Look, if you've already seen this show and know who's won, I don't see why this DVD is a must-own. The extras are fine and this is a great season, but without the suspense, this show loses its rewatchability. For those of you have no clue the outcome, I'd recommend putting this in your "to watch" queue. The digital format will allow you to cruise through and, even if you're not a reality TV fan like me, I think you'll find yourself having a pretty frickin' good time.
If you've seen this season, or haven't but know who won, the special features alone don't make this set a worthy purchase. But if you're an Amazing Race virgin, this is definitely the season to pop your cherry with.
On your mark. Get set. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• Selected Episode Commentary with the Contestants
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