Call me smug, but I was right. After the premiere of The Amazing Race 9, I predicted right here on this very website that either the Hippies (BJ and Tyler) or the Frat Boys (Eric and Jeremy, previously known as Team Beach Bum), would win Betram Van Munster’s million dollar challenge. And. I. Was. So. Right.
Indeed, the two teams were so dominant that there were only two legs of TAR-9 won by anyone else. Over the 12 legs of the race, Eric and Jeremy finished first five times, second six times and only fell out of the top two once, arriving a disappointing fourth in Oman. BJ and Tyler had a slightly harder time. They actually finished last twice, but still racked up five wins and three second places. In the end, after nine countries, almost 60,000 miles, and two close calls with elimination, the Hippies narrowly beat out the Frat Boys to be first on the mat at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, where the whole shebang started.
The return to Red Rocks was something of a novelty for TAR, posing the question, “Is the show about to disappear up its own itinerary?” As far as I can recall, no previous season finished precisely where it began. Then again, neither can I remember one team finishing last twice and both times hearing phlegmatic host Phil Keoghan say, “But I’m happy to tell you this is a non-elimination leg”. Indeed, the only other contestants to hear those magic words in this competition were Ray and Yolanda, who weren’t eliminated when they finished third at the end of the penultimate leg. But then no one has ever been eliminated at that stage of the race because the show always sends three teams scurrying off in search of the finishing line, so it felt contrived, like the Philiminator was telling us, “See! It’s not just BJ and Tyler.” However…
The penultimate leg of TAR-9 was the first trip the show had made to Japan, and guess what? Tyler has a Japanese girlfriend, speaks Japanese, and is something of a minor celebrity there. He once walked from one end of the country to the other in search of his father’s birthplace, attracted a healthy amount of media attention, and even made a documentary about his experiences. (You can see the documentary, Kintaro Walks Japan, online for free or buy it on DVD from Tyler’s website.)
Did TAR-9 bend over backwards to keep the Hippies in the race because they attracted viewers? Was the Japanese leg designed specifically for Tyler? Was the whole thing a grand conspiracy because BJ is Van Munster’s lovechild? Who knows? All we know for sure is you could hardly blame the other contestants if they cried foul.
The truth is probably simple. Since the show’s format doesn’t allow for “judging” like so many other reality contests, The Amazing Race uses its Non-Elimination Legs to keep the viewer-friendly teams in the game for as long as possible. And the casting for TAR-9 had been so unsuccessful that only the two top teams ever achieved that all-important viewer-friendly status, and of the two, only the hippies ever needed Phil Keoghan’s help.
I was a little surprised that the pink fluffy bunny Team Double-D, Danielle and Dani from Noo Joisey, didn’t get the benefit of an NEL when they came in last at the end of the fourth leg. They’d obviously been cast as ratings-candy, but their performances were hardly endearing, so perhaps no one wanted to waste a Get Out Of Jail Free card on them. And now, six months after the race concluded, Frat Boy Eric is reported to be setting up home with one of the Double-D’s, which presumably means he gets to sleep with both of them. Be prepared for a combination Frat Boy-Single D couple appearing soon on a Survivor or Fear Factor near you.
But even this possibility doesn’t make up for the fact that TAR-9 was a disappointment. First, the casting was flawed. If it’s true that many teams are selected from a pool of actors, models, and friends of the production team, then the message is clear: it’s not working, dudes. It wasn’t just that most players in TAR-9 failed to click with viewers, they also didn’t provide enough real competition. Ray and Yolanda, for example, were described throughout as “long-distance daters”. They seemed like a well-matched couple, but based on their performance in TAR-9, I’m amazed they ever managed to see each other at all. Ray, in particular, could get lost in his own bathroom, and yet he and Yolanda finished third!
Second, the travel portion of the contest simply isn’t challenging enough. Contestants are often told not only where to go, but how to get there too. I’d like to see teams work harder at identifying their destinations and arranging their trips. Even though passports have to be pre-loaded with all the appropriate visas—and red herrings too, the producers should still be able to test players’ general knowledge and puzzle-solving and planning skills. Wouldn’t it have been great to see Lake and Michelle fly to Timbuktu when the rest of the teams headed for Tipperary?
If changes aren’t made, I fear that The Amazing Race itself may soon get lost. Bertam Van Munster is said to be contemplating an All-Star edition, an idea he’s rejected before, on the grounds that contestants with previous experience and fans would change the show. At its best, The Amazing Race has been the most engaging series on TV. I hope it comes back.