The Amazing Race: All-Stars

After just three episodes, The Amazing Race: All-Stars is already looking like a bad idea executed poorly. For one thing, it launched with an almost deafening lack of fanfare. Here at Pop Towers, we watch way too much TV and receive at least a gazillion press releases every morning, and yet we had no idea a new season of our long-standing favourite show was upon us until we were channel-surfing a couple of Sundays ago and caught a glimpse of host Phil Keoghan strolling towards the camera in Miami. I’d like to think Phil looked a little uncomfortable about the fare he was about to introduce, but it may just have been his hemorrhoids.

Next, CBS decided to keep the premiere of this multiple Emmy-winning show to a mere 60 minutes. Previous season openers — my memory tells me — received either two hours or, at minimum, 90 minutes. This one was reduced to little more than an extended commercial for Mercedes and the Miami freeway system, with a brief glimpse of Ecuador and some miniature horses with serious grooming issues.

You don’t have to be Greg House (though wouldn’t it be groovy?) to observe these symptoms and deduce that the letters C, B, and S may not be entirely behind this ill-conceived concept. And really, who could blame them? The Amazing Race: All Stars is a textbook example of the law of diminishing returns.

Still, there are so many reasons to love The Amazing Race. First, we love its travelogue component. Second, we love to meet and judge the contestants. And third, we love to believe we could (and indeed should!) be on the show ourselves, and measure competitors’ plentiful failings against our own abilities. The show’s most important element, therefore, is the casting. And if you don’t believe the casting impacts our ability to enjoy the scenery, just try savouring the mountain vistas of Chile when Moaning Mirna is throwing a full-on hissy fit in the foreground.

The Philiminator portrayed this season’s cast as “the best of the best”. The man had a corpse in his mouth. Surely, the best of the best would be the winners of each of the previous series. But the only winning team here is Uchenna and Joyce. Presumably the idea was actually to cast the “ratingest of the ratingest”. But. Oh. My. There’s barely a set of contestants here who hasn’t been somehow diminished by its return to The Amazing Race.

The most obvious example is the baldies Kevin O’Connor and Drew Feinberg. The original stars of the original TAR, Kevin and Drew were enthusiastic if occasionally grumpy, ever amusing and likeable. Six years on, they’re tired and perpetually grumpy, and boring, the poster children for Never Going Back. Kevin and Drew’s problems may have derived from the latter’s persistent back problems but hey, no one outside of their own egos and the William Morris Agency made the pair appear and it’s entirely their own fault that the children of the world will now know them as Those Useless Grumpy Bald Blokes.

Talking of bald blokes, Uchenna and Joyce are the insufferably self-righteous troubled-marriage pairing from TAR-7. Their inability to have children was ruining their relationship, and they were competing in an effort to save their marriage. And Joyce’s finishing-line victory dance included the chorus, “This proves that good things do happen to good people”. Hmm. Well, I’m a bad person, and I always thought their marital problems stemmed from other sources, like a frustrated bit-part actress’s refusal to accept that her ship had sunk. Nonetheless, here the couple is again, hoping to save their marriage. Again. Even though it’s obvious that a substantial portion of U&J’s TAR-7 winnings were not spent on fertility treatments, but on Joyce’s brand new fun bags. This year they’re probably racing for butt implants.

My best guess is that U&J were cast because they managed to beat out those professional contestants, Rob and Amber, who have also returned for TAR-11. In an ideal world, Rob would be hung, drawn, and quartered in Copley Square for crimes against the soul, while Amber would go back to her high school sweetheart, have lots of lovely babies, and live happily ever after. But in the context of TAR-11, I’m loving R&A deeply and profoundly. They’re good, strong competitors who treat The Amazing Race like an effing race rather than a sewing circle or a bitchfest. Indeed R&A are doing so well that they’ve won each of the first three legs of TAR-11 to date, and so will probably be eliminated this weekend.

Rob and Amber’s competitiveness puts them in the same category as Team Beauty Queen and Eric Sanchez. Formerly one half of the very impressive Eric and Jeremy team from TAR-9, Eric is now running with his make-believe girlfriend, Danielle Turner, who also competed in TAR-9 as part of the embarrassingly poor Team Double D. If one of these three teams doesn’t end up winning The Amazing Race: All-Stars, I will eat my hat, your hat, and maybe even Ian Pollock’s ridiculous Beau Geste-does-Miami monstrosity.

I was never a big fan of Ian and his wife Teri during TAR-3, when they finished a very close second to the awful Flo & Zach, but like several of the teams we loved to hate (Team Guido, I’m looking at you), they seem to be using TAR-11 as an opportunity to rehabilitate their reputations. And it appears to be working. Bill and Joe Guido, for example, have been cuddly little teddy bears this time around instead of the Team Evil we all loved to loathe in TAR-1. Still, watching them is a little like watching Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Jesse The Body discussing chick flicks on The View. It’s odd, but not captivating viewing.

And there (right there) you have the problem with The Amazing Race: All-Stars. The people we liked before are seriously sucking today. The bad guys are playing so nice it’s hard to stay awake. And Mirna and Schmirna just need to get off my TV, stat.

Had I been casting The Amazing Race: All-Stars, I would have gone with 11 of the best pairs of racers, toughened up the challenges, cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Sadly, producers Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri decided to take the path more traveled. Presumably, their next step will be a Celebrity Edition, stocked with the sort of Z-list career-dead slebs who can afford to give up a month of their lives in return for a jolt of primetime defibrillation. And guess what: they can invite Amber and Rob to that one too.

RATING 5 / 10