The Amazing Race: All-Stars

What is it about fandom that persuades us to persist with a favourite band or a TV show long after it’s passed its sell-by? Decades of research have led me to conclude that we’re just plain stupid. Dumb as a big old box of dumb old hair. The 11th series of The Amazing Race, a.k.a. The Amazing Race All Stars, did nothing to disprove my theory. TAR-11 started poorly, stuttered and staggered around the globe like the zombified remains of its former self, and finished on an absolute all-time low. And yet I watched every last single moment.

So. How dumb. Am I?

Moreover, the show may now be done for. Although casting has apparently been completed for TAR-12 and CBS is said to have committed to one season beyond that, filming for TAR-12 has been postponed and producer Bertram Van Munster is reported to be working on Oprah Winfrey’s forthcoming show, The Big Give.

The signs were visible on this past season. Scheduled for your Sunday night viewing pleasure, TAR-11 was denied both a double-length premiere and a double-length finale, presumably because procedurals Cold Case and Without A Trace both get better ratings than a second hour of TAR could be expected to achieve. Viewers who had made the commitment to a 13-episode season were brushed off with an inferior and cursory denouement. It was a little like getting married and discovering the connection between lobster and oral sex.

After host Phil Keoghan jeopardised his immortal soul one more time by again proclaiming TAR-11‘s contestants to be “The Best Of The Best”, the final three teams were released from their Guam pit stop just in time to miss the only direct flight from there to Hawaii, thus preventing Team Beauty Queen from stealing any kind of march on their rivals. In the first of only two brief highlights from the season’s finale, Charla and Mirna displayed utterly mad airport skillz while connecting in Japan and gained a precious 40-minute lead on both the BQs and the Team with No Name. Inevitably, however, their lead came to naught roughly 400 yards into a mile-long run down a deserted beach on the island of Lanai. Charla, if you didn’t know, has a form of dwarfism that means she will never, ever win a sprint to the finish line, let alone 1500 meters on the beach.

We saw virtually nothing of Hawaii, just a bit of beach and plenty of water. We could have been in Southend or Galveston. But we did see quite the most elegant Reality TV tiff of all time. After Eric Sanchez and Danielle Turner (the non-dating make-believe couple with dysfunctions aplenty and no quirky little team name) had aced their Hawaiian kayaking and seized the lead for the first time in the race, the Beauty Queens Dustin and Kandice had a short-lived, gracefully resolved, and decidedly touching little contretemps rooted in their own relative failure at a highly physical challenge. If I wasn’t already cheering for the BQs, I would’ve been after Dustin’s solitary tear. Sadly, however, it wasn’t to be.

Call me a cynical old fool, but when all three teams ended up on the same flight to the finish line in San Francisco, I was a very long way from falling off my seat in surprise. It’s become a deliberate ploy by the production team to squeeze a few more ounces of ersatz drama out of the show while turning the result of the race into a lottery. I was surprised by the final challenge, however. The Amazing Race meets The Newlywed Game, it asked the contestants to guess their partners’ opinions of the other racers. I don’t know. You travel a gazillion miles and work your cute little Beauty Queen butt to the bone to reach the final three, and then Bertram Van Munster gives away a million dollars on the equivalent of a coin toss. Quelle crock.

This wasn’t the first time the producers threw in a task based entirely on luck at a critical point in the proceedings. At the start of this season, I had predicted that Rob and Amber, the Beauty Queens, or Eric and Danielle would win TAR-11. And I’m quite sure I would have had the final three right there, if only Rob and Amber hadn’t lost to a ludicrous needle-in-a-haystack raffle that allowed Charla and Mirna to continue at their expense.

That final fatuous newlywed challenge did throw up one wild and scary possibility for viewers. Asked to identify the contestants with the best sense of humour on the race, both Eric and Danielle immediately chose Charla and Mirna, and went on to win: One. Million. Dollars.

Based on the glimpses into their souls that not one but two series of TAR had allowed us, you’d have expected Charla and Mirna to be rated Most Annoying, Most Untrustworthy, or perhaps Most Likely to Summon In The End of Days at the very least. But no, they’re apparently a riot of laughs and a veritable explosion in a joke factory. So perhaps, just perhaps, we shouldn’t believe everything we see on TV?

In the aftermath to TAR-11, while Eric’s former race partner Jeremy exclaimed, “We won!” and promised his “friend” a good solid spanking when he got home, Mirna left us all with the hope that, “This time, people really got to know the real Charla and Mirna.” Having completed my personal circle on Ms. Mirna, I rather hope we didn’t get to see the real her at all, because no one should be that unpleasant or deranged. So I’m going to assume she is in fact a fine, charming, and very funny lady who’d be able to sue the TAR team into penury if only she hadn’t signed all those pesky waivers.

The last word, however, simply must go to the Beauty Queens. The best competitors in the race from the moment Rob and Amber failed to find their needle, Dustin and Kandice were graceful, poised, and (let’s be honest here) considerably more attractive than the norm. They thoroughly deserved to win TAR-11. And yet they didn’t. I guess sometimes life’s just like that. After all, we, the viewers, deserved better too. And as Kandice said, “Yup. We didn’t win. Damn.”

RATING 5 / 10