The Amazing Race

This is the way the best reality show on TV returns. Not with a bang, but a whimper. I love The Amazing Race, but I’m increasingly unhappy with how its handling.

Let’s start with the network, shall we? Launching on Sunday evening, TAR-12 has again been hamstrung by CBS’ decision to restrict the premiere to a mere 60 minutes when its deeply successful format absolutely screams out for two full hours. Even Beauty and the Fricking Geek gets two fricking hours. Adding insult to injury, the network has also again placed this multiple Emmy-winning show on a Sunday night graveyard slot where it’s almost guaranteed to be delayed every week by a dreary game of helmet-ball. For a show that’s also condemned to follow the soporific 60 Minutes, this built-in propensity for indeterminate delays is an obvious and inexcusable ratings killer. If you want to watch TAR-12, CBS is saying, you’re going to have to work for it.

Now, let’s talk about Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri, The Powers That Be (TPTB). This season they have completely sold out The Amazing Race to Hollywood. TAR-12 begins in Los Angeles, more specifically, the Playboy Mansion. While we’re spared the sight of that walking corpse Hugh Hefner and his three freakish paid companions having it large, the genuflection is absurd. Has no one told TV you can get all the pornography you need on the interweb these days?

Of the 22 competitors in TAR-12, no fewer than 15 are based in the immediate Los Angeles area. Team Bitch, L.A. “beauties” Shana and Jennifer, is clearly cast as the second coming of the rather wonderful Beauty Queens Dustin and Kandice. Shana and Jennifer announce their intention to “flirt our way to the finish line” and invite us to join them in their orgy of self-promotion. While it’s hard, on the evidence of the premiere, to find too many reasons to loathe Jennifer, Shana is clearly an ageing career girl on the make. She’s dated Ryan Seacrest, pronounces to the world that he’s “Officially Definitely Not Gay (Honest),” and even has a side project, an online cookery show titled The Hot Dish. Note to Shana: Nigella Lawson’s got the sexy cooking gig like totally nailed down. Beeyatch. I just can’t shake the suspicion that at least half the competitors in TAR-12 are in fact jobbing actors and actresses who want to boost their prospects with the complicity of TPTB and a set of self-satisfied booking agents.

Consider “dating couple” Jason and Lorena. He has appeared in The West Wing and Gilmore Girls, and has a role in the current movie The Comebacks. While Jason could easily double for the young Mark Wahlberg, so Lorena could for Courteney Cox. Lorena’s IMDB credits include appearances in Summerland and CSI: Miami, as well as a continuing gig as a host on local Los Angeles TV show, LATV Live.

Straight outta Thousand Oaks, California, TAR-12‘s token married lesbian Episcopal ministers Kate (49) and Pat (65) probably aren’t trying to promote their acting careers. Providing they don’t resort to flirting their way to the finish, testifying to the wonders of Thee Almighty, or imploring Him to help them read a map, I’d be very happy to see them go all the way. Imagine how many minority groups Kate and Pat are representing here. Religious freaks? Check. Old Married Couple? Check. Grey-haired old grandmother? Check. An abomination in the eyes of the Lord? Check. I can’t wait to see how many different ways host Phil Keoghan can spin their essential uniqueness. Obviously, a 65-year-old woman is unlikely to win any sprint finishes or physical challenges without a significant amount of divine intervention, but I certainly don’t want to see Kate and Pat consigned to Sequesterville too soon.

Goths Kynt Cothron (sic) and Vyxsin Fiala (double sic), however, can start packing now. Actively promoting something or other (they’re not very good at this promotion lark, but I think it might be a band or some kind of performance art thing), they’re unlikely ever to find a place in my heart. I expect them to miss buses all over the world because they’re too busy fixing their makeup and blowing their travel budget on foundation and hairspray. Drinking game aficionados: take a shot every time Kynt and Vyxsin (real name: Jennifer) make a point of telling us just how very, very Goth they are.

Elsewhere in the cast we have a Father and Daughter team, a Grandfather and Grandson team, a pair of full-of-themselves sisters, a Brutha and Sista team, and the inevitable interchangeable rowing couples. My least favourite competitors — besides Team Bitch and Team IMDB — are Ari and Staella (known in my house as Team Fag and Hag, but you can call them Will and Grace).

Fortunately, the premiere rewards the cab-stealing Ari and Staella with the classic TAR karma of A Broken Donkey, providing viewers with oodles of fun at their expense. The quick-witted among you will also enjoy hearing Lorena proclaim that walking up a small Irish hill was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

My traditionally erroneous tips to win? Huntingdon Beach’s Rachel and TK, Huntingdon Beach’s Jennifer and Nathan, or (may Goth forgive me) the dating Goths. But hear me and hear me well, oh TPTB. If the TAR-12 finishing line turns out to be somewhere outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Donald Trump’s “luxurious California estate,” or Disneyland, then I will have no choice but to hunt you down and kill you. Dead.

RATING 6 / 10