Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Amazing Race Canada thoughts

And so ends the Amazing Race Canada. I’ve see-sawed back and forth on the show right from the very moment I heard it first announced. When I found out Canada was finally getting a race, I was all set to wrangle someone into forming a team with me. Not Cathy, however, as we have long understood we would end up divorced at the end of the race. But then I found out the race was only going to happen within Canada. So that killed that idea. I made more than one joke about the race going to scenic Moose Jaw….woohoo. I wanted to travel around the world, not the country.

Still I tuned in for the first episode and stuck around to the end. I should have done a weekly review like I did with Doyle, but just wasn’t in the mood, especially after the very flat first episode. But it got better, despite some ups and downs. And while I mocked Saskatchewan, I actually thought that episode was one of the better ones. If I had to sum up the first season, I would call it about an average season of the US version of the Race. Which might seem damning with faint praise, but considering how awful this could have been, I think it’s high praise. They did some things right, some things really bad, but there’s room for improvement should they decide to do round 2.

What they did right:

1. Jon Montgomery as the host. I had my doubts during the first episode where he looked nervous and was reading very flat. But man, did he ever improve by leaps and bounds as the season went along. He loosened up, looked like he was having way more fun than most of the contestants and grew into the host role really well. He’s no Phil, but we’ve had years to get used to Phil. Jon should be happy with how he did this season.

2. The Teams. They never had a true villain team. Oh sure, the doctors showed some hints of it, but they never truly got into it other than moving around some maps. And they whined more than they were evil. But the teams had personality, even Jet and Dave, who kind of overwhelmed at times, but were always fun. You needed teams to cheer for, and with at least five teams with lots of personality and character, you were certainly lured into having your favourites to cheer for.

3. The production values. At no point did the show really look cheap, which is what I was expecting. The camerawork was solid, they did a nice job of showing off the country.

4. Canada. Don’t get me wrong, I think the whole joy of the US version of the show is watching the contestants try to figure out deeply foreign cultures and, in some cases, get mocked by locals by how clueless they are. That never really happened here, with the exception of a few minutes in Quebec City. But they managed to show off the country and I thought the Nunavut section of the race was particularly well done. It could have been awful, but it looked beautiful and gave a nice, brief taste of Nunavut culture.

What they got half-right:

1. The challenges. This is an Amazing Race standard, thought. You get some truly mind-blowing ones. As I have reiterated many times to friends, two of the hardest times I have laughed in the last 10 years was watching contestants try to run down a hill with 25 pounds wheels of Swiss cheese on their back while locals drank beer and cracked up. Only nearly matched by the sight of a former NFL player losing his shit while coaching a rabbit through an obstacle course. But then you get some that are dreadfully boring.

There were no transcendental moments like that this season, but some of the challenges were quite good. The getting your room squared in Regina was good, as was the football challenge. The challenges in Nunavut were great. Then you get ones, like last night, where you’re opening chocolate bars for two hours and that’s worth spending 10 minutes of TV time on. Dear God.

2. The sponsorships. Shitting on the Amazing Race for sponsorships is ridiculous, considering Expedia is all over the US one. But I didn’t mind Interact Flash. Even Blackberry was only mildly annoying (the fact the new ones don’t work in Nunavut was amusing). But God Air Canada was annoying. To the point they actually messed up parts of the race (more on that in a moment). I understand they were a huge sponsor and the race probably wouldn’t have happened without them. But that I was hitting mute pretty much any time they went on screen says something about how aggravating the ads - during the show and breaks – were.

What was bad:

1. Bottlenecking. Here’s the problem with the race in Canada, and Air Canada. There are only so many places you can go, with only so many flights. And when you’re limited to only flying one airline – except for their hilarious covering up for using First Air to get into and out of Nunavut – you’re constantly going to have bottlenecks where all the teams even out. Other than getting a cool prize, there was rarely any benefit to winning a leg, because odds are everyone would catch up with you in the next leg very quickly. It would be nice if they were able to use WestJet or Porter or whatever. Or even flying into the U.S. for a few legs or something. They need to work on decreasing the bottlenecks next season.

2. The ending. Again, Amazing Race has the bad habit of not nailing the landing, but wow, this was just awful. From the smarmy “look how awesome we are bumping all these people up to first class”, to the absolutely ridiculous chocolate bar challenge (seriously, how much did Cadbury pay for that ad placement and that was the most entertaining thing they could think to do in a chocolate factory?) to having contestants wander around a zoo, it was a deeply boring ending to the show. Yes, they went down a half-constructed sky-scraper, but they all went down at the same time, so the drama there was minimal.

Also, for every person in Toronto you pleased by having the finale there, you probably annoyed three others. Here’s hoping next season ends somewhere else. I think ending it in BC or Newfoundland would have made more sense, rather than the “centre of the universe”, but that’s me.

So not a first go of it and they’re going to be doing a second season. I would hope there are things they have learned from this one and can do better with next time. I think they should up the ante on some of the challenges, work on not creating so many bottlenecks and maybe find a team that’s not quite so…Canadian. You know, really mean or something.

Let’s put it this way, I blew off the idea of putting an entry in for this race. I kinda regret that now. But I might see if I can find a willing sucker…er, friend to join with me in entering the next race. We’ll see…

Last Five
1. The sound of silence (live) - Paul Simon
2. A better son-daughter - Rilo Kiley
3. The broad majestic Shannon - The Pogues*
4. Modern love - David Bowie*
5. It's a hard life - Queen

1 comment:

John, Canberra AU said...

I had to look up Jon Montgomery and skeleton racing. Man, the things you folks do with snow. No wonder you have so many names for it.