Race Around the World (The Amazing Race commentary from Jonathan Baker and Steve Coogan)


Chasing the Dragon…

Jonathan came up with the title of this week’s column: chasing the dragon. The term (according to biopsychiatry.com) relates to a form of ingesting heroin. Instead of shooting it through a needle, many people choose to burn the drug and ingest it breathing in the fumes and letting their lungs act as a filter (the smoke looks like a spiraling dragon tail I guess…It originated in China). But an important point about burning heroin: it takes more skill to achieve that elusive high that heroin users and addicts seek so badly.

It’s kind of like what CBS has created with the Rob and Amber phenomenon on The Amazing Race 7.

Relating to this point, Jonathan astutely notes: “The network got the high with Rob and Amber being celebrities and the audience got the high because they are such good players.”

It’s the best of both worlds really and it’s that high that heroin users “chasing the dragon” attempt to get. CBS was able to expand their audience naturally by attracting the huge Survivor audience to tune in to another CBS show and it also attracted other people to the show. Maybe they weren’t fans of The Amazing Race originally. Maybe they weren’t even fans of Survivor originally, but they were enough of a draw that people wanted to see how they would do in another reality show environment.

From there, the audience got the high because they have seen Rob and Amber light up their televisions through the first four episodes of the latest season (especially #2 and #3).

“If you take away Ray and Deana and Rob and Amber, then this season would be very boring,” Jonathan said. “I believe Rob and Amber have raised the bar for The Amazing Race.”

CBS is happy now because The Amazing Race is getting some significant buzz and seeing good ratings and the audience is happy because they are seeing the show evolve and seeing some good playing. They’ve achieved that really intense high. But with all highs, they never last. People always come down from those highs and they spend their lives attempting to recapture it, unsuccessfully for the most part.

But that doesn’t mean CBS won’t try. After all, the show’s ratings are the best they’ve ever been and the audience won’t try because they must like what they’re seeing.

But it starts with CBS and will the goodness last?

“They are going to chase after it and find balance or kill it,” Jonathan said. “They tried it with Alison from Big Brother and it didn’t work.”

He brings up a good point. Only the real reality TV fiends remember that Alison was even on The Amazing Race with her boyfriend and it doesn’t matter much because she was hardly a factor on the show.

So, will CBS now start filling out the cast of competitors with other reality TV veterans in hopes they can recreate this publicity magic they’ve created with Rob and Amber? Common sense dictates that the network will have none and assume the casting strategy will exist no matter which reality show veterans they shove into the race.

Then there’s the other side of the “chasing the dragon” school of thought which revolves around Rob and Amber and the way they are actually playing The Amazing Race.

Admittedly, it’s a bit of a shame that for the third straight column, we’re breaking down something Rob and Amber related, but the question needs to be asked: Who else should we really be talking about?

“If it wasn’t for Joyce getting thrown from the horse, nothing would be going on,” Jonathan noted about Episode 4. “No one else CAN step up. This week because Rob didn’t step it up compared to the last couple of weeks, that’s why it seemed it boring.”

Even more of a poignant statement from the former Race competitor:

“Rob and Amber have changed the face of The Amazing Race forever.”

It all comes down to that Survivor strategy of game playing that Rob has utilized in his game playing. He doesn’t mind being a little deceptive. He doesn’t mind doing whatever he needs to do to be a winner. No one said that the only part of the game was winning the race. That’s just the way people have played it since over the previous six seasons (for the most part…Jonathan will disagree…).

“People always told me if you want to play that game, then go to Survivor,” Jonathan said. “But CBS is pulling Survivor out and putting them in the race.”

And now Rob and Amber are playing that game when they need to and they’re riding that to some measure of success and certainly a good measure of entertainment.

Jonathan is pleading with CBS to emphasize the various strategies the players use in the game in the future instead of just focusing on what’s going on in the race itself.

“They need to structure future races to have strategy built into it. Getting to the end is the show, not the game,” Jonathan said. “Everything is about show ponies. Getting the clues, getting the detour. They need to insert the mental game.”

Part of that includes simple parts of the game like making plane reservations. Jonathan wonders where that part of the game was as it makes life easier for the players, not more stressful, which is (at least) part of what the game is all about.

“No one’s made a plane reservation in the entire season. Go figure. That’s the stress. That’s the game. No one’s getting stressed out. Basically, we’re running and that’s it.
The first people that got on the first place were set and the people on the second flight were toast.”

The bottom line is simple. CBS, as all networks seeking success, will continue “chasing the dragon.” You could argue it’s what we all do living in a capitalist society. But as CBS continues to do it, the hope that Jonathan has is that it’s more about improving the way the game is played, something that’s already happened thanks to Rob and Amber. But the wrong away to “chase the dragon” is to think that securing any reality celebrity for the show will be the way to do it. Rob and Amber are gold for The Amazing Race because they are celebrities AND because they play the game the way they do.

That “and” connector is pretty important here…Don’t screw it up CBS…

The teams…

Jonathan was a little more diplomatic in breaking down the teams this week, choosing not to necessarily rank them as Top 5 or Top 3, but he definitely made his feelings known about all the teams.

Jonathan still appreciates Rob and Amber and what the two have done for the game, but still doesn’t think they will win the race in the end…

“Because they are lone wolves, it’s going to turn against them. It’s going to be their downfall,” Jonathan said. “They are going to be so concerned with playing this new game then they are going to screw up.”

Another team Jonathan is high on despite their bottom feeding status in the race over the last couple of weeks, Ray and Deana.

They are quite an interesting team as Ray is ultra-competitive and Deana seems to just be going along for the ride allowing Ray to be the leader of the team. But because he wants to win so badly, it could actually help them. But if Deana actually blows up at him? All bets are off.

Jonathan agrees with the competitive nature of Ray and Deana also thinks it will help them a lot as this race progresses. He even thinks that the two have a little something brewing with Rob and Amber…Hmmm….

“They have this secret alliance with Rob and Amber. They are the most competitive team on the race. They are in the back of the pack now but that’s just circumstance. That will change next week. They’re competitive, they’re smart. They’re definitely my pick for Top 3.”

Jonathan can also relate to the way Ray is when he plays this game. He sees a competitive streak in Ray that he exhibits himself.

“Ray could get a bad rap like me for it,” Jonathan said. “If you look at anyone who ever play sports, personalities change when they hit the playing field. I was one of them, I think Ray is one of them. I think they’re going to surprise everyone. They’re going to be feisty. Ray and Deana are not vanilla. They have character and that character is going to rub people the wrong way. They’re colorful. That’s a good thing.”

As for Lynn and Alex, Jonathan appears to have softened his stance about the two just being comic relief of the show. And it’s kind of hard not to change your stance. After all, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen two reality show contestants hate two others the way Lynn and Alex hate Rob and Amber.

Jonathan sees the hatred too and thinks it’s a good thing. But he also thinks that if they continue to play the way they are playing in regards to happy couple, that won’t do them any good either.

“The hatred Lynn/Alex have is overwhelming. I think it’s a great thing they hate Rob and Amber. They draw the line in the sand. They tell you what’s black and what’s white. They tell you who to root for based on their own opinions. I’m waiting for someone on the race to stop playing it so safe. No one has the balls to say ‘Step the f*ck down!’ Debbie and Bianca tried but they were no match for Rob and Amber. No one has any balls to deal with what they’re seeing.”

We’ll see if they continue to whine and bitch and play themselves out of the game or actually stand up for themselves in the coming weeks.

As for the brother team of Brian and Greg, they are beginning to perform well. We’re beginning to see their true competitive streak since the lovely blonde team of Megan and Heidi departed the show in Episode 2 and they began thinking with their heads again.

Jonathan likes what they are doing but with next week’s dramatic two-hour episode coming and the two being a victim of a potentially harmful car crash, he thinks next week could be their coming out party or…possibly even their going home party.

“They’re the good ole’ boys,” Jonathan said. “They’re doing a good job but we’re just about to see them become something or bow out. We’re about to see what they’re made of. Now they’ve come in second, we’ll see if they have what it takes mentally to see if they can give Ray and Deana and Rob and Amber a run for their money. You have to give the alpha male team credit, always.”

Don’t count out Uchenna and Joyce either. They’re quiet and they’re all business. Jonathan thinks that they could be a team that is simply waiting to make their big move.

“They’re doing everything right at a low hum, Jonathan said. “Looks like they’re waiting to make their move. Let them beat the hell out of each other and then go.”

And the other two teams? Well, Jonathan still isn’t high on the older couple, Meredith and Gretchen or the younger Ron and Kelly. Neither has much to offer and neither brings much to the table.

“Meredith and Gretchen and Ron and Kelly have nothing to say,” Jonathan said. “They’re not making a stance. These are teams that ‘fly under the radar.’ They’re putting me to sleep.”

And we say good bye to Susan and Patrick…

Mother and son team, Susan and Patrick gave it their all, but in the end, they couldn’t overcome being stuck at the bottom of the pack and didn’t receive any help when the two planes that the competitors had to take left five hours apart. By the time they arrived, some of the other competitors already finished.

Jonathan also believes that even though the two did try hard, they ended up blowing up at the end. As much as they love each other, they really are different people and that didn’t help them in the end.

“I had high hopes for them but they self-destructed,” Jonathan said. “The yin and the yang is what brought them down. She was the optimist and he was the pessimist. Actions speak louder than words and that’s why they’re out. The race is so unpredictable.”

And our actions? We’ll end this column now….

— Steve Coogan

— Jonathan Baker
The Amazing Race 6

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