The TV Room: The Amazing Race Season 26, by David Bax
When the gimmick for this most recent season of The Amazing Race was announced, it sounded like it had all the makings of a disaster, although possibly an entertaining one. This show that had always subtly positioned itself as the more positive, cooperative counterpoint to network-mate Survivor suddenly appeared to be setting contestants up for disharmony and self-destruction. Fascinatingly, that’s not quite what happened. What did come to pass is that the show’s producers inadvertently revealed a fundamental fallacy in the series’ long-established thematic identity.
This season was supposed to be all about love. Of the eleven teams that began the race, six were dating couples. The other five were made up of singles the show had matched together (based, one would assume, on some secret compatibility algorithm) and who wouldn’t meet until moments before the race began. These teams would either fall in love or flame out spectacularly, the thinking went.
One such team, the season’s standard lone gay couple, lived up to the latter expectation perfectly. Realizing almost immediately that they weren’t a romantic match, Kurt and Bergen became more dysfunctional with each passing leg, eventually being snuffed out when one of them effectively threw in the towel after some trouble driving a manual car (side note: if you’re going to be on The Amazing Race, learn how to drive stick; it’s one of the few things you are guaranteed to encounter). When the two stormed off in opposite directions post-elimination, it couldn’t have been storyboarded more perfectly.
They were just one team, though. And the one team that did find mutual attraction were similarly short-lived. The three remaining blind date teams – the ones who would ultimately comprise the last standing and vie for the win – had dismissed the idea of a love connection by the start of the second leg. In fact, one team, Hayley and Blair, openly disdained one another most of the time yet found themselves in the lead in the final leg before an honest mistake set them back.
Had this season played out as advertised, Hayley and Blair never would have lasted so long. But all the acrimony in the world couldn’t obscure the fact that a million dollars was waiting at the end. The overriding irony of this season is that the fact that some teams knew nothing about each other turned out to be the very thing that made them more able to compromise and focus on their goal.
The Amazing Race has always carried an air of tolerance and inclusivity. It’s a show where Americans from all walks of life travel to far-flung places and partake in new cultures while the viewers at home often find themselves rooting for teams they initially disliked. This time around, however, the season that was supposed to be all about love turned out to be the most pragmatically ambitious ever.