For the last few seasons, many dedicated fans of The Amazing Race have voiced their concerns and opinions that the show was losing its luster. Casting has been poor, tasks uninspired, Legs horribly designed.
Season after season, it seems the American original of what has become a true international franchise is stuck in cruise control.
But now it seems Bertram van Munster and Co. have to get themselves back into first gear. TAR lost the Emmy to The Voice last month, only their 2nd loss since the Reality-Competition Program category was introduced. The week after, the season premiere of TAR23 notched the show’s lowest premiere ratings ever. And now according to preliminary ratings, this week’s episode 3 may have garnered a series low 1.8 rating in the important 18-49 demo. Even a normal 0.1 adjustment up when the final ratings are released would still make it the lowest rated episode ever, tying it with the 2nd episode of TAR22 last February which went up against the Oscars.
TAR has been one of the steadiest shows on television, despite being a 12 year-old veteran, regularly placing in the Top 30 every week in recent seasons. But the show has still been on a steady ratings decline, albeit slower than the rest of network television.
The series low ratings this week are not yet cause for panic, but definitely a cause for concern and at the very least a wake-up call for the TAR brain trust to really step up their game for the currently in pre-production TAR24.
Whatever TAR24 may bring, the various international versions of The Amazing Race that have popped up exponentially in the last few years have shown that there is still plenty of amazing television and adventure that can be had.
Now the last time TAR lost the Emmy, we got season 18’s Unfinished Business (and HD for the first time) as a result. A second All-Stars or returning teams season has been much talked about, fueled greatly by Phil Keoghan’s own tweets that suggest we could be seeing one next year. This year’s Emmy loss could again result in a returning teams season.
But TAR’s lackluster showing the last couple of seasons can’t be fixed merely with returning players.
TAR’s international franchises from Australia, Israel, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, France, Ukraine, Norway and most recently Canada have all shown, each in their own ways, that it isn’t the format that is growing old and maybe is only TARUS’ level of effort.
The most common thread between the international versions that have made them successful and many times more exciting and fun than TARUS has been good casting. Some TARs, particularly TAR Australia, have produced some excellent casts. And while many teams seem to fit certain TAR archetypes, they have delivered on the drama, comedy and competition that have mostly been lacking on TARUS.
The Amazing Race is great television when it has at least one of the following: great teams, great tasks and great locations.
Great teams can take lackluster tasks and meh locations and still make great TV. And the same for any of the other two.
But casting is maybe the most important because it is the teams and their interactions with each other and the locals as well as their competitiveness that draws the viewers in and makes them care. Being a beautiful travelogue can only hold our interest for so long. But teams with interesting, dynamic and distinct personalities should be a priority for TAR.
Whether it’s “Alabang Housewives” (TARPh), a former fat kid-now-alpha male and a team powered by “hunners” (TARAu2) or married fitness icons (TARC), TAR’s international casts have been fun and memorable to watch. TARUS might want to hire some of those foreign casting directors.
In turn, one of the reasons why TARUS has been less competitive the last couple of seasons has been the poor Leg design and easy, uninspired tasks.
TARUS has increasingly simplified their Legs and tasks in recent years due in part to wanting to save as much money as possible. But when foreign franchises can design challenging Legs with smaller budgets, there shouldn’t be any reason for TARUS to be so flat.
With such linear Legs and easy tasks, leading teams seem to never lose their lead and teams who may fall behind never get a chance to catch up. The tasks and Leg design should maximize competition while challenging the teams and still highlighting the beautiful destinations. Multiple Route Markers in a Leg in earlier seasons have been reduced to just a Detour, a Road Block and one other Route Marker.
TARUS has also taken away many opportunities for teams to interact with the locals as much as they used to by setting up generic tasks.
And one of the reasons for generic and sometimes even repeated tasks have been the lack of fresh locations. TAR has been to less and less new countries in recent years even though there are plenty of possibilities including traveling to one-visit locations the Race hasn’t visited in years.
While visits to Israel and Cuba (TARAu) may not be in TARUS’ immediate plans, TAR has yet to visit countries like Nepal or returned to countries like the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Getting fresh and new tasks can start with visiting new locations.
And finally, I’ve been repeating over and over how I wish TAR would freshen the show up visually. TARAu and HaMerotz LaMillion have been the most proactive with their original graphics. And they may be small parts of the show, but they contribute to the overall feel. The graphics overhaul for TAR23 is a great start.
But TAR could definitely try out new cinematography. The HD has started to feel very run of the mill while TARAu, HaMerotz LaMillion and even The Amazing Race Canada have taken TAR to the next level in terms of visuals with a slick, more film-like look that actually adds a little more excitement to the Race.
For many of the international TARs, most, if not all of these qualities have come together to produce seasons that have been more fun, dramatic, competitive and visually stunning than recent runs of TARUS.
Now is a very good time for the original Amazing Race mothership to really step it up. Bert and Co. need to find a way to freshen up the show, nothing too drastic, but also not too small. At the very least, now is the time for them to put in a lot more effort to try and make the Race as exciting and amazing as ever. And the international versions prove that it is still completely possible.