Not terrible, but not amazing. That’s pretty much the best way to describe this season. Like I mentioned after the premiere, I got over the idea of strangers getting paired up at the Starting Line in the 10 months since TAR29 was filmed. It was a gimmick and TAR/CBS needed to find some way to drum up interest in this 16-year-old reality show.
Any concern or fear one might have about the idea of teams not having a “pre-existing relationship” went out the window after the first episode. Teams acted like they’d known each other for years. Team dynamics actually weren’t all that different from regular teams. If you didn’t even know this was a season of strangers, you’d probably have no reason to even suspect that was the case.
Part of that is a testament to the editing (one of the few things to commend editing for). TAR26’s blind date twist just did not work because of how forced and contrived the whole premise was. TAR was thirsty for the blind date teams to hook up on the Race. They seemed to have hoped for Bachelor-type social media hype including maybe a Bachelor-endgame wedding. But that didn’t happen.
And I think TAR26 might have been one reason some (including myself) were concerned about how a full cast of strangers would play out.
But it was fine. A cast of strangers pairing up at the Starting Line neither helped nor hurt TAR. It might have provided a little kick with a few more team fireworks than usual. But this season continued to show that The Amazing Race still has the same ol’ problems that really are the reason the show is in the precarious situation that it is in.
Let’s first point out the good of this season.
Location, Location, Location
I think the best Legs and episodes of the season were the two Tanzania Legs and the Ninh Binh Leg.
The two Tanzania Legs were good episodes thanks to solid Leg design and the teams making things interesting with their drama and decisions. The Ninh Binh Leg had to be the best Leg in a while purely for being so physical and challenging. TARUS has resorted to simple, barebones Legs with almost little actual competition or challenge to teams. The Ninh Binh Leg had teams actually needing to give it their 100% and that was great to watch.
The first two South American Legs were slow with the premiere especially uninspiring. The Alesund and Venice Legs were okay.
But the rest of the Legs were just disappointing. One of TAR’s current problems is not using each location to their fullest potential. For example, TAR28’s oil change in front of Mount Ararat or TAR Canada’s oil filter Road Block in Cuba. That was the case this season with Hanoi and especially with the Lake Como Leg. Lake Como is a stunning location, but they seemed to have been limited to specific areas that felt a little too claustrophobic considering the area.
The half-Athens/half-Hanoi Leg was a little bit of a mess while also being a loss of great potential. First of all, Greece was visited for the first time season 9 and South Korea the first time since season 17. Both countries and the resulting Legs we did get really made the case for needing two Legs in each. Greece should’ve been two full Legs, especially with that bungee Switchback that halved what should have been a full Hanoi Leg.
And Seoul Leg’s was fine, but considering how long it’s been since its last visit and what this Leg actually featured, South Korea should’ve also had a second Leg.
This is all more disappointing when you think about the reality that these might have been the last times TARUS will ever visit Greece or South Korea. Could’ve been their last chance.
I see some fans praising this season as one of the best of all time. And when compared to TAR28, for example, it definitely looks pretty great. But I’d safely place this season in the middling group. I really did not see anything special that would put it above the best and most complete HD Era season (season 25) or put it anywhere but right alongside most of the HD seasons and above maybe only seasons 24 and 26 and 23.
Still on Life Support
There’s a very simple explanation why The Amazing Race was at the closest it has ever been to cancellation. The Amazing Race hasn’t been all that amazing these last couple of years.
First of all, it’s not because of the move to Friday. TAR had already started declining in the ratings, which is why CBS moved it from Sundays to Fridays. The Amazing Race had actually been one of the most consistent performers even while the rest of broadcast was bleeding viewers in this “peak TV” era. But TAR had started to decline in the ratings faster than ever (and faster than its CBS siblings Survivor and Big Brother) because the quality of the show had been declining. Instead of keeping things fresh and maintaining that Emmy-winning production quality, it almost felt like Bertram and Co. weren’t putting in as much effort they once did. The TAR team was phoning it in.
Poor Leg design coupled with poor tasks and then poor casting… that’s a recipe for driving even longtime fans away.
The Amazing Race US‘ shortcomings are all the more evident when compared to the various international TARs that have come and gone over the last few years. Whether it’s TAR Australia, TAR Canada or even the resurrected TAR Asia, international Race franchises have shown that the format can still be truly amazing, exciting television.
And I didn’t realize I posted that more than three years ago. It would appear TARUS hasn’t changed for the better since I first posted this which basically outlines everything I’m mentioning here again today (and likely in every season wrap-up since).
We can talk about the unclear Road Block and U-Turn rules and putting U-Turns before Detours and all that.
But miraculously replicating a season like some early gold standard seasons like TAR3 or TAR5 won’t magically double TAR’s current ratings and viewership. Nor will transplanting every good thing about TARAu or TAR Canada. But it’s certainly a start and at the very least can help stabilize the franchise that would still have some hope for survival if it got the right medicine and treatment.
Where Do We Go From Here?
CBS has ordered season 30 and will have it on the bench again next season, ready to step in when needed to plug a hole.
CBS may have picked TAR30 up out of the kindness of their hearts and as a deserved consolation for being such a huge part of CBS’ primetime line-up for almost 20 years. Maybe CBS wanted TAR to at least go out with a big farewell season.
But bluntly, the biggest reason is likely that TAR is a solid utility player for the network as long as the price is right. This development and upfront season for the broadcast networks saw an unprecedented number of bubble shows get a reprieve merely because the money was there. Whether it’s budget cuts or production companies ceding ownership of a series to the network, it was all about how the networks could get more bang for their buck.
TAR30 was likely picked up because of concessions made by the team. What does that mean for the season? Even less money than they already have? Possible gimmicks?
There’s certainly many ways TAR can survive for many more seasons, from a financial standpoint, with more local tourism subsidies and funding, larger in-show sponsor participation (like other international TARs) and of course a lower overall budget.
A low budget actually doesn’t necessarily impede the show as the many foreign TARs (with considerably lower budgets than TARUS) have shown. So it is really up to Bertram and Co. to get casting right and then work on putting more effort into Legs and tasks. Producing social media-ready “moments” would be a plus, but the basic elements for entertaining television have been missing for years now on TAR. At the very least, start with that and TAR30 won’t have to be the farewell season.
Ultimately, season 29 will go down as a middling TAR season with an asterisk denoting the stranger twist. Though an improvement over the last season (which definitely feels like soooo long ago), it still was far from even half of what TAR is capable of being.
My Final Subjective Team Rankings
The teams this season were a mixed bag overall. They all had great, fun moments as well as not-so-great moments that almost permanently soured my opinions of them.
That’s likely why I have Kevin & Jenn and Jessie & Francesca at the top of my list. Both teams were certainly gone too soon and too early. Both could’ve been amazing teams who were both entertaining and competitive. Vanck & Ashton were that team this season. They had the fireworks between each other, but also had no problem competing against other teams. They weren’t here to make friends, they were here to win. That’s a good attitude to have. Apparently the others wanted everyone to kiss each other’s butts. And when Vanck & Ashton did not, they were marked for elimination which is unfortunate.
Tara & Joey were a great underdog team at the start who really became one of the strongest teams. They really knew how to step it up. While they had some VERY rough moments during the Race, including some overly negative moments from them, they ran a strong Race and should be very happy with that 2nd place finish.
Brooke & Scott are this high when disregarding both of their very judgmental attitudes, especially against other teams. But Brooke’s Flo-like metldowns and Scott not taking any of it were fun. They Raced okay. But Brooke’s “I can’t do itttttt!” whining quickly became grating, especially when she actually could do whatever the task was she’d be whining about this week. Scott’s sideeyes to Brooke did not help.
Shamir & Sara will forever be the team that talked more about balls than how to Race well. Shamir’s whiny and defeatist attitude was very surprising and unexpected. And you really felt for Sara having a partner like him. Some of it was hilarious, but it’s disappointing to have someone like that on a team.
London & Logan were pretty invisible most of the Race. Logan especially. But London would pop up from time to time to deliver a jolly confessional or react to what other teams were doing. A pretty boring, though harmless team.
Matt & Redmond were very hypocritical for a lot of the Race, especially when it came to Vanck & Ashton. While they toned it down towards the end, it was just hard to root for them. Seth & Olive were probably the blandest team this season, even in their short time. Though they could’ve been very competitive and more ruthless which would have been good to see.
Becca & Floyd were just too annoying most of the time. They were the type of team who were “always on” for the cameras. I couldn’t help but feel like they were playing to the cameras too much with all the #TeamFun stuff. And then we saw the more raw moments of theirs like when Floyd momentarily lost his passport. Later on though they also calmed down and became much more tolerable to watch. Still, the fun meter was more annoying than fun. But Floyd deserves much kudos for that Ninh Binh Leg.
I put Michael & Liz in last mainly because Mike’s defeatist attitude has got to be one of the worst in recent memory. His meltdown against Liz was also just horrible, though Liz isn’t completely innocent either. Both of their whining about the U-Turn was pretty funny considering what they did earlier in the Race. If I were to separate the team members, Liz would be much higher on this list on her own because she did much of the work for their team.
So I went over and redid some of my rankings. And a lot actually changed. My team lists have pretty much doubled! (lol) But in hindsight, things really do seem and feel different.
(regardless of winner)
Not updated until a full rewatch of each finale
20. TAR11: AS
|GROUP of TEAMS
|MY ALL-TIME TEAMS
1. Charla & Mirna (TAR5/11)
1. Teri & Ian (TAR3/11)
1. Ron & Christina (TAR12/18)
4. Ken & Gerard (TAR3)
4. Kelly & Jon (TAR4)
4. Brook & Claire (TAR17)
4. Meredith & Gretchen (TAR7)
8. Michael & Kevin (TAR17)
9. Brendon & Rachel (TAR20/24)
9. Linda & Karen (TAR5)
9. Kris & Jon (TAR6)
9. Dustin & Kandice (TAR10/11)
9. Gary & Mallory (TAR17/18/24)
9. Nancy & Emily (TAR1)
9. Dave & Margaretta (TAR1)
9. The Paolo Family (TAR8)
9. The Gaghan Family (TAR8)
18. Natalie & Nadiya (TAR21/24)
18. Joseph & Monica (TAR9)
18. David & Mary (TAR10)
18. Erwin & Godwin (TAR10)
22. Jaime & Cara (TAR14)
22. Brian & Ericka (TAR15)
22. Amy & Maya (TAR25)
22. Tim & Te Jay (TAR25)
22. Max & Katie (TAR22)
27. Dan & Jordan (TAR16)
27. Ernie & Cindy (TAR19)
27. Pam & Winnie (TAR22)
27. Denise & James Earl (TAR27)
31. Hayley & Blair (TAR26)
|ELIMINATED TOO EARLY
1. Charla & Mirna (TAR5)
2. Lena & Kristy (TAR6)
3. Linda & Karen (TAR5)
4. Teri & Ian (TAR11)
5. Ron & Christina (TAR18)
6. John Vito & Jill (TAR3)
7. Joseph & Monica (TAR9)
8. The Gaghan Family (TAR8)
9. Erwin & Godwin (TAR10)
10. Gary & Mallory (TAR17)
11. The Paolo Family (TAR8)
12. Michael & Kevin (TAR17)
13. Dustin & Kandice (TAR10)
14. Nancy & Emily (TAR1)
15. Tian & Jaree (TAR4)
16. Meredith & Gretchen (TAR7)
17. Nathan & Jennifer (TAR12)
18. Bopper & Mark (TAR20)
19. Natalie & Nadiya (TAR21/24)
20. Pam & Winnie (TAR22)
21. Tiffany & Krista (TAR27)
22. Tim & Te Jay (TAR25)
23. Amanda & Kris (TAR13)
24. Shelly & Nici (TAR25)
25. Misa & Maiya (TAR20)
26. Dennis & Isabelle (TAR25)
27. David & Mary (TAR10)
28. Jim & Marsha (TAR5)
29. Mark & Mallory (TAR24)
30. Hoskote & Naina (TAR23)
FINAL 3 TEAM (NON-WINNERS)
1. Charla & Mirna (TAR11)
1. Teri & Ian (TAR3)
1. Ron & Christina (TAR12)
4. Brook & Claire (TAR17)
5. Brendon & Rachel (TAR24)
6. Ken & Gerard (TAR3)
6. Kelly & Jon (TAR4)
6. Dustin & Kandice (TAR11)
6. Kris & Jon (TAR6)
10. Gary & Mallory (TAR18)
10. Brendon & Rachel (TAR20)
12. Max & Katie (TAR22)
13. Frank & Margarita (TAR1)
14. Blake & Paige (TAR2)
15. Colin & Christie (TAR5)
16. Eric & Jeremy (TAR9)
17. Brian & Ericka (TAR15)
18. Jaime & Cara (TAR14)
19. Trey & Lexi (TAR21)
20. Hayley & Blair (TAR26)
21. Chris & Logan (TAR27)
22. Sheri & Cole (TAR28)