‘The Amazing Race’: A Good Travel Show?
Speaker's Corner: Michael Yessis catches almost every episode of "The Amazing Race." Jim Benning would rather clean out his e-mail folder. This week, they both tuned in and debated the show's merits via instant messenger.
04.06.06 | 12:30 PM ET
In the five years we’ve been editing World Hum, one thing has been consistent: I watch “The Amazing Race,” and Jim makes fun of it. And me for watching it. I thought he just needed to give the highly rated reality show more of a chance, so I invited him to watch this week, hoping to convince him once and for all that the show is one of the better travel offerings on TV. We chatted via instant messenger as the contestants raced around Sicily.—Michael Yessis
Jim: I can’t believe you talked me into watching this, Mike. I was SO looking forward to cleaning out old e-mails tonight.
Mike: You’d prefer e-mails to Sicily? I hardly believe this.
Jim: Ha! How much of Sicily will we actually see? Just frantic travelers racing through the place, screaming at poor taxi drivers to hurry up.
Mike: But they’re screaming in Sicily.
Jim: Okay, it’s starting. Cue the Italian music. Here come the predictable helicopter shots. Yawn.
Mike: But look at that. Couples kissing, great views. A stately temple well lit.
Jim: Yes, a stately temple…with studio lighting!
Mike: Are you telling me that doesn’t give you a travel jones at all?
Jim: Travel jones? I’m getting motion sickness just trying to follow the quick edits and ridiculous camera shots. This isn’t travel. It’s shot like a Vin Diesel action flick.
Mike: And what’s wrong with a Vin Diesel flick every now and then?
Jim: If you have to ask…
Mike: At least scenes from places around the world are actually appearing on American television, in prime time even.
Jim: I’ll give you that, but that says more about the sorry state of American television than it does about the value of this show.
Mike: I bet this show inspires travel in a lot of people in the U.S. who might never have thought of traveling internationally.
Jim: You think so? With these travelers screaming at each other, crying their eyes out, frantic to get from point A to point B?
Mike: I do think so. I think the scenery trumps the idiocy. And I like that it’s sort of like watching a Rick Steves video. The contestants show how to be unafraid of mispronouncing foreign words.
Jim: The contestants are always so confused, without any kind of guidebook or information, in a perpetual state of panic.
Mike: It’s a race! With hippies and nerds and frat boys and tender, loving couples…all people you might run across while traveling, right?
Jim: But are they barred from carrying phrase books? Why can’t they attempt to speak the local language? Are they required to scream at everyone they encounter in English and be poster boys and girls for the Ugly American?
Mike: Some of them do attempt to speak the language. Some of them even speak the local language.
Jim: If travelers are ambassadors, then these guys need some serious diplomacy training. They’re giving us all a bad name.
Mike: I’ll give you that. They’re not the best ambassadors. But must every travel show be like “Globe Trekker”?
Jim: I love “Globe Trekker.” Now that’s a travel show.
Mike: I love “Globe Trekker,” too. But I also like “The Amazing Race.” And I like Rick Steves.
Jim: Where’s Justine from “Globe Trekker”? We need Justine to show these guys how to do a travel show.
Mike: That’s true. Justine would make this show much better. Sometimes I even find myself watching “Inside Vegas” on The Travel Channel.
Jim: “Inside Vegas”? You’ve lost it, my friend.
Mike: Now look at Fran and Barry tonight. They’re good travel ambassadors, don’t you think? They’re not giving you a bad name.
Jim: I’ll give you that. They’re comporting themselves better than most on the show.
Mike: Now check out that fish market. Talk about your sense of place.
Jim: They’re running around with fish! This is not something travelers do.
Mike: Fair point.
Jim: Now the young blonde is screaming at her boyfriend or husband, and he’s screaming at her. They’re taking a perfectly nice outdoor fish market and making a mockery of it. If you were there on vacation and happened upon these Americans screaming at each other, you’d be pissed.
Mike: This isn’t the show’s finest travel moment, I’ll give you that. But I have seen bickering non-American couples elsewhere, so I don’t think it’s only an American thing.
Jim: Look at that poor fish, being lugged around by this sobbing woman. What an awful scene.
Mike: Look at the looks of the faces of some of the people around them. They’re amused. Why can’t you be amused? Now that guy tried to speak Spanish to an Italian. That’s funny.
Jim: Schadenfreude. That’s what this is for you.
Mike: Maybe a little bit. But there’s real human drama here, too, and I’m reacting to that.
Jim: Real human drama? Are you kidding? You can’t get any more contrived than this! They’re “traveling” through Sicily, happening upon fish markets where they have to sell fish? That’s real?
Mike: The situations are contrived. But the emotions seem real enough to me. You saw the woman crying with the fish. You tell me that’s not real? I think one of the things the show does well is portray some of the stresses of travel, particularly traveling with other people.
Jim: Yeah, this contestant keeps telling his wife to shut up. Is that any way to experience Italy?
Mike: No it’s not.
Jim: By the way, why are all these people running around this town in tank tops while all the locals are wearing sweaters?
Mike: Because the locals are not running around carrying fish.
Jim: Oh please. And now they’re playing “kayak polo”? Are you kidding me? More “real human drama”?
Jim: You’re cracking.
Mike: Okay. The kayak polo is lame. But it is a game. That’s the main point of the show. It’s artificial.
Jim: Exactly. It’s artificial and it’s lame.
Mike: Why is a game lame? Just because it isn’t “Globe Trekker”? Many of the situations are artificial. But the reactions, emotions, etc. are real. I stand by that.
Jim: Fine. Here comes the Travelocity commercial.
Mike: They’re an integrated sponsor of the show. I really think that this show does inspire people to travel.
Jim: Yeah, they’re inspired to travel the same way people who watch “Fear Factor” are inspired to eat cow eyes.
Mike: Don’t play the “Fear Factor” card, come on.
Jim: Hitting too close to home, is it?
Mike: No, it’s just that the show has so much more depth. On “Fear Factor” they do wacky stuff. On “The Amazing Race,” they do wacky stuff in Europe.
Jim: Now Dave and Lori are expressing their heartfelt love for each other after losing. That’s sweet. Pathetic, but sweet.
Mike: See how travel brings people together? Reveals things about each other they didn’t know, reinforces feelings, opens people up.
Jim: That’s true. I was reminded of how much you grate on my nerves when we made that trip together to Hawaii.
Mike: And as I remember, you laughed when I wore a snorkel and mask at the Place of Refuge.
Jim: It was either laugh or cry. I’m all about repressing pain. Okay, the show’s finally winding down. Good.
Mike: Wasn’t that better than cleaning out your e-mail folder?
Jim: All I know is that my e-mails are still a mess and I’ve learned nothing about any of these places.
Mike: But were you entertained?
Mike: Ahh. That’s a start.
Jim: If you say so.
Note: The transcript has been edited for clarity.