The Amazing Race: The Complete First Season Review
The Amazing Race started in America in the wake of the reality show surge, which included such prominent shows as Big Brother and Survivor. The concept is amazingly simple and yet intriguing – teams race each other around the world, chasing a prize of $1 million. Early ratings for the show were fairly low, it having aired originally just after the 9/11 attacks, and the travel theme didn’t really take off until later seasons of the show. Luckily, CBS stood by the programme and subsequent series built up quite a following. This DVD boxset of the first series allows fans of the show to see where it all started.
So, first of all a summary. Teams are each made up of two people with some connection to each other. Here the teams were:
• Kevin & Drew - fraternity brothers
• Pat & Brenda – working mums
• Rob & Brennan – lawyers and best friends
• Matt & Ana – married couple
• Frank & Margarita – separated parents
• Kim & Leslie – teachers and friends
• Nancy & Emily – mother and daughter
• Paul & Amie – engaged couple
• David & Margaretta – married for 40 years, grandparents
• Lenny & Karyn – dating
• Joe & Bill – life partners, Team 'Guido' (named after their dog)
Each leg of the race starts and ends at a pit stop. The teams have to spend a mandatory 12-hour rest period at each pit stop before continuing on their journey. The last team to arrive at a given pit stop is eliminated (that is, unless it's a pre-determined non-elimination leg - of which there aren't many). Typically, each leg will include a 'detour' where each team has to decide between two tasks/modes of transport which could have a massive effect on their onward journeys. It will also include a 'road block', where one team member (and only one, chosen by the pair in advance) has to perform some kind of task before the team can continue – these include things like eating strange food, shooting an apple off a dummy's head, etc. Each team is given a certain amount of money for each leg, and this has to cover all costs except flights (i.e., if they take a taxi versus a bus, then that's less money they'll have to help ease their path later). So those are the basics. Quite often a flight is involved in a leg of the race, or yet another long journey – and when this happens, the teams often find themselves grouped up again as there are limited options to take. Fortunately this helps keep up the momentum so one team doesn’t pull massively in front of the others (or fall days behind, for that matter).
This first series presents us with a collection of participants who didn't have the benefit of seeing previous seasons to pick up tips, so there's a definite freshness to it all. The show starts and finishes in New York City, but takes in Zambia, France, Tunisia, Italy, India, Thailand, China and Alaska along the way. The reactions of the teams to extremely stressful situations while trying to see some of the sights and travel around the world gives the audience get a real insight into their personalities. We start to judge people not just on how they appear, but on how they react to others in such stressful situations as well. And we also judge relationships too, whether that's what’s meant or not – you can't help but wonder if a dating couple will really make it when all they seem to do is fight, or marvel at how good-natured some of the relationships seem.
The choice of teams is remarkably good for this season, including a team everyone loves to hate, a couple who might be heading for a reconciliation, a mother-daughter team trying to become friends as well as family, etc. etc. In addition, it's more than just every person for themselves here as it is in shows like Big Brother; instead we're watching relationships and teams… not merely individuals. That said, the producers didn't do any retakes at all; everything that made it onto film was all that was ever going to be available, which allows the producers to show not only the really extreme moments, but also some very everyday ones. This in turn affords all the players a 3-dimensional aspect sometimes missing on TV; we see both ups and downs and feel like we really get to know the teams on a personal level. I found Phil Keoghan (the host of the show) to be a little bland, but just involved enough to not get in the way of my enjoyment of the show. His role here is mostly to eliminate teams and explain the various detours and roadblocks. And it doesn’t matter if we don’t get to love the host, as his role is fairly minor compared to the teams we're watching intently.
The Amazing Race also has another huge bonus – it takes place all around the world, with the diverse mix of cultures that entails. Also it gives the producers a fantastic backdrop of changing scenery and fantastic tourist attractions (such as the Taj Mahal, for example). In each country I felt they were trying to show things that the viewers/participants may not have known about, so we're not only intrigued by the pace of the race, but also by the travel aspect of the show. It really is a great idea for a reality show, so much so that it hooked Jerry Bruckheimer as an executive producer... in one of the extras he comments that in this case he was involved in making a show he not only wanted to watch, but also frankly wanted to take part in himself.
It may not be very 'cool' to watch reality TV shows, especially as they have become even more abundant over the intervening years, but let's not forget there really are some good examples of the format. This release of the first season of The Amazing Race proves the point and makes for enjoyable and often genuinely exciting viewing. It's the kind of show that may have you screaming at the screen for the team you like to not do something stupid, but watching all these personalities really giving their all when completely out of their depth is fascinating.
The Amazing Race is presented in a 4:3 fullframe transfer that has a really good, solid quality to it. Colours are sharp and natural and I’d say it shows the series off in all its glory. There’s some shimmer but not other detectable errors but then again we have to remember this is TV and a show which involves a lot of quick movement and source material a few years old.
The only audio offered here is Dolby Digital 2.0 in English, but nothing else is required, really. There are a few sound glitches, generally taking the form of sound blips or distortion, but generally I didn't have a problem understanding the dialogue. There is quite a bit of volume variation over the course of the episodes, which can be put down to the contestants racing about and microphones jiggling with them – but there really wasn't anything that distracted from my enjoyment of the series, so a perfectly adequate sound transfer in my opinion.
The first season of The Amazing Race has some interesting special features which make it well worth watching, even if you caught the original airing or saw repeats of the show. There are four individual commentaries, each featuring two groups of contestants discussing the episode in question. Karyn/Lenny and Drew/Kevin feature on the 1st and 6th episodes, and have quite a laugh reminiscing about the whole experience. pisodes 7 and 13 (the final) include commentary by Team Guido (Bill/Joe) and Rob/Brennan. They're not quite as fun, but they are certainly interesting to listen to.
The other big extra is a full 90 minutes of extra footage dotted throughout the episodes as side trips. Once activated through the menu, a signpost icon will pop up on screen and by pressing 'enter' every time you see it, you're taken to extra footage including the teams passing time – generally they're deleted or extended scenes. Watching them as you go it's hard to consider this is a full extra 90 minutes, but there are some really fun and cool extra bits in there, so well worth it overall. By the way, these side trip extras are only available via this method – they aren't included separately under the 'deleted scenes' moniker, which is a shame, but hardly essential.
Most of the remaining extras take the form of featurettes. Reliving the Race is a 20-minute look at highlights from the series with comments from contestants, Phil Keoghan and executive producers, Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster. It's a nice way of looking back at how the race progressed and also an interesting insight into the producers' highlights of the show. Creating and Coordinating was my favourite of the featurettes; it's short (clocking in at under 10 minutes) but it looks at the origins of the show and how it was put together when it became a reality. Included are insights into how the production team had, at some points, to race the contestants to get to finish lines before them and quite how tough the production turned out to be. As I'd not really considered that aspect, I enjoyed watching it a lot.
Finally, there's a Lost Roadblock - a deleted scene from the very first episode. It was expunged from the transmitted show eventually, but I'm not too sad that it was. The teams have to cook and eat an ostrich egg (equivalent to 22 normal eggs' volume) before reporting to an African village not 30 feet away. Let’s just say they don't all cook the egg fully and it's pretty gross-out (to me anyway) – or maybe I just have a thing about eggs.
The boxset of the first season of The Amazing Race has been quite a while in coming, but luckily they've used the time to add some interesting features to make it even more worthwhile. It's great to see the first iteration of a great show, with a great mix of contestants and they blend together to make extremely enjoyable watching. It's action-packed, it's a travelogue of sorts, and it's reality TV at its best. In fact, it's pretty amazing.