Back in 2005, when I was visiting my family in Oklahoma, I saw The Amazing Race (TAR) for the first time. My aunt was a huge fan, and had been for a few seasons. The episode happened to be a two-hour long premier (the season the hay bale unroll road block was used the first time), and I was hooked. Back in Arizona, I learned that other students and faculty in my Ph.D. program also watched TAR, and it was a fun bonding experience to discuss the team dynamics (both intra- and inter-). At that time, I scoured discussion threads for spoilers and clues.
As much as I love TAR, there are many times when I cringe and look away – The Amazing Race is not a vegan-friendly show. Many challenges involve eating traditional meals with meat as a centerpiece. Others might use animals in other ways – such as when the teams in Thailand lay on the ground while an elephant did a routine over them or when they posed with a tiger. On the one hand, I do love to see the native animals, especially when they get the better of the teams, but I am fundamentally opposed to using animals as commodities in any form.
More recently, I have been disturbed by the lack of a sustainable mindset around the race. What I mean is that most of the challenges require extraction and destruction rather than protection or renewal. I realize that even the extraction and destruction can provide education for viewers as well as jobs for native people, but I am disturbed nonetheless. Two weeks ago, in France, teams could choose between finding a bunch of grapes or building a champagne tower. Two teams building the tower made missteps and their towers went tumbling – hundreds of champagne glasses crashing to the concrete floor and shattering.
In last night’s episode, one team member had to break coconuts until they found the coconut with dyed milk – then, using the coconut shell, they made a traditional Hindu offering (which was lovely) sent off into the ocean by a priest.
Look at all those wasted coconuts!
I would love to see a season of The Amazing Race with challenges that were designed around giving back to the communities visited by the teams, rather than taking. They could do litter removal challenges, trail-clearing challenges, animal adoption challenges, animal husbandry challenges! Who’s with me?