I'm just a complete sucker for The Amazing Race. As much of my childhood and young adulthood was spent running through airports, racing for ships and trains and planes in little-known hemispheres, interacting with people whose language I had not a prayer of understanding, the appeal of the show to me is utterly visceral. I can't help but think I would kick ass at it. Its production values are impeccable (have you ever noticed a hint that each team is traveling with a camera crew?) and its human values, too, are admirable. At its core is respect for culture in all its manifestations: It's not at all a coincidence that the team that wins is always the team that is most able to adapt, through empathy and respect and openheartedness, to a huge variety of customs and folkways -- the team that is the most diametrically opposite, that is, to the stereotypical Ugly American.
BJ Averell and Tyler Macniven, the Hippies, who just now won this season's competition, won my heart early on with their openness, their enthusiasm and their humor. They clearly relished the multilayered joke, the put-on, of being characters in a "reality" TV show, of having to invent and project a persona to the camera while, as the saying goes, Keeping it Real.
I also can't help but think that the competition on The Amazing Race, unlike virtually any other reality show, is actually truly brutal. Time is necessarily telescoped over the season -- it's impossible to tell whether the whole race takes days, weeks or months -- and so I don't know how fresh the competitors are at the end of each "mandatory resting period." But having traveled fairly relentlessly in my salad days I do know that leaping off a plane from six time-zones away, catching a cab into the center of some capital you've never visited, and performing some treasure-hunt or physical feat or daredevil stunt is not easy on the body or mind. Imperfectly married couples bicker, close relatives come to detest each other, and airheads fall by the wayside.
That's why I loved the Hippies. They clearly love each other (in a totally non-gay way, of course) and enjoyed themselves despite adversity. Twice stranded in foreign cities with no money or possessions, they used their friendliness, their affection for humanity, to win sympathy from local people and struggle their way back into the race. They demonstrated at least a smattering of an impressive number of languages -- Tyler's fluent Japanese gave them an enormous advantage in the penultimate Tokyo leg of the race -- and showed a truly heartwarming respect and affinity for the ordinary working people (cabdrivers, hotel clerks, airline ticket sellers) they encountered during the race. And all this while clearly showing that they took absolutely nothing particularly seriously. My kinda people.
In a moment during the final episode, Tyler expressed his hope that he and his friend had competed in a spirit of "wide-eyed enthusiasm and joy." I can think of no better words to express how I hope I live my life.
Enjoy the million clams, guys. Hope to see lots more of you.