Thursday, December 19, 2002

SIMPLY AMAZING: What is there to say about The Amazing Race finale for those who didn't watch it?

Only that good reality tv reveals character, and TAR does it better than any other show by placing characters in familiar settings, and not hermetically sealed bubbles. Many of us know what it's like to travel while fatigued, to have to deal with foreign cultures . . . to find a cab in an American downtown.

This episode alone saw the teams traverse Vietnam, fly from Hanoi to Tokyo to Honolulu (to Kauai and back), then to Seattle for the final set of tasks. Was it dramatic? Yes. Exciting? Hell yeah. Emotionally satisfying? Surprisingly (given the outcome), yes.

Florinka Pesenti and Zach Behr (both Vassar '01) were the central dramatic arc of the whole episode -- essentially, Flo had a complete emotional and physical breakdown, almost quit the race several times, including in middle-of-nowhere Vietnam, and the two hours centered around Zach's friendly encouragement and resourcefulness that kept them in the race. He did everything humanly possible and then some -- taking breaks, slowing the pace, calmly reassuring his friend to stay focused and keep trying.

She did. After falling 2 1/2 hours behind by the end of the first half of the episode, they caught up to the other teams in Hanoi, kept the pace in Honolulu and Kauai, and by the luck of a cab in downtown Seattle, they won.

To that, there has been considerable backlash on the discussion boards, centering around how underserving Flo was given how many times she almost quit the race and how annoying she was to watch. The amount of venom directed towards her is pretty obscene.

Good drama reveals character, but even more, it allows for characters to change, grow and develop. What made this episode so compelling was that Flo and Zach turned the corner and found their strength, that even nasty, hardened Ian apologized for the way he had treated his wife Teri and how much he appreciated and admired her during the race.

Plain and simple, this was television at its best -- a great travelogue, plus a great study of human emotions. Surprising, thrilling, revealing, and most of all, entertaining, and there's nothing wrong with a little entertainment now and then.

The Amazing Race 4 begins airing on Wednesday, February 26. Check your local listings.

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