Monday, May 6, 2013

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR YOU TO GET BETTER:  We didn't write much about this season of TAR, because, frankly, it was kind of boring.  We had way too much talk of "alliances" from early in the game, some of the stupidest teams we've seen thus far (particularly shown in Berlin, when teams were unable to identify what president demanded "tear down this wall!" or said "Ich bin ein Berliner"), and a very physically strong team that pretty clearly dominated the race from beginning to end.  Add to that a final leg that was a mixture of very linear tasks ("get your picture taken with 'the President'") and tasks that were largely luck (the spy briefcase task, the baseball drop/throw), and you had a pretty boring ending. 

So, what's wrong with the show and can it be fixed?  I expect no small part of it could be fixed with some fresher casting--let's avoid trying to cast pre-existing pseudo-celebs or folks who are designed to fit a mold (e.g., Chuck and Wynonna, who were clearly "Team Duck Dynasty"), and find some interesting folks.  Heck, make a season that's "brain vs. brawn" (perhaps with a twist that says you can only do a set number of "brain" or "brawn" Detour choices), or consider teams that don't have a pre-existing relationship.  Any other thoughts out there?


  1. Adam B.10:25 AM

    Bring back airport-fu! Rather that wait all night for the United counter for the One True Flight, put the teams in a position to consider various connecting options to one of DC's three regional airports.

    Also, you can do a much better set of clues in DC. Spy Museum! Make them use the Metro instead of cabs. And something, something better than "go to the Lincoln Memorial and find a distinguished-looking African American."

  2. bristlesage10:34 AM

    Add to the problems with last night the huge needle-in-a-haystack vibe of that last task. In recent years, I think the memory-based task at the end has been a strong suit, and the idea of making the teams actually find the countries on a globe is a good one. But they shouldn't have to sift through all those inflatable globes to do it. Maybe make 25 piles of globes, each pile with having one country marked on its globes, making the teams figure out which ten are the right ten.

    But the problems with the tasks last night are, you are correct, a very small part of the problem. A brains/brawn season sounds fun, but what would really help are fewer luck-based or FIFO tasks.

  3. Marsha10:45 AM

    I didn't watch this season for all the reasons noted here - it's gotten dull.

    I would like to see better (non-FIFO) tasks, but really I think the biggest problem is that they are really afraid of the season 1 problem of people getting 24 hours or more behind - they think it makes for bad TV. I think it's the opposite. All the artificial bunching makes for an utter lack of suspense, stupid tasks, and unfairness. I would much rather see a planned set of equalizers - Every four legs (or in a certain specified set of legs), everyone starts at the same time again. No hours of operation, no flight bunching, etc. Let 'em stack up or not. Let there be rewards for teams who do well on time - extra money? Meals? Maps? Whatever... but get rid of all the artificial crap that makes legs really dull to watch and give us some real challenges again.

    And, of course, I'd like to see many more mental challenges than what we currently have. I like challenges where they can solve a puzzle to finish quickly, but if they can't solve it, there's a brute force way that takes a lot longer, but doesn't leave them unable to continue at all.

  4. Yeah, I was a little surprised no one tried to do LHR--JFK or LHR--ATL and then get a flight to National.

    Other perplexing thing? Cabbing to Mount Vernon, which is a long trek from downtown DC. Theoretically could have created a situation where Earl the Maniac Town Car Driver saved a team.

  5. Heather K11:08 AM

    In the stateside finales I think they try not to use public transportation in order to try to slip in under the radar of fans.

  6. The Pathetic Earthling11:14 AM

    I do sometimes think in terms of how to structure a good Bay Area leg, although the issues could be applied anywhere - it would absolutely include an option for coming into any of the three airports. Or, with three train systems that run into San Francisco (plus Cable Cars, plus Street cars), tell them to take a train to a certain spot, but don't tell them which system.

    - Ban them from using the internet to solve a clue; street knowledge only.

    - Go between to smaller cities that might have train or bus service, but no direct airport link and let them chose (your options to get to Sacramento from Oakland, for instance) don't have a lot of great airplane choices, but you could take the train.

    - Pick teams that have known local contacts and allow them a "Phone-a-Friend" under certain conditions.

    - More dealing with local bureaucracy. I though the speeding tickets in Zambia were a great distraction.

    - Make money a bit more determinative. I don't want Americans to beg Bengalis for money, but you should have an option to charter a boat or take a ferry, but when you get there, the fact that you took the fast trip forces you into a harder task.

  7. One of the reasons they don't do train/bus travel a ton unless it's spoonfed is because of how the rules are structured--plane tickets can be paid for on the production credit card, while all other forms of transportation come out of the team's cash store.

  8. Andrew12:45 PM

    I've long been disappointed that the final leg has almost always been teams yelling at their cab drivers. A leg that didn't allow teams to use taxis, but only travel by public transportation and foot would be a major improvement.

    Unfortunately, I think that the fact that the producers have gotten much better at producing the race has also made it less exciting through all of the bunching. And there's always going to be a limited amount of airport-fu getting in and out of the small, remote villages.

    But the one thing that the most recent seasons miss that the earlier seasons had was more creativity in travel. The producers are creating routes that rarely leave the teams with more than one or two travel options in between, and there aren't as many opportunities to RACE using the airport or train schedules.

  9. Adam B.1:12 PM

    They had two overnight bunches between the end of the Belfast leg and the flight from London to DC. Why not just let the teams figure out on their own how to get to DC from Belfast rather than force them on a ferry and a train (to a pub) to get to the airport?

  10. True, though given the substantial number of other personnel and logistics involved in this final leg in particular (the 50 "spies," closing Old Post Office to the public, etc.), they might have needed more lead time.

  11. The Pathetic Earthling3:05 PM

    I'd love to see a definitive making-of TAR show. The logistics of it really are impressive.

  12. Adam B.3:14 PM

    Dumb question: does production have its own round-the-world jet (or a series of charters), or are they just flying commercial a couple days ahead of the races?

  13. Scott_DC3:21 PM

    No one's ever in the Old Post Office anyway.

  14. Scott_DC3:25 PM

    If you need a big grassy space near DC, but private enough that you don't draw attention from the public, there are few places better than Mount Vernon. It's a two-lane road to get there, and every cab will know where it is, so yeah, whoever finished the globes first was going to win. Only situation where that wouldn't be the case would be if a team didn't tell its cab to wait at Hains Point, because there aren't any cabs just hanging out there ever.

  15. lisased3:34 PM

    Has anyone read "My Ox is Broken!"? It's been on my to-read list for years now.

  16. Also, I'd guess there are clearance issues with the public being around - it's a completely uncontrolled environment. Music, people talking, etc.

  17. Andrew5:13 PM

    Yes. I recall it being fairly lightweight, but with enough interesting tidbits that it I didn't feel like it was a total waste of time and money to read it.

  18. Andrew5:19 PM

    Production is generally flying just ahead of the racers (or, in the case of Phil and the crew and producers that travel with him, with the racers, since he needs to be at the end of a leg to do the eliminations, and then do the stand-ups for the next leg.

    I think there are some making of featurettes that I've seen as web or DVD extras that go into some explanation, if not great depth.

  19. The Pathetic Earthling5:51 PM

    I know they've done SF legs. I just mean that when I think of how a good leg would be structured, I run through ideas in my head of how to layer those on to the Bay Area.

  20. So, almost all of TAR is on Hulu Plus now (up through Season 20, I think) and I've recently been re-watching and it's reminded me how boring the last couple of seasons have been compared to some that have come before. I think there are a couple of problems that the producers need to fix -

    1. They seem to be having a harder time finding really good personality teams. And I don't mean they have to have good personalities, just that they're fun to watch (either because you love them or hate them). The really fun teams all seem to be from many seasons ago. I would like to see them try random teams - that would at least be different.

    2. The airport battles seem like they're fewer than they used to be - it's rare for someone to pluck a really good (or really terrible) flight.

    3. They keep revisiting the same places. I especially hate the Switchback thing - if you don't have any new ideas, I'm not sure you want to so blatantly just reach back and reuse the old ones. Also they don't even pick good ones! (Also, OMG stop with Hawaii. STOP.)

    4. While I like that the finales include more puzzles/memory challenges, that in itself has made things predictable - the teams know that will be coming and take notes and it takes the fun out of the last challenge. That said, there should be more memory/puzzle challenges sprinkled throughout the rest of the race - adventure sports are only so fun to watch at a certain point.

  21. Roger9:26 PM

    Sure, but they could give them cars and make them drive. That would at least make it less about cab luck and more about navigation skill.

  22. Adam B.7:05 AM

    I don't believe they've ever been allowed to drive in the final city. Traffic laws might be disregarded with $1M on the line.

  23. Jenn.2:05 PM

    Untrue. I was there yesterday, and it was swamped. (I go there about once a week. The vegetarian Indian food there is awesome.)

  24. Charles9:19 AM

    I'd like for TAR to bring back some clues that had more mystery--like in season 1 when they received a flag and were told to go to that country. (In that case, the flag was similar to the flag of another country, so some team could have gone waaaaay off track.)

    Part of me also wants the racers to have to do some actual research to answer questions. If they don't know who said, "Ich bin ein Berliner," then they shouldn't be able to ask the person sitting at the bar in the next room for the answer.

  25. Genevieve10:36 AM

    They're still there? the place with the terrific masala dosa the size of a teeball bat? I thought they'd closed! (note: plan lunchtime outing for masala dosa.)