Why I hate The Amazing Race

I love TV travel porn. Turn on a little Rick Steves traipsing around Europe’s back doors, Ian Wright of Globetrekker getting hamstrung in a Turkish hammam, or Anthony Bourdain slurping up Pho in Vietnam on No Reservations, and I am fixated. Hell, I’ll even watch the awkwardly matched foursome of Gwyneth Paltrow, Chef Mario Batali, food writer Mark Bittman, and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols just to see them thump melons and gobble down salty pig parts as they ramble through the markets and kitchens of Spain on PBS’s Spain…on the Road Again.

As much as I adore armchair exploration, however, there is one program that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth – the wildly popular CBS reality travel show The Amazing Race. If you’ve never seen it, the show consists of 11 two-person teams that fly around the world to compete in challenges, typically based on the local culture, such as roping a llama in Peru or driving a snowplow in Siberia. Since it began in 2001, “Race” has won eight Primetime Emmy Awards and has been franchised to include versions in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. In Israel, The Amazing Race is called HaMerotz LaMillion, which translates roughly as “Race to the Million,” because teams compete to win $1 million (or, in the case of Israel, one million new Israeli shekels).

In sum, the Amazing Race is an adrenaline-fueled travel adventure show beloved by millions of TV viewers worldwide. So why do I hate it? Here are three reasons:1. Travel shouldn’t be about numbers. “Five continents, 25 cities, and more than 40,000 miles” was the tagline of the final episode of Race’s Season 7. To many travelers, the dream is to rack up visited destinations like trophies. But should travel be boiled down to just numbers? Should quantity trump quality? There’s a certain hollow materialism to counting countries and treating cities like personal stats. It reminds me of a saying that was popular in the 1980s, “He who dies with the most toys wins” and leads me to my next point…

2. Travel is best when you slow down. Were every moment not recorded, would Race’s contestants even remember the difference between Peru and Chile or South Africa and Botswana? Filming for the Amazing Race typically takes place over one month, during which time participants travel to as many as a dozen countries. One of the shortest seasons, The Amazing Race 12, had contestants traveling 30,000 miles to 10 countries within 21 days. I understand that such a breakneck speed makes for great television – it is a race, after all. But I feel that The Amazing Race sends the wrong signal to travelers that it is okay to speed through airports and train stations and villages. Travel should be one of those activities where you allow yourself to slow down and take note of the details. Travel deeply not quickly.

3. Travel should, in itself, be the reward. The $1 million prize is why The Amazing Race gets tens of thousands of applications each season. Who can fault would-be contestants for wanting to race around the world for that kind of cash? Not me. Though, what if The Amazing Race made travel the reward? There are so many quotations about the benefits of travel that I could use here, but I actually think a recent tweet from Gadling friend and Twitter’s favorite nomad Andrew Evans (@wheresandrew):

In its defense, The Amazing Race bills itself as a “reality program” and not as a “lifestyle program,” the Emmy category under which most travel shows are classified. And, I also applaud Race for shining a spotlight on destinations that many travelers may never get to see (Burkina Faso!). But I fear I will never quite understand why a show that puts personality above place and discord above discovery is so beloved by travel enthusiasts. The Amazing Race stresses me out; give me Rick Steves any day.

The 19th season of The Amazing Race premiers on Sunday, September 25.

Photo from Wikipedia

The Global Scavenger Hunt is looking for competitors

Ever watched “The Amazing Race” and longed to run around the world, racing through airports, darting in and out of countries and competing challenges? Well, if you’ve got about $10,000 to spare, you can, as a competitor in the 2010 Global Scavenger Hunt.

The event, which is described as being “like Survivor, The Amazing Race and the Eco-Challenge all rolled into one except with much more cultural interaction” is limited to 25 teams and takes place over three weeks in April. The teams will visit ten countries while traveling west around the world from Los Angeles to New York and competing in challenges in order to win the title of “World’s Greatest Traveler”.

Contestants must apply and go through a screening process and pay an entry fee of $9,900 per person, which covers accommodations, all flights, and 40% of meals. The event kicks off on April 9, 2010.

The event isn’t all airport mad-dashes and physical feats though. According to the website, the goal isn’t to race through each country as fast as you can, performing outlandish stunts as you go, but to connect with each culture (though with only 2-3 days in the country, that may be difficult) through the challenges. Each team is also asked to raise $1 per kilometer (which equals the daunting figure of $40,000 per couple) for a total of $1 million raised per event for the Great Escape Foundation, a nonprofit that funds long-term projects and micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Budget travel with a twist: Try out for TV commercial singing competition for water park passes, cash and more

Here’s a budget travel twist. Sing your way to free water park passes and some cash. With American Idol over until next year’s search for the next star, CoCo Key Water Resort is putting on a singing competition to tide any warblers over and find a star for one of its commericals.

This nationwide search wants talent and creativity mixed in with fun. The way I see it, this is a seriously doable win if you can carry a tune and have some personality. All you have to do is submit a 30 second video recording of yourself singing the CoCo Key jingle. If you have a group of talented folks like friends, family members, or even the high school choir, you can do a group entry.

The contest deadline is June 10 which means your video has to be in the judges’ hands by then.

Don’t know the CoCo Key jingle? No worries. You can find the jingle, entry form and contest details at www.CoCoKeyJingle.com What will you win besides a commercial spot if you’re chosen?

First off, you’ll get some of that 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol talked about–but longer. A commercial plays over and over. What with the CoCo Key website and YouTube, some sort of fame is guaranteed. You’ll also win a $500 U.S. savings bond and year passes for four to CoCo Key. There may be other prizes depending upon the water park. For example, Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark, Ohio and the CoCo Key at the Shereton Cincinnati North are kicking in other goodies to bring the total win to a $1,250 value.

Here’s what’s great about the competition even if you don’t win. You get practice auditioning. Maybe you won’t win this time, but it’s a stepping stone to the next opportunity. Practice makes perfect. Right? Luke Adams, the deaf contestant on the Amazing Race tried out four times before he finally nailed it. Although he and his mom didn’t come in first, they did win a Travelocity trip due to their first place Pit Stop landing on this season’s first leg, AND they were one of the three teams to finish the entire race. Not too shabby.

The morale of the story is: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

If you’re within driving distance to a CoCoKey there are live auditions. The Newark and Cincinnati locations have auditions on May 31 from 10 AM to 3 PM. The first 100 people to try out get a day pass to that particular park. Showing up early is recommeded because space is limited.

I can vouch for the food at Cherry Valley Lodge’s Sunflower Restaurant. It’s superb. We were there at Easter. If you’re in Cincinnati and looking for cheaper eats near the Sheraton, there are several fast food options. We at at a Panera when we went to that CoCo Key last year.

If you are near the CoCo Key in Boston, MA; Fitchburgh, MA; Mount Laurel, NJ; Omaha, NE; Rockford, IL; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, MO; or Waterbury, CT, check with that CoCo Key to find out about live auditions. There are auditions happening at each. Here’s a link to other contest tips. People under 18 can do the video, but parents need to do the submission. The well over 18 years old crowd are welcome too. There’s not an age limit.

Here’s a video of CoCo Key that has the jingle, to put you in the mood.

Compete against an Amazing Race champ in the next Competitours

So you watched last nights Amazing Race finale and you can see yourself winning the next season if you only had the chance. But you’re pretty certain you’re so normal that you have almost no chance of being selected for that race.

Why not go for something you’re guaranteed a chance to compete in? Competitours has managed to replicate the excitement of the Amazing Race, and they’ve put together a significant prize package – like 40 nights at a Starwood hotel and $6,500 cash for example.

But they’ve also made the next running of the Competitours race in Europe a bit more interesting. Tyler MacNiven, the winner of the Amazing Race #9 and probably the most memorable AR contestant of all time, will be competing in Competitours.

And if you need a leg up on how to beat Tyler, check out how Team Gadling (that’s us) scored a first place finish in the inaugural Competitours! And if you go, let us know. We’d like to hear how you do!

Competitours Race Day 5 – Paris “We won!” (with Video)

As part of our Gadling on the Road series, Kent Wien and his wife Linda are participating as Team Gadling in the first run of Competitours, an Amazing Race like competition taking place in three different countries in Europe. Race along as Kent documents their progress.

All eleven teams gathered at the train station in Brussels for our journey to our next destination, which had just been revealed before dinner. Sure enough, we were going to Paris.

I made it to Paris a few times last year but I didn’t feel like Linda and I had any advantage over any of the other teams, since the challenges were rather varied. And I was more interested in the challenges that I wasn’t familiar with, avoiding the Pont Neuf and Catacombs challenges in favor of the more out of the way tasks.

We poured over the 6 pages of options for Paris and the surrounding area. We knew we’d have to come up with either two 30-point and one 15-point challenge or better yet, a 60-point plus one 15-point challenge to reach our maximum limit of 75 points for the day.

The 60-point challenge was risky. A day trip to the Loire Valley to tour the