Travel Channel to show Season 12 of Amazing Race

To tide you over until Amazing Race 13 begins on September 28, tune into The Travel Channel. Starting September 3 at 8 p.m. EST, season 12 will be shown.

Although the winners from season 12 are known– Rachel and T.K., the couple who had smart ideas about how to use the dough (although with the abysmal showing of the current market and housing crisis, I wonder how that went?) there are travel tidbits about each of the countries the contestants visited and host Phil Keoghan’s commentaries.

My favorite episode was the Burkina Faso leg, particularly when most teams didn’t know how to say the capital Ouagadougou when they found out where they were heading. The camel milking made for the best TV. Plus, of all the locations, this was probably the one that was the most obscure to many of the folks who tuned in to watch.

Here’s a review of that episode on TV Squad to refresh your memory or to catch you up to the crazy antics that can happen as teams of two people race around the world on a chase for a million dollars.

Jason Hughes, at TV Squad wonders if The Travel Channel’s airing of the show may mean that CBS is thinking about pulling the plug since it is only picked up season by season. In that case, The Travel Channel could take it over. I hope it will stay on CBS so people can see it without cable.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show: Thumbs up

Yesterday, I wondered if ABC’s I Survived a Japanese Game Show would be really awful or very funny. I had some concern that there would be cultural insensitivity that would make for very bad TV. My teenage daughter, who I corralled to watch with me, and I laughed and laughed.

Hollywood got it right.

Whoever thought of this show likes people and knows something about what it feels like to be thrust into an unfamiliar environment, but wanting to stay open to the experience. This was like Lost In Translation meets The Amazing Race, Average Joe and the game show, Beat the Clock.

Because the cast had no idea what kind of show they had signed up for when they arrived from their various homes across the U.S., even the quick trip from the domestic to the international terminal at LAX in Los Angeles was funny.

“Huh? Say what?” they wondered after the short hop from one building to the other.

“You’re going to Japan,” said host/interpreter Tony Sano.

“Great!” ” Wonderful! ” was shouted out in a flurry of excitement. Most had never been out of the U.S.

After arriving in Tokyo, Ben Hughes, age 44, and the official handler of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania summed up the feeling, “I was sitting on a couch in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and now, I’m in Japan.”

After briefly establishing Tokyo as a bustling, bright lights, big city kind of place, contestants were taken from the busiest intersection in the world across Rainbow Bridge to their home away from home –Kansai House run by Mamasan.

Mamasan, a stout Japanese woman has the role in the show of keeping these folks in line and teaching them a bit about Japanese culture. ” No shoes in the house,” she barked. “Now, you go to bed.”

The sake, the traditional style Japanese beds and the remote control toilet were points of interest before shut eye.

Here are a few of the reactions:

  • Of the sake, “It’s lighter than a wine cooler.”
  • Of the beds, “I don’t know if I want to sleep on the floor,”
  • And of the toilet, “Tokyo is way far advanced than the United States of America.”

The next morning, still without a clue about the purpose of this Japan jaunt, the contestants were taken to Toho Studio where Sano told them, “Many classic Japanese films are made here.”

All nodded and murmured in their what I imagined was a jet-lagged, “I don’t know why this is important really since I’ve never seen a Japanese classic film, but I’m happy to be here anyway” sound.

Then the fun really began. The intro to the game show was perfect.

As they trotted through a door while Sano told them that this was where one of the most popular game shows was filmed, one of them said, “It’s completely pitch black.”

Sano said, “The game show starts right now,” and the lights came on.

Surprise! There they were in the middle of the studio floor. “Hello, America! Welcome to Japan!” shouts out game show host, Rome Kanda. The Japanese audience on both sides goes wild.

The Americans are up for anything, even though they have an inkling that they are in the middle of a cross-cultural joke.

The look on their faces reminded me of how my Peace Corps group and I must have looked the day we were whisked from our Western-style training site to live in an African village only three days after arriving in the country. Totally unprepared, but willing to give it a go.

“This is Majide,” Kanda, explains. “It means you got to be crazy.” For the chance to win $250,000 the contestants are willing to be crazy.

“Wave to the crowd,” says Kanda.

The contestants wave.

“Wow, they do whatever I tell them,” says Kanda in Japanese to the Japanese audience, who laughs and continues to stomp, beat on drums, generally make excited audience sounds, and shout out “Majide” whenever Kanda gives the cue. This is a non-menacing audience, though, and the impression is they are rooting for the Americans to do well.

Gamely, and good-natured, the contestants divide up into two teams: the yellow penguins and the green monkeys.

The first game is called, “Conveyor Restaurant.”

In a nutshell: One person from the team is the eater. The other members have a helmet like contraption on their heads that holds a mochi, a sticky rice ball cake. Running on a treadmill, they make it to the spot where the eater is. The eater, without using his hands, has to lean over, grab the mochi with his mouth and eat it all up while the treadmill runner drops to the treadmill and is briskly dumped into a vat of flour.

The team that downs the most sticky rice balls in four minutes wins. As the game continues the treadmill goes faster. It was a hoot.

“There’s no cheating and no hanky panky,” warns Kanda.

“Good fall,” says a member of the yellow penguins who are watching from the green room. Zip goes a green monkey into the flour.

Later, covered from head to toe in flour, Ben says, “I hate treadmills,” but runs his heart out anyway.

“The mochi ball was so gooey I couldn’t chew it and swallow it,” said Donnell Pitman, age 32, and a real estate developer from Illinois who was the green team’s eater.

Sticky or not, he downed 10 of those babies. Which was enough to win the game. The yellow team only managed nine, even though 28 year-old, Andrew Kelly-Hayes, a radio sales consultant from Massachusetts ate like a champ.

“I don’t even know what that was. It was like putty,” he said later.

Once, while Andrew was chewing away, Kanda said in Japanese, “Look at that chubby face go to work, ” making the audience chortle with delight.

Fellow teammate, Darcy Sletager, a single mom and photo editor from Sandpoint, Idaho couldn’t stay on her feet long enough to deliver one mochi ball which caused the yellow team to lose.

“Darcy looked like a crash test dummy,” lamented Justin Wood, a financial representative from Alabama, and another yellow penguin.

For losing, the yellow penguins got to dress up like rickshaw drivers the next day to haul amenable Japanese people around.

For their win, the green monkeys scored a helicopter tour of Tokyo.

Each of these segments helped fill out the hour time slot of “How I Survived a Japanese game show,” but also established the personalities of the players. Cathy Nardone, age 21, for example, was described as a “Staten Island Diva.”

After the rickshaw experience, one of them said what is a mantra that ensures pleasant travel, “We took a bad situation and made it pretty cool.”

Still one of them was to be eliminated. The team chose Darcy because of her lack of “Conveyor Restaurant’ performance and Bilenda Madison, to compete in the game “Big Bugs Splat on Windshield.”

Dressed like bugs, the two took turns running towards a trampoline that they jumped on which hurled them at a mock-up of a car windshield with targets. The one who deposited green goo on the windshield closer to the targets got the most points.

“Are you exciting? ” Kanda asked Darcy. “Yes, I’m exciting, ” she said before running towards her last jump. She was exciting, but came one point short of winning.

At this point, guys in black suits ran into the studio, and after dancing around winner Bilenda, picked up Darcy carrying her out of the building.

The show ended with Darcy walking out the studio gate still dressed in her costume, her bug wings bouncing and her antennas swaying ever so slightly.

Yep, I was impressed. This is a good-natured show, at least so far. It teaches a bit about Japan, generates fun–perfect for the summer, and shows just how willing Americans are to put on a game face when they have to, and liking it.

I’m tuning in next week.

*Photos are from the “I Survived a Japanese Game Show” Web site.

Times of India and circle of peace: An expat story

Even though this was Martha’s week to cover The Amazing Race, I was once again drawn into the foray of the global dash. When the teams were told to pick up The Times of India when they got to Mumbai, I flashed on my own The Times of India connection. It links to the theme of Aaron’s recent expat post and the question of expats and lifestyle.

The expat question is a complicated issue that I have thought about with every place I’ve lived overseas. One notion, I think, has something to do with intention and motivation for living in a country. We didn’t move to New Delhi, India, for example, with the intention of making India a permanent home. I also think it has to do with economics. Expats, in my mind, have more money and perks, in general, than they do when they live in their own country.

Our expat life in India was due to the teaching jobs that took us there. As expats, we were more immersed in India than if we were just traveling there, but we always knew we would eventually move on, so the experience was not the same as if we thought we’d live there for years and years. What people do with their expat experience, however, has to do with how they view living in another culture. Some people live totally surrounded by other expats, often people from their own country. Others, like us, do what they can to make the country that is not theirs feel like home and to take part in the culture as much as possible. Also, when we lived in India, our jobs offered another unique perspective.

When you work with young people like we did as teachers, one goal is to help them see themselves as part of the world community. Kelly wrote about this somewhat when she visited her friends in China and wrote about it in her series, Chinese Buffet. Often, the view happens to be of a place of privilege, but in international and American schools where kids of many nationalities come together in classrooms there is an opportunity to envision a world where everyone might get along.

There are several times when I taught overseas when this vision was evident, but the most powerful was September 11, 2002. Considering the news from Pakistan this past week, I’m reminded about that day, the hope that was generated by a bunch of middle-schoolers, and an essay I wrote about it.

The essay was published in The Times of India and since I found the link, here it is. I have no idea what happened to the paragraphing when the paper put it on-line, but you’ll get the idea. Consider this a story to carry over to the new year. It’s an expat story that offers up the potential for peace. At least if the kids who made the wooden doves that day remember what it felt like.

The Amazing Race 12, Episode 2 recap

It’s Episode 2 of season 12 of The Amazing Race and the show starts out with teams starting to leave at (ugh) 12am. Their mission? To get to Amsterdam as quickly as possible. First we watched them as they drove to the Shannon airport, and I got a good laugh at the two blonds, Shanna and Jennifer — first they commented on how difficult the race is because, like, oh my god, they haven’t been able to get a manicure. Then the one driving couldn’t figure out how to turn on her highbeams, so she had to hold down the lever the whole time because it was obviously busted. “Unless I’m an idiot …“, she says. Um, no comment. Also, on the way to the airport, Donald and Nick (Grandpa and Grandson) got a flat tire. Poor guys.

Once the teams made it to the airport, all but Mariana and Julia made it onto the first flight to Dublin. From there, six teams made it onto the flight to Amsterdam, with Ronald and Christina and Nick and Donald vying to make it on standby. Both were at side-by-side ticket booths and while Ronald made sure to be polite, Nick didn’t extend the same courtesy and was a bit crass. But it paid off — Nick and Donald made it onto the flight, but the ended up getting a *very* stern talking to from Ronald. Ouch. But the moral of the story? Rude works.

A word about Ronald. He was hard to watch this week, if you ask me — he was constantly lecturing or criticizing his daughter when he could have been doing something productive like, um, I don’t know, the task at hand? I think it was mentioned that he is in sales and I can see that — he doesn’t seem to ever stop talking. He describes himself as optimistic with real truth flavour, but I would call him nitpicky. However, I loved his shirt — it read ‘Who’s your daddy.

Once they got to Amsterdam, the groups headed to a bridge (didn’t catch the name of it) and encountered a detour. They got to chose between rigging complicated knots and hoisting furniture up to a fourth-floor window of a Dutch house, or combing through thousands of bikes to find two with specific colours, then riding them to the next clue. It was pretty well divided — half the teams chose the furniture and half chose the bikes. Shanna, one half of team blond, did a pretty impressive job on the rope-rigging and furniture hoisting, I must say, as did Vyxsin (I’ve noticed that she usually does the physical work on team Goth. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — just sayin’ … )

After they completed this task, they headed to a rural area where they encountered a roadblock. One team member had to pole vault across a muddy bog to retrieve the next clue. This was by far my favourite part of the show — it was like watching some Japanese blooper reel, since so many people fell into the muddy water. I got the most satisfaction out of seeing Jennifer of Jennifer and Nathan fall butt-first into the canal on her first try — her constant banshee-like shrieking at Nate is really starting to get on my nerves. I felt bad for Grandpa Donald because he had such a hard time with it, but he did provide some comic relief by stripping down to his ginch. Kynt was very hesitant to vault across the pond — afraid to ruin his makeup or muddy his fishnet arm thingies, hmmm?

Next up, teams had to ride to the pit stop, Durgerdam. Well, to be precise, one team member peddled and one rode in a big bin in front. Vyxsin, of course, did the peddling, until she got fed up and insisted Kynt do it. Jennifer and Nate’s ride was, as expected, filled with more shrieking, interlaced with dirty talk about other teams — she called Shanna a ‘little b***h’ for being a better pole vaulter.

Lorena and Jason made it first and each won themselves a speedbike. Jennifer and Nate were second, followed by Jennifer and Shanna in third and Kynt and Vyxsin in fourth. Kate and Pat were last, and though they weren’t my favourites, I felt kind of sad for them because they were one of the only teams this episode that seemed to be getting along and enjoying the journey.

All in all, I was thoroughly entertained by this episode — there was a great balance between drama and comedy. Your thoughts?

(All photos from The Amazing Race Official Website)

The Amazing Race All-Stars: 1798 Miles and Lots of Bad Accents

I love watching The Amazing Race. While I don’t care much for the teammate squabbling, I love seeing so many remote parts of the world, many of which are non-traditional staples of American TV viewing.

This season, the series’ 11th, boasts the so-called All-Stars. Featuring some teams you may have rooted for in the past — and some teams you may not have rooted for — this season will, no doubt, be filled with deceit, treachery, lying and sleaziness — especially since Rob and Amber are back.

Beginning with an impossibly long ride to the airport in Miami, the teams head for Quito, Ecuador…

… where they rush to Pim’s Restaurant. After receiving staggered departure times for the next day’s trip to Hacienda Yanahurco, an ecological reserve in Cotopaxi National Park, the teams have to choose between Wrangle It (give a beauty treatment to a horse) or Recover It (find a needle in a haystack). Ultimately, sneaky, snake-y Rob and Amber score a first place finish while formerly dating couple John Vito and Jill get the boot.

Of course, it’s easy for me, as an armchair racer, to critique the racers’ performance from the comfort of my sofa. However, I did come up with some things that the racers probably should have avoided — and that you might want to avoid on upcoming trips:

  1. Do not speak to locals with English infused with accents that you believe the locals speak with. They will not understand you better. Charla and Mirna are notorious violators of this travel no-no. Just speak slowly and clearly.
  2. In the airport, many of the racers accost the ticket agents, demanding the earliest-arriving flights. Generally speaking, I don’t think this is the best method for getting the seats you want. Be polite. Ask nicely. Be calm. Freaking out never made an airline seat appear.
  3. While I understand that time is critical, asking foreign cabbies to speed and/or break the local laws is probably a bad idea — and doesn’t make the rest of us travelers more appreciated.

In summary, the racers experienced 2 countries, 1 nearly dislocated shoulder, and 1798 miles of stale airline air.