By: Robert Philpot
Source: New York Times Syndicate
Jerry Bruckheimer has become a rich man by producing movies in which men are men, women are women, stuff blows up and brains aren't challenged. So it's no wonder that CBS' ``The Amazing Race,'' a reality show produced by Bruckheimer, looks like ``Survivor'' with the dull parts removed.
No pompous introspection (well, very little). No sanctimonious ``giving back to the land.'' No Jeff Probst ``tallying'' four votes. Just people zooming around the world, bickering and celebrating as they hit checkpoints to find clues, which will lead them to the next exotic place, and on and on until the first team back in New York wins a million bucks. It's one of two similar reality series premiering Wednesday night, the other being NBC's ``LOST,'' which doesn't have nearly the energy of ``The Amazing Race.''
The first episode of ``The Amazing Race'' introduces the 11 teams of two, each of which had some connection before the show: There are separated parents considering a reconciliation; grandparents out to beat the young whippersnappers; a gay couple; a straight pair of hunky male lawyers; a couple of attractive female schoolteachers; a mother and her kind-of-snotty young daughter; an amusing pair of frat-boy best friends who don't play the game all that well, but probably have a future as FM ``hot talk'' radio hosts; and a few others who are a little more boring. The teams have a resting destination at the end of each leg of the race; the last team there is eliminated at the end of each episode.
The premiere episode's highlight comes at Batoka Gorge, near Victoria Falls in Zambia. It's one of the checkpoints, and the teams have to pick up an envelope there to find out where to go next. Unfortunately, the envelope is at the bottom of the gorge, and although the teams can walk, it's much faster to take a ride across the gorge on a pulley mechanism, then bungee-jump to the bottom. This makes for an amusing (and, if you're afraid of heights, sweat-inducing) sequence that details everyone's reactions to the jump, and adds some scarily close camera angles as well.
CBS sent reviewers only the premiere episode of ``The Amazing Race,'' so it's difficult to tell whether the series has any staying power, especially with its recurrent yelling and breathless pacing. This apparently was a concern of the producers of NBC's rival series ``LOST,'' where things move much more slowly - but each ``race'' is confined to a three-episode arc, and then there's a new batch of contestants. The series begins its six-week trial run Wednesday night.
It's likely that, after you meet the first batch, you won't want to stick around for the next group. They're six strangers who are then grouped in three teams of two. They're dumped in the middle of nowhere (reviewers have been asked not to reveal where) with a limited amount of food and money, and they have to find their way back to the Statue of Liberty. First team there wins $200,000.
Unlike the contestants on ``The Amazing Race,'' most of whom look scruffy and even aged (even host Phil Keoghan looks and sounds a little weatherbeaten), all six of ``LOST's'' contestants look like models from a video shoot. They are also, at one time or another, infuriatingly dumb and/or smug. The most likable one is Joe, who believes the odds are in his favor because he's gay: ``Every town in the world has a gay bar,'' he says, ``so my people will help me get home.''
``LOST'' works best when it gets away from the contestants and into its sociological/anthropological mode, exposing viewers to different cultures as the players fumble their way toward tidbits of knowledge. It's like a National Geographic special with six nutty neighbors thrown in. But it's so much more slower-paced than ``The Amazing Race,'' and encumbered by so much more dreary narration, that you might find yourself wishing that the idea for the show had become lost itself. http://www.thecaupanther.com/main.cfm/include/smdetail/synid/18220.html