Those amazing animals!

CBS's "Amazing Race" proves that nothing brings out the beast within couples like dealing with traffic, layovers and illegible maps.

Topics: Reality TV, The Amazing Race, Television,

Those amazing animals!

With so many dating and relationship reality shows on the air, it’s remarkable how few actually manage to hold your attention for more than a few seconds. “Perfect Partners,” “For Love or Money,” “Elimidate,” “The Bachelor” … After the initial novelty wears off, watching these shows is like going on one really bad date after another. If you wanted to sit through moronic, inane banter punctuated by awkward silences, why wouldn’t you just ask out a socially inept halfwit yourself?

If, instead of watching people pretending to fall in love for the camera, you’d prefer to see established couples fall into a downward spiral of contempt and hysteria — and who wouldn’t? — then “The Amazing Race” is the show for you. Don’t let the silly world-travel challenges fool you. “The Amazing Race” is all about dragging long-term relationships over the red-hot coals of conflict. And whether the couples are straight newlyweds, middle-aged gay partners, or frat-boy buddies with flashes of homoerotic excitement at every turn, the seething and the spitty insults are just a grumpy taxi driver who doesn’t speak English away.

While “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Rock” were certainly timeless classics, who knew Jerry Bruckheimer had the vision to back a show that’s basically a relationship compatibility quiz from a women’s magazine, set into live action? As our intrepid couples endure a steady stream of panic-inducing situations, skillfully edited to maximize the nail-biting suspense, we can almost see the seams of their relationships ripping before our eyes. Week after week, the couples strain to keep the peace with each other while keeping pace with the other teams, but the cumulative effect of the gantlet of impossible tasks — from traveling across India on smelly trains filled with groping men to rappelling face-first down the side of a building in Australia — creates permanent rifts and visible emotional scars.

“The Amazing Race” has always been an imaginative and well-produced show, but this year’s lineup of couples has offered more hilarious calamities and personality clashes than usual. Sensing the real reason why audiences tune in, the show’s producers have taken to casting at least three or four teams with poisonous interpersonal dynamics. This year’s Most Attacking, Codependent Couple Award has inspired a worthy battle between engaged couple Amanda and Chris, girlfriends Tian and Jaree, and soon-to-be enemies Cindy and Russell. During the second episode, Chris and Amanda inched closer to the title when Chris let loose a torrent of abuse on his fiancée while they were navigating the canals of Venice in a gondola.

Chris (snatching map from Amanda): Give me this, because you suck at this.

Chris (voiceover): I’m gonna do whatever it takes for us to win.

Amanda: This is so cool!

Chris: It’s not cool if we come in last.

Chris (voiceover): If I have to, you know, be mean about something, I’m probably going to.

Sadly, though, after we watched Chris verbally and emotionally abuse Amanda until she was a beaten-down shadow of her already beaten-down self, the two were booted thanks to Chris’s utter incapacity to complete a simple matching game. Amanda summed up the vortex of pain and anguish that is her relationship with the following words: “He’s still a little jerk, but I love him, it’s OK.” Substitute “big, snarling, abusive asshole” for “little jerk” and you’ve got about half of the picture.

But since The Little Jerks were eliminated before violence erupted, Cindy and Russell picked up where they left off, with Cindy accusing Russell of being “ultra-controlling” and sniping, “It’s amazing I even got through the world without you!” Ah yes, there’s nothing quite like a scolding, sarcastic tirade to get a man on your side.

Even though they just started dating, these two bickered like an old married couple. If you’ve navigated your fair share of crappy relationships, it’s tough to resist the perverse thrill offered by watching a couple break out into a heated argument about nothing.

Russell: We’re not playing as cutthroat as some people … We may argue amongst ourselves, or whatever, but …

Cindy: That’s the stuff we got to avoid … I think our weakest link between us is because of this between us.

Russell: Yeah, but see that’s not, that isn’t slowing us down.

Cindy: Oh, I think it absolutely is.

Russell: Alright, see, you’re actually getting on my nerves right now.

Unfortunately, when contestants want to strangle each other, it seems to take a toll on team spirit, and Cindy and Russell were sent packing that day.

But if the award went to the pair who successfully combined vitriolic outbursts with a burning desire to kick ass, Tian and Jaree would be the clear winners. The two women, described as “Models” and, less convincingly, “Friends,” were perhaps the most spectacular combatants of the season, hurling insults to each other’s faces and to the camera without tact, remorse, or shame.

Tian: You can’t keep up! In the footraces we’ve done so far, you’re always in the back!

Jaree (voiceover): I feel like she’s judging me to death, but not for any other reason than to make herself look good.

Jaree: Quit trying to demean me, OK?

Like a fault-finding wife hell-bent on shaming her husband into behaving, Tian regularly denigrated Jaree in front of the other teams.

Tian: You’re holding onto stuff you don’t need, and you can’t run with it!

Jaree (leaving): You know what? I cannot sit with you. I cannot look at you.

Tian (following her): I’m gonna sit here and bitch until you take shit out.

Jaree: We’re in public, we’re on a train. Do me a favor and shut up!

A few seats over, engaged couple Kelly and Jon giggled and pointed. These two would seem like a mean-spirited, pathetic pairing, if they didn’t roll with the punches so well despite their verbal sparring. They’re one of those deceptive duos who call each other idiots and tell each other to fuck off constantly, but don’t hold grudges and never seem worried about the longevity of their relationship. Kelly regularly questions Jon’s decisions and calls him a dummy, then gets a big crow-eating grin when he’s right. Jon returns the favor by jeering at her when she’s trying to complete a task.

On a recent show, he insisted on instructing her on how to break some boards with her fists, even though she kept telling him to keep quiet. Her knuckles bleeding from a few failed attempts, it was obvious that she was in serious pain, struggling not to break into tears. Finally, Jon said, “Imagine the board is my face. That’s my face! Hit my face! Hit my face!” Kelly promptly smashed the boards in two with a resounding karate chop, proving once again that this is a show with more good old-fashioned laughs than “The Honeymooners.”

But if you really want to meet the Bickersons, check out virgins Millie and Chuck, who’ve been dating for 12 years without sleeping together. Globetrotting with sexual tension so thick you can’t cut it with a Ginsu knife sounds sexy, doesn’t it? Well, get a load of cold, bossy, asthmatic Millie, whining and rolling her eyes at withdrawn, wishy-washy, panic-stricken Chuck, and I guarantee you’ll sooner hope for circus clowns Jon and Al to bump uglies.

Not surprisingly, the pressure gets to the Crabby Virgins a lot faster than some of the other couples. Since fate seems to enjoy torturing this pious Christian pairing, the two decide to stay up late every night strategizing instead of shagging and then catching some shut-eye like other healthier, more sin-friendly teams. Here’s some groundbreaking strategy for you two: Stop freaking out and get some sleep.

You have to hand it to the Virgins for rubbing everyone else the wrong way, though. It’s the kind of situation that does a reality casting-director proud every time. While Chip and Millie almost get into a fistfight over a horse-drawn carriage, Jon and Kelly repeatedly refer to Millie as “Millie the Mole” — due, cruelly enough, to the large mole on her face. “Millie the Mole, she’s a little jack rabbit, she’s on my nerves!” Kelly snips, and it’s easy enough to believe that Kelly is the little jerk here, until Millie proves herself to be consistently high strung and pissy for most of the second half of the race.

During a “traditional Malaysian good luck blessing” which gay beauties Chip and Reichen report was like “getting married all over again” and even The Clowns thought was “special,” open-minded Millie says, “Being a Christian, it was just a little unusual. I mean, what could they be saying? They could be putting a voodoo chant on us!” This from the woman who put a voodoo chant on Chuck at the racetrack, shrieking at him to hurry the hell up while he was clearly having a panic attack. “I feel tight! Hot and tight!” he mumbled. “It’s not good timing, I know!” After 12 years of virginity, your timing is apt to be awful. But was Chuck experiencing claustrophobia, or some kind of a waking wet dream?

As if to make up for the cutthroat tactics, smeared eyeliner and matching outfits of Team Guido during the first season, the show’s producers chose to cast hopeless romantics Chip and Reichen, thereby giving gay reality adventurers a far prettier, friendlier face. Aside from The Clowns, Reichen is easily the most likable contestant on the show this season: he’s smart, easy on the eyes, and calmer than a cucumber in almost every situation, whether he’s pulling a piece of a still-wriggling Octopus tentacle off his teeth or navigating an aquarium filled with great white sharks. And, on top of his grace, nice manners and striking good looks, he rarely seems to make mistakes. It’s no wonder the only battle worth watching here involves Chip’s relationship to himself. He berates himself constantly for not trusting Reichen’s instincts or not following Reichen’s lead. Most of the time, it seems like he’s just mad at himself for not being Reichen — and can you blame him? It almost makes you glad that you’re not dating an even-tempered Adonis. But not quite.

As the season nears an end, three teams — Kelly and Jon, Chip and Reichen, and David and Jeff — battle it out for the title of Bestest Couple Around … oh yeah, and the million-dollar prize. At this point in the game, all three couples are so tightly wound, they look like they drank half a pitcher of strong coffee and then sat through several hours of couples therapy. So it’s not surprising when Jon wrecks the dune buggy and Chip runs over Reichen’s foot in an SUV. It’s annoying that the bland frat boys, David and Jeff, are pulling into the lead, unhampered as they are by the baggage that comes with sexual intimacy — for now, anyway.

But forget the winners. What we really want to know is, will Millie and Chuck ever sleep together? Are Russell and Cindy just friends again? Are Amanda and Chris even speaking? If ever a show was ripe for a postmortem special, this one is it.

No doubt about it, “The Amazing Race” is the ultimate litmus test for a relationship. If only all engaged couples were forced to sleep on the streets of India or navigate the hinterlands of South Korea before they got married, divorce rates in this country would decline faster than you can say, “Do me a favor and shut up!”

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>