Although I'd never seen The Amazing Race on TV, I jumped at the chance to review the first season's DVD release, mainly because I am a huge Survivor fanatic and my friends kept telling me "yeah, Survivor's cool, but The Amazing Race is even better." Oddly enough, aside from these two programs, my tolerance level for "reality" television is exceedingly low. (I once watched an episode of Temptation Island and then had to re-learn the entire alphabet.)
So when I reviewed The Amazing Race: The Complete First Season, I said stuff like this:
"As The Amazing Race's first season hops from Africa to Paris to China, you get to know the contestants in up close & personal fashion. But then one duo that you love to hate turns around and does something sweet. Or your favorite team pulls a sneaky tactic and you start to root for someone else. The producers are smart enough to portray their players during their nastiest moments, as well as their most noble ones. This allows the viewer to see the players as everyday folks, and not just golden boy goodies and hiss-worthy bastards.
The Amazing Race is a whole lot of fun, and with 13 full episodes* packed into this four-disc set, you're going to have the ride of your life. Just remember to get up for food once in a while, because The Amazing Race: Season 1 is digital quicksand. Stick one toe in, and you won't be able to extricate yourself until it's all over.
I'm hooked. Period. I'd contend that The Amazing Race should be the only logical response when someone says "all reality TV shows are garbage."
And guess what, DVD fans? Season 7 might just be better than Season 1! (I'm told by numerous folks that Season 8, the "family" race, was pretty much a disaster.) It's as if the producers were just hitting their comfort zone, if such a thing even exists with a project this massive, and felt free to open the game up for a few new diversions. TAR's seventh season also benefits from a fantastic array of colorful players and the arrival of the Survivor sweethearts, Rob Mariano & Amber Brkich. Needless to say, these two make quite an impression on the race.
The cast of contestants is made up of "the old couple," "the gay guys," "the frat-boy brothers," "the bikini blondies," and so on. But what's most entertaining about the Race is that, as the season goes on and on, you get to see a whole lot more of these folks' heart and soul than you ever would have expected. Plus all the running and airport jockeying and wild animals and physical challenges... It's just a real treat to sit down and watch one whole Amazing Race in two wide-eyed sittings.
The television airwaves might be littered with tons of garbage, but there's always a few diamonds out there. From what I've seen, The Amazing Race is absolutely one of 'em. (Yes, it's even better than Survivor. There, I said it.)
#1: Courteous? This is a Race! -- From Long Beach, California, to Lima, Peru, eleven new teams face off on their way to the first Pit Stop. But for the unlucky duo that crosses the mat last, this heart-pounding leg of the trip will be Journey's End. (03/01/05)
#2: The Whole Country Hates Me -- The ten remaining teams do some fancy footwork in Cuzco, Peri, before a photo-finish footrace in Santiago, Chile, has one unlucky team dragging their feet reluctantly homeward. (03/08/05)
#3: Do You Need Some Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation? -- In the rugged Andes, the teams test their physical strength when they choose between rafting or biking seven death-defying miles and then sit down to a four-pound meal of Argentinean meat. (03/15/05)
#4: What a Gaucho You Are -- It's a race against the clock when a Roadblock has team members riding a horse to spear a ring in less than 40 seconds, before traveling on to Buenos Aires and a Detour ominously named "Shipwreck or Island." (03/22/05)
#5: I've Been Wanting a Face Lift for a Long Time -- The seven remaining teams fly from South America to South Africa, where they face challenging new competitions involving tricky tunnels, terrifying towers and tribal tests. (03/29/05)
#6: Houston, We Have an Elephant! -- It's a battle in the Botswana bush country as the teams compete in a roaring driving race through crocodile-infested waters and around log-strewn paths. (04/05/05)
#7: They Saved the Eyeball (Recap Show) -- From shipwrecks to shoe shines to shopping for orphans, this side trip revisits the most thrilling, harrowing and hilarious moments in Season 7, with electrifying clips from the previous episodes. (04/06/05)
#8: Mow 'Em Down Like Grass -- Battle lines are drawn when two teams don't share flight information to India, but it's every team for itself when a Roadblock has them looking through six hundred boxes for the clue to the next Detour. (04/12/05)
#9: We Have a Bad Elephant! -- A mystery train carries the competitors to Jodhpur, India, where four teams drive elephants in a harrowing race. But it's an even closer shave for the duo that wins the Fast Forward in a traditional Indian ceremony. (04/19/05)
#10: We Got a Gnome! We Got a Gnome! -- In Istanbul, Turkey, the teams discover that success comes in all shapes and sizes as they search for Travelocity Roaming Gnomes and scale the daunting 25-foot wall of a European fortress. (04/26/05)
#11: The Devil Made Me Do It -- With one elimination to go, the four remaining teams travel to London and engage in a classic battle of Brains vs. Brawn before attempting to maneuver a double-decker bus through a wily obstacle course. (05/03/05)
#12: 5 Continents, 25 Cities and More Than 40,000 Miles! -- In the exciting two-hour finale, the final three teams travel to Jamaica to compete in the most spectacular highs and lows of the race - from a dive off a bridge to a fantastic limbo contest on the beach! (05/10/05)
(Episode synopses are taken from the Paramount DVD cases.)
Video: The episodes are presented in their original broadcast format, which is full frame. Picture quality is pretty excellent, especially when you consider that 90% of the show is filmed on handheld cameras ... while running.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, which is just fine, with optional subtitles available in English.
Extras: Just like with the Season 1 set, each episode comes with the optional "All Access Pass," which means you're getting an additional 3+ hours of Amazing goodness. Just click ENTER on your remote whenever you see the detour sign, and you'll be treated to lots of never-before-seen interviews, anecdotes, and deleted scenes. A very cool addition, although an alternate "deleted scenes" menu might have been a welcome feature.
You'll also find contestant audio commentaries on four of the episodes, but I'm not going to tell you which players are contributing the chat-tracks, because that might give you a hint as to who lasts the longest. Suffice to say that if you dig the show and you like the players, the commentaries will be a fun listen once you've gotten done with the entire race.
On disc 4 you'll get a 25-minute featurette entitled Reliving the Race, in which several of the competitors look back over the race and its most memorable moments. (There was a car accident and a bloody head injury!)
When you stop to think of how much preparation and planning must go into just the set-up of this race, it makes the final product seem all the more impressive. Like I said before: The Amazing Race is not only (and easily) one of the best reality shows; it's one of the best things on television, period.
Just like Season 1, this set earns the Collector's Edition designation, simply because it's an excellent DVD presentation of an addictively entertaining program.