"The Amazing Race" is, in my opinion, one of the finest shows to come to television in ages. The series, which is an almost unimaginable feat of logistics and organization, has a pack of 2-person teams (friends, family, co-workers, etc) in a race across the world. There are no retakes, and the show shows events in real time as the racers hit various sites across different continents, attempting to solve clues and tasks that will allow them to proceed onto their next "pit stop", where they will rest for 12 hours before heading out into the world once again. The last team to arrive at the pit stop is elimated, although there are a pre-determined number of "non-elimination" legs that are randomly placed throughout the race.
The teams get a certain amount of money for each leg of the race, and aside from airfare (which is covered), it's up to them to save or spend it in the way that they see fit. Getting into the wrong cab can waste valuable minutes or get them completely lost. Every airport visit has to be spent looking for the best option, as an earlier flight than the remaining teams could mean a large lead. The team that gets across the finish line first goes home with $1,000,000.
Within mere moments of starting this DVD presentation of "The Amazing Race 7", it became even clearer what was wrong with the just-ended "The Amazing Race 8: Family Edition": lack of urgency. The majority of the teams in the worldwide races have an intensity that the "family" teams lack. Not only did the race not go around the world, but many (not all) of the teams did not seem prepared for what was ahead of them.
Watching the show's 7th season again cements its status - in my opinion - as one of the better seasons of the series, although not the best. However, this season was also one that many believe will change the way that the race will be run. This would be due to one Rob Mariano, who will be familiar to viewers of "Survivor" and "Survivor All-Stars". Running the race with wife and former "All-Stars" winner Amber Brkich, it was not long before the two were not making friends and quickly became the team that viewers loved to hate (although it surprises me that some seem to dislike Rob more than season 6's horrific Jonathan - the biggest villian in the game's history, I think - or season 5's Colin, whose incredibly explosive temper seemed to get worse throughout the race. At least Colin was watchable, however, as towards the end of the race it seemed like his head might explode.)
Several other teams stood out as highlights during this race, including older couple Meredith and Gretchen who, with luck and determination (and Gretchen's nails-on-a-chalkboard voice) were able to get the farthest (even after an injury) of any couple in their age range on any season of the race. There's also Ron and Kelly, a couple who don't quite seem to be sure they're a couple when the race begins and are completely sure they're not a couple (including a nasty comment by Kelly to former POW Ron that many couldn't believe she actually said.) The opposite is present with Ray and Deanna, who apparently join the race to find out why they're a couple, and don't seem any more sure by the time it's all over. Finally, Uchenna and Joyce play the game well and manage to keep their cool throughout, even when Joyce is confronted with the possibility of losing her hair.
As for Rob and Amber, they do use their fame in order to pull locals in to guide them along the way, although getting help from locals has been done before on the race. However, what Rob revealed was that, apparently there's no rules about trying to stack the deck against the other teams, such as one point where he gets a bus driver not to open a door, delaying a team. One stunt had teams eating huge helpings of meat, which Rob couldn't do. His solution - convince other teams to also skip the challenge and take the 4-hour penalty. Had none of the teams taken the idea and just kept trying to eat and complete the challenge, Rob and Amber would likely have been eliminated. Surprisingly, a couple of teams are convinced to stop a little while later. Those teams then end up starting their penalty later, almost certainly insuring that Rob and Amber wouldn't be eliminated. Some teams seem so concerned with what Rob and Amber are doing that they appear to lose focus, which - even for a minute in "The Amazing Race" - is enough to cause serious mistakes. Love them or hate them (and it's evident while smirking directly at the camera and pulling every trick in the book, Rob likely doesn't care if you hate him), Rob and Amber clearly remain the most debated players in the game's history, and it'll be interesting to see how (or if) their ways change the ways of others in future races.
74. 7- 1 1 Mar 05 Courteous? This Is a Race!
75. 7- 2 8 Mar 05 The Whole Country Hates Me
76. 7- 3 15 Mar 05 Do You Need Some Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation
77. 7- 4 22 Mar 05 What a Gaucho You Are
78. 7- 5 705/706 29 Mar 05 I've Been Wanting a Face-Lift for a Long Time
79. 7- 6 5 Apr 05 Houston, We Have An Elephant
80. 7- 7 6 Apr 05 They Saved the Eyeball (recap)
81. 7- 8 12 Apr 05 Mow'em Down Like Grass
82. 7- 9 19 Apr 05 We Have A Bad Elephant!
83. 7-10 26 Apr 05 We Got a Gnome! We Got a Gnome!
84. 7-11 3 May 05 The Devil Made Me Do It
85. 7-12 10 May 05 Five Continents, 25 Cities and More than 40,000 Miles
VIDEO: "Amazing Race" is presented by Paramount in 1.33:1 full-frame on this seventh season set. Image quality is superb, as the picture appeared consistently crisp and well-defined, with only a few rare instances of softness.
The presentation did not show any instances of pixelation or edge enhancement, and only a few minor moments of shimmer were seen. Colors were bright, natural and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack provides crisp, clear dialogue and environmental sounds. There seemed to be the slightest hint of distortion once or twice, but aside from that, the audio had no issues.
EXTRAS: Three hours of deleted scenes ("side trips"), which can be viewed within the episodes by clicking an icon when it appears on-screen. We also get commentary tracks on four episodes by Lynn/Alex, Brian/Greg, Rob/Amber and Uchenna/Joyce, with different pairings on each of the episodes. Finally, there's a 25-minute featurette that provides an overview of the season and a discussion of some of the controversial moments of the season.
Final Thoughts: This season of "Amazing Race" isn't the show's best (although it is certainly the most controversial), but even a "pretty good" season of "Amazing Race" is considerably above most of what else is on television today. The reality series is consistently fun, thrilling and unpredictable. It's great, fast-paced entertainment that also provides a terrific look at some fascinating locations around the globe. Highly recommended.