The (Not So) Amazing Race Australia: Where’s the game design?

The Amazing Race can be great, if slightly mindless TV. The latest Channel 10 season of the The Amazing Race:Australia… isn’t.

Like many folks, I have a few guilty pleasures when it comes to essentially veg TV. You know the type of thing — the kind of program you can throw on, throw your brain into neutral and just have on. Little challenge, but nice to watch while your brain winds down.

I’ve long been a fan of CBS’ The Amazing Race, and as such I’ve been watching the local version, currently airing on Channel 10 at… well, actually I’m the wrong person to ask, as I’m watching via a Fetch TV Mighty on delay, at least a day or so behind the current ep. At least that means I only need to put in a spoiler warning for Sunday’s episode, not the very latest one.

(Also it means that while I’m writing and posting this on Monday, when I’m pretty sure an episode will be on, I probably won’t watch that episode until Tuesday. No spoilers, please!)

Still, while it’s fairly mindless (and therefore fun) telly with a side dose of travel porn on the side, I do have some issues with the current Australian season. And hey, it’s my blog, my rules, so I’m going to vent here.

I should note that this series was recorded in 2020, and that wasn’t the easiest year for travelling anywhere. It’s to Channel 10’s credit that they got anything filmed at all.

The camera folks have done a very nice job of making Australia look pretty spiffy, even if it’s so far been solely in Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia.

Given the 2020 timeframe and closed borders, I can totally understand how it might not be possible to show every state and territory as you might want to.

Also, I appreciate it’s a tough contest to be in. Like many, I have teams I like and teams I don’t, but this isn’t about that at all.

Still, there’s a big problem…actually, more than one. Here’s my complaints:

  • Too much brawn, not enough brain: Yes, I probably do have a bias here, but the Amazing Race works best when teams can get confident in one area but tripped over in another, and that’s often in deciphering clues and dealing with tasks that require thinking and planning. There’s really been precious little of that so far, and even one brains task that involved an escape room on the Ghan… that we didn’t even SEE! Teams just DID IT, but it could have been a brain melting puzzle, or just “the key is under the mat”. We have no way of knowing.
  • Cut out this stowaway nonsense: Look, I don’t even want to pretend I’d last even a single leg, but if I did and then got eliminated, I’d be beyond furious if they suddenly “added” teams after the fact. I don’t have an issue with the reintroduction of teams due to unexpected eliminations — this has happened as well — but adding other teams during the race isn’t fair to the existing racers.
  • The sabotage/salvage idea is good — but badly implemented: I don’t hate the salvage/sabotage idea, where the last 2 teams get either a boon or an impediment… but it’s been badly implemented in multiple ways. The actual benefits and drawbacks have been terribly uneven and not well implemented in terms of the task designs — not being able to talk during a truck tyre change is way harder than carrying some soft kangaroos around all day — but the bigger problem is that the team that comes in first also gets the next leg off. It’d be FAR more interesting if they had to offer up a benefit to a team that they’d then be racing in the next leg, with that benefit in play. They don’t do that. Also, while I’m at it, a little editing would help here, because as soon as they announce that the first place team has to do the salvage/sabotage, it’s clear that it’s a non-elimination leg. Hide that first run team away, and get them to come out when the last team comes in, so that it’s clear then, and you’d have more compelling TV for the audience. Instead, we get these damp squib episodes where we know that nobody’s going home.
  • Inconsistent rules: There’s also been one leg so far that was non-elimination but also not a sabotage/salvage leg — where they went on the Ghan down to Adelaide. The team that came last was saved… and suffered no penalty at all. No speed bump (that we saw — maybe there was one, but if it’s not shown on camera, for the audience it didn’t happen!), and the nature of the way they’re spacing the teams out and the train travel seems to mean that they didn’t even really suffer a time penalty at the start of the next leg. Speaking of which…
  • Way too much bunching: Look, the whole bunching/hours of operation thing is pretty hard baked into Race now, but this series is pushing it way too hard. There’s basically no benefit to coming in anything but first (or last), because everyone just gets bunched together every single time. This is meant to be a race, and having a time advantage over another team should make a difference at the start of legs… but it doesn’t.Am I just overthinking what is a fairly simple program?

Probably… but again, my blog, my rules, and I’d like my Amazing Race to be actually Amazing. So far, this is mediocre.

Lead image: Channel 10, I guess? The Amazing Phil probably doesn’t hold the logo rights.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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