'Big Brother' beats 'The Amazing Race'

Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Yahoo TV
Cody and Jessica won <em>The Amazing Race</em>. (Photo: CBS)
Cody and Jessica won The Amazing Race. (Photo: CBS)

The next time your dad tells you to stop lying around the house all summer and go out and make some money, tell him you’re training to win a million bucks. That’s pretty much what happened in the season finale of The Amazing Race on Wednesday night. Cody and Jessica, having spent the past season of Big Brother taking naps and snickering at everyone around them, proved themselves lively competitors in the 30th running of the “race around the world” and won the million-dollar first-place prize.

To accomplish this, the duo defeated the two other finalist teams, Yale graduates Henry and Evan and X-Games champs Kristi and Jen. For anyone who watched Cody and Jess’s time in the Big Brother house, their Amazing Race performance was startling. In BB, the duo was an isolationist pair, cutting themselves off from the rest of the household with surly sullenness — their go-to facial expressions were dead stares. On TAR, they came alive. Jess was affably chatty and frequently quite amusing in her analysis of the show’s challenges and other contestants. Cody dropped his tough-guy deadpan much of the time, extolled his love for Jess to the cameras, and powered his way through many of the most difficult “roadblocks.” It’s hard to make the case that they did not deserve to win.

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Nevertheless, there was a lot of grousing on Twitter that Cody cyborg-ed his way through numerous physical challenges as Jess stood on the sidelines yelling, “You got it, babe!” “When did it stop being a requirement for the team members to split the challenges 50/50?” asked one tweet among many posing a similar question. And of course, Twitter is also mean: Sentiments like “Good job Jessica on making it an entire race without having to do ANYTHING” were common. But in the end, TAR’s fiendishly complex final challenge — building a model airplane from parts decorated with stickers from each leg of the race — was a grueling, knotty problem that Jessica solved all by herself and which secured the duo its win.

Sociology frequently enters these reality-TV competition shows in unexpected ways. In this season of the Race, it was interesting to see that, once the field had narrowed to four (with the inclusion of the two Indy car-race boys), the three teams who identified themselves as physical competitors excluded the cerebral #TeamYale from their downtime, socializing moments. Poor Henry and Evan and their polysyllabic vocabularies — at first they didn’t even seem to realize they were being given the cold shoulder by the others. They just went on cheerfully, jabbering in complex complete sentences about their strategy. It’s so rare to see a couple of academic types out in the real world and on television, this made #TeamYale a novel and welcome presence this season, and shame on the others for being clique-y and mean to them.

I wonder what the future of The Amazing Race is. CBS seemed to be burning off this season by scheduling numerous back-to-back episodes that risked exhausting the viewer. It’s fun to watch people race around the world for an hour; after two hours, you start feeling nearly as exhausted as the contestants themselves. Then too the show has a lot less presence in the culture than it used to. Survivor seems to be surviving by going ever more meta, as next week’s debut of the “Ghost Island” edition, an entire season based on knowing the mistakes made on earlier seasons, seems to prove. And Big Brother — now in the midst of its “celebrity” edition — just keeps getting more absurd, more trashy, and, alas, more buzzy and more talked-about. (Quick question: Is there any way the BB producers are not manipulating this game so that Omarosa makes it all the way to the end?)

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for The Amazing Race, the show that allows armchair travelers like me to tour the world without getting up from the sofa. I just wonder whether America, now more than ever uninterested in what goes on around the world (we have too many problems at home to deal with), has enough interest in keeping The Amazing Race running.

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