With another season of The Amazing Race winding down, I've been pondering the ratings for this outing, and scratching my head at why more viewers don't tune in on a weekly basis. This is, in my opinion, the best reality show of the bunch. It has everything - heart-pounding action, strategy, endurance, teamwork, sabotage, and great location shots. So why then does it only average a nine share in the ratings week after week, consistently getting a beatdown from The West Wing and whatever drivel ABC and Fox throw against it? CBS, listen up, because here is the result of all that pondering:
* Fewer teams -- For the first four episodes, The Amazing Race is all but unwatchable. Sure, there's lots of action and plenty of great location shots. But, you can't form any kind of bond for a team, because the sum total of airtime is less than 5 minutes per team. Start with a maximum of 8 teams, utilizing more non-elimination legs to keep the 13-episode commitment if necessary (see below).
* Less action, more team focus -- The only time we get to see the actual teams is when they're competing, about to compete, or doing something clueless for a cheap laugh. We'd really like to be invested in the teams and their performance. Seeing the teams and how they handle the pressures of the race is more interesting to most viewers than watching them actually adding up the numbers on a clock face, or count trees for the umpteenth time.
* More non-elimination legs -- By now, we know there aren't going to be any non-elimination legs until the 7th or 8th episode, and we can pretty much guess how they're going to be. Nothing ruins the excitement more than watching a furious footrace to the finish amongst two of your favorite teams, and realizing that it won't mean one gets eliminated. Mix it up - have an elimination leg in the second episode, and one again in the third if you want. But don't let us in on it.
* Apply the rules consistently -- Over the past three seasons, we've gotten to know the rules fairly well, even though they're a closely guarded secret to non-competitors. The problem is, we all see rule violations on a regular basis, and nothing gets done about it. And while you're at it, make littering with your clue envelopes grounds for immediate elimination from the race, won't you?
* Forget about phone calls from home -- These are cheap Survivor gimmicks, and totally unnecessary to the race. What's great about TAR is that it's completely unlike any other reality show out there. It's all about the race - let's keep our eye on the ball.
* Don't end it with a footrace -- We all know, when it gets down to two teams in the finale, the more in-shape team is going to win, because it always ends with a sprint to the finish line that most long-distance runners would hesitate at. I know it's great footage, watching people run and run and run, and then just a little more running. But it's so predictable.
* Involve Phil more -- For all I know, Phil Koeghan is cryogenically frozen, having taped all of his standard lines during the first season. How many times do I need to hear "a roadblock is a task that only one team member may perform" in one season? Let Phil off his leash, and prove to us he's alive. He could be the star of the show, if you dare to let him.
I think by applying some or all of these alterations, you'd have viewers with a more vested interest in their teams, and thus the show. Of course, you also have the problem of having had two seasons in a row with a team that had absolutely no redeeming qualities that made it far into the game, which also makes for bad viewing. But, if you can complete those challenges, you won't be eliminated when you reach this pit stop. And who knows, you might just win a Kodak EasyShare camera!
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