It’s not The Amazing Race. It’s not even a race, but once you get over that you should be on board for this road trip, wherein we will see seven different tentatively friendly families trekking across this great land of ours looking doofy in pictures in front of landmarks and competing in challenges for money, just like when you go on vacation! So let’s get this show on the road. (See what I did there?)
Getting to Know You
Our host looks like Chris Farley x Andy Richter / average schlub, and our opening montage of American countryside porn and family bonding shots is accompanied by the beef for dinner tune, so you should by now be clueing in to the fact that this is indeed a “Great American” show.
But just to drive it past home into the dugout, we begin in the heartland of Great America: Chicago! Our host, Reno Collier, greets us with wide open arms at Wrigley Field and introduces us to the basics of the show – seven wacky families, seven wacky RVs, numerous wacky challenges, until one family wins $100,000 and the rest are so much road kill withering in the Great American sun.
Speaking of our seven wacky families, here they come!
The Pollards: decked out in ‘Bama gear, so I guess they’re from Massachusetts. Opposite marriage plus one daughter and one son; in a pre-show clip package they proudly show off their collection of rifles (including a bright pink one for daughter) while banjo music plays without subtlety, but according to the son they aren’t “hardcore redneck.” Yes, surely they only use diet coke in the baby bottles. (Aw, rednecks. I only kid because we’re almost kin.) Also, he might should’ve told the show that they’re not hardcore rednecks, because the dueling banjoes are giving off the wrong impression.
The Ricos: Mother, father, daughter, son of somewhere in Texas, whose patriarch is honest-to-God named Ricardo. I think his parents did that on purpose, and so I would really like to meet them. Wife Erica (yes, that’s Erica Rico) says Ricardo is a “Mexican Clark Griswold.” Okay. I guess she’d better hope there’s no “Mexican” Christie Brinkley lurking anywhere then.
The DiSalvatores: your obligatory New Yohrk fam. They’re a mother, father, and two sons from Yonkers; father Silvio has hair like a used car salesman in 1972, which he takes much pride in crafting with only a blow dryer, brush, and mirror. Mrs. DiSalvatore laments that Silvio’s high-maintenance ways make him a pain to take care of, but here they are wanting to be trapped together in a rolling domicile getting on each other’s nerves for an extended period of time anyway. Like families do.
If you stopped to take a sip of water after the DiSalvatores cleared the screen, then you probably don’t know the The Favereys exist. But they do exist, and they’re a M/F/D/S from Long Island, and they’re really excited about seeing the country and exploring. I’m excited about determining what “excitement” means for them. Perhaps they’ll nod appreciatively, or even high five upon seeing the Grand Canyon? Can’t wait to find out!
The Montgomerys: from Montclair, California. Opposite marriage and two sons. Montgomery Patriarch boasts about his family’s strong competitive spirit, and says they hope to get a lot of quality time out of this trip since he spends so much time away from the family being a Marine.
The most interesting member of the Coote Family from Illinois is the hyperactive young son, who talks like a 40 year old bartender as he proudly shows off his room full of trophies and cannonballs into a pile of laundry. We don’t find out much about his parents or his sister, but they’re clearly just the backup singers to the son’s Beyonce.
Last but not least we meet The Katzenbergs, who hail from Connecticut, and who describe themselves as totally fun and outgoing, even as they all appear on Wrigley Field dressed for family weekend at East Coast Boarding School. They should be interesting. Also, the mother is named Hyleri. Really. Her parents should be indicted for cruelty under the Impossibly Stupid Name-Spellings Act of 1992.
We Got a Great Big Convoy
So, our host, whose name I’ve already forgotten, lays out the protocol. The families will start out in Chicago and follow the legendary Route 66 all the way to Cali-for-ni-ay! The series of challenges week to week will send the families home one by one until we’re done. Silvio DiSalvatore is “elated” to find that there’s money at stake along with the chance to see America. It’s like having cake and ice cream too.
The host (Reno!) reiterates that the journey is really the destination here, so the families shouldn’t be worried so much about being faster, stronger, better, as about being good families. The good families stroll over to their spanking new RVs with their names painted on, courtesy of a company who probably paid a lot of money to be mentioned on NBC during prime time.
The Favereys are super excited (you can tell by the way their mouths are actually moving) as they admit that an RV road trip is a real luxury for families who live check to check. Those joints are really decked out too -- plush seating, full beds, and even little touches of décor to compliment each family’s personality. Deer figurines for the Bama Pollards; sherry glasses for the Connecticut Katzenbergs. The Katzenbergs talk about how Hyleri isn’t a full Katzenberg yet, but her 7-carat engagement ring ensures that she will be someday soon. I like how chipped Hyleri’s nail polish is as she waves the ring in front of the camera. Sami is her daughter and Andrew is Marc’s son, so they’re the only blended family on the show.
So the families get a travel guide to help them along the way; our first stop is Springfield, Ill. but before we can even get out of the gate Silvio and his wife Amy have a low-maintenance blow up about who will drive. I would think Silvio would want to sit in the back to protect his coif. Perhaps I’ve misjudged him. Amy’s not too fond of Silvios’s driving, but he lets it happen anyway, and everybody hits the road except them, because Silvio can’t get the motor started. There’s a bottleneck effect and the Bama Pollards are honking their horn in an effort to get Silvio moving. Sound waves are powerful that way. Amy gets the motor running, and they finally head out on the highway.
The Bama Pollards are pretty cute as they gawk at all the big city big buildings Chicago has to offer; Coote Jr. hangs out of the window to wrangle random passersby into rooting for them since they’re the only family from Illinois. Mom Jennifer smiles patiently and says, “This is going to be a long trip!” I pity her already.
Host Reno is journeying along in an RV of his own. What a sweet gig for him. He exposits for us that the families will reconvene in Springfield (The Home of Lincoln, and thus America) to do the first challenge thingy, and then they’ll spend the night camped at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. If there were a fair going on that would be dreamy. Otherwise it’s kind of dull.
Meanwhile Amy has taken over the wheel in the DiSalvatore RV, and Silvio sits back and marvels at being a “a city guy in da freaking mountains, no what are dees, the prairies?” Amy points out that they’re just farms and assumes that cows will be tipped as soon as they leave the vicinity. Silvio wants to drive; Amy advises him to go sit in the bathroom. He responds by sticking a video camera in her face as their son rolls his eyes. Their coming on this trip was a great idea!
Over in the Katzenberg box, Hyleri’s eating Cheetos and talking about how much better their family is than the others, because they’re all in shape and educated. “I’m not,” Sami says as she wiggles around to some music in her head. She’s rather entertaining. Especially to Andrew, who says he can’t really concentrate on what Hyleri’s saying while Sami’s dancing. Hmm. Hyl and Marc might want to keep an eye on those two. I hope they’ve seen Cruel Intentions.
The families keep passing each other and antagonizing each other along the road; we get our first “Are we there yet?” from Daughter Faverey, and both the Faverey siblings urge tjeir father o go faster because they’re behind everyone else. I guess no one told them this isn’t a race. Except for how that’s been mentioned eight times now.
So, everybody makes it there, and they all shake hands and mingle and have supper. Erica Rico thinks everyone is making pretty fast connections, and then we cut to a neat conversation as Silvio expresses reluctance to sit at the Pollards’ table because he doesn’t “want to bother youse.” “Youse?” “Yeah, more than one of you is youse.” “Oh, like y’all?” “No, it’s youse; I’ve never said yee-all in my life.” Ah, cultural pluralism. It’s a wonderful thing. Erica Rico continues to see only beauty as all the kids start playing ball and running around and such, and the sun sets, and somewhere Granny puts a fresh blackberry pie out on the windowsill.
Staying the Course
Amy Di has trouble emptying the septic tank in the morning, because Silvio sensitive stomach won’t let him. He says, so charmingly, “Amy was taking care of number two; I take care of Number One.” You keep being a superstar, Sil.
The travel guides are out again, and we find that the families must make their ways to Lincoln’s birthplace, where Reno greets them with a guy in Lincoln garb. Reno also informs us that there will be two challenges each week: the King of the Road challenge which nets the winning family a prize, and the End of the Road, which only the bottom three families will have to do to determine who gets eliminated.
Today’s King of the Road challenge involves a three-minute political obstacle course wherein they must carry precious votes to a ballot box through lots of hot water, a stubborn “cabinet,” and a bunch of red tape. Oh, America. Your political process rules. Also, surprise, the runners find they will have to wear oversized novelty helmets shaped like Presidents past and present. Amie of the Bama Pollards is excited to get the W helmet. Silvio thinks Nixon’s bulbous face is perfect for a bobble-head, so he’s cool with that assignment, but not so cool with ruining his “illustrious” hair. Each team chooses a parent to don the helmets, and we’re off.
The kids are “Secret Service” who are to guide their parents through the course. The Montgomerys are loading up the votes as fast as they can while the Cootes are taking a more slow and steady approach and strategically placing the votes so they won’t all fall out when Father Coote starts the course. The DiSalvatores are the first ones to attempt the course, and that makes the Montgomerys and the Ricos rush off too. Lenny Faverey isn’t getting much guidance from his kids, but each team is making it pretty smoothly through the reflecting pool and thorny rose garden. Meanwhile the Cootes are still trying to get as many votes secured as they can before setting off. Coote Jr. starts getting impatient so they finally begin to run through it. The Katzenbergs finish first, but Marc isn’t sure they logged the most votes. The Cootes are really dragging now; the three minutes are winding down, and they’re languishing in the red tape! How I love a good political allegory.
Post-commercials we find that they get their ballots into the ballot box with just four seconds to spare. But, before we can begin the official count, Amy DiSalvatore calls a time out because SHE HAS SOMETHING TO SAY. Turns out she thinks the Cootes should be DQ’d because Keith used his shirt to carry some of the votes. Reno clarifies that as long as the ballots weren’t stuffed in his shirt, it’s perfectly fair. Much like how our real live elections work. Forgive me; I live in Minnesota, so all this ballot talk is wearing on me.
Anyway, Amy Di seems to take that knowledge with good grace and back off. She APOLOGIZES, but Jennifer Coote really does not appreciate being called a cheater, thank you very much. Oh Jennifer, it’s not like that. See, she just thought you were cheating. Keith Coote accepts the apology but Jennifer confesses that she’s still offended. Let it go, lady. You won, after all. They packed in 66 ballots, so their prize is a special family dinner somewhere on the Mississippi River. I wouldn’t get excited until I found out that dinner would take place in an actual building, but the Cootes seem satisfied. Bringing up the rear are the Montgomerys who only managed to deliver 27 ballots, the Favereys with 26, and the Katzenbergs, who only managed 19 ballots. But … but they were the fastest! I don’t understand!
So the Favereys, Montgomerys, and Katzenbergs will all compete in the End of the Road challenge the next day. Everyone piles back into their recreational vehicles to head for the next stop: beautiful down St. Louis!
Up in the Katzenberg RV, daughter Sami tries to explain that they sucked so thoroughly because they were much too cocky. I like her. But she is quickly shut down by her mother and brother. Marc vows that they will do better next time.
Elsewhere, the Faverey siblings are already sibling-ing it up; Ashley has gummy worms she refuses to share with her brother Dylan, and she makes a great big noisy fuss about them, complete with her baring her teeth like a wolf and shouting “I’m not happy!” when her mother tries to take them from her. Dude, they’re just gummy worms. There is an endless supply all along these American roads. That’s part of what makes us America. Chill.
At the rest stop for the night, Amy Di once again goes over to the Coote camp to shake hands and apologize. She shrugs and says “I hope things are cool.” She don’t know much about reality tv. A fire truck pulls up to the campsite, and an old-timey guy pops out looking for the Cootes. Turns out he’s the mayor of Madison, IL, and he’s going to treat the Cootes to dinner out on a bridge right on the Mississippi along the border of Missouri and Illinois. I don’t understand what the fire truck was for, but hey, it’s not my prize. The Cootes seem thrilled as they pull up to their table and it is a very pretty setting. They toast each other and inform the mayor and his wife that they are the “Fantastic Four.” The mayor and his wife smile politely as if this is really clever.
I guess the losers back in Loserville had to eat dirt for dinner. We don’t see them until the next morning, as they’re all driving toward St. Louis. The End of the Road challenge is going to take place at the famous Gateway Arch, which is famous for being a great big arch that you can stand near.
Landmarks are weird. I’ve been to the arch, to Mt. Rushmore, and so on, and yeah, those sure are some faces carved in that rock! I mean, the getting there was much more enjoyable than the being there and taking pictures. So I guess the journey really is the destination! Huh.
The families are much more impressed though. There are many awed faces to witness as the families catch glimpses of the St. Louis skyline. Reco greets them at the park, and the challenge is on! This one’s kind of like biggified croquet; each of the three losing families will have to roll a huge, unwieldy plastic sphere through a series of random arches to get to the finish line. The slowest family loses big time and must leave the competition. Also! Each ball must have a member of the family in it. Twist!
And Don’t You Come Back No More, No More, No More, No More
The Favereys are up first. The Katzenburgs and Montgomerys aren’t allowed to watch so they tot off to seclusion. The Favereys start to decide who will go inside that ball when Reno springs one last twist: the balls are tethered to only just enough rope to get through the course along the right path. If they make a mistake they’ll have to backtrack and start again. Who came up with these rules? The NCAA?
Little Ashley Faverey ends up in the ball, no surprise. I hope she digested those gummy worms. They begin pushing her around and Reno offers some corny commentary (“I hope it doesn’t pop! I don’t know how to blow those things up!”), but they get to the final arch and run out of rope. No! They scream at each other in frustration and start backtracking to find the problem spot. Ashley is in the ball whining at them not to give up, and that gives father Lenny enough drive to regroup and get through the final arch in only 15 minutes, 52 seconds. Champions!
Up next, the Katzenbergs. Sami elects to take the sphere spot, and her family attempts to navigate the course of the arches. Sami is attempting to guide her family (again), but they choose not to listen and go their own way so she gets a bit pissed. The Favereys are done, so they get to watch from the sidelines; their faces are tense as they watch the Katzenbergs conquer each arch, but they too get to the final arch and run out of rope. They too must try again, but by the time they complete the course it’s been 41 minutes and some change. They’re toast. The Favereys are officially safe though, so they cheer.
The Montgomerys are up last. Hyleri Katzenbergs smiles and says she wishes them well, but acknowledges that them failing is the only way her family can continue. Youngest son Tiyler (Really?) Montgomery is inside the ball, and the Montgomerys seem to be making a pretty speedy and methodical processional through the arches, thanks to older son Darius Ross who used his super sharp geometry skills to figure out the shortest distance. They rip through the course in only 2 minutes and 21 seconds. Wow, I guess math really is good for something. Math is really good for TV competitions wherein you roll a human bowling through a series of arches. I am learning so much from this show, I swan.
The Katzenbergs laugh self-deprecatingly when they hear how thoroughly they’ve been trounced, and then they go home. Andrew tells Reno that they are starting to become more of a family, and Hyleri grins and says maybe this is God’s way of telling her to go home and plan her wedding. Whatever helps you deal with being a loser, ma’am. At least I won’t have to type “Hyleri” ever again.