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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Monday, March 2, 2009

Running down "The Amazing Race"

Mike White doing gymnastics in Romania. Come on, you don't need much more incentive to watch "The Amazing Race" than that, do you?

Three weeks into its latest installment, adding a "celebrity" face has only increased the enjoyment of TV's finest reality competition (I would have argued that "Top Chef" was on "Race's" level until last week's Hosea debacle. Moving on ....)

As you may or may not already know, White (writer/actor of "School of Rock," "Nacho Libre," "Freaks and Geeks," among others) is competing with his 68-year-old gay rights activist dad, Mel, in the adrenaline-charged 14th season. Due to their even-keeled demeanor and unique life story (Mel worked for Jerry Falwell and the Religious Right until coming out of the closet in 1994), they're a pair worth rooting for. And despite the odds being stacked against them, they're doing quite well -- finishing first on Sunday's latest leg thanks to some nimble work by Mike on the balancing beam.

Overall, "The Amazing Race" is about THE RACE, not contrived drama or regrettable, forgettable skank bus hookups. It's the rarest of reality shows, one that can keep its winning formula the same each season and deliver entertaining results based on clever editing with a mix of heat-of-the-battle emotion, good ol' fashioned sportsmanship and a healthy smidge of greed-induced villainy.

Having just started to weed out the bottom feeders, now is the ideal time to stop watching "American Idol" and tune in to a far better reality competition. Here's a quick recap of who's still running (in order of their latest finish), along with some pros and cons for each:

Mike and Mel (father/son)

About them: Mike, as already stated above, is a Hollywood writer and actor best known for his role as Ned Schneebly in "School of Rock." Mel is gay; Mike is bisexual.

Pros: Cerebral and even tempered. Seem to have their priorities in order and consistently encourage each other along the way.

Cons: Mel's age and lack of endurance thanks to a nagging groin injury almost cost them already. It'll eventually be a bigger issue on strenuous physical challenges that require a quick turnaround.

Root-ability factor: 9 out of 10. A much better "celebrity" pair than "Survivor's" Rob and Amber, who've memorably failed on two "Amazing Race" installments.

Amanda and Kris (dating)

About them: The customary "good looking" team consisting of a slender Abercrombie-type model and a perky athletic blonde. It's a tried-and-true "Race" formula: attractive people can't control their flimsy relationship dynamics and usually rip on each other in the ugliest manner possible.

Pros: Fierce physical competitors with youth and shimmery teeth on their side.

Cons: Kris appears to be the "smart" one, and has already corrected Amanda for two rather innocuous verbal gaffes. He probably gets one more freebie before she snaps and the argument snowballs into why he spends so much time looking at himself in the mirror.

Root-ability factor: 5 out of 10. Likeable so far ... at least until Kris falls prey to the macho douchebag stereotype. If he doesn't succumb, put them on the winning side of 5.

Kisha and Jen (sisters)

About them: Former Division 1 college athletes with a heavy dose of 'tude.

Pros: Have already endured the rigors of college athletics at the highest level. "Race" should be a piece of cake physically.

Cons: Horrible communication skills. Little sister Jen has already been forced to swallow Kisha's bullying while driving. A massive bout of road rage is bound to take place.

Root-ability factor: 6 out of 10. An all-female team has never won the "Race," so that'd be admirable. But two head-butting, tell-it-like-it-is sisters make for a volatile combination in pressure filled situations.

Margie and Luke (mother/son)

About them: Luke has been deaf since birth and delivered the valedictorian speech at his graduation ceremony from Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. He's the first deaf competitor in "Race" history. At 50, Margie appears to be a workout warrior with the stamina of someone half her age.

Pros: As you might guess, the pair exhibits incredible patience and unique communication skills. Having such a close bond can only help.

Cons: Then again ... all communication runs through Margie, which might be a problem in a foreign country where two voices are always better than one. Luke also has a major crush on former NFL cheerleaders, Cara and Jaime. Get back to helping your mom, Luke! Eyes on the prize!

Root-ability factor: 10 out of 10. Luke's puppy love aside, you have to root for anyone who uses a physical impairment as motivation to accomplish great things in life.

Mark and Michael (brothers)

About them: Good things come in small packages. Mark and Michael both stand 4-foot-9 and are professional movie stuntmen for child actors.

Pros: Fearless and incredibly fit, these guys appear ready to jump off the nearest skyscraper or swan dive into a pool of sharks on a moment's notice. If the final challenge is a limbo contest, these mighty Mini Me's are poised to dominate.

Cons: If you're short, you naturally have a Napoleon complex. That can be an incredible motivational tool until it eventually turns you into a bit of a jack-***.

Root-ability factor: 7 out of 10. Underestimate the little guys at your own peril.

Christie and Jodi (friends)

About them: Flight attendants who already have an extensive travelogue.

Pros: Frequent flier miles have to count for something beyond just knowing which airline has the best mini bag of pretzels, right?

Cons: For being renowned travelers, both are a bit scatterbrained when it comes to navigation. Neither appear to be particularly adept at physical challenges. Having finished near the bottom on the first three legs, if there was a prime choice to go home next, it'd probably be these two.

Root-ability factor: 3 out of 10. A bit of a ho-hum team compared to those listed above, though under-the-radar status could also be a bonus.

Jaime and Cara (friends)

About them: Former NFL cheerleaders who serve as the show's best eye candy.

Pros: Jaime is a former police officer, Cara a budding law student -- a nice break from the ditzy, girly cheerleader stereotype that probably places them low on the threat list for most teams. Being attractive always helps in the kindness-from-male-strangers-in-foreign-countries department, as well.

Cons: Already displayed some unnecessary rudeness (and ugly Americanism) during a shoddy cab ride last episode. Patience could wear thin throughout.

Root-ability factor: 2 out of 10. Eh, good looking people already get enough breaks in life.

Tammy and Victor (siblings)

About them: Both have Harvard law degrees and appear quite accustomed to being the smartest people in the room.

Pros: Competitive drive and big brains -- but are they the kind of street smarts needed to survive on a race around the world? Truthfully, they should be a formidable team.

Cons: Big brother Victor thinks he's infallible, a character flaw that led to a colossal blunder on the last episode, putting both in last after they had jumped to an early lead. Stubbornness from two successful siblings used to getting what they want is bound to be a dicey issue.

Root-ability factor: 1 out of 10. C'mon! In today's sagging economy, people with Harvard law degrees don't need a million dollars. Unless this past challenge gave him a nice taste of humble pie, pushy Victor might also be the show's best shot at a villain.

So ... any other "Race" fans out there? Potential first-timers, will you watch so I have someone else to talk about this awesome show with?

"The Amazing Race" airs at 7 p.m., Sunday nights on CBS.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,



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