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A Wobbly Leg

The willful ignorance of reality tv can be all too unreal

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I’m not ashamed to admit my affinity for The Amazing Race, now in its sixth season. This show does fall victim to the trappings of all “reality” television shows—dysfunctional couples, breast implants—but the pace and international backdrops, I like to tell myself, make it better than the others. Imagine my surprise the other night when my guilty pleasure made me feel so bad.

The premise is simple: teams of two dash around the world, completing tasks in a quest for $1 million. At each stop the producers make a somewhat cheesy attempt to infuse the tasks with some element of local culture: rowing a Viking ship in Oslo, gorging on caviar in St. Petersburg.

This week, the show opened in Senegal on Goreé Island, the last stop for millions of Africans sold into slavery, where contestants took time to say a prayer and shed a tear. Next stop Berlin, where the first clue was found in front of a section of the dismantled wall. This clue led teams past a bombed-out church and to the Broken Chain sculpture to, in host Phil Keoghan’s words, “commemorate the devastation of World War Two.”

I felt like my TiVo must have skipped. If the contestants had flown in from sheep herding in New Zealand to revisit the Bauhaus or partake in Oktoberfest, fine by me. Maybe the producers felt it would be rude to bring up the Holocaust in Germany, like insulting the host’s cooking at a dinner party. Maybe Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum was too far out of the way. But going from the memorial ceremony at an African slave port to a casual jog around genocide left me feeling cheated.

“It’s nice sometimes when the show slows down to acknowledge history,” Phil says on the CBS website. “Those moments are really good because, you know, they just make you think.” Clearly Phil and friends didn’t want anyone to think too hard on this leg.

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A Wobbly Leg

The willful ignorance of reality tv can be all too unreal

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