In the context of Survivor, we frequently discuss the editors’ role in presenting winners and losers. A contestant who suddenly gets a lot of screen time after being invisible for many episodes is probably about to get the boot. Someone shown bragging about how awesome they are is being set up for a fall. Someone who gets a lot of confessionals in the first few episodes is usually not long for the game, unless they’re going all the way. And sometimes, the guy shown bragging in the first episode about how they might as well make the check out to him ends up being the guy who takes home the million.
The Amazing Race is not Survivor, of course. It’s harder to wring a story arc out of a competition that basically resets on nearly every leg. But the editors still give it their best shot. We touch on this frequently in the podcast, but I thought this might be a good week to take a closer look at this season’s edits. So let’s put on our Jonathan Penner hats for a moment and examine the stories each of our remaining teams is telling.
Max and Katie: We saw a lot of ugly moments from Max and Katie early on, but in the last two episodes they appear to have cleaned up their act. It was telling when their first confessional as they approached Berlin alluded to the fact that they hadn’t won any legs yet and had expected more out of themselves. To me, that was as good as a spoiler—they might as well have smash-cut to a shot of Phil doling out the prize of the week. Later in the episode, they admitted the Race hadn’t been the idyllic honeymoon they’d envisioned, but if they can get through it without killing each other, they can get through anything. Think they will? I do. Everyone loves a redemption arc. The Beekman Boys were subpar racers throughout most of last season, and none of the teams outside of their alliance seemed to like them very much, but boy did the editors want US to, and truthfully, we kind of did by the time they crossed the finish line. If you’ve ever seen their other reality show, you’ve seen a couple that communicates primarily by bickering. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. And I don’t believe for a second that Max and Katie went from nonstop sniping to perfect harmony overnight, either, but that would certainly make it easier for us to cheer them on.
Joey and Meghan: The YouTubers have only been close to elimination once, but what’s your general notion of their racing skills? Not good, I’d wager. Last night, as we watched their little model train derail over and over, it looked like they were struggling mightily. Joey had more trouble working out the answer to his trivia question. But then they checked in second and seemed as cool (and as fashion-forward) as a pair of Fonzies. We could be watching a team who nearly fell apart last leg make a stunning recovery and start sprinting for the finals. But instead, we are watching the many foibles of Joey and Meghan, which doesn’t exactly scream “winners” to me. Mostly, they’ve been comic relief. I’m sure Joey gives them plenty to work with, especially after having seen his YouTube channel, but they’re still not getting as much credit as they could be, especially if there was a first-place trophy in their futures. So I’m inclined to think there isn’t one.
Caroline and Jen: Apart from the Botswana speed trap incident, we have barely heard a peep out of the country singers regarding their strong faith. What we have heard them do is talk strategy. They’re a little bit facetious about their alliance partners, noting a few times that romance is not as in the air as the hockey bros might think. And they ditched them in a hot minute when Anthony cracked his giant letter during the Detour, observing that they’re going to have to think about strategy and start running their own race if they don’t want the hockey bros to beat them at the end. (Yes, that was the right move, and if they’d done otherwise I’d be calling them idiots.) How do you give a pair of cute-as-a-button, relentlessly upbeat, God-fearing Southern belles a villain edit? It’s not easy, but the Race seems to be trying. Whether they’re meant to be villains on their way to a downfall or strategic powerhouses on their way to a million dollars is harder to say. How they handle next week’s U-Turn might shed more light.
Bates and Anthony: As with Joey and Meghan, Race editors seem to be underplaying Bates and Anthony’s successes in favor of giving us a few laughs—but possibly to different ends. The editors have taken every opportunity to show the hockey bros riding coattails, goofing off, and hitting on girls instead of racing, and yet they’ve won four legs so far with big dopey grins on their faces the whole time. Make no mistake—these guys are professional athletes. They know how to compete. They are better at this than they look. Race brass may have cottoned to the fact that nobody seems to like a team that just walks through everyone else—just look at Rachel and Dave (season 20), Cheyne and Meghan (season 15), or Nick and Starr (season 14)…or go all the way back to the beginning with Rob and Brennan (season 1). All incredibly nice people, all excellent racers, but not exactly memorable winners. Portraying Bates and Anthony as affable doofuses who sort of luck into their giant pile of wins and aw-shucks their way out of bad situations may be an attempt to give them a more nuanced plotline. Or it may be setting them up to be gracious losers. But these guys do seem to be the fan favorites.
Mona and Beth: Joey and Meghan are comic relief, Katie and Max argue, Caroline and Jen flirt, and the hockey bros goof around, but Mona and Beth are just sort of …there. Half the time I forget they’re still in it. We see them check in, and we get a few obligatory minutes of them out on the course, but that’s about it. I’ve heard the excuses—only a limited number of minutes every episode, can’t sacrifice a good story in favor of equal air time, not everyone’s got a dynamic personality that commands minutes on screen—and I’ll just say this: if these ladies were going to win the million, the editors would have found a way for us to know them a lot better by this point in the Race. They may avoid elimination next episode. They may even make the finals. But a more likely scenario than Mona and Beth winning this race would be a surprise twist bringing Chuck and Wynona back into the game for THEM to win the million via Wynona’s deft and skillful completion of all remaining roadblocks. It’s just not the derby moms’ story this season.