The Amazing Race Canada – a franchise on the brink?

You don’t need to travel anywhere else – you have everything you need in our home country.

Gino Montani

Sixteen words. That’s all it takes for one team to potentially ruin a franchise.

In the next few weeks, Amazing Race Canada will begin its fourth trip around the world. As an outsider looking in on this franchise, it strikes me how different it feels to other Amazing Races around the world. This franchise doesn’t rely on the flexibility of travelling, knowledge of language, flight intrigue. No, it is fuelled by nationalism, by the belief that – above everything else – Canada is the best damn country in the whole world.

And, the weird thing is, they’re not exactly wrong. Canada is a fantastic country. I’ve spent nearly a month there in the past four years, and I can count on one hand the number of unpleasant people that I’ve met. However, nationalism can be a very dangerous thing, especially if it is left to overrun a franchise that has shown so much promise.

Amazing Race Canada began, as my good friend Logan likes to say, as a beta test – a test to see whether Canada – possibly the biggest fans of Amazing Race around the world – could sustain their own version. As a precaution, production limited the season to nine teams and ten legs, all of which took the China Rush model of not leaving their borders. As the show became Canada’s most popular show of all tiiiiiiiime, pleas for the show to embrace international travel began cropping up. Season 2 had two countries – China (Hong Kong/Macau) and France – appear outside of Canada’s borders. Season 3 extended this to three – Chile, Argentina and India. However, the tide began to turn during the airing of Season 3.

During Season 3, a tide of nationalism swept over the fans of Amazing Race Canada. Gone was the excitement to see new countries or teams deal with language barriers, and instead we had celebrations at visits to exotic Sudbury (suck it, Trebek) and a final memory challenge that involved string. This was compounded by the winners of the season – who in the opinion of this author are some of the most boring people ever to race – stirring up the tension to dangerous levels with their winners’ quote being the above sixteen words. They weren’t challenged by anyone – Monty agreed with them at the Finish Line, and so did the fans on the pages – and this is a very worrying trend.

Amazing Race is a show that thrives on new experiences, on ordinary or extraordinary people being pushed to their limits, doing things and seeing places that they would never have dreamed of. And even more worryingly, Amazing Race Canada risks grinding to a halt without the intrigue or vibrancy of the exotic and new locales.

People may claim that Amazing Race Canada is different – it is intended to showcase Canada, and not the world. I wholeheartedly agree – I’ve learned more about Canada than I ever could have thought possible three years ago. I’ve learned that Canadian casting is almost always fantastic, for example. But, I’ve also learned that Canada rests on its laurels when it thinks it has a good thing going on. There is a huge difference between patriotism and blind patriotism (and no, the difference isn’t that you don’t have to put your picture on the board for blind patriotism!) It is very easy to forget that Canada – along with many other countries around the world – has a place in the world, and it is just as important to show the world Canada as it is Canada the world.

Last season, producers focused more on adding in twists like the Double Battle, rather than adding in more countries, and that is fine. It was a wondrous idea to add in the race for the Double Express Pass in the second leg instead of just resting on your laurels and handing it to the winners of the first leg – that is how you build upon your franchise, but don’t think for a second that you can relax or rest easy or get lazy. To quote the introduction to every season of Survivor, they need to adapt, or they’ll be voted out. And the problem that Amazing Race Canada faces – whether they realise it or not – is that the actions of production now may condemn the franchise to the scrapheap in a few short years.

The international destinations are another point of contention. A little-known part of the show’s deal with Air Canada is that they can go on any Air Canada flight, but more importantly, on any flight with an Air Canada number – even if it is a codeshare flight. This means that they can fly on Air China, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and any other airline in Star Alliance. Just because it’s not an Air Canada plane, doesn’t mean they can’t still say that the flight is provided by Air Canada (which it still would be). Air Canada alone flies to 182 destinations in five continents around the world – there is literally no excuse for minimising international travel. In addition to this, almost every English-speaking country in the world has a Canadian ex-pat community and – even if they restricted travel to Commonwealth and former British Empire countries – they could tie every leg for ten seasons back to Canada, without it feeling forced or egregious.

So finally, my plea to producers – please be very careful when the season begins. Please don’t stoke the nationalistic fires that you so carelessly stoked last year. Please don’t be scared of the backlash you might face for expanding to a fourth or fifth country. And please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t let Gino & Jesse be your damn mouthpiece again. As a fan of your show and an outsider to your country, make the season that we know you can make, and make this season amazing.

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8 responses to “The Amazing Race Canada – a franchise on the brink?

  1. Pingback: Podcast #128 – The Amazing Race 28 Episode 10 Recap | Reality TV Warriors·

  2. Unfortunately, I don’t see any Canadian season of spending much time outside its borders. I think the first season just set a (unintentional) bad precedent since 95% of folks don’t travel outside their province and got to see all these new places. It’s certainly disappointing as the international episodes have been the best in the series but if majority of the viewing-audience wants Canada-only, then you have to go with what gets ratings.

    If the audience is demanding a certain version, Popularity is much more important than quality when production looks at it. I think what we’ll happen is is many fans, who like the international traveling aspect, will just stop watching the show but the fanbahse is large enough now that it will be on the air for many years.

    Even Jon was quick to emphasis the Canadian legs in season preview interviews – “Montgomery confirmed the fourth season takes its new crop of adventurers outside Canada’s borders twice, but he’s quick to add it’s the way in which The Amazing Race Canada showcases this country’s grandeur and beauty that sets CTV’s version of the Race apart from its U.S.-network counterpart.

    “The best part of this show, for me, is exploring Canadian themes and ideals for Canadians. It really is kind of a postcard to Canadians, and inspiring Canadians to explore their country and celebrate what we have here is, I think, the greatest spinoff from having a show like this on our TVs in the summertime”

    http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/TV/not-everybody-thinks-like-a-canadian-384362731.html

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  3. That quote from Gino last season really was horrible. It was, however, the perfect final scene to a season that really collapsed at the end. And it definitely summed up the problem with TAR Canada. A TAR staying in their home country is not a problem. TAR China Rush, Philippines and Vietnam have produced solid seasons in their own countries. But TAR Canada’s borderline-xenophobic view of Canada has really just grown with each season. It really climaxed with Gino’s quote, but with season 4, we saw it continue. Instead of adding even one more international Leg, they just cut one Leg out. (Smaller budget is a whole other discussion and says a lot about the show’s dim future.) But even Emmett’s had a quote in the finale: “It’s been amazing going to all these cool new countries. But it’s been even better getting to explore OUR OWN country.”
    You just know the show HAD to included that at the end. There’s definitely no problem with loving one’s country. But TAR Canada has overdone it and it’s really hurt the show overall.
    The patriotism doesn’t seem to have helped since TARC4 declined in ratings and no season 5 was announced. It was also obvious CTV cared a little less this year too.

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    • I completely agree. The thing that worries me more is that, with Canada’s 150th birthday next year, they’ll remove even more international travel, which will suffocate the series further. The cast of TARC4 did their valiant best to keep it afloat, but it’s getting worrying to me now.

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      • IF there’s a season 5 of course. I do think CTV may be waiting on TAR29 which CBS could very easily air in the summer. I doubt they’d want to air two TARs at the same time of course. So they wouldn’t have a need for TARC5.

        At the same time, I was really surprised by CTV seemingly not putting in as much effort into season 4. Lower budget, fleeing sponsors, less promotional support. It was surprising since TARC3 was still a #1 show. So a budget for TARC5 could be lower, which also restricts adding more than 3 international Legs, if any.

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      • Great! 🙂 I think out of our 100+ Amazing Race podcasts, the TARC retrospective is the one I’m most proud of – I was getting sick of bitching about the lack of effort from production for TARC4 during our recaps that it all came out in the retrospective. All my sort of unfinished business with TARC is now sorted for good 😛

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