I’ve been watching The Amazing Race reruns with the kids. I’m proud of the way they’re able to spot the often-patronizing (and that’s being charitable) attitude the show takes to the countries and cultures it encounters. It’s the ultimate whirlwind, see-the-sites, reduce-a-nation-to-a-simple-caricature vacation.

But I also enjoy the shit out of it, partly as I imagine myself conquering the challenges that trigger my own phobias (heights heights heights heights heights oh god the heights) and partly because of the chance to see people react to heavy pressure.

It isn’t the casual, tossed-off cruelty of, say, American Idol judges sneering at some poor shmuck with a dream that exceeds her or his talents. It’s character revealed under pressure, Robert McKee-style… and often revealed not just to the viewers, but to the players themselves. Moments of self-revelation are surprisingly rare in American TV, and I’ve been surprised at how many I’ve seen in TAR.

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