The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business: TV Review

Robert Voets/CBS
Almost "Amazing" going into 18th season.

As CBS' Amazing Race heads into its 18th season – this time with returning teams from previous seasons back for some "Unfinished Business" – reasons for the show's enduring popularity are on full display. Part travelogue, part social experiment, Amazing Race has always risen above the fetid dysfunction that plagues the reality genre. (This is a big part of why the show has seven Emmys.) Sure, there is a measure of predictability to the Amazing Race by now: someone will recount a story of overcoming adversity while cheesy inspirational music plays in the background; by episode two at least one team will have a blow-out fight; eye-roll inducing product placement (".... climb into one of the Ford Focus cars waiting for you...," host Phil Keoghan says helpfully in the opening minutes of episode one).

But the show works because it's about something: a test of wit and brawn and teamwork coupled with stunning video that will be broadcast for the first time in HD. (It's about time, if ever there was a show that cried out for the stunning clarity of HD it's The Amazing Race. And now the producers will get their money's worth for all of those expensive aerial shots.)

This time the show enlists losers from season's past for a second chance at the show's $1 million prize money. Repeat performances are nothing new for reality competition shows. [Race mounted an All-Stars edition in 2007.] But it does give fans someone to root for – or against. And many fan favorites are back including "cowboys" Jet and Cord McCoy (season 16), sisters LaKisha and Jennifer Hoffman (season 14), Gary Ervin and his daughter Mallory, Miss Kentucky and Miss America runner-up (season 17); erstwhile NFL cheerleaders Jaime Edmondson and Cara Rosenthal (season 14); "goth couple" Kent Kaliber and Vyxsin Fiala (season 12); Margie Adams and her son Luke, who is hearing impaired; and Harlem Globetrotters Nate "Big Easy" Lofton and Herb "Flight Time" Lang (season 12), among others.

The race begins in the Palm Springs, Calif., wind farm and hop scotches to Sydney, Australia where teams have to swim with real sharks; tiny Lichtenstein, where they must measure the length of the country on motorized bicycles; and Tokyo, Japan where they endure the freezing waters from Mount Fuji as part of a spiritual retreat.

As usual, the cross-continent Race is part popularity contest part behavior lab and adrenalin will build as the race progresses and team members and contestants increasingly wear on each other's nerves. In the first installment, best friends Zev Glassenberg and Justin Kanew (season 12) telegraph their affinity for Big Easy and Flight Time by sporting Harlem Globetrotter T-shirts. (Big Easy and Flight Time are clad head-to-toe in Globetrotter regalia.) So when the duo falls behind, Glassenberg and Kanew give them an answer to a riddle in order to advance to the next clue. Other teams also help one another, but no one helps the cowboys, who are left to solve the riddle on their own sweat accumulating on brows furrowed underneath ten-gallon hats. If it's a bit predictable that's a small quibble for a reality show that doesn't make you feel like you need a Silkwood shower. And that's the secret to Amazing Race's success; its escapist fun with a relatable hook. It's your summer camp scavenger hunt with a multi-million dollar budget. Who doesn't watch this show and think, I could easily win the $1 million booty if only I could take a couple months off of work?