Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Amazing Race Fix

There are two things I find mildly annoying about one of my favorite shows, The Amazing Race.

First, the amount of time some episodes spend showing what happens in the airport as teams are trying to book tickets. The ability to find the best possible flight, although occasionally useful, is simply not that exciting to watch and, in the vast majority of cases, all teams will be on either the same flight or flights that land close together--which ties into the next problem.

Second, the problem of "bunching", where the the Amazing Producers arrange things so that all teams, no matter how ahead or behind they are, will be bunched together either through the requirement to fly somewhere when very few flights are available, or the requirement to go someplace to get a clue when that place doesn't open for several hours. Either way, the result is that all the teams end up sitting around and any lead gained from past success is lost. In other words, it makes the viewer feel that what went on earlier was a waste of time since it didn't impact the race.

Now, we can understand the producers' reason for bunching: the show has to (1) providing transportation, security, medical, and other production assistance to teams spread out through several countries would be an expensive logistical undertaking; and (2) show ratings would presumably decline if one team gained what looked like an insurmountable lead--imagine, for example, if during the end of Season One, both the Guidos and the Lawyers had been stuck in Alaska as the Bronx natives landed in New York for the final pit stop. It would have been a very boring finale.

However, this problem is not insoluble. Through the sheer processing power of my magnificient brain, I have come upon a way to resolve the airport and bunching dilemmas. The key is to always reward teams for doing well, while at the same time making sure the race stays competitive. Stay with me now . . .

The last team to arrive at the pit stop is eliminated, as usual. All teams after the first team to arrive receive a sliding scale time penalty: the second team to arrive leaves 5 minutes after the first, the third team leaves 5 minutes after the second, etc. The worst deficit a team could have (coming in tenth in the first leg of the race) would be to leave 45 minutes after the first team. The 5 minute sliding scale is chosen because it provides sufficient incentive for teams to jockey for position while simultaneously ensuring that no team is completely out of contention--after all, the only thing the team in last place needs to do at the beginning of a leg is make up a 5 minute deficit to stay in the race. Over the course of the race, teams might slowly move up or down the scale depending on how well they perform. Finally, all traditional bunching elements would be resolved between episodes--flights would carry all of the teams and only happen between legs of the race (and between episodes), challenges would only take place when sites were open, etc.

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