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Amazing Race vs. Survivor: Why one works and the other doesn't

by Allison Waldman, posted Mar 24th 2009 10:00AM
amazing/survivorIt might seem crazy to suggest that either one of CBS's two long-running reality series doesn't work, but I'm sticking to my convictions. Survivor has lost the edge it had when it started, and it's no longer a show that works for me.

On the other hand, The Amazing Race continues to set the industry bar high for quality reality (assuming you don't think that's an oxymoron). So, stacking them up, one versus the other, here's how The Amazing Race tops Survivor.

1. Production values
This is perhaps the most obvious advantage that The Amazing Race has over Survivor. The look of the Race is spectacular, shooting in great locations and unusual locales every single week. Survivor is set in an unusual location, and there have been some magnificent scenes in the Amazon and the South Pacific, but once you're in the location, that's it; you're there. Compare that to The Amazing Race and there's no comparison. In the past two weeks of the current edition, competitors on TAR have been in Siberia, one of the world's coldest and most remote places on the map, as well as the slums of India. And it's not just going to the typical spots in these places either. The producers are creative, building challenges that really take into account where these contestants are and the people and culture around them. Once the teams on Survivor make camp, inevitably the location becomes a bore. The night-time filming just looks creepy, with shiny eyes and hard to discern faces, and viewers can feel as anxious for the 39 days to end as the players.

2. Personal dynamics
Reality television has a tendency -- heck, it might be a requirement -- to bring out the worst in people. What do we learn about human interaction on Survivor? Pre-judging people, scheming, backstabbing and playing the angles. It's a game that encourages you to lie and cheat (falsifying immunity idols) and only trust yourself. Not very nice qualities in the real world. On The Amazing Race, however, the whole point of the competition is to succeed as a team. Yes, there are elements of TAR that are similar to Survivor -- teams forming alliances, some lying to get ahead, even using the roadblocks to slow another pair down -- but there seems to be more respect and regard for your fellow teams. I've seen more real bonding on TAR than Survivor. In fact, the worst seasons of Survivor have occurred when the alliances were too strong, like the Cook Island year, when one person (Yul) had a really tight group. He was supported all the way through; he dominated the challenges, and he won with ease.

3. Fun, fun, fun
Initially, Survivor seemed like something fun. You go to an exotic locale where you camp out with strangers, face challenges and if you are not voted off, you can win $1 million dollars. However, over time, the outwitting, outlasting and outplaying has become really hard to watch, as is seeing normally robust, healthy people waste away as they're starved over nearly 40 days in primitive conditions. Is that supposed to be fun? The teams on Amazing Race are treated much, much better. There are mandatory rest periods. Nobody has to survive on only rice and water. The teams don't have it easy; I mean, they have to lug their backpacks and be responsible for their money and passports, but there's something more civilized about TAR. It really does look like a fun and exciting race around the world.

4. Identification
With reality shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race, you can't help but wonder what it would be like to be one of the players. Watching Survivor makes you glad you're not there. As the days drag on, everyone looks bedraggled and emaciated, not to mention dirty and gross. You can only imagine the stink on the team that doesn't win the Dove soap reward challenge. Any show that makes me wonder what it would be like to be so hungry that I'd eat bugs and leaves has to be labeled a turn off. And you would think by now that nobody would go on Survivor without knowing how to start a fire without a match. That would be the first task I mastered. On Amazing Race, I get to imagine what it would be like to hang-glide over the Alps. I'm scared of heights, so that kind of leap would be frightening, but since I'm just watching it on TV -- guess what? -- I get a vicarious thrill.

5. Do you want to wallow or do you want to soar?
As the editions of Survivor have unfolded, the show has become more base. Many of the challenges have become excuses for bikini clad women to fight in the mud. This year, in Brazil, they presented some kind of pseudo basketball game in the water which seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the traditions of Brazil. And why all the physical scratching and clawing? Survivor's best challenges are those involving endurance, balance, mental acuity, and puzzle solving. Ladies do not participate in hand to hand battle in the real world, especially in two-piece bathing suits with their breasts popping out. The Amazing Race generally avoids having the teams go at it like professional wrestlers. It aims for higher quality (although stripping down to undies to run in Russia was gratuitous). TAR tries to appeal to our higher angels, like taking the participants to places where they can see how other people live. Last week, when Luke and Margie saw the slum conditions in India, they were moved to tears. The Amazing Race offers subtle reminders that we should appreciate what we have.

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And I love Phil more aswell. I guess there are similarities between us. I wouldn't want to be with someone like Jeff Probst is.

May 25 2012 at 8:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And I love Phil more aswell. I guess there are similarities between us. I wouldn't want to be with someone like Jeff Probst is.

May 25 2012 at 8:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I totally agree with the article. I love TAR because of all the reasons you mentioned. And what's the most important reason to me? I find TAR better because it's the fair show. There's no votes as in Survivor. You're the last one to come to pit stop so you're eliminated. Simple. And I really love to hate some TAR contenstants and love the others which I can't say about Survivor. Well I have to admit I don't even watch Survivor regularly. I've seen more TAR episodes than Survivor's episodes. And both thing are on our two tv channels right now. Because of that czech tv channel called "Nova" rocks. Greetings from Czech republic.

May 25 2012 at 8:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, I am so totally agree with everything mentioned above. I hated reality shows because of Survivor and everything that followed because it really brings out the worst in people (no.2 above). I just started watching TAR seasong 19 and love the show now. I hope The Amazing Race producers don't feel like they need backstabbing and nasty people to make the show interesting.

January 06 2012 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Kynt and Vyxsin write an Amazing Race blog for Fancast. Check it out-http://www.fancast.com/blogs/category/kynt-vyxsin-amazing-race/

March 26 2009 at 12:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brent McKee

You forgot to add a sixth category - which show would you rather compete on. For me the answer is totally "The Amazing Race" and it would be even if I felt I were capable of coping with the physical challenges on "Survivor." "The Amazing Race" simply seems like it would be a more "fun" show to appear on.

March 25 2009 at 6:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply



March 25 2009 at 3:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I do like that The Amazing Race isn't built around tearing down other human beings, and actually encourages getting along (at least with your teammate).

Survivor has become a show more about manipulation and backstabbing than about outwitting and outplaying. I am very halfhearted about watching it these days.

On the other end of the spectrum are shows like Hell's Kitchen and Apprentice/Celebrity Apprentice. Those shows demand you criticize and blame others, and Trump and Ramsey encourage it. I used to watch them, but they make me feel so bad I quit.

On the other hand, The Amazing Race is really a good show about bringing out the best in all of us. It's really the only reality show I make an appointment with myself to watch. (Except last Sunday, it got pre-empted nearly an hour and I ended up watching it online MOnday night instead.)

March 24 2009 at 7:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The thing that I hate most about TAR is the contrived drama they cook up in editing.

March 24 2009 at 4:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MIke McCann

There is a world out there where enjoying both is fine.
With Survivor, the back stabbing, and conniving behaviour sometimes makes it hard to watch but it is fun to see someone think they have it all figured out , only to have all turned around. As for physical challenges, they are something I wish were in TAR. The allegation that women don't do physical in the real world is a slam to those I know who play rugby, hockey, waterpolo and basketball. And as for TAR, only, showing us the world and it's people, Survivor always has episodes where they bring contestants to a village in whatever country they are in and they get immersed in the culture.
The one thing you never see on Survivor and you see it multiple times a year on TAR is the contestants insulting the people or the country they're in with gems like "it's so ugly here" or "the idiot doesn't
understand English".

March 24 2009 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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