The Amazing Race Finale And The Value Of Tenacity

amazingrace2012-2SPOILER WARNING: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FINALE OF THE AMAZING RACE, SPOILERS FOLLOW, INCLUDING THE WINNING TEAM.

I love The Amazing Race, it’s hands-down my favorite of the reality competition shows. What I like most about it is its purity. Whichever team crosses the finish line wins. Period. No “voting off the island.” No judges making a decision based on subjective criteria. You step on the mat first in front of host Phil Keoghan, you win.

That’s not to say there isn’t strategy involved, but the interesting thing about TAR (as those of us who love it call it) is that when teams implement strategy, the audience usually turns against them.

For instance, this most recent season saw one team finding the money another team accidently left behind–and deliberately keeping it. As far as the audience was concerned, that team was in the permanent doghouse for bad sportsmanship, even though it could have slowed the other team down and helped them in the long run. (Although in this case, it didn’t.)

So the audience for the most part was pleased when three of the most popular teams landed in the final three. This included an underdog team, Josh and Brent, the self-described “Beekmans,” a gay couple who seemed tottering on the edge of elimination week after week. Yet they stayed in it, week after week. In a stunning conclusion to the finale, they finished the race first and won a million dollars.

This set off a plethora of opinion pieces about how the “wrong” team won.

And I say, no team ever deserved to win more.

Why?

Because they NEVER GAVE UP.

They were one of the teams deemed the weakest by some of the other teams, which at times worked to their advantage, but not often. No matter how many times they came in last, no matter how many obstacles, no matter how hopeless their situation seemed, no matter how much they bickered with each other–they never threw in the towel. They just kept racing.

Tenacity can be a great asset in any endeavor. This was highlighted in the final challenge, when the three teams had to match the words “hello” and “goodbye” in different languages to the countries they had raced in. Aside from the French and Spanish words, none of the teams had any idea of which words were in which language.

Racer Lexi, who had been a great competitor throughout the race, had a meltdown when she couldn’t figure out the right combinations. It cost her the race. Josh and James (of the third team) managed to keep calm. Josh hit on ignoring the words and playing the odds with a process of elimination. He finished the task first, which propelled his team to the win.

One of the reasons Lexi had such a hard time with the challenge was purely psychological. She and teammate Trey knew that in previous seasons the final challenge has had something to do with the location of each pit stop at the end of each leg of the race. They had taken notes and believed themselves prepared. It never occurred to them the challenge would be about the words spoken to them at the pit stops. This totally psyched Lexi out and hobbled her progress during the challenge.

Over the many seasons of TAR, several teams have been done-in by giving up or giving in to despair way too soon. One year, a mother and daughter team was so convinced they were going to lose they broke the rules and took a cab when they weren’t supposed to. It turned out if they had stuck by the rules they could have survived that leg of the race because another team was in far worse trouble.

The finale of this season’s Amazing Race reminded me quite a bit of the old Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and The Hare. While Trey and Lexie and James and Jaymes did admirably throughout the race, they also underestimated the Beekmans as competitors. They did not see the value of pure tenacity, and how that can be a winning strategy. Just like in Aesop’s tale, slow and steady won the day.

Of course, tenacity won’t ALWAYS yield success, as one year when a team spent hours into the night looking–almost literally–for a needle in haystacks and not finding the clue. They never recovered and were eliminated.

But they sure won a lot of admiration from the audience.

There are also factors like luck that can impact an outcome. A mechanical failure on a plane or a clueless cab driver have sunk more than one team in the past. But all the teams are on equal footing in the sense that it could happen to any of them.

Tenacity alone won’t guarantee a win, but giving up will surely guarantee failure.

I think that’s a great lesson that can be gleaned from this surprising and amazing outcome.

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