host Phil Keoghan, left, congratulates doctors Nat Strand, center, of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Kat Chang, of Santa Monica, Calif., as they are declared the winner of the 17th season of the reality competition series "The Amazing Race," in Los Angeles on the finale episode airing Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010.
"The Amazing Race" has been on the air for nine years and 17 seasons, and it has finally been won by a team of two women.
But why has it taken this long? Is "The Amazing Race" somehow sexist?
As Brook and Claire crossed the finish line in second place, host Phil Keoghan said, "one and two, for the women," and he was counting because it's almost been a source of embarrassment for the show that two women have never won. In recent seasons, Phil has repeatedly pointed out to teams of women that they'd make history if they won. But up until now, no one has.
The only man left in this season's finale, Thomas, crossed the finish line with his partner, Jill, in third place after they were unable to find their way to the final task thanks to a stubborn cab driver and their own refusal to switch cabs. In other words, women dominated the final leg of this race, both in terms of numbers and performance, and that's noteworthy not just because they were great competitors, but because it is so unusual.
Of the 191 teams to compete on "The Amazing Race"'s 17 seasons, teams have been pretty evenly split between men (46) and women (43), with about twice as many mixed sex teams (102). Each of those nearly 200 teams is part of a diverse group with a lot of variation in each team's relationship, never mind their ages, races, occupations, sexual orientations, backgrounds, and other characteristics.
"The Amazing Race" is one of the best-cast reality shows on TV, and so talking about a team's sex alone ignores a lot of its diversity.
But there is that one small fact that was too much for even Phil Keoghan to ignore: While teams of different races, sexual orientations, and ages have won the race, not one team of women has ever won up until now. Even worse, up until this season, just four teams of women have made it to the finale — out of 48!
That's worth repeating. A total of 48 teams in the finale, four of which have been female-only; that changed this season to 51 total teams making it to the finale, of which six were female-only, still a small percentage. Of the 17 "Amazing Race" winners, six have been male teams, 10 have been mixed sex teams, and just one — Nat and Kat — was a female team. Not until season 10 did a team of two women, Lyn and Karlyn, make the final leg.
In other words, there's a wildly disproportionate number of men that win compared to how many actually compete. Based on the types of teams that compete, teams of men should win about a quarter of the time, teams of women should win a quarter of the seasons, and mixed-sex teams should win the other 50 percent.
Something was actively preventing women from winning "The Amazing Race." But what is it? What causes it?
Is there some kind of built-in advantage on the race for men that both male teams and mixed-sex teams to beat teams of women? Or is it a product of international travel? Do teams of women encounter impediments more often, perhaps due to cultural differences or just outright sexism?
Has "The Amazing Race" just not cast strong female teams capable of winning? Or have strong female teams psyched themselves out because no other female team had won, and they assumed the worst?
It's probably some of all of these, but there are too many variables to be sure. More importantly, all it takes is one small thing to go wrong to wreck a team's chances.
Teams screw up. People they interact with, like cab drives, make mistakes or are jerks. Some challenges require more physical strength — strength that younger females sometimes have that older men do not.
In this finale, there weren't physical tasks to complete, though Nat had to overcome her fear of heights to bungee off a crane.
Last season, the final three teams had to carry a trunk through the streets of San Francisco, and one team member had to use an ascender to scale a building. If they'd been given a similar task, would Jill and Thomas have won if Thomas had more physical strength than his competitors? Or would they have still been left behind because of their cab driver who didn't even know what the Internet is?
Someone with patience and a lot of time on their hands might be able to go back and figure out why every previous female team lost the race. Maybe there'd be a pattern there. More likely, it'd be a lot of different reasons, because there's a lot that can happen on "The Amazing Race," which is why it's such a fantastic concept and series.
Let's just hope we don't have to wait another 17 seasons or nine years to see another female team follow in Nat and Kat's footsteps.