Teamwork in Relationships - Lessons from The Amazing Race TV Show

One of the unscripted TV shows that I really enjoy with Myne is the Amazing Race. For those who many not know about the series, it involves couples – who may be siblings, spouses, friends or workmates – taking part in a competition where they perform various tasks in various cities around the world.

Amani and Marcus Pollard (2011)

Why do I like The Amazing Race so much? Well, I like the competition angle, wondering who will finish their stage of the race first. I also find it amusing to see how the couples perform some of the wackier tasks. And then, I like seeing the relationship dynamic between each of the couples, and how they work together to accomplish the tasks that they are given.

This will be the third season we've seen. As we watched this past one, I started to realize that watching it was like a couples’ therapy session for us. The different characters on the Amazing Race TV show – as individuals, as a couple, and partners in a team – provide good material for Myne and I to discuss about attitudes to life, love, and working together.

Seeing the couples certainly showed me that no relationship is the same, or perfect. They all have unique and flawed relationships especially when they're very different in temperament. You have one person being very laid back, and treating the whole affair like a pleasure jaunt, while  the other is highly competitive and engages in lots of strategic planning. When two people like this are on the show, expect to see some fireworks as they drive each other up the wall. There are some couples that act so antagonistically towards each other that you’re left wondering if they're really couples and how on earth they agreed to go on the programme in the first place.

To be fair to the quarrelsome couples, the show often puts the contestants in stressful situations that would certainly try anyone’s patience. For example, the couples are often required to work together to achieve a task, and when the task is especially difficult and things aren’t going well, it’s easier to blame the other person. Or when one half of the couple makes a mistake that could cost them the race, one can see how it's easier for the other half to lash out in disappointment.

Still, I like to think that these stressful situations give the couples the opportunity to do things that strengthen the relationship. For example, in the last series, that there was one couple where the girl would burst into tears when things were not going well – too often, if you ask me. But what I liked was that when this happened, her fiancĂ© would try to console and reassure her so that in the end, they quickly got back on track. And this showed in how far they got in the race; they were in the final three.

So that I don't leave you with the impression that it's all quarrels and drama on the show, there are also some couples who are very co-operative and supportive of each other. I've seen that in both young and older couples so it's obviously not a factor of age. What seems to be the common thread is when there's good communication and where both of them know their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how to disagree respectfully and when to give the other person space seems to be very essential to maintaining peace and equilibrium under stress.

Myne has jokingly suggested that we might be a good couple to compete, but no way could I consider taking part. I think we make a good team, but my view is that while I accept that there will be stressful situations in life, I have no desire to go out of my way to seek them, not even for the million dollars that the winners of the competition end up winning.

And that’s the other thing. I’m just not that competitive, at least, not for that kind of prize. And from what I’ve seen of the race winners, you do have to have a streak of competitiveness to do well. I learned long ago that there are more important things than money, and while I am very much the kind of person who likes to plan ahead to achieve a goal, if I find that achieving that goal will cost my personal happiness, I’m quite happy to walk away.

So for now, I’m quite happy to sit on my couch, enjoy the thrills and drama, visit all those lovely places vicariously, and all while receiving couples therapy. I might change my mind if they guarantee each contestant a minimum of a hundred thousand dollars, and the competitions are no more strenuous than surfing the internet, for Myne’s sake, not mine :)