The Telefile
<I>The Amazing Race</I> vs. <I>Expedition Impossible</I>

Last night, Expedition Impossible, the latest competition reality show debuted and this one bears some remarkable similarities to The Amazing Race. It's from the mind of Mark Burnett, the reality mega-producer who brought us the granddaddy of competitive reality shows, Survivor. He also brought us Pirate Master, but he'd probably prefer that we forget about that one. Anyway, I was excited because I loved Burnett's early series Eco-Challenge (though the production values lacked some sparkle, the actual physicality of the show was appreciated) and hoped that this would be a modern version of that. In some ways it is, but in other ways, it also liberally borrows from TAR. Here's how to keep these shows straight and figure out which is worth your time if the majority of your life isn't spent watching reality shows like mine is.

The Teams
TAR: There are two players with some sort of pre-existing relationship on each team.
EI: There are three players with some sort of pre-existing relationship on each team.
Who Does It Better? The extra player doesn't really make a huge difference, shockingly. They're all still wearing ridiculous matching outfits. So really it's a tie, but at least with TAR there are less names to remember.

The Hosts
TAR: The amazing Phil! Phil Keoghan's got a deep voice and the ability to terrify contestants with the mere arch of his eyebrows.
EI: Dave Salmoni. He's known for playing around with wild animals and is a really only sort-of memorable presence when he's holding a baby lion... which he's not doing on this show.
Who Does It Better? Salmoni is sort of the Dunkleman to Keoghan's Seacreast. And he really needs to work on his boring documentary-sounding voiceovers.

The Traveling
TAR: The contestants start in America and take off on airplanes to various countries over the course of a month.
EI: The contestants are dropped in the middle of a remote locale (in this first season, it's the Sahara desert in Morocco) and then have to travel 100 miles and do ten large challenges along the way.
Who Does It Better? Hard to say so far, but I hate the stupidity of contestants getting waylaid by taxis and airplanes on TAR, so I'm hoping that EI will put the onus on the players where it belongs and not on poor camels or something.

The Physical Challenges
TAR: There are always some challenges that involve a bit of running, heavy lifting, endurance or falling from heights. But there are also plenty that make you jump rope for 12 seconds or dress in costumes and walk through the streets to a beat.
EI: In the first episode alone, they had to hike up a giant sand dune, climb a mountain, rappel off the same mountain, hike for five miles and ride a camel. In one episode.
Who Does It Better? If EI keeps up this pace, I'm going to have to hand it to them. They've got some insane tasks that actually force their contestants to be in real physical shape. It's not quite up to MTV's The Challenge as far as insanity, but still, scaling a rocky mountain is actually difficult.

The Mental Challenges
TAR: Well, it never ceases to amaze us when people haven't heard of Chekhov or Kafka, but sometimes they actually have to puzzle things out and/or do math.
EI: So far it looks light on mental tasks, with counting snakes being the most intellectually taxing thing they were asked to do. Though thank goodness that someone had the survival skills to find water in a desert, because otherwise that could have taken all day.
Who Does It Better? I'm giving it to TAR because word scrambles and detailed clues are much more complicated than reptile counting.

The Emotional Challenges
TAR: Teams are dragged around the world and forced to fight about their personal issues while also dealing with their inability to speak different languages, coping with uncooperative forms of transportation and overcoming varying levels of exhaustion.
EI: Teams have to deal with a bit of in-fighting since there are three personalities instead of two and sheer physical exhaustion pushing them to the breaking point.
Who Does It Better? TAR. I'm honestly surprised that most people don't need a 30-day stint in therapy to recover from it all. Physical pain is fleeting, but the extra stress of dealing with circumstances that are beyond your control and the realization that someone you love is an a-hole is the kind of frustration that can last a lifetime.

The Diversity of Players
TAR: There have been old people, young people, deaf people, little people and all manner of shapes, sizes and races on the show.
EI: It's only season 1, but they scored by casting all different ages, races and abilities, including a guy who is blind.
Who Does It Better? Probably even, but since I've had more years to get to know the weird and wonderful contestants on TAR, they get the edge.

Product Placement
TAR: The Travelocity Roaming Gnome is practically synonymous with this show, and last season featured an entire episode about Snapple.
EI: The winners get Ford Explorers, they only drive Ford Explorers and Ford got Mark Burnett to be in a commercial about Ford Explorers.
Who Does It Better? I actually kind of like the cute Roaming Gnome and watching Luke's meltdown from swallowing Snapple made that mess sort of worth it, but this still goes to EI, which spent so much of one episode shilling for one product.

Overall Watchability
TAR: Even in a bad season (of which there have been a few recently), there's something compelling about the show and watching people struggle with different cultures. If nothing else, it always has a travel porn aspect to it.
EI: The pilot was boring and Salmoni didn't help matters at all. We're already kind of tired of looking at sand, so an entire desert-bound season could get old pretty quickly.
Who Does It Better? TAR. Because we'll never quit on the amazing Phil, even when he's dealing with morons.

See TWoP's editors discuss their picks for this summer's best reality competitors in this segment airing on the New York Nonstop news channel:

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