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The Great American Road Trip

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Have you been wanting to relive your family's summer vacations?  Adults and kids wedged in an RV, getting lost, trying to find the campground that has a pool, stopping to read historic markers, showering in shifts?  Competing against seven other families in bizarre obstacle courses and being followed everywhere by cameras and a host who could easily be mistaken for Andy Richter?


Then The Great American Road Trip, the NBC reality show that pits misfit families against each other in a race ("not a race," caution the host, Reno Collier) from Chicago to California on Route 66, is for you.  From the Pollards, self-described country folk from Alabama, to the Katzenburgs, a privileged blended family, to the DiSalvatores, "typical New York with a twist," everyone gets packed into themed tin cans and set on the road.

This is a reality show with a heavy dose of sap along with the usual staples of internecine conflict, diva behavior, and showboating.  So for the first night, the kids all play football together while the adults … toss things in buckets and untangle wires, or at least that's what they showed us, and it sure looked like quality bonding.

But despite the overlay of family values, there's still an elimination every week.  In Springfield, Illinois, family members put on giant papier-mache president heads and navigate a maze of items related to executive office (red tape, a cabinet, a rose garden, etc.) while carrying as many ballots as possible.  The Alabama contingent is thrilled to get the George W. Bush head, predictably, while Silvio relishes the chance to impersonate Nixon.  Although Amy. DiSalvatore accuses the Coote patriarch of cheating, the Kennedy-headed Cootes are declared the winners and get … a dinner on a firetruck in the middle of a bridge across the Mississippi for their trouble.  (If Jeff Probst had rhetorically asked "Worth playing for?" before the race started, we might have heard some demurring.)

The three lowest vote-carriers have to undergo an elimination challenge to see "whose vacation ends here."  As the Favery kids bicker over gummi worms, Amy apologizes once again for her cheating comments, and the Cootes shake her hand but refuse to let it go once she walks away.  Come on, people.  How many apologies do you need?


For their "end of the road" challenge, the three bottom families have to roll one of their own in a giant inflatable ball through miniature gateway arches in the shadow of the real deal in St. Louis.  The catch is that the ball is tethered to a rope just long enough to allow for one route through the winding maze.  The ultra-competitive Katzenbergs — who gloried in leading the pack on the highway even though there was no reward for doing so — ended up losing and heading home.

There's just enough potential for familial discomfort and misplaced aggression here to make The Great American Road Trip an okay bet for limited-run summer reality viewing.  Or at least to get a few kicks along Route 66.


Grade: B-

Stray observations:

- If you're a reality show aficionado, you might recognize Silvio DiSalvatore from American Inventor, where he pitched his invention Black Cougar, "the first superhero that has one goal, and that goal is to protect children."

- The Katzenberg fiancee believes that being eliminated was God's way of saying "go home and plan your wedding."  Isn't it just possible that the message was "don't marry this guy?"


- "Don't curse, Mom!"

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