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May 19

One of the criticisms leveled at The Amazing Race pertaining to its Emmy-worthiness is the amount of luck involved in winning the game, and viewers were treated to a healthy dose of it on finale night. In the last leg, father and daughter Gary and Mallory were in the lead going into the final city, but were knocked plumb out of the running with their choice of cab driver. He couldn't get them to the Road Block location, so adios million bucks.

I realize that every game show and reality contest has some luck. After all, one of my favorites involved answering questions from categories chosen by a giant faux slot machine. But when you're playing for a million bucks, it feels wrong to be derailed not because you fouled up at a critical moment but because you picked someone who couldn't get you to the next checkpoint. Survivor is certainly a game where a few lucky breaks can move you ahead or over the top, but players have to affirmatively play the game, they can't just fluke it; and they get denied year after year come Emmy-time over the Race, which is certainly chock-full of great camera-work, but it i an inferior game.

From winning to being afraid of losing, the Buzzer takes you to The Apprentice. In the pattern of many celebrity game shows where famous people agree to look silly in order to win money for their favorite charity, Celebrity Apprentice has stars undertaking various challenges in order to win money for (you guessed it) their favorite charity. For tasks where the two teams are graded by an outside source, the winners collect a set prize. In fundraising challenges, the money is pooled together and awarded to the charity of the winning project manager. This can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if your team doesn't win you don't get a penny. This bothered Meat Loaf greatly, to a point where he broke down in tears at the prospect of raising all this money but not being able to give it to his cause.

Here's the problem with that: everyone is there to win. There are sixteen people there playing for something. Many of them will be fired without having the chance to be project manager, much less to win anything at all. When given the chance to win a ton of money, grab it by the scruff of the neck and hold on for dear life.

Finally, it was nice to see Rob Mariano finally win Survivor, a show that he's been a part of for nearly ten years now. With nearly four months of time spent in game, he's far and away one of the people who has spent the most time "on the island," and there's good reason: he's fun to watch, he knows how the game is played and how to play it, and he does well.

It was also nice to see a jury who respected good game play and rewarded it. Sure, there always seems to be one contestant who just can't stand that she was outplayed by the three people on the jury and wants everyone to know that she wasn't about to sell her principles for the money, but the game exists in a vacuum anyhow. You don't go to make friends, you go to win a game and win a million dollars. After the game you go back home to the life you had before, and move on.

If you're not playing with the end in mind, you're doing it wrong.

Travis Eberle can be reached at traviseberle@gmail.com.