Sunday, June 3, 2018

From Stone Town to Heavy Metal

When Another One Bites the Dust came up on our PVR’s episode list for The Amazing Race (S29:E4) from April 2017, I was very curious to see how Queen factored into this very popular reality show.

After the obligatory recap of the previous week’s episode, host Phil Keoghan explains that the next leg of the race lands them in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island off the coast of East Africa that is part of Tanzania. Aha, there’s the Queen connection, they’re visiting Freddie’s birthplace. I wondered if the choice of Zanzibar for one of the show’s locations was due to a producer knowing about Freddie’s history on that remote island and it would be a great fit as an exotic location the racers hadn’t been to yet? Or, did they choose Zanzibar because it is an exotic location that might give the American contestants a bit of ratings-friendly culture shock and it just so happened that when they Googled Zanzibar they discovered the Freddie connection and wrote an episode around him?

Whatever the case, it was neat to see Freddie’s birthplace included in a reality show.

The first time we learn that Freddie is part of the episode is when the contestants are told to make their way to Mercury House, although it’s initially referred to as “Farrokh House” which didn’t seem to resonate with the players given that they were in Zanzibar.

Once the teams began asking the locals about Farrokh House, the players discovered that it is Freddie Mercury’s childhood home. The problem, though, is that his original home was demolished and some of the locals knew this, so they were taken to a pile of rubble where they sifted through the debris for the next clue.

Luckier players were taken to the actual “Mercury House” that is part museum, part heritage home and was the location of the LOCK or KNOCK detour. The outside entrance to this building has a windowed display case featuring a variety of Freddie images.

Choosing LOCK meant players had to search through stacks of wooden chests of drawers seeking a key that would open a particular padlock and reveal the next destination. Choosing KNOCK required players to meander through the back alleys and walkways of Stone Town looking for three distinct doors which are considered “royal” doors by the residents. Once they visited all three, they’d get their next clue.

The final Queen connection came near the end of the episode when Phil and the players made their way off the island and back to Tanzania where a Road Block awaited.

For this “Heavy Metal” Road Block, the team had to fashion a metal straining spoon out of a sheet of aluminum without the benefit of modern tools.

Heavy metal? At this point, the Queen/royalty/music/Zanzibar connections seem a bit forced. But, since they were on a musical theme and they had a road block dealing with metal, why not use the term heavy metal...even though most of their music fell outside of that genre. It’s a minor detail, I suppose.

So who connected the dots between Zanzibar and Freddie as a possible leg of the race? The husband and wife team of Dutch-born Bertram van Munster and American-born Elise Doganieri are a power couple in the world of reality TV producers. I tend to think that van Munster’s European upbringing — and Queen’s overall fanbase in the European community — would suggest that he knew about Freddie’s history with Zanzibar first and conceptualized the episode around those themes. But, maybe I’m wrong…perhaps Doganieri is the Queen aficionado in the family and she made it happen. Doesn’t matter…I’m just happy it made the cut and the episode was able to showcase Farrokh Bulsara’s humble beginnings and how remarkable his rise to international fame really was, all things considered.

I wonder if tourism picked up for the tiny island after this episode. Much to the angst of the local politicians who govern the officially Muslim territory, his gay lifestyle is part of his legacy. 

screen capture from
They did succeed in banning a large scale celebration at Mercury’s, a local restaurant and bar, that was planned for Freddie’s 60th birthday, but this still shot from a YouTube video showing visitors to Mercury House prior to the Amazing Race appearance indicates that Freddie is a sizable draw for tourism dollars and at least some of the locals are keen to look past dogma and capitalize on his Western accomplishments.