Promoting the new season of the Emmy-winning “Amazing Race,” executive producer Bertram van Munster said in an interview that the series is really “all about the story. The world and the situations you put them in are just in the background. The characters and the story are in the foreground.”
Last season, that story — for nine episodes, at least — was mostly about Jonathan Baker and Victoria Fuller, a married couple from California. Their confrontational relationship during the race reached its climax when Jonathan shoved an emotional Victoria in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. His behavior outraged and horrified many viewers and critics.
Perhaps surprisingly, it also outraged and horrified Jonathan and Victoria.
“You were appalled by it, so why shouldn’t I be appalled by it?” Jonathan asks in an exclusive two-hour telephone interview with both him and his teammate Victoria. “You know, it’s not something that anybody could be proud of, number one, and number two, it’s not something that I set out to do. And I certainly didn’t set out to take my relationship, my marriage, the person that I love, of eight years, and make her look — put her in a bad light. And that’s what I did. And that was never, never conscious. They made it happen.”
Jonathan says he went into “The Amazing Race 6” as “a really big fan of reality television” and of the series itself. And that contributes to his disappointment about what ultimately aired. “They put such nasty energy behind it, and who would like it?” he says.
“They” are the editors and producers of the show who, Jonathan says, decided to focus their story on the negative aspects of the couple’s participation, thus leaving viewers with a distorted impression. It’s not so much that the show presented the low moments, Jonathan says, but that it excluded everything else, such as his apologies to Victoria and positive interaction with people around the world.
Victoria agrees. “It’s okay that they show the negative, that’s fine, but if that’s the only thing they show on you, then that’s the only character they’re drawing from you,” she says.
Jonathan ultimately takes responsibility for what viewers did see, which included a lot of yelling and otherwise obnoxious behavior in addition to the push. “You know what?" he says "I was a jerk at times, and I know I was. I wasn’t conscious of it, and I apologize for those actions and the way they looked,” he says. “And, you know, I’m trying to become a better person by learning about myself and the things that I never want to bring out of myself ever again.”
What went wrong?
In messages on the couple’s Web site and in the press, Jonathan identified a confluence of factors from various sources that contributed to his behavior. “There were a lot of things that played into this entire thing,” Jonathan says, explaining the behavior we saw. And those reasons are what “collectively, people see it as excuse, excuse, excuse,” he says.
Those include his new medication for a recently diagnosed condition; his decision “to be a heightened version of myself” and a “flamboyant character” in order to “have fun, and be ... outside your element”; the way he “decided to consciously to give my open and raw emotions, not knowing how that was going to look”; the producers’ “feeding me behind the scenes, [saying] you’re great, this is great, you’re making great television, this is wonderful”; and the extreme stress and exhaustion caused by the race.
Together, they led to, as Victoria says, the way “he acted like a maniac.” (In the same sentence, she notes that “we have a very loving relationship, we’re very good friends, and despite the fact that he acted like a maniac on the show, it’s really not who we really are and it’s not really how we fight, and we’re not that aggressive with each other, and he’s not that aggressive in our relationship.”)
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In addition to not being the same person he is in his non-race life, Jonathan says the person we saw on television wasn’t even the same person that ran “The Amazing Race.” He refers to that as "a third person character" crafted by the show's editors.
And it is precisely this that Jonathan says has contributed to the public’s negative perception of him. He specifically blames a senior story editor who “wanted to teach me a lesson.” In addition to the focus on the negative, Jonathan points to construction of “totally fictitious” moments.
‘I was not going to hit Victoria’
One example occurred in a cab outside of Ikea in Stockholm, where viewers saw what appeared to be Jonathan about to backhand Victoria, who flinched. In that instance, he says, “I was not going to hit Victoria, I never intended to hit Victoria, I’ve never hit Victoria in my life. I was grabbing the map out of her hand, and they cut the scene. That was all I was doing.”
Couples on “The Amazing Race” sit together in the back of cabs next to a sound engineer, and while they were already “squished” together, Victoria says, Jonathan “was flailing his arms around” and she “was afraid ... not that he was going to purposely hit me but maybe that he was going to” accidentally strike her.
“So I winced, and of course it looked like he was going to backhand me,” she says.
When he watched that scene, Jonathan says, “I looked at it and was like, ‘Oh my God, are you kidding me?’ ... If they would have not shown that scene and showed everything else, don’t you think that they would’ve gotten the same reaction? I do. If they would have put in ... some of the nicer stuff, or some of the more interesting stuff ... That’s what I told to [executive producer Bertram van Munster], and I said this straight up to him two weeks ago. ... You didn’t show anything [negative] with [fellow contestants] Jon and Kris. You could have gone that way with us, but you chose not to.”
Ultimately, Jonathan admits that “everything I did, did happen.”
But he doesn’t think that justifies CBS’ relentless focus on the bad moments, saying “That doesn’t mean everything that I did had to go up on the screen.” Thus, Jonathan says he understands viewers’ extremely negative reactions. “I can’t blame [viewers], because I feel the same way.”
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
He feels this way as a longtime fan of the show. Jonathan’s favorite seasons are 2 and 4, and his least favorite were 5 and 6 — 6 being his season — because the show became “a different game. It’s all about editing and storyline and interaction as opposed to the game,” he says. While he’s reached the conclusion that he “played it wrong” by failing to ally with another team, he is happy with his game play in the sense that they came in near the top of the pack at many pit stops.
The couple’s game play that Jonathan is most proud of includes the formation of an alliance designed to yield teams that were a threat; deals forged with hotel and restaurant managers who’d give them a place to stay and eat; and interaction with people from all over the world, from cab drivers to locals they asked for guidance. Victoria says Jonathan “really took an interest in who they were and their culture and everything else,” talking with and gathering e-mail addresses for the people they met. “I was upset that they didn’t really show that side of us, because I felt that a lot of the other racers ... could be very rude at times,” she says.
Despite the lack of focus on those moments, and the negative public reaction to his behavior, Jonathan says that he’d do the race again, as “taking chances is always worth it. You become stronger, you learn about yourself, and hopefully you become a better person.”
Part of that, he says, is using the ensuing exposure to both change people’s perception of him, and to “create something positive out of it. ... It’s a gift, to be able to be in the public eye, and to be able to do something with it. I’m not sure what’s going to come out of it right now, but I’m hoping something does.” Victoria, too, wants “to do something good for humanity, for people, for charity, for whatever it is, just something positive.”
Plus, Jonathan says, “I believe that maybe, just maybe, people will get to see the real me, and actually like the real me. ... Hopefully, in the same situation, you know, in the future ... the real Jonathan Baker will surface, and people will judge that person and not the edited version.”
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