Your Monthly Amazing Race Update, Part 1; Or, What We Talk About When We Talk About CDY

3045549519_a3dba04a38Even with the outcome potentially spoiled, CDY on the Amazing Race is just so fascinating to me.

In my pre-Princeton life I followed The Amazing Race as fanatically as some people follow football or baseball or the Academy Awards. I would flip out at the announcement of a new destination (“We’ve never been to Ethiopia before!” I’d exclaim, as if I were actually along for the ride instead of bouncing on a beanbag chair in my basement), bawl at the elimination of my favorite teams, and spend hours poring over game analysis on Reality TV message boards.

It was weird, I know. But when you’re a high schooler looking to use pop culture as the means of escape from your so-called teenage life, you really have to commit to your obsessions. Polite interest in a show or team or band doesn’t really get you anywhere – and me, I wanted to go everywhere, skip out of Delaware and cross the whole world three times over, preferably with a CBS camera crew in tow.

What I’m saying is, given this past obsession, the prospect of any old Princeton student on the show would be compelling to me.  But what makes CDY on the Amazing Race­ especially compelling – like I said, out-and-out fascinating – is that CDY wasn’t just any old student during his time at Princeton. He was one of our private college’s public figures – politically, at least, our big man on campus.

I would argue that CDY’s defining characteristic at Princeton was his aura of effortlessness. Sure, there’s the USG presidency, and the Nassooning, and the almost freakish niceness, and the academic accomplishment (I mean, just read the press release), but I think that when certain female acquaintances of mine would breathlessly proclaim “He’s perfect,” what they really were marveling at was his ability to take all that other stuff and make it look easy.

Now, I’m sure his friends could point out ways that Connor Diemand-Yauman isn’t actually perfect, and all the better for not being so, but what I’m saying is to the casual observer that doesn’t matter, because to the casual observer Connor Diemand-Yauman wasn’t Connor Diemand-Yauman at all during his time at Princeton. He was CDY, and CDY never broke a sweat — even when going pushup-for-pushup with David Petraeus.

Take that, and put it on this show. They say being on reality television is like living in a fishbowl; in that case, going on The Amazing Race is like getting wrapped in sashimi and tossed into a shark tank.

This is a show that by design forces its seriously jetlagged and culture-shocked competitors to sprint through a daily barrage of stressful tasks, everything from digging through a towering mound of cow manure in Holland to milking an ornery camel in Burkina Faso. If something goes wrong – and on the Amazing Race, something often does – these tasks can be soul-crushing stuff. American Idol may have the ratings and Top Chef the cachet, but no other reality show does meltdowns quite like the Race.

What happens, then, when you take one of the most effortlessly effortless students in Princeton history, dangle a million bucks in his face, and then throw him in a hyper-competitive, sleep-deprived environment where everything is difficult — where flights get canceled, cabbies get lost, and some camel teats just won’t squirt no matter how hard you work them? Some say television gold. I say the behavioral experiment of our time.

But this isn’t just about individual psychology. There’s a collective component as well, one’s that’s just as important but less likely to be remarked upon because it’s kind of embarrassing for all of us to admit.

I’m spending the summer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a place where most people neither know nor care about what Princeton is. I’ll be honest, it’s a strange environment for someone who’s spent three years now steeping in the Princeton mystique – a mystique that gives us an extra measure of confidence that we might not otherwise have, a mystique that at times makes us feel like we’re exceptional, incredible, smart and savvy and headed nowhere but up.

But what if that’s not true? This is, I think, a common worry. What if Princeton isn’t our launching pad, but instead the pinnacle of our achievements? What if all that we’ve spent our days on – the singing and studying and sleeping around — won’t really be of help once we get out of Old Nassau’s shadow and start living our lives in the big wide world?

If you doubt that the Princeton mystique plays any role in your sense of self, consider the Alito-Sotomayor-Kagan Supreme Court hat trick. You felt an involuntary thrill when you first heard they were Princeton alums, didn’t you? I know I did. The thrill of pride, yes, but not just for those three judges. I felt proud of Princeton, too, and by extension I felt proud of myself as a Princetonian. It’s stupid little feeling to have,  but it’s real.

Now along comes CDY, who’s not a fifty-year-old alum like Kagan or Sotomayor but a recent graduate, newly minted, even more clearly one of us (us being young’uns). Watch as the Class of 2010’s Ultimate Princetonian takes his first post-college steps; watch as he takes on the world’s greatest test of brains, brawn, and basic camel competency for the entertainment of millions. Watch as he wins, or watch as he flames out. Watch and know: CDY is all of us in one, two, three years’ time, and the camel is life. Here’s hoping he can squeeze that sucker dry.

(Image courtesy of iragerich)