Tasman tiffs: <i>The Amazing Race Australia 2014</i> teams square off.

Tasman tiffs: The Amazing Race Australia 2014 teams square off.

COMMENT

Reality television contests are in a constant struggle between the rigid familiarities of a high-concept format that audiences can reassuringly plug into versus the desire to do something different to freshen up a successful show. There's no definitive approach – it's as easy to do nothing and stagnate as it is make a flurry of changes that annoy fans – and in this winter of television discontent three established shows have taken different paths with varying results.

The most disappointing is Channel Seven's The Amazing Race Australia, which has returned for a third season as The Amazing Race Australia v New Zealand, a trans-Tasman competition that has taken some of the pleasure out of an always enjoyable show and replaced it with every tired cliche about Australia and New Zealand you can think of; underarm bowling was mentioned within 10 minutes of the first episode debuting, while the contestants are constantly talking about "Aussies" and "Kiwis".

Not so fun: A shock for Kiwis Emily and Jono in <i>The Amazing Race Australia</i>.

Not so fun: A shock for Kiwis Emily and Jono in The Amazing Race Australia.

Part of The Amazing Race's success lies in reminding us how diverse the world is and, especially on the long-running original American edition, how ludicrous xenophobia is once you actually leave home. Having the 10 pairs compete for their country makes the show feel provincial and petty. Let these poor exhausted people get lost, fail challenges and yell at each other in peace, without draping flags around their slumped shoulders.

The program's ethos has always been competitive but genuine – endurance and support were valued. Now we have one New Zealand team threatening physical violence against another. "I will drop you in a second, Jono," declared the rather touchy John on Monday night's episode, after his remark about the ability of Jono's sister and race partner to transport baboons went down badly.

This, by the way, was after Jono made a joke about his sister's "baboons" (ie her breasts), and the entire segment – heavily promoted by Seven – briefly played like an editor from professional wrestling had taken a shot at cutting footage together. If the aim of The Amazing Race Australia v New Zealand is to make New Zealand look bad, does that mean there's a separate NZ edit where the Australian teams go off the rails? If not, I'm going to drop this show in a second.

The problem with The X Factor, aside from judge Redfoo's predilection for daft pants, is that singing competition fatigue had set in after many months of The Voice and The Voice Kids. Channel Seven's show might predate Nine's hits, but the formats are too similar for one to begin as the other concludes. It feels as if there hasn't been a single week this year when a hopeful vocalist wasn't over-singing and then nervously waiting to be told if they'd get to complete their 15 minutes.

Compared with the same point in the show's trajectory a year ago, with the live performance and results shows for the top 12 entrants getting under way, this season of The X Factor has shed approximately 25 per cent of its audience, falling to a nightly capital city audience around 1.1 million people. The response has been to get loud to the point of shrillness, as the judge's yell and mug for the camera in the Sunday night episode's intro and the live audience volume is mixed way up.

More has always been not nearly enough on The X Factor, with its cavalcade of dancers and music video imagery, but the talent base is growing tepid and cracks are appearing in the incessant building of excitement. Having newly assembled girl group XOX emerge from oversized packaging last week, like dolls come like to pop life, was rich in unintended irony. "You look like pop stars," noted Redfoo, before admitting "the vocals could have been better".

On The Block Glasshouse the change is less noticeable because it's mainly been one of refinement. The parade of weekly challenges and jolly diversions has been cut back to allow more airtime for the extensive renovation works on the vast Melbourne site. It's doubtful anyone misses an episode devoted to building a wacky cubby house out of a sponsor's branded coffee cups, and while the show still has an issue with stereotyping, its ratings have held steady. At this point in the viewing year that counts as a success.