The winner of fifteen Primetime Emmy Awards (as of May 2019), the globe-trotting competition show The Amazing Race is one of the most popular and longest-running programs of the reality show craze of the early 2000s. Each season of the show typically features eleven teams of two racing to different countries and performing mental and physical challenges for a chance to win a $1 million prize. While there have been exceptions in the show’s more than thirty seasons, the teams usually have a pre-existing relationship and much of the on-camera drama comes from how these relationships are tested by the stress of the competition.
The show is hosted by New Zealand television personality Phil Keoghan and was conceived by partners Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster. Doganieri was inspired by a European backpacking trip she had taken with her college roommate where neither spoke the languages nor had much money. Van Munster sold the idea immediately to prolific film and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. The show went into production in August 2000, with the first season filming in March and April of 2001.
The Amazing Race premiered September 5, 2001, mere days before the 9/11 attacks. Perhaps because of that unfortunate timing for a travel-themed show, coupled with the glut of new reality programming at the time, the show suffered from poor ratings for its first four seasons. However, a strong fanbase, favorable reviews, and award victories (including the inaugural Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program) kept the “bubble” show alive. Strong word of mouth lead to steady growth in the ratings, eventually resulting in season seven becoming the highest watched reality program of 2005. An unpopular “Family Edition” aired later that year, but the show remained a solid ratings performer for seasons to come.
A typical episode consists of one leg of the race, at the end of which the last team to reach the Pit Stop is eliminated. Each leg typically features two different challenges themed to the locale: a Roadblock, which only one member of the team can complete, and a Detour, where the team has a choice between two different challenges with one being more physically demanding and the other detail-oriented. Some legs feature a U-Turn where a team, after finishing the Detour, can force an ensuing team to complete both Detour challenges.
Doganieri and van Munster continue to act as the show’s executive producers, planning each season, choosing the destinations and working with a team to develop the challenges unique to each location. Over the show’s first thirty seasons, the show has visited 89 different countries. The international aspect of the competition creates multiple production challenges. All contestants are required to get travel visas for each destination (and for some additional locations not on the race). The teams are responsible for booking their own flights and those of a two-person audio/video production team. Travel decisions and mistakes can greatly impact the course of the race. For example, three teams have had to leave the race due to misplacing or losing their passports. The production team, which includes Doganieri and van Munster, stay just ahead of contestants and work with local crews and representatives to make sure each leg of the race goes smoothly.
In 2005, CBS began optioning the format to other countries which spawned over a dozen international spinoffs. Of those, The Amazing Race Canada, The Amazing Race China, and Israel’s The Race to the Million continue to air (as of May 2019). The show’s concept has also been unofficially adopted on a much smaller scale by many small cities and towns holding Race-themed scavenger hunts. The flagship US U.S. show has continued to tweak its formula and try different variations to keep things fresh. Recent variations include pitting existing couples versus blind date pairings (season 26), a season highlighting social media celebrities (season 28), teams consisting of total strangers (season 29), and a season consisting of returning teams facing off against contestants from fellow CBS reality competition shows Survivor and Big Brother (season 31).
-Jacob Rosdail, MFA Dept of Communication, University of Nebraska Kearney, May 2019
Bertram van Munster
September 2001- Current
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