Television critics give first-ever reality TV award to Amazing Race, also honor Restrepo

The Amazing Race executive producer Bertram van Munster At the Television Critics Association awards last night, the first-ever award for outstanding achievement in reality programming went to CBS’ The Amazing Race, adding to its collection of trophies, which include seven consecutive Emmys. In addition, the TCA recognized the must-watch documentary Restrepo with its award for outstanding achievement in news and information.

Host Phil Keoghan was among those who came to the ceremony to accept the award. The other reality TV show nominees were Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Survivor, Top Chef All Stars, and The Voice.

I presented the award to executive producer Bertram van Munster; Phil, executive producer Jonathan Littman, and executive producer Elise Doganieri (who created the idea for the series) were also in attendance. In his acceptance speech, van Munster praised the show’s camera operators, editors, and crew, and mentioned that he has now traveled around the world 55 times.

While presenters don’t choose the winners, of course, I ended up presenting to a series that I have been very hard on the last few years. But as I’ve written before, that’s only because I love it as a series, and the show does have an outstanding legacy; I remember the early days, almost 10 years ago (it debuted Sept. 5, 2001), when few people were watching despite its quality and genre-changing format. An amusing read is this 2004 New York Times article about how the show came back from the dead.

Anyway, here’s what I said before presenting the award:

“For the first time, the Television Critics Association awards have a separate category to recognize exceptional reality television. The genre’s name may still raise an eyebrow, but for more than a decade, it has indisputably been a major player on cable and broadcast TV. Real people can be great art.

Our recipient brought thrilling, high-adrenaline drama to reality TV. This series overcame roadblocks and grew from a cult fan favorite into a show that earned an audience and the respect of its industry peers.

Instead of watching what happens when strangers interact on an island or in a house, the show celebrated and tested pre-existing relationships, using the entire world as its stunning backdrop. The competition series earned critical acclaim because it accomplished a lot between pit stops: highlighting the challenges and rewards of international travel; prompting conversations about relationships and communication; and offering both conflict and high comedy.

Its production team also travels tens of thousands of miles, across multiple continents and through dozens of cities, but it remains nearly invisible, and so do the editors who find compelling stories in hundreds of hours of footage. Our recipient’s legacy is proving that raw entertainment and obvious craft can both be found in reality TV.

Accepting the first TCA award for outstanding achievement in reality programming is Bertram van Munster, executive producer of The Amazing Race.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.