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Amazing Race producers on alliances, future rules, TAR 33’s status, and much more

Amazing Race producers on alliances, future rules, TAR 33’s status, and much more
Amazing Race 32's final three teams, minus one of the beards, talk to Phil Keoghan. From left to right: Riley McKibbin, Will Jardell, James Wallington, Hung Nguyen, and Chee Lee (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

One of the bright spots of this fall for me was The Amazing Race 32, which had its own epic journey to air, but also seemed to arrive at a perfect time— and was the perfect season for right now, with generally amiable teams. They were also teams that had such camaraderie that several of them worked together all season and created an alliance that frustrated me.

It also frustrated the show’s producers, too, as I found out when I spoke to The Amazing Race executive producer and creator Elise Doganieri, and director and executive producer Bertram Van Munster. Among the many things we discussed were the alliance, the possibility of rules preventing information-sharing in the future, the design of season’s legs and tasks, the return of the Yield, the Mega Leg, and The Amazing Race 33, which halted filming earlier this year.

Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster at the 69th primetime Emmy awards in 2017
Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster at the 69th primetime Emmy awards in 2017. (Photo by Mark Davis/CBS)

First, The Amazing Race’s executive producers have been doing what we all have been doing: staying at home, and watching the show on their couch every Wednesday. They’ve been watching with their 12-year-old daughter, who Doganieri said is “at an age now where she really understands the world, and it’s really fun to watch it with her. She gets a kick out of the show, and it’s really fun to see it through a 12-year-old’s eyes.”

Their daughter “loved that Will and James won—she was screaming and jumping up and down.”

“A lot of her friends in school are watching it, and it’s it’s a really wonderful show to watch with your family,” Doganieri added. “In a time when we’re all at home and we’re kind of on lockdown, it’s something you can actually do with your child.”

Casting The Amazing Race 32’s teams

The Amazing Race 32's teams would meet CBS's new standard of having 50 percent of a cast be BIPOC.
The Amazing Race 32’s teams would meet CBS’s new standard of having 50 percent of a cast be BIPOC. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Season 32’s teams were just really nice and pleasant to watch from episode one. I asked if that was a conscious decision, to find teams that not only handled the stress of the race well (of course, they had their moments), but also bonded with each other.

“I wish I had the answer to the formula of this incredible cast we had, because we would do it all the time,” Doganieri told me. “Every season we go in with the same intention of finding those type-A personalities that have that sense of adventure, can laugh at themselves. There’s a bunch of things that go into what we look for in casting.”

“It just worked out beautifully,” she said. “The cast really connected with each other. That’s not something you can plan. You never know who’s going to turn into the villain or the icky contestant, or you never know who’s going to be winning every episode, winning every challenge—it’s so hard to predict something like that.”

“By the end of the season, and the finale, they were so bonded that all their emotions were so real and the tears of joy and everything that they felt really came through the screen,” she added.

This fall, CBS announced that, going forward, its reality shows will “have casts with at least 50% of the contestants being Black, Indigenous and People of Color.” Amazing Race 32, which was filmed and cast back in 2018, would have met that requirement.

In casting, Doganieri said, “diversity is huge—wanting a really diverse cast, which is something I’m proud that we’ve been doing since season one.”

“When I created the concept for The Amazing Race, I wanted people—not just [of different] cultural backgrounds or races, just every age group. We had people that were 21 to 70, from all walks of life. That’s just kind of been the fabric of our show,” she added. “It is intentional. We want everyone who watches the show to be able to identify with somebody.”

What did Amazing Race’s creator think about the alliance?

The cast bonded so much that they created a massive alliance plus a sub-alliance, with teams agreeing to help each other out.

While I love when, say, one team points another in the right direction, alliance or not, I definitely did not love when teams shared answers to help each other finish challenges. That resulted in the alliance effectively eliminating other teams, right up through the penultimate episode, never mind shortcutting their way through challenges.

“I’m going to be really honest with you,” Doganieri told me. “I think we’re going to have to put a rule on that in the future.”

“It does take the thrill out of it a little bit for me because these are not group challenges for 11 teams to participate in [as] a group. Others might disagree with what I’m saying, because it does create a different sort of drama, it does create a different sort of tension, where you’re seeing people start to work together as a team because maybe they don’t like what somebody did in a previous challenge—oh, they U-Turned me so we’re out to get them.”

The rappelling challenge in Germany, which required teams to notice letters on a rooftop and then unscramble them, was effectively neutered by teams sharing the answer to the puzzle part, and I mentioned that.

“Like you said, we put a lot of work months and months of research development, scouting, challenge decisions being made. It is a little frustrating to watch when somebody is giving information to another contestant, and the other team is not getting that information because then to me, it starts to affect what maybe should have been a little bit of a different outcome,” Doganieri said.

What kind of rules might be implemented to prevent a repeat of TAR 32?

While acknowledging that the production hasn’t made any decisions yet, I asked about the rule that might be created. Would it be more of a blanket rule about not being allowed to work together with other teams? Or something more specific, like not being permitted to share the solution to a challenge?

She said it’d likely be the latter: “We wouldn’t want somebody just share information with another team. It might be challenge-specific, because sometimes we might want them to work with a group.”

Doganieri also said that the idea of alliances more broadly isn’t something that troubles her.

“I don’t mind the alliances—I think there’s something really exciting about that, and when other teams don’t even know there’s an alliance or they think that they’re part of an alliance,” she said. “I like all that intrigue; I think that’s kind of fun. But, you know, helping a team that might be struggling because you want them to advance over another team? I think we have to look at that, and I don’t know what the answer to that as yet, but it’s definitely something we’re going to look at.”

What Amazing Race’s producers think about feedback from fans

The alliance’s cooperation generated a lot of discussion during the season, and its executive producer saw that in real time.

“I’m on Twitter while the show is airing—I’m tweeting and posting pictures—and I see people saying, Oh, gosh, I wish production would step in. Well, we can’t change anything once the show is started because it’s a game show and it’s a race for a million dollars,” Doganieri said.

Van Munster assured me “that nothing is manipulated, nothing is touched, nothing is fixed. It’s all coming out of the camera the way it happened. I’m standing there screaming at people, making sure nobody interferes in anything.”

Doganieri told me that she’s grateful to fans for both watching and offering feedback. She started by saying she wanted to “thank them for waiting so long for the show to come back. We appreciate them watching the show again.”

“It’s a very complicated show to produce, and I know a lot of people have opinions about what they believe is right and what they believe is wrong. We are always trying to make make things fair, make it the best experience for the contestants, and make it a super-exciting show for the viewers,” she said.

“Sometimes things are better than we ever expected, and sometimes they fall a little flatter than expected. So I do appreciate all the notes and comments on Twitter. I read most of them, and I do listen to some of the comments, and we do take it into account when we move forward. Just know that we do hear what they’re saying.”

Why the Yield returned to The Amazing Race

The Yield, which last appeared 21 seasons ago, was back on The Amazing Race 32, before the Roadblock challenge. No one used it
The Yield, which last appeared 21 seasons ago, was back on The Amazing Race 32, before the Roadblock challenge. No one used it. (Image from Amazing Race)

The Yield hasn’t been on The Amazing Race since 2007. Why bring it back now?

The simple reason: “to add a little pressure, a little drama,” Doganieri said.

“I always loved the simplistic format of the earlier seasons. We had a fast forward; we didn’t have yields, we didn’t have a lot of a little side things.”

But she added that “we always want to keep the show fresh and exciting, and a lot of it stems from [the question]: What can we do that doesn’t change the heart of the show, the format of the show, that might add a little excitement, a little drama?”

How the Mega Leg differed from double legs—and where the City Sprint came from

Phil Keoghan fires a starter pistol to start The Amazing Race 32's final four teams—hil Keoghan, Will Jardell, James Wallington, Hung Nguyen, Chee Lee, DeAngelo Williams, Gary Barnidge, Riley McKibbin, and Maddison McKibbin—on the city spring in Manila
Phil Keoghan fires a starter pistol to start The Amazing Race 32’s final four teams—hil Keoghan, Will Jardell, James Wallington, Hung Nguyen, Chee Lee, DeAngelo Williams, Gary Barnidge, Riley McKibbin, and Maddison McKibbin—on the city spring in Manila (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

“The Mega Leg was born to really ramp things up. Season after season, the teams get smarter; the contestants get more savvy. They’re, you know, dressed in all the quick-drying clothes—they’re super-smart and super-savvy,” Doganieri told me.

The Mega Leg, with two Roadblocks and two Detours, was not unlike double legs from past Amazing Race seasons. But there was a critical difference.

“We’ve had double legs, where they will continue on into another episode, but there’s typically a little bit of a stop down,” Doganieri said.” They get a little reprieve that sometimes we don’t always show on camera.”

That was not the case with the Mega Leg. “This one was literally a non-stop, go-go-go-go-go, unsettle them and throw them off,” she said.

Van Munster said it was added “more towards the end” of the race when “they’re really tired and they really they think they got it all under control.”

The camera operators and sound engineers running alongside teams did not have to run a double leg without stopping. Doganieri said there were “extra people there, extra local people extra, staff from our team to help,” and “we figured it out how to divide [the crews] up and give them breaks in between. We kind of had a double crew overlapping for that. So our crew was well-rested and ready to go.”

Another way producers tried “to keep [teams] on their toes and not to expect that it’s going to be the same-old, same-old all the time,” as Doganieri said, was the addition of the City Sprint, which took place in Manila.

It, too, was a version of something we’ve seen on the race before. “Bertram had the really cool idea—it’s actually something we used to do in the finale, which was basically a scavenger hunt: route marker to route marker to route marker. It really added an extra energy to the episode,” she said.

The design of TAR 32’s final leg

James Wallington and Will Jardell catch beads on Bourbon Street in New Orleans on The Amazing Race 32 finale Wallington and Will Jardell catch beads on Bourbon Street in New Orleans on The Amazing Race 32 finale (Photo by Sam Lothridge/CBS)

The final three teams stayed pretty much in the same position for the entire final leg in New Orleans, with the brothers in third place after their taxi driver didn’t know where to take them. I asked Elise and Bertram if that was a fair assessment, and also if they were disappointed that the final leg wasn’t more competitive.

The taxi, Doganieri told me, is “just the luck of the draw.” But she said that basically all three teams were together at the bead-catching challenge, and they were “neck-and-neck, so [the brothers, Maddison and Riley,] did make up some time.”

Van Munster said what happened “is part of the charm.” Being unable to find the park entrance, for example, happens “because they’re burnt up, they’re tired, they’re exhausted. They make mistakes. They thought they had it in the bag, and all of a sudden—no, you don’t have it in the bag at all. You actually confused; you’re standing in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, because you go out of a taxi at the wrong time.”

Will there ever be a behind-the-scenes Amazing Race series?

While we discussed the Mega Leg, Van Munster said, “unfortunately, you never get to see, because we have so many people working on the show.”

I said, “I would love to see a behind-the-scenes series about how it gets filmed, because I think it’s pretty must be pretty spectacular.”

Van Munster said “we get asked all the time but so far we haven’t done it yet. In the previous regime at CBS, they didn’t want to do it. I personally think that’s a phenomenal series in itself.”

Doganieri said that “the behind-the-scenes is sometimes more hectic and crazy than what you’re seeing the contestants do. We are scrambling literally to stay ahead and put stuff together for them, so it is a whole show itself.”

What’s the status of Amazing Race 33?

The Amazing Race

TAR 33 started production last February, with a Love Island season 1 couple among the teams. But it stopped production less than a week later. Van Munster said he made the call when “I was in northern Sweden last year and they’re inside the Arctic Circle.”

At the time, CBS said they were “temporarily suspending production” on The Amazing Race 33. While many reality shows have gone back into production, TAR’s travels with cast and crew around the world in three weeks is, obviously, impossible right now.

“It’s under very much on the radar and we’re talking to CBS about how we’re going to do it and what we’re going to do, and what the plans are so,” Van Munster. “By all means, they’re very much wanting to get the show on the air as quickly as possible.”

Doganieri said, “Just like everyone else, Andy, we need that vaccine to be working, everybody needs to be safe—because safety is always the first priority for us and CBS whenever we’re doing the show.”

“It is a huge, huge undertaking that we love to do every single time,” she said, “and we can’t wait to get back out there again and finish season 33 for everyone and for ourselves.”

Update: The Amazing Race 33 resumed filming in fall 2021

Would Amazing Race film just in the United States?

I asked if they’d discussed the possibility of filming a season that stays inside the United States—similar to The Amazing Race 8, the family edition, although those teams of four did ultimately travel to Panama and Costa Rica. Likewise, The Amazing Race Canada mostly films inside Canada, though it, too, has traveled to Europe, Asia, and South America.

The answer is no. “We haven’t spoken about a local version,” Van Munster told me.

“I think for now the show will stay international,” he said. “People love it. You’re going to get out of the house, via the couch, with us.”

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how itโ€™s made and what it means.

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Sunday 23rd of October 2022

This season was one of my least favorite in terms of watching the game, but on the other hand it was also one of the most fascinating from a meta perspective. I felt like I didn't get an authentic feel for who truly was the strongest team because non-alliance teams fell through the cracks (unfairly, I think). Your analogy about scoring a 100 on a test was spot on. It was super interesting to watch the game dynamics crumble a bit under the weight of such a strong alliance. And I have to say I'm impressed that it took 32 seasons to see the game dynamics challenged by such a weird social dynamic.

All in all, this season was equal parts frustrating and fascinating and I'm excited to see how it affects future races.