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Amazing Race behind the scenes: an oral history of CBS’s first race around the world

The idea for The Amazing Race is both simple and preposterous: a race around the world between pairs of people, filmed for a prime-time broadcast network show. Survivor: Borneo proved definitively that real people could deliver both entertainment and ratings, but it was filmed in an isolated, restricted area.

The Amazing Race’s studio would be airports and alleyways, tourist spots and temples, roads and riverways. The production moved around the world, following the teams of two who traveled much faster than producers expected them to.

How did the race come together? Barely yet spectacularly: The crew working on season one overcame challenges and surprises, and together created a format that would go on to win 15 Emmys and be nominated for 85 more. It’s beloved by critics (the first-ever Television Critics Association award for outstanding achievement in reality programming went to Amazing Race) and fans (who began gathering, with some cast members, at what became known as TARcon).

In this story, I’ve attempted to tell—for the first time—the comprehensive story of how The Amazing Race season one was produced. In more than 11 hours of interviews, both on-the-record and on-background, I’ve interviewed people who were involved with first season. That includes series creators and executive producers Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster, co-winner Brennan Swain, and host Phil Keoghan, plus key players whose names you’ve likely seen in Amazing Race credits and on other reality TV shows since.

I’m immensely grateful to them for their time and insight, and apologetic that I could only use a fraction of what they shared. (Interviews have been condensed and edited to clean up human speech, but never in a way that changes content. I selected the order in this story, and while the quotations are grouped thematically, none of them should be read as direct responses to other people. Any typos are my own.)

This is not a recap of season one, which you should watch, because it holds up incredibly well, and is very different from later seasons. It’s free to watch with Amazon Prime and also on Hulu, though not available on the ever-terrible Paramount+.

As I re-watched season one, talked to people, and did research for this story, I realized my disappointment with later seasons of The Amazing Race comes mostly from my sense that the show drifted away from what I fell in love with this first season: pairs of people embracing the challenge of travel as they tried to find their way around the world with each other. As it turns out, it was often a struggle behind the scenes, too, which ultimately made for epic reality television.

An oral history of The Amazing Race season one

Part One: Before the Race

  • Conceiving: ‘I love this idea’
  • Planning: ‘Logistically, it was a bloody nightmare’
  • Casting: ‘The heart of the show’
  • Finding a host: ‘100 percent the guy’
  • Waiting: ‘They did not know what to expect’

Part Two: During the Race

  • Starting: ‘The world is waiting for you’
  • Filming: ‘Constantly on the move’
  • Challenging: ‘Swing, you fat bastard!’
  • Adjusting: ‘Creatively, the chaos is good’
  • Philiminating: ‘The most brutal hosting gig’
  • Ending: ‘You cannot script stuff like that’

Part Three: After the Race

  • Editing: ‘We had to make it as exciting as possible’
  • Premiering: ‘Holy crap, this is a television show?’
  • Coping: ‘What happened to America’
  • Enduring: ‘Just as important now’

part one
Before the Race

Conceiving: ‘I love this idea’

The Amazing Race was famously born from a conversation between Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri, who are married. Doganieri worked in advertising, while Van Munster had worked on Fox’s Cops and produced a syndicated nature documentary series, Wild Things, which was filmed around the world.

Elise Doganieri, executive producer and co-creator: “Bert came from MIPCOM, and said he didn’t see anything new. I was like, What is going on with people in television? Why can’t you guys come up with something new? And he said, Oh, you think it’s so easy? Why don’t you come up with something? That was, of course, the trigger. I thought about the backpacking trip I took with my college roommate.”

Elise Doganieri, co-creator and executive producer of The Amazing Race
Elise Doganieri, co-creator and executive producer of The Amazing Race (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS)

Elise Doganieri: “He said, I love this idea. Why don’t you write it down? Literally, I wrote a paragraph. With my graphic design background, I had a front page with passports and tickets—so naive of me, because I really hadn’t worked in television. I had worked with Bertram on one season of Wild Things, but that was it.”

Bertram van Munster, executive producer and co-creator: “Between the idea that Elise came up with, and my setup of a global television production [infrastructure], we then developed the television show, which we presented to various networks.”

Bertram Van Munster, co-creator and executive producer of The Amazing Race
Bertram Van Munster, co-creator and executive producer of The Amazing Race (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

At CBS, Ghen Maynard was the newly appointed vice president of the newly created alternative programs division, as a result of his championing and subsequent development of Survivor, a show that changed broadcast television.

Ghen Maynard, CBS executive: “I had been pitched, probably three or four times, a race around the world, and every time, I would say, So where have you shot any shows? In most cases, they never shot anywhere outside the United States. Having developed Survivor, I knew very well that it’s not as easy as everyone says. Bert had shot everywhere around the world, and he had a very specific point of view about how the craziness of travel, and traveling under pressure, and a fascination with different spots around the world that weren’t on every tourist map—or the comedy of it—could make for interesting television.”

Bertram van Munster: “I pitched it right after one of the first airings of Survivor.”

Brady Connell, supervising producer: “I remember having lunch with Ghen Maynard, and Ghen was like, This is our next Survivor but it’s a bigger risk, because we don’t have a format, we haven’t done a pilot. It’s 13 episodes going straight to series, it’s gonna be a lot of money.

Lynne Spillman, casting director: “I remember Ghen Maynard, the exec in charge of Survivor, was telling me about this other show he was going to buy. And I said, ‘I want to do it.’ What if Survivor only lasts for three years and this goes on?”

Ghen Maynard: “There was literally no format. When it was pitched, it was 16 individuals race around the world, like Survivor, and the first thing I said was, If they’re racing around the world on their own, how do you tell stories? Who are they talking to besides the occasional flight attendant? It was literally that raw.”

CBS bought the show, obviously, and then the process of developing it began.

Elise Doganieri: “We sold the show in June of 2000. I was like, Oh my God, should I quit my job? Because I was working in advertising. [Bert said,] No, no, no—don’t quit your job yet. It’s television, we may only get one season. So I took a leave of absence.”

Bertram van Munster: “CAA called me and said, Listen, you have an amazing project. Would you be interested in being introduced to Jerry Bruckheimer and his president of television? Why would deal with us, you know? He’s a big movie producer, and we’re little television guys. Elise and I saw an opportunity to elevate the level of television in a reality genre by having some people associated with quality. As we all met, we also got along together very, very well, which is not that usual in our business.”

Brady Connell: “The amount that we didn’t know at that time is staggering. And that’s why Bertram was the perfect executive producer for the show. He is a field guy, ready to make decisions in the moment, and take recommendations from people like me. He goes for it, and believes in the ability of the producers to pull off stuff at the last minute. So the in-flux part of it didn’t bother us.”

Bertram van Munster: “Les [Moonves, then president and CEO of CBS Television] told me, You are the only one who can do this. That’s how it starts. They have faith—they said we have 100 percent faith in what you do, and how you handle yourself, how you handle the situation, how you handle the production, how you handle our money. Because I’m not playing with my money, I’m playing with their money. The faith from the top makes all the difference in the world. And from there, you start building.”


Planning: ‘Logistically, it was a bloody nightmare’

Elise Doganieri: “Bert put a big map up on the wall in the office, and he laid out the route. The next thing you know, we’re buying tickets, getting visas.”

Bertram van Munster: “We scouted these routes three times. The first time, with a small team; the second time, I would bring some of my executive producers with me, only to the location where they would be assigned to.”

Elise Doganieri: “We don’t do it that way anymore, because we’ve become super-efficient and things have gotten very expensive.”

Bertram van Munster: “I went around the world, and laid out the route, and it took me forever—it took me almost two months to introduce everybody to the concept, to talk to everybody, talk to ministries, to people that give you permits, filmmakers, producers.”

Brady Connell: “I was supervising all the creative on Survivor one, reporting directly to Mark [Burnett. Before that,] I did Wild Things with Bert—a couple of years traveling all over the world, documenting amazing wildlife stories. The fact that I had done Survivor was a key component to me being called.”

Evan Weinstein, field producer: “It was during the Christmas break, when everyone was on hiatus, I was approved by the network, and I literally started work on January 2, 2001. They had already done some scouting; they already knew which countries they wanted to go to, so that was all sort of arranged, but we had not yet really drilled down on all of the activities, and events, and specific locations within the countries.”

Brady Connell: “We were fully scouting in January of 2001. I went to Europe, I went to Alaska, I went to Africa. We knew we were going to shoot in March. I did 12 weeks of prep.”

Evan Weinstein: “I came in supposedly to be the writer writing the clues and writing stuff like that, but you know the staff was so small that year that really, by default, everybody was doing everything. So I became much more involved.”

Less than one month before filming began in March 2001, many of the race’s components were not yet in place, from the host to the structure of the race itself.

Ghen Maynard: “How do you manage the stories? How do you manage the safety? How do you manage the fairness of the games? And then how do you make sure you get the kinds of things that make for good television?”

Brady Connell: “How is the show going to unfold, especially from the contestants’ point of view, and in a way that can be edited for the viewers? That was my responsibility.”

Bertram van Munster: “Logistically, it was a bloody nightmare.”

Brady Connell: “I don’t know the extent to which Ghen and Les Moonves knew how many significant decisions were being made in the in the weeks leading up. … Basic things were in flux—things like, is it 13 separate stage races? Or is it one continuous race around the world? … I told him, Bert, you did not pitch 13 races and 13 different legs, and then add it all up at the end and see who won. You didn’t pitch that. You pitched a balls-to-the-wall race around the world. He was even on the fence about the ability to pull it off. I know I was the main advocate for just going for it, and we’ll figure out how to do it as we go. This is, like, three weeks out from starting to shoot.”

Bertram van Munster: “I’ll never forget: I was in Japan, I was so exhausted. I call again Ghen Maynard, and he says, ‘Bert, you’re saying all the right words, but they’re all in the wrong order.'”


Casting: ‘The heart of the show’

Lynne Spillman: “To me, yes, absolute fantasy: racing around the world with, at the time, my husband or sister, for a million dollars? I could not think of anything more fun. I asked to do the show and Ghen says, I think you could. I’ll introduce you to the right people, I’ll introduce you to the production company. I met with Bertram Van Munster and [Jerry Bruckheimer’s president of television] Jonathan Littman, and I thought they were great. I was worried because I was very pregnant.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow, senior casting associate: “I moved to Los Angeles to be a TV writer, and I didn’t get staffed my first season. I was talking to a friend of mine, and she said, my friend who cast dating shows is doing some kind of prime-time reality game show, and she wants people to cast it, and said she wanted writers. Since it’s unscripted, she thought that writers would be good at finding characters. I said, I don’t know how to cast a reality show; I don’t even watch dating shows.”

Lynne Spillman: “A prime-time network show? No one else had done casting for it, and I knew what CBS liked. … A lot of people that worked for me on season one of Survivor worked on this.”

Brady Connell: “In my experience, two people isn’t quite enough in terms of just dynamics. I even advocated to Bert one at one point … I think you need three people on each team.”

Ghen Maynard: “We settled on pairs of people which, at that point, hadn’t been done. I thought that was a really interesting thing to explore—mother/daughter, best friend, ex-couple, teacher/student—all these different relationships that you can relate in your regular life, put under all this enormous stress which accelerates relationships and makes for good television. The travel and the beautiful scenery were all great as background, but if first and foremost people seeing the show said they love it because of travel, I don’t think that show would be on.”

Lynne Spillman: “Casting teams of two, I just love dynamics of couples and sisters and siblings and roommates, I just I have always been fascinated by how people get along and communicate, and thought that would be so much fun to cast.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “Can you problem solve with somebody else? How does your relationship with somebody help you be more successful in this race?”

Lynne Spillman: “With Survivor, I love the idea these people that would never meet that could become friends, and the only way they could become friends is through this show—but also by trusting each other in the strategy of the game. You can’t win a million dollars without making friends, no matter how difficult you are to get along with. For Amazing Race, it’s about being able to communicate with your partner, whatever the relationship is, but it’s also getting along—or not—with the other teams.”

Ghen Maynard: “The best big reality shows deal with some sort of universal psychological truth, or something we all can relate to. The Bachelor was the first to deal with the idea of finding romance among strangers; Survivor was the first to deal with the conflict between the individual versus the group. Amazing Race was the idea of pairs of people with relationships we empathize with being put under enormous stress and sleep deprivation, and that to me was really the heart of the show.”

Bertram van Munster: “Anybody can win—any any age group. That’s how we designed it. So if you’re 75 years old, and you want to run, and you have good health, you can still win the damn thing. You don’t have to be 23 and have muscles.”

Lynne Spillman: “You could be the most traveled team and still lose, and you could be the least traveled team, and still win. … I wanted it to be an equal playing field, so if they were lacking in something, they were way better in something else.”

Bertram van Munster: “I was looking for people that never traveled before, which was easy in those days—relatively easy. All ages, from 18 through 75, and all walks of life. So that was so incredibly the charm of the show, because it’s so relatable to all audiences that are sitting on the couch at home. Nowadays, the cast is getting younger and younger, but I like the range.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “I remember gigantic maps being on tables. They were figuring out what the thing was going to be, but they didn’t want us to know [the race’s route] because they didn’t want the casting pool tainted.”

Brennan Swain, co-winner of season one: “Rob and I, neither one of us were well-traveled.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “With these new shows, it’s harder to get the word out to people who’ve never heard of such a thing.”

Bill Bartek, second runner-up: “I had applied for Survivor and didn’t get on. Watching Survivor, I saw the ad for the new show Big Brother. I started watching that, and then watched the after-hours portion of Big Brother on the Internet. And that’s where I saw the first ad for The Amazing Race.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “On Survivor, it was four casting associates who each had four cities, and then Lynne just carried over that sort of model into Amazing Race. I had the northeast, which I did on Survivor, just because that’s where I was from. I found Richard Hatch.”

Lynne Spillman: “I was lucky to have the files from Survivor and call people around. I don’t remember if there was much recruiting; there might have been. Teams were actually just easier [to cast], because people wanted to do the show together.”

Brennan Swain: “A friend of mine was one of the casting associates. And he she called me up one day, and said, and I think you and Rob would be a good team, and I need you to submit a videotape. We were one of the first recruited teams. But you still have to jump through all the hoops.”

Kevin O’Connor, fourth place: “I saw this article that says that CBS has just signed on to do a new show are calling it the CBS global adventure. Unfortunately, the deadline comes and goes. And I famously remember saying to [Drew], You’re a real idiot. This was our one chance. [Then one day I saw that the] deadline was extended, and I was like, bullshit. I borrowed a camera from another friend of ours, and I went to Drew’s house, and I’m like, I’m gonna watch you finish this application, and then we’re going to do the video and I’m not leaving until both of them are done. [The footage from our audition video] is horror—it’s like six takes and they’re all terrible.”

Frank Mesa, runner-up: “We saw [CBS Summer Global Adventure Series] on TV, a commercial, and said, What the hell, let’s go in to the open casting call. We had been separated … and we were still—at least, I thought at the time—very good friends and figured we could be competitive and we could potentially win.”

Margarita Mesa, runner-up: “Frank and I were separated at the time, but he would have been the only person I would have thought of doing it with. I’d always wanted to travel more, hadn’t had the opportunity, and this just sounded like a real win-win: travel, and possibly went all this money. I didn’t even think about like the TV part.”

Brennan Swain: “I think there were definitely times during casting where we kind of played up maybe being a little cocky, confident. We knew that was one of the things for us to play up, what they were looking for.”

Kevin O’Connor: “I called Drew: listen we got an interview. He said, I can’t. I’m like Listen, you asshole! This is it. This is the one time that we’re getting this chance. You’re gonna be there. So we get there, and as we’re waiting for our appointment, we’re talking to this woman, and we said, Oh are you with CBS? She goes, No, my client is auditioning. I said, Oh, for The Amazing Race? And she goes, No, it’s the girl who plays Meadow Soprano, Jamie-Lynn Sigler. She was in another meeting. I’m like, We’re in Hollywood now! Of course, we’re still in New York.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “With Survivor, Lynne was like: You want humor, you want conflict, and you also want people who are going to be good at playing the game. But on Amazing Race, it was very much: How are these people’s relationships going to change by virtue of this traveling experience?”

Frank Mesa: “I thought it was something that would test our ability to work together, communicate, collaborate—all that I thought were essential for your relationship to be successful.”

Margarita Mesa: “We hoped that it would bring us back together. We were living in separate households and we needed time together. In my mind, I thought doing something like this together, and then spending that amount of time, might rekindle something. [And it did], enough to produce another daughter!”

Lynne Spillman: “I want a relationship that’s going to work out, one that might break up. I think dating couples are the most fascinating on that show because it’s make or break. Even if you lose, you gain something together, or call it quits.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “I remember distinctly the executives at CBS being like, we don’t care about parents and children because their relationships are gonna stay the same. We want people whose relationships and whose lives will be forever changed.”

After the casting department found a pool of teams, it was time for finals casting: more than week sequestered in a Los Angeles hotel, leaving the room only for interviews, meals, and structured leisure time—and no contact with other teams.

Margarita Mesa: “I do distinctly remember Bert coming up to us [at the open casting call] and saying, You guys seem cool and What’s your story? We shared a little bit about ourselves and that went really well, and then next thing you know we got the invite to Los Angeles.”

Lynne Spillman: “We had the budget to fly 25 teams out to LA and meet them, but even getting it down to 25 was hard.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “You get close with them throughout the process because you get to know them so well. Because a lot of it is just finding out about their lives and who they are, and their relationship. It becomes a somewhat of an intimate process and relationship.”

Lynne Spillman: “It was like a puzzle. You’re just moving things around, and my goal was always to give [producers and executives] three choices in every one of those categories. My job wasn’t really to cast the final 12, it was to give them enough choices so that everybody got what they wanted, and you also want to represent different parts of the country.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “We wanted to do whatever we could to find fun, interesting people that would make for good television, who did not perpetuate negative stereotypes.”

Brennan Swain: “I remember watching the Super Bowl, and the very first episode of season two of Survivor, in the hotel.”

Frank Mesa: “We went through a battery of tests and vaccinations.”

Lynne Spillman: “With Survivor, they’re sitting in a chair in front of the executives, and it’s just them. They don’t have anything to work with. With Amazing Race, it’s so much fun because you throw a question out that you haven’t asked before—I always call them zingers; I love holding those back based on what I already knew about them—and watching them work it out in the room. You could just see what it was going to look like on the race.”

Kevin O’Connor: “We had a great meeting with Les [Moonves]: He makes fun of Drew, I’m making fun of Drew, it was everything. It couldn’t have been any better.”

Lynne Spillman: “When you knew you had gold is when they both had strong opinions and were willing to work it out in the room.”

Lynne Spillman: “Kevin and Drew: hilarious. Just looking at them—they were funny visually and hilarious racing. … As soon as that tape went in, we’re like, done. The accents, all of it was unbelievable and hilarious.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “Kevin and Drew were my everything. I thought they were hilarious and awesome. I loved them, and I thought they were just great. Bertram was very anti—and to his credit, he said, I don’t want people to say, Oh these are ugly Americans. My argument was: They’re not ugly Americans. They are actually smart and they’re funny. They were so grateful for the experience everywhere they went.”

Lynne Spillman: “[Rob and Brennan], they’re both super competitive individually, but now these guys have to focus together and make it work.”

Bill Bartek: “I just wanted to let them know how we felt about being gay contestants, because there’d never been a real-life gay couple cast on national television. [During finals,] I said look, you know we’re gay, obviously. But we want to be considered as competitors like everyone else you’re talking to.”

Lynne Spillman: “It was a great representation of a gay, married couple. They were just competitive and nice, and they also could be bitchy to other people and each other—sarcastic—but they really loved each other, and you saw that. I thought it was a really nice relationship that I thought people should see.”

Bill Bartek: “I wanted to show gay youth across the country that two men can fall in love together and live together and stay together for years and years.”

Joe Baldassare: “As we were being led into the Les Moonves interview, this psychiatrist said that if CBS had enough courage to put a real-life gay couple on television, then basically, we’re going to be on. And if we didn’t get on, that’s because CBS did not have courage to present a gay couple on TV.”

Lynne Spillman: “They applied with their dog. And what’s funny is, I remember thinking, ‘God, they’re gonna have the hardest time being away from that dog.’ It was almost like a child, and we always were thinking how hard would that be for them.”

Joe Baldassare: “If Bill had done Survivor, he would go off by himself, and I’d be left home with Guido, and his whole life would change, and mine would stay exactly the same. This way, as long as we found somebody to take care of Guido, we got to this together.”

Lynne Spillman: “We call them intergenerational teams. I love that team because their views were so different, and then you’re throwing in Team Guido with them. Nancy, is she going to become friends with them? What is she going to think of their marriage? Those aren’t people, I don’t think, that would ever connect outside of a reality show.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “Frank and Margarita were my people as well, but I wasn’t as close to them. I thought they were cool and rooted for them and really wanted them to win very badly—sorry, Rob and Brennan!”

Lynne Spillman: “I was so scared about [Frank and Margarita] because they had a kid. There was a point where we were like, Should we even cast them? We knew this is so hard on couples, but it also just seemed like they both really wanted it to work, and that this could bring them closer. Separately, they were lovely and both super-committed to their relationship.”

Margarita Mesa: “I’m sure most folks would probably say, You didn’t think you’re gonna have issues with your separated spouse? Really? But what most people I don’t think really understood is that we were best friends. We’d known each other since the age of 14 and 16. I’m not sure that really came across”

Lynne Spillman: “CBS obviously had the final say, but Les always listened—his instincts for casting were right on.”

Margarita Mesa: “When we got the call, I really didn’t think it was real. I remember jumping on my bed, like, Is this really happening? Am I really going to be at a TV show?”

Kevin O’Connor: “I’m like, holy shit, oh god, shit. They were like, Here’s the dates. Can you make it? And I’m like, Yeah, I’ll make it. Don’t worry, I’m gonna make it. So immediately I have to call [Drew] … don’t fuck this up by saying you can’t go on those days, because I will kill you. I will absolutely kill you.”


Finding the host: ‘100 percent the guy’

Phil Keoghan, Amazing Race 24, start
Phil Keoghan starts The Amazing Race 24 in 2014. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS)

Brady Connell: “Phil [Keoghan] was cast at the last minute, just like Jeff [Probst] was on Survivor.”

Bertram van Munster: “First of all, Andy, we didn’t want to show a host at all. No host! What he’s gonna do? Read about what we’ve already seen?”

Elise Doganieri: “We were originally thinking that we might need two hosts, because how would they get ahead [of the teams]?”

Brady Connell: “He’s a great guy.”

Elise Doganieri: “I sat in an editing bay with VHS tapes, looking through casting tapes of journalists, news reporters. … I don’t know how many hundreds of tapes I looked through, and it was like no, no, no, no, no. And there was someone in our office, Terry Castagnola, who gave me a tape of Phil Keoghan. He goes, Look, I’ve worked with this person before. I think he could fit the bill. Take a look at his VHS tape. And I looked at it and it was instant. He had this great accent. He was fun, light-hearted, and he had done all these adventure shows.”

Phil Keoghan: “All the way through the ’90s, there was always an issue with my accent, being from New Zealand, and the acceptance of accents on TV—particularly network TV. When I had the interview for Survivor, Les Moonves asked me about what passport I had, where I was from. It was a thing.”

Phil Keoghan: “When we were waiting to find out about Survivor, Jeff and I were talking to each other. He’s like, Dude, you’re gonna get it because you’re like the adventure guy, you’re always out in the field. And I said, No, you’re gonna get it, because you are the quintessential American host. … I was gut-wrenched when I didn’t get Survivor because, I really thought like I could do that show.”

Bertram van Munster: “He’s definitely good. There’s no question about it. Let’s do it. Elise and I agree: he’s 100 percent the guy.”

Phil Keoghan: “I was over the moon. I couldn’t quite believe it because I really thought I just didn’t know whether they’d be ready for a New Zealand guy to host a network show. … I remember being super-excited about how—as you said—how audacious it was. I really do think that’s the best word to describe what happened. … It’s all worked out perfectly. It’s hard to imagine Survivor without Probst, and I certainly feel very lucky to have gotten The Amazing Race.”


Waiting: ‘They did not know what to expect’

In the weeks leading up to the March 8, 2001, start of the race, both the contestants and producers still didn’t know key details.

Brady Connell: “Two weeks before we’re leaving, we don’t have a title for the show. So The Amazing Race was one of the titles was on that list, and that’s the one that cleared.”

Margarita Mesa: “We were the true pioneers, because we got zero information. I remember asking these questions, like should we pack for cold weather? Should we bring boots? Do we need this, do we need that? And it was like, We can’t tell you.”

Elise Doganieri: “They did not know what to expect. That’s the beauty of any first season.”

Kevin O’Connor: “You’re on your own. They did tell us that in some places, we’re gonna have meals for you, and at some places, you’re going to have accommodations. I think we all were just under the impression that we’re on the road; we’re sleeping in tents, sleeping on the street, sleeping on park benches.”

Brennan Swain: “We knew we had to bring a backpack. All they told us was, We won’t let you die from the elements. They didn’t tell us much, and as a result, we ended up with a tent. We both had sleeping bags, because we didn’t know we didn’t know about pit stops. We didn’t know how it’s going to work.”

Frank Mesa: “We packed very heavy because we didn’t know whether we’re going to be in the desert—which we were—or in the Arctic.”

Margarita Mesa: “We’ve just got to pack for a little bit of everything. And so Frank and I strategize around how do you do that in a light way? Because you couldn’t bring suitcases or multiple pieces of luggage.”

Bertram van Munster: “I wanted them to be suitcases, and all kinds of crap that’s very ineffective. So that’s why we didn’t tell them. Now everyone shows up in specialty outfits. I find it unfortunate, because that’s not how people travel.”

Frank Mesa: “The only thing that we could somewhat glean from where we were going to go was the visas. To throw us off, there were several more visas for other countries that we weren’t going to be visiting.”

Kevin O’Connor: “They made us fill out visas for like 40 different countries, and those visa forms are awful—they’re tiny little boxes that you have to print your name a million times.”

Brennan Swain: “When they finally started telling us the actual rules was literally like two days before we left. We had a meeting with all the teams here in New York City in a hotel.”

Joe Baldassare: “We get a phone call like a two o’clock in the morning. People came down in their bathrobes.”

Brennan Swain: “They sat us down, and somebody got up—on a chalkboard or an overhead projector or something—and they started explaining. This is a Detour. This is a Roadblock. And we literally learned all that like two days before before we left.”

Joe Baldassare: “We didn’t even have a piece of paper to write it down ourselves. We’re just trying to memorize all this stuff.”

Brady Connell: “I lined up all the contestants and all the camera crews, and got them comfortable with the cameras. I actually had the cameras coming close on their faces, and shot for like an hour. I did an example of how we’re going to do all vehicle shooting. So everybody knew how to do it.”

Phil Keoghan: “Everything was so secretive. They wouldn’t give me the scripts until the night before, and I was up all night—I had this massive monologue, and I had to go on top of the building super-early, then go down and address these teams. I was trying to come up with the perfect line to launch this massive thing. The night before, literally, I was like, I need something to give a sense of the audaciousness and just how big this was.”

part two
During the Race

Starting: ‘The world is waiting for you’

The Amazing Race season one began in Central Park, where Phil Keoghan faced the contestants and said the words he’d landed on: “What you do after that is completely up to you. All right everyone: The world is waiting for you. I want to wish all of you the best of luck. Travel safe. Go!”

Brady Connell: “You see the teams rushing towards their backpacks, but you don’t see is the 11 camera teams just standing there lined up, ready to go wherever they went.”

Phil Keoghan: “It was a build up, build up, build up, and then and I was like, Go! Then they ran, and we all stood there by the fountain. We kind of looked around at each other and it took a second. We were like, Shit. We’ve got to get to the airport, we can’t be standing here! What the hell are we doing? It was like we’d opened Pandora’s box. There was no turning back now.”

Elise Doganieri: “We were all high-fiving each other. How awesome was that start line? And then everybody stopped and said, Wait a second—they’re already ahead of us! Let’s get out of here. This thing is a live event. It’s moving. There’s no stopping it.”

Brady Connell: “I did have a moment of relief. We were done with the opening of the show, and I went over and I was talking to Bert, and I’m like, oh shit, I gotta be on that plane too. That was the slap in the face; this is going to go on for the next 30 days. You cannot let them go because they will just disappear. So, literally, I had had to run—I got in a cab.”

Evan Weinstein: “My father had passed away in early December of 2000 after a lifetime of supporting me, and me having all the usual ups and downs, and good years and bad years, of trying to be a person working in theater and television. We were standing there in Central Park, on the bridge overlooking Bethesda Fountain; Phil and the cast are down next to the fountain; and you have all the cameras, the cranes, and helicopters flying in the air. I stood there while this was all going on. I didn’t even know yet whether this would be successful or whatever it was, I just knew that it was the biggest thing I had ever worked on. And I remember thinking, I can’t believe you missed this.”


Filming: ‘Constantly on the move’

Brady Connell: “We’ve wound this thing up. You let it go and see what happens. We weren’t afraid of it; we knew we had hired the best camera operators and the best sound people to do this run.”

Evan Weinstein: Survivor was certainly in our minds, but the big difference, of course, between Survivor and Race is that Survivor is sitting in one place. Even though it may be a foreign land, they essentially set up a studio show where they have departments and all that kind of stuff, and Race is constantly on the move.”

Brennan Swain: “It really felt 100% open ended, and I think that was part of what made it scary, especially if you hadn’t traveled a lot.”

Bertram van Munster: “The style of shooting that you need to do with a show like this fit perfectly with the style I’d been experimenting with for many, many years—the cinema verite style … storytelling from the POV of the cameraman, which they call shooters, but in my case, they’re really storytellers.”

Elise Doganieri: “They are so talented. Between our contestants and our camera crews, they are the life of our show.”

Brady Connell: “It could have been the fatal flaw of the show. How do we keep the crews with them? Your camera crew and sound have to be with you; they are part of your team. It was that simple.”

Brennan Swain: “[The camera operator and sound engineer] are like your kids. Every time you buy a ticket to do anything, you’ve got to buy a ticket for your kids that you got to keep them close. … If you’re going to hop on a plane, your sound man has a credit card.”

Elise Doganieri: “Every sound man—for every person that the contestants speak to, when their face is not blurred—gets them to sign a release.”

Brady Connell: “Matt Sohn was the director of photography. He was amazing; [we’d just done Eco-Challenge: Borneo together]. He’s a great guy, very talented, and he and I obviously had to be in sync the whole time about how we were going to shoot the show.”

Elise Doganieri: “We tell them whatever you say and do is being recorded. You have the camera, you got your mic on.”

Margarita Mesa: “You can’t prepare for that if you’re not in the industry. You don’t really picture the fact that they’re going to walk into your hotel room while you’re brushing your teeth and film you.”

Joe Baldassare: “[One one leg,] we were so happy that we didn’t get lost, we hugged and kissed, and afterwards, we got told, that was really nice, but we can’t use that footage.”

Brennan Swain: “If our camera crew was one that can’t keep up with us, and we’ve got to slow down so they can stay with us.”

Frank Mesa: “I know some of the people on our race complained about that—our cameraman and an audio guy are holding this back, they’re too slow. We compensated for that by carrying their stuff.”

Brennan Swain: “Our sound man for the last two or three legs, the one that took us across the finish line, he was a little slow. So there were times where Rob and I would carry his backpack—they had backpacks, he’s got a boom, he’s got sound equipment. That’s slowing them down.”

Bill Bartek: “We started giving our Power Bars to our crew, so they would push a little further.”

Margarita Mesa: “The camera folks were all male, and yeah it just felt really good to keep up. I was usually a little behind, but I was keeping up.”

Elise Doganieri: “We’ve worked with other producers on other shows where we see how things get manipulated. This one, you can’t do that. This is a race for a million dollars, it’s game show rules, you cannot stop it down, you cannot say, Oh, I missed that shot with you getting out of the car opening that envelope. You miss the rip-and-read—which is what we call it when they rip open the clue—and they run, you better get that camera back up and running. If your battery’s dead, you know, you better be ready.”

Brady Connell: “If you want to see their faces, and you want to see them talking to each other, we’re gonna put the camera guy in the front seat, we’re going to put the other person in the back seat, and it’s just the way it’s going to be. Then you can put the sound [mixer] in the other backseat to hide that person.”

Kevin O’Connor: “You’re in these little cabs in Europe, and Drew and I are big guys. Now you’ve got a camera guy and a sound guy so, sometimes we’re sitting on each other’s lap.”

Brady Connell: “We would have somebody flag the team crew to peel off because we had zone crew—from the Eiffel Tower, shooting down on them—and we wanted an open shot of them running across the area. So there was a lot of directing involved; you wouldn’t think so.”

Kevin O’Connor: “[The camera] guys were crazy–they were going backwards, so that they could get a shot of us. That famous shot of me and Drew running across the bridge at Victoria Falls, the camera guy went whipping past us backwards, and the ground is wet—it’s wet metal.”

Brady Connell: “The camera crews were really yelling and screaming, especially when [teams] were sprinting for a clue or sprinting for a location. Fortunately, we would anticipate those situations, and have a [separate] zone crew to cover it.”

The camera crews weren’t the only people traveling along with the race, its contestants and its producers.

Elise Doganieri: “We have a team of at least three security people that travel with the contestants: one is in the front of the pack, one is at the back of the pack, and there’s one in the middle. They’re constantly sending us updates of where they are, what they’re doing.”

Kevin O’Connor: “These guys were great because we never saw them. We knew we were being watched, and we were in good hands.”

Elise Doganieri: “We have also have a security team that travels with us—either ex military or they’re trained international travel safety specialists. We also have a company that has a 24-hour hotline. You call that number, they’ll tell you the closest hospital to tell you where to go the doctor, or how to fly out of there.”

Frank Mesa: “Certain parts of the race, I don’t know if they realized how physically challenging they were. I literaly felt, on a couple of occasions, that I could literally die—like I could have a heart attack, just fall and die.”

Behind the scenes, a lot was happening.

Elise Doganieri: “Before [the contestants] would arrive in the city, we would go through the entire route, and they would land, and we would do the route again. So we were doing double race.”

Brady Connell: “There were no [traditional] story producers so … I interviewed all the teams. What would happen is they would come in—first team would come in, I’d interview them, and then we’d wait. So I couldn’t go to bed. I had to stay awake because I was the only person I knew all the storylines of all 11 teams. Oh, shit, the first team is going to leave in two hours. After doing that for the first episode, I said to myself, this is not sustainable. This thing is not going to be able to air if we stay on this track.”

Brennan Swain: “You’re never getting a regular night’s sleep. So that that makes it difficult. And then you’re just always stressed. Every leg was chance of going home.”

Brady Connell: “That was Betacam days. These are 35-pound cameras and 30-minute loads. Local production assistants, who are hired by the local fixer, take and deliver tapes and batteries to the crew as they were running by.”

Phil Keoghan: “Someone would travel around with us and collect these tapes, and physically have to carry these tapes back to LA. God forbid they ever missed any. They were literally carrying like a massive case that they couldn’t check [as luggage] because that was millions of dollars.”


Challenging: ‘Swing, you fat bastard!’

Once the contestants left for South Africa, the first of nine countries they’d visit across 13 legs, they stopped in South Africa on their way to Zambia, where they encountered the show’s first-ever challenge at Victoria Falls. Challenges tried to highlight local culture and produce great television.

Evan Weinstein: “With Survivor, I think the challenge is always a big Hollywood game that has been plunked down wherever it is, and then it’s designed to look like whatever the environment is, whereas on Race it was always built out of the environment. And often that was because of the only materials available were the materials that were right there. Our art department, working in conjunction with local people, would devise this game that is really made out of what was there, and I think that’s what makes Race special: is that it really is built out of where you are. Of course, there’s little things that get brought along and shipped. It’s hard for us to think back to 20 years ago, but you couldn’t necessarily ship something to Tataouine and know that it would get there.”

Brady Connell: “[For each Detour challenge, which provides a choice between two tasks,] we have 12 cars lined up, or 12 gondolas, or 12 jet skis, or whatever it is. You have to have 12 of each on both detours because they may all go that way. It’s not really smart reality producing. Some of the producers who put that stuff together got really frustrated because some of their [work] never got used.”

Elise Doganieri: “They’re doing the things that the locals will do, and they’re getting a sense of what life is like. Yes, we are doing Route Markers at iconic locations. But then we’re also digging under the surface. … Some of the tasks that we do, we built things that actually help the city or the village.”

Evan Weinstein: “What could it be interesting here? Sometimes it’s something very indigenous, and sometimes it’s just you know just comes completely out of your imagination.”

Brady Connell: “There was no challenge for the first episode of The Amazing Race. I went down there and was racking my brain, trying to figure out what should be the challenge. I’m literally walking around with a guy who is my driver, and like, What’s going on over there? This is on the Zambia side of Victoria Falls. We walk up there and there are these two guys building a platform on the edge. There was a wire that went all the way across the gorge. I said, What are you guys doing? They said, We just got our permit from the Zambian government to this first-ever gorge swing. I’m like, ding, ding, ding! My name is Brady; I’m from a show called The Amazing Race. You want the best publicity you ever could have imagined? We need to go to dinner tonight.”

Elise Doganieri: “For every time a contestant does a bungee jump or a skydive, we are doing all the insurance—checking the frame on the plane, the pilot’s experience, their track record.”

Brady Connell: “A promise I made to myself on Survivor and on The Amazing Race is that I’m not going to ask any contestant to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. So I did the gorge swing that next day, and stepped off that platform. I’d bungee jumped before, but I was still really terrified.”

Elise Doganieri: “We’ve done everything we can to make it as safe as humanly possible. Everything is checks and balances over and over again, through the legal department at CBS.”

Brennan Swain: “I heard they were still testing that thing up to within an hour or so of the first contestants arriving, and there was talk about, Are we going to risk people’s lives? Obviously they decided it was safe enough, and everything went fine.”

Frank Mesa: “When we got to Zambia, the Knife’s Edge at Victoria Falls. Everyone is in full sprint running as fast as they possibly can. There is no fencing, there is nothing there. You could literally run right over the falls, and we almost did. Because it’s so misty and the visibility was so low, when we got to the edge of the falls, we’re like, holy shit, we’re gonna fucking kill ourselves. We started complaining to production, and the cameraman and the audio guys, they actually went back to production and were like, What’s going on? These people are gonna kill themselves, they’re gonna kill us, they’re gonna die. We’ve got to figure this out.”

Kevin O’Connor: “Drew and I would call each other ‘fat bastard’ all the time. And that was completely spontaneous, because there was a pendulum, going back and forth over this gorge, and that’s the first thing that came to mind: ‘Swing, you you fat bastard!'”

Brennan Swain: “Not even knowing what the tasks were going to be, [Rob and I] kind of talked about different things that might come up, and what would work for me, and what work for him.”

Margarita Mesa: “Frank had done a lot of the challenge stuff from the start, just because he’s bigger and stronger. In China, I was building up my own strength and my own fears were falling away as the show went on. I felt it—I felt stronger and better and more open to challenges as the show went on.”


Adjusting: ‘Creatively, the chaos is good’

Ghen Maynard:Survivor was this monumental challenge, and Amazing Race is 10 times more complicated, both in production and in post, given we’re not on a closed set, we have crews racing with a bunch of different teams in multiple countries at the same time. We can’t just stop the race due to a production issue, like you can delay a challenge on most other shows. And with so many crews, there’s a far bigger amount of footage to sort through and cobble into a 42-minute episode.”

Phil Keoghan: “When you’re in a studio, you’re in your own world; nobody comes in and out of that world without somebody in charge authorizing it. If you shoot on location, nobody comes in and out of that world without authorization from someone in production. When you shoot in the world, if there’s an elephant procession through the streets of India and you’re on your way to the roadblock, nobody in that elephant possession cares about the fact that you’re making some reality show.”

Evan Weinstein: “We got through the first episode and a half, and we were leaving Africa to go to Paris, which was halfway through episode two. Obviously, just getting through those first couple of days, it was just a ball-buster, and [field producer] Rick Ringbakk, who had run that first show and a half in Africa, hadn’t slept in days. We were at the little airport in Zambia, and the cast was taking off in various charter planes. He was on one of those sat phones, and he got through to [field producer] Michael Norton, who was producing Paris. Michael is, of course, well-rested. [Rick] says, Where are you? And Michael says, I’m the Arc de Triomphe, we’re just scaling up the pitstop and making sure everything’s all together. And Rick said to him, Are there a lot of people there? And [Michael] said, It’s the Arc de Triomphe; there’s thousands of people standing here. Why? And Rick said: Hire everyone.”

Bertram van Munster: “Early in the morning, we think we’re ahead of everybody, we’re driving into Paris on a rainy morning, and I look over to my left, and I see two contestants in a car next to me. Shit! What’s going on here? Who are these people? How did they get here? They found a flight from Johannesburg through an airline called Air Gabon … we didn’t even know of the existence of the airline. They got ahead of us. So, my God, it was just nerve-racking.”

Evan Weinstein: “We’ve still got a month left on this thing, and oh my god, it’s a freight train. Because they moved so fast, the cast.”

Brennan Swain: “We’re going to Victoria Falls, and it’s very first time we ever were able to drive ourselves. We’re in a million dollar race. So we were driving—and I had floored. We were passing each other. They had to sit us down after that, at the pit stop, and actually establish: you have to drive the speed limit. I can’t believe they didn’t think of it before, but it was because the crew was terrified.”

Brady Connell: “They did surprise us a lot. When there’s a million dollars at stake, of course they’re just going to do whatever it takes.”

Margarita Mesa: “I thought that it was pretty well organized, behind the scenes, considering how insurmountable some of that was—just the logistics.”

Phil Keoghan: “I think Bertram thrives in chaos. I hope you understand I’m saying this as a complement—it’s that ability to [adapt].”

Ghen Maynard: “What I loved about Bert is that he would bring the chaos that makes some good reality TV. As CBS, I need to make sure it’s not chaos. But creatively, the chaos is good stuff. Without Bert, I think the show would be very methodical and some of that crazy shit wouldn’t be happening, and ultimately that’s what gives the show its soul.”

Bertram van Munster: “For me, that’s the thrill, to be mentally and physically exhausted. I love it.”

Brady Connell: “The idea of the 12-hour pit stop was in place from the start, assuming that they were going to be pretty close to each other. We thought 12 hours was going to be the norm. I didn’t know we weren’t able to do it on just these 12-hour pitstops at the end of every episode. I think we were in France, and we’re getting ready to go to Tunisia, and I hadn’t slept the whole time.”

Phil Keoghan: “I remember I got back from season one and one of my friends said to me, You look like shit.”

Evan Weinstein: “The cast was able to talk themselves onto sold-out flights. In the plan, we were ahead of them; in reality, we were racing to stay ahead of them or get there at the same time.”

Brennan Swain: “I don’t think we realized that they were battling to get to the pitstop or wherever the next task is to beat us there.”

Elise Doganieri: “We really didn’t realize that we didn’t have enough time to really get ahead. We got ahead, but it was very difficult to just keep up that pace for us as a production.”

Evan Weinstein: “One of the big surprises was how fast the cast was able to move—much faster than we anticipated. So in many cases, we were running alongside of them, or just getting ahead of them.”

Brady Connell: “Everyone’s like, okay, let’s add 12 hours, and do a 24-hour pit stop. I was falling asleep, and I’m like, you can’t add 12 hours. You have to add 24 hours in order for all the plans, all the flights [to still work]. Every couple of episodes, we need to do a 36-hour pit stop.”

Kevin O’Connor: “When we got to Paris, that’s when I got really sick: chills, sweating with fever, diarrhea, it was terrible. And I remember picking up the phone and Brady Connell—he’s awesome, he’s amazing. He was the referee out in the field. Bert was the ultimate boss, of course—I remember Brady called our room, and I picked up the phone. I thought he was gonna say, Hey, you guys need to be out there soon. And he was like, Listen, I just want to tell you guys, we have a 24-hour hold. And I swear, Andy, I had tears in my eyes I was so relieved that I didn’t have to get out of that bed and start going again, because I was just shot.”

Brady Connell: “A lot of [crew members] got sick in Africa. The thing was moving so fast, they didn’t actually get sick until we got to Paris.”

Brennan Swain: “We ended up having an extended pitstop [in India]. This one ended up getting extended two days, and it was just a great time to relax and get to know the other teams. We were already good friends with Kevin and Drew, but Kevin and I became very close. It was a chance to get to know the fellow competitors in a non-competitive environment.”

Kevin O’Connor: “It was awesome. We so much fun. We kept charging all the bar tabs to the Guidos’ room. Of course, they didn’t have to pay for anything. I’m sure at the end when Bert saw the Guidos’ bill, he was like, what the hell?”

Evan Weinstein: “We spent a lot of time trying to think of every single thing that could possibly happen, and every sort of reaction that we would need to do, and in the end (laughs) we hadn’t thought of any of it. When we really got on the road, it was like, oh my God, why didn’t we think of that? That first year on the road was was learning, so I think that that pre-production period was very creative and then we learned what it was.”

Brady Connell: “You had to go to the attorneys at CBS and say, Okay, camera guy dropped his battery, because he went back to get his battery, the team missed their train. And because of that, they’re in last place. Like, those are the calls I was getting and giving, and then trying to figure out a solution to that in terms of penalties and all that. So, we were making up a lot of that along the way.”

Brennan Swain: “Those credits were never for little things like just running fast or not.”

Kevin O’Connor: “That would all get sorted out in the the pit stop. It didn’t happen that often. But it surprised us. All of a sudden, there’s a production delay, and now someone’s leaving before you. They really made their best effort—think about it, it’s the first time [The Amazing Race has] ever been done.”

Elise Doganieri: “Season one was definitely our big learning season—and several seasons after that—because contestants would find ways to get around the rules. We never thought they would do something like that!”

Brady Connell: “This thing could fall apart at any second. I’m not kidding—that was my panic mode for 28 days. It was one race around the world.”

Phil Keoghan: “Our studio is the world, and we have no control over it. We think we do, but we don’t.”

Amazing Race fans are now familiar with equalizers, which cause the teams to bunch up and start from the same point. In season one, those were a complete accident. Producers timed what they thought would be the fastest and slowest that teams could run the course, and the teams surprised them.

Brady Connell: “By the time we get to wherever we’re going in Rome, there’s still teams that are back in France, and they’re still competing. We’ve got to have management of them in terms of safety and rules, and crews supporting our group. … This is tough keeping an eye on everybody.”

Evan Weinstein: “I don’t know if my number is exactly correct, but I would say between the first and second season, our staff definitely doubled, may have tripled.”

Brady Connell: “What most pleasantly surprised me was things like a ferry that only ran once every 24 hours. We didn’t think through how significant that was going to be in terms of helping to bring the accordion back to where we could manage it. We ended up baking that into the fast-slow plans for future seasons, just so that we could manage it.”

Frank Mesa: “Bunching was the most frustrating part of the whole situation. There were there opportunities for us to just break out. I don’t know if they did that on purpose.”

Ghen Maynard: “I remember the first season when Les [Moonves] was watching episode four, he’s like, This is really unfair. They all had to get on a ferry and ended up on the same one, so they’re all equalized. If I’m a competitor, I’m pissed off. And I said, But Les, there is an element of luck in terms of how the cards get drawn. The reality is that made for better television because you want to see them racing against each other, rather than be so far apart that there’s no competition. But Les’s instinct, I think, was right in that you also need to do it in a way where it doesn’t feel like total bullshit. So we always tried to make sure that if they’re going to go to a ferry, there were at least two or three ferries they could possibly get on.”

Evan Weinstein: “Some of us had what was, at the time, state-of-the-art world phones, and they didn’t work. It’s hard to imagine life without smartphones. Making it happen under those conditions really was an amazing feat. Credit goes to Bert—his knowledge of the world at that point, and imparting on us: you can expect this, you can anticipate that, so let’s just get in the car and go, and when we get there we should be able to x, y, and z. He really was leading the troops.”

Elise Doganieri: “[In Tunisia,] we’re in the desert, there was no cell service, we had a satphone—and the sat phones, of course, only work when you have a clear sky. We’re trying to dial the number; it’s not going through. We’re trying to find where these contestants are. Now we’re worried. They were lost in the desert.”

Brennan Swain: “I remember, at one point, Bertram saying to one of the other producers, This is serious. We all know what a seasoned veteran Bert is. And he just exudes that, even in season one.”

Elise Doganieri: “What did Bertram and I decide to do? I don’t know why—we’re like, we need to get in a vehicle and start searching for them in the desert. I don’t know why anybody stopped us. Luckily, we get a call, and we hear that they’re checking into the pitstop. They found their way. And as we start heading back, we get another call that a sandstorm is coming in, and our tented camp is being blown apart, and we need to evacuate like 200 people. We caravanned the entire production out of the desert in the middle of the night. And we got everybody into a hotel in the middle of the night. We literally started the pitstop in a different location than where the check-in was.”

Bertram van Munster: “We were in Tunisa, and the drivers that had to be here in the morning at five o’clock. There were probably 30, 40 cars for the entire production. At four o’clock, there’s nobody there. 4:30 nobody there. Five o’clock, nobody there. 5:30, nobody there. Quarter to seven, nobody there. Where are they? They are downtown in the little village where there’s one gas pump, and they’re pumping gas into these 50 cars at this one gas pump. And I said, Goddammit! You’re supposed to be filled up with gas. That kind of misunderstanding, you can do two things. You can be pissed off at them, or you can love them for it. I love them for it.”

Elise Doganieri: “It’s such a close-knit family. You have to be a family when you do this show. We’ve had so many marriages out of our production.”


Philiminating: ‘The most brutal hosting gig’

Even Phil Keoghan’s role as host was being worked out in real-time—and, eventually, in post-production.

Phil Keoghan: “I was asked to sort of taper the New Zealand accent. Now I have people say, What the hell, why’d you get rid of it? I’m not trying to get rid of it now, but certainly, in the early days of Race, I was asked to Americanize some words.”

Evan Weinstein: “It had been decided that we should try and have almost sports-like commentary for for Phil. There will be an opening for each show and a closing for each show, that would actually reference—almost like what Julie [Chen Moonves] does on on Big Brother: Will this happen, or will that happen? Amy and Paul are at the back of the pack—can they leap ahead and stay in the game? At the end of the leg, once we knew who was eliminated, or if it was a non-elimination leg, I would—on the spot—write a speech for Phil that we would shoot. And then I would also write a speech for the start of the next leg. I was doing that literally on street corners, in vans, in the middle of the night.

Phil Keoghan: “It wasn’t my responsibility to write scripts on that first season.”

Evan Weinstein: “We did that all the way through the whole race, and then none of it was used—literally none of it. Aside from helping to run a challenge, or rewriting a clue because a road washed out and so now we got to send them this way instead of that way—all of those kinds of things, I wrote this massive amount of material for Phil, none of which was used.”

Phil Keoghan: “Very little of what we actually shot in the very first episode made it to air as it was intended. [Tracking 11 teams in a 44-minute episode] doesn’t leave a lot of room for, you know, this coliseum was the scene of bloody battles where people died and were sacrificed. We shot a lot of that stuff.”

When the first team checks into the first pit stop of The Amazing Race, Phil Keoghan was not on camera.

Phil Keoghan: “In the first episode, they didn’t want me to greet the teams in the beginning, which I was frustrated with, quite frankly. That later changed. … There were some discussions, and I said, I feel like you’re wasting an opportunity to use me, where I feel like I can help. … My experience really was in interacting with people. I’ve always admired hosts that facilitate others—they’ll be self deprecating and in sacrifice how they look in an effort to make others look good. To me that’s a real skill, while some hosts are trying to outdo a guest.”

Elise Doganieri: “[With local greeters], we wanted it to have that cultural feel and international field. But then, Phil just showed up and it was kind of sad, just giving them bad news. So eventually, he was there [to greet] every team.”

Phil Keoghan: “The audience forgets that I don’t know what they know when those people turn up to the mat. The audience knows what happened. The fact is the audience knows more than me, they’ve seen more than me, they know more than me. I try to do as much work as I can while I’m waiting there, checking in with the camera operators. … Now we can track story with Slack. I can sit on the plane, and before I get off, I can just read through all the latest story updates. It’s made my job way easier—all of us, the technology is incredible.”

Ghen Maynard: “We had to figure out how to incorporate the host during post by cobbling together bits and pieces that we shot when we didn’t really know what we were doing. We have to show him on camera, so how do we use this one sentence, where he’s on camera, and then cut the voiceover for everything else where it makes sense? [In later seasons,] it became really fun; he would get really great shots of himself walking fast, talking about this challenge—we’re going to jump in a mud pit, and then someone jumps into a mud pit right next to him.”

Evan Weinstein: “We redid all of it in post production, because the decision was we don’t want to have that kind of sort of wrap-up, or that kind of beginning. We want to start with more energy; we want to end the episode on the elimination, not have a whole speech from the host. So a lot of what I did never made it to see the light of day, but that’s how I spent a lot of my time traveling. In subsequent seasons, I traveled with Phil and basically ran the unit from a producing standpoint, and would work with Phil to do all of the stand-ups.”

Phil Keoghan: “I don’t work with a prompter or anything, and jet lag is not your friend when it comes to memorizing. I lost 12 pounds. It’s the most brutal hosting gig that you can have. By the way, I’m not complaining one iota—I love it.”

Ghen Maynard: “I’m very glad we had [Phil Keoghan], and this was perfect for him, because he [had been] a producer as well. He got it, and thank God, because in the first season, with everything else in this complicated show being figured out, nobody had the time to figure out how to get the host segments right on the first try. So given all the retakes we ultimately had to do with Phil flying again around the world, a lot of other people—Hollywood-types—would have said, Fuck this, I didn’t sign up for this. He hung in there, sleepless nights, sweat, retakes, and all.”

Elise Doganieri: “He’s so great at what he does, and people just love Phil.”


Ending: ‘You cannot script stuff like that’

The race ended where it began, New York City, but at the time the actual race began, producers did not yet have a location where it would conclude. Meanwhile, only two teams were in contention—Rob and Brennan, and Frank and Margarita, as Joe and Bill were too far behind to catch up.

Brady Connell: “The idea that we didn’t know where the race was going to finish until about a week before we got there is incredible. I’d fully scouted the World Trade Center, and I felt strongly that was where it should end: the top of the World Trade Center. We start in Central Park, finish in the World Trade Center, a helicopter, Phil up there, so many stairs. Somebody pops out on top, and it would be perfect. I was pushing and pushing. … They couldn’t get whatever the permits or something—I was doing the race, I don’t know actually what why it didn’t work out. [Bert called] and he said it’s going to be Flushing Meadows. I’m like, Flushing Meadows? Nobody knows where that is. He said, it’s where the World’s Fair was, it’ll be cool.”

Bill Bartek: “Before we even left Los Angeles, we told Les Moonves who we thought the top three teams were, and that’s who finished—we just thought we would be number one, not number three. Rob and Brennan, Margarita and Frank, and us.”

Margarita Mesa: “We were pretty strong, and we actually are stronger together when we’re communicating well. As we got closer towards the end and I became the only female left in this group of seven men, that felt great. I like this. There was this female power thing coming through.”

Bill Bartek: “The bad decisions come just from being hyper-fatigued.”

Brady Connell: “Just from a drama point of view I was worried as we were arriving in Alaska. I was worried that we were going to have a runaway team. It just worked out in our favor that the one team that [broke away was] the team that was behind, not the team that was in New York by themselves.”

Brennan Swain: “We knew there was a point where the 24-hour separation happened between Joe and Bill, and Kevin and Drew. That did give us a chance to relax a little bit.”

Joe Baldassare: “We didn’t have enough show to catch up.”

Elise Doganieri: “They thought they were doing great, and then that’s a big shock to them that they weren’t.”

Brady Connell: “[A producer was] going to inform Joe and Bill that the race is over. There’s no reason to have them continue. I thought it would make a good moment.”

Bertram van Munster: “That was a fantastic moment. I loved it, but a lot of people in my crew were, Oh no! This is fantastic, this a beautiful. That’s why I like it. They don’t always have to be together now. Now to travel together in many, many cases, because of the airlines, et cetera, but I loved when they were separate.”

Bill Bartek: “I looked around at the producers: The dogs are ready to run the dog sleds. Can we please do the dog sleds. That was all I cared about at that point. We knew it was over—really, from Thailand.”

Phil Keoghan: “We really thought that Frank and Margarita were going to win because they knew New York. How could they not win? Of course the Guidos are stuck in Alaska—which is kind of really hysterical when you think about it. I just thought we’re gonna be seeing Frank and Margarita and then Rob and Brennan kind of popped out, and I was like, What?! Because of a lack of real-time information, we didn’t have that those live updates.”

Margarita Mesa: “It was almost detrimental to be in New Yorker. In my mind, keeping away from Manhattan and all those closures was a smart thing to do. I actually think that played against us, because I made that suggestion to try that route. If we weren’t New Yorkers, we would have just listened to the cabbie. I was trying to overthink it.”

Elise Doganieri: “Rob and Brennan, who were just hungry, hungry, hungry, and never assuming that they were going to win. Frank and Margarita were like, We got this, we know this, we’re going to do this, this, and that—they had it all planned out. They were high-fiving in the subway.”

Frank Mesa: “I felt encouraged, but the thing that I recognized is that both people had to be on the mat. I figured if we were anywhere close to each other, and it got down to a foot race, I knew that we couldn’t win.”

Kevin O’Connor: “Drew and I were the first persons to actually run through the park, onto the stage, jump up and down with Phil, so that if anybody was watching, we threw them off. A couple of the other teams did as well, but Drew and I were the first people to jump on that stage and celebrate with Phil. I always remind Brennan of that: You might have gotten the check, but I was the first person across the finish line.”

Brennan Swain: “When we ran up to the platform after getting that final clue to get on the train, the train came within a minute. So we timed it well. Supposedly, Frank and Margarita were running up the stairs as the train pulled away. It was that close to becoming a foot race. In the end, they were probably 15 minutes behind us.”

Phil Keoghan: “I got goosebumps. Holy crap, we just went around the globe. It felt big; it felt historic; it felt monumental.”

Elise Doganieri: “You cannot script stuff like that. Those are moments where we’re all crying behind the scenes, watching this happen.”

Brady Connell: “I remember looking at [a camera operator] and he was crying. A camera operator who just raced around the world with me and everybody else was so emotionally invested. And he didn’t stop shooting.”

Frank Mesa: “One thing that I said from the beginning is that I’m going to cross the finish line. Certainly I felt good about that—that we were able to get around the world and cross the finish line. But I was very disappointed.”

Margarita Mesa: “In that moment, I definitely wanted to see my daughter, my family, but there was a lot of adrenaline for sure. I literally could have gotten right back on that train and gone home in 20 minutes, so that was pretty trippy too.”

Phil Keoghan: “It’s the same mat, by the way. We’re still using the same mat that we had from season one. It’s got so much history to it.”

Brennan Swain: “After they came in, we got the shot that’s at the very end of the episode of all the teams waving to the camera. Then it actually started raining. We grabbed our stuff, and walked across the grass, and there was a bus waiting for us. When we got to the hotel and sat there, decompressing, I looked at Rob at one point and I was like, We won. When you see people be interviewed after winning the Super Bowl or some big event, it hasn’t set in yet. That really was the case, because you’ve had the 30 days of just stress and craziness and travel.”

Kevin O’Connor: “That night we go out to Carmines, and we have this great dinner. Then someone’s like, we have to get the Guidos. And we’re like, does anybody want to come greet them at the airport? And I’m sitting there thinking to myself, there’s no chance I’m going to go out to the airport to greet these assholes. You know what, you’re right, it is the right thing to do.

Ghen Maynard: “The estranged couple with the one-year-old child falling back in love—that’s the best of reality television, when real life gets accelerated in an unexpected direction. It wasn’t manipulated by us, it wasn’t planned, it’s just real.”

Margarita Mesa: “I [recently] rewatched some of it with some folks who had never seen it. It was just as cringey now as it was then. There were moments where I was like, Are we really arguing in front of all these people?”

Brady Connell: “It was a true verite reality show, and Bertram wouldn’t have it any other way. If [we] didn’t get it … that’s the way it goes, they’ll edit around it; there’s 10 other teams they can cut to.”

Bertram van Munster: “That’s a secret that Elise and I feel very strongly about reality television: let it go. It is going to be amazing, and it’s always better than messing with it.”

Brady Connell: “We weren’t fabricating anything. Except for the use of a pickup shot here and there, we didn’t fabricate anything. Bertram was really adamant; he comes from cinema verite. He trained us to get it in the moment. That’s our job. And I think it added a lot to the success of the show. It felt like they were watching a live event—we were shooting it live, it was just being edited.”

part three
After the Race

Editing: ‘We had to make it as exciting as possible’

CBS originally planned to air The Amazing Race in the summer of 2001, a year after Survivor: Borneo found ratings success.

Ghen Maynard: “Because Amazing Race was going to be the follow-up to Survivor, people [at the network] were curious to see something. So I put together like a little 15-minute taste from the first episode—which wasn’t even yet done—and played it before the upfronts, and everyone was so wowed. I had a feeling this would happen. If it didn’t, then I would have to go with my head bowed to Les and say, ‘We’re not going to be ready’ [for a summer premiere], but [CBS salespeople] said, ‘Why are we wasting this on the summer? We should put it on in the fall, which bought us a lot more time to cut this very complicated show.”

Evan Weinstein: “I was one of the few people that actually stayed and worked in post. Most of the people from the field would come home, take a little break, and then were fortunate enough to have a have a [next job.] I would go into post and initially, I would produce episodes in post: screening material, writing scripts, overseeing the edit, and then eventually graduated to being the supervisor so I was overseeing producers and such. In the first season, when we got into the post I was one of the core group of people that actually sat there—and again, I was rewriting the stuff for Phil over and over and over and over again, but was also sitting in the edit bay, helping to craft the episodes.”

Brady Connell: “I was worried there weren’t enough interviews.”

Bertram van Munster: “The editing: I insist on real-time edits. [A] judge can come to me and look at the time codes and say, Yeah, they did right.

Elise Doganieri: “Many, many months, Ghen Maynard sat in the editing bays with [Eli Frankel], our editor, who went on to become an executive. At some point you’re just like, How many more times can we review this and cut it and cut it? But it got better and better.”

Stu Goldberg, composer for two episodes: “They sped up some of the shots to make them look more exciting, with very quick cuts to something else, and looked like it was like super-important and super-exciting, when a lot of the scenes were very mundane. But musically, we had to make it as exciting as possible.”

Brennan Swain: “I feel like that is the one thing that this show kind of lacks now is it’s more about the tasks, and it’s not about the travel. The tasks were important, but it was always more about the travel, and you lost a lot of time due to travel decisions.”

Ghen Maynard: “Editors often hated, in post[-production], cutting airport scenes, but I actually love them because that’s where the stress and the random things would often happen. It takes a critical eye to sit there and figure out all the dry information of who said what, when, and all that. But that actually makes for really compelling television, when people negotiate their way onto different flights and their order in the race is all jumbled up. The best reality is when unexpected shit happens. So it’s creating this structure where the unexpected shit gets everyone excited, but it’s not so unexpected that it breaks out of the structure and now becomes a calamity.”

Stu Goldberg: “It was great to be part of a team. It was a huge team—there were several hundred people.”

Phil Keoghan: “I turned up for a voiceover session, and I think there were like 12 people in the room. And if you put 12 people in a room. Everybody was trying to get it right. Nowadays, it’s me and one other person for post.”

Stu Goldberg: “The music had to be larger than life—the most important, biggest action pieces of all time, musically, when there wasn’t hardly anything happening on the screen. You had to make it seem way more important than it was. … They didn’t want it to be a travelogue, they didn’t want to be like a documentary. I enjoy composing ethnic music from different places in the world, but I was told to avoid that.”

Elise Doganieri: “You know [it’s The Amazing Race] when you hear that song—the theme music.”

Stu Goldberg: “I heard the theme, and I’ve listened to the temp music that the video editors had laid in, which is a guide to what they wanted for me. I followed the tenor and mood of the temp music. I didn’t hear any of the other episodes. … They’ve already edited everything; everything’s already done. They’ve got very tight schedules: you have maybe two days to compose 45 minutes of music, three days maybe. Then you have to submit it to them for their notes. They give you notes, you make changes, you get approvals, and then you deliver. The whole process is maybe four or five days at the most. It’s a lot of work. … When I finally got the okay to deliver [the final score], it was on the air the next night. There’s no way to achieve that in two days without performing every note yourself; you can’t hire an orchestra. And it wouldn’t have made any sense, because the producers wanted to approve every note of music before. … The deal was that they were allowed to music in subsequent episodes indiscriminately, at their discretion, which meant all of our music went into their library. The editors just cut it in future episodes. I’m credited on, I don’t know, 70 episodes or something—which is great. I receive royalties for that; I still do. But I only wrote those two episodes to picture.”

Evan Weinstein: “By the time it aired, I think we were aware that we had something very, very special. Whether or not the audience was going to like it, you never know.”


Premiering: ‘Holy crap, this is a television show?’

Phil Keoghan: “Bertram and Elise had a vision for what the show was. The execution of an idea is crucial. How many great ideas have been squandered because of just horrendous execution? This show had the right people, the right set of skills, the right design, the right ingredients. Thankfully, we ended up with something that we’re all really proud of.”

Brennan Swain: “CBS really tried to make sure we didn’t make any changes, because obviously the team that makes the changes, there’s chance maybe they won. They were very much telling us, You can’t quit your jobs. There was an article in Star Magazine about how Rob and I had these lavish parties every week, and there’s nothing but girls, girls, girls there, and it finished with something about the new cars that we bought. And we got a call from CBS: Why did you guys buy new cars? It turns out the story was sold by a girl that was in our apartment building. And we did have parties every Wednesday night, but it was just our friends. And the new cars we bought were the same cars we’d been driving for the last three years.”

Phil Keoghan: “The network was all paranoid: no press between when we shoot and when we go to air, because there was this illusion that we were out in the world.”

Kevin O’Connor: “You can’t tell anybody. And if you do, and it leaks out, [CBS] can sue you for the amount of the production cost. And it worked. Nobody said anything.”

Frank Mesa: “They did this whole huge ad campaign, and so it was everywhere [in New York City]: billboards everywhere, billboards on buses. It was crazy.”

Margarita Mesa: “I remember like being in my kitchen with my daughter hearing my scream [from the Victoria Falls jump] used in the commercial.”

Phil Keoghan: “I was in my early 30s, and we were working with standard definition. Now I’m in my 50s, and we happen to be in high definition, and we’re going towards 4K. I have more lines on my face now, and there’s more lines on TV, so could someone please explain to me how that’s fair? (laughs)”

The Amazing Race premiered at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Sept. 5, 2001, with 11.8 million viewers, tying with NBC’s Fear Factor—but more viewers that tuned in at 8 to NBC’s Lost, a show that was also a race between pairs of people. The Los Angeles Times called that a “reasonably good if unspectacular [start].”

Evan Weinstein: “A lot of people in the [premiere party] room were people that work in the business, and people were pretty blown away. Even though it had made a big splash at the at the upfronts, most people had not seen any of it. People really had no idea what they were in for seeing, and people were just looking at me going, like, Holy Christ. How did you guys do this? When we got to Victoria Falls, people were going, Holy crap, this is a television show? This is a reality show? This isn’t a shot that you guys spent six days setting up, this was just done on the fly? We were all very, very, very, very proud of it.”

Ghen Maynard: “I was disappointed with the ratings in the beginning. By most standards, they were still very good, but after Survivor, it wasn’t quite as good. Season two was when it really started to take off. And all the Emmys the show won certainly brought the attention it deserved.”

Brady Connell: “How are people not watching the show? It’s so good—it’s the best thing I ever worked on that point. In the long run, we were right.”

Ghen Maynard: “Today, so much of even scripted television is so fast, with all the twists and turns. Back then, I think it was a cognitively like a different exercise watching [The Amazing Race]. I think it took a little while for people to get into it because your average scene is like 30 seconds.”

Margarita Mesa: “I started getting recognized by people, just in my day-to-day life, walking down the street, there’d be, like, garbage men hanging out: Hey Margarita! This is so weird. I’d go to the supermarket, and I got treated like a local celebrity. It was fun.”

Kevin O’Connor: “Still, to this day, people will say things to me: ‘swing, you fat bastard.’ People would just send that Fat Bastard wine to my house.”

Margarita Mesa: “There’s a magic of editing, and never having been in any sort of production, I had no idea. So when I saw it, and had all these family and friends in the room, my heart sank. I was really devastated. I was like, this is not all of who we are. … People that become characters. None us are one-dimensional; we are all multi-dimensional, and to start to see yourself and your mate and the others around pigeon-holed into the loudmouth guy, the submissive wife, was just hard. What about those other moments when we’re laughing and joking?”

Joe Baldassare: “I always remind people that they have something like 1,100 or 1,200 hours of videotapes, following 11 teams, 22 people. What you’re going to see on television is approximately 11 hours—43 minutes per episode—so they can make anybody look like anything. There were days when Margaretta, everyone’s favorite grandmother, was just as competitive as we were.”

Margarita Mesa: “Can you imagine if you just had a 30-second snippet of three hours of your morning? Was it the moment that you were yelling at your kid to get out of the house to get to school on time?”

Moments that did not make the cast look good remained in the episodes.

Elise Doganieri: “We’re raising a mirror to ourselves, saying: You make the decision. Who do you want to be in life? How do you want to be represented? How do you want to treat others?”

Bertram van Munster: “But it’s a lesson we can learn from that, too. You don’t do that.”

Elise Doganieri: “That does not get edited out. That does stay in the show.”

Ghen Maynard: “I think my real worry with both Survivor and Race for the participants in the first couple seasons was that the internet was still relatively young. I didn’t think about this beforehand, the idea that these everyday Americans, unprepared for celebrity, are going to get ripped to shreds on the Internet. When I started reading [the comments], I actually got very worried [for some of them]. I actually talked a lot of the cast, even as it was airing. They’ve participated in the show, but I still felt like I was responsible to try to make sure they’re okay.”

Bill Bartek: “We opened up new territory, but it was really brutal. Joe doesn’t really even go on Internet. It was vicious, horrible stuff that people wrote. I believe so much that, you know, gay queer people have a voice and a face, and we need to be seen and heard. I went right back on and just said okay, you don’t really know me, so let me say something. I just spilled my guts and got to know people that were saying mean things about us, and it really changed.”


Coping: ‘What happened to America’

The day before the second episode of The Amazing Race was scheduled to premiere was Sept. 11, 2001. The Amazing Race season one was still in post-production, and pre-production for season two was well underway.

Kevin O’Connor: “I was walking in New York City to go to work and people were like, ‘Swing you fat bastard!’ This is amazing, the reach of network television. So it was an amazing week—and then, of course, the worst thing in my lifetime happened.”

Margarita Mesa: “I had family members that we didn’t know their whereabouts for 12 hours. There was fear and panic. I could see the plumes of smoke from my rooftop. Frank was stuck in Grand Central Station because he was at work at that time.”

Lynne Spillman: “We had a hotel full of contestants to go on the next race. Everybody was in finals. I had my two kids at home—babies. I didn’t want to leave them, but I also didn’t want to bring them. It was so scary, but we had to get to the hotel to talk to everyone and just say, Look, we don’t know what’s gonna happen, we would like to continue finals. This could be this year, next year.”

Stephanie Furman Darrow: “What does this mean for finals casting right now? We have a whole hotel of people, some of whom are from New York, and they’re not supposed to talk to other people, and what do we do?”

Lynne Spillman: “By the time I got to the hotel, there was somebody that worked for the government that had been airlifted out of the Santa Monica airport. But the person’s partner was still there in the hotel.”

Elise Doganieri: “I was [scouting season two] in Morocco, and I’m actually from New York, so I knew a lot of people in the Twin Towers. [Production called and] said turn on the TV. I didn’t know what I was looking at. I was in shock. I was actually in the Towers when the bomb went off in ’93, at the TWA counter in the lobby. And it just brought back all these thoughts about that fear, and didn’t know what was going on, and how was I going to get home?”

Bertram van Munster: “I remember the next day, the buses were covered soot—people got killed, 1000s of people got killed, and The Amazing Race logo on the busses in New York. It was devastating, what happened to America was horrendous.”

Brady Connell: “I was in Vancouver doing [The WB reality competition series] No Boundaries. I was like, thank goodness we did not finish at the World Trade Center. If we had, I think—I don’t know, but it was so sensitive that I’m not sure they would have aired the rest of the series.”

Margarita Mesa: “It was a tragic time, obviously, and it’s very conflicting to be excited about this show when you’re also like weeping about like the devastation that had just happened in the city.”

Kevin O’Connor: “Nothing matters and you’re not even thinking about it. In the back of my mind, I want to see the rest of the show, right? Selfishly, I still want to see it.”

Ghen Maynard: “When people said, ‘Does this mean reality shows are over?’ I just kept going, ‘Why?’ Not to be insensitive, but our show had nothing to do with this tragedy. If anything, it’s kind of cool that we’re still showing all the world and the good stuff in it.”

Phil Keoghan: “I was surprised that we stayed on the air of what happened on September 11. I thought that was the end of it. I really did. Who the hell cares about a show where people are racing around the world after we’ve just been attacked and all these people died?”

Brennan Swain: “I definitely didn’t think, no, this shouldn’t air. I was afraid that could happen. It was such a huge experience for us, and anticipation from April to September waiting for to air, and it finally airs, and then all of a sudden, something way bigger happens.”

Elise Doganieri: “First, you’re thinking about what’s happening in the world, what is going on. And then later you think, is anyone ever going to travel internationally? Is anyone ever going to trust getting on a plane again? God, is this just a terrible show to be showing? Or is it showing us that there’s good people in the world?”

Lynne Spillman: “9/11 was just so sad, scary, and crazy. Our show, I thought, celebrated traveling the world and celebrated just how far we’ve come: entering different countries, moving through the world. I just thought it was so sad and just definitely going to change everything.”

Margarita Mesa: “We were the only Amazing Race season that traveled pre-9/11. We were flying in and out of airports. I have no idea how in the world they film that stuff now.”

Elise Doganieri: “We got on a plane a month and a half later to continue scouting. I was very frightened to get on an international flight, but we did it, and I think that just shows the resilience of everyone in our country.”


Enduring: ‘just as important now’

Kevin O’Connor: “Still to this day, 32 seasons later, [The Amazing Race is] still killing it.”

Brennan Swain: “It was such such a life-changing experience—just the travel part of it, and just the actual adventure. We all became very close.”

Evan Weinstein: “What became very important about Race, for many years afterwards, was the idea that the world, and the peoples of the world, were not terrible. And I think it was important that America continued to see the many faces of other folks out there. I think you could say that it’s just as important now.”

Phil Keoghan: “I feel like no show in primetime network primetime had ever shown the world in such a positive light. Normally, back then, when you saw the world, it was not in a positive light, it was news—the old adage if it bleeds, it leads. We were the antithesis of the news feed.”

Bertram van Munster: “We are so paranoid about the rest of the world, which is such a pity and so unnecessary in most cases.”

Evan Weinstein: “In the end, if the show is remembered for nothing else, I think it should be remembered for the fact that it has highlighted the world, and they’ve shown how underneath it all, everybody is the same.”

Elise Doganieri: “It can take you to places that you thought you would never go to, and you might have grown up thinking something different because you were told something. And you walk out of that country and think, Wow, that was the most beautiful place with the most wonderful people.

Bertram van Munster: “It’s an incredible instrument to teach people that there is kindness and love and peace in the world.”

Phil Keoghan: “What we pulled off in season one, to the best of my knowledge, nothing like that had been done before.”

Brady Connell: “Looking at the entire history of television, why are people not viewing Amazing Race as a historical event? People have been talking about racing around the world for centuries. And this amazing group of people finally got around to doing it—and documenting it.”

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  • 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 it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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