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Amazing Race 34 starts with two major—and terrific—changes

Amazing Race 34 starts with two major—and terrific—changes
The Amazing Race 34's teams on a raft at the start of the race (from left to right): Abby Garrett, Lumumba Roberts, Marcus Criag, Will Freeman, Glenda Roberts, Michael Craig, Nina Duong, Tim Mann, Linton Atkinson, Aastha Lal, Aubrey Ares, Rex Ryan, David Hernandez, Sharik Atkinson, Quinton Peron, Dom Jones, Claire Rehfuss, Mattie Lynch, Michelle Burgos, Derek Xiao, Rich Kuo, Luis Colon, Molly Sinert, Emily Bushnell. (Photo by Kit Karzen/CBS)

Having broadcast TV’s two best reality competitions, Survivor and The Amazing Race, on the same night is a beautiful thing—and it’s amazing that this is the first time it’s happened in the 21 years they’ve both been on the air.

It’s also amazing how reinvigorated The Amazing Race feels in this pandemic era. That could have really hampered it, and did in a few ways last season, but mostly the restrictions have given it new life.

Last season was terrific, and TAR 34 is building on that, adding two new twists that corrected for two of the weaker parts of last season, and retaining welcome changes like the lack of U-Turns.

Phil Keoghan starts The Amazing Race 34 in Munich, Germany
Phil Keoghan starts The Amazing Race 34 in Munich, Germany (Photo by Kit Karzen/CBS)

The biggest change of all is the elimination of non-elimination legs. That’s huge; non-elimination legs have been around since season one, though they’ve been used in different ways, and with different penalties

While the non-elimination legs have always been pre-determined, built into the show’s schedule, they have resulted in conspiracy theories when certain teams are saved, so I’m glad those will go away, too.

Perhaps because of that, we have one extra team: seasons 3, 4, 10, and 15 all had 12 teams, too, but since season 15 in 2009, all seasons of The Amazing Race have had 11 teams.

I’d also expect to see more than one Pit Stop that’s not a Pit Stop—a keep-racing thing, so not technically a non-elimination, but a chance for a team that’s behind to catch up.

The other major twist is the “Scramble,” which was a label used for the entire first leg. Instead of going from clue to Roadblock to Detour to Pit Stop, the teams had three tasks and could do them in any order.

That instantly refreshed the way the episode unfolded, especially because so many of last season’s challenges didn’t create any movement in the teams. It also really disrupts the sense that the teams are just running from place to place, checking a box.

A bunch of teams arrived at the Pit Stop at the exact same time, and had they all been one pack going from task to task, that would have been far less interesting than the, well, scramble.

Because the teams had to drive themselves, there was additional strategy in terms of planning a route, which some teams did, asking strangers to look things up on their phones and then marking it on maps.

As they raced from thing to thing, Mattie pointed out that “it’s hard to gauge if teams are ahead of you or behind you.” That was true for the editing, too, and I didn’t mind being unclear about where everyone was.

The editors provided some nice on-screen progress indicators, both for individual teams and, about halfway through the episode, showing us which teams had two tasks done and which had just one.

I don’t think the scramble helped me learn who the teams were, but between Amazing Race and Survivor 43, there were 42 people for me to get to know in three hours, and my brain is not capable of that.

Nina Duong and Aastha Lal saw a log during Amazing Race 34's scramble in Munich
Nina Duong and Aastha Lal saw a log during Amazing Race 34’s scramble in Munich. (Photo by Kit Karzen/CBS)

The fun began before the 12 teams even got to the start line. They were flown to Munich on The Amazing Race’s charter jet, and then flew down a river on a log raft (which has been a thing for a long time!) and ran to the start line with wet shoes.

After Phil Keoghan gave his traditional send-off—you can read about how he created “the perfect line to launch this massive thing” the night before season one began—we got a quick glimpse of the camera crews waiting for the racers.

I appreciate that quick fourth-wall breaking, and there’s even more of that footage, including challenge rehearsals, in this CBS Sunday Morning segment.

The teams mostly seemed to be having a good time, and no one immediately emerged as a villain for me. While teams encountered some challenges, of course, the editing kept the mood light and fun, with quite a few funny moments throughout.

Many of the teams got help from tourists near the start line, marking their maps. Nina and Aastha spent time chatting and making friends, and the editing gave us a not-so-subtle line of cars driving away, with little labels indicating which teams were leaving them behind.

“Are we the last to leave? Yes we are! But slow and steady wins the race on The Amazing Race,” Nina said. (I think it was Nina, but maybe Aastha. The race is not great at differentiating between same-sex teammates. I wouldn’t mind Challenge-like shirts with their names on them.)

Later, as Dom drove herself and Rich through Munich, she told the camera, “I’m centering myself on my breath, and focusing on remembering why I’m here and who I am, and my power and my strength.” And then—perhaps a time jump—another car blasted its horn at her. “Sorry, sorry!” she said.

The first Scramble sent them to three Oktoberfest-inspired tasks: smashing a block of ice, rolling beer kegs, and sawing a log.

Each one earned them a piece of a clue, which together sent them to the pit stop. Individually, not incredibly challenging tasks. The beer keg roll was probably the trickiest, since they had to complete two laps in 55 seconds.

The Scramble, though, and the editing of it, really kept the tasks from seeming too repetitive, because we were jumping around from thing to thing, team to team, not watching a bunch of teams attempt the same (easy) task at the same time.

One interesting strategic move was Molly and Emily—identical twins who were separated at birth and met just one year before going on the race together!—thought they’d save the location near the river for last, guessing that Phil Keoghan’s pit stop locations are generally in scenic areas. I don’t think that really paid off, but I like the ingenuity.

I’m curious if the Scramble will be part of every leg, or most legs, or just a few. After seeing it once, I definitely want this to be the norm, but a mix would be ideal.

After the first Scramble, Big Brother’s Derek, Claire, and Derek’s nipples all arrived at the pit stop first, winning $5,000.

Nina and Aastha placed last, and I felt a little bad for them because their entire experience consisted of a few hours in one city—though they did get to fly on The Amazing Race plane to Europe.

In a post-leg interview, Dom said, “We’re meant to go through the challenges and journeys to make us realize our fullest potential.” The Amazing Race certainly does offer those challenges and journeys, and I’m glad it’s continuing to evolve to reach its fullest potential. And I’m genuinely excited for the rest of this season.

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About the author

  • 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.

Discussion

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Happy discussing!

R Birkin

Friday 23rd of September 2022

Regarding Emily & Molly's route-planning: Because I'm a nerd, I mapped out all six combinations of Luitpoldpark / Seehaus Biergarten / Augustiner-Keller. The two shortest routes, and the two fastest routes as well, were the two combinations where the last task was at Seehaus Biergarten. Emily & Molly were right! (I noticed they went from 10th place to 5th, maybe because of better navigating, maybe because they planned the optimal route!)

BadMitten

Friday 23rd of September 2022

@R Birkin, great research! I was a little surprised when Andy said that he didnt think that really paid off. I was super nervous when they were 10th (they have the most interesting story on the show) and then boom they were 5th!

Pete

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

I was exhausted by the judges and onlookers at the tasks - it was already chaotic enough without all the overacting. Apart from the reunited twins I had no idea who anyone was by the end of the episode, although there seem to be a lot of couples.

Patrick

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

Definitely a solid start with an interesting and (mostly) likable cast, but good grief, it's another season of all dating/married couples! I appreciate the idea of the Scramble, but I think it would have been better later on when there's fewer teams and it's easier to track. It was just utter chaos and made it even harder to get to know the teams. One team - Glenda & Lumumba, whose names I had to look up - were basically ignored entirely, but they came in second place!

I actually disagree that the Scramble kept the tasks from feeling repetitive. I felt the opposite, because in the first 10 minutes of the episode you've seen a team complete all of the tasks, and then it was just sort of rinse-and-repeat for the rest of the episode.

Am I the only one who misses the 'you are team number X'? It's edited out now for almost all arriving contestants. Why? Especially during a Scramble, teams likely had no idea what place they were in, so the reveal would have been a really interesting moment to see.

EJ Jones

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

So glad they got rid of non elimination legs. I don’t really know many other shows that do that. Also you mention here that you didn’t mind being unclear where everyone was in the Scramble. But if I remember correctly, during your Challenge USA recaps, you critiqued the challenges with laps or different heats because it was hard to know how competitors were doing relative to one another. I’m just curious …what makes it different for TAR? I don’t disagree by the way. I think for me the main difference is an entire episode of TAR is the competition so there’s so much more action, whereas maybe max 50% of an episode of the Challenge is footage of the daily/elimination challenges.

EJ Jones

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

Great points!

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

I really appreciate the question, because I didn't think of that! Perhaps I'm a hypocrite here, but for me it's the difference in the role of the challenges. The Challenge had one big competition that everyone competed in simultaneously, and that was incredibly consequential, both for determining who goes into elimination and who has power to send the other person/pair into elimination. In that case, I want to know who's ahead and who's behind—especially when they're all doing the same thing at the same time.

On Amazing Race, the challenges are tasks along a route, and only sometimes is everyone at the same task, and there we did see how teams were doing relative to each other, like when several teams were attempting the keg roll. Ultimately, on The Amazing Race, it's two people navigating both challenges and a route together that provides the dramatic tension, not everyone in a single challenge (like on Survivor, Big Brother, or Tough As Nails).

What I think matters most for me on TAR is knowing what's happening as people approach the finish—who's close to the front, and who's in danger. And I think the Race did a good job with that, making the ending dramatic, such as when Aubrey and David saw Aastha and Nina and realized they were not in last place.