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How did just one Amazing Race cast member get COVID?

How did just one Amazing Race cast member get COVID?
Phil Keoghan introduces the Roadblock in Amman, Jordan. (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

As seven Amazing Race 34 teams gathered in a semi-circle facing host Phil Keoghan, it seemed as if they were starting The Amazing Race, not starting the sixth episode of the season, and the second leg in Jordan.

Phil had “some important news to share,” he told them. Actually, he made a video call to the one team that wasn’t there: Will Freeman and Abby Garrett, the “childhood sweethearts” team, who I honestly didn’t know were missing, because they’d been nearly invisible in the first five episodes.

The teams watched as Phil talked to them over video chat, telling them what they already knew: a positive COVID test result meant they were eliminated from The Amazing Race from their hotel rooms.

Abby called it “heartbreaking,” and Claire told us, “seeing them be taken out by something that is kind of out of their control, it does break your heart.”

Was it out of their control? How did one team get COVID but everyone else was spared? Did that happen in Jordan, during a leg that was mostly outdoors, thereby significantly limiting the possibility of COVID spreading? We have some answers.

Abby Garrett and Will Freeman before The Amazing Race 34
Abby Garrett and Will Freeman before The Amazing Race 34 (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

The teams were regularly tested for COVID-19, and the night before the second leg in Jordan, Will’s test came back inconclusive. But a “second test came back positive,” Will told Mike Bloom. “They very quickly moved us out of the rooms because Abby was still negative at that point.”

Will was kept quarantined in his room at the cast’s hotel until he tested negative, and since Abby never tested positive, she also stayed at the hotel but was allowed to leave her room.

How did Will get infected? He told GoldDerby that he isn’t sure, saying he picked it up “somewhere along the way. I think they say typically it’s two or three days [to test positive], so we think somewhere in Italy we picked it up, but we don’t know who I talked to. We don’t know if I touched the wrong handle.”

Well, since COVID-19 “rarely spreads through surfaces,” it’s probably not from a door handle, unless someone sneezed on it and then he licked it immediately afterwards.

Abby told GoldDerby that the production “was so good about being intentional of reminding us to wear masks and we all did our best to keep our masks on, but we’re also racing. We did the best we could under the circumstances. It just feels like it’s so, so unlucky. Because we’re also in the race bubble that they created and they’re testing everybody and we’re wearing masks and keeping our distance. It feels like it zoomed through the air and snapped him in the face.”

Teams did have several hours in individual cars with a driver while in Jordan, but that would have been the same day that Will tested positive, so it’s unlikely that’d be the source of infection.

Will also said in an interview that he had a sore throat in Jordan, so he was already showing symptoms, which happens about three days after infection with Omicron.

Since the cast and crew flew together from Italy to Jordan, it’s really lucky that he didn’t spread it to anyone else, because contagiousness usually begins a day or two before symptoms, according to Harvard Health. That could have shut down production.

Of course, The Amazing Race 33 did shut down due to COVID, but as a precaution at the very start of the pandemic.

COVID brings back the non-elimination leg

Emily Bushnell and Molly Sinert in Amman, wearing masks after one team tested positive for COVID-19
Emily Bushnell and Molly Sinert in Amman, wearing masks after one team tested positive for COVID-19 (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

One of the major changes for The Amazing Race 34 is its lack of non-elimination legs, but COVID brought the non-elimination leg back.

The result of Will and Abby’s disqualification/medical removal was that all remaining teams began the race at the same time—there were no departure groups.

Phil Keoghan also told them, “You don’t have to worry about an elimination; we’ve already had an elimination.”

So why would the leg even matter? To give it some stakes, Phil told them, “The way you finish in this leg will determine how you start in the next leg.”

The next leg will have three groups of two teams each, and one group of just one team. In other words, the last team to arrive would be the last team to depart on the next episode, and have a 45-minute delay to overcome.

While I’d rather an American reality TV show not desecrate or damage historic places for a game, the first leg in Jordan was a bit of a letdown.

This episode, which took place in Amman, was better even despite the lack of an elimination, and provided some movement in the pack.

The teams started with Route Info, and stayed on foot for the whole leg. It wasn’t an easy trip: they struggled to find a small bookstore, and also had lots of stairs to traverse.

Navigation was such a challenge that Luis and Michelle, and Quinton and Mattie, stumbled across the mat, which did not yet have Phil nor a greeter, and of course they’d not yet even made it to the clue box with the Detour options, never mind the Roadblock.

However, they still ended up placing second and third, moving from sixth and eighth place last week.

In Amman, all the teams were wearing masks when they interacted with strangers, which was good to see, even if many of them were ill-fitting.

Teams did take their masks off for the alphabet and dance Detour challenges, perhaps because both they and the people they were interacting with had been tested?

I loved the enthusiasm Molly and Emily’s instructor had as they started to figure out how to say the alphabet—helped, they told us, by both being (coincidentally) raised in Jewish families and thus knowing Hebrew.

Derek really struggled with rolling his Rs, which he said “is going to be my downfall,” Derek said. But Claire ingeniously suggested he gargle water and repeat that movement, and it worked. Gargling for the win!

At the dancing Detour, the judge was tough, and gave notes such as “you’re not really giving it the fluidity.”

Lumumba and Glenda struggled, but his good cheer kept it light. In an interview later, he told us, “any opportunity you have to flirt with your wife—come on,” and he reassured Glenda after they screwed up that “it’s all good, we both” were responsible.

They weren’t able to do that and then the cart-assembly Roadblock quick enough to pull ahead of any teams, and fell into last place. “Anything can happen! Stay tuned,” Glenda said.

The cart, as Luis said, had instructions like, “here’s some cart, here’s some wood.” He said, “this is definitely not Ikea.” My experience with Ikea is often “here are 812 million tiny pieces and 412 pages about how to put them together,” so I might actually prefer this version?

The assembly didn’t slow them down, though, and Luis and Michelle came in first place yet again, winning a 5-night trip to Barcelona. Excuse me: They won Expedia points to go on a trip. I don’t know what those are and this doesn’t make me want to care.

When Aubrey and David showed up at the mat second, Aubrey called out Phil’s facial expressions as giving away their general placement, which is true. And if Phil’s facial expressions are visible over FaceTime, well, you’re definitely screwed.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

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

Discussion: your turn

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Happy discussing!


Saturday 29th of October 2022

Why didn’t Derek let Claire say the ones with Rs. The boys team split theirs.


Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

@SAS, i don't think he knew. the boys figured it out they didnt

Josh Benton

Friday 28th of October 2022

I think giving them the Expedia points allows them to take a much cheaper trip to a location of their choice to save on taxes.


Thursday 27th of October 2022

I find this season to be less engaging than usual - I think it's the cast? They're a bit bland somehow. Thoughts?


Thursday 27th of October 2022

When Phil said, "The way you finish in this leg will determine how you start in the next leg," I did laugh, because, yeah, isn't that always the case?