The Amazing Race 35 is almost halfway through the season, and has finally found a groove—and it’s a familiar one, with the return of old elements such as the U-Turn and booking travel. So much of it is clicking, finally, while other parts feel as creaky as they did before.
Based on pre-season interviews with The Amazing Race and Survivor producers, I expected that Survivor’s 90-minute episodes would be overstuffed with advantage nonsense, and The Amazing Race—which filmed an entirely new season to accommodate the longer episodes—would expand with more travel, more challenges, and more time with the teams.
It turned out to be the opposite. Survivor gave us more character development, while The Amazing Race offered a lot of the same thing again and again, team after team, with very little differentiation.
I’ve found myself drifting off around the 50-minute mark, with still another 40 minutes to go and some teams just starting things we’ve already seen completed. At the start of the season, 90 minutes just seemed like too much.
Yet with its four legs in Vietnam and India, The Amazing Race 45 recovered.
A big part of that recovery was strong leg design that not only kept teams racing instead of stopping between the two legs in Vietnam, but allowed for movement in the pack.
No longer were teams just checking off some boxes on their way to the pit stop, and that’s awesome.
The movement was illustrated most dramatically by Jocelyn and Victor, who went from placing first in the first two legs to dropping to last place and being eliminated. I was really expecting them to go far, even win!
In both countries, The Amazing Race offered inventive and quite challenging tasks. Carrying mattresses down a crowded street turned out to be the easy part, once they discovered they had to climb three flights of stairs.
In the second episode in India, to get a marked rickshaw, teams had to play a real-life version of that mobile parking lot game I always see ads for, literally pushing rickshaws out of the way to clear a path for their vehicle.
In a hilarious moment, Todd, Rob, and Corey decided to work together—and then Todd started pushing on the back of a rickshaw as Rob and Corey pushed the front.
That’s one of so many joyful interactions or asides we’ve seen, such as Joel and Garret’s appreciation of facial hair in India. For me, though, nothing will top Joel wiping his tears with his beard.
The U-Turn returned in episode six, but with a twist: it was mandatory to vote. No more of this ignoring the drama-producing twist! MAKE ANOTHER TEAM SUFFER!
I did appreciate the production design of the actual voting: teams slid their pictures into a slot, Plinko style, stacking votes in columns underneath teams’ photos. Four teams voted for Robbin and Chelsea, but five for Anna Leigh and Steve, who’d placed first and second in Vietnam, and then first again in India.
Anna Leigh and Steve were far enough ahead that they were able to finish a whole Detour before many teams even got to either Detour task—except Anna Leigh and Steve forgot to read their clue. “You haven’t completed the other Detour,” they were told when they were about to start stacking bricks onto a bicycle rickshaw. Still, they recovered, and placed seventh, and likely would have been higher had they not screwed up.
A team at the bottom probably wouldn’t have been able to recover, because the two tasks were both physical and required travel. This season has had a good balance of single-location tasks (such as dressing themselves up to make a painting and a life-size mural match, or searching a temple to find a matching tile) and ones where they had to navigate (the mattresses; delivering fruit to boats at a floating market).
There’s been lots of local navigation, too. Navigating traffic in their bicycle rickshaw? Yes! Yelling “faster” and “we’re in a race” at rickshaw drivers? No thanks. (“Chop-chop,” Corey said to their rickshaw driver. “Vroom vroom vroom, fast fast!” said Andrea. Stop this, said Andy to his TV.)
Speaking of travel: The return of airport travel has, so far, been a total bust. There’s still plenty of race to go, but plane travel has added nothing this season: both flights have ended in equalizers, making the flights themselves useless.
All teams were all on the same flight to India, so that rendered the previous leg’s placements moot.
Earlier, teams actually booked their own flights to Vietnam in a travel agency, yet even with an earlier flight’s unexpected delay, and a bus ride once they arrived in Vietnam, everyone arrived to find that they’d been equalized and had to wait hours for the task to open.
Let’s just go back to the charter plane and the staggered start times if the only other option is post-flight equalizers, which erase so much of the effort teams put in.
I hope The Amazing Race can keep up this momentum for the back half of its season, and I also hope that it will give us more character development.
With teams constantly on the go, and editing ramping up the tension, the format isn’t built for the same kind of narrative that other shows have.
One of those suggestions was to spend more time letting us get to know the cast, instead of giving us one-note versions of every contestant. I also hoped it’d immerse itself more in local culture, rather than speeding past it.
Since then, The Amazing Race has improved on both, though not enough so that I can tell the difference between most same-sex teammates. It’s a show that’s swung its pendulum back and forth: abandoning its central premise to casting influencers; uneventful legs to dropping non-elimination legs.
I’d love more opportunities to learn about the teams, such as when they visited the Ong Pagoda in Vietnam, and wrote down a wish. How fascinating it was to see some teams be like, We’ve learned so much about the people of the world that we wish for world peace while others were like, We wish the other teams would evaporate so we can be rich and win!
Given 90 minutes and a decreasing number of teams, we should have more of an opportunity to spend more quality time with the teams and in the places they visit.
Forced to abandon the race mid-pandemic, The Amazing Race returned refreshed and rejuvenated. This season is building on that momentum, but also losing some of what made those mid-pandemic seasons so great. I suppose it’s like travel: you never quite know what you’re going to get, but it’s usually worth the ride.