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Amazing Race is back to its old self, for better and for worse

Amazing Race is back to its old self, for better and for worse
Brothers Liam and Yeremi look at a clue on The Amazing Race 35 (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

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.

A person stands on a landing of staircases that go up and down a wall
Phil Keoghan in a stepwell in India, where Amazing Race 35 teams received a clue (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

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!

A person standing underneath a mattress that's over their head and draping to the sides
Corey carries a mattress during an Amazing Race 35 challenge in Vietnam (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

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.

On a plane, a bearded man sleeps on the shoulder of a mustachioed man
Joel sleeps on Garrett’s shoulder during one of The Amazing Race 35’s flights (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

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).

Two people in a rickshaw, wearing garlands of yellow and orange flowers around their necks
Anna Leigh and Steve navigate their two Detour tasks after being U-Turned during Amazing Race 35 episode 6 (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

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.

People wearing backpacks run through an airport
Teams run through an airport during Amazing Race 35 episode 3 (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

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.

I stopped watching around about 15 seasons ago, between awful twists and the way the format felt broken, which is why I suggested ways it could fix itself.

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.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

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

Discussion: your turn

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Happy discussing!


Tuesday 14th of November 2023

(Update to the 1st paragraph of my previous comment: Yes, the episodes I'm seeing are indeed what CBS gives - I didn't know whether "90 minutes" included ad breaks until someone's recap told me.)


Tuesday 14th of November 2023

I hail from Australia, where the 90 minute episodes of season 35 are chopped down/slightly sped up to 60 when they go to air on Wednesday night and are a week late (note these episodes I'm talking about air in a similar timeslot to CBS's). Due to this, I don't know if the CBS version matches the one I watch, but my comprehension of TAR is pretty much the same as everyone else's, plus there's ad/news breaks to account for.

Season 35 is also unique in that I've never seen so much behind-the-scenes web content for it come out before, but that's because I'm used to watching it like I'm doing with season 32 right now - uncompressed and in a weird timeslot.

That said, Australia's TAR 7 wrapped up airing last week and bouncing between 3 Races simultaneously was kinda crazy (I think I only got my head around all the teams because of all the recaps!). Australian TAR has much better padding because of its primetime slot (it's usually at 7:30 pm on a day that isn't Friday or Saturday) and episode length, so maybe I've been spoilt by that.


Thursday 9th of November 2023

90 minutes especially don't work when a team falls sooooo far behind that there's zero drama about who is out. Even when the fail is as epic as it was this week.


Tuesday 7th of November 2023

I miss non elimination legs. The suspense it adds with "the last team to check in MAY be eliminated" adds a nice touch


Saturday 4th of November 2023

The 90-minute episodes still aren't working for me, which is too bad, because I do think the race has been strong this season. Both of the India legs were excellent. The editing of the episodes is unfortunately just so repetitive now.