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Forget flights: Amazing Race teams should just drive themselves everywhere

Forget flights: Amazing Race teams should just drive themselves everywhere
Andrea Simpson takes a break from driving during The Amazing Race 35 (Image from TAR via CBS)

At the end of The Amazing Race 35’s seventh leg, Malaina and Andrea arrived at the mock version of the Cologne Carnival. The large bikes and hired partygoers were long gone, and it was just Phil Keoghan standing there, amid some sad balloons on the ground.

“What happened to you today?” Phil asked. “Germany got us,” they both said.

But it was not Germany: it was driving in Germany.

Malaina and Andrea were not eliminated from the race because they had a bad cab driver, nor did they choose an assigned driver who was worse than the other assigned drivers. They were eliminated because they could not navigate themselves.

And this entire episode made the case that The Amazing Race needs as much driving as possible. Self-driving should be TAR’s primary mode of transportation.

On a plane, a bearded man sleeps on the shoulder of a mustachioed man
Yes, Joel, Amazing Race flights are boring (Image from Amazing Race via CBS)

So far this season, commercial air travel has added nothing. The seventh leg also began with an equalizer flight.

The equalizers are very frustrating. While they give teams who’ve fallen behind a chance to recover, they also erase all the hard work from other teams who got ahead.

If The Amazing Race teams are all going to be on the same flights anyway, they should just bring back the charter plane and travel together.

If they don’t do that, the producers should at least bring back the staggered start that the race used after charter flights. That gives teams credit for their previous-leg placement, but also doesn’t put the far-behind teams at such a deficit they cannot.

A person rides a bike that is attached to a flatbed; a person pushes from behind
Robbin and Chelsea travel on a bike rickshaw in Jaipur, India, on The Amazing Race 35 episode 6 (Image from TAR via CBS)

While bringing flights back has not done much for the race, navigation has, whether it’s through a city on foot or using other modes of transportation.

Before driving around Germany, teams had to drive or bike rickshaws through the busy streets of Jaipur, which was the biggest part of the challenge.

But self-driving, which has produced plenty of drama in the past, is the best form of Amazing Race transportation.

No one put unleaded gas into a diesel engine, or actually drove themselves into a ditch, like Glenda and Lumumba did last season. But many TAR35 teams did so metaphorically.

Glenda and Lumumba's car in a ditch during The Amazing Race 34 episode 7
Glenda and Lumumba’s car in a ditch during The Amazing Race 34 episode 7 (Image from Amazing Race)

“We know we’re driving today, so that’s a little scary for us,” Lena (or Morgan?) said at the start of the episode.

The scariness for the teams—and the fun for us—began in the parking garage, and continued from there.

Steve and Anna Leigh both said “now the claws are out,” referring to other teams who’d U-Turned them, but they actually swiped those claws at each other.

While the father/daughter team has had a functional race relationship so far, with Anna Leigh taking the lead, driving broke them:

Anna Leigh: “Dad, pay attention! Dad, pay attention!”

Steve: “You’re gonna sit your ass back here in a minute and ride a little bit.”

Anna Leigh: “No, because then we’re really going to get lost.”

Steve: “Oh really? You’ve done such a great job.”

Anna Leigh: “You were supposed to be the navigator.”

Steve: “Well, when you can’t see, it’s a little hard to.”

Anna Leigh: “I need you to be part of this with me.”

Steve: “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re doing this all by yourself.”

Steve and Anna Leigh weren’t alone in driving causing their nerves to fray and tempers to flare.

Robbin and Chelsea fought, too. “You need to help me out here,” Robbin said from the driver’s seat. Chelsea said, “I’m just trying to have you not snap at me right now.” Robbin replied: “I’m just trying to have you give me the directions.”

Morgan and Lena had issues with left and right—and then with who was driving, eventually switching places.

“I thought that self-driving, we would be lost less,” Joel said. “But we’ve been lost quite a bit.”

Malaina and Andrea drove themselves in circles. They got on the wrong ferry, and were so far behind they thought they were first, which was so charming.

By the time they arrived at the ferry in Kaub, they’d actually been driving for four to five hours, Andrea told Parade. A lot of the driving challenges they had weren’t included in the episode, such as a highway detour caused by an accident.

On that wrong ferry, they got actual change from a person who gives change, rather than “ancient money” from someone hired by the producers. That meant they arrived at the first Roadblock without the ability to complete it.

Robbin and Chelsea also got on the wrong ferry, one that was 10 kilometers from the correct one—yet they also overcame that major screw-up to eventually place second.

Not all teams were crumbled. On their way to the airport, Corey said, “This is where the navigational skills are going to come in handy,” and Rob signed, “I’m so excited to drive.”

While Rob drove, Corey wrote notes with directions, made a copy for himself, and handed them to his dad. He also signed, and Rob could see through the rearview mirror.

The Amazing Race’s production requirements do complicate driving.

One team member has to sit behind the driver, so the camera operator can sit in the passenger seat, and capture footage of both of them. The audio mixer sits behind the passenger seat, so the car is full of people and equipment. That’s sometimes visible to us if one camera operator captures another car pulling up next to it.

That’s likely what Steve alluded to when he said he couldn’t see, and it certainly makes communication more difficult.

Phil Keoghan, photographed jumping in the air with excitement over The Amazing Race 32
Phil Keoghan, jumping in the air with excitement, like I did during the driving episode of Amazing Race 35 (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Despite the many moments of stress, trouble, and conflict, driving around Germany created quite a few light moments, too.

When he was looking for a lock on the bridge, Joel said, “I’ll keep looking for it ’til Phil walks out on this bridge and tells me that all the other teams are checked in—which might be soon!”

They were convinced they were done, but decided to just have fun anyway, so they were incredibly surprised when they arrived at the mat.

“Don’t mess with us, Phil,” the said. Phil was not messing with them: “you’re team number 7, and you’re still in the Amazing Race.”

The Amazing Race has itself struggled this season, mostly to fill 90 minutes. Having teams drive themselves proved The Amazing Race has plenty of gas left in its tank (ha!) when it lets the teams control their own travel.

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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!


Thursday 16th of November 2023

Self driving good. Taxis not so good. Remember when that team left their passports in the taxi and were eliminated because the Ruski taxi driver was shady?

Sorry to see the Out of Towners eliminated. They seemed like very nice ladies.

Kurt S

Monday 13th of November 2023

That was a great epsiode of TAR and the first one this season that I felt really benefitted from the extra 30 minutes. They fit in an extra challenge, and were really able to spend a reasonable amount of time with each team. I imagine we'll see more of that as the season goes on and there gets to be fewer and fewer contestants.

Malaina and Andrea getting checked out by Phil because they showed up literally after the party was over was some incredible symbolism that I don't think they could have planned, but it worked out perfectly..


Monday 13th of November 2023

It does feel like skills at booking flights used to mean more to TAR contestants. Hell, a mediocre racer and worse person like Mirna (of Mirna & Charla) was able to nearly win a season solely because she was legitimately excellent at finding gems of flights, and TAR6 didn't go to the overall best team because they completely screwed up booking a final flight from Honolulu to Chicago. It's possible that in the post-pandemic era, there are simply fewer flights and therefore bunching is inevitable on the reduced options spectrum. Maybe TAR is conceding that and then having more elements where teams can separate themselves, and we'll see more driving-difference making examples the rest of this season and beyond.


Monday 13th of November 2023

What would have been better if it was stick shift!