Remote Controlled: ‘Amazing Race’ Producers on Casting Secrets, Travel Disasters and That Emmy Streak

Amazing Race
Dan Doperalski

Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.

In this week’s episode, Variety‘s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with “Amazing Race” executive producers Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri about their CBS reality hit, now in its 29th season.

Keeping the show fresh isn’t a challenge for them. “The world is a big place,” says van Munster. “We take (the contestants) to places they don’t know, they don’t recognize, very often they don’t speak the language. They always try Spanish, which doesn’t work in India.”

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There are still a lot of places they haven’t been to, “including North Korea,” says van Munster. “We’re halfway through our Amazing Race,” says Doganieri.

Adds Doganieri, “Casting is also important to keep it fresh. It seems there was a whole new generation that has been born since the show first aired. And now they’ve grown up and they’ve always wanted to be on the show. We always have an influx of people who want to be on the show.”

Technology has changed tremendously since the show first launched, but they keep it old-school for the contestants once they’re on the show. “No technology allowed,” says Doganieri.

This season, for the first time, complete strangers were paired as partners on the “Race.” Van Munster admits he was a little worried about it. “In the first two episodes, they were courteous to each other,” he recalls. “But in the third episode, they really opened up…. This worked out.”

Adds Doganieri, “It’s another way of trying a social experiment. It’s about the relationship that they form during the process of being on the show. And then the story that’s told. Do they wind up as friends or do they want to kill each other in the end?”

But the duo — who are married — don’t journey together. “We travel in opposite directions,” says van Munster. “We have learned that this is not a good thing to do to travel together.”

They’ve divided the world between them — and their roles. “That’s what keeps the peace,” says Doganieri.

“Amazing Race” has won 10 Emmys so far, an impressive streak dating back to when the reality-competition category was first introduced in 2003. “It’s not done by luck, but with hard work, tremendous risk, liability, nervous breakdowns, you name it,” says van Munster. “If we get that thing, we are honored every time. We’re always in good company…. And when we get it, I’m severely humbled by it.”

You can listen to this week’s podcast here:

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  1. Rosemarie says:

    I like the Amazing race a lot. I always wonder how that all comes together behind the scenes and would love to know more. The show reminds me of all the wonderful things that can happen when you travel but also all horrible things too. I turned off a few seasons because of the bickering. I hate when that happens on my own vacations, and don’t need to relive it! It just doesn’t help the situation. But I came back to watching it because the show has real interest and doesn’t need to play up the relationship drama.

  2. Bob Gurske says:

    This was a nice teaser interview. I hope that when “The Amazing Race” has run its course (you should pardon the pun) that the producers will either publish a book or make a movie about the making of TAR, and delve deeper into casting, the choice of tasks, what went wrong as well as what went surprisingly right.

    I agree with Michael that the contestants are mostly young people. That may have been necessary in the current season, but I’m sure there are some fit and trim people out there in their 50s who could keep up and maybe win.

    The tasks have greatly improved. I remember one season when people were searching through a pile of some fruit or vegetables while natives pelted them with tomatoes. What were they thinking?

    In the last few seasons I have found it harder to keep straight who is in each place. Sometimes ask myself, “How did they get so far behind?” that’s when the DVR comes in handy.

    I’m not so put off by whiny contestants. It falls under “the villain we love to hate” category. Didn’t people love to hate Alexis Colby in Dynasty?

    I believe the ideal player would be someone with a knowledge of two foreign languages–maybe Russian and Spanish (I read that many Chinese taxi drivers understand Russian); someone who is patient enough to READ THE CLUE before running off; can easily read a map; has an eye for details; and a broad liberal arts education that includes some music education; physically fit and capable of learning new skills quickly. Some high-angle training to deal with those climbing/repelling tasks would be helpful too. Oh, yes, and bungee-jumping.

    Last thing: where do they sleep at night? Local hotels? Well-known chains like Marriott?

  3. Michael Allen says:

    It would also be nice if they returned to the way they used to do things, i.e. more things happening each episode, sometimes a few instances of just traveling from one point to another, where a car might break down, driving instructions are faulty. It gives people a chance to catch up, but now they usually stay in the same city or nearby city for two episodes, with not much more than a roadblock and detour, giving people far behind very little chance to catch up, as they once did with the varied involvements they had to pursue. Sometimes a lead will be lost when a challenge dumbfounds one or both of the duo, and a straggler does make it to the finish line in time. I also note that the show casts much younger people; it used to have a variety, often with at least one set of old timers, or one of a duo who was. As long as someone is fit (and they do medical exams) age should not be a disqualifying factor.
    However, while they will deny it is so, look at the casts of the recent seasons. Maybe one of the teams breaks 50, if that. Otherwise, my favorite reality show.

  4. I love The Amazing Race, but I am getting tired of the gimmicks that they are using to get contestants. I definitely didn’t like the seasons where the contestants were social media stars (I had never heard of any of them) or this season where they met at the mat. How much more can they show how whiny and annoying Brooke is? Give me contestants who we like and root for! The cowboys! The cancer survivors father/son!

    • Bruce says:

      I agree. The show has substance to carry the entertainment value and should not rely on Junior High relationship level conflict and bickering to bring in viewers.

  5. I never get tired of “The Amazing Race” and enjoyed hearing about the production behind the scenes. It is family friendly, enlightening about other cultures and it’s got plenty of fun, drama, and emotion. Thank you to all who participate and produce this series for our entertainment.

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