After 20 years and 32 seasons, CBS’ “The Amazing Race” remains one of the gold standards of reality competition TV, having won 10 Emmys in that series category since its inception, more than any other show. Production on “The Amazing Race” currently remains on hiatus, unfortunately, as the world continues to contend with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But producers are eager to get the show, which halted mid-race in February 2020 — back up and running when it’s safe. And they have every intention of resuming the show’s 33rd season after pausing it midstream.
“The Amazing Race” originally premiered on Sept. 5, 2001 — six days before another major tragedy, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As the world changed, so did travel, and that altered the way production of future seasons had to be handled — just as, once again, the impact of the pandemic will likely have a lasting impact on “Race” moving forward. (For its part, CBS is still optimistic about the show’s return and has previously announced that Season 33 will air during the 2021-2022 television season.)
As host Phil Keoghan practices his raised eyebrow in the hopes that they’ll be back on the road soon, “The Amazing Race” executive producers and creators Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster are taking a moment this weekend to celebrate two decades of “The Amazing Race,” and reflect on how they turned a logistically challenging idea into a hit TV series with all those awards and plenty of critical acclaim. Specifically, in honor of its 20th anniversary, we asked Doganieri to come up with a list of the 20 most difficult or exciting producing moments, focusing on challenges, she and van Munster have experienced with “The Amazing Race.” She came back with a broad list reaching back to the very beginning. Here are her picks, with commentary:
1. “Swing, You Fat Bastard!” – Africa, Season 1: The first big “wow” in “Amazing Race” history, teams had to jump and swing from a rope hundreds of feet above a gorge. We were on pins and needles watching the teams as they jumped!
2. “Basket Boats” – Vietnam, Season 3: Teams had to paddle round shaped basket boats from place to place, but most teams wound up going in circles!
3. “My Ox Is Broken” – Philippines, Season 5: Teams had to plow a field with the help of an ox. Unfortunately, one team found this task extremely frustrating as the ox was not cooperating and the contestant yelled at production and anyone who would listen that his ox was broken!
4. “Hay Bales” – Sweden, Season 6: In this Roadblock, a contestant was faced with hundreds of hay bales in a field. The challenge was to unroll each hay bale and find a clue in the center. Most teams completed in less than an hour, but one team never found the clue and after nearly nine hours, Phil had to eliminate them on the field so that production could catch the next flight to the next location.
5. “Meat Eating” – Argentina, Season 7: In this Roadblock, each team had to eat four pounds of meat. Rob Mariano, realizing this was an extremely difficult task, played a mental mind game by taking a four-hour penalty and not attempting the challenge. He convinced other teams to quit the Roadblock, too, which would cause them to have a four-hour penalty. That ensured that he would not be eliminated.
6. “Head Shaving” – India, Season 7: This Fast Forward required a team to shave their heads to receive their next clue. This challenge literally brought one contestant to tears, but in the final leg, it was all worth it, because they won the race and the $1 million.
7. “Greek Games” – Greece, Season 9: Teams had to complete three events from the ancient Olympic Games — discus, javelin throw and Greco-Roman wrestling — to receive their next clue.
8. “Moscow Marching” – Russia, Season 13: In boots, teams had to learn a Russian march, and perform to the drill master’s satisfaction to receive their next clue.
9. “Cheese Hill” – Switzerland, Season 14: For this challenge, teams had to carry 50-pound wheels of cheese down a steep hill using a rickety wooden cheese carrier that was harnessed to their backs. The hill was so steep and the cheese so heavy that teams slipped on the grass and the giant cheese wheels came barreling down the hillside toward other contestants and production crew! Fear turned to laughter when all was said and done!
10. “Pies in the Face” – Bavaria, Season 14: In this challenge, teams had to throw Bavarian pies at a target. In a surprise twist, they soon found out that their target would be their partner’s face. Taking turns, they had to smack the pie in their partner’s face until they found the pie with cherry filling to receive their next clue.
11. “Siberia Underwear Run” – Russia, Season 14: In this Roadblock, one team member had to strip down to their underwear and run a 1.4-mile (2.3 km) course to the Pit Stop.
12. “Sushi Roulette” – Japan, Season 15: Teams had to participate in a Japanese game show, where the host spun a giant wheel with spaces with sushi and two spaces with “Wasabi Bombs,” hot wasabi! When a team landed on sushi, they had to eat it, but to complete the challenge, they had to land on a Wasabi Bomb and eat it, in order to get their next clue.
13. “Duck Herding” – Vietnam, Season 15: This hysterically funny challenge tasked teams with herding ducks into a pen, but with the muddy ground, the teams slipped and slid as the ducks maneuvered many times around the teams, which created great frustration but lots of laughs for viewers.
14. “Watermelon Launch” – England, Season 17: One of the most memorable moments ever on “The Amazing Race”; this went viral. In this Roadblock, one contestant had to use watermelons as slingshots and knock over a suit of armor. But in one case, instead of the watermelon flying forward upon release, it ricochet backward right into the contestant’s face! Luckily, she was OK.
15. “Sadhu Search” – India, Season 18: In the city of Varanasi, teams had to find Hindu holy men, known as sadhus.
16. “Back Waxing” – Brazil, Season 18: Teams spent this challenge having the hair on their bodies waxed, ouch!
17. “Yodeling” – Bavaria, Season 20: This Speed Bump required one team to learn to yodel and perform for a master yodeler to receive their next clue.
18. “Sand Castle Search” – Bora Bora, Season 22: The beach was covered with hundreds of sandcastles, but only 11 had clues just below the sandcastle. If there was no clue, the racer had to rebuild the sandcastle – which was surprisingly difficult to do. Racers struggled in the unforgiving heat to get just the right mix of sand and water to rebuild their castles – before digging through the next one. And so on … and so on.
19. “Bull Down” – Spain, Season 24: Teams wore inflatable bull costumes while running through the streets to face off with locals in the same inflatable bull costumes. As they passed through this gauntlet, they had to find words to recite at the end of the run before receiving their next clue.
20. “House of Dancing Water Performance” – Macau, Season 27: In this Roadblock, one team member had to perform a water stunt on the world’s largest water stage. First, they had to jump 30 feet from a platform into the massive pool and then search underwater for a golden fish to receive their clue.
Meanwhile, for the ATX Television Festival in June, Variety‘s Michael Schneider moderated a panel celebrating the show’s anniversary, featuring Keoghan, as well as fan-favorite teams from across the series’ 32-season run: Rob Frisbee & Brennan Swain (Season 1 winners); Tamara (Tien-Jan) “Tammy” Jih & Victor Jih (Season 14 winners); Leo Temory & Jamal Zadran (All-Stars and three-time competitors); and Amy DeJong & Maya Warren (Season 25 winners). Watch below!