The Amazing Race: 15 Behind-The-Scenes Secrets

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The Amazing Race has easily become one of the most popular competitive reality shows. The show is totally exhilarating as it follows eleven teams racing around the world competing in various challenges along the way. What’s so great about The Amazing Race is that it’s not only entertaining, but it’s also informative and challenges individuals to get out of their comfort zone and take on new cultural experiences around the world. The series now has an impressive 28 seasons under its belt, drawing in 10 million viewers per season and has won numerous awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program 10 out of 12 times! No doubt, a production like this takes a lot of work. Here’s a look at 15 behind-the-scenes secrets that reveal how the show is produced and all that it takes to make this show so incredible!

15. Timing is EVERYTHING!

Getting the right flight or making sure you’re on time for a flight is extremely important. For a show that is dependent on air travel which is often unreliable and dependent on risky factors like the weather, the show has done quite well, but there have been some close calls. “We’ve been very lucky,” said Assistant producer, Elise Doganieri. About 12 seasons ago the contestants were traveling to Italy when the productions flight was cancelled. Typically, the production team arrives before the contestants in order to keep the show organized and ahead of the game, but during this incident the crew had no flight and only hours to travel across Europe before filming picked back up. After some hard work from their travel coordinator, they managed to hop on a bus for 11 hours and arrive on location just in the nick of time. There have also been times when a team has fallen so far behind that it would have been impossible to catch up, so they had to be eliminated from the show. “Once, a team missed a flight and got so far behind that the show had to eliminate them in the airport.” Another time a team was sent home because they took too long to complete a challenge. “We had to go out in the field in the dark and say, ‘You’re done.’ It was really sad.”


14. Cameramen Must Be Within 20 Feet

If viewers were to see what the production team has to go through in order to make the show a success, we are sure they’d be quite impressed! Doganieri said the cameramen and sound crew are the ones who make it happen. In an interview with Huffington Post, she said, “They don’t get enough credit. They’re running with a camera. They’re the best at what they do.” The cameramen are required to stay within 20 feet of the contestants at all times and each team has two cameramen and a sound technician assigned to them who must travel with them at all times for flights, cabs, and roadside foot races. That’s a lot of running while supporting a huge camera on their back! Their job is the most important because that’s how the stories are told and without the stories there would be no show!

Elise Doganieri

13. Contestants Book Their Own Flights

Many people have wondered if the production team purchases flight tickets in advance to ensure the contestants and crew members get a last minute spot on a plane. That’s not true! It’s all real. Producers will reserve tickets for the first episode, but from there on out it’s up to the contestants to purchase tickets for themselves and their crew members. The producers will monitor the flights to see which ones the contestants are likely to take, but sometimes even they are wrong! “It’s completely organic. Sometimes they’ll find deals that get them there 20 minutes earlier by hopping from flight to flight. And we’re just like, ‘Wow,'” said Doganieri.


12. They Visit Every Location First

Not surprisingly, a traveling reality show with the added element of competition requires a lot of organized planning and preparation. Producer and creator of the show, Bertram van Munster, and his wife, Doganieri, start in what they call ‘The War Room’ with a wall-size map of the planet. “We think, ‘what’s exciting?’ Where haven’t we been?” Once locations are selected, the producers start researching these areas months in advance so that it all runs as smoothly as possible and that way they can make sure the race is not only plausible, but can also be filmed. “We have over 2,000 people working on the show worldwide. In order to lay out the Race and make it financially, creatively and logistically work, I go everywhere and lay it out, and hand all that knowledge over to the rest of my team. Then I travel with my team again around the world and plan exactly where the camera position is going to go, what we’re going to do, and come up with all the challenges,” said van Munster. Keoghan, the host of the show, adds that everything is tried and tested to ensure the contestants safety. “Absolutely everything is totally checked over and over and over again. We can’t afford to put these people at risk..”

Elise Doganieri

11. Keeping The Show Under Wraps

One of the hardest things about filming any show, especially a reality show that isn’t filmed on a private set, is keeping it all under wraps. Spoilers could be detrimental to the show and the storyline for the entire season. In order to keep the production of The Amazing Race under wraps, there are strict rules for the production team like no phones, no press and limiting the film crew to a few trusted members. Also, what happens along the way is all communicated through text and phone calls, but only between host Phil Keoghan and the producers. There’s also the problem of running into tourists who know about the show while traveling, Doganieri who is the co-producer and wife of show creator Bertram Van Munster said, “We’ll call the show something else they think we’re filming a commercial. We’ll be setting up a club box and Americans will ask, ‘Is this The Amazing Race?’ And we’ll say, ‘No, we’re doing a documentary.'” A little white lie never hurt anybody…


10. Unforeseen Road Blocks

Of course, we’ve seen this happen more than once on the show and it’s an inevitable aspect of traveling — unforeseen roadblocks. For example, Keoghan discussed one season where a portion of the race was supposed to take place in Argentina, but their banking system collapsed right before the show began filming. Last minute, they had to change the course and reroute the race. It’s a huge problem because there is so much planning that goes on leading up to the race. This doesn’t even begin to tackle airport delays, harsh weather or travel warnings for particular countries. There have been a few close calls while filming with things like the tsunami in Thailand, sandstorms in Tunisia and Hurricane Katrina. “We had this beautiful Pit Stop, and everyone was dancing around the campfire. Then we got an alert for a sandstorm, and tents starting to wobble. When nature happens, you just have to change plans,” said Doganieri. The same goes for flight delays which happens A LOT. “Every time we get on a plane and we go to an airport, it’s like rolling the dice. Is there going to be a mechanical on the plane? Are there going to be weather delays? We’ve been sitting on planes with the weather closing in and a team might be on another plane that got out before the weather closed in. Now we’re sitting on the ground and we know the teams are racing ahead of us. It gets really challenging,” said host Phil Keoghan. That’s all just part of the fun!

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9. Contestants Don’t Know What to Bring

Former contestant, Mark “Abba” Abbattista, appeared on the 21st season of the show and divulged a few secrets about what goes on behind the scenes during an interview with The A.V. Club. He said that not only do contestants not find out they have been chosen until a few days before they are required to leave, but they also have no idea what to pack! “They don’t tell you what to bring. What they do is give you a list of what you can’t bring…Nothing is supplied to you. Whatever clothes you choose to wear, you pick out. There are some limitations of what you can’t wear, like they’d have to clear the rights for you to be able to wear logos,” he said. The production team will provide some stuff to put in the contestants backpacks, but ultimately it’s up to them to decide what is a necessity and what isn’t.

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8. They Recruit Contestants for the Show

Fans of reality television don’t like to hear this, but those wacky contestants who are chosen aren’t just out of sheer luck, they have been hand picked by producers in order to give the viewers a little more entertainment. Shows that rely on having interesting contestants like Real World, The Bachelor, Survivor and The Amazing Race have gotten so popular that it’s nearly impossible to sift through all of the audition tapes submitted. And let’s face it, these shows want good ratings so they are looking for a specific ‘type’ of person in a lot of cases. This fact was proven during Abbattista’s interview when he said, “My partner, James LoMenzo, and I wound up applying; we weren’t recruited. In fact, I didn’t even know about recruiting until I wound up getting involved, which is disappointing because the people who want to get involved should have the first right to get on the show…I think they get a hundred million applications and go through them all quickly and pick the ones that initially look good or bring attention to themselves in odd ways. Then they keep whittling down the astronomical numbers of people that apply.”

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7. It’s Takes One Month to Film

It’s definitely obvious for many seasons that the majority of contestants are young, self-employed or who don’t have much going on back home. That’s not always the case, but a lot of the times those are the only people who are available to up and leave for three weeks at a time with short notice. It can be incredibly expensive for contestants as they lose out on a month of work, but it also costs a lot for the production team. This is why everything that can be planned in advanced, is. That way no money is wasted along the way. “The whole thing, when we were away was like a month. We ended up running for like three weeks when we were actually taping, and then there’s the logistics of going around the world. We’re moving all the time…and it’s not just us; it’s a tremendous amount of production people. There may be 100 people on the road with us, and the cost of keeping all these people out on a daily basis has to be ridiculous,” said Abbattista.


6. A Local Network is Set Up

It’s important for the showrunners to make connections, coordinate filming permits, set up hotels, translators and hire local cameramen. In an interview with Huffington Post, Doganieri said, “each country has all the details about what we have to do. It’s kind of like a military operation.” There also needs to be a sensitivity to the local culture. Former contestant, Abbattista talked about being sensitive to the local culture in particular areas and keeping safe as a tourist. “Locally, I’m sure they’re very supportive of the places that they go to. The show is very respectful of the local customs. They always gave us a little heads-up, like in some Muslim countries they’ll remind us about the decorum, especially toward the women.” Another important aspect of the local network is the ‘greeters’ who are locals selected to greet the contestants as they arrive in a new location, but how does the production team seek out and find these people? “The picking of the greeters is done in many different ways. Sometimes, it’s from local facilitators that make a suggestion, sometimes from our scout when we initially go to a new location,” said Keoghan.

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5. What Happens When You’re Eliminated?

“You can’t go home three days after you leave because then everyone knows you didn’t win. So, to protect the integrity of the show, once you go out, you’re out. They bring people to a sequestered location after they get eliminated and they stay together. From what I’ve heard from everybody, it was a pretty nice experience. I didn’t go there so I don’t know, but they’ve got to take care of you to a certain extent…Then, for the finale, people typically get flown back so that they’re all there when the finishers come into the final pit,” said Abbattista.

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4. Phil Keoghan Bets on Contestants

In a reddit Q&A, host of the show, Phil Keoghan admitted that he usually has particular teams that he secretly roots for and he always places bets on the first day, but he’s rarely right. “I’m always wanting some teams to do better than others. Sometimes just because I know that if they won, winning would have a really dramatic impact on their lives. It breaks my heart sometimes to have to eliminate a team and then there are other times I’m not unhappy about it at all,” he said. Ouch!

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3. How Much Interaction Does Phil Have With Contestants

Fans might wonder how much interaction the contestants really get with the show’s host, Phil. Even though he travels along with the contestants as they compete, he doesn’t actually get to spend much time with them at all because they are constantly on the go. But he does get to know them through interviews and conversations at the end of each leg. “The show happens very quickly and time is always a challenge for us. Many people don’t realize that we shoot all 12 episodes in just 21 days. If you factor in all the international travel and the other travel that we do get from place to place, there’s not a huge amount of time to be hanging out. That said, I do record in-depth interviews with the teams when they check-in and that’s really the time I get to connect with them,” said Keoghan.

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2. Keeping in Contact

Even though the production team keeps a pretty tight lid on the filming process in order to keep secrets from being leaked, which means no photos or cell phones on location, certain people need their mobiles to keep in touch, otherwise the whole show would fall apart! With contestants all over the place, some ahead and others way behind, it’s important for Phil to know what’s happening along the way so that he can ‘run’ the show. During his Q&A on reddit he said, “99% of my time is spent holding my phone and furiously writing down story notes about what’s happening with the teams. The information is coming from all those in production who learn anything new about what’s going on. If we didn’t have the ability to text on the show and sometimes make phone calls, it would be almost impossible for us to make the show. There are times where we are in such remote locations that I don’t get information beforehand and in those cases, I have to debrief the teams on the mat to get to the bottom of what’s happened.”

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1. There are No Breaks

Even though the episode comes to an end, in real time, the show never ends. The contestants are literally racing around the globe which requires them to be constantly moving from place to place and catching sleep when it is convenient and not necessarily when it’s needed. As a result, Phil Keoghan, who is on the road with the entire team as it goes on doesn’t take any breaks either. He completely immerses himself in the show right alongside the contestants: “This is not the kind of show where there’s time to just hang out at a hotel. We spend our time working on logistics when we know that teams are going to be super late because we know we’re going to miss flights, which will have a domino affect on the rest of our incredibly tight 12 shows in 21 days schedule. There’s always the chance that a team may come to the mat accidentally before they’ve completed the course so, once again, I stay at the mat no matter what. One time, I was at the mat in Poland season 11 for 19 hours straight.” It sounds like they could make a show just out of the immense amount of planning that goes on behind the scenes!

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Katherine G

Katherine G

Katherine is the Managing Editor for Health and Parenting, but she has a soft spot for entertainment. She loves binging shows on Netflix, reality TV is a guilty pleasure, and country music is her go-to playlist. When she's not writing, she's spending time outdoors, especially with her puppy Zoey!