Time for an Amazing Race Makeover

Obviously, I’m a fan of The Amazing Race. This website got its name from one of the funniest meltdowns in the history of the show:

But that clip of Colin & Christie is from Season 5. I’d argue that the show never fully recovered its original appeal after the disastrous Family Edition (Season 8). I’m sticking with the current season (16), but I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to, and I know I’ll forget most of the teams once the season ends.

Despite new locations and challenges every week, the show has become predictable. After inevitably getting lumped together on the same flight, leads evaporate and teams execute their Roadblocks and Detours week after week.

The new elements added over the seasons, like U-Turns and Speed Bumps, haven’t improved the show. If anything, the U-Turn typically hastens the exit of strong or controversial teams, making the race less competitive and the show less interesting for viewers.

The show’s casting formula doesn’t help. Casting easily labeled pairs — "The Brothers," "The Gay Couple," "The Mother-Daughter Team" — surely forces producers to reject some compelling teams each season because their role has already been filled by another team.

It’s time to give The Amazing Race a facelift. First, the casting process has to change. I don’t care if the season is made up of nothing but teams of siblings or friends who are dating on-and-off; I just want to watch the best teams. Qualities like humor and competitiveness should trump filling certain demographic niches.

To that end, I propose winnowing down the number of teams. Instead of casting eleven teams, cast eight teams but make every other leg a non-elimination leg, which would still allow for twelve episodes per season. Even on a known non-elimination leg, teams will race hard for the time advantage of finishing in first place and the associated prizes. Drama needn’t be sacrificed.

The biggest improvement the show could make would be to get rid of the tasks and transportation issues that seem to level the playing field every leg. Whether its arriving at a challenge location hours before it opens or boarding the one-and-only flight available with the rest of the teams, these equalizers remove any advantage for the team that finished the previous leg in first place. Rarely is a team able to leap ahead by making a bold move in an airport (or fall out of contention like Charla & Mirna did in Season 5), so why not skip the airports all together?

These equalizers exist to make it easier for the production crews to organize tasks and get cameras and equipment where they need to be. The stress of losing a lead or having to sleep in a car is minor given all of the other sources of stress teams are subject to. It has nothing to do with making the leg more interesting for viewers.

To eliminate these equalizers and ease the strain on the production staff, I wish that all long-distance travel between locations would take place off-camera. For example: after Leg #1 ends in Lisbon, the teams rest up and board the same flight to Moscow where Production Team 2 is waiting for them. Meanwhile, Production Team 1 flies to Tokyo to set up Leg #3.

Instead of teams starting the next leg 12 hours after they finished the previous leg, start each leg at a set time (7 a.m. perhaps). Give the teams a time advantage based on how far ahead of the last place team each pair finished, kind of like the staggered start used in the Tour de France.

Whether the time advantage is cumulative or based on a percentage of how much quicker each team finished doesn’t really matter. But each leg should be designed so that it can be finished same day, avoiding boring downtime as teams wait for someplace that’s closed to open up.

This redesigned format might make it hard to send teams on a true round-the-world journey, but who cares? The show only mentions that aspect in the first and last episodes; Phil Keoghan doesn’t hold up a map every week showing the teams’ trans-global progress since from the start map. The whole season could be filmed in Europe or Africa and it wouldn’t matter, so long as the locations are novel and the teams are interesting.

Without some changes, I don’t know how much longer I can stick with the show. I’ve stopped watching additional online content and reading interviews with the eliminated teams because I just don’t care about any of them. I don’t even watch the commercials now that I have a DVR. If I’m going to watch The Amazing Race, I want to do so because it deserves my attention, not just out of a sense of nostalgia for the great show it used to be.