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A Big Change The Amazing Race Made For The Pandemic May Stick Around

Phil getting ready to address the camera on The Amazing Race.
(Image credit: CBS/ The Amazing Race)

Out of an abundance of caution, CBS was very quick to halt production on Season 33 of The Amazing Race back in February of 2020 after the emergence of Covid-19. At the time, no one was quite sure how long the halt would last. Well, it turns out the answer was 18 months, and when the show did return, it was with quite a few changes to help keep the contestants safe. Viewers got their first good look at some of those changes last week, and it turns out at least one of the biggest ones might stick around. It involves planes.

If you’re wondering how the contestants are going to navigate airport travel during the rest of Season 33, the answer is they’re not. To help limit the number of interactions with random strangers, the show brought in a plane to fly the contestants from destination to destination. The change was specifically for safety, but it turns out producers found an unexpected benefit: it kept the group more closely bunched together, which increased the amount of competition on each leg. Here’s a portion of what executive producer Elise Doganieri told Variety

It actually opened up a whole new world for us of how to do this in a very different way, but still have the same feel and energy. It created a close race every single time that plane landed in the next city… I think you’re going really like the way the show plays out with this plane. It might be the wave of the future, but I don’t know if it’ll be affordable for a global trip.

Even without the benefit of seeing the rest of the season, it’s easy for Amazing Race fans to see where she’s coming from. There are times in which teams either make an early plane or miss a later plane, and it essentially ends any competition for first or last place. A multi-hour lead or handicap is nearly impossible to make up on most legs, and while all of the teams don’t need to be bunched together, it certainly makes for compelling television for at least two teams to be near the front and at least two teams to be bunched together near the back.

Because of that, I’m excited to see how everything is going to play out. It’s already a really weird season with several teams not returning after the hiatus and several previously eliminated teams being given the chance to replace them. Now is the time to try to innovate a little bit, and the shared plane is going to be a compelling attempt to do that. I really hope it leads to some close finishes and more high-anxiety races to the mat.

That being said, there is also a clear potential downside here. Most Amazing Race fans I know ultimately want to see the best teams compete at the end and for ultimately, the single best team to win (which is why many were so upset about teams helping each other). Yeah, a surprisingly upset is fun now and again, but if a team dominates a season, I’d like to see them rewarded for their consistency and ultimately win. 

Amazing Race usually provides all the teams a few changes to catch up, either by putting them all on the same flight or giving them a location-based challenge that doesn’t open for a number of hours. Those occasional level sets are needed, but if a team crushes a leg and builds up a nice lead, I don’t mind seeing them hang on to it for awhile. I’m worried by bunching the pack up every single time there’s a flight, it’ll create a situation in which a truly dominate team could have one bad leg and go home.

Ultimately, we’ll just have to see how this plays out and decide for ourselves once the plane starts becoming a key factor in subsequent episodes. There are a lot of pros and cons with each decision, and as Elise Doganieri said, there are budget factors that need to be considered too. The Amazing Race airs on CBS at 9 PM ET on Wednesdays. This is the first post-pandemic season, although another one previously filmed aired without mentions of Covid last year.

Mack Rawden
Mack Rawden

Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, the NBA and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.