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 the creators and executive producers of “Amazing Race,” Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri. The Emmy-winning reality series just wrapped its 30th season on CBS, and is well into production on its 31st.
“Season 30, we really hit it out of the ballpark,” says van Munster. “We came up with good concepts, good ideas that worked around the globe.”
The producers say they don’t worry about keeping the format fresh for audiences: “We’re very fortunate that the landscape of the world is so vast that we have many opportunities for places we can go and drop contestants into, that it seems endless the possibilities for every episode and every season,” says Doganieri.
They also credit the timeslot — Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. — so that families could sit down in real time and watch the show. “It was key to the success of the show,” says van Munster. They’re hoping to get that slot again for Season 31.
They’ve also been aggressive about mixing up the format; last season, for example featured head-to-heads for the first time — where the team to lose was eliminated, as well as a partner swap. “It was pretty harsh, but it was a great challenge,” admits Doganieri. That said, the producers admit that fans don’t always love the new twists and turns. “We have to keep it really fresh and unexpected, otherwise you can’t stay on the air for 31 seasons,” says van Munster.
They say they prefer casting contestants who have never been on the show before. “But there is something to be said about bringing celebrities on,” says Doganieri, adding that it’s always a negotiation with CBS.
They wouldn’t confirm who’s been tapped for Season 31, but they acknowledge that they’ve read all the rumors. “It’s going to be a good surprise,” promises van Munster.
Over the course of 30 seasons, they’ve learned what it takes to win the race — and laugh about those contestants who arrive all muscled-up. “You don’t need those muscles,” says van Munster. “You need to be in decent shape, and you need to be logical in what you. This race can be won by anybody.”
He adds, “For me, the show is a success when I don’t know who’s going to win the race,” says van Munster.
So what does it take to win? “People who get along really well but are super-competitive,” says Doganieri. “And they read their clue.”
Adds Doganieri, “You get on plane, you land in Zimbabwe, the playing field gets evened out pretty quickly.”
Would the duo — who are married — ever consider doing the race themselves? “Not together,” says van Munster. Agrees Doganieri, “Yes, but with a different teammate.”
You can listen to this week’s podcast here.