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Around the World in 23 Days: The Amazing 'Amazing Race' Nears Its 27th Finish Line
December 3, 2015  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments

It was a coincidence, of course, but an episode filmed in France for the 27th running of The Amazing Race aired just days before the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.

Watching that episode back today is a reminder of just how worldly and au courant the 10-time Emmy Award reality program can be, even when it isn’t trying.

The Amazing Race, rare for reality TV, is also remarkably joyful and positive, not only in its world outlook but in its portrayal of unconventional relationships. Not many know this. but The Amazing Race also won the 2012 GLAAD Media Award to go along with all those Emmys.

Back to France.

In a goofy but typically eye-filling challenge in the Oct. 30 episode, My Tongue Doesn’t Even Twist That Way, the remaining teams flew over the French countryside in a vintage Boeing PT-17 biplane to search for the motto of the French Republic. “This feels just like Red Baron and Snoopy!” racer Justin Scheman (top) exclaimed.

His fiancée and Race partner Diana Bishop (with Scheman, left) was more matter-of-fact. “I hope he knows what he’s looking for,” she said simply. “That’s the only thing I’m stressing about.”

The French motto was written on the ground below in large, SOS-style block letters, tucked away in farmers’ fields and in the shadow of stately chateaus. On landing, the racers were to recite the motto — or what they thought was the motto — to a taciturn, somewhat dour-looking young woman of French extraction who, if the racers got it right, would hand them the next clue.

“Lie-burt-tee!” one of the racers cried in triumph. “Eagle-light! Fratter-night!”

The French woman winced and looked as if she might have a stroke. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. I mean, merde, is that so hard?

She handed over the clue anyway, albeit reluctantly, with that haughty reserve the French have mastered over the centuries to perfection.

By now, The Amazing Race’s format and structure are well known. Ratings have slipped since its move to lightly-viewed Friday nights from its lucrative Sunday slot, but the numbers have remained strong enough that a 28th Race is in the works, and will premiere on Feb. 12.

Future cycles are on the drawing board. The Amazing Race may not be as popular with a mainstream viewing audience as The Voice, or as compellingly addictive as Survivor, but it has an allure all its own.

Unfamiliar landscapes and foreign cultures are often just a backdrop for pell-mell, hurried challenges designed as escapist entertainment, but even fleeting exposure to cultures like Mongolia and Zimbabwe is the only exposure most viewers are going to get.

And who, having climbed onto the wrong bus or train in an unfamiliar city, won’t relate to the team in this season’s Race — medical doctors, at that — who famously said, while in Holland: “You mean Rotterdam is not Amsterdam?” Or the befuddled couple who, lost on the streets in Rotterdam, told passersby, “We’re in Germany, right?” (Tiffany and Krista, left, similarly lost during the upcoming December 4 "It's Not Easy Being Green" episode.)

Amazing Race co-creator and executive producer Bertram van Munster — a Dutch documentary filmmaker originally who got his break in U.S. TV as a lead cameraman, field producer and co-producer of the long-running docu-reality series Cops — has said Race can be a pain to produce, and not just because of bureaucratic paperwork.

Not being allowed to film in customs and immigration halls and at airport security gates has proven a blessing in disguise, despite missing the occasional spat between Race teams, not to mention spats with other travellers waiting in a long line at customs. Being barred from border crossings and secure safe zones in airports is one less complication in what, thanks to an increasingly volatile world and the growing number of terror attacks, is an increasingly complicated show to produce.

None of that means anything to the casual viewer, of course, nor should it. The idea that no one on The Voice or American Idol has ever been threatened with detention or arrest is a fun fact, but that’s all it is. The simple truth is that The Amazing Race is amazing fun to watch (Scheman, right), a way of seeing the world from the safety of one’s home couch, without having to deal with visa formalities, officious bureaucrats and hostile border guards.

Who knew, for example, that there’s a Subway in Krakow, Poland, unless they were watching The Amazing Race a few short weeks ago?

“This has been a crazy day,” a musician in Krakow said into the camera, after dealing with a steady stream of Race teams in that same show. “Just crazy.”

When The Amazing Race burst out of the starting gate on Sept. 5, 2001, Van Munster thought it would never air again. The second episode, scheduled for the night after the 9/11 terror attacks, was postponed — Van Munster thought permanently, at the time. At the very least, he admitted in an interview later that year, he believed any future around-the-world race, featuring American citizens and pitting type-A personalities against each other, would be unfeasible, if not impossible.

As it happened, The Amazing Race forged ahead and Van Munster himself, a Eurocentric who has never forgotten his Dutch roots, was able to film a Race leg at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, a site of personal significance to him, he confessed in a later interview.

This season Van Munster managed to route the Race through the historic Oskar Schindler Museum in Krakow, historical site of Schindler’s List, and past the International Court of Justice in The Hague, two other sites of deep personal meaning to him.

In all, The Amazing Race has crossed through some 85 countries, not just Holland and France but also Burkina Faso, Oman, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Senegal, Mauritius, Bolivia, Ecuador, Kazakhstan — Borat’s country — and Namibia. Namibia, twice.

The 27th running of The Amazing Race crosses the finish line back in the U.S., where it all began, on Dec. 4 (8:00p.m ET), on Long Island. The winning team stands to win $1 million, but as long-time followers of The Amazing Race know, the rewards are much more meaningful than that.

And not just for the winning team.

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CORRECTION: Tonight's show (Dec. 4) is the penultimate episode. The final leg will be broadcast next Friday, Dec. 11.
Dec 4, 2015   |  Reply
David D.
According to Episode Guides, tonight is not the finale - there's an episode next week called "We Got A Chance, Baby."
Dec 4, 2015   |  Reply
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