Casting Secrets, Surprising Rules & Travel Trouble: The Amazing Race Facts That Might Surprise You

After 19 years, 89 countries visited and a record 10 Emmy wins for Outstanding Reality TV Competition Series, the CBS reality hit concludes its 32nd season tonight.

By Tierney Bricker Dec 17, 2020 2:23 AMTags
The Amazing Race, CastSonja Flemming/CBS

"The world is waiting for you. Good luck. Travel safe. Go!"

The Amazing Race's 32nd season concludes tonight, Dec. 16. The race featured former NFL pros DeAngelo Williams and Gary Barnidge, Olympic hurdlers Kellie Brinkley and LaVonne Idlette, plus a father-son duo, several pairs of siblings and a gay couple. 

The 11 teams kicked off the competition at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and continued participating in mental and physical challenges in Trinidad and Tobago, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Brazil and more.

After 19 years, 32 seasons and a record 10 Emmy wins for Outstanding Reality TV Competition Series, this race is still amazing, with almost unparalleled scheduling, filming issues and ambition, having filmed in over 89 countries with a crew of over 70 people on the ground. 

Over the years, series co-creators and spouses Elise Doganieri and Bertram van Munster and fan-favorite host Phil Keoghan have revealed some behind-the-scenes tidbits about show, including the unexpected travel issues competitors face, just how many people work on TAR, and how Keoghan almost ended up hosting another iconic reality TV competition series:

Meet the Cast of The Amazing Race Season 32

Origin Story: Most people have a horror story about traveling with their friends, including Doganieri, who came up with the idea for TAR in 1999 after her husband van Munster returned dissatisfied with what was currently being offered up in the TV world after a major conference. 

Working as an advertising executive with Ogilvy & Mather at the time, she then pitched the idea to van Munster when he challenged her to come up with an idea for a TV show in five minutes.

She then recalled backpacking through Europe with her college roommate and best friend after they graduated and the drama that went down during their adventures. 

"Halfway through the trip, we just got tired of each other and had a huge blowout," she told Awards Daily. "We took the day off from each other and later got back together. Everything was fine after that."

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But the experience clearly left a mark, one she relayed to her husband, who had previously worked on Cops

"I said to Bertram, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could have two people know each other do some sort of trip around the world, a race where they would be competing against other people doing the same thing?'"

The Title: When the husband-wife producing team originally pitched the show, they didn't have a name yet.

"We had many, many titles," Doganieri said, including Around the World in 80 Days, before going on to reveal an executive at CBS came up with The Amazing Race. "We loved it. Everything's amazing about it." 

Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

Hosting Duties: Before Keoghan was picked as the show's host, he actually was one of the frontrunners to land another major job at CBS: Survivor. Of course, that gig ultimately went to Jeff Probst, another one of TV's most beloved reality TV hosts. 

"It was at a time when not a lot of foreigners were given an opportunity to do something like that," Keoghan told New Zealand's The Listener in 2005. "One of the reasons I was told that I didn't get the job was that I was a New Zealander."

One year later though, he was picked for The Amazing Race, with Keoghan saying, "They gave me a shot, but they asked me to Americanize my voice." 

Before landing TAR in 2001, Keoghan was known for his hosting duties in New Zealand, including Spot On and That's Fairly Interesting, and he was known for his strange and sometimes dangerous adventures on Travel Channel's Phil Keoghan's Adventure Crazy.

The Casting Process: Want to be on the show? Just be yourself, according to Doganieri. 

"When we're sitting in auditioning, we can tell straight away if somebody is trying to be something that they're not, trying to anticipate what we want or not being completely honest about who they are," she told UpRoxx.

Still, there are some personality traits that are more attractive to the casting team. 

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"We always cast for Type-A personalities, super-competitive people. It's always nice if they have a sense of humor, because you have to have a sense of humor to be on the road for so long. And it's also for people who have interesting personalities with each other. It can't just be, 'We're best friends and we have a good time,'" she explained. "People who tend to have relationships that are so perfect and easy-going aren't the best TV sometimes. We have to see, underlying, that there's a little drama there, a little spark."

While the show started scouting for contestants in later seasons, they still accept auditions, with the show's former casting director Lynne Spillman once telling Variety they are just looking for "the best teams and diverse relationships. Meaning, not all married couples or brothers, etc. We try to find something for everyone (in the audience)."


Casting Requirements: Usually, it's preferred the team members have known each other for at least one year before applying, and have a "relatable" relationship. Oh, and you both have to be 21 by the start of the race. 

Once you are picked, you are mostly on your own when it comes to packing what clothes to bring with you, though the show tells you what you can't bring: your own money (cash or credit card), cameras or any sort of useful tools, like maps, translation books, travel guides, any electronics, GPS, etc. (Selfie cams were introduced in season 26, BTW, and the show did an all social media star outing for season 28.)

And after race officially kicks off, the general rule is the team members can't be more than 20 feet apart from each other at all times. 

Travel Woes: Because they can't bring their own money, the teams are given credit cards from the production company to book their travel. And at the beginning of each leg, they are given a sum of money to cover their expenses aside from airline tickets, like food, lodging or any unexpected repair costs, among other things. If you don't use all of your stipend on that leg, the remaining money rolls over. But it you burn through it before getting to the next leg, you can can attempt to earn more money as long as they abide by local laws; borrowing from other teams or asking locals for some cash (just not at airports in the U.S.) is OK. (There's also a rumor about a small emergency fund that the assigned crew carries and breaks out only in extreme circumstances.) 

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Getting two tickets on a last-minute flight (no booking in advance and no business or first class, by the way!) is hard enough for the average person, but the teams actually have to secure four, as they cannot travel without the two-person crew. 

"The teams are responsible for purchasing tickets for their crew and if they don't have enough tickets for themselves, and their crew, then they can't go," Keoghan revealed in a Reddit AMA. 


How Much Contestants Make: Nope, it's not just the winners who can finish the race with some prize money in their pockets.

The winning team of CBS' globe-trotting competition takes home $1 million. According to fan-site TARflies, the second place team wins $25,000 and the third place team gets $10,000. And each team earns money, with the first eliminated pair going home with $1,500.

Welcome to "Sequesterville": Once a team is eliminated, they are sequestered at a resort until the end of filming in order to prevent spoilers. 

"They keep you sequestered. You can't go home three days after you leave because then everyone knows you didn't win," season 21 competitor Mark "Abba" Abbattista explained to The A.V. Club. "They bring people to a sequestered location after they get eliminated and they stay together."

While they're technically in hiding, the contestants are usually given a stipend and can go on supervised outings. 

Plus, it makes it easier to transport everyone to the final pit for the big finish at the end of the race. 


Planning Process: While TAR may sometimes feel spontaneous and daring, it is meticulously plotted out behind-the-scenes months in advance. 

"In every season, before we leave, the creative is 100 percent locked. It's actually locked a few weeks in advance before we leave," Doganieri told UpRoxx. "Everything is planned out. All the Non-Elimination Legs are planned out. All the Fast-Forwards. Everything is planned out and locked before we leave. All the clues have been written right now. All the host scripts have been written. CBS and the legal team have signed on everything at this point."

In an interview with Awards Daily, Doganieri and van Munster revealed casting is the first step, before they "start looking at a map and thinking about the route we would like to do." Then the locations must be cleared by the Safety and Security team. 

When it comes to choosing the locations, van Munster offered a pretty practical tool in the decision-making process: "The logic comes from where do the plans fly and with what frequency." (One place they turned down? Qatar.)

Plan B: The only time the show changes their plan is "by a force of nature," Doganieri explained to UpRoxx. "We're checking weather reports every day. Many times if there's a location that we lose because of weather, there is backup plan. We have a lot of Plan B's in place that we know like, 'OK. If that river's gonna flood, there's another river over here that we know we can use.'"

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Filming Is Fast and Furious: After months of preparation, the actual filming of a season is comparably short: 12 episodes in just 21-25 days, with over 2,000 people working on the show overall. Given the breakneck pace of the show, there isn't a lot of downtime, though the contestants and crew remain in close quarters.

"We're all in the same hotels," Abbatista revealed to The A.V. Club. "Actually, most of the times after the legs, we ate with the crew. It's kind of like you're traveling as a family."

In a Reddit AMA, Keoghan also opened up about the speedy schedule and how much time he actually gets to spend with the contestants. 

"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," he wrote. "If you factor in all the international travel and the other travel that we do to 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."

Phil's Pit Stop: Ever wonder what Keoghan is doing as he waits for the teams to arrive? He's working and trying to get the latest information on the race as it's happening to prepare.


"Apart from briefing the greeter about how the show works and shooting the intro's I need to do at the pit stop, 99% of my time is spent holding my phone and furiously writing down story notes about what's happening with the teams," he revealed in his AMA. "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 time 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. In addition, some production people have to physically bring me the information to me at the mat so I can administer the penalty."

Keoghan also spends a lot of time doing research for his scripts, wanting to make sure he is offering new information to viewers on the locations the show visits. 

"We start researching the show months in advance and then I start working on my scripts about a month out. The key is to give the audience some takeaway about what we're going and the things we'll be doing," he wrote. "So I work hard on interesting factoids since I know people love learning about the world which watching the amazing race. I love that the show not only entertains but also informs."


As for what happens when one team is hours behind the rest? Keoghan remains ready for anything.

"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," he said. "One time, I was at the mat in Poland season 11 for 19 hours straight."

19. Hours. Straight. 

Close Call: On TAR, Keoghan has never missed a pit stop, but he almost did in an early season when he found himself detained in Ukraine. 

"I got held in immigration overnight," he told TMZ. "I didn't have the right papers apparently or so they thought. So they put me in a holding room overnight, meanwhile, the teams were racing and there were concerns I wouldn't make it to the mat. Thankfully, the U.S. ambassador was a huge Amazing race fan and she got me out."

He made it just in time to meet the teams at the mat. Phew.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The Meaning of Keoghan's Necklace: In case you've ever wondered if the necklace the host wears in every episode means anything, he revealed its unique origin during his Q&A. 

"I have worn it on every season. It is an indigenous necklace from New Zealand which was given to me as a way of providing safety over water," he wrote. "It's origins come from the Maori people of New Zealand. It's actually a decorative fish hook. For the most part, they are carved out of bone or green stone."

In later seasons, Keoghan added another accessory by starting to wear hats, but it was because he needed the extra protection from the sun after having six facial sunspots removed.

"My dermatologist said, 'You've got to cover it up.' It's not all Race'" he told the New York Post. "I grew up in the Caribbean and I've had a lot of sun damage over the years. Now I try to be really careful."

Giving Back: For the producers, it was important for them to leave a positive mark on remote locations they've filmed in. 

"We like to leave something behind that's good for a place that might've needed something," Doganieri said. "In Ethiopia, we put roofs on houses," and the show also has rebuilt schools in some of the places they've visited.

They even built a fishing village in Vietnam, which Van Munster said "they could never afford to do" if TAR hadn't filmed there.


Celebrity Appeal: New Kids on the Block's Jonathan Knight, professional athletes, Olympians and other celebrities have competed over the years, but the show has yet to do an all-celeb line-up.

Over the years, Keoghan admitted to The Hollywood Reporter he's had fans pitch an all-celebrity season. But given the grueling filming schedule, he said, "I think a season with all celebrities might be a nightmare."

Some of the celebrity fans who've expressed interest? 

"Neil Patrick Harris mentioned it once. Sarah Jessica Parker, I remember, mentioned it once. I know Ellen [DeGeneres] has mentioned it on her show before," he revealed. "There was a quote from her that if she was on The Amazing Race what she would do. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I know loves the show. Drew Barrymore I think was one. I saw Matthew McConaughey wearing an Amazing Race T-shirt in a magazine. I don't think we'd have trouble getting interest. I think we'd have trouble locking it in."

Reality Worlds Collide: while the upcoming season is made up of teams of all reality TV vets, with stars from TAR, Survivor and Big Brother, Keoghan once admitted he wasn't the biggest fan of bringing on stars from other franchises (like they did with Big Brother couples Jeff and Jordan, and Rachel and Brendon, and Survivor's Boston Rob and Amber, and Ethan and Jenna).

"On a personal level, I'm less of a fan of that than I am in bringing in some new person with a unique personality," he admitted to THR. "It's not to say it didn't work, but I'm just not as much of a fan of that cross-pollination. I think the shows are so different that to me it's a little confusing. That's my opinion is all."

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Pre-SUR Life: Before she became one of the most popular Bravo reality stars thanks to Vanderpump Rules, Stassi Schroeder actually competed on The Amazing Race with her dad, stepmom and brother in 2005. They hold the honor of being the first and only team to ever be eliminated in their hometown. 


"I didn't have a chance to think about if it was something I wanted to do," Stassi told ET of competing the show. "It was always just been something that I've done. And then I realized that I was kind of good at it." 

She was 17, brunette and just as unapologetic as she is on the Bravo reality hit, saying, "I remember why we lost—because my family didn't listen to me. Because I'm always right! If they just would've listened to me!" 

Overcoming Tragedy: The first season of The Amazing Race premiered on Sept. 5, 2001, less than one week before the tragic events of 9/11 would forever change the nation. 

"The world had changed from one second to another, and we were doing a show about traveling overseas, about airplanes," van Munster told  The New York Times in 2004. "At that point, I thought the show was over. I didn't think we had a chance."

In an interview with the Television Academy, he went on to say, "We had people who didn't want to go on a plane, who didn't want to go to a foreign country, we had several producers who didn't want to do it anymore. We had all these issues."

But van Munster said no one at CBS ever talked of canceling the show in the wake of the terrorist attack, with Doganieri explaining, "The nice thing is that we were able to continue doing the show and it did keep that element of people still needing to travel and the world is still good. In a way, maybe, our show helped keep a positive spin on things a bit in a time that was so devastating."

The Amazing Race airs on CBS. 

(This story was originally published on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 9 a.m. PST.)

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