When The Amazing Race returns for its 33rd season tonight, it will have been over a year since the show's most recent episode aired. But it will be nearly two years since this season began taping, in February of 2020, just before COVID-19 embarked on its own race around the world. With only a handful of days in the can, the show was forced to shut down production mid-season and would not resume again for almost 19 months.
The season that's finally making it way to viewers in the coming weeks promises to be a wholesale remodeling of the Race to order to safely function in a pandemic-striken world. Executive producers Bertram van Munster, Elise Doganieri and host Phil Keoghan have discussed the changes and challenges with various outlets, and we actually know quite a bit about how the show is set to continue after the COVID blip. Here's what to expect from this most unique season of The Amazing Race:
Certain location spoilers for Season 33 appear below, but there are no spoilers about which teams were eliminated.
Taping began on February 22, 2020, and the show ran three full legs in England and Scotland, during which two of the eleven teams were eliminated. With news of the pandemic worsening — and with plans for the Race to soon head to Italy, one of the countries hit earliest and hardest by COVID — the decision was made to shut production down on February 28th. Teams and crews were sent home, and so began the waiting game for when conditions would make it safe for the season to resume. That would not happen for a long time.
By the summer of 2021, with the widespread availability of test kits and COVID vaccines in the U.S., production began to put together plans for how to safely continue the season. Under usual circumstances, The Amazing Race is built around things like airport travel, interactions with large groups of locals, and taking public transportation. All of that would need to be rethought. Ultimately it was decided that taping would resume on September 17, 2021, picking up where the Race had left off in Glasgow.
One change that will be readily apparent to viewers is that the show chartered a private 757 airliner (tricked out with an Amazing Race logo on the exterior) to safely fly the teams from city to city, removing a major element of the show, which is flying commercially, often with multiple flights leaving at multiple times. To account for this, the show will stagger the times when the teams exit the plane, relative to when they completed their previous leg.
The route for the season also had to be significantly altered. While regular seasons of The Amazing Race traverse multiple continents, traveling to locations in Asia, Africa, and South America at the very least, the remainder of Season 33 would hew to areas with low infection rates. When the Race resumed after the hiatus, the route took the remaining teams from Switzerland to Corsica to Greece to Portugal, before returning to the United States.
Another major aspect of The Amazing Race we know is seeing the teams interact with local populations, which required quite a bit more orchestration from production this season. "Everybody that worked on our crew, every judge, every person that you’ll see around the contestants has been tested and vaccinated," Doganieri told Variety. "That was just part of our strict protocol rules, but it will feel and look like The Amazing Race. You really won’t feel any different from what you’re seeing.”
Public transportation — taxis, buses, crowded commuter trains — have also been a staple of The Amazing Race, but none of those would be safe under pandemic conditions, so expect to see the teams exclusively driving to locations themselves after the break.
But the biggest alteration to the Race after it resumes post-break is that two of the nine teams who were still racing when production shut down were unable to resume the Race, leaving only seven teams to complete the Race. Doganieri told Reality Blurred that production figured out a way to account for the missing teams without adding further non-elimination legs to the race. “We did adjust, we did figure out how to do it without having more non-eliminations,” she said. “We figured out how to extend the length — we were very creative.”
As for what we know about the Racers themselves, teams this year include a pair from Season 1 of Love Island USA (Ray and Caro), YouTube personalities Kim and Penn Holderness, a pair of singing cops from Buffalo (Michael and Moe), and two of the heroes from the 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone.
The Amazing Race 33 premieres with two episodes back-to-back January 5th at 8:00 PM ET on CBS.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.