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The Amazing Race - A Personal History

Four years ago, Clay Aiken marched into an audition in Atlanta and onto my television screen. In that instant, the redhead with the big voice introduced me to the most compelling show on television. I’m not talking about American Idol. I’m talking about The Amazing Race.

The geeky underdog, Clay Aiken quickly earned a place in my heart, and I had no choice but to root for him. In my world, “rooting” also means “scouring the internet obsessively,” and I learned that Clay’s original plan was to apply as a contestant on The Amazing Race. Diane Bubel, the mother of a boy with whom Clay worked in the field of special education, encouraged him to audition for American Idol, and the rest is reality-tv history.

Despite my close relationship with the small screen, my life B.C. (Before Clay) was void of The Amazing Race. How I ever existed without a weekly installment of teams of two, each with a pre-existing relationship, traveling the globe in search of clues which could lead them to the finish line and a one-million dollar prize is now a mystery to me! Life without Detours and Roadblocks, the challenges which bring suspense and humor and drama to the rich fabric of The Amazing Race was so empty. And the host, Phil Keoghan! A week without Phil is like Ryan Seacrest without a tan. Impossible.

My first experience with TAR (the show’s more familiar nickname among fans) was the finale of the fourth season. Even with no background knowledge to fuel my excitement, I cheered and cried as Chip and Reichen crossed the finish line. It only took one episode to know that I had found My Show. Since that night four years ago, I have watched every single episode of The Amazing Race, many of them multiple times. It didn't take long before the sofa became our aircraft, and we started replaying each challenge on the Race vicariously:

“Who’s doing this Roadblock? Me or you?”

“Lifting heavy things? Has to be you. I’m better at puzzles and approaching people for help.”

“Good call. Just remember, if there’s any Roadblock that involves driving a tank, I’m doing that one!”

“You got it! And if there’s bungee jumping, that’s mine!”

“Deal.”

We applied to be contestants, knowing full well we’d likely never be chosen, but it hardly mattered. Applying for the Race proved that even homebodies like ourselves could and would become competitive globetrotters, given a chance. And a chance is all a couple of unlikely adventurers need. It’s an exciting feeling.

Most importantly, I’ve met a phenomenal group of like-minded fans who have become friends. Bonded by our shared affection for the show that is the brainchild of producers Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri, we merge together in one location to watch each season’s finale. If any show could accomplish something so unique, The Amazing Race is it.

Imagine the collective cheer that arose when fans of TAR learned that CBS’ new show Viva Laughlin was canceled, and The Amazing Race would return in its Sunday night timeslot beginning November 4. Computer keyboards clicked with the fire of a thousand suns as we hastily exchanged emails and messages about the good news and anticipated an announcement about the upcoming Season 12 cast.

There’s a reason The Amazing Race has won the Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Reality-Competition program five times in a row. The dynamic between team members on the Race provides an element that’s absent on single-contestant reality shows. Teams must rely on one another – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to accomplish the challenging tasks that the Race demands. In countries where tongues and cultural expectations are foreign, stress levels rise and teams must be more tenacious than ever to win. Add several time zones and a serious case of jet lag before, say, scaling the Great Wall of China, and you’ve got amazing television.

Come back for another installment on The Amazing Race. I’ll be profiling the newest cast for Season 12 and offering my initial predictions for the upcoming season. Stay tuned!

The Amazing Race airs Sundays at 8 pm on CBS, beginning November 4

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