On your marks, armchair travelers: The 13th season of CBS' reality show The Amazing Race lifts off Sunday night, heading for another adrenaline-fueled romp around the globe.
The program, which just won a sixth Emmy as the best reality show, features 11 two-person teams who battle jet lag and culture shock as they try to beat one another to exotic destinations and perform a variety of challenges for a $1 million prize.
This year's 23-day itinerary, revealed in advance for the first time, covers 30,000 miles and has 11 stops in eight countries: Brazil, Bolivia, New Zealand, Cambodia, India, Kazakhstan, Russia and the USA (the race starts in L.A. and finishes in Portland, Ore.). Contestants include an ex-Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and her actor brother to married, tie-dye-wearing beekeepers from Eugene, Ore.
Though some of the show's average 11.8 million viewers may tune in for scheming, confrontations and meltdowns between racers rather than for scenery, "I think more and more are addicted travelers," says Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan, a New Zealand native who travels an average of 250,000 miles a year.
"The least popular show was the family version," which confined its destinations to North America, notes Keoghan. "New faces and new places make for amazing races, but places are at the core of what we're all about." The series has visited nearly 70 countries since its launch in 2001.
Einar Gustavsson of the Iceland Tourist Board can attest to that. Being featured in The Amazing Race in 2005 "was like winning the lottery," Gustavsson says. The tourist office logged hundreds of new information requests a day after the show aired, and it worked with Icelandair on an eight-day "Trace the Race" package. Longtime sponsor Travelocity, meanwhile, is using the show in its own marketing campaigns.
Though it has been dismissed by experienced globe-trotters who decry the show's frenetic pace and often-shallow interactions with locals, The Amazing Race "is a lot more real than people give it credit for," says Edward Hasbrouck, a veteran 'round-the-world traveler who blogs about the show every week at hasbrouck.org/amazingrace.
"No matter how hokey the tasks are, there's an underlying reality of what it's like to be on your own without the buffer of a tour," Hasbrouck says, "and it confirms the enduring hook of a trip around the world."