October 31, 2008'Amazing Race' insider tips and tricks
When Amazing Race co-creator Bertram van Munster is available to chat, we take him up on it and our reporter (and Amazing Race fan) Gayle Carter did just that recently. He was eager to share how he picks the Race teams, his favorite reality show, his well-tested travel tips, his favorite locale and more. Everything but his age (“I don’t want you to know. Is that OK?" he asked politely.) We also wanted to know where else he’d like to take the Race (“A lot of places, but I don’t want to say it.”) Click read more for the whole conversation.
Q. Why do you think that even at Amazing Race season 13, it still seems new to viewers? The cast? The locations?
“It’s a combination of all those things: great casting, the world is still a big place...I still have the enthusiasm to come up with great stuff. It’s very energizing going around the world trying to put together new stuff all the time. The contestants have never been able to guess where we are going. By the same token, we have never been able to pick who is going to be able to win the race. It’s absolutely impossible for us. I think one couple is going to do it and then they’re out the next week. It’s completely unpredictable who will win.”
Q. What makes great contestants?
“We’re looking for teams of two who have a pre-existing relationship: They know each other well, very well, sometimes too well. We all know when we sit with our family member in the car: The first five intersections we agree to turn left but at the sixth one, the ego starts to come out and we don’t agree we’re supposed to take a left [turn]. If they know each other well; they immediately begin to react. They start in the first three minutes. If we don’t know each other well; we’re reluctant to say something to each other. It is humorous. ... We want people from all walks of life, people who have traveled very little: Remember the coal miners [Season 10]? They were wonderful, their eyes were wide open and they were excited about the world... A lot has to do with their personalities, who they are, how they react, how they react to each other and the next ingredient is how they react to the next contestants. At the same time [we are casting], we are laying out the race, knowing what their fears are, what they like or don’t like...”
Q. How many people apply to go on each Race?
“Depends. It goes between 8,000 and 25,000. It’s a lot of work to go through it. I love good new reality people, there’s an innocence you’ll never find in old [reality TV] stars. They think they know how it works, they’re kind of blasé.”
Q. Would you do a Celebrity Amazing Race?
“A celebrity version is always fun but how are you going to get all these celebrities to go around the world for three or four weeks? They are swamped with their own lives; it’s difficult to even make appointments with them. We’ve been asked by wonderful people, everybody wants to do it but they can’t really do it...”
Q. What about safety on the Race, is that a concern in choosing locations?
“Safety is probably the biggest concern because you want people to have a good time and have a wonderful experience -- we are very concerned with it.”
Q. How many people work on the Race?
“Around 100 total go on the Race, the amount of people getting a paycheck from the Race is 2,000 worldwide.”
Q. How many cameras do you have with each team?
“Each team has one camera team, a camera man and soundman. The camera man is the director, we don’t use producers in that capacity, these are guys I’ve known for many years, they are my front line of storylines.”
Q. After all this travel, I’m always amazed that people still go on the Race not knowing how to change a tire or misreading directions (taking a taxi instead of walking), etc. After all these trips, you could do an Amazing Race travel tips book. What would be your top travel tips?
“First, you have to bring a great sense of humor, you run into some really bizarre answers from people you cannot expect. You need a passport, along with an inoculation card, I travel with practically no money in my pocket, I travel with a credit card, it’s very effective and nobody can mess with you. I take very little with me. I can go around the world. I’ve got one little carry-on, including a suit for emergency conversations with high officials. I don’t schlep a lot, you can always buy a t-shirt, jeans, don’t bring expensive clothes, shoes, go easy, it helps you in also keeping a low profile which I think these days is absolutely a requirement. You don’t want to stand out with expensive luggage, watches. You make yourself a target.”
Q. Do you watch other reality shows?
“I love Dancing With the Stars, it’s a fantastic show. Reality shows have gotten a little flat, it’s almost feel like we’ve run out of ideas....There’s a learning curve in producing reality TV. There’s a lot of great ideas but I’m not sure they are executed right. I’ve been in this business for a long time. I come from commercial background. I was a commercial director for many many years. Maybe some people underestimate how difficult it is to do something really really good: the storytelling, the drama, the humor, the casting, all that great stuff. A lot of shows fail because storytelling isn’t right. I’ve seen shows that could easily be fixed...[Poor quality shows] ultimately are bad for business. The Amazing Race got six Emmys [for outstanding reality competition ] in a row. That’s good for all reality business. If someone else would win, I’m capable of walking over and saying 'Congratulations.'"
Q. Any places you’ve gone on the Race that you’d like to go back, or you’d recommend?
“For myself, I really like Moscow, It’s such a vibrant city. I’d rather go to Moscow than to Paris; Italy is great: a fantastic place is Sicily. I could always tell people to go to Chile, people overlook it. The Northern part is desert, the southern part is like Austria, it’s a very beautiful country with wonderful people; Argentina. If you watch the Race on Sunday, we go to Cambodia (pictured above), one of my favorite places right now.http://blogs.usaweekend.com/whos_news/2008/10/amazing-race-in.html