I was a Filipino-American kid who was a freshman in high school on September 5, 2001. I loved watching television. My parents would probably say I loved watching too much television. Though (humble brag), I still did pretty well in school despite my TV habits. Having watched both Survivor and Big Brother the year before on CBS, this third new reality show called The Amazing Race seemed very interesting to me.
I distinctly remember seeing a casting call for CBS’ Summer Global Adventure Series back in 2000 on the CBS website. “What an interesting concept!” I thought to myself. That concept would turn out to be The Amazing Race. And coupled with NBC’s similarly globe trotting series Lost also premiering the same week, I had two shows I was eager to check out.
While I kind of lost interest in NBC’s Lost after a few episodes, I was immediately hooked on The Amazing Race from episode one. I still distinctly remember the night the show premiered.
I was in the living room watching the episode with my grandparents. And all of sudden, these people on TV were jumping off a cliff. I was shocked and in awe. I remember running into my parents’ room. They were already getting ready for bed, but had their TV on another channel. I quickly changed it to channel 5 (KPIX, our local CBS affiliate in the Bay Area) right as more teams were bungee jumping.
I remember excitedly saying “Look at that! That’s so cool!” I don’t remember what their reaction was. But I will say they too enjoyed watching the Race over the years as well. (Not so much in recent years though. But I’d say many of us can relate, yeah?)
But then just a week later, everything in the world would change. I was just a Filipino-American kid who was a freshman in high school on September 11, 2001. Even 20 years later, other than changes to how we go through airports, I don’t really know how profound an impact 9/11 had outside of the United States. But having lived through that day and still vividly remembering every moment of that day even now, watching The Amazing Race‘s first season is like a time capsule.
Seeing teams run around airports, trying to cause drama. Today, you’ll get locked up for doing things like Joe & Bill did in Tunisia. lol
At the same time, The Amazing Race became a window into a world that felt a bit different after 9/11. And that would continue in the years following. As volatile as the world became, The Amazing Race came along to show that there was still a wonderful world to explore. Different cultures to meet, different customs to experience, exciting stunts to perform, stunning locations to admire.
We all know how their peers in Hollywood viewed The Amazing Race as a gold standard in the often-mocked reality show genre. But forgetting about Emmys and accolades like that, The Amazing Race was able to become a window to the world for millions of people. And not just for Americans, but for people around the world as well.
Being able to connect people all over, it didn’t matter if you were watching from California or from the Philippines. The Amazing Race brought the world to people’s homes every week for 26 weeks a year.
The Amazing Race somehow made the world more accessible at a time when bungee jumping in Zambia or going up the Eiffel Tower or walking the grounds of the Taj Mahal were things you’d only see on Discovery Channel. Not a major network primetime show.
Watching this first season through a 2021 lens, it almost has a sense of innocence to it. It was rough around the edges. You know Bertram Van Munster and Co. still were working out the kinks and learning hands-on as they went along. But it was because of that that TAR1 feels humble and a bit more natural.
Compare that to many recent series that feel much more fake, forced, contrived and full of aspiring social media influencers camwhoring for their 15 minutes of fame. Sad to say, but that’s part of the current state of the franchise.
It’s hard not to acknowledge that The Amazing Race (at least the mothership in the U.S.) is barely hanging on. And with COVID almost putting the final nail in the coffin, TAR’s future is still kind of bleak.
But that doesn’t take away what the last 20 years have been for the franchise in the United States and the many local adaptations that have sprung up around the world.
Twenty years ago, Bertram Van Munster and Co. embarked on an unprecedented adventure. And while the show has had many ups and downs, the last 20 years as a whole have been nothing short of truly Amazing.