After winning an International Emmy Award for its very first season, the show had a second which was subjected to scheduling interruptions and then disappeared from view. Instead we copped a failed return by The Mole.
Now it’s back but with changes behind the scenes. It’s no longer produced by activeTV, but produced internally by Seven. While the network has enjoyed extraordinary success with its own Reality brands, this was likely a change driven by a desire to trim costs.
But we also have an Australia v NZ format this time.
“Watch out ‘Straya we’re coming to get ya!” says one NZ team.
“Have you seen any kangaroos yet?” asks another.
The network trumpets this as an historic first having countries pitted against one another. I’m inclined to think there are good reasons why that’s never happened. US host Phil Keoghan always said the problem with having an internationally-cast TAR would be obvious if a US team were eliminated early. Here there are 5 teams from each country chasing a $250,000 prize, so the likelihood of Aussies all being booted from weeks 1 -5 is pretty remote.
We begin in front of Uluru with a tug of war -literally- between Aussies v Kiwis.
“Just relax Australia. I got this one for youse,” says a towering personal trainer named Tyson.
“Australia is going deeewn,” sneers a Kiwi.
I keep waiting for a Maori haka, but we’ve been spared.
Yet the other subtle change that has crept in is the influence of shows like My Kitchen Rules. There are MKR-style cutaways where teams narrate to camera about how hopeless their competitors are. That’s despite them only having ‘met’ 5 minutes ago. While these have featured before, it feels like there are more of them, with added-emphasis on imposed rivalry, rather than letting it naturally occur through the drama of competition.
Thankfully, it still retains the sweeping helicopter shots, strapping host Grant Bowler and TAR‘s trademark music, licensed from the US.
Seven has always been excellent at casting such formats (so many shows are actually inspired by TAR‘s themed teams it’s not funny).
Amongst the teams are “feisty” NZ fitness mums (remember, women are always “feisty”, never men), a “brainy, busty brunettes” pair of pagaent models, some groomed intensive carers (sexual identity undeclared), a mother and son, two fair-haired siblings who finish each other’s sentences with a suggestive bond that would be illegal in most states, Team Raspberry & Coke (NZ males) plus newlyweds who adhere to traditional gender roles. “I try to do a lot of the woman’s work, like the ironing and cleaning,” says Ash. “Jarrod does the man’s work.” Whoa.
The first leg involves a Virgin flight from Alice Springs to Christchurch (here come the cost cuts). Several Kiwis seem rapt to be going back home. I’m wishing they headed to a foreign-language country so we can see them all as bad tourists -this is part of the intrinsic charm of Amazing Race. I guess it will come, as international destinations are guaranteed.
As the race progresses, so too does the bitchy competitiveness.
“He’s blocking you. Bastard!” yells the mum to one team in a taxi.
The episode constantly underlines nation rivalry.
“Those bloody Kiwis. It’s almost worth buying a bloody map,” growls one frustrated Aussie.
Along the Christchurch route there are references to the earthquakes that killed over 180 New Zealanders. I’m pleased there are still cultural references, another important element to the storytelling.
The Roadblock and Detour work quite well and there are scenic shots of South Island locations for armchair travellers. As the race progresses, there are of course two teams in a last-minute dash to the first “putt stop.”
Grant Bowler is effortless as host, clearly a fan of the format.
But the first episode is also too long, unable to resist a meal-sized 60 minutes.
With no MKR around in the second half of the year, it’s hard not to presume that Seven is keen for another series that has colourful characters who pop beyond the show. Can’t blame them for wanting that, but it probably doesn’t get you an International Emmy.
The Amazing Race: Australia v New Zealand will premiere later this month on Seven.