When “The Amazing Race 33” shut down production in February 2020 due to COVID-19, nine out of 11 teams remained. When production resumed in September in 2021, only seven pairs were able to return. Those two teams were not replaced, but the show naturally had to make adjustments to address their absences.
“I don’t want to give too much away, but we did figure out how to do it without having more non-eliminations,” co-creator and executive producer Elise Doganieri said Friday during a panel for the show at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “We figured out how to extend a leg, things like that. We were very creative. So you will still have the same energy.”
Dealing with dropouts, which was not entirely unexpected given the extenuating circumstances, was just one of the many challenges “The Amazing Race” had to face as a series that cannot be filmed in a bubble on a soundstage somewhere. Three episodes were completed prior to the shutdown in England and Scotland, and producers spent nine months coming up with a COVID-safe plan to return to production. That included using a chartered 757 plane for the entire cast — which was unveiled Friday — and crew for the remaining legs in France, Greece and Portugal as part of a new abbreviated course. Production wrapped in October with the finish line in Los Angeles.
“We chartered a plane so the contestants wouldn’t be on public transportation or a flight,” Doganieri said. “Because all the cast and crew were together, we actually staggered the release times. So even though they were on the same plane, your check-in time from the leg before counted for the time you would check out the next day, which actually made for a very intense and exciting race because the teams were actually closer together but we did not release them at the same time. We wanted to keep it as fair as we could do during these COVID protocols.”
Even though some of tweaks were out of necessity, TPTB found some of them to be improvements that might be implemented again in future seasons. “We had challenges and I think we adapted and we’ve come back with some new elements that that I think fans are gonna like, just because we’ve freshened up some of the ways we’ve done things, certainly the plane and knowing everybody was safe,” host Phil Keoghan added. “We just rolled with the challenges of shooting during COVID. As Elise said, we managed to get everyone back safely, which has been our number one priority from Day 1 and still is today. You live, you learn, you adapt and you try to make the best of a situation. I can promise you this season is a special one.”
Season 33 premieres with a two-hour episode on Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 8/7c on CBS. It will move to its regular timeslot the following week on Jan. 12 at 9/8c.
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