'The Amazing Race' producer Bertram van Munster talks 'All-Stars'
By Christopher Rocchio, 02/14/2007
Bertram van Munster says The Amazing Race fans can expect familiar faces and new places during the CBS reality competition series' eleventh installment -- and first ever all-stars edition.
"We haven't changed the rules or the format of the show. That always stays the same," van Munster, The Amazing Race's co-creator and executive producer, told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday. "It's just where we take them and the challenges we put them through [that changes]. The time it takes to do these things [determines] how people are going to react on camera."
Seven of the series' ten previous editions will be represented in the all-stars competition, with the show's first, third, seventh, and tenth editions each landing two The Amazing Race: All-Stars teams. While the prize remains the same -- with the winning team receiving $1,000,000 -- van Munster said the difficulty has increased.
"We always do more difficult terrain, territories, cities and countries," said van Munster. "So that makes it physically very exhausting, and as a result of that, it puts a lot of pressure on your psyche also."
For The Amazing Race: All-Stars, van Munster said a leg of the competition will take teams through Equador, into the deserts of northern Chile, and then down through the southern part of the South American country. The teams will eventually find themselves in Ushauia -- which van Munster described as the "southern most tip of the Americas" -- placing them only a short plane ride away from the South Pole. "The globe is always on our radar," he said. "It's really an extraordinary place."
When mapping the course for All-Stars van Munster said he and his wife, co-creator Elise Dogantieri, never lost sight of who would be competing. "What we have done in the creation of the race -- of course we made it very hard for people -- particularly for veterans like [The Amazing Race 7 second-place finishers] Rob and Amber [Mariano]. It's not easy to win a race like this because it was an all-star [edition]. It was no cake-walk for them by any means."
Joining Rob and Amber will be Season 1 third-place finishers Joe Baldassare and Bill Bartek as well as fourth-place finishers Kevin O'Connor and Drew Feinberg; Season 2 fourth-place finishers Ozwald Mendez and Danilo Jimenez; Season 3 second-place finishers Teri and Ian Pollack as well as fifth-place finishers John Vito Pietanza and Jill Aquilino; Season 5 sixth-place finishers Charla Baklayan Faddoul and Mirna Hindoyan; Season 7 winners Uchenna and Joyce Agu; Season 10 fourth-place finishers Dustin Seltzer and Kandice Pelletier as well as sixth-place finishers David Jr. and Mary Conley; and finally, two people who competed against each other on different teams during Season 9 -- Eric Sanchez and Danielle Turner.
"They are reality stars, they know how to do this kind of stuff. So for us it was really an opportunity to change the race and make it hard for them... and hard it was," said van Munster. "These places [they're traveling to] are very unique and difficult to operate in. You don't want to just do a rehash of what we've done and everybody knows [what to expect]. Of course we had to make it hard for them. They were a specially select group -- very strong competitiors all of them -- and obviously they deserve to have it a little harder."
While casting The Amazing Race: All-Stars, van Munster said finding "strong competitiors" from previous seasons was a key criteria. "Look, it's not easy to make a choice out of 220 or 230 previous competitors because we put a lot of time of time and effort and intensity in getting all these people," said van Munster. "It's a difficult choice to cast an all-star [edition]. But we felt all very strongly as a group that this was the way to go."
The only previous winners featured on All-Stars will be Uchenna and Joyce, and van Munster was quick to point-out that he doesn't think that gives them an advantage. "All the stuff they learned in the previous race did not necessarily mean anything," he said. "I think it was an equal playing field [for All-Stars]."
CBS network officials, Dogantieri and van Munster have a "close relationship," and he said the concept of The Amazing Race: All-Stars had been "swirling around" since Season 8. "We're looking for character. The winner doesn't necessarily mean it's the most exciting person. We're strictly looking for character," said van Munster. "I hope that we picked the characters right. I think the audience might enjoy it just as much as we do. [The teams on All-Stars] really stood out in the previous races, and that was one of the motivations [for casting them]."
van Munster noted that not a single team that was asked to be part of All-Stars turned them down. "Most people would love to do this again, again and again," said van Munster. Even Amber -- who reportedly swore never to try her hand at The Amazing Race again -- came back with her husband. "It was very simple to get [Rob and Amber as part of the cast]," said van Munster. "They loved to be part of it." When the Survivor veterans first appeared on The Amazing Race 7, van Munster said he "wasn't sure about them," but it "turned out to be a stroke of brilliance."
"They came back [for All-Stars] with a whole renewed spirit," said van Munster. "This time, I was really watching them like an eagle and I think they came to the race with a fantastic spirit. And you'll see the results of it." Rob and Amber finished second to Uchenna and Joyce during Season 7 -- but van Munster said he didn't really think about that when casting both teams for All-Stars.
"I thought to have Rob and Amber in there was a really good choice. He has his character traits and she has hers. In the whole context of the other contestants, we all thought it was a very good choice," said van Munster, who added while he sensed tension between all the teams, there wasn't necessarily any between Rob and Amber and Uchenna and Joyce. "They're competitive. It's in their bones... believe me," he said. "You know the whole group ais an extremely competitive group. And you will see they will all go for it."
David and Mary were apparently "in awe" of Rob and Amber when the teams met, according to van Munster, who said "there was a fantastic sense of camaraderie."
He added that all the teams were somewhat familiar with each other and were recognized by people across the world while filming All-Stars -- especially "beauty queens" Dustin and Kandace, whose The Amazing Race 9 edition was still airing when The Amazing Race: All-Stars filmed late last year. "We were in an airport somewhere in the world," said van Munster. "And we're running through it, and somebody asked, "Weren't [Dustin and Joyce] eliminated last week?"
While recognition of all teams was a factor, van Munster assured that no team received an advatnage due to their familiar face -- soemthing that played heavily into Rob and Amber claiming second the last time they raced. "There wasn't that much time for them to get those kind of advantages this time," he said.
However it would be hard to think Danielle and Eric wouldn't be at a disadvantage since they've never raced together before. The duo met while competing against one another on Season 9, with Eric finishing second with his partner and Danielle finishing seventh with hers. Staying in touch with all the previous The Amazing Race cast members, van Munster said he was aware the two are dating, and was a little "surprised" since the only time they really had to "start a romance" was on the the plane flying across the world during Season 9.
"To some degree you could say [they're at a disadvantage having never raced together before]," said van Munster. "They're very exceptional competitors though."
Set to premiere on CBS on Sunday, February 18 at 8PM ET/PT, The Amazing Race: All-Stars is still "original," according to van Munster, despite the 11 teams having competed before.
"It's not always easy to have a real strategy because we try to throw them off all the time," said van Munster. "They feel a little safer in their environments. But you know, you go to India and you're surrounded by two billion people -- it's difficult to force your strategy through. You have to go with the flow sometimes."