Interviews

Catching Up with Elise

Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri<br />
(Photo courtesy of Elise Doganieri)
Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri
(Photo courtesy of Elise Doganieri)
When we last spoke to Amazing Race co-creator Elise Doganieri, TAR had just won its first Emmy. See what she has to say about developments in TAR since then.

Thank you for taking the time out for an interview.

You’re welcome.

Congratulations on the Emmy this second time around.

It’s unbelievable.

Is it as sweet as the first win?

It’s even more surprising. You think, ok, they’ve given it to us once. Somebody else is probably going to have their shot. And then they call your name and you’re like, “Wow! They really do believe in us.”

So you were surprised?

Extremely surprised. But it just reaffirms everything. It makes the first one not feel like luck. It made me feel—and I think the whole group feel—that they know how hard this show is to do and that it’s a great show and great work.

And, if you’re putting out a quality production, then they reward it.
That’s what we strive for: good quality programming, entertainment, something people want to tune in to see.
Right. The value is about as good as you can get. That’s what we strive for: good quality programming, entertainment, something people want to tune in to see.

Which has been great this past summer with the ratings success.

We had an incredible season. Season five just had an incredible cast, locations—everything just came together.

So how does the upcoming season six look?

I think it’s right up there with season five. We have a great cast, a super motivated cast. They’re very, very competitive, I have to say. There’s a lot of pressure. They had pressure on themselves the whole time. It was a tough route. I think every season we try to make things a little harder because they get really savvy. So we put a couple twists in this season which everyone will be finding out about once it airs. There were things that surprised them. It was interesting to see how they reacted to those twists. It’s good to up the ante a little bit.

It seems like every year the route gets longer. Did you forgo that this time?

I think the world can only be so big at some point, and then we have to get home to start putting it together. This route was on par with all the others. It takes about a month; it’s about 50,000 miles. In season five we did over 70,000 miles. It was really hard. Even though it was a lot less on the mileage, we did a lot more zig-zagging. It still felt as long. There’s always planes, trains, and automobiles. A 20,000-mile change doesn’t seem to make a difference.

When you’re constantly on the go for over a month . . .

Yeah, you’re still gone for the same amount of time. You always have a Detour, a Roadblock and a Pit Stop.

And X number of hours spent on an airplane.

Exactly, you can’t cut corners on a trip around the world, that’s for sure.

Getting back to season five, how did the idea for the Yield come about?
It was born in what we call our War Room where we brainstorm and come up with all our ideas.
I think it was just one of those things where we were, “What can we do to them to surprise them?” It was born in what we call our War Room where we brainstorm and come up with all our ideas. The Yield is just something that you have to know who your friends are and know who your friends aren’t. When you come across it, you’re going to know who’s done it to you. It’s not like it’s some random act. You’re going to know, “Oh, that team did this to us. We need to watch out for them.”

Were you surprised that the Yield wasn’t used more?

I was in the beginning, because we thought they’d be using it early on. But I think that they didn’t want to have any enemies. They were trying to have everyone be friends, everyone love each other, try and form an alliance. But when it comes down to it, towards the end, there’s got to be a winner. That’s when I think they said, “Let’s be smart about this. It’s time to use it. Ultimately, we like everybody, but we want to win the million dollars.”

This is a race.

Yeah.

Was it offered every leg?

It’s offered quite a bit.

It just wasn’t shown as much.

We showed it when we felt it would be most advantageous for them to use it. We only showed it when there was a reason. There’s always a reason behind everything.

How did you feel the money-stripping penalty worked out?

I think it worked out really well. It keeps them on their toes. There’s got to be some penalty for coming in last. You can’t just slide by anymore. You came in last; you probably should have been eliminated, but we’re going to let you stay in it . . . but you’re not going to have any money. You’re going to have to work twice as hard. That way it feels like they still deserve to be in the Race.

What about the Fast Forwards? I noticed that there was a decrease in the number that were offered this past season.

You’re right; we don’t have as many. But that tends to make people want to use them more instead of their being overlooked. You have to really strategize. It focuses everybody into strategizing—do you use the Fast Forward when you come across it. When do you use the Yield? It makes the game a little more of a thinking game.

Are there any other rule changes this year you can tell us about?

Yes, there are, but I can’t tell you about them. Once again, we’re upping the ante.

Will they know it’s coming?

No.

So they’re going to roll into Dublin or someplace like that, and there’ll be a surprise for them?
It’s going to be an amazing surprise. This will keep them on their toes.
It’s going to be an amazing surprise. This will keep them on their toes. We can’t just let people watch season to season and say, “I know exactly what they’re going to be doing.”

They can’t say, “This is what what’s worked in the past. This is what has been successful. This is what we’re going to do.”

We don’t change the format of the game. It’s a great formula that we have. But we will put little twists in along the way. Keeps it exciting.

What about security concerns? Have they changed the way you map out the race? Have you ever had to change destinations due to security concerns?

We look at all the countries we’re interested in when we come up with a route, and we haven’t had to change things as we’ve been racing, because we’ve planned ahead for certain things. We know we don’t want to go here, or we don’t want to go there. Let’s work around those countries. Most people in the world know which countries are not safe to go to, so that’s not anything people don’t know about. Security is always very important and high on the list of concerns. That’s one of the first things we look at when we’re laying out a route—can we go to a certain country?

And it’s not just the teams, it’s the production crews . . .

We’ve got thousands of people around the world. We can’t risk anyone. Everyone’s life is very important. We want it to be fun; we want it to be a good experience; we want it to be a safe experience.

In the last interview we did, you strongly urged people to apply—that this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Many longtime fans of the show have been concerned that there have been a lot more models, actors, and even some of what can be construed as stunt casting.

What kind of stunt casting?

Contestants from other reality shows, what have you. Of course, to be fair, this has come at the detriment of what have been called alpha-male teams. Teams you could just look at and know they’d do well in the race.
Ultimately, it comes down to “do you have what it takes to make it around the world with your partner, get along?”
Not always the strong survive. It doesn’t matter if you’re good looking or not good looking. It has nothing to do with your looks. Ultimately, it comes down to “do you have what it takes to make it around the world with your partner, get along?” If people notice there are good-looking teams . . . well, yeah, there are, but they also have interesting stories behind them. It just happens that they may be good looking. We’re not casting on looks. For me, it’s all about the relationship that they have. I think we always put a good range of people in there. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the better looking, stronger teams last longer. That’s not always the case, though. We have stronger and stronger older couples that are lasting longer and longer. I hope people don’t think that, because it’s really not . . .

Casting has to be such a difficult thing overall.

Casting is hard. And we do get a certain amount of people who just want to get on TV. But we do get people who just want to do this to get the experience of traveling around the world with their partner—whether it be their cousin, brother or sister, their mom or dad, or their wife of thirty years. We always try to have that mix. You can always find different . . .

You can always find different dynamics.

Yeah. Father/Daughter. We always try to keep the variety. Now, whether or not those people stick in the race who look stronger or younger, that tells that the race is real, because we have no say in who does better.

What do you think creates the most drama: the locations, team dynamics, or the tasks?

I think it’s a combination of things. I think that drama is caused amongst the team members themselves. Whether or not they have a relationship that is on the rocks, there can be drama between the two people. One thing we do find is that the stress of travel, tiredness, and hunger don’t help make you a friendly person. The more tired you are, the more mistakes you’re going to make. If you haven’t rested, if you’re not positive, it’ll wear both team members down.

It takes you out of your comfort zone.

Yeah. If you’re feeling frustrated because you don’t speak the language, if you’re worried about having enough money, if you can’t agree on anything, then the stresses of the race will wear you down unless you’re really strong and stay focused. You consciously have to say, “We’re going to get along. We’re going to get through this. Let’s keep pushing—there’s a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.”

Do you feel the show is getting better with each passing season? How important is it for the producers to keep it fresh?
The more you stick with something, the more you can improve on it.
It’s really important to keep coming up with new ideas. I do think it’s getting better. Most of the production team has been with the show for multiple seasons, even some from season one. The more you stick with something, the more you can improve on it. Whether it’s the organization level set, having the contacts around the world we’ve used over and over again, knowing what we’re getting into. You can never know what’s going to happen. We set things up. We make it as tight as can be. Then we set the contestants loose. You never know what they’re going to do. They always surprise us. You can’t be prepared for what they’re going to do, but you can be prepared for a situation.

Is there any end to the creative limit or does the world continue to present endless opportunities?

There is no end to this. In the beginning, after the first couple of seasons, I asked myself, How many more countries can we go to? How many more things can we find? I tell you we find them. I go out there and scout locations with Bertram and come across unique things every time. Some things, of course, are similar, because there are a certain amount of things you can do at many locations. But then you go to a very remote place and you go, “This is how people do that? We have to let them do this.” So there’s always something new that we find that we want the world to see.

Is there any movement towards offering DVDs for the show?

There is. I’m hearing it’s going to happen. So keep your fingers crossed. I think it’s positive. It’s up to CBS. They’re very aware that people want it. It’s probably going to happen.

Good, I know that’s going to make a lot of people happy.

I can’t wait for it. The fan base has grown so much, people haven’t seen season one or two. I know people would enjoy seeing those.

Right. Speaking of past seasons, is there anything new on an All-Star Race?

I can’t rule anything out. But it’s not something we feel we have to do yet. We still have so many people who want to do this race. It’s not something we’ve been discussing right now.

Has CBS made any commitments to the next installment?

To number eight? (laughing) Please, I need a break . . . It’s always something that’s out there. We never hear, “Don’t think about it.” So, of course, Bertram and I have had the map out, and we’ve been looking. But no definite commitment yet. Keep your fingers crossed for seasons six and seven.

How far along is season seven for you?
We’ve scouted a lot of locations. We’re doing good. We’ve done a lot of casting. So . . . seven is happening.
We’ve scouted a lot of locations. We’re doing good. We’ve done a lot of casting. So . . . seven is happening.

After the success of this past season, and hopefully with this upcoming season . . .

I think people are going to love season six. We’ve got some highly charged contestants.

More so than five?

There’s some fiery people on this one. There’s a full range of emotions, I have to tell you. It’s exciting. It’s one of those things where we sit there and say, “What just happened? Where’d they go? Weren’t they supposed to go that way?” It’s going to be great. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as they’ve enjoyed five. I have to thank the fans, once again. We get more and more people every season. I want to thank everyone for watching. We appreciate it, we feel it, we know it. They’re part of the reason we got an Emmy this season. So keep watching, and we’ll always try to do the best quality show that people can be proud to say that they watch.

Much luck and safety in your travels. I do appreciate the time you took out to talk with us.

You’re welcome.