The Oregon Trail Method

The world is waiting. Groups prepare to leave on an epic journey. The pace is grueling. Not all the groups will arrive at their final destination. But groups who travel safe, avoid fatigue, and overcome roadblocks will make it to the finish line.

It is not the beginning of another season of The Amazing Race.

It is not 1842 in Independence, Missouri, at the start of the Oregon Trail.

It is 1989, in a school computer lab filled with Apple IIe’s with monochrome monitors, as students like me play the educational computer game The Oregon Trail.

A few seasons ago, I started using The Oregon Trail to make predictions on the outcome of each episode of The Amazing Race.

A few seasons ago, I started using The Oregon Trail to make predictions on the outcome of each episode of The Amazing Race. While the sheer volume of team members makes running the predictions for each episode unfeasible, I’ve used this method to predict the final placement of each of the families racing this season.

In the game, players must learn how to manage their resources, keep the rest of their party healthy, and how to cross rivers without drowning. If they fail, members of their party die. If they are succeed, their entire party arrives in the Willamette Valley in good health. To predict the outcome of the show, I randomly assigned each team member to a party leaving for Oregon. I set the game settings to those most likely to cause people to die: Grueling pace combined with bare-bones rations. For everything else, I make the same choices for each party. The game never kills the leader of the party before killing all the other party members, so Phil always leads each party to Oregon.

As team members died, I recorded the mileage they traveled on the team. I also recorded their cause of death, which, while amusing, has no particular meaning. Racers who made it to Oregon got the total mileage of the trip: 2083 miles. The predicted winner of The Amazing Race is the team whose members traveled the most total miles. Unlike Yahtzee and other methods, there is no interpretation of the results—they are what they are.

Absurd? You bet. But that’s the whole point. So here are the results:

TENTH PLACE: The Bransen Family
Walter: 405 Miles (Broken Leg)
Elizabeth: 913 Miles (Dysentery)
Lauren: 932 Miles (Typhoid Fever)
Lindsay: 1099 Miles (Measles)
TOTAL: 3349 Miles

NINTH PLACE: The Aiello Family
Tony: 441 Miles (Measles)
Kevin: 1372 Miles (Measles)
Matt: 1217 Miles (Snakebite)
David: 922 Miles (Dysentery)
TOTAL: 3952 Miles

EIGHTH PLACE: The Black Family
Reggie: 1456 Miles (Typhoid Fever)
Kimberly: 304 Miles (Dysentery)
Kenneth: 1053 Miles (Cholera)
Austin: 1244 Miles (Broken Leg)
TOTAL: 4057 Miles

SEVENTH PLACE: The Godlewski Family
Michelle: 1119 Miles (Snakebite)
Sharon: 1642 Miles (Snakebite)
Christine: 956 Miles (Measles)
Tricia: 541 Miles (Typhoid Fever)
TOTAL: 4258 Miles

SIXTH PLACE: The Weaver Family
Linda: 871 Miles (Cholera)
Rebecca: 1787 Miles (Typhoid Fever)
Rachel: 636 Miles (Broken Leg)
Rolly: 977 Miles (Fever)
TOTAL: 4271 Miles

FIFTH PLACE: The Paolo Family
Tony: 1256 Miles (Measles)
Marion: 1056 Miles (Snakebite)
DJ: 1009 Miles (Broken Leg)
Brian: 990 Miles (Snakebite)
TOTAL: 4311 Miles

FOURTH PLACE: The Linz Family
Nick: 1434 Miles (Measles)
Alex: 1077 Miles (Broken Leg)
Tommy: 871 Miles (Broken Arm)
Megan: 1151 Miles (Measles)
TOTAL: 4533 Miles

THIRD PLACE: The Gaghan Family
Bill: 972 Miles (Broken Arm)
Tammy: 1446 Miles (Broken Arm)
Billy: 1151 Miles (Snakebite)
Carissa: 1011 Miles (Typhoid Fever)
TOTAL: 4580 Miles

SECOND PLACE: The Rogers Family
Denny: 1246 Miles (Measles)
Renee: 705 Miles (Snakebite)
Brittney: 662 Miles (Typhoid Fever)
Brock: 2083 Miles (Oregon)
TOTAL: 4696 Miles

FIRST PLACE: The Schroeder Family
Mark: 1220 Miles (Snakebite)
Char: 916 Miles (Fever)
Stassi: 1279 Miles (Snakebite)
Hunter: 1288 Miles (Snakebite)
TOTAL: 4703 Miles