The ATC Report

"In Control" - Vol. X, No. 4

We get asked a lot of questions about The Amazing Race. Most of them we answer quickly and truthfully, but occasionally there are things we know the truth about but just can't say. This column is about a subject that - until now - fell into that latter category. But first, a little history:

At the end of last column we promised you all an interview with Bert Van Munster in this column, which was a promise we intended to keep. Then we came up against (what we can only describe as) "stonewalling" by Bert. We're really not certain why he wouldn't agree to our initial terms for the interview, but we can guess that it possibly had something to do with Steve's demands that we be allowed to "spend the night" at Bert's palatial mansion with (in Steve's words) "full refrigerator privileges."

As the week wore on, we even downgraded our request from a face-to-face interview to just a telephone interview, but this too was met with resistance. We speculate that Dave may have ruined our chances for an interview of this type by calling Bert repeatedly and asking questions along the lines of, "do you have Prince Albert in a can?" and, "is your refrigerator running?" In any event, Steve and Dave have agreed to abide by the terms of the Order of Protection and will remain at least 500 feet from Bert's residence, and will also cease all calls to Mr. Van Munster.

Sadly enough, this precluded our promised interview for this column. So to show that there are no hard feelings, we have decided to reveal a secret about The Amazing Race that has never before been brought to the public's attention.

This season we've noticed quite a large number of "blurred" faces on screen during each of the legs. Apparently we aren't the only ones who have noticed, because we've gotten quite a few letters and e-mails asking us why this is. Look at the picture below:

This is a scene from last week's episode, in which Sarah is getting some instruction on how to use an ascender. Notice that the face of the instructor is blurred out (as indicated by the arrow).

The most likely reason for a blur in this case would be the fact that the instructor has already had too much "face time." While most fans of The Amazing Race know that the racers themselves are compensated depending on their finishing position, what fans may not realize is that all non-racers shown must be compensated based on the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) scale. Lengthy amounts of time on screen adds up to large amounts of cash earned, so the Amazing Editors will blur out the face of someone whose relevance to the show has already been established (in this case, a "stunt" instructor), who is one of two or more of the same type of character, and whose message will be repeated for each of the ensuing teams. Thus, since the blur prevents identification of any single one of the (in this case) three instructors, the show saves money by only paying each of the three instructors for a minimal on-camera period of time. There have been cases when the editors have used blurring so extensively as to reduce on-camera time to that of an extra - which we all know results in immense cost savings as extras don't get paid at all.

Here's another example of blurring from Leg 1 of this season:

In this case, the chef's face probably would have eventually been blurred out because of the reasons mentioned above, but was blurred out from the very start due to extensive foul language. When a non-racer who would normally be shown without blurring uses language that cannot be aired, the Amazing Editors will tend to blur his/her face to such an extent that you cannot determine that they are speaking, and then edit the sound track to remove the offensive language. Conversations with current racers prove that this was the case here, as the chef in question repeatedly told each of the racers, "George Bush numbah one! Fight war on tellor! You votah Repubrican!" (Note to our more sensitive readers: Steve and Dave apologize for the vileness of the preceding quote. We would normally never have printed it, but felt that without the exact quote our readers might not have grasped the extensive use of profanity that caused this chef to be blurred.)

Here's an example from a previous season:

Another thing that casual fans of the show might not realize is that all non-racers who interact with the racers and appear on camera must sign a release, which allows CBS to air their image. (Note that these releases also include address information, which later allows CBS to mail the payroll checks to the non-racers.) Each of the camera crews carries a supply of these release forms and is responsible for getting the non-racer to sign the release. If the crew fails to get a signed release, then the non-racer's image must be blurred - otherwise that scene cannot be aired. In the above scene from season 7, Ron and Kelly's crew failed to get the pedi-cab driver to sign a release. Thus, when the scene was aired the driver's face had to be blurred. Unfortunately for the driver, his failure to sign the release also resulted in him losing out on his paycheck from CBS.

There's one other reason that the Amazing Editors will sometimes use blurring, and that is to heighten suspense. Check out this scene from season 9:

Here we see three teams all racing towards the checkpoint. Notice how the Amazing Editors have blurred the upper bodies of all the visible racers. This is to cause the viewers to wonder which of the teams is leading. The scene would resolve itself moments later, but for that brief instant fans of each of the teams were convinced that their team was leading. Entire web sites have been devoted to dissecting scenes like this, with their authors using logic to determine exactly which racer was where, and then expounding theories on exactly what occurred between here and the checkpoint. Conspiracy theorists have even used these blurred images to add fuel to their ideas about the race being "rigged," using time/speed/distance measurements to show the remarkable change from what this photo shows (in their opinion) to the actual order of finish.

And lastly, there's one more reason that the editors will blur a face. Here's a scene from season 4 (still near and dear to our hearts...):

In the background you can see that the woman's face has been blurred. This is because she wasn't supposed to be in this scene. In fact, she's never supposed to be in any scene. She's what racers (in our season, anyhow) call a "prompter." These are people employed by World Race Productions to provide information to each of the teams on their next destination, potential routes to said destination, and other general local information. They are the fifth member of each team of racers (two actual racers, a camera person, a sound person, and the prompter) and travel with their assigned team until the team is eliminated. Each of the prompters has already "run" the race numerous times, and is familiar with each of the destinations the racers will go to. Let's face it - most residents of a particular city are completely unfamiliar with the obscure locales that The Amazing Race travels to within their city. Thus, the producers thought it expedient to include a member of each team who did know all about the destinations. Until now, no one (except racers) knew that the prompters existed. Hope we haven't removed some of the Race's luster for you.

Steve and Dave are pushing for a couple of more uses of the blur. Imagine how much better "Family Edition" would have been if the blur had been employed in this manner:

That's right. Sometimes a team needs to be blurred just because.

And then there are times when a blur could have helped us when we told folks that the camera added pounds.