'The Amazing Race:' Travel the ‘real China’ in 576 minutes
“The Amazing Race" is not just another game show in China. The Chinese consider it an ingenious means to show the "real China" to the outside world.
"The show is not only promoting the local culture and customs but also the urban development achievement," said Ge Xiaowei (葛晓纬), one of the producers of the program's China edition, “The Amazing Race: China Rush” ("China Rush" in short).
A copyright cooperation between Disney ABC and the International Channel of Shanghai (ICS), “China Rush” has just wrapped up production of the third season and is set to air from this month.
The China even the Chinese don’t know about
According to the show’s production company ICS, season three covers a wider geographic range than the previous two seasons, spanning from the China-Russia border in the north to Yunnan Province in the south.
Lei Sheng (雷声), a contestant hailing from Xi’an, said even the Chinese contenders had no clue where they were most of the time while on the road.
“Being Chinese doesn’t give us any advantages,” said Lei, a 40-year-old outdoor experience trainer.
“I have never been to most of the places featured on the show. I’ve never even heard of them before. [The show] goes to the second-tier, third-tier cities, off-the-radar towns and rural villages.”
In this season, 22 contestants (in 11 teams) from seven countries sweep through 11 cities all over China in 12 episodes, each lasting 48 minutes.
The grand prize: a free round-the-world tour for two.
An offbeat guide to China
The upcoming show was dubbed a multi-million renminbi production. But ICS didn’t disclose the exact production cost. It is also keeping its lips tight on the value of the champion’s prize.
The entire season is produced in two versions. Each hosted in one of the two languages -- Mandarin and English -- by American-Chinese Allan Wu (吴振天), who has hosted all three seasons of' “The Amazing Race Asia” and the first two seasons of “China Rush.”
Ge Xiaowei said the program is a great offbeat tour guide to China.
“For example, we have dedicated staff on the team to study the transportations between sites and cities, which are reflected in the show,” said Ge. “These are not random arrangements, but practical information for tourists -- whether one should take the bus, train or fly between these two places.”
Ge added that the show does not follow clichéd tourist routes in China; “instead, it selects exotic destinations with most distinctive culture symbols.”
Having traveled with the team for one month to shoot the show, Ge said her most impressive destinations included Suifenhe (绥芬河), a city of 160,000 in Heilongjiang on the China-Russia border.
“Suifenhe is a very unique city in China due to its geographic location,” Ge explained. “Even the local street vendors can speak fluent Russian.”
Tasks in Suifenhe? Contestants were asked to complete a challenge involving traditional Russian dolls, revealed Ge.
Based on the trailer, the new season also headed to places like the Miao ethnic group in Guizhou and China’s Korean autonomous prefecture Yanbian in Jilin Province.
Reality TV shows: great way to travel the country
“This was a good chance to see a completely different side of a country that I haven’t seen before,” said contestant Nick Black.
Black, 30, is a Shanghai-based sales executive from Scotland whose previous China travel experiences were limited to major Chinese cities.
His most memorable moment of the show was walking off the plane in Heilongjiang at 2 a.m., frozen to death on an April day (“the temperature was like minus 3 or 4 C”).
Rachel Chen, one half of the champion team in the first season, agrees that “China Rush” provides a unique way to travel the massive nation.
The 27-year-old American-Chinese, who joined the show in 2010, said because the program worked with local tourism bureaus around the country, contestants could access places and take part in activities that normal travelers wouldn’t be able to.
More on CNN: 40 beautiful places to visit in China
Nick Black noted that he’s come to find fun in traveling to an unknown place after the intense trip.
“For some [travelers], before they come [to China], they’re not quite sure what the situation is. For example, if it’s gonna be safe,” said Nick.
“Just come and check out,” added Black. “It’s actually really fun not knowing what’s gonna happen.”
The English version of “The Amazing Race: China Rush” season three will premiere on August 26 on ICS at 8 p.m. (Beijing time). The Mandarin version will start screening on September 1 on international satellite channel Dragon TV at 4 p.m. Both versions air weekly.
Or follow “China Rush” on its official website.