Let the race begin! ‘Amazing Race: China Rush’ airs this weekend
On your recent travels around China, if you happened to notice a crowd of hectic foreigners chased by cameras, it was sadly probably not a celebrity tour group, but more likely part of the filming for International Channel Shanghai's (ICS) latest reality show, “The Amazing Race: China Rush.”
Based on the international “Amazing Race” show format, “The Amazing Race: China Rush,” which debuts this Sunday, August 8 on ICS, features 10 teams racing through 11 Chinese cities with the franchise's last-one-out elimination system, and featuring physical challenges and extreme sports contests that audiences are used to seeing on Western reality shows.
I learned that Chinese people have an incredibly high tolerance level when it comes to foreigners behaving strangely ... the cab driver's watching all of this [taping] in his rear view mirror with a bemused look on his face that says, ‘laowai ... whatever.’— Eric Ransdell, Fly Flims co-founder, director of "The Amazing Race: China Rush"
Their prize for this China quest? A world tour provided by travelzen.com. Not too shabby.
Although some contestants were already living in China, three of the two-person teams came to the Middle Kingdom especially for the show.
Contestants were chosen from a variety of backgrounds and countries, from American middle-aged expatriate moms (Karen and Lisa) to Latvian reality TV stars, and countries including Australia, Kenya, India, Mexico, Latvia, the United States and Canada.
"It's such a motley crew, but they're going to make for great television," says Chinese-American host Allan Wu, who has hosted all three seasons of' “The Amazing Race Asia,” to China Daily.
The show’s director and Fly Films co-founder Eric Ransdell agrees, but says the people reflect the make-up of Shanghai and the Expo where the show began and ended. “[The Amazing Race: China Rush] was timed to be broadcast through the last half of Expo. We were cognizant in terms of casting that this was the Expo year in Shanghai and we wanted a truly international cast,” he explains.
“We recruited some teams from abroad, including a pair of Masai warriors that I had met a few years ago at a friend's safari camp in central Kenya. We also brought in a team from Latvia and a team from Australia, in addition to having teams from India, Mexico, Canada, the United States and the UK who were cast here in China.”
The variety of the contestant’s nationalities is unique to this part of the “The Amazing Race” brand where, on previous shows, contestants must have been residents of the particular country to qualify.
“This is the first time an Amazing Race franchise has ever had a truly international cast,” says Ransdell.
The 12-episode reality show, which was filmed by Shanghai production company Fly Films over 30 days, began taping April 28, putting the 10 teams in Shanghai Expo Park to start their race around China. The finale was shot in the same locale, bringing the surviving teams' trip full circle and firmly rooting the show in Shanghai.
Although Fly Films and ICS are being tight lipped about where the competition took contestants to, rumors are flying that the show visited some of China’s more iconic sites including Beijing and Chengdu, Sichuan Province, as well as some smaller Chinese villages.
Previously the producers of the last year's popular ICS reality TV show "Shanghai Rush," as well as a late-night talk show for Star World “Asia Uncut”, “The Amazing Race China” is Fly Films' latest push into reality TV. They came armed with 17 cameras and a crew of 80, all focusing on the 20 contestants for the 30 days of filming.
With all those bodies, the show and its contestants stood out wherever they went, challenging the participants as well as the locals they came in contact with and the camera crew following them.
It's such a motley crew, but they're going to make for great television— Allan Wu, "The Amazing Race: China Rush" host
“I learned that Chinese people have an incredibly high tolerance level when it comes to foreigners behaving strangely,” says Ransdell. “I mean, you're a cab driver in Beijing, let's say, and two foreigners in matching clothes come hurling at your cab, followed by a cameraman and an assistant, they are all sweating profusely and looking rather agitated. They get in, start shouting instructions at you and screaming for you to go faster and then the contestants in the backseat blow up into a huge argument while the cameraman hangs over the back of the passenger seat filming the whole thing. Then we cut to a shot of the cab driver watching all of this in his rear view mirror with a bemused look on his face that says, ‘laowai ... whatever.’”
Even with all the chaos though, one of ICS and Fly Films' goals was to make this show stand out in the ever-increasing crowd of Chinese reality shows, attaining this by unprecedented access to the country.
“ICS lined-up the local governments and they did a fantastic job of getting their support,” says Ransdell. “We had carte blanche to most of these cities and their main attractions and scenic spots, which is not only pretty rare, but is another way this show is unique here in China.”
Although “The Amazing Race: China Rush” is shot in English (with Chinese subtitles), they are expecting at least 70 percent of the audience to be Chinese, says Ransdell. "Every city really wanted to show off so we were able to do things and film in places no-one has been able to before which will be interesting to a wide race of people and audiences."
One of the other main draws for local audiences is that this is one of the first local reality TV shows to leave the studio.
“The vast majority of reality shows in China today are studio-based,” Ransdell explains. “You can control the lighting, you can control the staging, you can control every aspect of the production to the point where it's hard to tell if it's a reality show or just your garden-variety game show. What separates ‘The Amazing Race: China Rush’ from almost all the shows on the air in China is the complexity of shooting a live race outdoors throughout five or six locations in one city, sometimes two cities in one episode. This really is reality TV and Chinese audience will appreciate the distinction.”