Bertram Van Munster is rushing to catch a flight to Las Vegas. But in the true spirit of The Amazing Race — the televised travel game he created and produces — he is also managing to conduct an interview about the season 11 All-Stars edition, which debuts Sunday, Feb. 18, on CBS. And so, while Mr. Van Munster is parking his car, updating his frequent flyer miles, giving his bag to the X-ray tech, and taking off his shoes to go through security, we pick his brain about the contestants, the race, and why this edition won’t be just another tour of the world’s taxi drivers.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: A lot of people heard ”All-Stars” and at first hoped it would be actual ”stars” — celebrities.
BERTRAM VAN MUNSTER: A lot of celebrities would love to do the race, but to put the schedules together is so complex, it’s not realistic.
Why does everyone think they could handle being on this show?
Everybody can relate to it. Everybody’s traveled. It looks easy. Every contestant we ever get on the show says, ”Oh, we’re gonna win this thing for sure.” It’s very difficult to do. It’s 24 hours a day. This is not a sightseeing trip. This is racing around the world. This is bigger than the Daytona 500. It’s not stopping.
So if it’s so hard, why do these people want to do it again?
I think it’s the American spirit. They want to be challenged to the max.
When deciding on the teams, we heard that the Hippies (from season 9) were very angry they weren’t asked to be on. When you put out word about this, were you flooded with old teams wanting to get on?
There were people that were sending us e-mails constantly and wanting to be on, but the reality is we had over 200 contestants over the years on this show. All these people have been chosen at one point because we liked them very much, so it was difficult for us to make these choices. But this is what we came up with, and we are all very happy with it. If the Hippies aren’t happy with it, there’s not much I can do about it. I don’t know why they would be unhappy. They won once and we paid them a million dollars.
Did you pick the teams because of their skill or charisma?
I think they’re all charismatic, from my perspective. David and Mary, Rob and Amber, Kevin and Drew, John Vito and Jill, they’re all strong people, but it’s a difficult thing to do. When you do an All-Stars, first of all you need to make it really original and really different in terms of physical strength and stamina, but also in terms of mental powers: What can we do with these guys to make their lives really hard and complex? So that all goes in the mix. I did make it physically very hard this time, and they did very well, all of them, all across the board. And David and Mary just got off the other race, so they had some previous training, they were in some sort of physical shape. Mary, she lost a lot of weight, so she in a weird way had an advantage over herself.
How long did the season 10 folks — David and Mary, and Dustin and Kandice — have between the two races?
Two or three months.
Did you repeat countries or challenges? The all-star Survivor went back to some favorite challenges.
No. With all great respect to Survivor, I don’t take their lead on this one. Our show is global. We go everywhere, so I have a tremendous advantage over coming up with really original ideas in the chaos of the world we know now. So as [people’s physical ability] goes down, the mental goes down too, and then you end up with an equal playing field. We went to the southern tip of Chile; we went to Mozambique, where not only do people not speak English, they don’t want to speak English.
Race alumni always become friends. One of the teams, Eric and Danielle, actually fell in love on season 9’s race.
We watched them fall in love on a plane from Sao Paolo to Germany. It was pretty obvious. [This season] some people looked at the other ones as stars, because they had seen them on television and they were really blown away that they could compete with those stars. It was almost surreal for some of those guys…. When they are all in the room together, they’re all very nice to each other. But once they’re out there on their own, they see the competition and it gets pretty vicious.
Speaking of vicious, everyone had very strong reactions about reality superstars Rob and Amber the first time. Did the same thing happen again?
Absolutely. People see those guys as serious competitors, no question about it. They really are a strong team. And people [outside the race] would get confused when they saw them, like, ”Have they been racing this whole time?”
Will the people from the early seasons stand on their own if you didn’t see their previous races?
If you haven’t seen them, they’re great characters, and they can really run on their own. And for a lot of people it’ll be interesting to see them again. Like Drew and Kevin, six years later, they’re still doing it.
You brought them back once before.
Yes, we brought them back to run the hot dog stand. Remember that? The family version? They are the frat boys, still. People don’t change that much. They’re humorous guys, they’re honorable guys, and they’re a lot of fun. And they’re real people.
And Danny and Ozwald: Team Cha Cha Cha?
Fantastic team: very smart, very shrewd, very kind, very ingratiating with people. They get anything done.
Do you think some of these guys will be better on TV because they already went through it once?
It’s very difficult. The camera does not lie, and if you have a camera around you 24 hours a day, your true personality will come out. The way we’re on their tails at all times, it’s impossible to fake who they are.
Uchenna and Joyce are the only past winners running the All-Stars race.
Amazing how they won the race, extraordinary. Wild to see how you can be a super-decent person and still come out right. The million is not that important to them, and I think it’s not that important to the audience, either. People like to see the competitions, and the humor and the madness of it all.
How do they get along with the other teams?
They tend to stay away, a little, from the rest of the teams, as a strategy.
Last season, a lot of people caught on to the shortcut of offering cab drivers money to lead them someplace. That made everything easier.
I spotted the same thing, and sometimes the distances are so tremendous and so uncomfortable that there’s nobody you can talk into taking that ride. There comes a point you don’t want to go any further. They say, ”Oh, come in the taxi with me, drive in front of me!” They say, ”It’s 300 miles, I’m not doing that.”
Over the seasons of the show, have you noticed when too many teams catch on to certain strategies?
Yeah, but as you may have noticed, in every show we have stopped it to some degree, and they come up with another version of it. We can say, ”You’re not allowed to have people in the car,” because you don’t know who these people are.
Is that a new rule?
No, but they have done it in the past. But now we do it in such a way that they have to circumvent that. One of the main things, as you said: They want to get taxis in front of them and drive them. The route is laid out in such a way that that’s very hard to do.
Are there plans for another Amazing Race, or is this the last?
You know, it’s up to CBS if they want to do another one. We’ve done very well with the show; last season we did very, very well. We expect to have really good ratings on this one, too.