‘The Amazing Race’ Team Breaks Down Fall Surprises: Expanding to 13 Teams, Swapping Seasons and More (EXCLUSIVE)

“The Amazing Race” executive producers Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri, along with host/EP Phil Keoghan, had already shot a Season 35 of “The Amazing Race” last year, and it was mostly edited and ready to go. But then came a detour: Early this winter, CBS approached both “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” about expanding to weekly 90 minute episodes for fall 2023. Rather than try to retroactively try to pad an additional half hour on to those already-shot episodes, van Munster, Doganieri and Keoghan decided to hit the road again and take full advantage of filming supersized installments.

And that’s what they did, earlier this summer, with a new cast of contestants. Now, that just-completed race will instead serve as “The Amazing Race” Season 35, premiering September 27. The hour-long edition filmed in fall 2022 will still eventually be seen, but it has been pushed to become Season 36, running at a later date.

“When Bertram and I started scouting locations in March, we went out there knowing that we were going to have these mega-sized episodes,” Doganieri said. “We wanted to put more locations in, include more creative. We’re going to let the story play out a little more, get to know the relationships between contestants a little better. We always feel that there’s so much that we don’t get to show in the series because we have to cut it down for the one hour episodes. Now we have a little more breathing room.”

Viewers will also notice several more tweaks this fall, starting with the fact that there are 13 teams — the largest group ever in the history of the “Race.” (There were 12 teams in Season 34, but the standard has been mostly 11 teams through the years.) That expansion coincides with the decision to get rid of any non-elimination legs. Now, if you’re the last team to hit the mat with Keoghan, either the leg isn’t over and you’re still racing — or you’re done.

“We like 13 teams,” Doganieri said. “It also gives us the possibility to do no non-eliminations. There is an elimination every leg of the race. There’s no security blanket anymore. You will be eliminated if you’re last every leg of the race. Again, it’s upping the ante, keeping the energy up. There’s no downtime.”

Returning to the show this year: Commercial flights, the first time teams have been back racing through airport terminals since the COVID pandemic forced a switch to charter planes in the middle of Season 33.

“Right out of the gate, they’re fighting to get on the best flights,” Keoghan said. “That aspect is something that the viewers missed. I’m definitely excited to have that element back, that randomness, the ability to change up the lead. Instead of just guaranteeing them a comfortable seat on charter.”

Added van Munster: “It was a little luxurious, I must say, to fly with a chartered jet. Although the results have been phenomenal. But we were also hampered a little bit by the distance we could fly because of COVID. There were only certain places we can go. Politically the world changes all the time. So, we’re very careful where we can go or where we can’t.”

One new spot this year is Slovenia, which “The Amazing Race” had previously never visited. “It’s a really spectacularly beautiful country,” van Munster says. “It’s almost like a fairytale place. It’s stunning, and we shot really good shows there.”

Keoghan said he had also never personally been to Slovenia before. “That was a real highlight for me,” he said. “It’s a very young country. It’s the beekeeping capital of the world. It’s just magnificent. The mountains, the lakes, the culture, the people. Teams absolutely loved it, and they will be getting to see the country in a very unique way, let’s just say, from the sky at some point.”

With the move to 90 minutes, the producers also brought back a few previous show elements, including the “Express Pass” — in which one team can try to leapfrog to the leg’s finish line by completing a special task.

“We wanted to up the ante, and the Express Pass takes a risk,” Doganieri said. “Do you want to go find the location where the Express pass is? It’s something that pulls you away from the game and it can be time consuming.”

Also back: The “U-Turn,” in which teams can potentially force another team to go back and complete another task — stalling their momentum and potentially throwing them to the back of the pack. “We wanted to keep them on their toes at all times,” Doganieri said. “Do you U-Turn a team, do you not you not U-Turn a team? We have a little twist that’s happening with the U-Turn so that’ll be something that’ll be revealed during the season. It’s a little bit different this time around. When it happens, you’re going to be very surprised.”

Keoghan hopes the decision to pair a 90-minute “Survivor” with a 90-minute “The Amazing Race” — which will fill CBS’ entire Wednesday night primetime block — might bring some new viewers to the show, even 35 seasons in.

“I think to have it start at 9:30 p.m. and then pull people over into that hour, you’re going to get a different kind of momentum,” he said. “Now people are going to be like, ‘OK, Wednesday night’s our special night.’ I’m keen to see what’s going to happen. The thing that excites me the most about the 90 minutes is that we can open things up a little bit. Why this place, why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we’re sharing this experience with the teams.”

Here’s a first look at “The Amazing Race” Season 35:

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