Here's how Racing Across the World works. Five teams have to get from London to Singapore, the farthest distance from the UK within road or rail. Each racer is given the pound equivalent of the cost of a one way flight from London to Singapore, about 1,100 pounds or $1,900 Canadian. So each team has a total of $3,800 Canadian. And with that money, they have to get from London to Singapore without flying and without a smart phone To make money, teams can find work along the way. Old school travelling, like when my wife and I went to Spain. And Thailand. Those many road trips across the US and Canada. That punk rock tour my band did in the 90s.
It is, at the core, a basic race. There are five checkpoint cities along the way, which makes up each leg of the race, that have to hit, sign in and rest for 36 hours. One or two cities along the way may be elimination cities, where the last team to arrive is going home. And that's it. No tasks, no roadblocks, no detours, U-Turns, Face-Offs, Yields or any pre-planned activities that may or may not reflect the place you're in. Sure, you can decide to partake in an activity related to the area you’re in, but it's going to cost, in time and money. There's not even an on-camera. There's Scottish actor John Hannah (Agents of Shield, The Mummy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, etc.)r but he doesn't greet teams at the checkpoints, describes the tasks, does the task, is never seen at all (though I haven't yet seen the last episode yet). He's just the narrator, though an excellent one at that.
People looking for a more frenetic, controlled and sometimes contrived TV show like TARC et al, may not like this show, but I'm pretty sure fans of the TAR format will enjoy because it has all the things we love about TAR(C), but without the many things we don't.
There is a tendency in TAR(C) to focus on the tasks, the weird things the producers find for racers to do while on the race. And lately, especially in the Canadian version, the tasks seemed to contrived, unrelated to the area they are in, and while some may be fun to try, some are very similar in their execution. Like the plethora of choreography, memory, puzzles, daredevil, eating tasks. Last season of TAR Canada was notorious for the number of choreography tasks. There is also a desire for the producers to be in almost total control of where and what the teams do. I get why they want to keep track of everyone and to keep everyone near each other but again, that adds to the contrived nature of this so-called reality TV.
Race Across the World has none of that save for teams have to get to a certain hotel in each Checkpoint. How they get there is completely p to them. They place no limits on the type of transportation they take, except flights. They place no limits on which cities or routes they take. They don't have to travel the same way other teams do. The best example of this and how this show would be different from TAR(C) was at the start. Teams had to leave Greenwich at 2 pm. So all five teams were lined up at the starting line, leaning in, ready to go, like the always fun start of any TAR show. But as soon as the clock struck 2, each team when into a totally different direction. There was no running to their bags to get the first clue, grab a car or head to same airport or train station. Each team went their own separate way to find whatever mode of transportation they felt would work best. It was a brilliant shot, at the start, and set a great tone for the entire race so far.
There is also a huge tendency, especially in the latter season of TAR and TARC, to cast in a certain way. TARC has really used the model of thinking younger teams with a certain body type (super fit). There are exceptions but overall for TARC the average age and body fat index of the teams is getting lower and lower each year. There is also a tendency for theme seasons, like Millennials, Heroes and Second Chances. Season 7 of TARC is even bringing back 1 and possibly 3 teams from previous seasons. The US version likes to use pseudo-celebrities and teams from other reality shows like Survivor and Big Brothers. Real people are not considered good "reality TV" in these latter seasons that same way they were used in the earlier season of TAR.
One of the strengths of Race Across the World, at least for this season, is the casting. It's a highly diverse cast, not just culturally but in ages and body type. The youngest racer is Alex, at 20, part of a father son team that has suffered some estrangement in the past couple of years. Alex's dad, is Darren, 49, gruff, not just in attitude (though we quickly grows on you) but in his look. Then there's Felix and Josh, both 32 and business partners and friends. Third is another friend team, Natalie and Shameema, both 38 and stunningly attractive but not in a white bread supermodel way. The fourth team are the eldest team Sue (57) and Clare (58) life long friends. (Spoiler Alert if you read further)
Then Jinda (46) and Bindu (48), a married couple who own their own retail chain. Unfortunately, half way through Episode 1, they are informed that Bindu's mother's illness has taken a turn for their worse and they must bow out of the race. They are replaced by Elaine and Tony, 61 year old retired teachers. I'm pretty TAR and TARC casting (or the networks) would have complete conniption at the average age (42) of the teams. And average the rises to 44.5 when Elaine and Tony come in as replacements. This is not the age demographic considered hip and cool and based on recent casting, especially of TARC, not that ages that would suit that race.
But in Race Across the World the cast works because the cast are real people with lives and concerns and ages and looks that regular folks like us can relate too. There is no need to use tasks and other contrivances to create drama and story because each team's journey, map-wise and emotional-wise is strong enough to create drama and story on its own.
As I said, if you desire the more frenetic yet highly controlled pace of TAR(C) reality type TV, then this might not be for you. But if you are looking for some top-notch TV, not just another rehash of the previous with forgettable racers and tasks, then Race Across the World is fantastic. It's a purer, more real version or TAR(C), what these shows could be again if they brought the heart back, got rid of themes, and went back to casting real people. But they probably won't. Here's hoping they do another season of Race Across the World, maybe London to Cape Town. (Are Canadians eligible to compete?) Or maybe, if they keep the same tone and casting style, a North American version, from Alaska to Patagonia.