It’s been more than 20 years since the debut of “The Amazing Race,” and Utah has a bit of history with the CBS reality/competition show. A few contestants. A winning team. A couple of episodes filmed in the state.
And the members of one team went out of their way to insult Utah and the people who live here while they were racing through the state.
The Utahns who competed were:
• Sisters Lena and Kristy Jensen finished ninth (out of 11 teams) in Season 6 when they couldn’t find a clue hidden in hundreds of bales of hay. They spent eight hours looking. It was painful to watch.
• Father-and-son team Dave and Conner O’Leary finished eighth in Season 22. They were forced to drop out — Dave tore an Achilles tendon during one of the challenges and limped in a medical boot for two more episodes before he had to withdraw to undergo surgery.
A year later the O’Learys made a huge comeback, winning Season 24.
• Freestyle skier Jen Hudak and her teammate, Arizonan Kristi Leskinen, finished third in Season 30 when they blew a lead in the final episode and two other teams passed them.
And then there was arguably the worst season of “Amazing Race” — the “Family Edition,” which aired in 2005 and was filmed partly in Utah. Contestants raced from Lake Powell through Monument Valley, Moab, Heber City, Park City and into Salt Lake City. The pit stop for one episode was on the roof of Salt Lake’s Main Library.
It was part travelogue, showing off some of the state’s gorgeous scenery as teams raced by, and part character assassination, as one family — the Weavers — went out of their way to denigrate Utah and insult its citizens. “Whoever says the world is getting over-populated needs to come to Utah,” said Rachel Weaver, then 16.
“It’s like hundreds of thousands of miles of nothing at all,” added Rolly Weaver, then 14. “God must’ve spent a little less time on this state.”
“I’ve never even heard one thing about Utah,” Rachel said.
“I have,” said Linda, the Weaver matriarch. “Mormons live here.”
“For real?” Rachel said with a huge gasp. “No wonder it’s so ugly,” said Rebecca, then 19.
And later, during a biking challenge through rough terrain, Rebecca exclaimed, “I hate Utah! I hate it with a passion! If anyone says, ‘I’m from Utah,’ I’m going to say, ‘I am so sorry.’”
They were the team viewers (and fellow contestants) loved to hate long before they got to Utah. Lots of fans cheered when they choked in the final episode, finishing third and missing out on the $1 million prize.
In a series that has remained remarkably entertaining for most of its 32 seasons, the “Family Edition” was the low point. At least until production on Season 33 was shut down in February 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The race resumed in September 2021, with all sorts of precautions in place.
(Season 33 begins with a two-hour premiere on Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 7 p.m. on CBS/Ch. 2. Hourlong episodes air Wednesdays at 8 p.m. beginning Jan. 12. “The Amazing Race” will also stream on Paramount+.)
Two teams were unable to continue because of other commitments; the others flew together in a chartered jet from one country to another. The teams’ starting times at each leg were determined by how they finished in the previous leg, and challenges were adjusted to accommodate for COVID.
The show’s producers are being cagey about how they handled the exits of two teams, and didn’t want to give out details on other changes made because of the pandemic.
“I don’t want to give too much away,” said creator/executive producer Elise Doganieri said. “We did figure out how to do it without having more [episodes ending in] non-eliminations. We’ve figured out how to maybe extend the leg, things like that. We were very creative.”
“We’ve come back with some new elements that I think the fans are going to like, just because we’ve freshened up some of the ways we’ve done things,” said host Phil Keoghan.
Doganieri went so far as to say, “I actually think some of those adjustments were things that we could implement for the future. ... Maybe it’s improved in some ways.”
Creator/executive producer Bertram van Munster (Dognieri’s husband) said contestants were up for whatever the producers threw their way. “The people that apply for this really want to do this,” he said. “And even the people that had no idea what they’re getting themselves into want to do whatever comes in front of them.”
(Well, there have been a few notable exceptions. Including one contestant who refused to go down a six-story water slide in Season 15.)
The COVID precautions “The Amazing Race” instituted in Season 33 worked. While racing around the globe, none of the contestants caught the virus. Neither did any of the crew members.
“I know everyone came home safe,” Doganieri said. “And we can’t wait to do it again.