Race Across The World might not have the Bushtucker Trials of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! or the physical demands of SAS: Who Dares Wins, but there is no doubt it is one of the toughest shows on TV – both for the contestants and the production team.
Now three seasons down and with a batch of famous faces about to embark on a new adventure in the first ever celebrity edition, most viewers are familiar with the rules of the BBC show by now.
As the title suggests, five teams of two have to race across the globe, from a designated start point to a finish line in another country over the other side of the world. The teams cross various checkpoints along the way, and are not allowed to use a smartphone or credit card, with only the cash equivalent of a one-way economy air ticket to their destination to pay for all travel, food and accommodation.
But what about all the rules that we don’t know about, and the planning that goes into making the show? Well, allow us to lift the lid…
1. The routes are tested out before the show
If you thought bosses just came up with a route for the contestants and hoped for the best, you’d be wrong. In fact a whole team of people test it out beforehand.
Line producer Maria Kennedy told Radio Times: “You get some really brave people out on the road for a couple of months [from the production team]. [They tell us], ‘Here are going to be the sticking points. This is quite tricky. This bit is amazing.’”
She added: “They do it all on a budget as well so they’re not like going out and spending loads of money and having a great jolly. They’re literally looking at the budget and seeing if it’s possible to get by on less than 50 quid a day.”
2. But for the producers, the trip is perhaps even harder than for the contestants
According to the Guardian, only two producers go on the recce, only one of whom knows the route and which way they are going. “The other person has no idea and that person is in charge of making the decisions,” series producer Lucy Curtis said.
3. A number of other unseen people travel with each team
Each time travels with two members of the production crew, a local fixer and a security adviser, but they apparently keep enough distance to “make the trip feel authentic”, the Guardian reported.
Executive producer Mark Saben also told BBC News that a medical support vehicle also travels an hour or so behind the teams in some countries.
4. There’s also another team of people involved in capturing all the B-roll footage
Mark Saben told Broadcast that a director of photography and a series director follow all the teams, capturing the atmospheric camera shots that showcase the destinations.
He explained: “Not only did they shoot those big sweeping drone shots that capture the beauty and scale of their surroundings, but also the on-the-ground shots that convey the hustle and bustle of travelling, so viewers would feel immersed in the competitors’ journeys.”
5. No-one is allowed to interfere with the teams’ decisions
The production team have to stay quiet, even when it is clear that the teams are making mistakes.
Mark told Broadcast: “How they made their journey was up to them. This meant, as a production, we had to react to their decisions, however nonsensical.
“It was a nightmare for production management, as the competing contributors decided how and where to go. You cannot underestimate how challenging the journey could be at times.”
6. And none of the production team get special treatment
Praising the embedded crews, exec Mark told the BBC: “They had to do the same journey as them, sleeping alongside them on the bus, they weren’t given a five-star hotel. So they were almost like a family, with its ups and downs.
“And while we had done recces, the teams found bits of the world which were totally surprising.”
7. One of the production team was pretty unlucky during the making of the first series
Having done the initial recce before filming began, executive producer Mark Saben told BBC News that “one of the poor sods had to do the actual trip again”, this time with the real contestants.
“He was very stoical and didn’t tell them until the very end, though. As much as possible, we wanted it to feel like a dry run,” Mark added.
8. A lot of planning goes into each series
Prior to filming, exec producer Mark said the first series was “a year in the making”, but added to the BBC: “It’s all very well doing theoretically, looking at timetables and things. But until someone does it for real, you don’t know where the difficulties might lie.”
Things like visas and vaccines “for every conceivable country” were sorted in advance.
He added to Broadcast that they also “research every likely bus and train option, cost and connection”.
“We drew up protocols that set rules for how the teams could hitchhike, travel at night and cross borders safely,” he added.
9. While the contestants are not allowed to use phones, there are exceptions
“If there was a significant issue at home, we might allow them to speak to a nominated person but we really try to keep them in the bubble as much as possible,” Maria Kennedy explained (per Radio Times).
10. Bosses do not create any job opportunities
While the pamphlet of job ads is created by bosses, all the jobs are 100% real.
“We don’t go to any of those places and say, ‘For the purposes of the show, can you provide this kind of service?’” BBC commissioner Michael Jochnowitz said, according to Radio Times.
“Those are real jobs, real places, real money or accommodation and things like that so again, because they don’t have access to a phone or the internet, we basically just give them a guide of potential opportunities in the area.”
Executive producer Mark Saben added: “We use as a rule of thumb, it’s like what you’d find on a board in a hostel or something like that so we want [it] to feel absolutely as authentic as it possibly can be.”
11. The contestants are also not given any extra food off camera
With budgets extremely tight, eating can become a real issue for the teams, and while you might think they are being given extras off camera, this is not the case.
Series two winner Emon Choudhury – who triumphed with his nephew Jamiul – said they would often ask strangers for food and water.
He told the Daily Express: “I lost over a stone, a stone and a half and the same with my nephew, he lost quite a bit as well. The food was an issue.
“You always think on these TV shows, you get a sandwich off-camera or water or a little snack here or there but no, it wasn’t like that!”
Series one winners Tony and Elaine Teasdale also told the Telegraph that during one leg, they “wouldn’t eat unless somebody fed us or we found super-cheap street food”.
“We’d buy little packs of rice for 20p each, then eat those for three meals a day. I went down a dress size from 14 to 12!” Elaine said.
“Water is more important. We took chlorine tablets, so we didn’t have to buy bottled water. That saved both money and time because we never had to find shops. Kebabs in Europe, rice in Asia, and we never bought any drink.”
12. There was a reason why season three was contained to one country
While season one of Race Across The World saw contestants travel from London to Singapore, and season two saw them begin in Mexico and end in Argentina, the third series was contained to just one country – Canada.
This was because when the show was filmed, there were still many Covid travel restrictions still in place, which would have been an added complication for the teams and the production.
The third season and the celebrity edition were originally planned to air much earlier, but production was pulled early into the pandemic.
Season three winners, Tricia Sail and Cathie Rowe revealed that they first applied for the show in 2019, but didn’t hear anything back until 2021 because of Covid.
Celebrity Race Across The World airs Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC One and iPlayer.