Back at the end of 2021, The Amazing Race was able to accomplish the impossible. After taking a nineteen-month hiatus, they were able to make a show centered on international travel actually finish out in the middle of the pandemic. And that success gave the Emmy-winning series the confidence to do it all again only several months after they finish.
“We weren’t really sure how that restart was going to go,” host Phil Keoghan tells Parade. “We had waited long enough to make sure that we could fulfill our number one promise, which is to keep everybody safe. And then we did. And that gave us the confidence to go out another time and do what we just did.”
Indeed, when Amazing Race fans get to check out season 34–premiering September 21 at 10:00–it won’t look that much different than what just aired earlier this year. COVID protocols put in place still exist, most prominently the branded charter plane that will fly teams together to their next destination. Though Keoghan did indicate that he believes the show will get back to teams traveling on separate flights at some point. But the show will still conduct a strict testing regime for cast, crew, and locals that the racers come into contact with, something worked to perfection over the course of season 33.
The pandemic run of season 33 invoked many comparisons to “old school” Amazing Race, specifically the greater reliance on self driving and no twists that have served to change up the formula in recent seasons. That will also carry over into season 34, including the absence of one of the show’s biggest elements in recent iterations: The U-Turn.
“I don’t know if it’s been that big of an element contentwise over the years,” Keoghan says. “I mean, a lot of U-Turns have have just been passed over. There’s a lot that don’t get used for one reason or another. That was just not part of the focus of coming back this time. We had other things to focus on.”
As Keoghan alludes to, season 34 will certainly not be without a couple of tweaks here and there. Like its predecessor, The Amazing Race 34 will largely stick with a European route. The season will start in Munich (the first time the show has a starting line outside of the United States) before traveling to Austria, France, Italy, and Spain. But excitedly, the show will hop continents to film in a brand-new country for the American version: Jordan.
“It came at the right time in the season,” Keoghan says of their time in the Middle Eastern country. “I haven’t been there since the late ’90s. But it instantly reminded me why it is such a spectacular place to go. It really is one of those once in a lifetime places. We had some mind blowing challenges. And to get to Petra and to share that with people who have never been there before, it’s awesome.”
Additionally, for the first time in the show’s history, the season will consist of no non-elimination legs (though the jury’s still out as to whether every episode will end in an elimination). And a twelfth team was added to the cast for the first time since back in season 15 to make the competition that much more intense and high-stakes.
“Non-elimination legs have always divided our fans,” Keoghan says. “Some people have liked them over the years and people other people don’t. I personally like the all-or-nothing approach. I like that there’s no second chance for for you at the pitstop. It just ups the stakes. It definitely added another layer of tension, especially with twelve competitive teams.”
Below, Keoghan gives his thoughts on this season’s teams, including who stands the best chance to take home the million-dollar prize at the end of it all. The Amazing Race 34 premieres on Wednesday, September 21 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
Related: Everything We Know About The Amazing Race Season 34
Aastha Lal and Nina Duong – Engaged from Marina Del Ray, California
Well, I actually have a history with Aastha going back years and years ago. We ran into each other at an airport. And she was a fan of The Amazing Race. And we had a conversation early on. And she wanted to be on the show. I said, “You should apply sometime!” I love these two. Both very smart. really connected. There are some couples where it’s like one and one makes three. They’re just savvy, smart, and fun.
They just want to come on the race and they want to have a great time. They were just absolutely beaming at the starting line. And I love that I love when people really want to be on the show. They see it as a real privilege to be on the show. Nothing makes me happier. Because you want to share that experience of The Amazing Race with a cast who are really, really excited about being on the show. And there is literally nobody more excited to be on the race than Aastha.
Abby Garrett and Will Freeman – Childhood sweethearts from Birmingham, Alabama
Abby could barely speak at the starting line. She was kind of gasping for air, because she was so excited about being there. And again, having fans on the show, and having people who are just so deeply passionate and excited about being on the show, how could you not want to share the race with them and share the world with them? So at the starting line, Will had to kind of take over for Abby and be like, “She’s a bit excited right now. She’s having a little difficulty talking.” (Laughs.) They’re young, but there’s a lot of maturity between the two of them. And they just really care about each other really. A lot of love this season.
Aubrey Ares and David Hernandez – Ballroom dancers from Los Angeles, California
There are times when Aubrey stares into David’s eyes, and you can see she’s completely lost in his eyes. I lose them. They come to the mat, and I’m trying to talk to them. And I see she’s just drifting away into his big, warm, loving eyes. They’re very affectionate with each other. They’ve got good moves, not intimidated about any dancing challenges. And there’s always challenges on The Amazing Race where we’ve got people moving, so no trouble in that department at all. And then David’s technical got skills as a helicopter mechanic. So those are good skills to come into The Amazing Race with, because we always have things where you have to make stuff and work with your hands. So yeah, they’re fun to watch. Really giggly and fun.
Derek Xiao and Claire Rehfuss – Reality romance from Los Angeles, California
Again, we’re talking major love fest here. I would say definitely a little cocky coming into the show at the beginning, just because of having been on another reality show in Big Brother. So there’s definitely a lot of confidence. But I think they would be the first to admit that they were a little humbled by the race after getting into it and realizing, “Oh, okay, this is a little bit bigger and maybe harder than we thought.”
Emily Bushnell (L) and Molly Sinert (R) – Long-lost twins from Ardmore, Pennsylvania and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
I don’t know if we’ve ever had a story like theirs. At the starting line, I do a quick whip around and get everybody to just do a quick introduction of themselves. And I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a story that has evoked as much of a reaction from fellow competitors as Emily and Molly’s story. It’s the wildest story. And, for me, what I loved seeing was that we’re literally watching them get to know each other. And they look like each other and they are literally related, but are learning about each other. And we get to see them spend more time together than they have in their entire lives. It’s all happening in front of a camera. And it’s pretty special to watch.
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Glenda and Lumumba Roberts – Newlyweds from Norcross, Georgia
A lot of self-deprecating jokes. They’re the first to laugh at the height difference. They are hysterical together. I think he said something like, “You’ve heard people say, ‘They go low, we go high’? We can go low and we can go high!” (Laughs.) So they’re really fun together and a lot of love. I mean, you don’t see a lot of pairings like this, where the female partner is that much taller than the man. So it’s quite striking when you see them. But they’re they have a great sense of humor about the whole thing. And they are definitely out to have a good time.
Linton and Sharik Atkinson – Father and daughter from Brooklyn, New York
They’ve been big Amazing Race fans for a long, long time. They’ve watched the show together. Linton has come through a pretty tough upbringing. He struggled as a young man and then had some good mentors that helped get him on track. And now, he’s an assistant principal. And he’s tried to provide Sharik, his daughter, with a life that he never had.
There’s definitely a generational gap in terms of understanding the hardships of life. He’s lived it, and he’s trying to avoid his daughter having to live some of those hardships. But I always love father-daughter relationships, going back to Ron and Christina. It’s an opportunity for those generations to come together and have a better understanding of each other.
Luis Colon and Michelle Burgos – Married from Miami, Florida
Oh my goodness. More love fest and more dancing and more great moves. You’ve got someone like Luis who’s got a real physical presence as a firefighter and is extremely fit. And, yes, a lot of staring into the eyes. I’m going to say that I lost them a lot of times in the interviews on the mats because they would just be staring into each other’s eyes. They have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the show.
Marcus and Michael Craig – Military brothers from Richmond Hill, Georgia and Alamogordo, New Mexico
Absolutely a force to be reckoned with. Both military brothers. Book smart and also street smart. They’ve got a lot of good practical skills. Hyper competitive. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody be as hard on themselves as Marcus. If he doesn’t do well in something, he beats up on himself pretty bad. I think it’s just because he’s so hyper-competitive.
Quinton Peron and Mattie Lynch – Former Rams cheerleaders from Pasadena, California and Vista, California
Think of two Energizer bunnies. They literally are bouncing off the walls like Tigger. They’re so excited and bouncy. It’s like Quinton has got springs in his legs; he just bounces around all over the place.
Rich Kuo and Dom Jones – Motivational speakers from Huntington Beach, California
Very spiritual, you’ll see them really want to tap into this the spiritual side of centering themselves, being in the moment, being present, and being focused. So with the stress of the race, they try to use those life skills that they have to be able to center themselves and be focused. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a team like this before, They sort of take this approach to the race where they literally slow everything down and almost go into like a meditative state at times to like focus and do the things they need to do.
Tim Mann and Rex Ryan – Golf buddies from Brentwood, Tennessee
Rex walks into the room and you know he’s there. He’s big, he’s larger than life. He’s hyper-competitive. He’s funny as hell. He’s with his best friend, Tim, who’s also very competitive and a power lifter. So the two of them bring presence. I expect to see them want to stamp their authority on the competition right out of the gate. They let us know that right away.
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