Adventure Racing vs The Amazing Race

I'm here to set the record straight. Too often when I tell people that I am an adventure racer, I get asked, "Oh is that like the Amazing Race?" Or when I explain what adventure racing is all about, the next comment is "Hey you should go on The Amazing Race." I usually scoff and say something like, "Eh those people on The Amazing Race wouldn't stand a chance in an adventure race." Of course I've only seen the show a handful of times so a comment like that is really a little unfair. So after reading about The Amazing Race a little and thinking about it, I realized that there are actually important similarities between the two, though my comment above probably still stands in a lot of cases.

Similarities between The Amazing Race and Adventure Racing


Team Aspect

This is one of the main similarities between the two. In The Amazing Race, there are teams of two people with a pre-existing relationship, often co-ed. In Adventure Racing, it varies a lot more, but the standard for bigger races is more like 3 or 4 per team and most are co-ed. Also many adventure racing teammates do have significant pre-existing relationships. I race occasionally with my wife and there are many couples, old friends, and family members who race together.

So the team make-up may be a bit different, but the important similarity is that teams must stick together. I'm not sure if teams are allowed to split up at all in The Amazing Race, but when I've watched it it seems that teams are always together. In adventure racing, this is almost always the case except for certain special challenges where the race director might want to temporarily split up a team. And of course the more important part is that teams are sticking together mentally and emotionally! There's nothing that'll ruin a race quicker than a bad relationship between teammates. And conversely, having a well-functioning team will enable you to complete certain tasks much faster than one person would be able to on his own.

Embracing the Unknown

In both adventure racing and The Amazing Race, teams are somewhat kept in the dark about what is coming up next. This creates an atmosphere of adventure and excitement for the competitors in both.

Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation

While The Amazing Race isn't nearly as extreme in this category as teams are often sitting down whether riding in a car or a plane, fatigue and sleep deprivation both play a definite part. In adventure racing, this really depends on the length of the race. In sprint races obviously sleep deprivation is not going to be a big factor. But in a multi-day expedition race it is huge.

Strategy

Strategy plays a huge part in both. While the strategy is obviously of a different nature, it can definitely affect the outcome of the race and you can move up in ranking above teams that are more skilled and athletic than you by having good strategy in both events.

Exotic Locales

The Amazing Race is usually held in a combination of exotic places with competitors traveling between them, sometimes flying all the way around the world. In adventure racing, usually the race is held in one location. Mechanized travel is hardly ever involved in a race, so teams are only going to get as far from the starting point as their legs and arms will take them. However many adventure races are held in exotic places, especially the prestigious expedition races. Most adventure racers will never do these types of races though as they will usually stick to races of 24 hours or less that they can drive to.

Differences Between Adventure Racing and The Amazing Race


Entertainment Value/Drama

This is one of the biggest differences between the two. In The Amazing Race, teams and events are often chosen purely for entertainment value (which makes sense, because it's a TV show). For example, including a few dysfunctional couples in The Amazing Race seems to be the norm because they are entertaining to watch. Some of the contestants seem to even be a little mentally unstable or just plain bad people. And the challenges are often chosen for entertainment value rather than to test the abilities or strategy of contestants. For example, making contestants eat a lot of some gross food or find a clue that is hidden randomly in a certain place seems to be pretty common.

In adventure racing, race directors choose events to test specific skills or strategy of contestants. Sure there are a few special challenges that will just be for fun, but even they will usually have a skill component to them. Check out this page on examples of special challenges.

Athletics

Obviously this is a fundamental difference. In The Amazing Race, athleticism can certainly come in handy, but in adventure racing, which is primarily an endurance sport, you are going to have to run, bike, and paddle a certain distance no matter what and you better be able to do it or you're just plain not going to finish!

Skills

This is another big difference. In adventure racing, certain pre-defined skills are going to be tested - navigation, paddling ability, mountain biking, rappelling, etc. These are complex specific skills that can take a lifetime to master and will at least require a minimum amount of practice to become proficient enough in to do well in an adventure race.

In The Amazing Race, while most events are indeed tests of skill, they are not typically skills that require training before the race. In fact it would be impossible for most people to train for many of the skills that would be required as they often would require expensive specialized equipment, like positioning an ice fishing shack or driving a WaveRunner. As noted above, the events are often chosen more for entertaintainment value than anything else.

Transportation and Self-Reliance

A big difference between the two, The Amazing Race requires team members to continually travel around the world via plane, train, bus, car, etc. In fact it seems like competitors must spend 90% of the race sitting down being transported somewhere by someone else! What kind of race is that? In adventure racing, you will be biking, paddling, and trekking your way to each destination with the power of your own body. If you like to spend your days sitting down, then maybe The Amazing "Race" is for you.