Despite the plethora of reality TV available to us today, there's a uniqueness to The Amazing Race that captivates its dedicated audience. The show sees teams of two travel around the world to complete a series of challenges in the hope of winning $250,000. Every year the cast is incredibly diverse, and the variety of challenges — such as hiking, oyster shucking, map reading and interacting with foreign locals — is meant to cater to a range of skills and abilities.
Yet, in its five seasons so far, the Australian version of The Amazing Race has never been won by a woman. It makes you wonder — does the design of the race and its challenges somehow advantage male participants? Do women face sexism or cultural differences when travelling overseas on the show? Have female contestants felt discouraged because of the lack of female victory over the years?
"I can't tell you why females haven't done well," Sophia Mogford, the Head of Entertainment and Executive Producer from Eureka Productions, the production company behind The Amazing Race Australia tells Refinery29 Australia. She seems to then hint that 2022 could be the year we see changes to the gender dynamic on the show.
"I can tell you that females do do well," says Mogford, revealing "there's some very strong females in the mix this year who will surprise and inspire men and women around the world".
"I think that's an important note to say," she quickly adds, "that The Amazing Race is a leveller. So, it's not necessarily women inspiring women. It should be people inspiring people."
This season features 24 women and 16 men who form either all-women, all-men or mixed teams. Going off these numbers, the odds appear to be in the favour of women claiming victory at the end.
But Mogford says that even when her team is casting for the show, gender is somewhat of an afterthought.
"I don't cast really with the male and female in mind. It's really to do with the character," she explains. "It's super important to me that we have a really diverse cast that represents all people from all walks of life."
Last season saw an all-female team come very close to winning when personal trainer Ashleigh Lawrence and model Amanda Blanks placed second behind Brendon Crawley & Jackson Dening.
Referring to this example, Mogford says "it could have gone either way right up until the [final] moment" and it demonstrates physical challenges are not necessarily a deterrent to women climbing to the top.
"The Amazing Race is a leveller. So, it's not necessarily women inspiring women. It should be people inspiring people."
SoPHia Mogford — Executive Producer
Reading maps is one of the tasks that male (and female) contestants often trip up on, along with activities that involve interpersonal skills with strangers or are more mentally demanding.
"When we look at the challenges that are involved in The Amazing Race, we make sure that they play to different strengths," she says.
"I'm not telling you anything you don't know when I say physically men are stronger. But then it might be that those particular players rush through things, or their geography or patience isn't so good."
Australian-based Sudanese model Malaan Ajang competed on The Amazing Race last season alongside close friend, Tina Kuek.
Ajang says "the challenges are fair and consistent" and that even though a woman hasn't won, the show's representation of female contestants is positive.
"Women have come close to winning before, it just hasn't happened yet," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
The model also says that not seeing a female winner in the past didn't discourage her from applying, or prompt her to prepare for the show in a specific way.
"To be completely honest, Tina and I had no game plan or preparation for the race," she explains. "We were just so thrilled to live out one of our childhood dreams. From watching previous seasons we were confident that we would smash it — nothing looked too difficult for the female power."
For Crystal Tawil and Reem Chokr — who are competing on The Amazing Race's sixth season this year — knowing a woman hasn't won before made them "one hundred percent" more determined during the competition.
"You root for other women as well, especially knowing there are other all-female teams," says Chokr. "It was pretty clear, we want an all-girl team to win."
Women have come close to winning before, it just hasn't happened yet.
While Survivor has shown how strong, assertive and politically strategic women can be, and MasterChef has created a space for women in food to thrive on their own terms, it seems The Amazing Race doesn't necessarily carve out a mission specific to gender like other reality shows have managed to do. But perhaps that's OK.
As The Amazing Race kicks off this year, perhaps we can appreciate the competition for what it is — an opportunity for all contenders (regardless of gender) to embrace the adventure, travel and fun without having to meet any additional expectations.
The Amazing Race Australia premieres on Monday, August 29 at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10 Play.