For 32 seasons, The Amazing Race has captivated American audiences. The adventure reality game show, which has been hosted by New Zealand TV personality Phil Keoghan since it first hit the airwaves, follows contestants racing around the world in teams of two. As they go, they’re given clues to their next location, as well as tasks they must complete in order to move ahead in the race. In addition to bragging rights, the winning team is awarded a whopping $1 million. Over its 19 years on the air, the show has visited 89 countries and won an impressive total of 10 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Reality TV Competition Series.
While every season of the reality show has been action-packed, some have brought the show to new levels of excitement and tension. Here, we’ve ranked the ten best Amazing Race seasons since the show’s inception back in 2001.
Season 9 premiered on February 28, 2006. The destinations spanned five continents and included 10 countries, including first-time trips to Greece, Oman, and Japan. Among the competing teams were a pair of sisters, two life-long friends, a mother and daughter, and a couple that had been married for 40 years. Close friends BJ and Tyler, who were frequently referred to as “the hippies,” were also a memorable (and somewhat out-of-place) pair. They managed to make it to the final rounds despite a number of big obstacles, including bad luck, iffy navigation skills, and continuous conflict with the other teams.
Season 12’s adventurous contestants traveled a total of 30,000 miles across 10 countries. The competing teams featured many colorful characters, including a Goth couple, a pair of married ministers, a grandfather and grandson, and a brother/sister duo. Also of note was the fact that the finish line was in Gridwood, Alaska, which was the first time the final stop was not located in the contiguous United States. But it was the drama between lovebirds Nathan and Jennifer, who hoped to repair the problems in their relationship by joining The Amazing Race, that became the real centerpiece of the season.
Premiering in November 2011, Season 19 included the show’s first visits to Indonesia, Malawi, Denmark, and Belgium. It was also the first season to introduce the Hazard, which is a penalty given to the team that finishes a Starting Line task in last place. Kaylani and Lisa, a pair of former Las Vegas showgirls, were forced to face the Hazard, which called for one of them to perform an indoor bungee jump to receive their next clue. Kaylani performed the brave feat, becoming the first and only contestant on The Amazing Race to complete a Hazard task. Another notable team was Ethan and Jenna, who had both been winners of the reality show Survivor.
This all-star season featured returning contestants from previous races. They included a pair of Harlem Globetrotters from Season 15, two former NFL cheerleaders from Season 14, a couple of cowboys from Season 16, and an engaged couple from Season 14. Also featured were popular pair Kent and Vyxsin, the Goth couple from Season 12. One of the most heartbreaking moments of the season came when Kent and Vyxsin missed an important flight to China after spending 10 hours trying to get to the airport.
Debuting in the fall of 2002, Season 3 saw contestants travel a total of 41,000 miles across 13 countries in four continents. It was the first season to have 12 teams instead of the traditional 11, and was the only season in which every country visited was new to the series (excluding the debut season, of course). The new territories included the UK, Germany, Austria, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Among the notable players were modeling twins Derek and Drew, married parents Teri and Ian, close friends Flo and Zach, and long-distance couple Michael and Kathy.
While its contestants traveled 40,000 miles and visited 10 different countries—including first-time trips to Peru, Botswana, Turkey, and Jamaica—Season 7 was the first season of The Amazing Race not to circumnavigate the globe. The teams included an on-again, off-again couple, a former POW and a beauty pageant queen, a mother/son duo, and a pair of roommates. It also featured Rob and Amber, an engaged couple who had fallen in love while competing on Survivor: All-Stars. The couple, who had many exciting moments during Season 7, ended up getting married soon after the show aired. They went on to appear on Season 11 of the show, The Amazing Race: All-Stars, as newlyweds.
The very first season of The Amazing Race was a bit different from the ones to follow. But there was still plenty of excitement and adventure as the teams traveled 35,000 miles through nine countries, four continents, and 24 different cities. The inaugural cast of contestants included friends Rob and Brennan, frat brothers Kevin and Drew, and engaged couple Paul and Amie. Also notable were Frank and Margarita, a married couple who had separated but were considering getting back together, and Dave and Margaretta, a married couple that had been together for 40 years.
Season 17 premiered on September 26, 2010. In addition to being the first season to cross the Arctic Circle, it included first-time visits to Ghana and Bangladesh. There were also no married couples in the mix, which was another first for the series. But perhaps the most notable thing about Season 17 was that it featured one of The Amazing Race’s scariest—yet ultimately hilarious—moments, when contestant Claire Champlin accidentally launched a watermelon bomb directly at her face, "right in the kisser!" The incident, which became known on the internet as the "watermelon headshot," quickly went viral and became a heavily shared fail video clip.
Airing in the summer of 2004, Season 5 required teams to travel 72,000 miles—the longest route ever featured on The Amazing Race. It included first-time visits to a number of key countries, including Canada, Egypt, Russia, Argentina, Tanzania, and the Philippines. The colorful contestants included a formerly engaged couple, a pair of twins, a military dad and daughter, and a couple of self-proclaimed “bowling moms.” Season 5 also featured a very difficult (and memorable!) Roadblock—in order to get their next clue, one member of each team had to eat two pounds of caviar (a.k.a. fish eggs) in one sitting. This task was especially difficult for dating couple Christie and Colin. To say Christie had a tough time chowing down would be putting it mildly.
Season 2’s contestants traveled 52,000 miles in 28 days, crossing eight different countries in five continents. In addition to first-time trips to Brazil, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, it was also the first season to visit South Africa as a Pit Stop. The teams included a pair of grandmothers, a couple of former roommates, a mother/daughter duo, and two sisters. But what really made this season so amazing was the incredibly exciting footrace between Chris and Alex and Tara and Will. To this day, it’s still the closest finish in the show’s history. Caution: The video below spoils the winners!