The Amazing Race is going back to the start.
To celebrate the 10-time Emmy-winning show's 25th season (premieres Friday, 8/7c, CBS), Race returned to New York City, where Season 1 began and ended, for the kickoff — and the start line in Times Square was open to the public for the first time ever.
Meet The Amazing Race 25 teams
"I've always been an advocate of not keeping where we go a secret," host Phil Keoghan told TVGuide.com before production began. "What we do — keep that a secret — but as far as locations, when we're talking about where we're going, the better it is for the show. I think the viewer is more excited knowing where we're going, and they can't wait to see what happens in that place than they would be if they didn't know. It's kind of a great teaser. If we're going to Spain, you start thinking of all the things we could do in Spain. So I'm very excited to see our fans in Times Square. It's the perfect place to do it."
That's where I found myself at 3 a.m. Saturday, May 31, waiting for Phil to tell me that the world is waiting for me — or you know, the 11 teams. I've watched The Amazing Race since it premiered 13 years ago and it's been almost half that time since I've been able to stay up that late (I know, I know). Sadly, no one could come with me or was willing to sacrifice their beauty rest in exchange for standing in the middle of an intersection in the middle of the night for two hours. But I knew I had to go. This was the closest I'll ever come to being on the show since, among plenty of other things, I have zero upper body strength and I — don't kill me, Phil — haven't driven stick since I was 16 (I would, however, be game to eat anything).
Here are eight behind-the-scenes tidbits from the start line:
1. They're amazingly organized
I mean, you have to be to film 12 episodes around the world in three weeks, right? I arrived around 1:15 a.m. at Duffy Square in Times Square, where there is already a throng of fans lined up on one side and cameras set up on the other. I sit down in the seating area in front of the fans, where the crew then drops off a bunch of meticulously labeled boxes. Inside them are each team's backpacks and Race fanny packs, which I resist from reaching out and touching. After checking the names again, they deposit all of them at the top of the stairs of the ticket booth at Duffy Square and spend 10 minutes placing the first clue on top of each of them.
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2. Practice makes perfect
Phil arrives to vociferous cheers around 2 a.m., and by this time, the crew and I have moved to the other side of the Square. He greets the crowd, taking selfies with some of them, before saying hi to the crew and me. I wish him a happy birthday (no, it was not planned for the Race to start on his birthday) and he tells me not to fall asleep. After about 10 minutes and makeup touch-ups, he rehearses and films coverage of his stand-up and intro speech to the teams — even his patented "Go!" arm swipe — which is when everyone hears the new twist: The Save, an immunity pass awarded to the winners of Leg 1. While Phil does his thing, co-creator Bertram Van Munster gleefully snaps photos and talks to him after each take.
3. Birthday boy
During one break, the fans break out into song and sing "Happy Birthday" to Phil. My phone craps out on me and I was only able to record the very end.
4. Amazing alums
Rumor around the Square is that Luke, of Season 14, 18 and 24, was there and has been walking around the block. We spot him hanging out with the fans and other Race alums, Season 1's Frank, and Season 13's Andrew and Terence. Bertram strolls over at one point, and they all take a bunch of selfies.
5. Obey your thirst
The Amazing Race crew, is, well, pretty amazing. Everyone is incredibly nice, friendly and upbeat, and they keep me awake with Gatorade aplenty. One of them even asks if I'm hungry and offers to get me a snack. I inexplicably say no, thanks, which I immediately regret.
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6. They're here!
At 2:45 a.m., a caravan of taxis drops off the teams and filming officially begins. Cue a sea of flashes. Almost every crew member who's not actively working is taking photos, which I find incredibly endearing. At one point, co-creator Elise Doganieri asks me to move over so she could take a picture of the teams. "Are you a P.A.?" she then asks me. "No, I'm press," I reply. "Oh, then you go right to the front!" she says, pushing me in front of her.
7. Not so fast
After an interminable 15 minutes, it's time for the Race to begin... or so we think. Phil teases us all with several false starts while they film more coverage of the jittery teams, and I strangely find myself nervous too. But then again, I once gave myself knee tendinitis from jumping and down while watching the Olympics. (TMI, sorry.) When he does finally send them off, it's a total "is this real life?" moment. The most mind-boggling thing is seeing all the camera and sound guys haul ass carrying all that equipment. I can barely get out of bed without straining a muscle. The first clue (spoiler alert!) directs teams to the finish line of Season 1 — Flushing Meadows Park in Queens — and you can immediately discern the pretenders from the contenders. Several Racers stop on their way down to ask fans and Frank where the Season 1 finish was. I just hope Frank didn't tell anyone to take the 7 train.
The start from my vantage point:
The sleek, TV-ready start:
8. The aftermath
"Well, what do you think?" Phil asks me. I say I loved it and inquire about The Save, but he won't say any more. He then goes over to the fans and happily greets and takes selfies with every single one of them for the next half hour — not exaggerating here. We take a photo together before he leaves to catch the production crew's flight to Leg 1 in the Virgin Islands, and I ask him if he wants to make any changes to his predictions for the elimination order, which he had given me two days before. "Nope!" he says. "We'll see how wrong I am. I always do terribly. It's impossible to predict. Part of the reason I suck at picking is why the show works. The [team I picked leaving first] could end up the winners and you can use that to prove how bad I am at predicting!"
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So without further ado, here are Phil's predictions for this season's elimination order. Bookmark it, print it out, do what you need to do so you can, as he says, "make fun of me in December."
11th: Keith and Whitney
10th: Shelley and Nici
9th: Dennis and Isabelle
8th: Lisa and Michelle
7th: Adam and Bethany
6th: Amy and Maya
5th: Tim and Te Jay
4th: Brooke and Robbie
3rd: Misti and Jim
2nd: Kym and Alli
1st: Michael and Scott
Click here to see more behind-the-scenes photos from the start line.
The Amazing Race premieres Friday at 8/7c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)