Review by James Lindorf
It has been nearly twenty years, but racers are once again ready to take their marks and try to survive the latest Eco-Challenge. The Mark Burnett (Survivor, Amazing Race) produced show jumped around a few networks in its original run but has found a new home on Amazon. “World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji” picks up where the previous iteration ended in Fiji, but this time it is going to be harder than ever before. Hosted by Bear Grylls, this 10-episode adventure premieres on Amazon Prime Video August 14th.
The ultimate race is comprised of 66 teams from 30 countries racing on minimal food and sleep for 11 days across 671 kilometers (400 miles) of varying terrain, including mountains, jungles, and oceans. Each team includes four racers, and a support member, who will have to push past their physical and mental limits if they even hope to finish the race, let alone win. Everyone knows who the strongest teams are, but the great equalizer is the environment. It doesn’t matter how much stronger and faster team A is than team B if they can’t navigate half as well. Heading down the wrong path or river could cost you hours if not force you out of the race entirely. Some teams are wholly comprised of terrified and optimistic rookies, but several Eco-Challenge veterans are returning as well. Including Team New Zealand, who won the last race in Fiji back in 2002.
Even as the original show bounced from MTV to ESPN, to The Discovery Channel, and finally to USA, it was always about human perseverance and competitiveness in their purest forms. That is something that hasn’t changed in this new version; what is different is how stunning and immersive it has become. The last 18 years have seen tremendous advances in filming quality and capabilities. When the show first premiered, no one had even dreamed of shooting in 8k from a drone; you controlled with your smartphone. World’s Toughest Race is continuously gorgeous. From the ocean and rivers to the jungles, every second is worthy of being a postcard or your computer’s background.
The images may be breathtaking, but it is the human drama that will keep you turning in episode after episode. One team has a member suffering from heatstroke, the captain of another team wrecks on his mountain bike; an entire team is trapped in a ravine during a flash flood caused by a tropical storm hitting the island. Those are just a few of the natural obstacles blocking their path, but some teams came in at a bit of a disadvantage.
A member of team Unbroken is deaf, a result of a rocket attack in Afghanistan, which makes late-night communication with her team difficult. She has to be able to see their faces to read their lips. Then there is team Endure which is led by a father and son. They were initially going to be on separate teams. The dad was going to join his old team, the Stray Dogs, and the son was going to find other elite adventurers to make a run for a top spot. Those plans changed in a hurry when the dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Running the race together suddenly became more important than what place they finished.
Then there is team Onyx the first all African American team to compete in any adventure race, let alone the vaunted Eco-Challenge. Team Khukuri Warriors is lead by a pair of twins who are the first women from India to compete. Nearly every team has a chance to be profiled and share the reasons that they are putting themselves through this, and none of them mention the $100,000 first prize. It is almost always about personal fulfillment or the desire to inspire others that fuel each team. The show doesn’t end until every team that can crosses the finish line even if the winner has been decided for hours, if not days. As some stories wrap up because their race is over do to injury, forfeit, missing a deadline, or finishing the race, there are plenty of teams left racing against the clock. It will always be worth turning on to look at and dream of days when COVID is over, and we can all travel abroad again.
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