To make it to the finale of The Amazing Race, the all-star teams have had to become toymakers in China, bartenders and DJs in Kuala Lumpur, canoe builders in Borneo, garment workers in Sri Lanka, gladiators in Rome, and housekeepers in Switzerland. They are certainly not one-trick ponies, but to win the million dollars on Sunday, May 18, they will have to master the art of illusion and escape in a Sin City Roadblock created by magician David Copperfield before time disappears.
Yahoo TV caught up with the maven of misdirection via telephone to discuss what goes into putting a little presto in primetime.
How did this collaboration with The Amazing Race come about?
They were coming to Vegas and it is a CBS show. For the past 20 years, I've done specials on CBS where I escaped from a burning raft going over Niagara Falls, was escaping from Alcatraz, or hanging from burning ropes 10 stories in the air. I survived by the way. I made it. So I have a lot of experience doing timed physical challenges, so it was kind of a natural fit to design something of that nature in collaboration with the Race team.
How long did it take to create the illusion for the show?
We worked for two months on something that usually takes two or three years to design and perfect. It was not so easy. Every illusion in my show is two years of work. But what was really challenging about this was that we had to create something that could be seen three times, one after the other. I have never had that problem before. When I do an escape, it is only done once. When you buy a magic kit, it says only do it once. If they see it again, they could lose interest or figure out how it works. So to create something that could be repeated three times was a new challenge for us. It was very rewarding when it worked out as it did.
Was there concern, considering you took much less time than usual to perfect an illusion, that something could go wrong?
It was a big concern because these contestants did not have months, weeks, or even days to train. They had to learn on the spot in real time and survive a really death-defying physical challenge. That's a real concern because they were really putting their lives in my hands, and imagine if something goes wrong. It didn't go perfect or as planned, but you will have to tune in to see what I mean.
Please describe the challenge and the inspiration behind it.
All the good parts of all the good things that I've done in the past, I tried to include. There's elements from the Niagara Falls challenge, although there is no water involved, and many of my best escape challenges. It is a timed physical challenge. It is part illusion but mostly physical. We're testing their endurance, physicality, cleverness. It is something that could be truly death-defying.
How'd the teams do? Did they stumble, nail it, or a combination of both?
It was really great to watch three different personalities and groupings of people, and each one is different. There are stumbles. Things did not go perfectly. Some people are better at it. These people are really focused. They really want to win and succeed. And yet with escapes, you have to be careful and calculated. You can't rush and you need to be detailed. If you panic, it's over, and in this case, it could cost them their lives.
Anyone show an aptitude for magic? Did you find an apprentice?
Let me see how they work on air.
What do you think would be the hardest thing about racing around Vegas?
Usually I'm in my theater doing 600 shows a year, so I am not ever racing around town, and I don't know anything about the other challenges that they did in town. But it is a huge, fast-growing city and an amazing place. It is a very welcoming place. The taxi drivers are the lifeline of this place, but I don't know if they used them at all.
Did you get more interested in Race as a part of it? Rooting for someone?
It is a great show, but I made sure not to watch because I didn't want to know anything about the contestants and didn't want to develop a favorite. They were all very different. Every single team had different dynamics and personalities.
Do you think you could win The Amazing Race?
I'd win for sure. I am trained to think like that. I love cognitive and physical challenges.
What would be your downfall?
I'm not a great driver.
"The Amazing Race" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS.