Race Across the World, BBC One, review: refreshing reality TV that seeks adventure rather than fame
Race Across the World (BBC One) is a reality show in which, refreshingly, the contestants are in it for the adventure rather than 15 minutes of fame. This is the third series, after a hiatus during the pandemic. If you haven’t seen the first two, don’t fret: no prior knowledge is required.
Five pairs have to get from point A to point B without recourse to a smartphone, credit card or anything more sophisticated than a paper map. This year’s journey is across Canada, from Vancouver on the edge of the Pacific Ocean to St John’s in Newfoundland, on the Atlantic coast. It’s a 16,000 km trip via various checkpoints and they must make it without getting on a plane, on a budget that matches the price of the air fare (£2,498.13), with the winners being awarded £20,000. This involves an awful lot of hitchhiking.
Could the programme single-handedly spark a revival in people standing on service station slip roads holding a cardboard sign? Drivers seem a lot more amenable to picking up strangers in Canada, although the presence of a TV crew may provide some reassurance that they’re not letting an axe murderer into their car.
The race part of Race Across the World is by far the best bit – it’s genuinely nail-biting when they’re scrambling to get somewhere before a deadline (the last ferry off Vancouver Island, for example), and when it reaches the final leg your stress levels will be off the chart. But the show also mixes in some travel experiences, which sit awkwardly with the purpose of the show because if you’re racing to get somewhere, should you really be making a detour to see some bears, however good bears might be?
And then there are the contestants, whom we will (mostly) grow to love. Here we have two father-daughter pairings: Monique and Ladi, and Claudia and Kevin; 40-something friends Tricia and Cathie; married couple Zainib and Mobeen; and brothers Marc and Michael. Because this is a TV show, you know that there will be Issues. Claudia gets weepy because her parents divorced when she was 12 and Kevin wasn’t around much. Marc is an anxious soul who moved back in with his mum two years ago and now spends his time gaming on his Xbox.
TV executives always want programmes to be about “the journey” but in this show, the actual journey provides the real fun.