When CBS kicked off The Amazing Race on September 5, 2001, offering eleven teams of two the chance to circumnavigate the globe, it seemed destined to be a short trip. Not only was the show competing directly with Lost — the short-lived NBC reality show with a nearly identical premise, not the 2004–2010 ABC drama — but the bulk of the first season aired in the wake of the September 11 attacks, when few Americans wanted to travel, let alone see a bunch of total strangers reveling in it.
And yet, The Amazing Race endured, and then some. Even 23 seasons in, the series still plays much like it did at its debut: Pairs of competitors travel the world completing challenges that test their logic, strength, negotiation skills, courage, and ability to deal with culture shock. You’d think that seeing one American scream at a cabbie in a language the cabbie doesn’t understand would be enough, but every six months, some 10 million viewers flock back to see more contestants complaining about how India smells, marveling at being in Africa, and jumping out of airplanes. Oh, those crazy contestants!
To help us settle into yet another installment (the fourth episode of season 23 aired last night), Vulture took a look back at the 25 most amazing teams to have competed on the show. The question of why we did such a thing can be answered with Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous line: Because it was there. To gather important scientific data on the many teams that have participated over the years, we watched every episode from the show’s first 22 seasons — yes, all 260 episodes — and assessed each squad based on a mix of important traits: competitiveness (i.e., do they seem like they actually want to win, or merely be on the show at all?), success (how well did they actually do?), drama (and, more specifically, did they manage to overcome any internal squabbling?), audience enjoyment (they must entertain us!), and backstory (they better not have seemingly perfect lives). Being the winningest or the most lovable goes a long way, but TAR (that’s shorthand for The Amazing Race, for the uninitiated) fans root hardest for teams that have a little bit of everything going on.
And no, no one from season eight’s disastrous Family Edition made this ranking. Everyone sucked that season.