Interview with the Amazing Race Asia Executive Producer Michael McKay

This weekend, I exchanged several e-mails with Michael McKay, the Executive Producer of the Amazing Race Asia in advance of the season premiere of the new season which takes place on AXN this Thursday.

I became a big fan of the show during the very first season which brought us the very first all-female team, Zabrina & Joe Jer, to win any version of the race.

Last season, I started doing episode recaps and got disillusioned with the antics of Marc & Rovilson, especially with their elongated winning streak, but was happy to discover that Adrian & Collin had won the race.

To give you a quick bio, Michael McKay is the Executive Producer and Director of the Amazing Race Asia. He has worked on the Amazing Race 2 and 4, as well as being a Consulting Producer for TAR 5 and 9. Michael is the President of activeTV, based in Australia and Singapore. He has been a prolific producer of sports programming in Australia and Asia.

One day, he happened to visit Fang’s Bites and left a comment which pleasantly surprised me. Since then, we’ve exchanged friendly e-mails and Michael agreed to do an interview with me which was conducted over the last few days. In the interview, we preview the upcoming season, talk about the selection process, Kynt & Vyxsin from TAR 12 and what’s in the future for TARA.

Here are the results of our e-mail exchanges:

Fang’s Bites: I’m glad that you agreed to do the interview. Much appreciated.

Michael McKay: My pleasure, I enjoy reading your episode recaps of the series, they’re often very funny (and honest) .

FB: Let’s start off. You’ve said in press interviews that this is the toughest race of the three you have produced. Without going into specifics, what made the race so tough?

MM: Well, as the Network has already said, it’s going to be a tough Race. The toughest Asian Race, sure, but as tough as any US Race too I’d say.

The first few legs in particular are punishing and we’ve thrown in a few surprises for the viewers. Take nothing for granted 😉

How tough will it be? Right from the very first challenge. And the second is a biggie. As soon as you see it you’ll know what I mean.

And the second episode is no push over. I’ve never seen so many bruises in a Race let alone a single leg.

One of the big factors in this series is the heat and humidity. It’s there all the time. Sometimes it’s hard for that to come across on TV but believe me, it gets to the teams when there is no let up.

Series 2 was a big sprawling effort, I think we actually covered more ground than the US version. This time around we’ve gone for a tighter, more punishing route. The way the route is set up for this series I would best describe as “relentless”. We wanted the teams to be always on the go, to be always challenged.

FB: You mentioned that there are some bruises in the early legs. Did it concern you that any of the racers might have to quit because of injury? I remember in TARA1, Laura (of Laura and Andy) had a problem with her knee and had to see a doctor, but continued onward.

MM: Yes, Laura’s injury was touch and go but she seemed to make a miraculous recovery because they won the next Leg of the Race.

Injuries are always a possibility, given how physical the Race is. Most of the time they are sports style injuries such as knees, ankles, hamstrings, things like that.

Teams having to quit because of injuries is always a possibility but quite rare really.

The Race was tough, and the second Leg sure is a bruising affair but we work hard to ensure a safe Race (but not a walk in the park).

FB: In the Racers Revealed program, Kynt & Vxysin from TAR12 were seen. Was that an actual audition tape? Did they want to be in TARA? And what would have happened if you chose them for TARA?

MM: Yes, it was Kynt & Vxysin and they really did apply. They were very keen to be involved but we felt it would be unfair to have a team that had already raced (and raced very well I might add) and also we take teams from Asia. But if we do an All Star version down the track you never know.

FB: Is an All Star edition something you’re thinking of in the future?

MM: Possibly, the fans seem quite keen (they’ve been talking about it since TARA1 which I thought was perhaps a bit premature).

FB: There are a lot of celebrities in this particular race. Was there a reason for their selection?

MM: I think the term “celebrity” is a bit over used, especially in relation to TARA. Last season the Dancing Moms were labelled celebrities but I would not have agreed with that label for them.

My interest is in making great TV that entertains our viewers so I’m not really interested in the celeb factor to be honest.

I’m sure the network is happy to have them, for the promotional value they bring (and I think they push the so called mactor factor quite hard), but unless they make great TV a celeb is of little use or interest to me.

I’m not really aware of all of the actors, models, TV celebs etc. in all of the different Asian markets so if we see an application video that grabs us then that’s great. Celeb or not.

You could argue that they are going to be more comfortable in front of the camera and that’s a start but not the whole story. We knocked back a big celeb team last season because that was all they had going for them.

Vince and Sam aren’t celebs, AD and Fuzzie aren’t – they just really interested us. I love regular folks in the series but most of all I want teams that will entertain us (or in the case of M&
amp;R last season, really annoy the hell out of [you]).

And the Beauty Queens? If they don’t entertain you I’ll give you your money back.

FB: Yes, Marc & Rovilson certainly annoyed me, but in your opinion, how did they (I won’t use the names I gave them, LOL) do in drawing interest to the series?

MM: They proved very popular with viewers but I’m okay that fans love some teams and not others. That’s one of the things that makes the show interesting; the different characters.

FB: (Host) Allan Wu has been compared to TAR host Phil Keoghan (unfairly in my view). How do you think he has evolved as a host for TARA?

MM: Allan was always going to be compared to Phil in the first season and we were aware of that and talked about it. The viewers needed to get used to him and he needed to settle into the series. He was good last year and by the end of this season it will be hard to imagine anyone else doing it. He’s relaxed into the role and is loving it, which comes across. Funnily enough, he has a similar sense of humour to Phil and, like Phil, is a really nice guy who goes out of his way to help his crew.

FB: Would you ever have both Phil and Allan at the mat together?

MM: I’d love that, it would be a lot of fun and they’d get on well I think. They both share a similar sense of humour.

FB: What led you to produce TARA?

MM: I was producing on the US version and (TAR Executive Producer) Bertram van Munster asked if I could take on the Asian version. I met with the AXN folks, we hit it off and now we’re completing the third series.

FB: How much have TAR co-executive producers Bertram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri helped you in producing each season?

Bertram is a partner in our Asian business and he loves being involved. We’re good friends and we talk all of the time. Elise too is a close friend, since we first went scouting the Australian outback for the second series.

They are always there when I need advice or want to talk through an idea. They are just so passionate about the Race and have been great supporters for us.

Unfortunately, as it has turned out, the Asian and US Races have been run at the same time so they haven’t had a chance to come on an Asian Race. Our two production teams ran into each other at an airport last season which was funny.

FB: I did hear of this. Did the two teams exchange stories, and was there any consideration of possibly having a crossover between the two shows?

MM: A cross over started out as a joke when we were getting bored waiting for teams somewhere. Elise Doganieri and I would discuss the possibility of their being another franchise somewhere and the teams from that Race going to our Clue box and ending up on our Race by mistake. We thought that was really funny until a few years later, I’m off doing the other franchise and it occurs to us that it is a real possibility. Then it wasn’t as funny anymore.

FB: You’ve hinted at a TARA4 on the AXN website. How close is that to a reality and what can we expect for that season?

MM: I haven’t even started seriously thinking about TARA4 so I don’t have a route worked out or anything like that.

Executive Producers aren’t universally known for their humble approach to talking up renewals but I’ve been around long enough to know that the viewers will ultimately decide if we do a fourth season (by virtue of the ratings). That said, the series has been an outstanding success in Asia and I do hope the fans will love this third series, enough to warrant a fourth.

FB: Will TARA eventually make a stop in the US? Last season, the show did go to Europe adding a new dimension to the game. Could we see a trip to the US in the near future?

MM: For sure! No reason why not.

FB: This is a totally self-serving question, but how did you become aware of my recaps for TARA2?

It is a self-serving question. You’d make an excellent Executive Producer.

We get an auto search of the internet when The Amazing Race or Amazing Race Asia pops up.

Your recaps gave me a laugh so I bookmarked your site and often return to see what you are up to.

FB: Thanks very much, I appreciate that. I’ll do my best to keep you laughing this season.

MM: Thanks, I need it sometimes 😉

FB: Will TARA eventually air in the US? I’ve had to find creative ways to watch the show, do you see TARA airing in the US sometime soon?

MM: For creative read highly illegal 😉

I don’t think so to be honest. The TAR and TARA series are both distributed by Disney who do a great job but I can’t see any of the non-USA versions screening in the US.

FB: How about a DVD set? I know TAR had two seasons released on DVD, are there any plans for TARA?

MM: I’m not on the merchandise side but I’m not aware of a box set coming out anytime soon.

FB: Of the first two seasons that have aired, what was your favorite location to visit?

MM: Oh gosh, that’s tough. I loved the Monkey Forest in Bali (although the monkeys thought the clues were bananas and kept eating them). I love going to India, it makes for great TV.

New Zealand gives us great adventure. Prague was beautiful, we all loved that.

Actually one of my absolute favourite locations comes up towards the very end of this series so more on that another time.

So many places and to think AXN are actually crazy enough to pay me to do this job (lucky they never visit your site so they won’t see this).

FB: How supportive has AXN been to the show?

MM: Just in case they DO visit your site I will say they are brilliant to work with.

Actually, that’s the truth. I love working with the folks at AXN and Sony in LA. They have become good friends and they make doing the series a pleasure (most of the time).

FB: What do you think of spoilers and people who manage to determine the route of the seasons? Do you feel the spoilers add interest to the race or do you feel they hinder the interest?

MM: I’m amazed at the lengths people will go to and in a way it is flattering that they care so much. There are times though when I feel a spoiler really does spoil it for the viewer. Sometimes they go over the top. And, of course, the spoilers don’t always get it right (and some get it sooooo wrong).

FB: Do you have producers at each location?

MM: Yes, absolutely. This adds up to a lot of producers.

It’s like a travelling producers’ convention

FB: Do you try to have a storyline for each team ahead of time and then edit them to try and fit that story?

MM: I know some shows may pre-determine who is the nasty character, who is the sweet one and so on. But under the pressures of the Race, Teams can go from sweet to nasty in the blink of an eye so you see people at their best and not so best. It’s better to keep it real because the Race is what it is, which is why I think viewers like it. It has endured as a reality show that is, in fact, reality.

FB: Thanks again for doing this, Michael.

MM: No problems and I look forward to your recaps

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.