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USA Insider Race to Survive: New Zealand

Race to Survive Creator Explains Crafting a "New Sport" with Survival Adventure Series

Coming in first isn't even the biggest challenge on Race to Survive: New Zealand.

By Caitlin Busch
Harvest and Cook: Race to Survive: New Zealand Episode 4 Highlight

For as long as competition reality shows have been thrilling audiences, competitors have been lacing up their boots and racing across our screens. Race to Survive: New Zealand is the latest entry to throw competitors into the wild to test their mettle. But most reality shows provide competitors with regular food and supplies. Not Race to Survive: New Zealand.

How to Watch

Watch new episodes of Race to Survive: New Zealand Mondays at 11/10c on USA Network

That's what makes Race to Survive so unique — the survival aspect.

Not Just Racing to the Finish But Surviving in the Wilderness

"There are [other] races out there ...  but combining the two is really where it gets interesting and so, in order to really execute on that idea, you have to make the survival component as valuable as the racing component," showrunner Jeff Conroy told USA Insider. "So, with that as our mission, we looked at it and we’re like, 'OK. So, we want people who are good survivors and good hunters and gatherers and good at, like, taking care of themselves in a primitive environment to have an advantage, right?'

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"That is a skill just like being a strong runner, being a good climber, being a mountaineer," he continued. "Being a survivalist has an equal skill, so the best way to do that was to eliminate giving them rations, eliminate food ... but you have to work within reason, right?"

Creighton Baird holds up an egg in Race to Survive: New Zealand

The behind-the-scenes creators following Race to Survive's intrepid teams of two aren't going to let anything genuinely horrible happen to the competitors. But, say, going 10 days without food? Very much on the table, as some of the teams have already learned this season.

"Characters on Alone could not do what we’re doing [physically] ... because they just wouldn’t have the calories to do it. So, the idea was [to] make them pay for it. Every calorie [in Race to Survive] is gonna cost you. It’s either gonna cost you in your skills at finding it, or it’s gonna cost you time and effort to go off-course and get it."

Cutting Off Calories

Conroy is referring to a new addition to the race in Season 2. This season, rather than provide food from the get-go, teams have the choice to go (often wildly) off the main course in order to find hidden food caches. And while a couple of granola bars might not seem like much to the average viewer, for these contestants, it can make all the difference. 

"So, you know, calories versus place in the race kinda became the idea. It was more pure," Conroy explained. "I really felt like the contestants felt stronger about their authentic experience, you know? They’re in it. They’re thinking about, 'I’m hungry, but I have to go up that mountain. Do I stop here? But those guys can pass me. It adds a layer to the game, it adds a layer to the decision-making."

But, Conroy said, he and his team wanted to make sure the options never felt "contrived." They needed the audience to buy into the desperation and question what they would do given the choice between a better spot in the race or food.

RELATED: Race to Survive Creators Tapped This New Zealand Legend to Craft Season 2: "The GOAT"

"If you’re an audience member, you’re going, 'Well, I’d get that food,' or you’re going, 'Well, they’re gonna fall behind. Why are they going for that food?'"

Steffen Jean-Pierre and Mikhail Martin sit together in Race to Survive: New Zealand

Conroy even admitted that he and the other creators themselves were often baffled by the decisions the teams made. "Like, 'Why are you going for that? Why aren’t you –?' ... it’s just like watching your favorite [sports] team. And you’re cheering them on. You’re like, 'Why did he throw the ball? Why didn’t he run?' It’s the same kinda vibe and [it] worked better than even we had hoped, which was cool. It was really cool."

RELATED: Emilio & Heather Say Race to Survive: New Zealand Made Them Ready for the Apocalypse

A "New Sport"

"Race to Survive, in some ways, is a completely new sport," Conroy said.

And he knows that sounds "lofty," but where's the lie?

"The greatest athletes and competitors have to also be smart and have to have a lot of skills. They have to know how to adapt to the situation," he explained. "If your opponent does one thing, you need to know to do another, and that really plays out, especially this season in Race to Survive. So in a way, it is a new sport to watch."

New episodes of Race to Survive: New Zealand air on USA Network on Monday nights at 11 p.m. ET/PT.