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Michael Kyrios, Amazing Race psychologist

We probe the mind of a reality TV show shrink<br />
| Sep 11, 2006
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Psychologically, what was the worst problem for the last four teams in The Amazing Race 9?
I [wasn’t the psychologist for] Amazing Race 9 so I am like everyone else—an observer of the current race, therefore I can’t comment on that particular show. However the problems faced by the contestants are very common and that is why we undertake a very intensive evaluation process, including the use of not just interviews but also psychological tests. There are a couple of reasons why we do the tests, one of them being duty of care to the contestants. We want to make sure everyone on the show will be able to cope with the enormous stress and demands. There could be enormous stress that could lead to psychological problems. The psychological testing allows us to find people who are able to cope with the extremes of stress with minimum risk to their physical status.

Do you provide psychological care to racers at every pit stop?
Well, not necessarily. We do not want to intervene too much. Ultimately this is an adventure race and the beauty of it is to watch people going through an adventure. What you do need to make sure is that the production team is prepared for whatever might happen. They are prepared to look after people in an appropriate manner should anything happen. I guess the biggest problem that you encounter is not the meltdown but after the show. A lot of people become attached to the show; they put a lot of energy to it and become quite obsessed after they have to leave the show.

We need to make sure we know the people well, know how to deal with them and support them. We also need to predict how people will react in particular situations so we are prepared for their reactions. Television viewers want to be there to see the reaction but we want to make sure they are ok. I have provided consultant to production teams and direct support to people after the shows have finished. In the previous shows, I have given some people counseling who have lost a particular leg of the show and booted off the show.

Do all Amazing Race winners possess common characteristics?
I think the winners ultimately are the people who are creative, imaginative, and flexible. The flexibility issue is very important. You have to be fit but being fit and smart is not enough. You probably need to be able to go with the flow as we know you can have everything planned out carefully but something unexpected will happen. It’s that issue in being flexible in the decision making process when you see the dynamics of the task changing. Of course you have to be lucky as well. We’ve seen many episodes in the past where people winning were ahead but something happened and someone else will win.

In other words, control freaks don’t have much of a place in the race?
Well, not usually but it’s really interesting.

Most couples on the show who like to snipe at each other do not really last long in the race, yes?
Well that’s right. There is a particular characteristic the couples will need to have. They need to be able to help and support each other. The couples that meltdown in stressful periods are less likely to focus on the tasks. They then start to bicker at each other. You really need to focus on the tasks.

Could you tell us a little bit on the screening process you were involved in?
We used a range of strategies to access the applicants. Each part of the evaluation looked at something different. What was interesting was there was good consensus at the end of the day on who was going to be in the show. Of course the applicants had interviews with the production team, a doctor, and psychologist. We also had a very comprehensive application form and of course many people reported they had to put many thought on the form. There were many deep and meaningful questions. Also the applicants had to make a three-minute video of themselves.

In terms of the psychological testing, we used standard testing conditions, a standardized psychological test. The psychological testing picks up on personality traits and we can profile people’s strength and weakness. This sort of information can help predict what people might do in different circumstances. And of course we can help prepare for their reactions when they lose a leg of the race and have to leave the show.

We can also find out what kind of fears they might have and how they react to different type of tasks. And it’s interesting that in the past, the psychological information has added a surprising element to what we know about people. The producers will always come back to me and say “How did you know so much more about these people then us after spending so little time with them?” It’s really got to do with the psychological tests. These tests are really very useful in picking up and profiling people.

What are the top 3 things in an application that instantly eliminates from the show’s shortlist?
I think it’s a sense that people are prepared for what’s about to hit them. People who were not able to fill up the form properly or people who were not able to fulfill the requirements properly. These applications showed that people were not ready for the demands and that is the first thing. The second thing is the story that people did not have to tell. You need to have a story to tell. You need a strong couple who are together and have a strong message to communicate to the public. The other thing is the capacity to fulfill the demands. People have to be competitive. If they are not competitive, there is no way they can be there and engage the public.

What can you say about the bickering
Well that’s life. You know the successful couples are the ones who can resolve arguments are time efficient and in the manner that allows them to take advantage. If you’re having an argument, you can be sure that everyone else is having one. It’s that way on how you can negotiate those difficulties and work out a way that is advantageous to you.


The Amazing Race 10 official website

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