Student Media: ICTV's "The Race"

Reality show educates the producers and entertains audiences.  by Liz Getman ’09

Dave Newberg ’09 doesn’t normally like to get his hands dirty. But last March he spent a Saturday afternoon digging through trash at a junkyard in Binghamton, New York, searching for a car tire, hubcap, and interior roof unit. 

“It was a scavenger hunt of sorts,” Newberg says. “The first team to find all the items moved on to the next challenge at a much different type of place: an antique shop.”

As a contestant on the second season of ICTV’s The Race, Newberg participated in a variety of physical and mental contests, which also included navigating a pizza delivery route, driving soap box cars, and herding alpacas. He and his teammate, Matt Portman ’09, came in fourth of eight teams while making an impression on the other contestants as a pair of pranksters.

The Race is based on CBS’s The Amazing Race, a reality game show in which teams of two travel around the world collecting clues and performing challenges that represent the cultures and customs of each host country. The Race creator Peter Berg ’07 — who calls himself “reality-TV obsessed” — says he had wanted to make his own reality show since the day he first stepped onto IC’s campus.

“I watch only reality TV,” he says. “I seem to live vicariously through the people who compete in these games, so I wanted to produce my own.” Berg, who was a television-radio major, featured both obscure and well-known central New York locations, such as a famous diner in Rochester, the Ithaca Farmers Market, and the Syracuse and Cornell University campuses.

The first season, shot during the four days of fall break 2006, required a crew of 50, including camera operators, casting directors, and challenge coordinators. Its four episodes — each an hour long — featured six teams of two. The crew for the second season expanded to 70 with the addition of a fifth, two-part episode and two teams. 

“I wanted to have as many teams as I could, with a camera operator and sound person for each,” Berg says. “Usually you have a pretty reluctant crew for these types of shows because it’s a lot of work. But the crew had just as much fun as the contestants.”

Peter Johanns, associate professor of TV-R and manager of television operations for ICTV, says Berg’s commitment to such a comprehensive project “made for compelling television. To be able to pull together all the necessary components for such a show is a spectacular accomplishment.” And it was ground-breaking for the College station as well. “Nothing on this scale had ever been produced for ICTV,” Johanns points out.

The Race’s success is reflected by its fan base. It is the most-watched show on, with more than 20,000 viewers. It won the College Broadcasters award for best special broadcast and has received two Pegasys awards (given to community access programs in Tompkins County) for best documentary series and best educational access.

Newberg says its success is not surprising. “The crew members knew how to shoot a reality TV show,” he says. “They worked flawlessly with [contestants] to make sure the atmosphere was competitive. And [Berg] did it all without multimillion-dollar backing — that’s impressive.” Although no student has volunteered to take over Berg’s post and produce a third season, Newberg says he would compete again “in a heartbeat.”

Berg, who worked on more than 10 ICTV programs and created the ICTV website, recently moved to Los Angeles to work on reality TV pilots. He and his friends are also in the beginning stages of an event-planning business called Reality Rush Adventures, which hosts competitions similar to those on reality TV for large-scale parties or corporate get-togethers.

But his ultimate hope is to produce reality shows full-time. “I’m trying to come up with my own show and sell it while I’m still in my 20s,” Berg says. “I’d like to skip the whole ‘working-your-way-up-through-the-ranks’ thing. Very few people can do that, so we’ll see what happens.”