Last week, prior to the start of Eco-Challenge Fiji, I wrote a post saluting the return of this legendary race. In that post, I noted that the website for the event hadn’t been updated with much information, but that it was sure to get refreshed soon with live tracking, team profiles, updates from the course, and all of the other things we’ve come to expect from a modern day adventure race. How foolish of me to think that producer Mark Burnett and his partner Bear Grylls would want to share what was happening with the rest of the world. As it turns out, with the rights to broadcast the race sold off to Amazon, everything Eco-Challenge related is on a strict media lockdown.
Back when Eco-Challenge was an an annual event—circa 1995-2002—the Internet was still picking up steam and live-tracking an adventure race was still out of the question. In fact, when I worked on Primal Quest Montana in 2008, we were the first major event to include such an option. That’s all changed today, as almost every race of a sizable distance offers the ability to to see where the teams are on the course at any given time. But with the new Eco-Challenge set to air sometime in 2020, Burnett and Amazon aren’t about to spoil any surprises. This is somewhat frustrating for fans of adventure racing who are eager to know more, but at the moment there isn’t much to share.
Here are a few tidbits that might be of interest however:
From what I can gather, there are roughly 66 or so teams competing in the race, including some very well-known racers from back when the original Eco-Challenge was a big deal around the turn of the 21st century. Those racers include several past champions, some of which have come out of retirement to compete in this new incarnation of the race. Where they are all at on the course right now, and how well they are racing, remains to be seen. Because there is no live tracking, its impossible to know exactly what’s going on. And having spoken directly with some of the producers for the event, I can tell you that no one is giving anything away.
The course itself is reportedly 417 miles (672 km) – give or take – in length. Those of us old enough to remember Eco-Challenge Fiji from back in 2002 no doubt can recall how difficult and demanding the terrain and conditions were at that event. That particular race was a memorable one, and not just because it was the final Eco of that era. At the time, no one thought that it would return, but it is a testament to Burnett’s love of the sport that he has brought it back now.
While we don’t know exactly when Eco-Challenge will arrive on Amazon for the rest of us to watch, we do know that it is being covered like no other race before. There are reportedly 35 television crews onsite, using state of the art cameras, drones, and other technology to capture the race as best they can. Covering 330+ athletes spread out over a massive course is not going to be easy, but this version of Eco is likely to offer the most complete coverage imaginable. It is also being shot in 4K and HDR, which means the landscapes, course, athletes, and the suffering will look amazing.
I’d venture to say that this will probably be the best coverage we’ve seen of any adventure race in history. After all, with Amazon money behind it, Burnett can do more than he ever could in the past. Besides, since the last Eco-Challenge back in 2002, he has gone from a fringe television producer to a mega star. That translates into more resources at his disposal, with or without Amazon. It also means, long-time fans are probably in for a treat.
Really, at this point, that’s about all we know. I’m sure a few more details will emerge through the AR grapevine once the event is complete, but it seems Burnett and Grylls are intent on making this a “made for TV” race that will keep us all in the dark until the show is ready to air. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for those of us who have been waiting for years for Eco-Challenge to return, it is a bit frustrating.
Patience is a virtue I suppose and it seems like this Eco-Challenge will be worth the wait.