Traveling down America's infamous Route 66 in an RV initially sounds like a great way for a family to spend a relaxing vacation together. However, throw in over-the-top challenges that, if lost, could cost your family $100,000 and you have the not-so-relaxing competition that is NBC's "The Great American Road Trip." Premiering tonight, the reality series pits seven families against each other with one family eliminated each week until the last one standing walks away with the cash prize. Host/comedian Reno Collier talked to our Jim Halterman last week during a press call and explained how the family-centric show will work.
First up, how did the potential contestants apply? Families who vied to be picked for the show "would make a video," explained Collier. "[The families] basically chose wherever they wanted to video themselves... they would be at their house or they would be somewhere close to their house. They would go out, they would explain, �Hey we're whoever their name is,' where they're from, what their interests... they would just define their own family in their own words, and what I thought was hilarious because they're all fired up because they want to be on TV."
Collier clarified that it wasn't always the most vivacious or lively of families that were chosen to compete. "They're all different. The families come from every region of the country and some of them are really excited, some of them are kind of laid back." He also added that producers wanted to keep a sense of reality with the families they chose. "It was a great group as far as it's not a bunch weirdoes, you know what I mean? It's not like just out of control character people, it's real families."
Collier knows more than a little bit about long road trips since he's been taking his blue collar stand-up act across the United States and regularly opens for popular stand-up Larry the Cable Guy. However, the manner in which the family would behave during the competition often surprised Collier. "I've been a touring comedian for 13 years [so] my favorite part of the show was watching the families [be] forced to get along. I mean they don't have cell phones, the kids don't have video games and they're in those RVs. So my favorite part was watching them come together. Where I thought they would explode and they would come apart, they actually got closer together."
In terms of his own days on the road, Collier lamented that maybe some lively competitions along the way would spark some excitement at a time when age may have caught up with he and his fellow comedians. "The past three-and-a-half years I've been on tour with Larry the Cable Guy and that's all on the tour bus and stuff like that. The thing is it would have been crazier if it were ten years ago. But now we're all married and have kids and it was really kind of lame. My friends would come out and be like, �Oh man, the tour bus! We're going to blow it out!' And they get in the back and there's like spit cups and a couple of beer bottles and like an empty pizza box. We're all chubby and too tired to do anything fun."
While Collier may miss the past craziness during his own time on the road, on "The Great American Road Trip" the adrenaline comes from the challenges. In fact, Collier share that he was surprised that the $100,000 prize wasn't the sole motivator for the families to want to win week after week. "As the show went on," he said, "the money wasn't even a part of it. Everybody wanted to finish the vacation. And I don't know if that's because most people can't afford right now to get an RV and travel Route 66 with their family and let them get to see basically the entire country." In fact, Collier said that the fear of elimination had a more personal component. "It was more the family trying to work together to continue on their vacation to make it to the end."
That said, "The Great American Road Trip" is a competition and the series is more than merely seeing which family reaches a destination first. Unlike shows like "The Amazing Race," though, this series is not about speed. "It would be illegal to take families and stick them in an RV and be like, �Drive as fast as you can from Chicago!' It wasn't a race at all. They'd all go down Route 66 and then we'd stop at like iconic landmarks like the Archway in St. Louis or the Grand Canyon. Then once we stopped they would compete in different kinds of challenges to try to stay on the vacation. And then every episode somebody would have to... their vacation would end and that's kind of where it became more about the vacation than money or prizes or anything."
"Unbelievable!" was how an excited Collier described one particular location of the journey which happened to be the starting point for "The Great American Road Trip" � the Chicago Cub's Wrigley Field. "It was really weird because I'm a huge baseball fan. [The producers] take me into Wrigley Field and they're like �Okay, you're going to start in center field and you're just going to start walking towards the pitcher's mound. And then while you're doing that a helicopter is going to fly over top and they're going to be filming you while you're doing it and you're not going to see anybody else in here.' So I'm kind of out there in my brain acting like I'm getting called out. Like they're calling out the right-hander and I'm coming out of the outfield to the pitcher's mound."
When the cameras started rolling, though, Collier's feeling of being overwhelmed did not disappear. "I was so nervous when I started walking and the helicopter flew over. I was going like, �Please God, don't let me trip and eat it out in the middle of Wrigley Field. It almost feels like -- and this is going to sound like I'm out of my mind -- but it almost... you know when you go to a place that's really old and has that much history and it's empty and the flags are waving from 100-whatever years ago when they last won the pennant? It felt ghostly almost."
Overall, the stocky Collier said he was thankful for the hosting duties even though, he jokingly admitted, "this is the first show that I've ever hosted like this and aside from my chiseled looks I wasn't exactly sure why they picked me."
"The Great American Road Trip" begins its cross-country adventure tonight at 8:00/7:00c on NBC.