Emmy Circuit: Can ‘Drag Race’ Defeat ‘Amazing Race’ and ‘Voice’ Again For Outstanding Reality Competition Program?

Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series. We are now in the Emmy post-nomination phase, where we watch all the nominated Emmy episodes and predict their chances of winning. The Creative Arts Emmy winners will be revealed Saturday, Sept. 14, while the Primetime Emmy Awards airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy, Limited Series and Variety.

OPENING STATEMENTS

Since the category’s creation in 2003, only four shows have won this category. All four of those winners are nominated again this year. “The Amazing Race” holds the record for most wins in this category, winning ten of the sixteen years. This impressive streak came to an end in 2014, the last time the show has won. Since then, NBC’s “The Voice” has taken up the mantle. Of their four wins, three have come consecutively from 2015 – 2017. All dynasties must come to an end. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” pulled off its first in this category last year over these juggernauts. Will it be able to pull off a second victory, or will the Emmys default to their favorite shows? Let’s take a look at the field.

AND THE NOMINEES ARE… 

  • “American Ninja Warrior” – Episode: “Seattle/Tacoma City Qualifiers”
  • “Nailed It!” – Episode: “3, 2, 1 … Ya Not Done”
  • “RuPaul’s Drag Race” – Episode: “Whatcha Unpackin’”
  • “The Amazing Race” – Episode: “Who Wants a Rolex”
  • “The Voice” – Episode: “Blind Auditions Premiere Night 1, Season 16”
  • “Top Chef” – Episode: “The Greatest”

Now to delve into each of the nominated episodes. Spoiler Alert: These analyses may contain spoilers of the nominated episodes.

NOMINEE #1 – “American Ninja Warrior” – Episode: “Seattle/Tacoma City Qualifiers”

Episode Synopsis (IMDB): “American Ninja Warrior” brings the competition indoors for the first time ever in Seattle’s Tacoma Dome for the City Qualifying Round. Competitors will face up to six challenging obstacles including Lunatic Ledges and Barrel Roll, which are new to the course this year. Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila host and Zuri Hall joins the show as sideline reporter.

There are no shortage of stunts or narratives in “American Ninja Warrior’s” submission. The Seattle/Tacoma city qualifiers features a doozy of an obstacle course that thwarts the strongest competitors. Of the contestants who step up to the challenge, a few really stand out. PE teacher Sandy Zimmerman becomes the first Mom to ring the buzzer and complete the course. Additionally, priest Sean “The Papal Ninja” Bryan recovers well from a broken ankle for a spectacular showing on the course. As compelling as some of the contestants’ stories are, the episode feels long as each person goes through the same obstacle course. This repetitiveness makes the episode feel a lot longer than some of the more traditionally structured reality shows (a la “RuPaul’s Drag Race” or “The Amazing Race”).

In addition to its nomination here, “American Ninja Warrior” is one of three shows also nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Reality Program. Even former winners like “The Voice” and “Top Chef” missed in this category. Could “American Ninja Warrior” be the upset that no one sees coming?

NOMINEE #2 – “Nailed It!” – Episode: “3, 2, 1 … Ya Not Done”

Episode Synopsis (IMDB): Five fabulous “Nailed It!” fans visit the test kitchen for a challenge so extra, we had to make it a bonus episode.

“Nailed It” is the only new nominee to the category. Netflix’s cooking challenge delights in its contestants far from perfect culinary confections. Buoyed by host Nicole Byer’s charming, giggly personality, every episode of the show feels light a fun delight. As the lone Netflix nominee in this category, the streaming giant looks to earn its first win here.

Unfortunately, the submission from “Nailed It” feels like a massive misstep. Rather than submit a full episode, the show chose a bonus episode that amounts to roughly fifteen minutes. The contestant casting serves as the main draw for this episode. The Fab Five from “Queer Eye” drop by the show. Antoni Porowski, the food gay on “Queer Eye,” assists Byer as judge. The episode packs a lot of fun, thanks to Byer and the Fab Five. Yet, the brief episode feels too brief and slight to pull an upset.

NOMINEE #3 – “RuPaul’s Drag Race” – Episode: “Whatcha Unpackin’”

Episode Synopsis (IMDB): Miley Cyrus goes undercover in the workroom to spy on the new cast of queens competing for $100,000; the first test is to create signature looks from materials belonging to former Drag Race legends.

Though host RuPaul’s name is in the title, the star of “Drag Race” has always been the queens. The first episode of Season 11 gives voters a spirited introduction to the fifteen queens competing in the show. While some get more screen-time than others, the first episode features the set-up for much of the drama that will unfold. Even the uninitiated are able to jump in and have fun with the contestants as they begin their journey. Guest judge Miley Cyrus is also clearly in on the fun, even posing as a PA to surprise the queens. While far from an all-time best episode of the show, it stands as a good intro for the start of a somewhat polarizing season.

As the incumbent winner in the category, does “RuPaul’s Drag Race” head into this race the frontrunner. Of the six nominated series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” commands the largest nominations tally with nine total. This includes key nominations in Directing and Reality Competition Host for RuPaul Charles. It’s hard to deny that all signs point to a repeat win. Though Charles has won the past three years in the Host category, the show only received its first win in this category last year. It needs to win again this year to prove it can be a legacy winner (a la “The Amazing Race” or “The Voice”) rather than a one-win-wonder (“Top Chef”).

NOMINEE #4 – “The Amazing Race” – Episode: “Who Wants a Rolex”

Episode Synopsis (IMDB): Teams must drum up enough strength for an intense head-to-head battle before checking into the mat.

It’s hard to be the old guard in any given category. After 31 seasons, the show still manages to deliver new and exciting thrills. The submitted episode takes contestants to Uganda. Gay friends Tyler Oakley and Korey Kuhl expressed their complicated feelings in visiting a country that criminalizes homosexuality. This builds to a really strong arc, as Tyler and Korey end up winning this leg of the race. It’s adds an emotional pay-off to a traditionally entertaining episode. Unfortunately, former “Big Brother” contestants Janelle Pierzina and Brittany Haynes got off on the wrong foot and comically failed at misunderstanding the Roadblock (finding a rolex – a local food, not the watch). The Head-to-Head challenge at the end gives the show some more excitement, allowing a last place team to jump ahead. Unfortunately, Janelle and Brittany were unable to win the challenge and were eliminated.

Though “The Amazing Race” always feels like a juggernaut here, it hasn’t won since 2014. Despite this four year long drought, it has a clear lead on the record books. Since the category’s creation in 2003, “The Amazing Race” has won ten out of sixteen years. With a strong episode submission this year, it could easily win number eleven if it re-energizes voters. Unfortunately, the nomination tally suggests that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has all the passion.

NOMINEE #5 – “The Voice” – Episode: “Blind Auditions Premiere Night 1, Season 16”

Episode Synopsis (NBC): Musical superstar John Legend joins returning coaches Kelly, Adam and Blake as they begin their search for the best voice in America on the first night of Blind Auditions.

The first episode of season 16 brings John Legend onto the judges panel. Alongside Kelly Clarkson, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, the group’s chemistry still feels in tact. A fun segment with Legend’s wife Chrissy Teigan goes a long way in easing him in to the group. Still, the show rests on the talent of the contestants. These first episodes allow voters to see a wide array of vocalists, as well as their backstories of what led them on the show. The highlight of the episode is Maelyn Jarmon, a woman who is deaf on one side that delivers an incredible “Fields of Gold” performance. She ends up with newbie Legend, who wins her over by calling her voice magic.

“The Voice” is the only other show to win this category multiple times (other than “The Amazing Race”). In fact, its reign only recently came to an end last year, when “RuPaul’s Drag Race” won its first award. Before that, it had won in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The addition of Legend to the panel adds a bit of freshness to the show. Yet, there is something routine about the format that still hasn’t changed. If voters are looking to shake things up, they likely won’t return to “The Voice.”

NOMINEE #6 – “Top Chef” – Episode: “The Greatest”

Episode Synopsis (IMDB): The chefs take a turn at fried chicken; chef Art Smith judges a secret herbs-and-spices blind taste test ahead of the Quickfire fry-off; after the finger-licking goodness, the chefs turn their attention to boxer Muhammad Ali, aka the Louisville Lip.

Selecting a later episode of “Top Chef” serves to spotlight the top competitors and challenges rather than give voters an easy entry to the season. Luckily, “The Greatest” works as its own stand-alone episode. Even without watching the season, it’s hard to not get swept up with the good food. After a fun quick challenge that revolves around fried chicken, the episode kicks it into high gear. The main challenge involves cooking a course inspired by legendary Muhammad Ali fights. His daughter, Laila Ali, does a great job as guest judge. While the meals all look amazing, the episode allows the contestants to talk about how Ali’s career and activism affected their lives.

“Top Chef” has only won this category once (back in 2010). Though the show has continued to have strong ratings, it no longer has the cultural cache it did back in 2010. Older reality shows like “The Amazing Race” have been able to find new countries and challenges to keep it fresh and back in Emmy’s good graces. Despite a strong episode submission, “Top Chef” lacks the buzz to return to the Emmy stage for the win.

CURRENT REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM PREDICTIONS

  1. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” – Episode: “Whatcha Unpackin’”
  2. “The Amazing Race” – Episode: “Who Wants a Rolex”
  3. “The Voice” – Episode: “Blind Auditions Premiere Night 1, Season 16”
  4. “Top Chef” – Episode: “The Greatest”
  5. “American Ninja Warrior” – Episode: “Seattle/Tacoma City Qualifiers”
  6. “Nailed It!” – Episode: “3, 2, 1 … Ya Not Done”

WILL WIN: “RuPaul’s Drag Race” – Episode: “Whatcha Unpackin’”

SHOULD WIN: “RuPaul’s Drag Race” – Episode: “Whatcha Unpackin’”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “Making It”

What do you think will win Outstanding Reality Competition Program this year? Let us know in the comments below.

CHECK OUT ALL THE OFFICIAL PREDICTIONS ON THE CIRCUIT HUB AND MAKE YOUR OWN!