Race to Survive: New Zealand Premiere, Episode 1 Recap: The Adventure Begins

Oliver Dev, Spencer "Corry" Jones, and Ashley Paulson running through a grassy field in the first episode of Race to Survive: New Zealand
Photo Credit: Brian Finestone/USA Network via Getty Images

Sometimes, you watch a reality competition show and think to yourself, “Oh, I could do that.” Race to Survive: New Zealand is not one of those shows. This is serious business, and Season 1’s race across Alaska proved that. The fact that the USA Network could find people willing to participate in Season 2 is slightly mind-boggling.

In Race to Survive: New Zealand Episode 1, “Water and Ice,” we’re introduced to nine, brand-new teams as they set out for a wild adventure, competing for a grand prize of $500,000. They say money will make you do crazy things, but these teams genuinely seem to enjoy putting themselves through this kind of misery. Let’s meet the teams and see how everyone fared in the first leg of this epic race.

Meet the Teams

There are nine sets of teams with some pretty unique backgrounds. Some people bring survival skills, others bring elite athleticism. There’s a divorced couple, a father/son-in-law duo, and two potty-mouthed Rhode Island “gym rats.” It’s a mixed bunch, but they all have the same goal in mind: dominating the 40-day, 150-mile race. Here are the teams up for the challenge:

  • The River Guides, Oliver and Corry
  • The Brooklyn Climbers, Mikhail and Steffen
  • The Divorcees, Creighton Paulina Peña
  • The Hunters, Bronsen and Ryan
  • The Cool Moms, Rhandi and Ashley 
  • The Ultramarathoners, Donald and Coree
  • The Rhode Islanders, Emilio, and Heather
  • The Smokejumpers, Ethan and Tyrie
  • The Oil Riggers, Nik, and Kennedy

Race 1, Day 1

Paulina Pena and Creighton Baird moving through a field on Race to Survive: New Zealand
Photo Credit: Daniel Allen/USA Network

Their first race is called “Fire and Ice.” It’s a 40-mile course with five distinct zones. They have to canoe across a lake, hike uphill through a forest, climb across a cliff, traverse a chasm, and then canoe down white water rapids. At the finish line, they’ll find a chest with a medallion earning them entry to Survival Camp where they’ll await the next race. The fastest teams also get special rewards to help them make it through the downtime between races.

It’s exhausting even trying to think about all of that, and these people are supposed to do it in 20 hours or less. Another obstacle: the racers aren’t given any food at the beginning of the race. It’s a deviation from the first season, which rewarded teams with food rations at the start of each race. Instead, there are food caches scattered throughout the course. The racers have to determine whether they want to prioritize food or their pace toward the finish line. As if this show wasn’t brutal enough, they somehow found a way to make it worse.

Three teams emerge at the front

Boats paddling across a lake on Race to Survive: New Zealand
Photo Credit: Brian Finestone/USA Network

The race started like that scene in the Hunger Games when everyone sprints towards the cornucopia of supplies. Only in this game, there wasn’t a trove of supplies and weapons. Instead, they got maps for the five zones in the race and the upsetting information about any potential food being scattered across the 40-mile course.

Maps in hand, the teams took off running through what appeared to be an innocuous field. Immediately, they learned the hard way that everything isn’t as it seems in New Zealand. They started dropping into random holes in the ground because apparently, that’s a thing in New Zealand. They’re lucky nobody twisted an ankle.

After that first little obstacle, the teams got into canoes and took off in a race across the lake. Immediately, frontrunners started emerging. The Hunters, the Smokejumpers, and the River Guides were neck and neck as they paddled through the waters.

Once they made it past the first zone, those three teams continued to establish themselves as the head of the pack. In particular, The River Guides made easy work of trekking up the maze of trees and into the next section of the race. Clearly, they’re the ones to look out for.

The back of the pack

Emilio Navarro and Heather Sishco paddling in a canoe on Race to Survive: New Zealand
Photo Credit: Daniel Allen/USA Network

While three teams jetted to the front and completed multiple zones on Day 1, a few other teams struggled to gain momentum on the first day. The Divorcees, who found out they’d been cast on the show just four days after calling it quits, bickered their way through each zone. They weren’t dead last, but it’s clear their fractured relationship is going to be a big factor in how they perform this season. Let’s hope they stick around for as long as possible just for the juicy divorce drama.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Climbers found themselves at the back of the pack along with the Rhode Islanders. Throughout this entire episode, they were both fighting to stay out of last place. They wound up taking slightly different paths as the race got underway. The Brooklyintes pressed forward in the race while the Rhode Island “gym rats” decided to detour for a food cache.

Once the first day’s race clock ends, they have to set up camp within 50 yards of their current position. That can be a good or bad thing, depending on how well you navigated up until that point. At the end of the first day, seven of the nine teams managed to get their hands on food. 

Race 1, Day 2

Bronsen Iverson walking through a field on Race to Survive: New Zealand
Photo Credit: Daniel Allen/USA Network

The Brooklyn Climbers and the Oil Riggers opted to forgo food for the sake of keeping a steady pace. When Day 2 started, you could immediately see them regretting that decision. The Brooklynites were especially struggling. They woke up to frost on the ground and the daunting challenge of trying to climb across a mountain and go over a river. Doing that with zero calories is just the bitter icing on a rotten cake.

Miles and miles ahead of them, the River Guides, Smokejumpers, and Hunters moved into the final parts of the race. First, they had to traverse a narrow chasm. At one point, they had to squeeze through a gap that was only 11 inches wide. Most of us watching from home could never.

Then, the teams approached the final stretch of the race: an 11-mile paddle down rocky rapids. So far, the River Guides were in first place, which seemed fitting. However, with rocky rapids standing in their path and the other teams right on their tail, Race 1 could still go in anyone’s favor. Next week, we’ll see who makes it to the finish line and who comes up short.

Race to Survive: New Zealand airs on USA Network, Monday nights at 11/10c.