The Emmy Award-winning "Amazing Race" is an elaborate TV production -- contestants and crews traverse the globe in a trek that requires four to five months in preparation alone.

Since its debut in 2001, the show's contestants have traveled to 62 different countries in hopes of winning the $1 million prize.

"We've gone to just about every continent," said co-creator Bertram van Munster.

The show's fifth season, which begins Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS, follows 11 two-person teams -- including cousins from Maryland (see sidebar, page 28) -- as they travel approximately 73,000 miles in 29 days and tape 13 episodes, van Munster said.

The show works like this: The first team to arrive at any designated destination is the first team to leave -- thereby getting a head start -- on the next day's journey. The last team to arrive at each location is cut. Contestants also are allowed to use only a specific amount of money during their journey.

It sounds easy enough, but along the way, teams may have to bungee jump or enter a rat-infested temple to obtain further instructions and make it to the next location.

Gaining access to those locations is an daunting task, and van Munster said the show must receive permits for every place visited.

"It's a very ambitious project on a huge international scale," he said. "It is very complex, but generally people are welcoming. [The show] is very well-known worldwide."

No country van Munster's approached has refused to participate, he said. This season the teams travel to Uruguay, Russia, Egypt and the Philippines, among other spots.

Although the program focuses on the race, the show is as much about relationships -- with people in other countries, as well as with family and friends -- as it is about completing the challenge.

Host Phil Keoghan, who said no major international incidents occurred as a result of the show, noted that some teams are more accepting of different cultures than others.

"A lot of what happens -- if there's any incidences with local people -- it's a result of how the teams themselves respond to the local people.

"Americans have a lot of preconceived ideas of what the world's about and how it operates," said Keoghan. The show "dispels a lot of people's misconceptions about what the world is like," he said.

Everyone selected for the show has a preexisting relationship, whether father and daughter, two cousins or best friends.

"I always thought preexisting relationships were more interesting," said van Munster, who described the show as a "reality soap opera."

Members of the teams talk openly with each other, van Munster said.

"Strangers feel each other out for the first three or four episodes. They don't get the real thing."

Although the competition is physically challenging, van Munster said he looks for applicants with interesting personal relationships as opposed to brawn or athleticism.

"We tell them up front the show will change your life," said van Munster, noting that the change isn't always for the better. The show even contributed to a breakup. Chip Arndt and Reichen Lehmkuhl, last season's winners, severed ties after they collected their $1 million.

Keoghan said the experience also has reunited couples.

"It does strange things to relationships. It is incredibly stressful for these teams. They are pushed emotionally to places they haven't gone before," he said.

Maryland Cousins Compete on 'Race'

Two Maryland residents will compete for the $1 million prize in CBS's new season of "Amazing Race."

Charla Faddoul and Mirna Hindoyan are first cousins. Both were born in Syria but now live in Phoenix, Md., and Towson, respectively.

The 27-year-olds describe themselves as "extremely comical and aggressive," according to CBS press releases. To their advantage, the pair speak several languages, including Armenian and Turkish.

Faddoul, a manager of a sports store, has a form of dwarfism and hopes her appearance on the program will show the world that the condition is not a physical handicap.

"We did not have to change anything for her," said co-creator Bertram van Munster.

Hindoyan is a graduate of the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Law.

Host Phil Keoghan said the cousins "were a crucial part of making this season really pop."

-- Tracy L. Scott