The number of "reality" shows is growing like kudzu this fall. Several of the series will hit the air before the networks' traditional premiere season in mid-September. Two of the most-promoted shows debut Wednesday night. Here's a viewer's guide to Lost on NBC (WAGT-TV, Channel 26) and Amazing Race on CBS (WRDW-TV, Channel 12):
8 p.m., NBC
Conan O'Brien's production company has jumped on the reality bandwagon with this series, which tracks two-person teams as they race to the Statue of Liberty after being dropped off "somewhere on the planet." The team that gets there first will split $200,000. Their journey takes up six episodes.
In Wednesday's opening show, the contestants arrive at the secret drop location. Each team is supplied with basic survival gear - a tent, two days worth of food and four days of water - all of which must be carried on their backs. They have no maps, no credit cards, no means of communicating with friends or family, and $300 in cash between them. The teams have to figure out how to get home on these limited funds, or find a way to make money or barter for transit, food, shelter, etc.
The six players are strangers until they are delivered to the drop location and divided into teams. Pairings for the first drop are:
Carla Antonio of Boston and Lando Hawkins of Nashville, Tenn.
Tami Becker of Piedmont, Calif., and Celeste Weaver of Los Angeles
Joe Gulla of San Diego and Courtland Bascon of Boston.
The Amazing Race
9 p.m. CBS
Instead of pairing strangers, The Amazing Race stars 11 teams of friends, lovers and family members. They compete in a 30- to 40-day race through cities and countries around the globe. The first team to get to the final destination wins $1 million. All modes of transport will be used, including buses, trains, boats, taxis, bicycles - even camels.
The contestants are:
Drew and Kevin, best pals since college
Grandparents David and Margaretta, the oldest competitors
Kim and Leslie, teachers and roommates
Joe and Bill, life partners
Frank and Margarita, separated parents who are considering reuniting
Nancy and Emily, a mother-daughter team
Working mothers Pat and Brenda
Paul and Amie, who are engaged
Matt and Ana, a 20-something married couple
Lenny and Karyn, who are dating
Rob and Brennan, lawyers and best friends.
The first program of the 13-week series opens in New York's Central Park. Teams get the go signal and pick up their limited luggage and money, as well as instructions to their first destination, a long airline flight away.
The last team to reach Wednesday's check-in point will be eliminated.