Sand-Sculpting Skills on Display in Race Against the Tide


In the competition series Race Against the Tide, world-class sand-sculpting teams are put to the ultimate test as they face off against each other and a ticking clock of getting washed out to sea. The format was created in-house at marblemedia, inspired by an experience its unscripted development director had when she had been a summer radio reporter covering a sandcastle-building competition, explains Diane Rankin, executive VP for rights and executive producer at Distribution360. “The skill behind the creations always stuck with her, and amid growing demand for skills-based formats from broadcasters, we felt the time was right to turn this into a series idea and to scale it for a prime-time audience. As a sister company, we work hand in hand with the marblemedia team to bring new projects to market.”

In the show, ten teams of two compete against each other to create extraordinary works of art made entirely out of sand, while the world’s highest tide—at New Brunswick’s iconic Bay of Fundy—is their unstoppable ticking clock.

The show has been a solid performer for commissioning broadcaster CBC in Canada. Season three is underway now, with a fresh new tournament structure to the competition. “It’s a feel-good original format with a real-stakes twist that the whole family can enjoy,” Rankin says.

The format has been optioned in ten territories internationally, and Distribution360 is working on getting those to commissions while taking the format wider around the world. It is also offering the finished tape now that there is a volume of three seasons, 10×30 minutes each.

“The series is a mix of artistic skill coupled with the authentic drama of the high stakes created by Mother Nature herself,” says Rankin. “The unique hook of the ticking clock of the tide is the 100 percent natural stopwatch (to complete the sand sculptures), and it’s a really important beat that drives the format; audiences love it, and the competitors stress about it.”

She adds that there is a lot of science involved in choosing a beach setting that has the right tidal range to give the sculptors enough time to create something worthy of the competition and that also has the right type of sand needed for this art form.

The format offers a number of opportunities to personalize it for each local market, Rankin says. “As a format that is shot outdoors, the location is a character that offers the opportunity to produce a truly local series that showcases the home country—or you can choose a more exotic or further afield location depending on the needs of the channel or platform. There are excellent high tides in the U.K., Alaska, northern France and South America, for example.”

There is also flexibility in the teaming of the competitors, she adds. “The original version has teams in pairs, but you could blow it up with larger sculpting teams working on even bigger works of sand art. Season three has a new tournament structure that could be adopted.”

Producers can also tweak the challenge themes to suit their local markets or to attract brand integration partnerships, which could be beneficial to production financing. “The variety for localization is something that has always excited our team in pitching this format,” Rankin continues.

The competition space in the entertainment landscape is certainly a crowded one, and in order for a show to stand out, Rankin says it must “resonate as authentic, with people actually doing this skill, art or hobby, and bringing it to a TV audience is just magnifying it to a broader audience on a larger scale. Visually there needs to be a pay-off, and you need to have stakes that viewers will buy into. At its simplest, Race Against the Tide is just sand and water, but it’s mesmerizing to watch these real-life artists create gravity-defying sculptures from so little—and the natural jeopardy of the tide coming in or the sculptures crashing down really raises the stakes!”

She adds that in formats, social experiments are still in high demand along with dating and cooking. “But buyers are looking for that ‘15 degrees to the left’ tweak that makes the idea fresh while tapping into universal themes. With the state of the world a bit grim, viewers are looking for positivity, uplifting family-friendly content that provides the escapism people need right now.”