Losing is something I used to hate. I would recoil at the thought of coming in second or third—anything but first. I would do anything not to lose a competition, a boyfriend, a board game, you name it. I would nearly die of overexertion, pushing myself beyond the point of just giving it my best shot. And I never lost . . . until I started losing everything.
In 2010, I was two years out of college and I had just lost Miss America. Barely—I was runner-up. Soon after, a casting person approached me and asked if I’d be interested in reality TV, specifically the show Survivor
. I thought, I’ve been starving to death for this pageant for months, and I will literally die if I do Survivor
. I graciously declined.
I thought about it a little more, and while I couldn’t talk myself into the whole deserted island starvation thing, I did want a new, big goal. Before I could think another thought, the casting person called me back and asked me if I’d be interested in The Amazing Race
instead. I stopped dead in my tracks; I was very interested in that show. In case you don’t know, The Amazing Race
is a popular reality TV show where two-member teams competed against one another to win clues that led them on a race around the world for a $1 million prize. My dad and I had been watching it religiously for years. (We love it.) So, before I could even fully form the thought, I heard myself asking, “Do you think my dad could be my partner?” And that’s how we ended up going on The Amazing Race
the first time.Near Misses
As the oldest of four children, one-on-one time with my dad was sacred to me, so I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to spend a lot of time with him on the show. My dad is a humble, salt of the earth type of man, and I’m, well, a little loud. And since the show’s contestants narrate it—there’s no written script—our differing personalities really stuck out on camera. The producers let us know that while we were filming, we needed to say everything we were thinking and then some, to let the audience in on what was going on in our heads. In order to be cast for the show, they had to see the balance in our banter and initially, there was a lot more of me and not quite enough of my dad.
“Um, if we can get about seventy-five percent less of you and seventy-five percent more of him, I think you’ll have a shot of making it on” was the general sentiment. We took their direction; I didn’t utter every thought I had, and my dad for the first time in his life seemed to vocalize what he was thinking versus just sitting back. We found our balance, and soon we were off and running . . . literally around the world.
We didn’t have much time to train and prepare for that first season, but we did as much as we could in the few weeks we had. The two things that you could do to ensure some success were to get in good physical shape and to correctly pack your backpack. We got to bring one backpack each, filled with all the supplies and clothing we might need in a race around the world.
That means I had to pack into one bag all the gear I would need for bone-chilling conditions at the top of a snowcapped mountain as well as for the hottest deserts on the planet. And I had to carry it all on my back. It’s kind of like real life. You want to be prepared for every condition you could encounter but knowing that what you carry will weigh you down if it’s too much. I’ve learned to always choose wisely what I carry with me.
I’ll never forget my dad sawing off the ends of my Bobbi Brown makeup brushes in our garage with a handsaw. He didn’t want me to weigh my pack down with makeup, but the few pieces he allowed required brushes. “Dad, those are good brushes. Why are you ruining them?” I yelled.
“Too heavy,” he said without looking up, and continued. “Why is Whitney Houston’s husband making makeup brushes anyway?” Ugh. Dads. Those two backpacks took us everywhere. Mine weighed 11.8 pounds, my dad’s 22.7.
We started in England, where we competed against other teams in classic medieval competitions. We had to catapult watermelons toward targets, and one person was even hit square in the face. Side note: if you haven’t seen this viral moment, Google “watermelon to the face Amazing Race.”
Then we were on to Ghana, where we sold sunglasses as street vendors and learned a game alongside schoolchildren where we rolled a bicycle rim the distance of a field using only a stick, all in over-one-hundred-degree heat.
Next up, we raced through Norway and Sweden. We rappelled off bridges, went dogsledding through the snow while capturing flags from tree branches, and hauled enormous blocks of ice in Sweden’s famous ice hotel. We rode bikes across European landscapes while remembering combinations we’d learned in other countries to unlock information about where to head next. Then we went on to plant potatoes in St. Petersburg with elderly Russian women—after juggling with actual clowns and sifting through filmstrips in a historic cinematography museum. And that was only half of the season.
Finally, we came to the eighth of twelve total legs of the race. Racing to the Middle East, we landed in Oman with a map and a plan, and we were on our way. In case you didn’t know, on The Amazing Race
, we didn’t have phones, which means we had to rely either on the locals for directions or on maps we bought at gas stations or airports with our small daily stipend.
My dad and I started on the route our map showed, but then we saw the rest of the teams pulling off in a different direction. One of the groups we had alliances with yelled out the window to follow them, but we could see on the map that there was a shortcut, so we went with our gut. Well, there might have been a shortcut under normal circumstances, but due to a flash flood the week before, the road was completely washed out. We drove across the country for three hours in the wrong direction, only to have to turn around and spend another three hours just to get back to the place where we’d started.
We were hours behind the rest of the teams but we ended up making up time in the challenges that they took a little longer to complete. But still, it wasn’t enough. We lost that leg only by the skin of our teeth, but we did lose, and therefore were eliminated from that season of the show. But we really were amazing racers. (No pun intended.) We knew we were better than that; after being eliminated so late in the race, we had a gnawing sense of longing for another chance.
Three weeks after we got home, my phone rang. It was the head of casting asking us to return to appear on an all-star season. OMG. What? Before we knew it, we were off again, already filming another season before the first one even aired. Because we lost, we were getting to race around the world on our favorite show . . . twice. We couldn’t believe it.
That second season had us immediately diving with great white sharks in Sydney harbor, racing through the outback in kangaroo suits, tasting teas in Guangzhou that we then had to identify in Calcutta, making chocolate in Switzerland, and getting dropped out of helicopters onto some of the largest mountains in the world. We learned to dance the samba with Brazilians and make caipirinhas on a Copacabana beach. We dug through mud and frog pits to find clues in Japan and rode yaks through the foothills of China.
And then there we were—we had made it to the last leg. We were in Miami, Florida, and all we had to do was get to the finish line in order to win one million dollars. We were running at full speed from our airplane Jetway to jump into a cab, and just as my dad was reaching for the door handle, a woman came out of nowhere and yelled, “Hey! I’ve been waiting for this taxi!” Our hearts were pounding, the clock was ticking, and there was a million-dollar prize on the line. But we did the same thing we would have always done and let her have the cab.
Thinking nothing of it, we jumped in the next taxi that pulled up. The only problem was the driver didn’t speak English and didn’t know how to get around Miami, so we got lost for two hours, which put us hours behind the rest of the teams. We pushed through and tried to not give up hope. Eventually we did make it—and when we showed up at the final challenge, which was connecting water and electricity in a mobile home, the other teams were shocked because they hadn’t seen us since we ran off the plane. My dad hooked up that mobile home faster than even the challenge testers did. Everyone was floored. It was our attempt at a Hail Mary, but still not enough. The other teams had arrived so far ahead of us that it just wasn’t possible to win, even though we finished the challenge in a fraction of the time it took the others.
We ended up losing The Amazing Race
again, and by only one minute and thirty seconds.