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The 11 two-person teams -- 3 pairs of siblings, 2 married couples, a gay couple who "might as well be married", a parent and child, 3 other pairs of "best friends", and a couple of self-styled "gutsy grannies" -- who started The Amazing Race 2 around the world (for a US$1 million grand prize) this week on CBS-TV included a couple of ministers (Cyndi and Russell), but it didn't take long after they first encountered the language barrier for the profanity and panic to begin. The first season, about half the contestants had gotten their passports for the first time for the show, according to Joe and Bill. This time around, it appears that most of the racers have even less travel experience.
I was quite surprised that the best traveled of the contestants, Deidre -- a former flight attendant -- was in the first team eliminated, along with her daughter, Hillary. Unlike the boys from South Beach, Danny and Oswald, who were so excited to be headed to Las Vegas at the start of the race, I don't gamble. If I had been betting, though, I would have lost my shirt. In the heat of Southern Hemisphere mid-summer Rio, of course, most of the contestants had already lost their shirts. It looks like we're going to be shown a lot more flesh this season than in the first Amazing Race, and CBS has hinted that we'll see some romance between teams as well. That's fair: it wouldn't be reality travel (or reality TV) without romance. As I point out in "The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World", travel can both make and break relationships -- I've seen plenty of examples of both over the years. We saw some breakups on The Amazing Race 1. Maybe we'll some new relationships forming on The Amazing Race 2.
Relationships were also a hot topic when I met for lunch last week with Bill and Joe ("Team Guido"), the third-place finishers on the first season of The Amazing Race. Ensconced by the fireplace (it was a rainy day in Southern California) in their favorite oceanfront restaurant, wineglasses in hand, Team Guido scarcely looked the villains they were portrayed as in the first season of "The Amazing Race", as it was edited for broadcast. Even less did they look like the fierce competitors they portrayed themselves as.
It's important to remember that reality TV is still TV, and that only a tiny fraction of what happens makes the final cut. The racers' goal may have been to win a million dollars, but the producers' and editors' goal was, and is, to attract millions of viewers. Did the producers want more backstabbing? "Oh, yes. Much more," Joe says. "They wanted a Tunisian airport incident every day," according to Bill.
So you can't entirely trust the way personalities and interpersonal dynamics are depicted on TV, any more than when you meet people for the first time while traveling. Emily, for example, the other protagonist of the "Tunisian airport incident" in The Amazing Race 1, says on her Web site, "Team Guido are great. They did some stuff they shouldn't have on the race, but in real life they're incredible people."
Since the first season of The Amazing Race, I've corresponded with several of the teams. And it turns out that several of them were reading my columns while the race was being broadcast. (The race was filmed, of course, months earlier. Filming of the first season was completed five months before the first episode was broadcast. For the second season, that was cut to just one month. It remains to be seen how that may have affected the editing this time around the world.)
The Amazing Race 1 started 8 March 2001; I met Team Guido 7 March 2002. "Today last year we were in New York City, doing all the publicity photos," Joe recalls. "Then we went to the CBS sound stage where they did this big picture of all 22 of us all lined up together. It was then that we peeled off our jackets, and we had embroidered shirts that said 'Team Guido', and we had little hats that we had rolled up in our pockets that said 'Team Guido'. And everybody else is looking at us, saying, 'If they're Team Guido, who are we?' And of course the silent answer, because we weren't allowed to talk to anybody [until the race started], was, 'You're nobody.'"
Gossip aside, I was especially interested in hearing from the Guidos because they had so much more, and more relevant, travel experience than any other team on either of the first two seasons of the show. "We had lived in Europe for couple of years. I had been around the world 25 times, easily, on my work," says Joe. "At the time, I was working as the vice president of marketing. This was a small company, but most of their business was export, through a variety of different distributors around the world. They did business in 45 countries around the world. And I handled the exports personally: I trained all the distributors. And generally I'd visit everybody, from several times a year to once every two or three years. You know, I'd be in Japan twice a year, for two weeks at a time."
How similar was the race to the other traveling that they had done? "It was totally different to do it with a camera in your face!" says Bill. "It's really traumatic stress. Not just during the show but the aftereffects of the show. It's like, 'What happened to us? What was that?' You're going for 31 days on adrenaline and then all of a sudden it stops. It's pretty traumatic when you stop."
What Joe and Bill are most proud of, though, is that their relationship survived and deepened -- often the best possible benefit of travel. "We appreciate each other's company even more. We always did, but we have a much stronger relationship now. We discovered that we can handle anything."
Not surprisingly, having a good relationship topped the list when I asked them what advice they would give future contestants on The Amazing Race. According to Bill, "It was so important not to argue. And you could see that some of the major flaws in the other teams were that they argued too much. Arguably, you can say that we played the race one way or another. But you can't deny the fact that we have a good relationship, and that was our goal."
The strength of their long-term relationship has remained the focus of what they've done with their celebrity since placing third in The Amazing Race 1. Joe says, "The goal is to promote that relationship to other young gay men, who are only now maybe in a situation, especially in a small town where they think they're the only ones around. Or that they're absolutely doomed to a life of unhappiness or that they never going to find Mr. Right and there are always just going to be a lot of one night stands. And that's not good at all. From our perspective, we know [gay] people that have been together twice as long as we've been, and they have relationships just as good as ours. And with a little luck, and a little work, you can put a nice relationship together."
What would they recommend that future contestants bring with them? "A few more guidebooks," Bill answers without hesitation, gladdening my heart as a guidebook writer (although mine are how-to books rather than destination guides) "The guidebooks really did help. That's what helped us defeat the frat brothers. We had two guidebooks. One had the word 'south' and the other had the word 'gate'.
Joe explains, "On that taxi ride, it turned out that the glossary of one [guidebook] had the word 'south' and the glossary of the other had the word 'gate', and neither one of them had both words. The key to beating Kevin and Drew was being able to tell our cab driver that we want to go to Tiantan Park, and we want to go to the south gate --"
"- because that's where the clue was," Bill continues. "It's as big as Central Park. It's a huge park." (Like many long-term couples, they often finish each other's sentences.)
"So if you get off at the other side, which is what they did, you've got a long walk - a kilometer, maybe 2," Joe concludes. "And that was the secret to beating those two. Or else we probably would have come in fourth [instead of third].
I also asked what advice Joe and Bill gave the producers, during their nightly briefings at the pit stops, about what they should be doing differently. Once again, the answer came without hesitation: "Give us a lot less money. We had too much money. The idea of taking cab rides that are 100-600 miles long is ridiculous. All you had to do was find a taxicab driver who knew how to get to wherever you were going. You showed them the clue and said, 'Go here'. For most of the teams, basically, that was their modus operandi. Just get into a cab, show `em the clue, and just say, 'Take me there, and I'll give you $10 extra if I'm first.' Or whatever. And they didn't have to think or work about what they were doing any more until they got there. If you gave us a more limited amount of money, and forced us to take buses or trains or pedicabs or subway systems or walk, it would make it much more interesting and much more like what the real traveler has to go through. I think it was too easy."
Team Guido's other advice to the reality-TV producers is to choose more realistic challenges. "I think they should do, say, if they go to Paris, things that Joe and Mary would do if they went to Paris, rather than looking for some obscure tea shop where you have to ask for some silly kind of tea and therefore you get to go to the next destination. We had lived not more than a mile, probably, from this tea shop. And we'd never heard of it at all."
I'll post more of my conversation with Team Guido on my Web site once it's transcribed. If you'd like to meet Team Guido yourself, they will be guests of honor at the Academy of Friends Oscar-night HIV/AIDS benefit black-tie gala in San Francisco, 24 March 2002, where the silent auction will include a chance to bid for dinner for two with Bill and Joe along with two autographed copies of "The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World".
Some of the other teams from The Amazing Race 1, including winners Brennan and Rob, have also been giving their support to charity and benefit events. For more about the cast of the Amazing Race 1, click here for links to the teams' own Web sites.
Don't forget that there's a double dose of The Amazing Race 2 this week. CBS has already leaked the route of the next episode, so I won't bother with the predictions I'd planned to make about where they will go. But I won't spoil it for you by saying anything here. Tune in again this Wednesday night, 13 March 2002, 9-10 p.m. EST/PST, for the second episode of The Amazing Race 2. (p.s. My Web site and mailing list were being moved to a new server last week, and new subscriptions weren't being accepted during the move. So if any of your frinds tried to sign up for my newsletter, their addresses were not saved, and they'll need to fill out the subscription form on this page again. I apologize for the inconvenience; I don't expect this will happen again.)
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