Our reporter runs wild in South america on the first leg of the Amazing Race
by Craig Tomashoff
It seemed like a good idea at the time: Run a leg of the amazing race to see if Ive been justified all these years yelling at the screen telling the teams of the cbss Emmy winning, continent-hopping reality show how every move they make is a stupid one.
I happily volunteered to take a run at the first leg of season 13, Bertram Van Minster and Elise Doganieri promised that from the very first minute, its going to be demanding.. People are going to be very tired and cranky. Going on vacation with 2 kids under the age of 7 is tough, and Ive done that. Anything else has to be a breeze.
I meet 11 teams at the starting line inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where theyre honing their strategies to snag $1 million prize. Fraternity brothers Andrew and Dan hope to lure in attractive women, lulling the competition into a false sense of trust that gives us the power when the time is right. Married-but separated Ken & Tina want to keep their special skills ---secret ---especially the survival strategies Tina picked up while stranded on a South Pacific island after a hurricane. Comic bookloving best friends Mark and Bill try to lower expectations, admitting that while some think the race looks easy on TV, this will take amazingly longer than it seems.
Theyre right. This journey of 33,000 miles doesnt begin with a single step. It starts with a seat on the plane coach classfor much of the next 24 hours. It could be worse :I could be six-foot-plus Ty (racing with girlfriend Aja), who cant fold up enough to fit in his space. Finally we touch down on Salvador, Brazil. As the arriving teams negotiate cab rides into the city to look for their first clue. I take advantage of my gate- crasher status and head straight for the legs first significant Detour challenge, in which teams choose one of two options. Option 1: Climb down a 240-fiit-high rope ladder strung from the top of Salvadors famous Elevator Lacerda. I ride to the top.
Stepping onto the ladder, I treat it like I do when I give blood: Close my eyes and itll be fine . Im able to stick to that for all of five minutes before peeking to see how much further I have to go. Bad idea Im not even halfway down. By the time I reach pavement 20 minutes later, it appears to the locals as though Im so happy to be done that I kneel to kiss the ground. The truth, however ,is that my legs have the consistency of grape jelly and I cant walk.
Next I drag myself across town to the other detour option: Climb the stone steps of the 18th-century church on your knees then answer the mystery question. Teams who complete these challenges go onto the pitstop.
I channel my inner toddler and crawl right up, even though the knees get so banged up I feel like an NFL quarterback. At the top, the leader of the Brazilian drum band serenading the teams asks How many steps did you just climb? I pause for a few seconds , trying to make it look good. Then I correctly announce 53! (OK, so earlier in the day Id sneaked a peek at the producers hand book and saw the question and the answer).
Maybe it is the bit of deception or the thrill of the rope climb, but I am even more certain Id been justified in mocking all 11 race teams that have come before me, right up to the moment I meet up with them at their campsite in a bug infested, muddy patch of jungle inside a military base. Everybody has his limits. Many of mine involve insect encounters.
Several of the men, like Dallas (running with mom, Toni) and Nick (with his sister, Starr), wander around among the bugs, shirtless and fearless. Texan divorcees/best friends Kelly & Christy brag about the huge tarantula theyve squashed with a shoe. Comic- book guy Mark is already convinced hell never again think the race is too easy.
Neither will I. Maybe if I were really in the hunt for the $1 million, Id slip into the mosquito for the night, too. But Im not, so instead I slink off to the air-conditioned hotel comfort of a Salvador hotel, vowing never to disparage any race teams efforts again.
Still, I dont want to end my time on the road as a total wimp. I push myself to tough out one last challenge thats really more speed: It turns out the hotel bar doesnt have Chianti. So I settle for Merlot.