Amazing Raise premieres tonight!!
Houston couple brings reality TV success home
By DAVID BARRON Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Feb. 20, 2009, 6:05PM
Uchenna and Joyce Agu, winners of Season 7 of "The Amazing Race," are debuting their own reality show tonight on KHOU. "The Great Raise Houston" aims to raise money for the Houston Food Bank’s Kids Café program and Casa de Esperanza.THE GREAT RAISE HOUSTON
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday and Feb. 28
• Where: Channel 11
• On the web: www.thegreatraise.com
Reality TV has been so good to Uchenna and Joyce Agu, the Houston couple who won Season 7 of CBS’ The Amazing Race, that they’d like to make a career of it — but in a way that will enable them to succeed as philanthropists as well as producers.
Their first effort as reality-show impresarios, The Great Raise Houston, premieres at 7 tonight on KHOU (Channel 11). Tonight’s two-hour episode will be followed by the two-hour conclusion on Feb. 28.
The plot is standard reality show/scavenger hunt fare — 10 two-person teams competing in a three-day, 350-mile chase through a maze of Houston-area landmarks — but the winners are determined not only by gamesmanship but also by the ability to raise money for the show’s beneficiaries, the Houston Food Bank’s Kids Café program and Casa de Esperanza, a shelter for children of families in the greater Houston area in crisis.
“After competing in The Amazing Race and seeing poverty in India and orphanages in South Africa, we knew we had the same issues in our own backyard,” Uchenna Agu said. “We could have put on a gala, but anybody can do that. We wanted to do something that helps a larger number of people participate.
“We can’t copy The Amazing Race, but we came up with our own event where contestants are competing and trying to raise money for charity. We shot it with the same quality of any show you would see on television, and we hope that we can reach people and inspire them to contribute a few dollars. It’s like a fund-raiser on steroids.”
The Great Raise Houston has been something of a marathon for the couple. They filmed the event last May and hoped to have it ready for broadcast by the fall, but Hurricane Ike put their plans on hold. Editing began two months ago, and they were still tying up loose ends this week as they delivered the final product to Channel 11.
The Agus incorporated some of the tricks of the reality-show trade in casting and preparing The Great Raise Houston. Their list of competitors includes a married couple, a brother/sister combo, the daughter/mother team of Erica Rose, a former contestant on ABC’s The Bachelor, and Cindi Rose; and Mikki Chernoff, a former Playboy model, and her former boyfriend, Carlos Zubizaretta.
Stops along the route include the George Ranch in Fort Bend County and Skydive Spaceland in Rosharon, and tasks include kayaking on Buffalo Bayou and dancing with the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company.
“We could tell if there would be natural friction (among competitors),” Agu said. “We tried to stay true to the elements of mixing personalities and casting people who voice their opinions. There will be people you love to hate.”
Hate, fortunately, wasn’t a byproduct of the show for the only married couple, Donavan Strutt, who works for the American Petroleum Institute, and Adriana Strutt, a neuropsychologist at Baylor College of Medicine and full-time reality-show junkie.
“Originally, I didn’t want to sign on for this,” Donavan Strutt said. “But she did the entry video, and she did a good enough job that we were called in for an interview. By that time, I was hooked.”
Adriana Strutt, who tried out for Survivor as a college student, said she was drawn to the project by the charity angle and, of course, for the chance to get her toe in the door for a shot at reality TV on a larger scale.
Donavan Strutt was game, too, but cautious, given the possibility of on-camera marital discord.
“We talked about it before the race, and we told each other that if we got into a situation where we were fighting and couldn’t get it resolved, we would have a safety word – ‘jellybean’.” He said. “If either person said the word, no matter what we were doing, we would drop it and go on.
“We did use it once, and I don’t even remember why. We laughed about it, and then we kept on going.”
If the show works, the Agus hope their next step will be a “Great Raise Texas,” which would enable them to take the concept and the program to other cities around the state. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/tv/6273469.html