El Segundo couple gets `Amazing' offer
El Segundo residents Joe and Heidi Wang vanished for a while recently and couldn't tell anyone why.
They still can't say much, at least until their disappearance plays out on television beginning next week.
The married couple is among 11 teams competing for the $1 million prize on the 16th installment of "The Amazing Race," a reality travel competition that takes its contestants all over the world.
The competition is over, but the couple must stay mum about where they went and how they did. The award-winning show airs on CBS beginning next Sunday.
"The experience was extraordinary and it was very thrilling," said Joe Wang, a 42-year-old software sales executive for Microsoft. "You never expect what was going to happen next."
The couple, who have a son and daughter, had watched the show and considered what it would be like to compete.
"I never imagined being on the show," Joe Wang said. "They contacted us."
A casting director thought they might make great contestants after seeing a family holiday photograph they had sent out to friends.
It showed the couple and their two children standing on the Great Wall of China. Each was wearing tight performance shirts.
"It was completely flattering," said Heidi Wang, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother who formerly worked for Mattel's Barbie division. "It's like the shock factor, the wow factor. `Is this something we can do?' We were completely surprised."
At first they turned down the offer because they figured they could not put their lives on hold. They had too many responsibilities, including their children.
They changed their minds when producers gave them a video of a full season of shows to watch.
The Wangs decided they would not miss out on the opportunity.
"We got very hooked," Joe Wang said. "We applied like `We are going to win the game."'
The competition, which has won seven Emmys, takes its contestants to countries across the globe. At each stop, they follow clues to picturesque locales and buildings where they must complete tasks that sometimes involve jumping off tall buildings.
"It's not for the faint-hearted," Joe Wang said. "You face very difficult situations and you have to make decisions very quickly."
This year's competitors include a gay couple, dating couples, detectives and brothers. One half of the model team is Caite Upton, who made headlines at the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant when she was asked why a fifth of Americans can't locate the United States on a world map and gave an answer that included "some people out there in our nation don't have maps."
The last-place finisher in each hourlong episode goes home. Three teams wind up battling in the final episode for the $1 million prize.
The Wangs, who have been together for 13 years - married 11 - have lived in Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and El Segundo.
Joe, who was born in Taiwan and speaks Mandarin, immigrated with his family to New York, and was raised there. He attended State University of New York and moved to California for work after college.
Heidi, originally from Medford, Ore., attended Pepperdine University in Malibu and formerly worked in accounting and finance at Mattel in El Segundo.
"One of the reasons we picked the South Bay to live is the beach," Joe Wang said. "We love the beach and just fell in love with Hermosa, Manhattan Beach and El Segundo."
Heidi Wang is involved in PTA and Joe Wang runs South Bay Youth Sports. Together, they raise Jameson, 8, and Herason, 6.
Their relationship will soon be on a national broadcast for millions to see. Besides the actual race and tasks, the show focuses on the teammates' interactions.
And many often fight and bicker as they race.
"I know for our team, the problem child is going to be me," Joe Wang said in a video posted on the CBS Web site. "I am going to be just going off. I speak very loudly to begin with."
On the Web site, he describes himself as the team's leader. In their private life, he sets the agenda with his wife's input, he said.
"Absolutely I am going to be the leader and follow my instincts," he said in an interview. "I think the other teams are going to view us as someone to reckon with." firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_14349034