“We Had Hypothermia” – Reality News Online’s Exclusive Interview with The Amazing Race 18's Mel
by Teeuwynn Woodruff
Reality News Online: Hello, Mel. Thanks for talking to Reality News Online today!
Mel: My pleasure, Teeuwynn.
RNO: What’s been going on with you and your son since the last time you were on the race?
Mel: Michael’s running a show for HBO, a series called Enlightened. He apologizes for not being on the call today because he had to keep the whole cast together and keep finishing – they had a deadline.
Then I’m standing in awe watching what he’s doing. As the tired old fart, I get to live vicariously through Michael doing what he’s dreamed of doing since he was nine years old. And I’m writing still, and I spoke five times this weekend in Orange County. I’m still traveling around.
One thing I do now is avoid mud pits – at any cost.
RNO: That seems a good take away from the race. Going into this race, did you approach it any differently than you did your first race?
Mel: Yeah, I think we learned two lessons. One was never stop racing. The brother and sister team [Tammy & Victor] that won on Season 14… We’d get on a plane and be so tired and relieved we’d fall asleep. Then we’d wake up and they would have bargained with passengers at the front of the plane and traded seats with them – and they would be off the plane first. They never stopped racing.
The other thing is we had to take better control of our lives. If the taxi driver went the wrong direction, we had to get him to stop and just get out. But we weren’t in the race long enough to try out those newly learned lessons!
RNO: Well they sound like good race tips. And I’m sorry you didn’t last longer because you’re one of my favorite teams. You have a great father-son dynamic. Mel, you didn’t want to risk a change of planes for the possible 15-minute advantage – and due to the delay with the second plane it turned out you were right. Did you two talk about that on the leg at all?
Mel: One thing we don’t do is we don’t look back. In fact, since they were little children, we had a no blame rule in our house. Never blame somebody for something bad that has gone wrong. Just go with it.
I think we could have won the first season if we had taken that Fast Forward. And to go to an orphanage, I mean Gary (my partner) and I have an orphanage in Cambodia. It would have been perfect! But, after that [not taking the Fast Forward], we never looked back. Only one day, a month later, Michael said, “Dad, we should have taken the Fast Forward.”
I think since we’re in this race for the fun of it, if we even found ourselves on the verge of some kind of a disagreement or something, we would remind each other, “This is for fun.” It makes a big difference just to be doing it for the fun of it.
RNO: The flight you were on landed about 45 minutes after the other flight, yet it seemed you all caught up quite a bit to the teams on the first flight – with Zev & Justin even winning the leg. What was going on with getting to the tasks in Japan?
Mel: The problem in Japan is Narita is so far from Tokyo and Yokohama is so far from Tokyo in the other direction. We had no maps. We had no ways of knowing anything except by asking, and everybody we asked only spoke Japanese.
One bad turn and it would take you way out of your way before you even stopped because you were on a freeway. So one of the reasons was just plain trying to navigate across that town for a Roadblock and then a Detour… That’s how we got slowed down.
Then Michael and I, we passed the train station in that little city in Japan [where the Detour options were] and we just didn’t see it. We drove all across that town, over and over again, trying to see it. That was a mistake – not to get out and ask… First of all, if you ask somebody the crew has to get a signed permission from them, [so it takes longer than you’d think]. So we got way behind, and by the time we got there, it was dark and cold and miserable.
RNO: What made you choose the Frog of Luck Detour option? The word “luck” in a challenge always makes me nervous.
Mel: Let’s just say stupidity. You know, you’re out there in your diaper and you think, “I’ll find it, I’ll find it, I’ll find it,” and to get out of there and go on to something else… It was almost prohibitive. It would have taken so much time just to get to somewhere else. So we stuck it out like idiots.
RNO: So, the word “luck” didn’t scare you off that Detour choice? The word “luck” in a challenge always makes me nervous.
Mel: Luck is a major factor in the race.
RNO: Why did the four teams who ended up on the later flight want to band together in Japan? That didn’t seem like a great idea for teams running behind.
Mel: Yeah, that was another mistake. We had been on the same flight and we had conversations and were trying to ally with each other. When coming out of that parking garage into the streets, we thought, “Well, maybe somebody will be smart enough to know how to get us there.” So, we made a mistake because there was just too much stopping and starting before we realized we had to head out on our own.
I don’t know how it happened. We were all on a flight together so we thought, “Let’s just go together.” It didn’t work. We teamed with Luke & Margie, and then the Goths and [Jaime & Cara] joined the procession. It’s just one of those things that happened.
RNO: We know it was right around freezing when you got to the Frog of Luck challenge. How long were you searching for the frog before Mike pulled the plug?
Mel: I was, by clock, about four or five minutes less than an hour. My body temperature was dropping so much, and I was shaking so much, people could see that. He got out at about 45 minutes and started arguing with people saying, “You’ve got to get my father out of there!” He was yelling at me, but I couldn’t hear because there was mud in my ears… And mud in my eyes, and mud in my face, and oh my gosh!
Finally [Mike] convinced one of the producers to go get me and get me out. The guy waded in and I – literally, I was down on my hands and knees, covered with mud, freezing cold… It was the worst moment of my life, physically. So when the guy said, “You’ve got to come out,” I said, “No. I’m going to find the frog.” But I was so relieved when Michael insisted.
Then the medical people found out we had hypothermia. They had to treat us for that.
RNO: Did the producers have a limit on how long you could spend in the mud pit searching for the frog?
Mel: No, they didn’t do that because it was daytime and they pictured it as a nice little tradition. Everybody could just jump in the mud and play around a little and find a frog. They didn’t think that the oldest fart in the history of the game would get out there for an hour [at night]. They never contemplated that possibility.
RNO: It was very impressive to see you continuing on in that situation. Going back to the very first leg in Australia, what did you think when Phil told you at the very first Pit Stop that you were still racing?
Mel: Well, I’m into non-violence… normally. But I was thinking, “Phil, no matter how much I like you, I hate you at this moment!” We literally had been up for 28 hours. We had to run across Sydney, then we had to run across that island, scuba dive, go out in this boat, then we had to run down this mile and a half beach to find Phil.
When we found him and he said go back down the mile and a half beach and back into Sydney… We had no water. We’d been running… That’s why the second episode starts with me falling over and Michael’s concern. People didn’t understand why he was so concerned. He was watching me go down, physically, for the last three hours, until I was gasping. So when I fell over he thought maybe I’d had a heart attack or something. That’s why he was so concerned.
RNO: Was it really a dehydration cramp?
Mel: It was dehydration cramping and just plain exhaustion.
RNO: It’s impressive you can do all of that in your 70s.
Mel: Impressive to you, but you could use other words. (Mel laughs)
RNO: What was it like running around in giant kangaroo costumes and moon shoes?
Mel: Well, again, on Season 14, most of the Roadblocks and Detours were fun. You could see each other, you could root for each other. Even the Detours and Roadblocks on this one were hard. Putting on that kangaroo suit almost exhausted me. We had already put on two wet suits that leg, then it was hot… We could go on.
Then you had to spring – you couldn’t walk. I see the cowboys and the Globetrotters, they go B O I N G… B O I N G… And I’m just, boingboingboingboingboing! Si I did three boings for every one boing they did. It was a nightmare! It was a friggin’ nightmare.
RNO: It seems like they’re setting the bar higher this season. Just to get your first clue you had to solve the QANTAS puzzle.
Mel: Yeah. I was really sorry to see Kris & Amanda go out because they both would have been able to withstand the physical stuff. And Kris is so pretty, it was sad to lose him.
RNO: I’m always happy to see you guys on TV because you seem to have such a great father-son bond. What sort of feedback do you get from others about your appearances on the race?
Mel: Much of Season 14 we were rather heroic in other people’s minds. We were a gay father and a gay son. So many gay kids have had parents who have rejected them and [even] turned them out. So, on that level, people who aren’t gay weren’t understanding what a thrill it was for these kids to see that happening.
On the other level, just plain old straight people thought it was really fun too. So we really got a lot of praise. I spoke five times in Orange County this past weekend and a lot of them were gay crowds. We had standing ovations because we represented something to them. But the general public, I don’t think they understand what we were representing.
RNO: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers about your experiences this time around on the race?
Mel: I think what was most important for us is that we decided from the beginning was that nothing could goad us into harsh words between each other. It seems to me that works in real life as well. Don’t blame, you know? When things go wrong, just help each other get through it. There’s nothing that will help from blaming each other.
So I think doing what we do in real life there really paid off because we were equipped to say, “If we make a mistake, that’s normal. Let’s just move on.” When you see some of these couples and they are together and they just are arguing all the time… Or poor Ron & Christina, oh, my God. They’re not having fun at all. If life isn’t fun, check out.
RNO: That seems like very good advice. Thank you so much for talking to RealityNewsOnline and congratulations to you and your son for all the success you are having.
Mel: Thank you. http://www.realitynewsonline.com/cgi-bin/ae.pl?mode=1&article=article12323.art&page=1