O.C. men find adventure on ‘The Amazing Race'Flight attendants Ron Zeitz and Bill Smith couldn’t believe they were picked for the CBS global travel reality show.
By PETER LARSEN / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Ron Zeitz and Bill Smith dreamed about competing on “The Amazing Race” almost from the day the CBS series premiered a decade ago, but when the time came, when opportunity knocked, the flight attendants from Laguna Niguel nearly missed the sign.
“In January of this year, we got a Facebook message from a friend,” Zeitz says. “But it sounded kind of like spam: Have you guys ever thought about being on ‘The Amazing Race’?
Ron Zeitz, left, and Bill Smith are flight attendants from Orange County who will compete on the 19th season of "The Amazing Race" when it starts on CBS on Sunday. Though fans of the show since it debuted a decade ago, competing on it was a whole lot harder than it seemed from watching at home, they said.
“And then the next day, we got a follow-up from a friend, saying they were looking for a gay couple, flight attendants, who might want to be on the race.”
Still, Zeitz, 44, and Smith, 49, thought surely it was some kind of hoax, because, after all, it couldn’t be that easy to get in the door to “The Amazing Race,” could it?
Three or four days passed before they decided to call their friend Molly just to make sure. And when they did?
“She said, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t think you guys were interested!’” Zeitz says. “And that started the ball rolling. Ten minutes later we got a call from casting.”
On Sunday, Smith and Zeitz join 10 other couples when the 19th season of “The Amazing Race” kicks off at 8 p.m. on CBS. For the two men, the show fulfills that dream forged on the couch in front of the TV all those years ago.
“Since the first season I’ve loved the whole concept of it,” Smith says. “That you’re racing against teams, but you’re really racing against yourself. And no matter how much you’ve traveled in your job, whether you’re a flight attendant or a businessman, you’re going places you’ve probably never been, and you’ve got to figure it out and solve clues and find your way.”
Of course you would think their jobs would give them some small advantage. Smith has worked as a flight attendant for 22 years, Zeitz for 12. They also met each other on a flight – July 13, 1998, Smith says, remembering the date when fate decided their paths would cross.
“Neither one of us were supposed to be on that flight,” Smith says of the Chicago to LAX trip when they met. “I was on on-call status that day, and Ron had been changed twice before he got on that flight.”
Zeitz says he was experiencing one of this harried journeys home, having missed two flights before the ticket agent found him a seat, telling him he had to run to the gate, though, if he hoped to make it.
“And there I was waiting,” Smith says, as they both laugh. “He was coming home from a birthday day weekend and we just started chatting, having a nice conversation. But then we figured out pretty quickly that there was something there.”
They’ve been together since that summer, living together in Laguna Niguel since 2000, though Smith has lived in the city since 1996. After their talks with the casting agents for “The Amazing Race” got underway, they used their home there, and a few other spots nearby, to shoot the audition video that both say was important to their acceptance by the show.
“The video is key because they want to see who you are,” Smith says. “And when we made the video, we did not script it. One afternoon we put on our uniforms and did some filming in our backyard. And then we went down to the Ritz-Carlton and shot some video there.”
Not long after, in early April, they each got calls, Smith in his car, Zeitz at work, saying that they were on the show.
“We felt good about it before we got the call, but we were kind of pinching ourselves after it,” Zeitz says.
He and Smith say they loved heading out into less-traveled parts of the world to test themselves in the unpredictable challenges “The Amazing Race” throws at competitors.
“You put yourself out there and it’s kind of causing you to really stretch comfort zone,” Zeitz says. “You’re kind of depending on the locals to assist you a little bit, so you’re being forced to communicate at times in countries where the language barriers are extremely difficult.”
Smith says that kind of face-to-face encounter was one the things he liked most about his time on the show.
“I think the art of communication is slowly disappearing because the world is so electronically focused now,” he says. “And I really love engaging and meeting people, who we would probably never see again, but for that moment they were part of our journey.”
Their biggest concern about the show was that they not end up fighting or falling apart from the stresses of the adventure.
“We’ve watched it for years and clearly there are many melt downs on the race,” Smith says. “Me and Ron always said that when you go on it, you make yourself very vulnerable – it’s not a scripted show – and what if we go on it and have that moment.
“We are not a couple that screams at each other, we don’t use profanity, that’s just not us,” he says. “But you have stress in your life, and our fear was that – ‘What if we go on and we appear like that?’”
Asked how they fared in that aspect, they both laugh before Smith answers: “We can’t talk about the race, but I think our relationship was accurately portrayed,” he says.
Coming home once their time on the show was over was in some ways deflating, they say.
“Because there is such excitement and adrenalin rush and emotion, not just during the race but the process before,” Smith says. “The excitement from start to finish is something you’ve never experienced. And once the day comes and the race is over, it’s like a ‘Wow …now what?”
Zeitz echoed that sentiment, mentioning as had Smith that the required secrecy – not telling people where they’d been or what they’d been doing – made it even more difficult to go back to work.
“I went to work within about four days and I was driving to work thinking, ‘Wow, this experience I will always remember for the rest of my life,’” Zeitz says. “Because you’re sworn to secrecy, you’re sitting there and they’re asking how, ‘How are things going?’
“And you’re thinking, ‘If only you knew,’” he says. “I can’t believe the things I was doing just a short time ago.”
‘The Amazing Race’ premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/says-318732-smith-race.html