Contestant knows no limits in 'Amazing Race' run
By Ann Oldenburg, USA TODAY
At 4 feet tall, Charla Faddoul, 28, seemed an unlikely candidate for CBS' The Amazing Race 5.
Charla Faddoul and her cousin, Mirna Hindoyian, have been voted most likely to win Amazing Race 5, according to a CBS poll.
It's a physically challenging show: 11 teams must travel 73,000 miles in 29 days for a $1 million prize.
But after three episodes, Faddoul, a dwarf and the manager of 10 sporting goods stores near Baltimore, is emerging as a big favorite along with her teammate, cousin Mirna Hindoyian, 27. (Related story: What happened last week on Amazing Race?)
Through her wits and wiles, including using her stature to get ahead (last episode she said she needed a doctor so she could secure a seat on a plane), Charla helped her team end last week's episode in second place, and has made a name for herself while angering other teams and polarizing popular opinion.
The fourth episode airs tonight at 10 ET/PT with eight teams left. Ratings are up from last year, and growing: In the most recent weekly Nielsens, the show ranked No. 11 — the top-rated reality series — with 10.5 million viewers. And much of the focus is on Charla:
• Jimmy Kimmel is so intrigued he has run clips of her three times on his late-night ABC show. He has invited her to be on when she wins or is eliminated.
• CBS says major celebrity outlets —People, In Touch, Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight— all have requested interviews with her.
• In a CBS.com poll, Charla and Mirna have been voted most likely to win.
• Fan Web sites and blogs garner more comments about Charla and Mirna than any other team.
"Maybe because there is so much of a diverse opinion about them," says Debbie Garrity, who tracks the show for fan site realityreel.com. "Initially I think people found Mirna and Charla more entertaining to watch." Now, "I think in some cases sentiment is turning against them." Garrity says Charla's false emergency was a moment viewers are finding "somewhat hypocritical."
But not all viewers.
"I'm totally rooting for these two," says Debbie Ronco, who runs a Web site called freakgirl.com and is a host at the Too Much Free Time site, www.lotsofco.org/tmft
Dan Okenfuss, spokesman for Little People of America, sees Charla as a good role model: "What Charla is doing on the show is great, introducing little people to the mainstream world, doing an activity average-sized people are doing. ... Sometimes you've got to use what you have to get what you need."
Charla's husband, David Faddoul, 34, who is 5-foot-9 and manager of one of Charla's stores, says he is "so proud of her, you can't imagine.
"If she doesn't win, it doesn't matter," he says. "But right now, it's perfect. Three episodes, and you never know what's going to happen."
Executive producer Bertram van Munster knows, but can say only this: "By the time the thing is said and done, Charla will be famous." USA TODAY
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