Bransens recount their Amazing Race adventure
BY KATHRYN SCHNEIDER
"We were this close!" lamented Beth Bransen, holding her thumb and index finger about a centimeter apart.
And as millions of television viewers saw Dec. 13, one Park Ridge family was that close: to $1 million.
Wally Bransen and his three daughters, Beth, 26, Lauren, 22, and Lindsay, 20, recently finished in second place on Season Eight of CBS television's reality series, "Amazing Race." Teams of four family members raced around the world, with no money and a few personal belongings, competing to be the first to the finish line and a $1 million prize. Ten teams received clues in each leg of the race, pushing them through a grueling scramble to avoid being eliminated.
Missed by that much
In the final leg of the race, the Bransens finished second by about a minute and a half, just barely losing sight of first place. But their team did win free gasoline for life and two cars, which they plan to sell to split the proceeds. They also won $25,000 for placing second in the competition.
Wally and his daughters spent a month filming the show last summer. The four did everything from sifting through coffee beans and driving up a volcano in Costa Rica to re-enacting the Civil War in Pennsylvania. Other destinations included Panama and Yellowstone Park.
The idea to get on the show developed from Beth's interest in the previous season. Originally Beth and Lauren were going to apply for one of the show's two-person team series. But after some thought and family discussion, their unstoppable four-person team was formed.
The foursome made an audition tape last winter in their living room, and soon it was on its way to CBS headquarters.
"I said to them, 'You're not going to get on,'" Wally said. "But I said, 'I'll do it to get them off my back.'"
Just days later, Wally got the call that would turn the next few months of their lives into an endless stream of interviews, applications and tests.
"I was screaming all up and down my dorm hallway, 'We got a call back!'" Lindsay said.
The Bransens were picked from a pool of 20,000 teams from around the country to embark on an unbelievable journey - for which none of them was "fully prepared," Beth said.
Soon the four were ready to leave their mother, Judy, and brothers, Brian, 18, and Mark, 24, to set out on a month-long trip of a lifetime. But there was a catch: no one could know where they were. CBS asks contestants to keep details of the show under wraps until the series has been aired.
Where in the world...
"I had to lie all summer," Judy said. "Wally was supposed to be on an extended business trip in Europe...Beth was visiting a friend in California, and Lauren and Lindsay went with their aunt on a charity trip to Nicaragua."
And when they returned, Wally and his daughters had to keep their lips sealed until the season aired this fall. Judy watched her family run, drive and paddle around the world with millions of other American viewers- and she was on the edge of her seat along with them.
Family and friends flocked to the Bransen house each week to cheer on the Bransen team, at times overflowing the house with avid viewers. Wally's parents drove in from Indiana each week to share in what the Wally called the year-long "centerpiece of our lives."
The Bransen daughters were also quite nervous once the show started airing on CBS, they said. They had no idea how the show would be edited, or what they would look like on TV.
Lauren was mortified when an episode showed her mooning another team after a long-running joke with the race's eventual winners, members of the Linz family.
"I wasn't thinking they would ever put that on TV," she said. "I was screaming."
Just 'being us'
The reality show is known for airing family disagreements and team backbiting on national television. But the Bransens kept their cool, they said. Overall, the editing process was kind to them.
"For us, it was pretty accurate," Wally said.
The Bransen daughters agreed, saying the show "was just us being us."
The show also helped them re-live the ups and downs of the competition, they said. Sometimes it was frustrating to think about what they could have done better, Beth said. She spent several restless nights replaying the last leg of the race in her mind, she added.
Although many Park Ridge residents were following the Bransens' journey each week, the Bransens said they don't think the show has brought them too much celebrity. The family did an interview on the CBS Early Show, and people have recognized them as the three blonde-haired daughters who were on the Amazing Race with their dad, Wally.
"It's always about my dad," Beth said. "It's always, 'How's Wally? Go Wally!'"
The Bransens, who bonded with many other teams on the show, including the Godlewskis of Des Plaines, still keep up with the other families through e-mail.
And now it's back to the daily routine for the Bransens. The show has finished airing, and the weekly watching parties have dispersed.
Lindsay, a junior at Hope College in Michigan, is finishing a degree in social work. Lauren is an account manager in event marketing. Beth recently finished a masters degree in social work. The Bransen daughters hope to open their own boutique someday, possibly with the money they won on the Amazing Race.
But the Bransens assured curious friends and family they will never forget their experience, and the bond it built between them.
The Bransens are already enjoying their free gas cards and figuring out how much money they'll have to distribute among them after taxes.
"Wait. We have to pay the taxes?" Lindsay asked.http://www.pioneerlocal.com/cgi-bin/ppo-story/localnews/current/ni/12-29-05-784958.html