The Amazing Race 9: First Exit - Fears & Dreams: The John Lowe Interview
Interviews / Amazing Race
Date: Mar 15, 2006 - 01:25 PM
Being the first team eliminated from The Amazing Race 9 isn't pretty. If John Lowe had this particular fear, among the many stacked in his frightful "fear closet," it was one deeply buried — almost unconscious. "I never thought we would be first," says John resolutely (like a brick wall). "I never, ever, thought we would be first." But there was Phil, standing in front of John and Scott in the vast Estadio de Pacaembu soccer stadium in Sao Paulo, telling them the bad news with a stern faraway look and John slipping sideways into shock.
By David W. Taylor (Email The Author)
Reality Reel Media
That hurtful loss slowly wound its way into our interview together, although indirectly. The swiftness of that fabled curse and the unforgiving jolt of that day in Brazil had become another emotional bundle John had tucked away somewhere and forgotten, neutralized, say — along with his phobias about spiders and airplanes and such — until this breezy day when we were both ruminating over Pit Stops and Mr. Keoghan. And The Frosties.
John & Scott and The Frosties, sisters Lisa & Joni ("Giants in Brazil!" laughs John), became solid friends during that first leg which looped southward into Sao Paulo. One reason for the closeness was because of their perpetual knocking into each other — from the Red Rock exit to the helicopter pads at Airport Dumas. Towards the sunset of Season Nine's leg number one, with time ticking dangerously away, these two teams were also each other's luckless opponent.
I asked John if he was still in touch with Lisa & Joni and that's when John began his belated mourning — a faceless voice maybe whispering somewhere silkily: "John & Scott. You are the LAST team to arrive..." In just a few short moments John's voice would crack and he would begin crying. First for Lisa. Then for John Lowe, for his nagging fears, and dreams, and a Pit Stop sentence that seemed much too harsh and much too soon. That past was almost unbelievable.
"I love the Frosties," John rallied. "I cried and cried and cried on Tuesday night [when they got eliminated]. I wanted to cry on the Mat but I was in so much shock... I would've felt so much better if I had cried on the Mat to get it out of me, the feeling of losing. And I hadn't cried since we got back. And I didn't think I'd cry but as soon as I saw Lisa's face..." John paused — and silence — and his voice swelled with memory and emotion....
"... as soon as I saw her face on the Mat... and, first, she's the biggest fan of the Race that there will ever be... and her and Joni are such beautiful people and I could see in her face everything we all went through..." Here John relinquished himself. A cry rose up and tears fell. He had finally realized his loss and his broken wish of impossible things: "To do the Race and how important it was...
"I just wish we could have gone further. I really wanted to be in the bungee jump and see if I could do it. I really wanted to be there. It just meant... I just couldn't believe that we could go from July to then, it was all over, just that fast." You see, the whole thing had reached down into his being.
John has been an Amazing Race fan from the beginning. He would watch the show "living vicariously through the contestants doing all the scary stuff" and then go to work and talk about it with the only other person in the world he knew who was watching too. Soon, these two began joking and needling each other that they should do the Race together. That other person was Scott.
An Amazing Race open casting call in Provincetown, Massachusetts — a sometime summer hideaway in John's youth — during the 2005 Fourth of July weekend proved to be fateful, even though John felt his attending it, as he would say, "was kind of a lark in a way." Within a week or two he and Scott received calls from Race casting staff requesting a three-minute video.
"We then got into the regular process at that point," relates John. "We never really felt that we were going to be asked to do it. Because it was more like we would talk about the challenges of me flying and would I be able to do it and our relationship together; how we struggled along to try to work together to do things. So we never really felt that we were going to be cast. Until they told us, at least for myself, I never felt for sure that we were going to be doing it."
But they went all the way up the casting ladder and then found themselves breathing the razor-thin air of Colorado and straddling the seat-steps of the Red Rock Amphitheater — staring at Phil and the Starting Line.
"You're really in shock," John recalls of that beginning moment. "I mean it's really a surreal experience. You're really in kind of a shock mode a lot of the time. I remember once we started, when we started running up the stairs I kept thinking: We're really doing this, we're really doing this, we're really doing this!"
As teams left the United States and planes began landing in Sao Paulo things were initially looking up for John & Scott. Their United Airlines flight 932 was scheduled to arrive second — of three flights — into Brazil but arrived first due to connection delays for American flight 348.
"We were actually in second place when we arrived," states John, "and we were in second place at the Hotel Unique and Eric & Jeremy passed us just as we were getting out of the cab, at the hotel, and got into the elevator before us. For a split second we were in second place! And then we were in third and then... you saw what happened...
"There were so many teams coming out of the hotel when we were trying to get the second cab that we were kind of scrambling to try to figure out which cab to take or how to get another cab to get us. So when we got in that cab that was the beginning of the end for us.
"What happened was we were in the cab and we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic," remembers John. "I kept thinking we were going to a train station and I kept saying, Choo, Choo! And the guy would say, Yes, or he would nod his head. But it seemed to me that he thought it was a train station because we had no idea that it was a bridge from looking at the Clue. Then once I realized that we were kind of circling around a similar area and the driver was sort of looking around I figured we were in trouble.
"I decided that we should start asking people out the window but Scott didn't really want to bug people and ask them for directions. He was very overwhelmed by people not speaking English and he felt that if we couldn't communicate with them in English, there was no way we could try to get any information from them.
"So once that didn't work I said, 'OK. We need to get out of this cab. All I know right now is that it's not working and we need to do something different;' whether it was to get out and walk or get out and get in another cab... I just wanted to do anything different because I knew we were in trouble. I think we could have been in that cab for a couple of hours...
"I knew we were losing ground but I didn't realize at that point that we were going to lose, lose. I just knew we were starting to lose traction.
"We kept asking people... and then I think we started saying, Do you speak English? And people would just look at us and look away and keep walking. And then the man with the white shirt on? We assumed by the way — that's how untraveled we are — that we assumed by the way he was dressed that he might be an American and we assumed that he spoke English. So we ran over to him and then I asked him and he blew us off too.
"If someone did tell us where to go they would kinda say, 'You go here.' And then another person would tell you to go in the opposite direction," John mentions with a frustrating chuckle. "And I believe the name of the bridge is also the name of that area. So, it was very difficult to find out... but the policeman pointed to the direction but — they didn't speak English — so we still didn't realize that the name of the Clue was a bridge. We just kept walking and walking until we finally found it.
"There were two envelopes there [in the Box] so we knew we were in trouble. And then the excitement of the fact that we were going to do a helicopter... because we told ourselves that we were going to do anything that we wouldn't do in our normal lives... and that's when we started running and then once we got off the bridge, and into this little square area, then we spotted the Frosties. And I didn't want them to see us. We liked them and I wanted to help them but at the same time we knew there was only one other Clue in the Box, and they hadn't found it yet. You could see us sneak away from the Frosties and they never saw us."
The helicopter ride over the spread of Sao Paulo would prove a victory for John over his fear of flying — especially in imposingly small air machines. Come to think of it, in one singular leg of The Amazing Race 9 plane-panicked John Lowe had flown two commercial airlines routes (with one connection) and a helicopter spin over a metropolitan sprawl. An entire chunk of fear had been faced and tackled in one frantic leap.
"I was excited. The whole thing was exciting," John says proudly. "But the scary part was when the helicopter actually lifted off the ground... We were losing ground there too because the Frosties had actually arrived there (Airport Dumont) before us. And they found their hotel landing coordinates right away. And, so, the competitive part of me, you know, kinda kicks in but then as soon as we got up off the ground that's when it hit me: that we're in a helicopter and this thing could just drop to the ground at any moment.
"But once we got up high enough then the beauty of the city took over because the city goes on and on and on... I couldn't see where the city ended. And I think we flew six miles and we never saw the edge of the city. Like, I assume if I was flying over New York City I could see where it would end. But we couldn't see the end! It just went on and on and on... it was beautiful."
"But then, you know, winds would hit and that helicopter rocked around. So you felt like you were going to drop. But then you'd kinda think about how beautiful it was; and it was so cool to land on the building and take-off from the building and that suite was like amazing. It costs like seven-thousand a night to rent it. It went on forever. There were bathrooms, bathrooms, saunas, bedrooms, bedrooms, it just went on and on and on and on..."
One of the more interesting things about John Lowe and what attracted so many to his Amazing Race character was his self-deprecating self-reflection. We not only got to know that John was overcome with an endless array of personal terrors but he also claimed to be "sick of my living life not doing anything." Such honesty was refreshing. And, naturally, we come to find out that John's fears and his increasingly restricted life were knotting each other in common purpose. One was helping along the other. I wanted to know more about John's supposed drab life and how it inspired him to give it all a shove on The Amazing Race.
"I think a lot of people would think I have a very full life," says John. "I have a great job, I've got great friends, and I have a lot of support. In doing this you find out who you really have for support as well. But for me there's a lot in my life that I've missed out on. You know, friends getting married... I had a very close friend get married in Arizona and I've driven to Florida about four times now — to go down in the winter time — and I figured I could wing driving out to Arizona and going to her wedding. So, I was going... and then I realized it would take me about four days to drive there and four days to get back. So that's a total of eight days to miss from work and in the end I ended up not going and it's definitely one of my big regrets that I have."
"Tons of friends have had lots of parties down in Florida and they'd go down for the weekend and I'm not able to go or haven't been able to go in the past. So I really felt there was a lot of my life that I was kind of scared to do and the major one was that I am afraid of flying. I'm afraid of a lot of things and I think as you get older you get more and more afraid of doing things if you kinda let them take over. So, I've been kind of sick of that and I've always looked at the Race as a way to kind of overcome it because I am competitive. And I definitely have wanted to travel but haven't been able to."
I ask John about his longtime friend and Race partner Scott. John's disappointment in Scott during the taxi cab fiasco in Sao Paulo was a tangible, living breathing misery. You could sense its coarse palpability on the show. John had called Scott out on national television... he needed to get his "edge up" and "to come up with an idea or go with my idea..." This when things were slowly disintegrating. John shared some personal thoughts.
"I think that if I had a partner that was similar to myself, that..." John pauses and sighs thoughtfully. "I think in some cases when people are opposites it can work to their advantage. But I think that if I had someone more focused, like myself, to do the tasks and to compete, I could have been in a better situation."
"When you're on a team like that you don't want to be the one to come up with a decision completely on your own and to fail because then you let your team down. So you try to — even though you have a strong opinion about what to do — you want to get volume from your partner so that it's a team effort. And I wasn't getting that from him.
"So you saw there were times that I had to say, 'If you're not going to come up with a plan you're going to just do mine.'
"I think that for me, I know him so much more by doing the Race where I think for a long time I was always trying to figure him out. And I think I've done that and so it's answered a lot of questions for me. It's really shown me that I really have a full life and I have a lot of friends that love me and care about me and that will do anything for me. And it makes me appreciate my other relationships so much more."
To lighten the mood... where in Barbara Eden's name did that 'genie' stuff come from?
"God, I've been doing that for so long," John moans, rolling his eyes. "It started on the beach in Provincetown actually. Probably about fourteen, fifteen years ago. And Scott and I went to the beach and it was really just us, there weren't that many people at the beach. It wasn't like the best day. And I said, Oh, you know, I wish a bodybuilder would come along and sit next to us on the beach!
"And then I said, You know what? I'm going to make one come here with this genie, and within five minutes some — this guy must have been on so many steroids — the biggest bodybuilder you ever saw he came over the dune. And he looked around and he sat right next to us. Now the beach was really empty so he could've sat anywhere and we just looked at each other in shock that this happened.
"I've used it so many times after that and it always seems to work. So we joked that if we get into trouble we're going to pull the genie out and get through it. And that's the thing that comes into like luck and signs and everything... and I've really learned that it's, you know, just hard work. If we'd worked harder, and worked better as a team, we would've still been in the Race. So the genie got on national TV!"
And so did John. Judging from the many emails I have gotten and my own instincts when elimination came calling... there are a lot of people that, having their way, would gladly fold their arms and blink - abracadabra! — John Lowe back into the Amazing Race. John's individuality, his susceptibility and his candor made a mark on many of us who have followed the Race religiously. He was one of us... out there Racing, even with his plaintive fears dragging away at his heels. And he let us share in the experience — personally, with him, rags and all — wholly. And for this I thank him.
"The people who do the show are some of the most amazing people you'll ever meet," states John. "It's all real. It's all honest. To me it makes the world a better place because I never knew — with the little bit of the world that I've seen — I never knew that there's so many beautiful people in the world. You know, people are helping you and doing things, it's just amazing to me."
John then laughs, "I'm hoping they'll create a show for me: Face Your Fears with J. Lowe. You come to the show with your fear and then we'll have some kind of a therapist work with you... whatever it is you're afraid of — you're afraid of spiders, let's say. I'm going to be afraid of spiders too because I'm afraid of everything! And then we'll work together with a therapist and we'll face our fears together. And bungee and parachute and hand glide and parasail and I really want to be that person, I really do."
John's eyes sparkle once again. A TV adventure that was a reality and then the possibilities stretch outward and are endless.
A shadow passes by... Memories. Emotions. Dreams. Fears. Life.
"In the younger part of my life I dealt with a lot of things that didn't seem to be completely honest, that was around me. It seemed to be that, you know, you're sort of living this life that seems to be something that it's not. And I've chosen that it's much easier to be honest and to be yourself and try to find out, you know, honestly, who you are inside, and that's really how I've tried to approach doing the Race. I didn't think there was any other way you could do it."
There is John, but not nearly as noble. Let go. And fly...
John Lowe is an accomplished artist who found his knack painting chickens. Yes, chickens. "I've been doing them for probably twenty years now, maybe a little longer. Kind of just really giving them to friends and they would like encourage me to do it. And I actually have an art show in Boston at the Restaurant 224 in Dorchester, Massachusetts..." John has recently been given two requests for commissions for his feathery artwork. Check out his creations and contact him at www.jlowe.us http://www.realityreel.com/print.php?sid=1694