The Amazing Race 9: Race With Grace: The Lisa And Joni Interview
Interviews / Amazing Race
Date: Apr 14, 2006 - 03:45 PM
"I couldn't breath..." This was Lisa — one-half of the self-titled 'Glamazons' — gasping at The Starting Line of The Amazing Race 9. After watching, relishing and fretting-over her hands-down favorite television show for nearly four years, here she was — in a weird way — standing inside her TV set. (Now figuratively inside, looking out.) It was almost a Rocky Mountain High hallucination.
By David W. Taylor (Email The Author)
Reality Reel Media
"From the first episode, the first show, I just said, I want to do this," recalls Lisa, whose voice rocked with emotion whenever discussing "The Race". "I was just compelled to do it. And something in the back of my mind just said, You're going to do it one day. And I didn't know when or how..."
As it happened, Lisa found herself standing in front of Phil Keoghan with her sister, Joni, at the Red Rock Amphitheater in Colorado — the Ninth Season about to be ceremoniously unleashed. The pair of them towered over the competition — both besting six-feet in height, or as Joni surmised, "On a good hair day I can go six-three. Depending on how high I poof my hair up on top."
Joni had started watching The Amazing Race during the Fifth Season after small nudges from Lisa to watch the show and urgent appeals to consider joining her as a contestant. Joni initially thought the show was titled, The Amazing GRACE and decided to take-in the show "because I was, like, this children's pastor and I was thrilled that she wanted me to appear on a Christian TV program. And, so, I began to watch it."
"But we just could never get it together because we had to make a videotape together and we hadn't seen each other in... forever..."
"We really didn't talk a lot," said Lisa. "Maybe once a year, maybe once every couple of years because she lived there (Texas) and I lived here (Florida)... kind of raising kids; we had our own lives and, you know, went in different directions.
"And so when Hurricane Dennis was headed in this direction, when it got up to like a Category Three, my husband suggested that I leave. So my sons and myself we drove to Texas and went to Joni's. So when I was there we just started milling around again and we thought, You know, we ought to do it (TAR). And we checked the web site and sure enough they were taking applications for Season Nine.
"So we pulled out the video camera and we made this long list of stuff we wanted to say on the video — we wrote them down on cue cards — and we sat down on the couch and we just..."
Joni interrupts: "Began to read it and laugh about it... retake after retake! They weren't deleting it they were just stopping and starting."
"And my mother was talking in the background," adds Lisa. "And there was one point were Joni and I caught a glimpse of ourselves in the TV and we both went, Oh my God! It was like, oh my God, somebody come stand behind me and hold my eyes up! It was like what happened to my face?!"
Despite the irksome, age-intensive sags and creases, the natural hilarity between the two estranged sisters in that video was infectious — everyone agreed. Lisa believes their non-rehearsed sisterly spontaneity won them attention among the thousands of tapes delivered to Amazing Race casting. "And I think that's what they really want... people just to be themselves. They want to see people interact with each other."
The video was sent in just before the July 26, 2005, submission deadline and it was maybe two or three weeks later that Lisa got a call from The Amazing Race casting staff on her cell phone. Lisa at first thought that it was a prank. After being convinced of the call's gravity she immediately called Joni. "She was screaming! I thought Gordie (Lisa's husband) had gotten killed or something." And so an Amazing Race reality began to take shape, promisingly, and soon it was pickup trucks, the Red Rock Amphitheater, Phil, and lung draining high altitude oxygen...
"We found out about two and a half weeks before we left that we were going to go," recalls Joni. "And I had always heard the word 'Thrill' and I was like, Why is that such a popular word? What does that feel like? And it's so hard to explain but like I told my husband it's kind of like childbirth. You cannot know what it's like until you feel it. There's no way that you can feel what it feels like to stand on The Starting Line and see Phil with his hand up in the air. And it's like slow motion. And we looked at each other and we said, When he says 'Go!' is he talking to us? You never know! You always think, Did they really pick us?!"
"They just literally drive you to The Starting Line," says Lisa, "you get out and Phil comes out, they line you up. And they say, 'Go!' And you realize at that moment that you are on your own. I mean.... nobody helps you. You are on your own."
"It's a little bit longer than what they show on TV," Joni chimes in, "because they have to cut it down but that's about what happens. And you're just standing there and when he says, 'Go!', that's it.
"And it's like people will ask about the cameras and stuff like that — you completely forget they're there, immediately. They're so not even there. I mean even if we would've begged them to say a word to us they won't say anything because they're just not there. It's like they're invisible.
"And then we had on so many layers of clothes we couldn't move! We were trying to be smart and layer our clothes, and we had to go up the steps and our legs wouldn't bend. That's why we were walking in the background. We couldn't run!"
So, Lisa and Joni, also known as 'The Frosties' — thus tagged for their frosted highlights by John & Scott early in the casting/interview process in Los Angeles — plodded stiffly to their vehicles and, along with John & Scott, were among the last teams to speed out of Red Rock. From there The Amazing Race began to spin awkwardly topsy-turvy for these two tall, showy, loud-ish sisters. All their dreams and big Race plans began to slowly unravel.
"When we started on the path to go on the Race," Lisa revealed, "we started studying, we took notes, we emailed each other, we read every web site about The Amazing Race, we read every Racer's interview, we read everything we could get our hands on — we did everything. I mean we were true students of the Race. We knew we weren't the most physically fit but we thought we could make up for it by knowing everything about the Race as possible..."
Joni: "Yeah, the best thing to do, the best thing to pack..."
Lisa: "But the minute Phil said, 'Go!'..."
Joni: "We turned into dumb asses."
Lisa: "We forgot everything. We completely forgot everything we learned."
Joni: "It was like, Go where? What?"
Lisa: "You're so excited about doing it you... when we got to the airport in Denver, we ran into the airport and we saw the flag at Continental... We KNOW we're supposed to ask, you know, what time the flights come in, who comes in first, we just... we were so worried about getting tickets... and then we got seats in the very back of the plane..."
"We weren't aggressive enough though," chuckles Joni. "We were afraid we were going to hurt people's feelings too. I mean we had a big game face before the Race, like, Yeah! We're going to do whatever it takes! We watched Rob & Amber! We going to be big! We're going to use our size!... and then we get there: 'OK, we'll take the first flight. Whatever you got here just give it to us.' WE TURNED INTO THESE BIG SLUGS!! I don't know what happened!"
Lisa, giggles self-consciously, "We just forgot everything we learned."
Once disembarking in Brazil, confusion abruptly descended. Lisa and Joni, upon departing from the Hotel Unique, had trouble figuring out that their next Clue location, the Viaduto Santa Efigenia, was in actuality a pedestrian bridge. The name of the bridge happened to also reflect the name of the surrounding neighborhood, and along with a non-English speaking (but well meaning) taxi driver, and a frustrating language barrier with the teeming Brazilian public, Lisa was left with the impression that the Clue Box might be hidden somewhere among the hundreds of small shops that ringed the area.
"We didn't understand we were looking for a bridge and we thought it was the street we were supposed to get out on... If you're a fan of the Race you know sometimes they hide the flags back inside of shops. And down this street it was just one shop after another with just all these people out. And I kept thinking, Oh my God, we're going to have to get out and we're going to have to search all these shops because we didn't realize we were going for a bridge. We didn't understand what the Clue said; the language barrier was huge.
"And we kept driving in this cab and I kept thinking, OK. We need to get out; we're going to have to go back and look through all these things. So we're looking at this and my first impression was, Oh, this is a scary place. But once we got out of the cab and we started walking, everybody was so nice.
"Once we got out of the car we didn't have to walk that far because the cab driver pointed ahead and he said, Right there. And we saw it. And that's when I started screaming because I was so excited to see the Clue Box because it was just right out there, you know, in full sight — where I expected it to be back inside one of those shops."
Depression, though, quickly replaced the quick-fix euphoria. Lisa & Joni had grabbed the last Clue Envelope out of the Box. Thing were not looking so hot. After a swift — but sadly quiet — cab ride directly to the helicopter Detour at the Airport Dumas, fortune seemed destined to turn, again. It turned soundly at the helicopter routing desk:
"I just happened to open the book — it fell open," relates Joni, the excitement rekindling. "And then I flipped one page and I found the building we were supposed to go to. Just that fast. On the thing you can see me going, Atrium V! Atrium V! Atrium V! because I couldn't believe we had found it that fast.
"All of a sudden Lisa turns around and there's two teams behind us. And that's when I said, 'Crap a big load of turds!' And then we ran to the [dispatcher] window and asked her if tickets were still available for Atrium V and she said, Yes! Well, that's when we did the big scream again and that's when we started cussin' and thanking Jesus in the same breath because we were like riding the bipolar express. It's absolutely crazy! You go from one emotion to another, you know, from the bottom to the top in like two seconds. And then we knew we were still in it and there were two teams behind us."
But even this elation was quickly dampened because the team that Lisa & Joni had grown the most fond of, John & Scott, were one of those two trailing teams hastily rounding the corner onto the helicopter tarmac — the other was Fran & Barry — and they were soon eliminated. It was a bittersweet Pit Stop.
"When we got there and they said, You're Team number ten, we were shocked," Joni said sullenly. "And then when we went, when they feed you and do interviews and all this kind of stuff we saw Fran & Barry. They were eating at the table and then we knew it was John & Scott and we were so sad.
"And we hid behind these pillars under the stadium and peeked at them around the corner when they were running into the stadium across the field. It was so sad. It was like you don't want to be last but you don't want to beat your friends either. We cried..."
That night, however, Lisa & Joni celebrated. They were still alive. Still in The Race. Nothing else really mattered. Joni remembers the giddiness:
"The night of the first Pit Stop — the night of the only Pit Stop — we stayed in a hotel. And Lisa was laying in her bed and I was laying in mine and we were so giggly and we were laughing and screaming..."
"We were actually jumping around on the beds we were so excited!" says Lisa.
"And we heard someone bang on the wall, bam! bam! bam!," Joni continued, "and they said "P-A-R-T-Y!" And we said, Oh My God, a Brazilian guy wants to party! Yahoo! So we started screaming back, Party! Party!
"Well, they would go bam! bam! bam! Party! Like that. And we'd say, Whoa! Baby! PARTY! This went on for so long and we finally got tired and they finally quit. So we're like, OK, our party friend wants to stop. Well the next morning a taxi was going to take us back to the soccer stadium to open the Clue. We went down the road and at the first stop sign [we saw] it said 'P-A-R-E.' He was saying, STOP! and we were like, Party! Party! Oh my God..."
The next day, and leg, in Brazil was equally grueling, if not more so. Joni was soon faced with walking up a high-rise fire escape at the Galeria Edificio Copan.
"Have you ever had one of those dreams where you're trying to run and you can't? That is what it felt like from the very beginning. There were three fire escapes and BJ & Tyler, I think, ran to the very last one but most people went to the second one; I think I went to the first one. I think there was like Joesph, Lake and Dave and me, so I was the fourth one on mine and I kinda gained some ground on that but when I first started going up the fire escape I had the fanny pack and my jacket on and what it didn't show was when I got up to the second, third flight, I think, and I realized I had the fanny pack on. So I took it off and I said, LISA! And I like flung the fanny pack off the thing. It hit the ground and she had to grab it.
"So then I started climbing up some more and I start sweating. I'm still on my feet and I took my jacket off and I went, LISA! So, all this stuff is flying over the side... at about the seventh floor I started crawling. And what I did was I got right next to the pole because I thought that was the shortest distance, you know, so I was trying to climb as close as I could to the pole all the way up... but I looked over to the other fire escapes and I saw Fran crawling, I saw Danielle crawling, you know, Ray was crawling and I'm like, I'm not doing as bad as I think I am because they're kinda crawling too.
"And I would look and see cameras out the windows and I said, I know you're getting a beautiful shot but I don't care because I'm dying. And when I got to the top everybody started running over there like giving me water and everything and I looked down and it was so far down you really couldn't see who was down there.
"But when I got to the top I was like, I don't care how high up I am, I am NOT going back down those stairs. You can dangle me by a piece of yarn and I will go off the side. I am not climbing back down. I'm not. I would've stayed up there and moved in with somebody if they told me I had to walk back down.
"So then we got on a bus and we had to go to Brotas. We were on the bus with Danielle & Danni, Fran & Barry and Lake & Michelle. Everybody got along... When we were waiting at the bus stop that's when we got the sense that Lake was real intense. Because he was pacing back and forth, and you could see his temples like pulse in and out..."
Lisa: "And then we had to get a Volkswagen and we got in it and we went!..."
Joni: "We got red because it was cute. The only red one. The devil!"
Lisa: "I didn't have any problems with it. I didn't have any problems driving."
Joni: "And then it went ka-chook, ka-chook, ka-chook..."
Lisa: "Right. And, you know, it was hard to turn around..."
Joni: "And the back seat and the back dash were not hooked together. And so every time she would hit a bump and I would go backwards, the back seat would go into the back of the car and the dash would hit me on the back of the neck."
Lisa: "The car was not in the best of shape. Our Race bags, we put them in the front. In the VWs the truck was in the front. And I don't know what was happening or why but there was so much gasoline fumes you could hardly breath. And our Race bags, our clothes, everything, it smelled like gasoline — till this day. It just permeated everything.
"It took us a while, we got lost trying to find the sugar cane Detour. And then I had this premonition, I kept thinking... I kept saying we're got to get out of here before it gets dark because we'll never be able to find our way out of here if it gets dark. I mean, I could just see us lost. And sure enough, we made it back and we could not find — and we didn't know that a lot of the other teams had gotten somebody to take them to the Pit Stop and they followed people to the Pit Stop. And Joni would get out and ask for directions..."
Joni laughed, "We had like fifteen hand drawn maps..."
Lisa: "She asked everybody, you know, Can you take us to the Pit Stop? It was late at night and it was dark and we were dirty and these people, you know, they didn't want to take us."
Joni: "I said, I'll pay you. Will you please drive us? Can we follow you there? They're like, No."
Lisa: "Nobody would take us and we just got SO lost."
Joni: "We finally thought we saw some lights off in the distance and got out. And then we found a farm house and so we thought, well, maybe Phil's in this farm house taking a nap. So we were walkin' all over this person's porch..."
Lisa: "And so by this time we knew we were last."
Joni: "And then we happened to catch another little-bitty light and we walked down there and it was the Pit Stop."
So a dream draws suddenly to a close... Lisa & Joni following buddies John & Scott into a sooner-than-expected elimination from The Amazing Race. One might perhaps expect some whiff of regret — maybe festering like an open wound — but this plucky pair have seen through the disappointment and have begun to set their lives in tune to a character they found lurking for them within the Race. In one sense the Race, the thwarted big plans for domination, and the early Elimination, has somehow made peace with a spiritual conundrum in each one of their lives and both Lisa & Joni now see some truths more clearly than ever before.
"We knew, we really knew," says Lisa. "You kinda know in your heart, I mean you kinda know this is the end of the line. And it was really sad. Everyone knew how upset we were... but the thing that I kept thinking about in the back of my head when we did our exit interview: Everything happens for a reason.
"Some of the hardest things in my life, some of the biggest trials that I have gone through, and heartache, in my life; when its so bad you think, I cannot get through this; and then you do get through it and you realize that that opened another door. And had you not experienced the bad things then the good things that followed would not have come."
Joni nods and sighs. "We learned a big lesson with the whole thing going into the Race of 'What will you do with a million dollars?' Oh, we're like, plastic surgery — we're turning into Shar-Peis, you know — we want to get our neck done, and stand in green underwear and spin on little circle things, and, you know, this kind of stuff. And then it was during the Race, the things we saw, but even after the Race when you're sent to sequester... the things that we saw and the poverty that we saw, and the people that were sitting on the streets with no legs and they were blind and they had a little can in front of them, you know, singing for money or whatever they were doing. We both realized that there's no way we would ever spend a million dollars on something like our neck or our eyes or whatever, when there's people that are hungry.
"It was so sad..." Joni continues... "We were walking down this one street and we heard this lady singing..."
Lisa: "Oh a beautiful voice..."
Joni: "It was haunting. Sort of like an opera singer. And it was, like, what, thirty degrees? And she was in a dress and she was blind — it didn't look like she had eyeballs or anything; I don't think she had legs. And she was singing just at the top of her lungs and had a little can in front of her...
"For me it was personal. For me it was here I am in this bubble being concerned if I've broken a nail or, you know, if I have wrinkles around my eyes or something like that. But when you're exposed to people that are not worried about wrinkles but worried about food on their table or where to sleep at night, it puts everything in perspective."
Lisa, who is devoted to The Amazing Race as anyone can be, and who started to blaze this trail with her own spunk and determination many years ago, can still only find nothing but praise for the show — this singular Race — and all involved with its production:
"I know a lot of people just think it's just a Reality Show... it's so much more. From the very first casting call that we got to going on The Early Show on CBS to everybody we have come in contact with has been wonderful. So professional, so caring and sincere, and everybody loves the Race. And it is such a great organization — all the way from the guys who drive the vans all the way up to the producers of the show. I can't even express how great everybody is."
"And Phil is what you see times a thousand," says Joni. "When he's talking to you you feel like you're the only person he's ever talked to before. He makes you feel that important."
Lisa: "He's so captivating and so genuine...
"For me it was like having a favorite movie or TV show that you'd watched for years and then all of a suddenly you're a part of it. I mean, Oh my God! How exciting is that? The fun part for us was actually doing the Race. The TV and the everything else that came afterwards it's nice and it's fun to watch but the fun part was doing the Race. Even the short period of time that we were on there it was phenomenal.
"There's so many people that reach my age — I'm fixin' to be fifty — and you start wondering, you know, OK, I've been given all these gifts: I live in this wonderful place and this life; and what I am supposed to be doing with my life? So you start questioning all of this. I wish other people had the opportunity — if it wasn't even the Race — to put yourself outside your comfort zone and take yourself to some other place and give of yourself and help. It's made me... I feel like I have this need to do something. I don't know what it is yet, you know, but it's really opened my eyes to a lot of things..."
Yes, truly, it does sound — and it is — really, so much more...
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