Villages snowbirds describe reality show as ‘life-changing' adventure
By THERESA CAMPBELL, DAILY SUN
THE VILLAGES - They're back!
After a whirlwind year of being on “The Amazing Race” and being involved in endorsements for Tylenol with another big endorsement in the works, Villages snowbirds Meredith and Gretchen Smith are glad to be back in Florida's Friendliest Hometown, where they are enjoying warm winter weather in a Santo Domingo villa home.
“It's just nice to be back,” Gretchen said. “It just brings a smile to my face to be here, and the weather is absolutely gorgeous.”
They wanted to be here sooner, except Meredith had open-heart surgery five weeks ago as a result of a faulty aortic valve. The Smiths were pleased when cardiologists gave Meredith permission to leave Maryland for The Villages, where is he now spending days exercising at the Laurel Manor gym as part of his recovery.
Meredith admits he would rather be golfing but that will have to wait.
“So we're enjoying going to the movies, Savannah Center and walking around Lake Sumter Landing, and we're excited about all of the new restaurants, the shops, and we're just real happy to be back,” Gretchen said. “The Villages really is the best kind of living.”
The Smiths also were thrilled to see Carrabba's, their favorite Italian restaurant, at Rolling Acres Plaza. They dined at the restaurant on their first day back in the Sunshine State.
The couple's claim to fame was being on the seventh season of “The Amazing Race” adventure reality TV show, where they traveled 40,000 miles through seven countries. When the show aired last March, the Smiths were in The Villages quietly watching the show because they were not allowed to publicly talk or do media interviews until the show was over.
“It was a life-changing and exciting adventure,” Gretchen said of their adventure. They finished fourth in the race.
“I told Gretchen a number of times: ‘People are lucky if they get their 15 minutes of fame, and we had five weeks of fame,' and so we have had a really great ride,” Meredith said.
Their aches and pains from the race have paid off, too.
When Gretchen climbed a fort wall in Turkey as one of her challenges, she wailed: “Oh, my knees are killing me!” Tylenol noticed and advertising representatives called the Smiths, asking if they would do a variety of live television and radio spots for Tylenol Arthritis Pain. The Smiths agreed.
“I was really a lot of fun,” she said of their month-long tour in August on behalf of the pain medication.
The Smiths were informed that the media would be asking about the race, rather than the pain medication they use at home, yet the Smiths knew they had to get Tylenol mentioned in the live TV spots.
When one interviewer asked about the most difficult event of the race, Meredith replied: “The most difficult was watching Gretchen climb that wall in Turkey. When she was going up there, I knew she was having problems with her knees, I felt if she had her Tylenol, she would be in good shape.”
He meant those words, too. Gretchen does have a little arthritis in her knees.
And now the Smiths have another endorsement deal in the works geared for active seniors.
“We haven't signed the contract yet, and we can't mention what it is, but we have another endorsement for the active crowd over 50,” she said. “It's going to be a good one. It's for older people; outdoor people who are active.”
Initial talks involved doing the endorsement at a retirement community in Arizona, but Gretchen feels Florida's Friendliest Hometown would be the perfect place to do it.
“I said, ‘You should think about The Villages! You have never seen a retirement community like The Villages,' ” she said, adding she hopes they will consider her suggestion. Once the endorsement deal is signed, Gretchen plans to reveal more about it.
The Smiths say they talk about The Villages on their travels and even have persuaded friends in their hometown of Easton, Md., to come here.
“We've become the Chamber of Commerce for The Villages,” Gretchen said. “We've talked about The Villages so much, and after Meredith had his surgery, we found out our neighbors had been gone. They told us they had come to The Villages, rented for a month and had a wonderful time.”
The Smiths are looking forward to getting together at an open house with some Villages neighbors on their block on Saturday, and Gretchen is anticipating a luncheon today with some Villages friends, who like her, were former flight attendants. The luncheon will include a fashion show of airline uniforms from over the years.
They also are pleased that they can now publicly talk about their time on “The Amazing Race.”
“We were always on the run,” Meredith said, adding they had to get by on little sleep and little food. “We would be in places where we didn't understand the currency, couldn't read the street signs or couldn't find a restroom. It was like that throughout, and that's one of the things we are kind of envious over the last ‘Amazing Race' (family edition) because most of it was in English-speaking countries.”
The Smiths didn't have it so easy.
Many viewers were puzzled seeing Gretchen climbing the wall in Turkey, rather than Meredith, and couldn't understand why he wasn't making the climb.
“We each had to do six roadblocks and he had already done five, and I had only done three,” Gretchen said, adding she needed to do the challenge but viewers were not aware of that.
“We got one e-mail that came to me saying, ‘Meredith, you're such a wuss. You sent your old lady up the wall and you should have done it. It's no wonder your father named you after a girl.' ”
Gretchen also heard about it from viewers when Meredith was pushing her on a 600-pound wooden elephant and he was seen huffing, puffing and out of breath. Even Meredith's doctor quipped: “The 600-pound elephant wasn't the problem, it was the 150 pounds riding it.”
The Smiths admit they were relieved when the race was over.
“During the race, we were so tired all of the time, but the fallout after the race was over was wonderful,” Meredith said. “We have traveled and have met people all over the world virtually, and we were approached in Tibet by a couple who lived there and knew who we were, so it really was amazing.”
They enjoyed doing five big speaking engagements to large convention groups, and they also loved receiving mail from fans.
“We've received cards and letters from as far as Australia from people, saying how inspired they were with us,” Gretchen said. “We received cards from young people, too. Every day was like Christmas, we'd open the mail and there would be something wonderful.”
“We had a lot of fans who were contemplating getting married or who had just gotten married, and some of the substance of the questions we were asked was, ‘You've got a great relationship. How do you do it?' We were more role models for the people coming up and for the people that had already been there and done that, so that was lot of fun,” he said.
The couple's loving relationship was reflected throughout the show.
“We were a team,” Meredith said. “We agreed before we left the country that no matter how far we got and no matter whose fault it was, it would never carry on with us in our lives. If one of us fouled up, it wasn't going to be a blame game.”
Gretchen said Meredith kept her focused.
“We treated each other with respect because we did respect each other. We were in it together. It was hard enough just to battle the elements without battling each other, and that's what most people (viewers) really respected in us,” she said.
Now that a new season of “The Amazing Race” begins Tuesday, the Smiths will watch the show. They also plan to take time to watch a DVD from the seventh season when they were in the race - the season that garnered CBS an Emmy Award last fall.
“The producers said that it was the best one that has been ever been made,” Meredith said, adding CBS won the Emmy based on one segment, the show when Gretchen had fallen in a dark cave and injured herself.
“They (academy judges) must have liked the blood and gore,” Gretchen said, grinning.source