The Amazing Race is my favorite show of all time, and it’s toooootally a not-so-secret dream of mine to be on it one day. I was ecstatic to learn that one of the current contestants lives 10 minutes away from me, so I tracked her down through Twitter and we met up!
When Hayley Keel bounced into our local Starbucks, I knew immediately that it was her. She looked effortless in a bright blue strapless cotton dress, and wore natural makeup that highlighted her big eyes, white smile and porcelain skin. Suddenly, my fresh blowdry and black cotton maternity dress felt less-than-amazing. (But hey, I was still without kids and about to have an adult conversation. Still a total win!)
Right off the bat, Hayley was warm and welcoming. We greeted each other with a big hug (she smelled so good too!), and I asked if she wanted anything to drink. She ordered a cold tea, sat in the leather chair across from me, and we started talking. My plan was to interview her about how the show portrayed her as constantly nagging her partner. I knew it was a topic every woman could relate to, especially my #glowgirls! (That post is coming next week!)
But, as an Amazing Race superfan, I had soooo many other questions about the show. And, since she shared the answers, I figured I might as well share them with you!
1. The food sucks. “We really are eating random junk the whole time. There were times we’d be eating an airplane meal, and I just wished I could have some fruit,” Keel recalls. Since contestants aren’t allowed to bring their own money, the show gives them a stipend for each leg of the race. But Keel and her partner, Blair Townsend, didn’t want to spend it on airport food, for fear of running out of cash during the competition, so they’d ask flight attendants for extra airplane meals and stash them in their backpacks. Her favorite meal of the whole race was a pad thai dish they had on a flight to Thailand.
2. It really is as hard as it looks. The contestants really do sleep on airport floors and live out of their backpacks. It’s also a very physical show. “I prepped by eating FitLife Foods for every meal, and I also started Orange Theory before the race to build endurance and shed a few pounds,” Keel said.
3. The backpack is a nightmare. It’s heavy, and you have to pack clothes for an entire month, in a variety of different climates. “Before the race, I’d sit around watching YouTube videos, like ‘how do you pack for a backpacking trip for a month in different climates,’ and I’d pack and repack,” Keel recalled. Quantity was also an issue. Keel had to bring enough of things like Tylenol, Pepto Bismol and shampoo to last for the whole month of filming. She also packed 2 sticks of deodorant, Tide packs for sink laundry, and body wipes she could use when showers weren’t available.
4. Contestants can only tell immediate family where they’re going. “I told my dad, but everyone else thought I was going on a technology-free backpacking trip,” Keel said. Most of her family and friends thought something was wrong, because it was totally out-of-character for her.
5. Contestants aren’t paid. “We’re considered volunteers,” Keel said. Of course, they’re all vying for a $1 million prize.
6. The audition process is grueling. Keel auditioned at a community college in Biloxi, Mississippi in May of 2014. Producer finally called her, 4 months later, to continue the casting process, which included several rounds of audition videos that she’d record and send. Once Keel found out she was on the show, she had about a month to get ready (which included a huge string of vaccinations, as you might imagine). Filming didn’t start until November.
7. Waiting is the worst part. With all the traveling, there is a ton of waiting in the airport. And often, contestants haven’t showered or slept in more than 24 hours. “If you’re wet, and your shoes are wet, you still have to drive straight to the airport. And then, once you’re there, you have to wait 8 hours for your flight. So, the [female contestants] would be in the airport bathroom, trying to bathe in the sink,” Keel recalled.
8. Teams often don’t stay at the locations named as “pit stops” on the show. “We’ll go there to meet Phil [Keoghan, the show’s host], but then we have to get in vans to stay somewhere else,” Keel said. “Some places were nice, but others weren’t. At one place we were staying in Thailand, I tried to wash my shirt in the sink, and the water left rust-colored splotches all over it.”
9. The toughest challenge was the first one. At least Keel thought so. Moments after filming began in Los Angeles, teams had to compete in a mud run challenge. “I just wasn’t mentally prepared. We’d literally just started the race, and then we were crawling in mud,” she said. “I just wanted a hair tie so badly!”
10.The teams travel in a 4-pack. Each 2-person team has their own dedicated camera and sound person. “The crew goes everywhere you go,” Keel said. “You’re like a little 4-pack.”
11. Contestants are constantly jet-lagged. This isn’t incredibly astonishing, as the show is, in fact, a race around the world. But Keel said contestants who were used to working night shifts had a definite leg up. “I’m a pediatric nurse, and Blair is a doctor, so on the legs when we’d start at 12:30 in the morning, we’d just say, ‘It feels like a night shift!'” (With years logged as a stay-at-home mom, this also means my chances of survival on the show are going up!)
12. The show’s creator, host and field producers are very involved. Keel said the show’s creator, Bertram Van Munster, was on every leg of the race. Contestants would also see the show’s host, Phil, from time-to-time at pit stops, but he usually had to leave earlier than everyone else, in order to get to the next location ahead of the contestants. “Even our field producers slept on the airport floors, right along with us,” Keel said. “We all became friends.”
13. Contestants aren’t allowed to talk to anyone outside the show for the entire month of filming. Yep, even if they have kids. Hayley said a producer would call her dad, once a week, to let him know that she was safe and still in the race. “But at pit stops, [the show staff] made sure there was no technology. They’d go in our hotel rooms before we got there and remove all phones and internet so we couldn’t use them,” Keel said.
14. Blind-date couples in the current season do get their own rooms. I’d wondered about this because one of the episodes had shown another blind-date team, Jeff and Jackie, talking together in their hotel room. But Keel said each individual blind-date contestant gets their own room, so no one has to share unless they want to. (And, it doesn’t seem like any of them did.)
15. Contestants can’t talk with the other teams unless cameras are rolling. After teams arrive at a pit stop, they often load into vans with other contestants to travel to where they’ll sleep. “We always got in trouble for talking, but we were all going through the experience together, so we wanted to talk about it. But, we’d keep [the conversation] to the location we were at, not talking about the race,” Keel said.
16. The promotional video shots of each team together, which are aired during the show open, are actually shot at the end of the race. “It’s a bummer because, by that time, you’re living out of your backpack and not looking or feeling so hot,” Keel said with a laugh. Each couples’ promotional stills, however, were shot on the first day of filming.