It was early Saturday morning when the call came. Knock-knock. Play dead and he'll go away. Knock-knock-knock.
“Hey, Nate!” my brother hissed through the bedroom door.
“It's time—you ready to go!?!”
It was useless to rationalize with anyone that perky this early. Besides, my brother Aaron had talked about trying out for The Amazing Race ever since the reality show first aired.
“We should totally do that,” he would say. “We would totally kick ass.”
I'm paraphrasing. He totally doesn't talk like that. But opportunities like this—an open audition for The Amazing Race in Point Loma—are rare.
I'll admit I was intrigued even though I treat most “reality” programs like flesh-eating viruses. But The Amazing Race is slightly more intelligent than, say, Temptation Island. Twelve teams of two navigating across the globe while performing stunts in pursuit of $1 million. Hey, it's won, like, seven Emmys.
I was nevertheless apprehensive when we pulled into Liberty Station, the sprawling development that replaced the Naval Training Center. We took our place at the back of a long line and began filling out the show's 13-page application.
The questions were easy at first—name, age, occupation—before they got complicated. What is your biggest pet peeve about your partner? What is the worst experience you've had with your teammate? Have you ever stabbed a transient just for kicks?
OK, the last one wasn't on there. But personal revelations and interpersonal dynamics are the name of this game.
The people in line, these strangers, seemed pleasant enough, but a competitive air underscored the niceties. We stood, two-by-two, waiting for the modern-day Noah's Ark. The bi-racial couple, the father and daughter, the effeminate identical twins, the Marines, the lesbians, the Valley Girls sipping vodka and orange juice from plastic cups.
Around 8 a.m.—after standing for more than an hour—the line began to surge forward. Then it stopped dead. From there, it was trench warfare—a foot gained for every minute passed. Three hours passed. I subtly implored Aaron to abandon the quest. He smiled, sympathetic but obstinate. We're not going anywhere.
Neither was anyone else. In fact, their anticipation only seemed to heighten. The Valley Girls moved on to wine. They talked loudly with two nerdy, bearded brothers—one wearing a Green Lantern jersey—emboldened that women were still acknowledging them even after they'd already referenced George Lucas twice.
Four hours, two bathroom trips and one burrito run passed. Then it was past noon. The line had moved 200 yards in five hours and I still hadn't come up with an adequate response to “What famous person reminds you of yourself?”
Instead, I stayed busy answering that question for others. That guy is a ringer for Eugene Levy. There's Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Oh, shit, check out mentally challenged Al Gore!
For a time, I kept such observations to myself. But eventually all propriety is abandoned. People sprawl shamelessly on the sidewalk. They order delivery from Oggi's Pizza without leaving the line. They buy alcohol from Vons, no longer bothering with plastic cups.
The real circus loomed ahead. People dressed in military uniforms, dressed as lumberjacks, dressed as—M&Ms? I peeked inside the building where the auditions were held. Teams stood in front of a half-ass pagoda backdrop and delivered two-minute monologues into a camera.
Two bimbos wearing red and green Daisy Dukes (that said “Pick” and “Me!” on their respective asses) stood in front of the camera holding giant red and green cardboard M&Ms. I imagined they were explaining that “I'm Mandy with a ‘Y'!” and “I'm Mandi with an ‘I'!” I see two men take their place in front of the pagoda. They perform a strip tease. Then one of them starts juggling.
This was a freak show. My back hurt. You are all out of your damn minds.
But then we're handed a number—362—and validation. Hundreds of others will be turned away when the teams are capped at 400.
We are the few, the proud, the certifiably insane. The sun is fading but gritty resolve has set in. The U.S. strategy in Iraq suddenly made sense. If we leave now, that means the M&Ms win. But not everyone has our determination.
“I'll just find some other way to get famous,” one of the Valley Girls slurred, before staggering off, never to be seen again.
We flirt with the idea of saying we're Israeli and Palestinian albino Siamese twins separated at birth before we decide that no schtick is the best policy. And then it's time.
After nearly 10 hours, we're whisked into a large, empty room and placed between a tropical backdrop and a weary cameraman. It was a blur. Aaron, thankfully, did most of the talking. I chimed in briefly to taunt the competition—I believe the word “schmucks” was used—and then we were done. It was over.
As we walked gingerly back to the car—dusk settling over Liberty Station—I couldn't help but let irrationality envelop me. Maybe they'll call us. Maybe we'll get on the show. Maybe we'll win! And, for one fleeting moment, it all seemed worthwhile.