"It's gruelling, it's adrenaline pumping, it's agonising, it's ecstatic, it's unifying, it's conflicting, it's heart breaking, it's probably the most memorable time of your life…" Season One of The Amazing Race Asia is probably the biggest reality show to hit Asia, ever! And more importantly though is the fact that Sri Lanka was represented in the debut season itself!
Sahran Abeysundara, an Interior Designer cum Events Manager and Howard Bicknell, an Area Manager for a British Tour Operator, residents of Sri Lanka for the past 12-13 years were the two "chosen ones" from our island paradise, and here's them relating their experience of a lifetime!
"Having started airing 'The Amazing Race Asia' in October last year (2006), Sahran claims that the entire experience was nothing short of "brilliant!" "I don't think anything quite so huge (in terms of international television coverage) has ever hit Asia before and so, we were over the moon when after a three-month long interview process, we finally found out that from out of over 1000 applicants across Asia, we were short-listed and then selected to be one of the 10 final teams to compete in the race," he said enthusiastically. "I don't know if there's any specific criteria exactly, but I think it's more to do with selecting an interesting and diverse group of teams that people will like to watch on T.V.," explained Sahran.
"As we were notified sometime mid last year and were then told that we had to be out of the country for six weeks without breathing a word about the race to anyone, we had to tell everyone we knew that we were in fact backpacking in India," elaborated Sahran.
They had to keep mum as they had signed many a confidentiality agreement, he added. They hadn't done any special training prior to the race, as they both worked very long hours and they hadn't known what exactly to expect of the race to come, he said.
The Amazing Race is basically a reality television game show in which 10 teams of two, race around the world, trying their level best to arrive first at the end of each leg of the race to avoid the possibility of elimination. Teams are progressively eliminated until three teams are left, at which point, the team who arrives first in the final leg is awarded a large cash grand prize.
"Amazing Race Asia was a first in many ways – it was the first ever time a Sri Lankan was featured on an international reality show, it's the first season of the race meant exclusively for those currently residing in Asia and it's the first ever time an all-girl team (Zabrina Fernandez and Joe Jer Tee) has ever won the race," he added. The organisers actually lug around about 28,000 tonnes of crew luggage from destination to destination, said Sahran. "It was really amazing to represent Sri Lanka in the race, espcially as Sri Lanka has been more often than not, associated with the civil war, the tsunami and violence, so it was almost as though we were acting as ambassadors of our country, thus showing the world that there was much more to Sri Lanka than what makes it to the news," said Sahran emphatically.
"The post show experience has been quite bizarre actually, because I've suddenly had kids run up to me and ask if I'm the guy on T.V., and it takes some time to get used to being recognised by complete strangers is not exactly an everyday occurrence," he said smiling.
Being petrified of heights (not just a fear, it's a phobia) and snakes, some of the tasks were quite a challenge to him, both physically and mentally, said Sahran. "Rock climbing in Krabi was quite stressful but abseiling from atop an eight storey shopping mall (with an additional two storey basement) was probably the most psychologically stressful task we had to do though. We thought we'd be eliminated before the first pit-stop but we managed somehow to get through," he said laughing. Although Sahran's still not too keen on heights, he now knows that if push comes to shove, he can manage to overcome his fears.
As for the decisions they made throughout the race, "We always made mutual decisions especially when it came to detours and they were almost always the right choice, except the last detour we chose to do in Krabi, where we had to husk and smash coconuts with a miniature hammer until we found the one containing red liquid, which was really hard to do and many of the participants cut their hands badly, including Howard, who's hands were bleeding badly. Unfortunately by the time we abandoned this task and opted for the other detour, it was too late and so were eliminated, thus winding up in sixth place," said Sahran.
We were a part of nine of the thirteen episodes and so were almost three quarter way through at the time we got knocked out so it wasn't too bad.
"I really hope other young Sri Lankans take the initiative to apply for the race as it's an incredible experience" he said adding, "there's so much to see and learn from other cultures and people and it'll also see you broaden your perspectives and think outside of your normal existence." It's just a matter of mind over matter really, if you think you can do it, you really can. You never know what you're capable of until you actually get around to doing it, he added.
"It was an absolutely fantastic experience, you feel a real sense of achievement once you've completed the set tasks," said Howard looking back at their experience. "The only problem however is that there doesn't seem to be anything that can top that experience so now feel a sort of void in me," said Howard reminiscing. "My worst, moment was when I couldn't scuba dive in Sydney because I was feeling very claustrophobic. It was very frustrating, especially because I usually scuba dive all the time, and just for my luck I chose that very moment to feel claustrophobic,"
"As it's not like a conventional race where you can see where you stand in the race, most often until we got to the pit-stop we didn't know if we were still in the race or had been eliminated," said Howard adding, "so much so that in the first leg we thought we were definitely last and would be eliminated but luckily for us, we made it in time."
Having watched every episode of the last 10 seasons of The Amazing Race USA, the two of them were always saying how they would have loved to take part, so they finally decided to apply, he said. "I knew Sahran's every phobia and fear and he knew mine so we were able to work well together. It was a shame that we got eliminated when we did because the eating challenges were Sahran's speciality and there were some after we were eliminated that he could have easily done," said Howard regretfully.
Choosing the wrong detour at the end was definitely the turning point as we never realised just how difficult it would be.
However, most of the teams were quite united and encouraged each other on, unlike the American version which can usually get quite nasty, he added.
From Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta to Bali to Sydney to Oakland, Queenstown, Singapore, Bangkok right through to Krabi where they were unfortunately eliminated, Sahran and Howard have sped through a lifetime's supply of experiences in just one month! Now that's what I'd call an Amazing Race…