By Kenny Wood
From UCLA’s “Solid Gold Sound” marching band performing the popular television-series theme song at College of the Canyons to the bright lights of
Las Vegas, with pit stops around the world in between, Season 24 of CBS’ smash hit “The Amazing Race” was full of firsts.
The latest run of the reality show that casts teams of two racing to compete for another chance at taking home the $1 million grand prize.
After a demanding itinerary that included 22 cities in nine countries and more than 23,000 miles traveled, the team that claimed $1 million by crossing the finish line first at Las Vegas Motor Speedway featured the oldest winner and the first parent-child tandem to prevail in series history.
During the course of the show, which features contestants vying to arrive first at “Pit Stops” at the end of each leg of the race to win prizes and to avoid coming in last, there were many dramatic happenings. Teams that finish in last place on any given leg run the risk of elimination, or a significant disadvantage on the following leg, but this season featured three duos rebounding from last-place finishes in non-elimination legs to remain in contention in following segments.
With contestants traveling to and within multiple countries via a variety of transportation modes, including airplanes, hot-air balloons, helicopters, trucks, bicycles, taxicabs, cars, trains, buses, boats and on foot, the show itself included a number of exciting first-time happenings.
In addition, there was a significant first for COC, as well.
Students, instructors and others who spend time at COC certainly aren’t surprised to learn that a television show or movie might include scenes shot on campus. For anyone walking the grounds from semester to semester, it has become commonplace to see film crews setting up in any number of locations.
Ordinarily, however, we’re talking feature films or scripted television shows. Never before had a reality series come to COC. That all changed when Robin Williams, the school’s director of civic center, received a telephone call from the film-location manager of “The Amazing Race.”
As fate had it, that call never would have materialized if not for a hiccup. The show’s initial choice for a filming location turned out to be problematic.
“The beginning of season 24 of ‘The Amazing Race’ was supposed to have started at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena – the home field of the UCLA band and football team,” Williams said. “There were issues of availability to use the Rose Bowl, so the film-location manager knew we (COC) had a venue that would be able to do the job.”
The inability of the Rose Bowl nearly put the scheduling of the filming process into a tailspin, according to Williams. “The decision was made that the Rose Bowl couldn’t be used on a Thursday, and filming had to be done on that Saturday, November 16,” he said. “It all had to be done on deadline as they ended up traveling to China that same
day. There was no time to waste. Once they committed to COC, they had to get it done regardless of weather or anything.”
Filming at a location the size of the 7,500-seat COC football field took a lot of time to set up.
“Film crews got to the stadium at 7 in the morning on Saturday, set up about 20 to 30 cameras, some of which were hidden,” Williams said. “It took right up until the time filming started at 3 p.m. Luckily for them, the weather cooperated. It was clear in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon, when filming actually began.”
The irony of the show nearly opening at the famous Rose Bowl stadium, which annually hosts college football’s oldest and most prestigious bowl game, in addition to UCLA home games, was the potential for a storybook ending featuring a team with strong ties to the university in Westwood.
The team consisted of Brendan Villegas and Rachel Reilly – more commonly known to viewers as the “Brenchels.” Both reside in Los Angeles, where Villegas is a PhD candidate in biomedical physics at UCLA.
Throughout the season, the “Brenchels” made it clear that their motivation to win the race, and the money, was so they could have “little Brenchel babies.” With other teams having progressively been eliminated until only three remained, Villegas and Reilly stayed in contention for the grand prize of $1 million until the final leg.
Alas, the “Brenchels” finished in third place and will apparently have to find another way to finance their desired family.
First place went to a father-son team from Salt Lake City named Connor and Dave O’Leary. Both are cancer survivors. Like everybody else, they were competing on the show for a second time, so the O’Leary’s knew the drill. Among the challenges for contestants is deciphering clues that are provided during each leg that guide teams to the nextdestination or tell them to perform a task, either together or by a single member of each team. These challenges are related in some manner to the country where the leg is taking place, or its culture.
The first attempt at winning “The Amazing Race” for the O’ Leary’s, in Season 22, ended prematurely when Dave O’Leary tore his Achilles tendon during the fourth leg. Although they managed to complete that leg, they ended up having to withdraw from that season’s race due to the injury.
During season 24, the O’Leary’s displayed their perseverance and the eagerness of a veteran team as they completed task after task with initiative and motivation.
The dedication and drive the O’Leary’s demonstrated throughout the season resonated with their fellow racers. They soon became one of the most liked teams by their peers and, in the end, it was only fitting for them to cross the finish line first.