CARLSBAD — As Carlsbad resident J.J. Carrell recently discovered, being a contestant on TV’s “The Amazing Race” can be both physically and mentally grueling. “I’ve never been so dirty in all my life,” he said. “I’ve never been so tired in all my life. And I’ve never had so much fun in all my life.
“One second you’re high as a kite and the next, you’re hanging on for dear life,” Carrell said. “It really tests your fortitude.”
Despite that exhausting experience, a 30-day separation from their families and a second-place finish, Carrell and his teammate, Art Velez, wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
“We have our backpacks ready to go now,” Carrell said.
The eight-time Emmy Award-winning reality series pits 11 two-member teams against each other on a monthlong trek around the world. At every destination, each team competes in a series of challenges.
When the tasks are completed, they learn their next location. Teams are eliminated almost weekly as they vie for the $1 million first-place prize.
While most team members are married, siblings or lifelong friends, the two U.S. Border Patrol agents knew each other less than a year before embarking on the race.
“I wanted to do it for years,” Carrell said. “I thought about doing it with my brother but he lives in Florida. Then they brought in a new guy at work.”
As luck would have it, Velez was a fan of the show as well. “I said, ‘Dude, we should do that,’” Carrell said. “He said, ‘You’re crazy.’”
Carrell completed the application, the pair filmed a required two-minute video and they were selected to compete.
Carrell and Velez proved to be strong contenders, finishing first or second in nearly all 11 episodes. In fact, eventual winners Dave and Rachel Brown saw them as their greatest competition. “I thought that from the start,” Dave said in a CBS blog.
Although Carrell expected the experience to be challenging, he didn’t anticipate the reaction from some of the show’s fans. The guys were accused of being arrogant and overconfident.
“I was dismayed at how much people dislike us — the level of hatred and disgust,” Carrell said. “But when you put two strong, Christian, ambitious men in a game for $1 million, how do you expect us to behave?
“And since when is being a strong, ambitious man considered bad?” he asked. “Art and I didn’t fight. I wasn’t yelling at my wife or calling her names. CBS depicted us exactly how we are.”
While the guys may have come across to some as haughty at times, they showed another side during the fourth episode.
After coming in first on that leg of the race, the guys were awarded $10,000, which they split with that day’s last-place finishers, William “Bopper” Minton and Mark Jackson from Kentucky.
Carrell said during an 18-hour bus ride, he and Minton couldn’t sleep. “We started talking about life and he told me about his daughter (who has repertory problems) and all his financial issues and how his house was destroyed by coal dust,” Carrell said.
After sharing the conversation with Velez, the guys decided if they won a leg with a monetary reward they would split it with Minton and Jackson.
“We finished early that day and planned to just go back to the hotel, but the producers wanted us to come back to tell them our plan,” Carrell said. “I think that was the only week people thought, ‘They’re not that bad.’”
On the last day of the race, the pair unknowingly had the lead for about an hour, but Velez struggled to complete a Hawaiian sledding challenge.
“When we got there I thought we were in second,” Carrell said. “The Hawaiian woman there told me it was a woman-dominated challenge. Rachel just became the sled and made it down the second time.
“Art gave it his best,” he said. “The poor guy gave it everything he had. I wasn’t mad at him. We got there together. But it’s really hard, even to this day, to accept.”
As second-place finishers, Carrell and Velez received a monetary prize. While they aren’t allowed to disclose the amount, “it doesn’t compare to $1 million,” Carrell said.
Carrell said he had two a-ha moments during the race. The first was in Paraguay, after they were the first team to successfully build a pyramid out of watermelons.
“In our minds, we felt this was our game to lose,” Carrell said.
The second was in India, in a town where the names Mary and Joseph were ubiquitous. Carrell’s son, Joseph, was only 3 months old when he began the race.
“Seeing that name all over the place I knew I loved my boy,” he said. “I craved giving my little dude a kiss. That gave me more fuel to keep going.”