After hearing about it from friends, I decided to try auditioning for The Amazing Race, a reality TV show where teams of two race around the world to exotic places, completing tasks along the way, with the final winning team walking away with a million dollars. I found out there was an open casting call nearby, so I figured I might as well give it a shot. When I audition, a world traveler like me should be a shoe in, right? Sure, unless you do it the way I did.
To audition, first of all you need a teammate, so I figured the best person for the job was my friend Tanner, who is completely blind. Tanner was excited about the idea and once he said he was ready to give it a shot, it was game on and time to prepare. Having never seen the show, I began watching reruns and dissecting the way it works to see if it would be possible for a blind person to participate effectively. I know Tanner is a bad ass, but there are some hurdles you simply can’t overcome without vision.
The more I watched, the more encouraged I was that it was totally doable. Even when certain activities required sight, there were always workarounds or ways to do the activities slower or an option for me to do the majority of the task. Reviewing my show analysis together, Tanner and I became more and more excited. We feel like his participation could show the viewers something fresh in a show that feels like it is getting into a rut after 25 seasons.
Tanner and I are currently on opposite sides of the country and you were supposed to audition together as a team. We decided to go for a Skype video ambush audition where Tanner’s presence is revealed on my laptop part way through the audition. Our intent was to then wait until near to the end of our presentation before revealing that he is blind.
Tension began to build for me even before the day of the audition for something as simple as lodging. I ASSumed that a cheap room in Winston-Salem would be easy pickings, but instead was body blocked by a big Jehovah’s Witnesses convention. I was relieved to find what seemed to be the only sub-$60 room around for miles and miles. I was glad I didn’t camp out as I originally planned as it was a hot and stormy night.
On Game Day, my sister’s friend Phil was a hero, driving an hour in from Durham to help two people (Tanner and I) whom he had never met. Phil’s role was to hold the computer and “be” Tanner until revealing him on Skype in the audition.
We were about halfway back in a line of several hundred people relaxing in the shade of the awning of the furniture store where they were holding the casting call, chatting away with our neighbors to pass the time. My stress was palpable when the doors opened and the teams filed in towards the registration desk, not knowing if we were going to somehow be prevented from our Skype-assisted audition and whether we would encounter technology hiccups.
Once to the front of the line, Phil filled in a media waiver which they checked against his ID, and then surreptitiously filled in Tanner’s personal details on a separate form tracking the audition participants. We were then in the unexpectedly fast moving people pipeline flowing towards the awaiting cameras. When we were just three teams from Go Time, I got my computer up and running on Skype, only to see that Tanner wasn’t online. Yikes! One frantic call later, Tanner had his wife help get him online and ready to roll. We were connected and ready within one minute of being called up.
As we walked over to the camera, I heard a disconcerting sound like a plane flying over coming from the computer. There wasn’t anything to do at that point but ply forward and hope for the best. The smiling Channel 2 News cameraman Andy reminded us that we had exactly one minute to make our pitch. I was off and running…
“Have we got a team for you! I’m Jon Sattler, the travel ringer of our group. I’ve been to 69 countries, speak five languages, and have even written a best-selling travel essay book called Vacation Boy. I’m going to need all my travel prowess to help my teammate Tanner, who I really wish had gotten out of the house more before now…”
At this point, Tanner is looking great on the computer with a piercing blue Arizona sky behind his athletic profile, but instead of him jumping in with his lines…we hear static. “Go Tanner!” I implored to his statuesque image. “Talk!!” Clearly my microphone wasn’t working.
Panic, at least for us. In hindsight, the cameraman Andy probably was amused by our unintentionally Benny Hill-like presentation.
A blur of efforts unfolded to revive the connection while I begged Andy to hang tight, assuring him that we had a great pitch for them as soon as we could get the technology to cooperate. He showed legendary patience considering the number of people waiting in line behind us. I asked him over and over to let us get out of line and regroup. It was taking an eternity and we were already several minutes past our allotted 60 seconds.
In a moment of shared scrambling, I noticed Phil grabbing a pen and feverishly writing something on our audition ID paper. I guessed he was jotting down Tanner’s number so he could call him, but then I realized he was writing the word “TALK” to show Tanner on the screen to prompt him to start. While I appreciated his resourcefulness, I reminded Phil that Tanner was completely blind and had no way to see the sign. (Tanner later told me it might have worked because his wife was watching the screen part of the time, so what do I know?)
I tried restarting Skype and then my whole computer, which seemed to be moving at sub-glacial speeds. Having witnessed our presentation implode before his eyes, Andy was more patient than he needed to be, eventually letting us step out of line to let another team come make their pitch.
Performing technology CPR in the corner, I urged my computer back to life as fast as possible while Phil tried calling Tanner to let him know the scoop. I hardly heard a thing the couple after us said in their casting call, but the highlights for me were the Asian dude whipping off his shirt to reveal a serious muscle package and I recalled her closing with something about her “loving her big boobies and Botox”. I figured despite our technology injury, we had a much more compelling story to tell.
And time to tell our story it was. Tanner had been communicating with me smoothly via Skype, so with Andy’s prodding, we went ahead and jumped back up in front of the camera lights with renewed vigor. I spewed out my same lines above with blind confidence as if nothing had happened or would reoccur. But when it got to Tanner’s turn…again silence. He couldn’t hear me again!
Phil speed dialed Tanner, getting voicemail the first time. In the meantime Andy asked me to just introduce Tanner on his behalf. I gave it my best effort, but it was a sad, lackluster rendition of Tanner speaking himself.
FINALLY Phil got Tanner’s wife on the phone and got her to tell Tanner to just start talking. Luckily we had practiced out parts enough that even though he couldn’t hear me, you would never know it.
Tanner: Hey guys, Tanner Gers here. I’m the athlete of our team. I competed with Team USA in Track and Field at the Games in London in 2012, play baseball at the national level and hope to be back on Team USA at the next Games in Rio. I’m a personal trainer and Jon is one of my clients. I’m worried about Jon being too out of shape and slowing us down.
Me: Tanner, anything to add to that?
Tanner: Do you think they are going to want to know I’m blind?
Tanner: Well, I lost my sight 10 years ago in a car accident. Winning the Amazing Race would give me the money needed for an expensive surgery which can restore my sight. It is for this reason we are going to be competing as…
Both: TEAM VISION QUEST!
Me: Please give us a shot to fulfill this dream.
Tanner: You won’t regret it!
We closed the deal with a Skype fist bump.
I felt like I had been dragged over glass as we exited the audition area, thanking and apologizing profusely to Andy plus apologizing to the people in line behind us, since we were probably there 10 minutes or more altogether. I did notice Andy smile and nod at the end when we got to the “Team Vision Quest” bit, and hopefully it was because he liked the message and the delivery rather than him sensing he could at last be rid of us.
On the way out as we second guessed everything that just transpired, I dropped Tanner’s media waiver off at the registration desk (which he mailed to me ahead of time), explaining that it needed to be filed with our audition number B-22. The woman seemed a bit vexed to have this errant, unexplained waiver appearing out of order, but I simply turned and walked off before she could ask more questions about it.
And then we were done.
Who knows if the people watching the tape will have the patience to piece together the decent parts in a way that comes across as compelling? And who knows even if they do, that we fit the profile of what they are looking for, or whether they would have the balls to let a blind guy run their race. If you never hear more about it, you can assume our audition shenanigans simply humored some intern skimming through the tape and probably met the billing of one of the worst Amazing Race auditions of all time, although for a good time, I’d love to see the ones that were worse than ours.