For Vipul and Arti Patel of Florida, the first Indian-Americans to be on the American reality television show, even being on the first episode was no small achievement.
"It was an amazing experience," Arti said as they became the last couple in the competition to scale the Great Wall.
The Patels never lost their cool even as they nudged a cab driver to take them to a destination in Beijing faster; they had a gut feeling they were lagging much behind in the 11-team race. And yet they seemed determined not to lose. When Vipul planted a light kiss on his wife's cheek, you knew there was hardly any tension between them unlike one or two other couples in the race.
The teams include a father and daughter who are bonding through the race, especially since he is trying to reconcile with his daughter's announcement that she is a lesbian. And then there is a gay couple, two black women --- and an amputee partnered with a clinical prosthetist. Among the highlights of the first episode, aired in the US on Sunday, was the determination with which the amputee rope-climbed the Great Wall.
The race, which tests compatibility, endurance, bravery and presence of mind, takes the contestants 40,000 miles across the globe in a month, awarding the winning couple $1 million. The teams never know where they are going next or what they will have to do once they get there, till they get a new set of instructions.
The three-time Emmy-winning reality series is in its 10th season.
"They are truly a remarkable couple," said Elise Doganieri, the CBS co-producer and co-creator of the show, referring to the Patels. "They are a traditional Indian couple in many ways and yet they are very outward looking. They are an inspiration. We hope their presence will spur many more immigrants to join this race."
Vipul, 29, and Arti, 27, were married in December 2003 in Orlando, Florida. Vipul came to the US from India with his parents at about the age of 2; Arti was born in South Africa and came here with her parents 10 years ago. He owns a phone card sales business, Arti is a nutritionist-counselor.
Nirali, Arti's younger sister, says she first heard of them participating in the show when they were selected for it.
"Vipul and Arti were very excited about it," she said. "But the parents, particularly my parents, were very scared."
Arti convinced her parents that no harm would come to her or her husband. Her family is quite religious. Both families performed a small pooja on the day the couple set out on the adventure.
"I wished them good luck and, since it a one-time opportunity, I told them that whatever the outcome it is amazing," Arti said, "that they had the courage and effort to go on the Amazing Race."
She also told them: "If anything goes wrong, don't yell at each other. Have team spirit."
Entering the contest had been on Vipul's mind for nearly two years. Once both he and Arti were convinced that they should try getting into it, they began spending more time at their gym, jogged a lot, and took many endurance tests. They also watched past episodes of the show.
Vipul's younger sister Neelam says she is adventurous too. For season 9 of the show, she wanted to audition in Orlando with Vipul. "But I was hesitant," she admitted. He then convinced his wife to join him.
Nirali confesses she does not have the spirit or courage that Arti has. "Moreover, I will need to find a perfect match that I fully trust and have a connection with to participate in the race," she said, chuckling "Arti and Vipul had that. I hope some day that will happen to me too."